The Comet Cycle

JepethJepeth Posts: 41
edited February 13 in Roleplay
OOC: 

Hello everyone! Over on the Chesapeake Stratics board I've been adding a story every week to the "Comet Cycle," a long arc that I'm trying to tie deeply into Ultima lore and the modern game. I'm going to begin cross-posting them here as well starting with this week's entry but if you're interested catch up with the links below. Thanks!

Part 1 They Who Watch
Part 2 The Comet
Part 3 Trammel and Felucca
Part 4 Magery
Part 5 The Shrine


Comments

  • JepethJepeth Posts: 41
    Part 6
    The Chamber:

    It was twenty-five years ago and the stone floor in the Chamber of Virtues was clean and polished. The monks who cared for the Chamber which sat close to the center of Britain had spent the entire day before meticulously scrubbing the floor and walls, touching up missing flecks of paint of the stone tablets, and preparing the Chamber as if Lord British himself was due to arrive. Even more important guests than the Sovereign would soon visit the Chamber explained Elder Dorr to his fellow Monks. The Chamber had to represent itself and the Virtues for which it was built well. The magic of Trammel had not extended into repelling dirt, afterall.

    The next day they arrived through a red moongate. One after another, each held the hand of the person in front of them forming a long chain, as they stepped out of the glowing gate. Seventeen small children, all before apprentice age, arrived at the Chamber with their Master who fussed and fretted over their muddy shoes on the Monk’s clean floor. Elder Dorr and his fellow Monk’s watched their hard work disappear in an instant as the children, excited from a trip through a moongate, broke hands with each other and ran into the stone chamber wildly as children and mongbats are want to do.

    Minutes later when order was restored the children sat criss-cross on the stone floor, huddled in groups around one of the eight virtue tablets. The tablets were large and square, about a meter by a meter, painted in teal with each virtue sigil etched into the stone and leafed in gold. It was Lord British himself who helped design the Chamber. Using language that had not made much sense to the monks and mages of that era he requested it not “look like a grand cathedral, like something French or like that one in Glasgow.” It was “not supposed to intimidate,” he had said, but instead “be a tranquil place of contemplation and education.” Lord British’s origin from a strange land had always set him apart, but one couldn’t argue with his eye for architecture. The Chamber was austere, but beautiful. It perfectly captured the simple life a follower of the Virtues was to strive for.

    The group of children, however, had quickly lost interest in Elder Dorr’s explanation of the Chamber’s origins. A brother Monk had noticed that they got bored even before the Elder had transitioned his story into speaking about Lord British’s contributions, a new record.

    The morning session wore on as the Elder Monk hobbled around from tablet to tablet, leaning on his crook for support, explaining a little something about each virtue the tablet represented.

    “Compassion is the quality which compels one to forgive others,” said Elder Dorr, “represented here by the heart. Can anyone tell me which city embodies this virtue?”

    Elder Dorr looked around the chamber, and noticed that every face in the room was purposely looking away. He knocked the tall crook onto the stone Compassion tablet, which made a loud echo sound startling everyone.

    “Ahem, compassion is the virtue of Britain,” he looked at them, “where all ye are currently at.”

    In the back of the room the children’s Master placed his hand across his eyes in both embarrassment and annoyance.

    “Anyway,” continued Elder Door, “compassion is pure love, which touches many of the other virtues. Moving on down the row..”

    A hand went up from one of the small children. He was seated with a few others around the spirituality tablet.

    “Sir?”

    Elder Dorr nearly lost his balance. It had been ages since anyone asked a question during a school visit.

    “Aye, young master?” said the Elder.

    “I don’t understand. Compassion is love and love touches the other virtues, but aren’t some of the virtues then at odds with each other?” said the boy.

    The old man smiled, “of course not! The Virtues are harmonious. Even poor humility over there,” he gestured with his crook to a tablet across the room, “which is both independent and dependent of truth, love, and courage fits with the others.”

    The child looked around the room confused. “But that one is justice,” he pointed at a tablet with a scale, “if they’re a law breaker how can we have forgiveness? And that one,” he pointed at the green tablet with a gold sword, “doesn’t valor mean we fight for right, no matter what?”

    As the child spoke the Elder noticed his strong Skara Braen accent as he rolled his r sounds and stressed particular vowels. He appraised the child for a moment before answering.

    “Young master, if we lack compassion then justice is revenge and valor is slaughter. Revenge and slaughter makes our already difficult world worse. They would be an unending cycle. You must understand these Virtues set us apart from the vile beasts and villains who would over-turn this place of knowledge and peace,” said Elder Dorr.

    The child’s face felt red. He suddenly became aware of the Monks looking at him hard.

    “I didn’t mean.. I’m not..” he mumbled.

    The Elder smiled warmly. “You’re forgetting another virtue, young master.” He pointed his crook at the stone tablet which bore an open palm. “Your question was honest. Taken individually the Virtues seem monolithic. We have to take them all together. Honesty and Valor. Sacrifice and Honor. Justice and Compassion. Spirituality and Humility.”

    The child smiled faintly and drew his legs in upon his chest, readjusting himself to more comfortably take in the rest of the Elder’s lesson.

    ***
  • JepethJepeth Posts: 41
    Twenty-five years later it was raining and dark in Britain. Willibrord the mage could see the Chamber of the Virtues from the desk window of the small room he was renting and felt great annoyance at the light which it emanated. Since open hostility with forces of “The Fellowship” had started the Chamber had been converted into a sort of command center much to the objection of the caretaker Monks. Each stone tablet had a rune fitted over it which alerted the Monks to the presence of an occupying force at the corresponding virtue shrines spread across the land. The Chamber was thus a buzz with mages, paladins, knights, logistical agents, and all sorts of officials who were aiding in the conflict.

    Willibrord turned away from the window and back to the desk before him. He looked worse for wear. His previously tidy and pressed robes were mud stained on the hem and wrinkled. His skin looked pale and he had clearly not shaved in days. A new, red spellbook of far less intricate design than his last sat open. In his left palm he held a pile of plant roots tightly with the back of his hand resting on the book. Where his right hand should have been was a bloody stump clumsily bandaged.

    “In. Vas. Mani.” he said.

    Nothing happened. He opened his left palm and noticed that some of the reagents had burned away.

    In VAS MANI,” he repeated

    Nothing happened again. He smelled the familiar scent of ginseng burning.

    “IN VAS MANI!” he shouted so loud it startled awake a sleeping man in an adjacent room.

    He squeezed the remaining burned reagents hard and pounded his left fist into the new spellbook.

    “Careful dear,” said a woman’s voice behind him, “you’re running low on those.”

    “Finally,” Willibrord said, spinning around to face her, “I sent that message days ago!”

    As he turned to face the woman he noticed she wasn’t alone. A man accompanied her holding a drinking cup and for a split second he wondered how they had entered his room together so silently.

    “We’re busy,” said the man in a gruff voice as he took a sip.

    “That we are brother dear,” said the woman gesturing out the window at the Chamber, “lots to coordinate. What do you want, little mage?”

    “What do I want?” shrieked Willibrord loudly, “look at me!” He raised his bloody stump towards his visitors. “Look what he did! You have to help me!”

    The gruff man scoffed and turned away and began poking through Willibrord’s bag out of indifference and boredom, spilling a little drink as he went.

    “You were paid for your service,” said the woman, “what else do you want from us?”

    “I can’t fix this!” he yelled, shaking his arm at them, “and the Council won’t help me! I’ve lost my position with them and they won’t help heal it!”

    “Ha,” said the gruff man.

    “Mmm, paladin’s are tricky aren’t they? Their smith’s enchant their weapons to do this sort of thing,” said the woman.

    Willibrord looked exasperated at the two. He couldn’t believe they weren’t more angry or upset at the situation. It was almost as if they were indifferent? Or worse, unsurprised?

    “You cannot leave me to them,” said Willibrord trying to calm himself. “I know what you lot are after.”

    “Do you?” the gruff man laughed.

    “There’s more I can tell them!” said Willibrord.

    “You played your part perfectly, dear” said the woman, “we’ve no complaints.”

    “But.. but I told them you paid me about the comet! He.. he knows it was you!” said Willibrord

    “And now he’s angry and attacking people in other cities,” said the man flipping through one of Willibrord’s books, "he'll think everyone is us, and we're everyone."

    “They’ll all be at each other’s throats,” said the woman.

    The man turned back to face him and leaned into Willibrord slightly. “Did you really think he wouldn’t eventually just be able to look up and see the comet on his own?”

    “Oh dear, you Council mages really aren’t very bright,” said the woman.

    Willibrord looked at the two and felt tears welling in his eyes. For a moment his mind glimpsed a game far grander than he realized and to his absolute horror he now understood he was simply another sacrificed piece. He slunk back into his chair.

    The woman moved across the room and opened the door to leave. She turned to face him.

    “We are very pleased with you, little mage,” she said smiling.

    The man smirked at Willibrord, turned away to leave, but for good measure turned back around and dumped the rest of his mug onto Willibrord’s new spellbook. They exited the room chuckling.

    Willibrord was alone.
  • JepethJepeth Posts: 41
    edited February 20
    Chapter 7: The Marvelous Mage

    ***

    Governor Jepeth of Skara Brae looked at the clock hung on the wall of his little one room office. It was five minutes till six and he knew time was running out. He rushed about piling papers up on the shelves and placing stone weights onto them. He braced the books snug up against each other and secured them with book ends. Taking a final glance around, he noticed the two chairs which sat opposite his desk and quickly dragged them to the sides of the (admittedly) cramped room opening a larger space in the middle. He walked back behind his desk and took a final look around.

    Everything seemed to be stowed properly and not a moment too soon. Jepeth only barely got his hand up to cover his eyes before it happened.

    A searing flash of blue light and sound filled the small office. The air itself expanded outward violently blowing the recently piled official papers off their shelves and outward in every direction. As quick as it began the light evaporated and standing in the middle of Jepeth’s destroyed office was a man in a blue cloak. He was tall. Taller than a normal human should be unless they were somehow part gargoyle. He had a mess of long light brown locks and a matching bushy beard. His face would have been hidden under all that hair if his large toothy mouth and blue eyes didn’t protrude out. His face appeared to be all grin.

    “Lord Governor, hullo!” said the boisterous voice of Tejnik the Marvelous.

    “Hail Tejnik,” Jepeth said sighing as he surveyed his once tidy office.

    For not the first time (nor the last) Jepeth felt great annoyance at his city administrator’s perverse inability to use a door. Whenever he arrived for a meeting or other gathering pertinent to his duties the tall mage insisted on using his magicks to recall into the space at the agreed upon time on the dot. Unlike other mages, Jepeth noticed, Tejnik seemed to have altered his recall spell into causing a bit more spectacle upon arrival.

    ‘Tejnik the Marvelous’ as he styled himself came to be in the employ of the city of Skara Brae only a few months before Jepeth’s election. He came highly recommended from the city of Minoc and Jepeth had initially wondered if that more prosperous and important city simply wanted to pass him off on the “backwater” that was the city of Spirituality. That fear, however, had disappeared as Jepeth got to know Tejnik and his work abilities. While he’s never cared for mages personally Jepeth couldn’t argue with this particular mage’s talent at all manner of duties magic and mundane. The city had never run so smoothly in a paperwork capacity. Ships were arriving and departing on time and waste was no longer piled outside of homes and businesses very long before being disposed of. Tejnik had even gotten the public moongate phases balanced finally. The island’s magical portal no longer deposited people into incorrect destinations based on whether it was raining or not.

    “Oh my, many pardons Governor!” Tejnik leaned his great tall body around examining the mess. “Shall we sit and converse? Are you hungry?”

    Before Jepeth could answer Tejnik had whispered into a closed palm and magically an entire serving tray of food appeared balanced on one hand. He had conjured an entire golden brown turkey with cooked vegetables and roasted potatoes encircling the bird and Jepeth momentarily marvelled at how appetizing the presentation was.

    “Oh, no thank you Tejnik, but please don’t-” said Jepeth.

    Before Jepeth could finish speaking Tejnik said “Ah!” and tossed the tray into the air. As it reached its zenith in height before falling Tejnik spoke an incantation making the tray (and food upon it) burst into a small fireball flinging soot and ash in every direction. The great bulk of it hitting Jepeth in the face.

    Tejnik pulled one of the chairs from the side of the room and sat down, his great legs folded up under it giving him the look of a full sized adult trying to sit in a chair built for children. Jepeth (after wiping the soot from his face) sat down opposite him across his desk.

    “How can I assist our city, Lord Governor?” said Tejnik.

    “Two requests and a task” said Jepeth as he wiped the soot from his brow, “first, one of information.”

    Tejnik leaned his tall body forward as the tiny chair groaned.

    “The meeting with our King to update him on the comet situation went well, all things considered,” said Jepeth, “but at the end of the meeting he requested a written report by next month.”

    Tejnik had produced a quill and scroll of parchment from his leather satchel. They balanced on his knees as the quill moved back and forth taking notes on its own without being held. His ring finger on his right hand pointed at the quill directing it as if there were a string attached between them.

    “A report about the confrontation with Willibrord or on the entire ordeal our island faces?” said Tejnik.

    “Both and more,” replied Jepeth. “I fear we don’t know much about this situation beyond Willibrord’s deceit, the Fellowship’s involvement, and the Gazer’s prophecy. I would like you to help me gather more information about all this. For example, have there been other comets to trouble the skies of Skara Brae in the distant past? Or other realms? What do some of the longer-lived races know about such affairs?”

    “The wisps,” said Tejnik still directing his quill.

    “Aye, the wisps,” said Jepeth. “I would also like you to use your contacts in the magical community to delve into the Council of Mage’s involvement. After Willibrord’s confession they dismissed him, but were they in the know?”

    Tejnik shook his head grimacing.

    “As I said previously, Lord Governor, I believe they were truthful when they said they were not aware of his actions. Angering a Governor of the realm and potentially incurring the King’s wrath is not in their long-term goals,” said Tejnik.

    “What ARE their long-term goals, Administrator Tejnik?”

    Tejnik’s face lit up. “Why, only the complete understanding of the ethereal plain, unending mastery of the shards of reality, and full control over life and death itself!”

    Jepeth knew when Tejnik was trying to rib him and he was not in the mood to take the bait.

    “Well, if ye mage can put aside all those mundane tasks for awhile and ask around for more information, I would appreciate it,” said Jepeth.

    Tejnik nodded once, his grin stretching from ear to ear.

    “Was.. was the King angry with you Lord Governor?” saidTejnik as his smile faded slightly.

    “Nae,” sighed Jepeth, “he showed understanding. If anything the council was mostly supportive. The Goblins were even enthusiastic.”

    “Oh, the little villains,” said Tejnik frowning.

    Jepeth looked at his city administrator.

    “Ah, not that what you did was villainous, sire,” said Tejnik.

    Jepeth shook his head, “No, I understand your meaning. If they thought it was a good idea, well..”

    Tejnik’s smile returned, “A proper mage would have known not to start with offensive fire or lightning spells against a man in plate armor. He should have cursed you first so you wouldn’t have been able to react fast and then fry you.”

    Jepeth scowled at the mage.

    “Be that as it may,” said Jepeth, “the Governor of Vesper was very cross about my actions. I have promised her and the King that if we move against anyone else we will inform the proper parties first.”

    “Seems risky,” replied Tejnik.

    “Hence the need for information,” said Jepeth. “If I’m to protect our city in a responsible and, admittedly, less hasty fashion than I need to know more.”

    Tejnik stopped his enchanted quill and placed it and the parchment scroll back in his bag. He and Jepeth both stood up.

    “I will look into these matters personally, Lord Governor. What is your next move?” said Tejnik.

    “I shall await your information and take stock of our city,” replied Jepeth. “I believe it is time to let the citizenry know of what's transpired fully.”

    Tejnik nodded. “Before I go, you said there were two requests you had of me?” said Tejnik grinning broadly, knowing what this request would be.

    “Yes, Administrator Tejnik,” sighed Jepeth, “please use the door.”

    Tejnik’s toothy grin looked as wide as a chasm. He held both hands into the air outstretched and cried, “Kal Ort POR!

    The mage vanished as another flash of blue light appeared followed by a loud boom. Again papers and objects blew all over the small room like leaves in an angry wind.

    Jepeth’s ears rang for an hour afterward.


  • JepethJepeth Posts: 41



    Jepeth was tired, and more than a little hungry. It was late in the afternoon and the previous night he had his regular weekly duty of serving on the Royal Britannian Guard which ran late. Early the next morning word reached him from Tejnik that a reference to a comet had been found in the archives. He suggested that Jepeth should make haste to the Britain Public Library as soon as he could. In the rush to uncover more of this mystery, however, Jepeth had set out on a horseback without anything to eat for breakfast.

    The Britain Public Library was a stately two-story building not too far from the Castle of Lord British. It was certainly smaller and more cramped than the ageless, expansive beauty that was Empath Abbey in Yew, but still welcoming. Upon arrival Jepeth marveled at the amount of shelves, scribes, students, and masters making use of the space.

    Upon arrival he met with the head scribe, a funny little man in a worn brown robe and Minoc accent. A week earlier Jepeth charged Tejnik with finding more information about the comet situation. Jepeth was unsurprised by the degree to which his city administrator threw himself into the task. Messengers and letters tossed-through-moongates came at all hours in the following days inundating Jepeth with leads, potential explanations, and avenues to explore.

    The head scribe from Minoc was just the latest individual that Jepeth had sought out for a lead. Unfortunately, after an entire day of being walked through archive material and given long explanations on the provenance of certain testimonies and correspondents Jepeth hadn’t learned much from the scribes of the Britain Public Library. All they had managed to uncover together was a reference to a ”comet” connected somehow to a long-dead and very forgotten pirate named “Bloodeye.” What was not apparent, however, was how the “comet” factored into the history of this pirate. The material that was available was scant, quite damaged, and written in a somewhat confusing dialect.

    The head scribe unrolled a large, stained scroll before Jepeth.

    “This is the last one which we believe may interest you,” said the head scribe. “We do have other accounts of this dread pirate Bloodeye so we know he was a real figure. But nothing in those accounts mention a comet. It may be possible that the ‘comet’ here was the name of his vessel.”

    “That would be somewhat disappointing,” said Jepeth who was beginning to lament how much time he had given to the Library without eating anything first.

    He ran his fingers down the text of the scroll. It was moldy and smelled of brine.

    “This scroll, where did it come from?” said Jepeth.

    “We believe this was from the former archive of Jhelom, sire,” said the head scribe. “They would have always kept more detailed records of piracy in Britannian waters.”

    Jepeth frowned. The scroll was damaged and nearly unreadable. He recognized a few works here and there. He saw the word “comet” clear as day towards the top of the document. He and the scribe continued to examine the scroll inch by inch, doing their best not to breathe in the unpleasant smell.

    The head scribe turned his head slightly before leaning in to examine the document closer.

    “This word, sire, would appear to be from a local dialect,” said the scribe. “Being from that side of the world do you recognize it?”

    Jepeth looked closer at where the scribe was pointing. “Marr,” said Jepeth, “it means sea.”

    “Ah,” said the scribe smiling.

    They continued to read silently before Jepeth stopped.

    “That doesn’t make sense,” said Jepeth.

    “Oh?” said the head scribe.

    “They don't use ‘Marr’ for ‘sea’ in Jhelom,” said Jepeth. “They would use ‘maree.’”

    Jepeth looked at the document again. “Are you sure this is from Jhelom?”

    The scribe looked at Jepeth and shrugged, “we can only guess, sire.”

    Jepeth knew that this uncertainty wasn’t the Library or scribe’s fault. In general Britannian history was a shamble. Despite great effort and expense there had never been a central archive devoted to preserving the stories and culture of the realm. The dimensional split between Felucca and Trammel certainly didn’t help matters as when many scribes and historians fled the old lands they couldn’t take their entire collections with them. Other private libraries had been established every now and then and while some were still in operation others had been left to rot in the wilderness as the buildings which housed them collapsed brick by brick, plank by plank.

    It was that old, ancient enemy of history, however, that had wounded Britannian memory the most: war. The Burning of Trinsic, the Faction Wars, the temporary flooding and destruction of Yew; all of it had weakened and weakened the archives of history. This is what the head scribe realized as he examined the document with a fresh perspective after Jepeth’s comment on the local dialect in use.

    “This scroll most likely came to us as salvage, sire,” said the head scribe. “It may not be from Jhelom originally. It is likely it came to us displaced from its original home because of conflict.”

    “‘Marr’ is Skara Braen,” said Jepeth frowning, “one of the many words we have for the water.”

    “And in what context would ye Skara Braens use it?” said the scribe.

    “A rising sea,” said Jepeth.

    “What conflict from Skara Brae’s past would send this scroll out alone into the world?” said the head scribe looking down at the document.



  • JepethJepeth Posts: 41
    ****

    After awhile Jepeth said his thanks to the staff for their hospitality, shook the head scribe’s hand twice, and left the premises. He mounted his horse and began a slow trot down the tight, narrow alleys of Britain heading towards the eastern city.

    As he rode along he mulled over what he had learned, or lack thereof: a pirate named ‘Bloodeye,’ a comet that may be a comet but more than likely may be a ship, and a scroll with no origin or author that speaks of a ‘rising sea.’ Like almost all of Tejnik’s leads (or the mage himself), it had promise but offered little understanding.

    The horse trotted along happily, her dark hooves making a racket on the cobblestones as Jepeth rode. Finally he and his horse reached one of the three bridges which join West and East Britain together, spanning the small river which bifurcates the town. It was the Great Northern Bridge, which if Jepeth would turn left at and head true north would take him right to the lake at which in the center sat the incredible Castle Blackthorn. Britannia’s newest regent had updated his previous dwelling significantly since assuming the throne.

    Instead Jepeth intended to continue to head East and have an early dinner (his first meal in almost a day) at the Wayfarer’s Inn. But as he came to cross the bridge his horse stopped and made a fearful whinny.

    There at the end of the bridge stood a man (Jepeth assumed he was a man by build) armored in green mail. His face was completely covered by a matching green closed helm. His mail pants were cinched into dark leather boots, as was the sleeves of his chainmail shirt into his leather gloves. In his hands was a single, long metal kryss pitted and rusted.

    Jepeth looked at the knight in green for a long moment. He subtly urged the horse forward but his mount would go not a step closer.

    “I say,” said Jepeth. “would you mind stepping aside or coming through so that I may pass?”

    “Aye,” said the Green Knight.

    Jepeth looked slightly confused.

    “Aye you will step aside, or aye you mind and shall not step aside?” asked Jepeth.

    “Nae,” replied the Green Knight.

    “That’s somehow even more unhelpful.”

    “Aye,” said the Green Knight.

    From across the bridge and still mounted Jepeth looked at the Knight a little closer. He began to understand what this was about.

    “Look,” said Jepeth, “contrary to public opinion I don’t seek this sort of thing out.”

    “And yet, here ye are,” said the Green Knight.

    Jepeth sighed. He was tired and hungry and very much preferred not to do this.

    “I have ye at a disadvantage,” said Jepeth. “I could force my horse forward and run you down.”

    “Ye could,” replied the Green Knight, “but it would be unbecoming of a Governor and Paladin.”

    “You’d be surprised,” said Jepeth, “Rash actions seem to be popular.”

    “I am not worried,” said the Green Knight. “I know ye are not so ill-made.”

    Jepeth was unsure exactly what that had meant.

    “Please,” said the Green Knight, “take ye time.”

    “Thank you,” sighed Jepeth, as he dismounted his horse. He led her over to a tree on his side of the bridge and lashed her to the trunk. He unstrapped his sword from the beast and approached the bridge again.

    “Now I would have you at a disadvantage,” said the armored Green Knight. “Please, don your armor. I’ll wait.”

    “Thank you again,” said Jepeth. In his mind he marvelled at the excellent manners of this killer.

    Jepeth returned to his horse and unbuckled the large bag containing his plate armor. It was constructed in such a way that most of the major pieces could be stowed together, fitting small pieces into large pieces. In total the equipment could be packed to a small size, but no less one of significant weight. He wiggled into the light mail shirt that went over his inner clothes and placed the largest piece upon his chest, strapping the two halves making the front and back metal chest into one piece. He also donned his helmet and gloves, leaving his arm pieces and leg pieces behind.


  • JepethJepeth Posts: 41
    “Ye are still not fully garbed,” said the Green Knight.

    “I know,” replied Jepeth. “But considering my lack of a full stomach and sleep the night before, I think I’ll forgo some pieces for agility.”

    “A wise idea,” said the Green Knight.

    “Oh thank you, your approval matters a great deal to me,” said Jepeth as he approached the center of the bridge with his sword drawn. The Green Knight stepped forward as well, holding the twisted metal kryss in front of him in his left hand with his right raised behind him.

    “A classic offensive starting fencing position,” said Jepeth.

    He shifted his weight onto his back leg and raised his broadsword high up into a defensive position. He gripped the hilt with both hands, the sword raised almost above his head.

    “Dupre’s Defense,” said the Green Knight from behind his helmet.

    Now that Jepeth was close to him he could see the man’s armor more clearly. It, like the kryss, was pitted and damaged all over. It wasn’t green because it was made of Verite, but had a patina of rust. It made the Knight almost look like he was a metal statue come to life.

    “Begin,” said Jepeth.

    The Knight struck first. He thrust forward at Jepeth who countered with two quick swings, one to deflect the sword away from his core and another to redirect the kryss back putting the Knight onto the defensive.

    Jepeth’s broadsword flashed in an attempt to pierce the Knight’s arm. No good, the knight deflected it. He used that momentum to step forward forcing Jepeth back. The bridge in which they fought was long, but not incredibly wide. It went like this for a few minutes; one advancing and the other deflecting. Each gaining and losing a few feet of bridge between salvos. Jepeth was grateful not to have worn his full set of armor, comfortable as he was fighting in it, because this opponent was surprisingly fast.

    “Ye are well trained,” said Jepeth as he stepped back from the fight surrendering a few precious feet between them. “But I believe ye are trying to wear me down.”

    The Green Knight also stepped back and swung the Kryss behind him, putting his right hand forward.

    “And ye are trying to distract me with words,” replied the Green Knight.

    Jepeth allowed a smile to show before advancing again. He thrust his sword forward attempting a maneuver taught in the Paladin Order. The attacker steps forward attempting three quick slash and punctures at the opponent’s weapon arm, opposite hip, and then that opposite knee. It forces them to continually lower their sword opening their head and neck for an attack.

    But when he tried the attack (named the Trinsic Three for the Order’s headquarters) the Knight parried the first thrust as expected but sidestepped as Jepeth advanced for the second. This threw Jepeth off balance long enough for the Knight to slash down catching Jepeth in the clothed leg. The first blood was the Knight’s.

    Jepeth grimaced in pain not allowing his opponent the satisfaction of hearing him cry out. He stepped backward but with an expert flourish upward swung his sword wide and winged the edge of the Knight’s mailed right wrist.

    Both men stopped and collected themselves for the next salvo. A crowd of on-lookers in Britain had begun to form on either end of the bridge, drawn to the sound of clashing metal.

    “The Trinsic Three was clever,” said the Green Knight. “But it is cancelled out by Lucero’s Gambit.”

    “I’ll have to remember that,” said Jepeth over the cheers of the crowd which urged the men back to battle.

    “See that you do,” said the Green Knight.

    Jepeth had the distinct impression he was being grinned at even though he couldn’t see behind his attacker’s closed helm.

    “So, you haven’t told me from where my destruction comes,” said Jepeth looking down at his bleeding thigh. “Are ye Fellowship?”

    “Nae,” said the Green Knight.

    “Well don’t tell me my end comes from a fencer hired by the Council of Mages,” laughed Jepeth. “Are they too afraid of losing another hand to send their own spellcaster?

    “Nae,” said the Green Knight again.

    “Alright, fine,” sighed Jepeth. He switched tactics. This opponent was good. In fact, he was downright excellent. Jepeth had been trying to end the battle elegantly and efficiently by attempting to deliver a flesh wound. The Green Knight’s skill and the wound he delivered, however, ensured that was no longer a possibility. Jepeth decided brute force was the only way through this.

    Jepeth approached the center of the bridge again. The Green Knight did the same. If his injured wrist was giving him trouble, just like Jepeth, the Knight was trying to not let it show.

    Jepeth, however, broke out into an almost running sprint as he swung his broadsword forward leaping at the Knight. The Green Knight answered Jepeth’s surprisingly energetic attack with a parry as they began to clash back and forth again. Jepeth knew that eventually fatigue would set in and so he attempted to burn through as much adrenaline from his wound as he could.

    The sword and the kryss flashed back and forth. Up the bridge and down. The spectators cheered and gasped as blow after blow was delivered. Jepeth cut through the Knight’s green chainmail tunic on the right flank. It didn’t slow him. The Knight answered with another minor flesh wound on Jepeth’s shoulder. Again and again and again.

    For a moment their weapons locked as they pushed each other up against the edge of the bridge. They held tight as each attempted to force the other down to one leg.

    “What they say about ye was true,” said the Green Knight.

    “And what was that,” replied Jepeth quietly as he was only inches from the Knight’s helmet. He could hear his opponent’s rasping breath from beneath it.

    “Ye are quick to anger and quick to distraction. Ye miss the obvious,” said the Green Knight.

    Before Jepeth could answer it happened.

    The Green Knight shifted his weight back which unbalanced Jepeth. He fell forward only an inch but in that moment the Knight drew his weapon straight back towards his own chest, and then thrust it upwards and left straight into the upper joint of Jepeth’s plate chest armor. He felt the Kryss drag across his skin as the armor itself split apart. The straps were severed and as they swung away Jepeth tried to catch them before losing his balance and falling to the ground.

    The Green Knight stood over Jepeth pointing his kryss down at his fallen opponent. The crowd of spectators who had been enjoying the fight cheered.

    “Ye miss the obvious,” said the Knight. “It rises around you like a tide.”

    “...Rises?” said Jepeth.

    The Green Knight swung the Kryss up in a flourish. And was gone. He vanished as gently as the wind on a calm sea.

    The spectators began to disperse as a woman ran up to Jepeth.

    “Stay still, lord, we’ve sent for the ‘ealer!”

    “Nae,” said Jepeth examining his shoulder and chest. “He... he didn’t injure me. I don’t need the healer.”

    “It looked like ‘e stuck that kryss straight up yer ribs!” exclaimed the woman.

    “He.. didn’t. That’s a disarming move.” said Jepeth with alarm. “It’s taught by the Paladins.”

    The woman looked confused.

    “Paladins don’t attack people in the street sire…” said the woman.

    “I know,” said Jepeth. “But I think he is one. Or was.”

    The woman cocked her head at Jepeth in confusion.

    “I think he was undead,” said Jepeth.

    The woman looked Jepeth in the eyes for a moment, before turning back towards the crowd.

    “‘’e’s bonked ‘is ‘ead too! Where’s that damn ‘ealer?!”
  • JepethJepeth Posts: 41
    It was eighteen years ago and the air was thick with the smell of blood and burning reagents. Mages lined the perimeter walls of Mistas casting spells to block the bombardment of arrows, meteor storm spells, and greater lightning strikes. Even though their main force was still some distance away one could hear the screams and howls of the Juka determined to claim the city from the Meer and their new allies. In the eyes of the Juka the Meer were already beasts to be dominated. But now they aligned themselves with the alghaza from Britannia. For this the Meer had forfeited their lives.

    A cadre of knights had left the city just after sunset toward the Juka encampment. The knight’s squires all stood at attention peering out across the large bridge into the city. They waited silently with clean clothes, whetstones, cloth, and a bucket of water in hand prepared to assist their charge as soon as he or she returned.

    But all the squires had the same thought. It had been three hours now and the group should have returned. “Where were they?” they wondered. Each squire waited.

    Suddenly they saw a great flash in the distance. A knight mounted on horseback galloped full speed towards the gate and only paces behind him lightning struck the ground again and again as if drawn to his armor. In moments the knight had crossed the distance and barreled across the bridge into the city spraying mud as he went. The squires leapt from out his path spilling the water they had dutifully held for the last couple hours onto the ground.

    “Fools!” screamed the knight. “Close the barricade!”

    The Meer and Britannians who were waiting for the cadre’s return sprung into action pushing the great wooden fencing into position, blocking off the archway into the city. There had been a drawbridge protecting the city garrison but it, like the garrison commander, had fallen three nights ago.

    The knight tried to dismount his horse but ended up as a heap on the ground. He had an arrow sticking out of his left shoulder and burns across his back from spells which had barely missed him. His horse was worse and beyond aid.

    “I’m here, sire,” said one of the squires who rushed up with the remaining unspilled bucket of water and a ladle. He tried to provide the knight a drink but was the knight rebuffed him and knocked the ladle away from his mouth.

    “They are,” he moaned. “They’re!”

    “They’re what?” said someone in the crowd of soldiers, squires, and mages that had gathered. “Speak up, man!”

    The squire shot the loud-mouth man in the crowd a dirty look as he attempted to unlatch the knight’s plate armor chest piece.

    “Clah,” said the knight. “Clah-ockwork!”

    The crowd looked at each other in worry. Intelligence from other fronts in Ilshenar had reported the sighting of strange clockwork villains. The Juka had a new ally, or, the Juka had been subjugated. At present no one was really sure. Either way there was a new foe to contend with in the fight for Ilshenar.

    “You, squire,” said one of the mages in the group. He was a lieutenant mage judging by the red sash tied around his waist which cinched his robe in the middle.

    The squire had been attempting to assist the others in removing the knight’s armor. The knight had stopped talking entirely and drew himself into himself on the ground like a curled up dead insect. The squire stood at attention when he realized he was being addressed.

    “Name and city, young squire?” asked the mage officer as he looked out past the scene, through the makeshift barricade.

    “Jepeth, Brae.” replied the squire in a thick west Britannian island accent.

    “Is he your charge?” asked the mage pointing down at the knight.

    “Nae, sire,” he replied.

    The mage looked at the defeated knight, then to the barricade, then to the sky above. The hail of projectiles striking the energy which cocooned the city seemed to be getting faster.

    “Fetch the sawbones, squire Jepeth of Skara Brae.”


  • JepethJepeth Posts: 41
    ****

    Jepeth the squire rushed through the streets of Mistas. He was young, barely past apprentice age, and grateful to stretch his legs a bit after the three hour vigil. There was, of course, the matter of his master not returning from the cadre’s expedition. This was the third knight Jepeth had been squire to in the last sixth months. Revenge and violence swirled through his mind as he thought of what the Juka had done.

    He put those dark thoughts aside as he continued to head towards the healer’s quarters. Mistas was something of an enigma both in layout and in origin and he didn’t wish to get lost. The other young squires and soldiers had traded whispers and tales of a secret power hidden within the city. A giant stonecraft scale of Justice was centered in the city itself almost taunting the Meer and Britannian forces with the hope of an advantage in the increasingly bloody war. Neither Meer nor Juka had built the city, and its mysteries had so far eluded everyone.

    Fifteen minutes later Jepeth reached the quarters of the remaining garrison healer. He had been bunking in a space in the field hospital but as the unit filled up with the wounded he found other lodging. After explaining the situation to the healer they both rushed to the field hospital together past the rubble of the crumbling city.

    Jepeth had thus far been spared any major injury during his service. But like most of his garrison he knew this healer well. Harbottle the healer had (like Jepeth and all the others) been conscripted into the ‘Ilshenar Expeditionary and Defense Force’ fifteen months earlier. They arrived into the newly discovered facet via a new permanent moongate into the green joyful fields in southeast Ilshenar. It was the last bit of happiness any of them had seen since.

    What started out as an expedition had become a skirmish. What was a skirmish became a local conflict. What was a local conflict turned into a series of sortees. Everyone fighting in these sortees knew what was really occurring: Britannia had gotten herself into a war. The Juka and the Meer appeared in Ilshenar almost at once already locked into conflict. Jepeth certainly didn’t know who started their fight but as he and Harbottle rushed to the field hospital he wondered if it was to finish once and for all tonight.

    Jepeth followed the healer into one of the remaining undamaged buildings which had become the hospital. The remaining cadre knight had been carried into the main room and placed upon a wooden platform. The squires had successfully pulled him out of his own armor as he laid on the bed staring straight up into the ceiling. His personal squire stood at attention, holding his sword in both hands awaiting the moment his master would recover and call for it.

    The healer immediately set to work binding his wounds with bandages. As he worked he circled the knight’s bed laying bandages, softly whispering spells, and praying as a healer does. Jepeth distinctly heard the healer whisper “The Eight” to the knight as he worked, a poem near and dear to all those who follow the virtues. The poem has a long history which can’t fully be recounted here, but it had become less literature and more spiritual throughout that history.

    Finally the healer stopped working and sighed. The lieutenant mage, knowing better than to try to use magery to assist a master healer, stood up from the chair they had been resting in.

    “What of him, Harbottle?” asked the lieutenant mage.

    The mage looked around the room. He counted Jepeth and the knight’s squire at attention in the corner, himself, the mage, and another unconscious soldier occupying a bed.

    “Perhaps we should speak privately?” said the healer.

    “Nay,” said the mage. “I don’t believe we have much time.”

    “It’s more than an affliction of the flesh,” said the healer. “This man has an affliction of the mind which is beyond either of our skill to heal.”

    “Meaning what?” replied the mage. “He needs a long convalescence?”

    The healer shook his head no and placed a hand on the knight’s forehead. The knight continued to stare up at the ceiling, his face white and his eyes unmoving.

    “It’s a miracle he even was able to return,” said the healer. “It must have taken all his remaining strength, the poor wretch.”

    “I need to know what he saw out there,” said the lieutenant mage. “What happened to the rest of the cadre? They were the last officers besides myself.”

    “Get used to disappointment,” said the healer.

    The mage’s face darkened slightly. From the corner a voice spoke out.

    “He said ‘clockwork' men,” said Jepeth.

    The other squire blinked and turned his head slowly to his fellow squire in slight shock of his cheek for speaking out of turn.

    The lieutenant mage and the healer both turned to face Jepeth.

    “Mind your place, young squire,” said the lieutenant mage frowning.

    "But they've killed so many of us, sire! We should cut their damn- ," began Jepeth.

    "Quiet!" spit the mage.

    “If that is truly what they encountered,” said the healer who turned back to his patient ignoring the squire for the moment, “then we must evacuate the city. We must begin to prepare the wounded for transport!”

    “Dupre commanded Mistas garrisoned!” said the lieutenant mage, his voice rising with his chest slightly puffed out.

    The healer looked around in bemusement.

    “Who are ye commanding?” asked the healer. “There’s a handful of souls left in Mistas. As soon as the Juka realize this they and their clockworks will storm your wooden fence and slaughter us all.”

    At that moment both squires felt they’d rather be on the front lines dragging the heaviest lance through the mud trailing close behind the backside of their Lord’s horse than be in the room for this uncomfortable argument.

    “It is not my duty to question orders,” said the lieutenant. “Nor yours, Harbottle.”

    “The garrison commander is dead,” replied the healer. “I called to his soul for the resurrection spell myself. He’s not coming back. The garrison is going to fall.”

    The mage turned and strode away from the table in anger. He wheeled around gesturing at the healer.

    “We cannot escape through the front arch,” said the mage. “They hold the two bridges from here to the Honesty moongate.”

    “Open your own moongate and evacuate!” said the healer, his voice rising to match. "What, ye can't cast spells anymore?"

    “I cannot open a bloody moongate and evacuate the garrison myself!” yelled the mage. “I’ll need to pull the others from defending the city. Without them casting protection spells we will be swarmed in minutes!”

    “We are leaving,” answered the healer. “What does it matter?”

    “The city will be destroyed!” yelled the lieutenant mage. “The beasts will tear it down brick by brick!”

    “We are LEAVING,” yelled the healer. “What does it MATTER?”

    “I have orders to HOLD this city!” shouted the mage.

    “You’ll hold a city of the dead for an officer who can be found dimensions away all be your lonesome?” asked the healer.

    “If that be my orders, yes.” said the mage.

    To both squire’s amazement, both men began to smile at one another.

    “You stubborn ass,” said the healer.

    “You bellowing fool,” replied the mage.

    A silent moment passed between them. Their smiles faded.

    “Squires,” said the healer turning to address Jepeth and his compatriot. “Get word to all the others. We’re abandoning Mistas.”

    The squires looked at each other and then at the lieutenant mage.

    “Ye heard the healer,” replied the mage,

    Both young men rushed off.

    Twelve hours later the garrison escaped Mistas via moongate to the safety of Meer controlled Lakeshire. During the rest of his service Jepeth never saw the lieutenant mage again. He remained behind with a few others to provide cover for their force’s escape, one of many brave actions taken during the war. As expected, Mistas fell and neither side ever fully discovered the city’s ancient secrets.
  • JepethJepeth Posts: 41
    ****

    It was eighteen years later and the one-room hospital of Britain was quiet. All the beds had been unoccupied for the entire day and the healer was preparing to close shop for the night and return to his quarters in the nearby inn. He stood, cracking his back as he reached his full height. It was hard for others to tell as he always tended to wear a thick, brown wool robe, but age had begun to bend him like an old tree.

    All of a sudden the door sprang open and a crowd practically dragged a man in. He looked fairly young, wearing very damaged armor, and had clearly been in a fight. He had bleeding wounds on his right thigh, a deep gash in two places on his right arm, and probably more than that.

    “Oh dear,” said the healer. “Another brawl at the tavern eh?”

    The wounded man tried to dislodge himself from the two carrying him.

    “Put him the bed,” said the healer. “And hold him still.”

    The injured man was placed on the bed while still trying to feebly get back up on his feet.

    “Hold him, I said!” cried the healer as he began to remove what remained of the man’s armor and look for other wounds.

    “A green knight! He was undead!” groaned the man. “Leave me be, I’m fine!”

    The healer chuckled, “too much ale,” he thought. He removed the final broken pieces of mail and his under shirt.

    He stared down at the man’s chest and felt along his flank for broken ribs. His patient still tried to squirm out of the grip of those holding him.

    “You were a soldier, eh?’ said the healer smiling. “I’ve seen scars like this before.”

    The healer looked into his patient’s eyes and stopped. Recognition hit him like a mace. His mouth opened in surprise, and then dropped into a deep frown.
  • JepethJepeth Posts: 41
    Jepeth lay recovering from his injuries in the Britain Healers. While his wounds were mostly superficial his shield arm suffered a deep shock that the healers were having trouble correcting.

    “The flesh is affected,” they whispered sagely to one another, “by an infection in the spirit!”

    ***

    Meanwhile, Tejnik the (self-styled) Marvelous was attempting to fulfill Jepeth’s previous orders concerning the mysterious comet. In the previous week he tried to run down every moldy document, every drunken rumor, every shred of evidence possible to help his Governor understand the threat to Skara Brae.

    Thus far every path was cold.

    He had finally found what he perceived to be a credible source at the Britain Public Library, sent word to Jepeth, and then moved on to his next lead. And so that evening while Jepeth was dragged into the healer’s bleeding out after his fight with the Green Knight, Tejnik found himself wandering around in the Spiritwood of Yew.

    This idea, thought Tejnik, was truly mad even for one like himself who regularly conjured dangerous elemental demons to both fight magical battles and occasionally house-sit his small stone tower. He walked with no set direction or intention, weaving in and out of the trees and underbrush. The forest was dense and still. Night fell and yet he continued to walk further away from safety. Any hungry or ill-tempered forest dwelling creature would have loved to make a meal of the tall, sturdy mage. There were, allegedly, Lich in these woods, too.

    Despite these dangers it was the perfect night for this. Neither moons were up and there was a low layer of clouds just above the trees. In this pitch black he kept walking, and looking, and waiting.

    Finally, he saw one.

    There, weaving in and out of the trees, was a brilliant blue orb of light. It pulsed and glimmered, its iridescent light creating dramatic shadows in every direction. If there was any evil in the area, there was no way it wouldn’t shirk from this burning glow.

    A Wisp.

    Tejnik smiled. His patience had paid off, but now he needed to be careful. Wisps weren’t dangerous unless provoked but they were flighty and ephemeral. Normally Tejnik would put on a bit of a magical show whenever meeting a new mystical creature or mage counterpart. (Why be a mage if you can’t, occasionally, light something on fire?)

    Instead, he went the respectful route. He sat straight down on the ground, twenty feet away from where the Wisp hovered.

    “Hello dear Wisp,” said Tejnik.

    The Wisp continued to hover. If it heard him it didn’t show it.

    “Hail, Wisp!” he said a little louder. “Lend me some of your glow?”

    The Wisp produced a noise. It sounded something like a wind-chime falling to the ground. Was it a greeting? A warning? Tejnik didn’t know. He did feel a little pleased that the Wisp had done something and not simply hovered away or disappeared.

    “May we speak, gentle Wisp?” said Tejnik.

    It was well known that the Wisps enjoyed a bit of flattery. Why, exactly, no one knew for sure. But for those that were able to converse openly with such magical, ancient, and mysterious beings observed that a little bit of puffery went a long way.

    The Wisp drifted over to Tejnik, who remained sitting on the ground with his blue robes and cloak folded under him. It stopped a foot away, hovering above him.

    Tejnik waited.

    “QxZlyk?” said the Wisp.

    Tejnik beamed. His smile stretched ear to ear but then he quickly recovered his composure. In the previous research he conducted at the Lycaeum in Moonglow he knew what protocol dictated next and didn’t want to err after progress was made so quickly.

    He held out his left hand with his palm closed. He closed his eyes and whispered “In Mani Ylem” to himself. Suddenly a wedge of cheese appeared as if growing right out of his palm and he opened his hand offering the food to the Wisp.

    Granted, he had no idea if “QxZlyk” even meant ‘food’ in Wispish, but in the past other mage’s recognized that the Wisps appreciated this gesture.

    "Cheese?" said Tejnik. "Freshly conjured gouda!"

    Having no mouth or digestive system or even hands to grasp the Wisp didn’t take any of the food and continued to hover in place. Tejnik set the cheese down on the forest ground a few feet away from him.

    “I work for the Crown,” said Tejnik.

    “YxxZYl. Kyz.”

    Tejnik had no idea what that had meant. While Wisps were generally understood to comprehend the native language of Britannians no one knew if they understood the language but simply chose not to respond in kind. There were plenty of examples in history of a Wisp communicating if it was of utmost importance, though. The story of how the Armageddon Spell was learned from the Wisps was required reading in the Council of Mages.

    “Yes? For Governor Jepeth and King Blackthorn,” said Tejnik.

    “Hyyzm.”

    “I seek information, oh wise Wisp of the wonderful woods,” said Tejnik, trying a little alliteration.

    The Wisp neither moved nor responded in any way Tejnik could understand.

    “Your brilliance of mind must match your brilliant glow,” said Tejnik with a little more transparent flattery.

    “Kyzzyl.”

    Tejnik sighed. This didn’t seem to be working. Did the Wisp not recognize a fellow magical being? He was ‘marvelous,’ after all. Maybe if he magically blew up a tree or a deer the Wisp would…

    At that moment, the Wisp moved. It floated over towards Tejnik and began to circle him. It hovered in a long arc around his head, tracing a halo around him.

    Tejnik, for his part, had no clue what this meant. For a split second he wondered if this was the opening move of an attack.

    “Comet,” said the Wisp as it continued to circle him. “ZyyXLy. Comet.”
  • JepethJepeth Posts: 41
    A low rumble of thunder suddenly cascaded into a loud crack and woke Jepeth up. He opened his eyes and perceived himself to be in an unfamiliar bed and decidedly less dressed than he’d prefer. Only a thin blanket was covering him, patched and frayed. As his senses returned he heard a rain storm raging outside and the slow drip of water leaking through the ceiling above. He reasoned there must be a pan down somewhere. Around him he saw another empty bed lit by candles and the occasional flash of lighting from the window. In the corner he finally perceived a figure sitting in a chair.

    His wits returned and he remembered everything that had happened. The bridge, the fight, the Green Knight. Adrenaline surged inside him as he realized he was defenseless in a strange place. He snapped into action and quickly looked around for something to defend himself with.

    “Ooh, calm down young man,” said the voice from the corner. “Ye shall pop a stitch.”

    The voice was calm and measured. It didn’t sound particularly threatening or beastly like that of some foe. Jepeth, however, did notice a distinct air of disappointment in the tone.

    “Where am I?” said Jepeth as he leaned back onto the bed.

    “Ye are a guest of the Healers of Britain, Governor,” replied the voice in the corner. “Ye were dragged here after your fight on the bridge.”

    Jepeth raised the thin blanket up and saw the bandages across his shoulder, thigh, and chest. The pain of it all finally manifested itself and he felt every injury delivered by his opponent fresh.

    “Looks like he got me better than I realized,” said Jepeth as he lowered the blanket.

    “Ye left a trail o’ blood across half the city,” said the voice in the corner chuckling. “They’re still scrubbing it off the cobblestone.”

    “My, hm,” started Jepeth, “My shield arm is.. “

    “Tender?” said the voice.

    “Numb,” replied Jepeth with a little worry in his voice.

    “Ye took quite a shock to the system,” said the voice. “It took a day or two but we got ye through it. The numbness shall pass.”

    Jepeth rubbed his shield arm’s shoulder. It felt cold to the touch. The man in the corner stood and finally approached Jepeth’s bedside and sat down again upon a stool next to him.

    “I was surprised to see you again,” said the man.

    Jepeth looked at the man closely and noted the customary brown cloak of a healer. He saw a lined face and bent frame of one who had seen the years pass and it took a moment but recognition finally dawned on him.

    “Lord Harbottle,” said Jepeth, smiling.

    “Jepeth,” replied Harbotte the Healer.

    Jepeth once again noticed the icy disappointment in his voice.

    “My goodness, Sire, it has been ages. What, since Karnaugh Pass?” said Jepeth.

    Harbottle shook his head. “Nay, Twin Oaks,” he replied. “When we were all discharged, so please no need for that title.”

    “Aye, aye,” said Jepeth, continuing to smile.

    Harbottle returned his smile with a grimace.

    “Ye seem aggrieved?” replied Jepeth as his smile faded.

    “I am,” said Harbottle.

    “I’m alright, Harbottle” said Jepeth as he tried to sit up, “thanks to your ministrations.”

    Harbottle shook his head. “I’m not worried about your injuries, impetuous young squire.”

    That tone, Jepeth thought, was more acid than icy.

    “I’ve not been an impetuous squire in many years,” replied Jepeth.

    “Then stop acting like one,” said Harbottle with a mocking smile.

    “Do ye treat all patients in such a way?” asked Jepeth. “Are insults part of the healing process?”

    “They are if needed,” said Harbottle. “I looked forward to a nice meal and an early bed, but no, who do I see they drag into my clinic?” asked Harbottle.

    Jepeth groaned and looked away. He had known Harbottle long enough from the Ilshenar Conflict to recognize a lecture coming.

    “A Fishmonger?” said Harbottle.

    Jepeth turned his head back in surprise.

    “A supposedly devout follower of the virtues?” continued Harbottle. “A retired, emphasis on the word retired, soldier?”

    “Harbottle!” began Jepeth in indignation.

    “An elected Governor of our land?” said Harbottle as his voice raised. “But no, at that moment they drag in a common thug. A brigand!”

    “Are ye finished, healer?” asked Jepeth.

    “Running around with a sword and shield, fighting every brawl that presents itself,” said Harbottle. “Have ye not seen enough blood? It practically rained blood in Ilshenar, one would think ye’d have your fill.”

    “Ye are mistaken, sire,” replied Jepeth. “I didn’t start this fight, I was.. “

    “Spare me, brigand,” said Harbottle. “I’ve already gotten the story. A Green Knight blocked your path on a bridge and for that slight alone you two spray blood across half the city.”

    “Well, what was I supposed to do!” shouted Jepeth.

    “Go around, simpleton!” answered Harbottle in an equally loud voice. “There are four other bridges in this city.”

    Jepeth was taken aback.

    “That’s not,” he began, “... he threatened me. Was I to walk away from a challenge?”

    Harbottle shook his head and smiled. “I’m not reaching ye at all,” he said.

    “Honor demanded an answer!” said Jepeth. “I am no coward, healer!”

    “Honor,” said Harbottle leaning towards Jepeth, “has killed more good, kind, brave, and stupid people than any of the vices. A pox on that dead King for forcing it on us.”

    Easy,” warned Jepeth. “Infirmed or not I have a limit to the insults I’ll hear.”

    “It was quite the joke,” said Harbottle, “to leave us a system of 'virtues' but then conscript us into war again and again.”

    “My Da, my peers, and now you,” said Jepeth. “Why does no one see that I have a crisis to deal with? Fellowship assassins and prophetic Gazers and undead knights and.. “

    “Ye head is as thick as a plate helmet,” said Harbottle, “and just as empty.”

    Jepeth sighed.

    “There is a battle coming, Harbottle,” replied Jepeth. “In whatever form, and in whatever way, I have my duty.”

    “Tell me, brigand, how will you fight this battle if you keep riding around lopping people’s hands off and brawling in the streets? Hm? Who will fight it with you? Afterward how will you heal your city when everything you have done up to this battle has been to further the violence instead of stem it?” said Harbottle. “How will you square your virtues with the bloody path you seem desperate to cut?”

    “Might for right,” said Jepeth, “is all I can offer.”

    Harbottle shook his head.

    “Ye are wrong,” said Harbottle. “And ye are thick as a plate helmet.”
  • JepethJepeth Posts: 41
    All morning a cacophony of noise came from within the Shattered Skull tavern. So much so that passerbys going about their business in Skara Brae wondered if the old bartender was running an Ettin fight with all the loud groans and thuds that shook the wood frame building. A few people tried to come in for an early drink (or to see what was happening) but were turned away at the door leaving in a bit of a huff.

    Finally, in the mid afternoon the Town Crier exited the building. He took up his regular position outside the main bank and began to shout in the high pitched yell familiar to all but especially to the poor nearby and nearly deaf bank workers who heard the Crier day in, day out. Even without the magical aid of a communication crystal and his position in the upper northeast portion of the island every soul on Skara Brae heard him.

    “Hear ye, hear YE! Governor Jepeth requests a meeting of every man, woman, elf, gargoyle, or otherwise in Skara Brae!” he cried. “In the Tavern tonight at 9 PM!”

    He continued his cry of this news for the next hour. Afterward, his voice tired and scratchy, the Crier returned to the tavern and the door locked behind him.

    ***

    Word got through the island and onto the mainland quickly, as it usual does. The dock workers informed the fishmongers. The fishmongers told the farmers in the fields. The farmers in the fields told the rangers who hunted in the woods. This chain of community was Skara Brae, through and through.

    Whether or not Skara Brae was truly the backwater that other cities in Britannia liked to portray it as they couldn’t help but begrudgingly respect the island’s tight community and productivity. Though, every city in Britannia was usually good at producing or doing something.

    The constantly hot furnaces of Minoc produced the iron which drove the manufacturing of weapons and armor. The southern islands of Jhelom and Serpent’s Hold were really island military garrisons to head off the piracy in those waters. Trinsic and Britain, aside from being the seat of political power in Britannia, exported culture and class to the whole world. Haven (or Ocllo in its original name) had been a major shipbuilding operation until the Split had disastrous effects on its archipelago. Shipping and trade was Vesper’s bread and butter, as well as a healthy amount of hunting in the northern woods. Wine and spiritual guidance from Empath Abbey and justice from the Court kept people in the great dense forest of the Spiritwood surrounding Yew. Before the disaster, Magincia was a destination for artisans and merchants, and after they returned. Nujel’m citizenry would have you believe they offered more than beaches and vice, and in truth sand from the island was melted and blown into glass all across the world. Moonglow imported and exported the mystical and, in Jepeth’s view, a good deal of trouble.

    The only truly “failed” city was the colony on Buccaneer's Den, but plenty of pirates, cutthroats, and thieves found that lawless place a paradise. Even little Cove constantly under threat of the Orc captured fort was more stable and respectable of a town. A particularly bawdy story about the bath house on Buc’s Den regaled to Jepeth by his cousin Threepwood was so salacious that the pirate island remained the only ‘city’ in the realm Jepeth had never visited. Partly out of concern for his virtuous soul, partly out of concern of disease.

    ***

    In the woods and fields between Skara Brae’s mainland and the feared Hedge Maze two rangers were skinning a great hart in the afternoon sun. They worked to finish up fast as an hour earlier a passing merchant told them of the town meeting and they wished to attend. One of the hunters, a tall, grim man originally from Yew, used a small dagger to separate the muscle from the hide. The other, a woman of sturdy build and freckled complexion, worked at slicing and packaging the meat for later.

    “Leave the limbs to the wolves,” said the tall man. “They’ll be thankful for the treat.”

    “Ye daft?” asked the freckled woman. “That be the best bone for the pot!”

    The man stopped for a moment, shrugged, and nodded. Apparently the idea of a hardy bowl of stew helped alleviate the impending back ache he’d endure hauling the entire great hart home.

    “What do you think ‘e wants?” asked the freckled woman.

    “Someone help us if it’s another lecture on the virtues,” replied the tall man.

    “Aw, I like those, I do,” said the freckled woman. “It be the city ‘o spirituality, after all.”

    The man shook his head with a grimace.

    “I miss Pam. Fewer lectures for sure.” said the tall man. “Besides, it’s probably what Richten was going on about. The comet.”

    “If so took ‘im look enough, it did.” said the freckled woman. “How long was ‘e going to keep that in the dark from us?”

    The tall man looked up into the afternoon sky and sighed.

    “It’s not like we can do anything about it, ay?” he said.

  • JepethJepeth Posts: 41
    ****

    The mood inside the Shattered Skull Tavern was jovial. Too rarely do the citizens of an entire town get together and the length of time between the last great gathering and now had grown long. People marvelled at how big children had gotten. Men and women who passed each other on the way to work every day instead sat and had a real conversation beyond banal greetings or weather updates. A young woman held court at a table along the back wall beguiling others with tales of the far off, exotic city of Papua.

    The community was glad to see each other. And yet, in the back of everyone’s mind the rumors about the comet and the increasingly bloody affair had begun to solidify into real fear. It also didn’t help that it was five till 9 and Jepeth hadn’t yet shown up. At previous gatherings he was usually the first to arrive.

    At the door Tejnik (the Marvelous) was keeping count of all who arrived. Over 130 souls came out of the expected 150, a good turn out to be sure. The island’s population grew and shrank depending on the season or external events but this was about right for the moment. Thankfully the short campaign against The Fellowship occupied shrines had proven successful and the group of men and women who left to join the fight had recently returned to await the next call to action. Curiously, there were a few people in the tavern that night Tejnik did not recognize as Skara Braens. Another thing he was tasked to watch for.

    The tavern had been rearranged for the event. The loud grinding noises heard earlier in the day was apparently the sound of the heavy tables all being moved to the perimeter and the benches being repositioned into rows for an audience. At the front of the room with the bar to the right sat a plain, empty chair waiting.

    “Get on with it, mage!” shouted someone in the crowd at Tejnik. “Where’s Jepeth? We haven’t got all night!”

    Tejnik smiled and tipped his hat in the direction of the shout. He expected the crowd’s patience to dwindle quickly as Jepeth had ordered the tavern to serve no alcohol to the crowd. An idea Tejnik thought was sheer madness given the situation.

    Finally, a child peering out the window made a loud shout. The door to the tavern opened and Jepeth, knight of the realm and Governor of Skara Brae entered. The crowd fell silent, aside from a freckled woman wearing leather sitting in the last row, closest to the door.

    “Bloody ‘ell, Jepeth!” she said gasping.

    The citizens were shocked at Jepeth’s appearance. He seemed to approach the chair in front of the crowd as slow as an old man. He still bore the bandages from his fight with the Green Knight and his shield arm was in a sling. Even after returning from the wars in Ilshenar Jepeth had never looked this bad to his friends, family, and neighbors.

    All annoyance with how long it took him to arrive melted away. Some in the crowd who knew him from birth felt great despair. Some who had deep pride in their island felt a burning anger for whoever had done this to their community. Some felt their worry about the comet and the situation at large magnify.

    Jepeth sat down gingerly in the wooden chair before the crowd and smiled.

    “I’m all right,” he said. “Please, stop looking like that. I’m all right.”

    Tejnik took his seat off to the side of Jepeth, with the Governor in profile on his left and the crowd to his right.

    “Thank ye all for coming,” said Jepeth. “I must first apologize, this meeting has been long overdue.”

    The crowd murmed to itself. This apology was expected but felt like a delaying tactic.

    “What in the name of all the virtues is going on, Jepeth?” said an old hook-nosed man in the crowd. “Is it true or not?”

    Jepeth held up a hand.

    “Please, there will be time for questions later,” said Jepeth. “I beg all ye patience as this story has grown long and it would be easier on all of us for me to tell it straight through.”

    Tejnik surveyed the room. All 130 or so attendees sitting on the benches, lining the walls, or perched atop the barstools watched Jepeth with rapt attention.

    “It starts,” said Jepeth, “with a Gazer.”

    ****

    For the next hour Tejnik watched Jepeth go through the story to his friends, family, and neighbors step by step, detail by detail. He did pause and answer a few short questions here and there, but the crowd mostly listened quietly. Tejnik even observed a look of excitement on the face of the children when Jepeth reached the part in the tale about maiming Willibrord the mage. The crowd listened intently. Tejnik, however, couldn’t help but mark the worrying looks becoming more manifest across people’s faces.

    Finally, Jepeth reached the conclusion up to that point.

    “After I was released from the Britain healers I sent word to my aides to call this meeting,” he said.

    “And that’s it?” asked a young man in the crowd.

    “That is it, for now” said Jepeth.

    As silent as the crowd had been they quickly broke out into a loud discussion with one another, their fears and anxieties pouring out. Jepeth sat silent at the head of the room waiting.

    “What are we to do?” yelled Cheryl, the woman who worked in the tailors.

    “There is nothing yet for any of ye to do,” replied Jepeth. “When there is, ye will know.”

    “Not good enough!” said the hooked nosed man. “We can’t just sit around!”

    “I said there was nothing for any of ye to do yet,” said Jepeth.

    “And what are ye going to do, Jep?” shouted a man around Jepeth’s age. “Ye are held together by stitches!”

    “And believe me, I feel it,” Jepeth said laughing to the crowd’s surprise.

    “But,” he said smiling, “I have a plan.”

    ***

    Afterward Jepeth led the crowd out of the Tavern into the dark streets of Skara Brae. It was now past 11 and unknown to the citizens under Jepeth’s orders an aide went building to building on the island and extinguished every lantern. There, in the dark street, with only a small candle in his hand to illuminate his face Jepeth pointed up into the southwestern sky. Not too far above the horizon, finally in plain unaided view, hung a ball of light.

    Jepeth and his community all silently stared up into the sky wondering what was to come next.
  • JepethJepeth Posts: 41
    The next few days moved fast for the island fishing community in the west of Britannia. After the town meeting the citizenry of Skara Brae began to prepare for this crisis with the same resolve as they have every other one that had troubled their little island. Indeed it seemed that a new crisis was always threatening the world and while Skara Braens were used to it (like everyone in Britannia) that didn’t also mean they weren’t a little sick of it.

    “I hope the comet waits for the fall harvest,” more than a few remarked at the Tavern the next few days.

    “Remember when Yew flooded?” said others working in the fields. “Ruined the wine for a year after that. Hope that won’t happen to the wheat!”

    “And what about that great big chasm?” asked the tailor working at Shear Pleasure. “I swear half of the island slopes down because of it.”

    Governor Jepeth had ended the meeting with a brief outline of what they, as a community, were to do. They listened respectably, offered some feedback (“Stop asking us to pray, Jepeth!”), and then got to work the next day readying the island for a foe they didn’t truly understand.

    ***

    A moongate opened onto a cliffside in the middle of the day. It’s blue light seemed washed out in the afternoon sun but still every bird in the immediate area turned and was fixated on it. Light seemed to ripple out from within it bending reality. This beauty lingered only for a moment as two men exited the moongate and every bird around fled in a panic.

    “Here we are!” said a very tall man wearing blue mage’s robes happily.

    The other man, wearing dull silver plate armor, took the scene in with one hand on his sword, ready.

    “Seems empty,” replied Jepeth.

    “I believe that was its idea, sire.” said Tejnik.

    Tejnik (the Marvelous) breathed deeply, enjoying the unspoiled air but then noticed Jepeth with his sword ready to be drawn.

    “Ah, perhaps you should relax? I don’t believe it intends us any harm.” said Tejnik.

    Jepeth shook his head.

    “Ye must forgive me if I’m a bit on edge,” said Jepeth. “Every time I seem to let my guard down during this we’ve had to pay the price.”

    Tejnik smiled again, his toothy grin stretching ear to ear.

    “But now you’re with a mage! And a marvelous one at that!” he said. “Nothing would dare test us.”

    Jepeth sighed and turned away from his aides blustering. He looked around the area trying to place exactly where in Britannia Tejnik had magically taken him.

    “Is this near the terrible Dungeon of Wrong?” asked Jepeth.

    “Nae sire, but close.” he replied. “We find ourselves on the cliff sides due West of Minoc.”

    “Hmm, near the Cavern of Ice and the Lost Lands,” said Jepeth.

    The Lost Lands were a whispered fear to some Britannians. The magical paths between them and Britannia had been blasted open by means of the Armageddon Spell years ago. The Wisps taught this spell to one of Britannia’s foes for reasons still unknown. Within these new lands was a facet of man-sized snakes, terrifying spider-creatures, and all manner of other dangers.

    Tejnik had brought Jepeth here to meet a Wisp. Whatever its intentions, the fact that this Wisp had asked to meet them so near one of the paths to the blasted-open Lost Lands was not lost on Jepeth.

    “Does it live here?” asked Jepeth.

    “I’m not sure it ‘lives’ anywhere,” replied Tejnik. “There’s still some debate if they’re even alive.”

    Jepeth made a scoff sound and crossed his arms.

    Magical creatures,” he said, shaking his head.

    Tejnik frowned at Jepeth.

    “Again, Governor, I’ll remind you to hold your tongue around the Wisp,” Tejnik said. “Insulting a human mage is one thing as we know you’re just jealous but Wisps can be… let’s say ‘difficult.’”

    Jepeth bowed his head to his aide.

    “I promise I shall not offend the flying ball of mana,” he replied.

    “Oh!” exclaimed Tejnik happily. “But they’re not mana at all! The Council believes them to be an as-of-yet unknowable form of magic with properties to…”

    Jepeth kicked a rock as hard as he could. The sound of it bouncing off his plate metal foot and flying into the water below was enough to stop Tejnik from speaking further. Tejnik looked pleased. His wide face was always delighted to torture his employer with a magic lecture.

    “But this is not where you met it originally?” asked Jepeth.

    “Nae, nae, I found it near Yew. Or rather it found me?” replied Tejnik. “I got the distinct impression it had been looking for me.”

    A week earlier Tejnik the Marvelous had wandered through the Spiritwood of Yew looking for a Wisp to ask about the current situation. Wisps were said to be magical, wise, and respectable, afterall. He felt elated that the first Wisp he found seemed to know exactly what the situation was by saying the word ‘comet’ in the midst of other untranslatable Wispish.

    But to Tejnik’s disappointment and dread the only other words it would speak to him were ‘Governor,’ ‘meeting,’ and ‘death.’
  • JepethJepeth Posts: 41
    ***

    Not too far south by southeast from where Jepeth and Tejnik were waiting was the great port city of Vesper. As a city of islands inter-connected by a series of bridges, shipping trade was Vesper’s main concern with ships coming and going all hours of the day. While Minoc was the true manufacturing hub of the world all its goods were shipped out through Vesper. It had been said every single sword, shield, and soup bowl made in the world passed through Vesper’s custom house.

    All this shipping made Vesper the northeastern hub of culture as imports from the realm enriched the lives of its citizenry. Granted, nothing would ever challenge Britain as the center of all arts and entertainment in the world, but artists and antiquarians found plenty of places to display their grand works and curios. The Vesper Museum drew in crowds every day of people from as far as Trinsic who wanted to experience some of the amazing cultural works Britannia had to offer. Not all of this amazing art, archeology, and artifact could be displayed at once, though.

    In an almost forgotten basement of a storage facility off-site from the main Vesper Museum Orton sat at a table stirring his bowl of soup. He had warmed it up over a small magical flame (real fire was not allowed anywhere near collection pieces) but it had turned cold quick. Something about magical fire never seemed to hold heat very long. He kept stirring, however, with the hope that it’d eventually taste better.

    The cold, damp basement room in which he worked was one of many facilities holding pieces from the collection. Crates stacked as high as the ceiling that had, at least as long as he worked there, never been opened even once. He was not a very art or history minded person, though, and cared very little for what was in the boxes. The fact that he could read and write had gotten him this watchmen’s job. Despite the boredom and the cold soup he was glad for it, it beat being out on the Vesper docks in the rain. All he had to do was keep inventory of the crates on a long ledger and track what came in and out.

    Nothing, however, ever left. The collection seemed to get bigger and bigger every year. Eventually, Orton knew, this basement facility would run out of space and they’d either need to open a new one with another watchmen employed or build a bigger facility. Orton hoped for the latter, this one was becoming a little claustrophobic.

    Tonight, though, he was more concerned about his soup than about space consideration. He held the bowl over the small magical candle again, stirred it, and took a few more spoonfuls before repeating the process.

    He forced down some more of the cold soup and wrapped a cloak around him a little tighter. It seemed to be extra cold in the basement tonight. He returned to his ledger and wrote a few more entries for the day’s new arrivals.

    About here many things happened at once.

    crack echoed loudly through the basement causing Orton to almost jump out of his own skin. The cold bowl of soup crashed down onto the ledger leaving a pale yellow stain on the pages. He also knocked the candle over but thankfully it didn’t go out.

    He picked the candle up off the floor, shook as much soup out of his ledger as he could, and then turned and stared down the long narrow corridor lined with crates.

    Orton’s eyesight had never been that great, but he swore he saw something moving in the darkness.

    “Hail?” he called out.

    Another loud CRACK answered. It echoed off every surface around him.

    It took Orton a minute but he finally realized what he was hearing. Someone was prying apart a wooden crate.

    This was both surprising and a little exciting. In the many years he had worked as a watchmen he’d never actually had someone try and break into the storage facility. He grabbed his candle and, for some reason, his now empty bowl of soup.

    “Ye might as well come out!” he called into the darkness as he tried to follow what he thought was the source of the sound. “I don’t know how ye got past me but yer in fer it!”

    He walked through the darkness and reached the end of the corridor but found nothing. He turned back and walked a few crate stalls back the way he came and again saw no one.

    Orton was confused. He was sure that the last sound he heard was a crate opening but he saw no one. He started to hold his candle out at the wall of crates in front of him. Each was marked with a city name “GLOW,” “JHLM,” “BRIT,” as well as year. He walked back up to the center of the great room and turned the corner down another aisle.

    As he searched either from the beating of his heart or the exercise he was getting he felt warm. He dropped the cloak onto the floor along with the soup bowl he realized he was also toting around and kept looking aisle to aisle, crate to crate.

    Finally, in the furthest part of the basement holding some of the oldest crates he found it. A box had been opened and the straw which had cushioned its contents was strewn about. ‘Opened’ wasn’t even the right word as Orton noticed that it looked like something punched through the front of the crate, tearing whatever it was inside of it out.

    He leaned in towards the box, feeling around inside. Indeed whatever had been in there was now gone. He wiped some sweat off his brow.

    Suddenly, a hard, hot hand grabbed him from behind. He felt himself rise up a half foot off the floor, his legs kicking and dangling in the air. The hand was hard and dull in places, and sharp in others. He struggled and tried to call out but in the split second after he was grabbed and tried to fight back he felt warm. Warmer. Hot. Burning! He was burning!

    For a moment the entire dark basement was lit up. A bright red and orange glow seemed to reach every nook and cranny in the facility. Before the flame was extinguished it lit up the words printed on the outside of the broken crate:

    “BRAE 2000”

    Orton’s charred, dessicated body fell to the floor with a dull thud.
  • JepethJepeth Posts: 41
    The sun was starting to go down. The day, which had already been on the cool side for spring, had turned downright chilly. Despite this cold Jepeth and Tejnik continued to wait patiently. Tejnik spread out on the ground in his mess of blue robes and cloak, and Jepeth standing silently with his back to the water and cliff side watching the woods. The sky became that lovely shade of pink and the sun dropped so low that it cast a beautiful golden light onto the two men. Jepeth’s normally dull grey armor seemed to glow with orange fire. Tejnik thought of remarking on this but their conversation had died out hours ago. They still awaited the Wisp to appear.

    Finally, the sun dropped below the horizon. The water along the cliff’s edge seemed to stop all motion as the world quieted down. Jepeth turned to Tejnik and right as he opened his mouth to say “enough,” it appeared.

    A blue, brilliant ball of light came into existence right in front of them. It did not approach them. It did not drop from the sky. It was more like the reverse of a candle extinguishing. It went from nothing to a bright ball of something in an instant.

    Tejnik stood up and approached the Wisp while Jepeth hung back.

    “Hello dear Wisp!” exclaimed Tejnik.

    He looked at Jepeth who was staring at the orb of light and after a moment Tejnik made a show of clearing his throat.

    “Oh,” said Jepeth stepping forward. “Right. Ah, ‘Lend us some of ye light?’”

    Tejnik looked pleased that Jepeth had followed his instructions for greeting the Wisp in a respectful manner but thought his delivery needed some work.

    The Wisp began to move. It floated past Tejnik and began to hover back and forth in front of the two men. It traced a path left to right before them; back and forth, over and over again. It did this for a few minutes before Jepeth’s impatience got the best of him.

    “We have been waiting all day,” sighed Jepeth. “Won’t ye speak, Wisp?”

    Tejnik jerked his towards his Governor giving him a reproachful look.

    “It must decide to speak on its own, Sire!” hissed Tejnik

    “It was just a question,” replied Jepeth looking more and more annoyed.

    “It deserves our respect, not our questions, Governor!” whispered Tejnik under his breath.

    “It’s a bloody great big lightning bug,” said Jepeth louder than he probably intended, “that has kept us waiting all day.”

    Tejnik looked downright panicked at Jepeth’s comment but at that moment the Wisp made a sound probably no Britannian had heard in centuries.

    The Wisp laughed.

    Or made an odd, alien sound and motion in the air that approximated laughing. Whatever humor was for a Wisp, Tejnik realized at that moment the Wisp was experiencing it and he was thunderstruck.

    “Xylyl! Bloody great big lighting bug!” said the Wisp. “YZXXl! Excellent.”

    Tejnik smiled nervously. Jepeth continued to look annoyed.

    “Ye have too much respect,” said the Wisp, “Yxxtlk, and ye not enough.”

    “Governor Jepeth means no disrespect, honorable Wisp of the great wide Woods,” said Tejnik.

    “He does, Yxxl,” said the Wisp, “but we care not. He’s just jealous of our magical brilliance.”

    Tejnik smiled. Jepeth folded his arms.

    “Indeed,” replied Jepeth with gritted teeth.

    “I have brought him as requested, beautiful Wisp,” said Tejnik. “Will ye now tell us what ye know? What doom does the comet above Skara Brae bring?”

    “Death,” said the Wisp.

    The word hung in the air for a moment.

    “Of whom? Of what?” said Jepeth.

    “Death!” repeated the Wisp.

    “For such an advanced race ye are as helpful as a rock, and just as dull” said Jepeth.

    “Governor, please,” pleaded Tejnik.

    “I have had it with prophecy and riddle and whisper!” said Jepeth with his voice rising. “Skara Brae has been dealing with this crisis for weeks! Either speak plainly or float off into the woods and trouble some other unhappy soul!”

    The Wisp made the laughing sound again. It raised the goosebumps on Tejnik’s arm.

    “Death comes,” said the Wisp. “How much is entirely up to ye.”

    “How do I stop it?” said Jepeth. “No riddles. Tell me how to stop it!”

    “Zyxyl!” chirped the wisp.

    It floated towards Jepeth, circled him a moment, and then hovered up and away from the two men. It settled a few meters above them in the sky. Jepeth and Tejnik both noticed that to the right of the Wisp in the far, far distance was the comet.

    “Ye will soon know everything there is to know,” said the Wisp. “Ye are already so close. Heed thy spiritual father. Thy just healer. Thy honorable knight. Thy honest aide.”

    Jepeth opened his mouth to reply but remained silent for a moment.

    “There will be four others?” Tejnik asked finally.

    “Nae,” said the Wisp. “Three more will come. The compassionate, the humble, and the valorous.”

    “But what of the sacrificial?” asked Jepeth.

    The Wisp laughed its cold, alien sound again.

    “Nae Jepeth, ye will sacrifice.”

    It vanished entirely leaving the two men in the dark.
  • JepethJepeth Posts: 41
    As the Gazer vanished, the woods were plunged into a deep darkness. Above Jepeth and Tejnik the stars shone brightly, but not as brilliantly as the comet.

    “Ye will breathe not a word of this to anyone,” said Jepeth in the pitch black.

    “But, Governor, are you..?” replied Tejnik.

    “Not a single word, Tejnik.”

    ***

    The next day Jepeth sat at his desk in the tiny, one-room office the citizens of Skara Brae provided their Governor. It featured a desk, two chairs for visitors, and a bookshelf. Behind him hung a banner of Skara Brae with its device of a bucking blue steed on a white field, and a banner of the red iron cross of Blackthorn. He turned away from his papers and beheld both banners for a moment.

    Jepeth had always secretly hated both designs. As it was the color of spirituality the white field was appropriate, but that was about it. The blue steed made little sense in context to Skara Brae. The city of Spirituality, rangers, and fishmongers really had little to do with horses of any kind. Other cities had designs which were more appropriate, if a little obvious. Yew’s featured a tree. Moonglow, a crystal ball. Minoc, the hammer and anvil. Perhaps the only banner with a sillier design than Skara Brae was Britain’s banner. It featured a checkerboard pattern and a castle, which Jepeth had always thought was a little too on the nose.

    The cross of Blackthorn, however, Jepeth had always believed was more distasteful than obvious or silly like the city banners. It was the device worn first by the soldiers of the Chaos Guard. An organization solely devoted to stymying the spread of Justice and virtue in Britannia. While it is said King Blackthorn has put those days, and those ideas, firmly to rest and has embraced virtue, Jepeth always looked upon the iron cross device with skepticism. When Blackthorn was crowned he quickly moved to having his device installed all over Britannia, in addition to having a new castle built. Castle British remains empty, waiting.

    Jepeth turned away from the back wall and returned to the pile of parchments on his desk with a sigh. The comet situation had inflamed his island. Reports of hoarding. Arguments over supplies between neighbors had escalated into near hostility. There was also the mystery of a break-in, theft, and death in a Vesper archive. The missing item apparently originated from Skara Brae but Jepeth had thus far had no luck in finding out what the item could be. He checked the yearly log but found it woefully incomplete past the previous ten years. He examined the declarations by previous Governors and mayors (Skara Brae had only had an office of Governor for around eight or nine years) but again found them incomplete or damaged.

    He resolved at that moment to both not let his island home be destroyed by whatever the comet brings AND reform the island’s system of filing information. Two noble goals that were likely beyond his skill alone.

    He attempted to work. He really did. He was trying to do what an entire adulthood in the service of the Paladins had taught him about grim news and prophecy. Put it aside, they would say. Put it away and do the job. His job had certainly grown more complex in the past months. But he couldn’t help but think about what the Wisp had told him and Tejnik. “Ye will sacrifice,” it said. Sacrifice what? Himself? His city? His citizens? And what of the others the Wisp said would come forth. Who would be the compassionate, the humble, and the valorous? Had he already met them? What part in this would they play?

    As he scratched at a piece of parchment he heard a familiar woosh and pop sound from outside his office. Under the door jam he saw a familiar blue glow and sighed, wondering what fresh hell this moongate and its passenger would bring.

    He stood, approached the door, and opened it just as the gate closed. Standing there was a woman in chainmail armor, carrying a halberd.

    Jepeth blinked in surprise.

    “Hail, guard of the realm!” said Jepeth bowing his head.

    The woman nodded in return. “Governor Jepeth of Skara Brae?” she asked.

    “Aye,” replied Jepeth, “do ye bring news from the King?”

    “Nae, sire,” said the guard. “I am from the Court of Truth in Yew.”

    Jepeth remained silent for a moment as he fought the urge to curse loudly and kick something. Instead, he kept his composure and professional attitude in front of the Guard.

    He sighed, “what has my Cousin done now?”

    ***
  • JepethJepeth Posts: 41

    After a ferry ride to the mainland and a horse ride up the coast Jepeth had reached the great northern woods of Yew. The Spiritwood had long endured in this part of the world and the great trees around Empath Abbey and the Court of Truth were a truly magnificent sight. The Abbey was one of the great structures in Britannia, one of the three fortresses devoted to Truth, Love, and Courage which power the soul with virtue. It, and the monks who tend and inhabit the Abbey, devote themselves to the study and discipline of Love.

    The Monks also produce the lion’s share of Britannian wine. A never ending source of mirth for the rest of the realm.

    It was, however, love for his frustrating, scoundrel relative that brought Jepeth to Yew. The Guard informed Jepeth that his cousin Threepwood had been caught smuggling goods and spirits into Yew. He was arrested and promptly thrown into a cell in the great and terrible Court of Truth to await trial.

    While Jepeth had been a guest of the monk’s of the Abbey many times (Skara Brae and Yew shared the same coastline and were connected by many customs) he had never visited the Court. It was a long, formidable building of roughly hewn stone. It spread out, north to south, across a great swath of land connecting an island immediately off the coast to the mainland by way of an elevated, enclosed bridge. The court occupied the southern end of the structure and the cells occupied the north.

    Jepeth did not travel alone. The guard who was dispatched to bring him to the Court rode with him the short journey north to Yew, and the two dismounted their horses and approached the building’s great facade. Her name was Maggie, was not much for conversation, and hailed from Britain originally.
    “This way, lord,” she said as they approached the building.

    “Please wait a moment,” said Jepeth. “I told my aide to meet us here. I believe he’ll be able to help.”

    The Guard nodded, and slung her great halberd across her back.

    “Oh, you may wish to use that to support yourself,” said Jepeth.

    “Support myself?” replied the Guard.

    Just then a powerful burst of air and light erupted a foot away from them. The guard lost her balance and fell backwards while Jepeth’s customary white cloak identifying him as a paladin nearly ripped itself off his shoulders. The Guard returned to her feet and before them Tejnik had appeared.

    “Governor, hullo again!” he exclaimed. “I believe I see you more during this crisis than I have ever before combined.”

    “Hail Tejnik,” said Jepeth as he rearranged his cloak.

    Tejnik nodded at Jepeth and turned to the Guard.

    “Oh, ma’am!” said Tejnik bowing from the middle at Maggie the Guard, his great height making him look like a tree snapping at the middle.

    “Sir,” she replied curtly dusting herself off.

    “Ma’am, by chance art thou feeling particularly compassionate, humble, or valorous as of late?” said Tejnik, smiling wide.

    Jepeth felt beside himself and gave his administrator an exasperated look.

    “Erm, aye? Nae?” replied the Guard.

    “Ignore the daft mage, please,” said Jepeth. “Lead on, Guard.”

    The Guard gave Tejnik a strange look, repeated it towards Jepeth, and led them into the jail. As they walked through the facility they passed cells full of ragged men and women. Jepeth felt a pang of guilt in his heart at the sight. While he was certainly a follower of the virtues, he knew enough about humanity to know that not all these people could possibly be guilty. This was a hard won lesson, however. As a child he earned more than a smack across his knuckles from a teacher for not showing enough compassion. Intellectually he knew they were condemned. In his gut he worried if in the end everyone was.

    The Guard stopped at an empty cell.

    “He was in here,” she said, gesturing to the empty cell. It featured a ratty roll of cloth on the floor, a wash basin, and a bucket.

    “And how did he get out?” said Jepeth.

    “This way,” replied the Guard.

    They wormed their way back through the jail, out its great iron door, and into the grounds surrounding the jail.

    “He paid another Guard to let him out, who led him to the roof up there,” said Maggie the Guard. “From there he attempted to get high enough up to use a spell and recall out.”

    “How did he do that?” said Tejnik.

    “The fool jumped,” said Maggie.

    Jepeth sighed and shook his head.

    “Alright Tejnik,” said Jepeth. “Please find him if you can.”

  • JepethJepeth Posts: 41
    edited April 24
    Tejnik nodded and outstretched his arms as if he was gropping his way through a dark room. He closed his eyes and began to whisper. Jepeth distinctly heard Tejnik say that pernicious of all spells, that first brick on the path to unnatural magicks.

    “Ah Mi Ko La So Lo Va..” whispered Tejnik. “Ah Mi Ko La So Lo Vaa...”

    Tejnik walked around in this fashion for a moment. He kept his arms spread ahead of him as if trying to find the wall in a dark room.

    “Ah,” Tejnik said finally. “Yes. He’s here.”

    The Guard unslung her halberd and held it in her right hand at the ready.

    “He’s angry,” said Tejnik with his eyes closed. “Angry you brought the guard.”

    “Spare me,” said Jepeth out loud to neither Tejnik or Maggie.

    “He wishes to return,” said Tejnik smiling.

    “Do it,” replied Jepeth.

    “Are you sure you want me to do it, Governor?” asked Tejnik.

    “Aye,” replied Jepeth.

    Tejnik’s right hand enclosed on something invisible. His tall frame breathed in deeply taking as much air into his lungs as he could. His eyes opened and rolled up into his head and in a deep voice he cried “AN CORP!”

    Starting from Tejnik’s heart a glow spread down his right arm into his hand. What he was holding on to finally began to become opaque. First as a grey mist, and then quickly into the shape of a man. The grey remained semi-transparent and under it Jepeth saw glowing shapes form into bones. Arteries spread across them quickly, soon followed by muscle. For a brief moment it was a horrible sight: a freshly skinned body screaming from under a grey vale. Skin finally grew across the body just as the grey vale became solid into cloth. Maggie the Guard and Jepeth both grimaced at the sight.

    Tejnik let go and the newly resurrected body of Threepwood fell to the ground.

    The Guard swung her great halberd out and held it towards Threepwood threateningly.

    “Remain still, pirate!” she cried.

    Threepwood paid her no attention as he was currently throwing up glowing ectoplasm onto the grass.

    Jepeth shook his head.

    “Cousin,” he said disapprovingly.

    “Lord-Governor-Highness,” said Threepwood wiping the slime from his face.

    Jepeth sighed.

    “How many times have ye been resurrected now?” asked Jepeth.

    “Ye concerned for me soul?” asked Threepwood.

    “Aye,” replied Jepeth. “I don’t wish to have a necromancer’s horror in the family.”

    Threepwood snorted and attempted to stand, but fell back to his knees.

    “Take a moment, scallywag,” said Tejnik.

    Threepwood felt his chest for a moment.

    “This feels.. different?” said Threepwood slightly worried. “What have ye done, flunky?”

    “I cursed you!” said Tejnik happily. “Wanted to make sure ye wouldn’t try and escape.”

    “Curse ye self next time ye villainous dog,” grumbled Threepwood.

    “It was my order,” said Jepeth.

    “Villainous dogs travel in packs,” said Threepwood pointing at the three people standing over him.

    “Enough scoundrel,” said the Guard. “On your feet!”

    She thrust the halberd closer to him as he stumbled to his feet.

    “What, ye going to kill me?” said Threepwood smiling.

    “You would be surprised what can be left behind on the journey back to life,” she said.

    Threepwood rolled his eyes and held his hands aloft as she shackled his wrists.

    “She seems yer type, cousin,” said Threepwood. “I hear in her that Britain accent ye have always wanted.”

    “I have many things to deal with right now, Cousin!” said Jepeth more angrily than he probably intended in an effort to ignore Threepwood’s barb about his accent. “Why must ye complicate things? Could ye not have kept out of trouble until this crisis was passed?”

    Threepwood scoffed again.

    “To me cell, villainous dog” said Threepwood to Maggie the Guard.

    Threepwood made a show of parading back towards the jail with the other three following behind him closely.

    “Oh, scallywag,” said Tejnik happily, “by chance are you feeling particularly compassionate, humble, or valourous lately?”

    “Shut up, flunky,” said Threepwood.

    ***

    Later that day Threepwood was returned to his cell in the great jail facility. He now shared his block with the treacherous guard who let him out to begin with.

    At the guard’s station Jepeth scratched a quill across a parchment. Maggie the Guard provided the scrolls to him and then returned them to a wooden box for filing.

    “Has he always been like that?” she asked him.

    “Aye,” said Jepeth. “Since we were wee bairns.”

    The Guard smiled. “You do have a Brae accent, Governor.”

    Jepeth shrugged and continued to sign his name. She handed him a form describing how and why a prisoner was returned to life from death.

    “The Resurrection Spell is more horrible every time I see it,” she said as she placed the form before him.

    “Aye,” said Jepeth. “We Paladins don’t perform or partake in it.”

    “Too close to necromancy?” she asked.

    Jepeth nodded: “We have a different method, ‘the Noble Sacrifice.’”

    “And is it as horrible?” said the Guard.

    “Nae,” replied Jepeth. “Well, it’s far more painful for the person performing it. Not as much for the recipient.”

    “Oh,” said Maggie, “that sounds more compassionate.”

    Jepeth stopped signing his name and blinked in surprise.

    “Aye,” he said, “it is.”
  • JepethJepeth Posts: 41
    “Goodness!” exclaimed Jepeth.

    He had just arrived through the moongate and heard Britain’s warning bells ringing. All around he saw wounded guards and towns folk. Healers and mages rushed about casting spells and tending to the wounded while just outside the gate horse-mounted knights galloped past into the woods. They were apparently pursuing something north to the Serpent’s Spine Mountains. He got his bearings and realized where he was: the Britain graveyard. All though he hadn’t been by here in many months he couldn’t shake the feeling that it had changed somehow.

    Tejnik (the Marvelous) had opened the gate, popped his upper torso through, practically dragged Jepeth into it, and then once they were both back through ran off to aid the healers. Jepeth could tell the immediate danger was over but he went on alert and became instantly tense. Aside from the general scene something was seriously wrong.

    He looked around trying to understand what had happened on his own as opposed to running off to follow Tejnik or disturbing someone who was working. He fell back on his training, both his service during the Ilshenar Wars and his later training in the Paladin Order.

    He could see that the wounded guards had come into the southern entrance of the graveyard in force and were bottlenecked at the gate. Jepeth reached down into the soil and immediately noticed how much blood and mangled armor and weapon bits littered the ground. Looking into the graveyard itself he saw arrows sticking all over the ground and stuck along the eastern side of some of the front mausoleums. Cearly somehow had ordered an archer volley to fire into the graveyard coming from that direction. This gave Jepeth a clue: they were fighting something or someone powerfully magical. He understood that whomever was in charge didn’t fire the volley from behind the wall of guards. Mindless skeletons and wraith couldn’t redirect ballistics but a Lich or something worse could. Pinching from two sides was meant to push whatever it was back into the graveyard and ensure that the magical foe wouldn’t send the arrows straight back at the guards or their shooters.

    No one really understood why the dead of Britannia never wanted to stay buried. It went beyond insane mage’s turning themselves into Lich’s or other necromancy. Something about graveyards seemed to push the dead up and out. Most graveyards had thus been guarded around the clock to keep the dead in the ground and failing that, had spells laid on them to contain them within.

    He continued to appraise the scene as the town bells fell silent in the distance. The danger to the city was over, at least for the moment. He looked out of the graveyard into the deep woods that surrounded Britain. They appeared dark and foreboding. He shook his head and quietly sighed.

    Britian was the largest city in the realm. In size, population, culture, opportunity, diversity, every single metric that one could judge a city by Britian boasted the most. Ever metric except one: safety.

    Trinsic was surrounded by a meter thick wall and the ocean. Skara Brae was protected by water. Moonglow by water. Jhelom, Serpent’s Hold, Nujel’m, all by water. The Spiritwood made marching on Yew nearly impossible. It was said Vesper could (and would) sever its great bridges from the mainland to protect the city if the need arose. Even little Cove had a wooden wall.

    Britain had no wall. Britain was unprotected. Lord British’s logic when designing the city had always been that under his rule a united realm would not need walls or towers or giant fortifications. Britain was supposed to be the shining beacon to the entire world that peace could reign.

    This didn’t stop his castle designers from building a moat, towers, and a bloody thick wall around his castle of course. Those that live in Britain are supposed to retreat into the safety of the castle if the warning bells ring. But that was many years ago and trust in the Crown has suffered.

    Jepeth understood Lord British’s logic but that didn’t mean he agreed with it. Whatever happened in the graveyard today could have been stymied by a damned wall.

  • JepethJepeth Posts: 41
    Behind him Jepeth heard the familiar sound of spells and the dull pop of air rushing. He turned and saw some of the robed healers opening moongates to carry the wounded back to their clinics. He saw a familiar face in a brown robe.

    “Harbottle,” said Jepeth trotting over to him.

    “Oh Brigand,” replied Harbottle as he was laying a bandage on a townsman who was about to be drug through a gate. “I’m sorry, I don’t have time to speak to you.”

    “I can see.”

    “Find me at the Healers later,” said Harbottle and he followed the patient through the moongate and vanished.

    Jepeth looked around again and sighed, feeling more than a little useless. Clearly the moment for swords and shields had passed but Tejnik brought him here for a reason. When he returned Jepeth would be sure to ask him what that reason was.

    A quiet moan caught his attention. He turned and walked a few meters into the graveyard and found another townsperson grasping a wound on his upper thigh. Blood had soaked his pants and the man’s pallor was pale. Realizing this man had not yet been attended to, Jepeth made a loud whistle at the closest healer he could see who gave him a wave of acknowledgement.

    Jepeth kneeled next to the wounded man, removed a few strips of cloth from a pocket, and attempted to aid him.

    “Hello there,” said Jepeth. “Let me have a look at that leg, ay?”

    The man slowly let go of his thigh but a quick squirt of blood followed. He yelped and clamped his hand back over it.

    “Oh dear, that’s an arterial bleed,” said Jepeth frowning. “Fear not friend, I’ve seen that many times.”

    “Are,” the man whispered. “Are ye a healer?”

    Jepeth then realized this man really wasn’t very old at all. He couldn’t have been more than a boy of 16 or 17. He was shaking and had tears running down his face.

    “Ohh, no” replied Jepeth. “I’m,” he hesitated a moment.

    “I’m just with the militia,” Jepeth said. “Let me help that wound.”

    The boy let go again and clasped both hands together at his forehead. As he began to work on the boy’s leg his shaking grew more pronounced. It was clearly an effort for him to keep still for Jepeth to work.

    He heard whispers come from his lips. Jepeth realized the boy was trying to pray.

    “What’s ye name?” asked Jepeth after a few moments.

    “Geoff,” whispered the boy.

    “Ooh, named for the famous fighter were we?” said Jepeth smiling as he laid another strip of cloth along the wound.

    “Ah..aye,” whispered Geoff.

    “What do ye do, brave Geoffrey?” asked Jepeth.

    “I.. I'm an apprentice at the smithy,” replied Geoff. “The Hammer and Anvil just down the path.”

    Jepeth frowned. “Ye work very close to here. Were you here first?”

    The boy nodded quickly, his hands still clasped and pressed on his forehead.

    “I grabbed ‘me hammer and came running when we first heard it.”

    “This town would do well to have a wall built,” said Jepeth as he laid a hand on the covered wound and closed his eyes. He tried to center himself before he attempted to perform the Paladin ritual (or spell if you prefer) of wound healing. “Warning bells are not enough.”

    The boy shook his head. “It wasn’t the bells we heard first,” said Geoff. “It was the scream.”

    Jepeth opened his eyes again and saw that the boy had dropped his hands away from his face. Their gaze connected. Jepeth saw fear in his eyes. He tried to smile at the boy and give comfort. He then closed his eyes again.

    Obsu Vulni,” whispered Jepeth in a quiet, calm voice.

    Tiny blue orbs of light came out from under Jepeth’s palm and surrounded the boy’s leg. It made a sound like the deepest string on a harp.

    Jepeth opened his eyes and smiled at the boy. “There, all better ay?”

    Geoff looked down and saw that his leg was no longer pouring blood.

    “Yes!” he exclaimed. “Much better!”

    “I think ye shall live to swing the hammer again,” said Jepeth.

    Two brown robed healers strode up to Jepeth and the boy.

    “We’ll take ‘im from ‘ere, sire,” said one of them as he put an arm under Geoff and hauled him up.

    “Farewell brave Geoffrey, knight of the Hammer and Anvil,” said Jepeth.

    “Thank ye sire,” said Geoff over his shoulder as one of the robed healers led him away.

    The other healer lingered behind with Jepeth.

    “That was an excellent looking field-dressing” said the robed man. ”Ye aren’t a bad healer. Governor.”

    Geoff looked back at Jepeth startled as he was led out of the graveyard.

    Jepeth watched him go. He suddenly became aware of Tejnik standing behind him and he turned to face him.

    “Governor,” said Tejnik, looking grim and lacking his usual jovial attitude.

    “Have ye learned much?” asked Jepeth.

    “Aye, and you?” replied Tejnik.

    Jepeth nodded his head and looked back into the graveyard. He knew what had changed. There was no dead remaining. No shambling skeletons, no moaning wraiths, no crawling zombies. The graveyard only had the living townspeople and healers tending to each other and securing the scene.

    “Something took the dead,’ said Jepeth.


  • JepethJepeth Posts: 41
    ***

    Hours later Jepeth and Tejnik went to call upon Harbottle as he requested but didn’t find him at the Britain Healers.

    “Gone home to bed?” asked Tejnik.

    “Nae, I know where he is,” replied Jepeth.

    The Cat’s Lair is a fine tavern in the southwest of Britain. Being so close to the First Bank of Britain it’s clientele runs a little more respectable than those at the Salty Dog Tavern on the other end of the city. Like most taverns, though, the wooden plank floor is stained with mud, ale, and the occasional bit of blood. Jepeth and Tejnik entered and found Harbottle sitting by himself with a full plate of food in front of him and a nearly empty tankard.

    Harbottle looked up, gestured them over, and they sat down across from him.

    “We came to the Healers but didn’t find you,” said Jepeth.

    “Thought I’d grab a bite before bed,” replied Harbottle.

    “Doesn’t look like you’ve ate much, sir?” said Tejnik rather bluntly.

    “Whose this?” grunted Harbottle after a pause.

    “I am Tejnik the Marvelous! Mage and-”

    “He’s my aide,” said Jepeth cutting in.

    “And what did you have to do with today?” said Harbottle sharply as he pointed a finger at Jepeth.

    “Me? Nothing! Tejnik fetched me through a moongate right as the battle ended,” said Jepeth.

    “I grabbed him and pulled him through!” said Tejnik happily.

    “Why do ye treat me with such suspicion, Harbottle?” asked Jepeth. “It seemed like Britain could use all the help it could this afternoon.”

    “We managed just fine,” said Harbottle.

    Jepeth looked down at the plate of food. It clearly had been sitting out for a while and gotten cold and dry. Harbottle’s tankard of ale, however, looked well visited.

    “Aye, I see how well ye are managing,” said Jepeth.

    Harbottle chuckled and tipped the rest of the mug back.

    “We all need healing,” said Harbottle. “I heard ye were playing one earlier.”

    “I did what I could,” said Jepeth.

    “He did wonderful,” said Tejnik. “Not as wonderful as mage would have been at healing the boy, but still.”

    Jepeth winced slightly.

    “Interesting company ye keep,” said Harbottle.

    “What happened today, Harbottle?” asked Jepeth.

    “What, don’t ye Governors all sit around and blather on together?” said Harbottle. “You can ask them.”

    “Those meetings aren’t exactly a social club,” said Jepeth. “Tejnik fetched me because the last time there was undead in Britain I ended up in your care.”

    “Aye, that wasn’t lost on me,” said Harbottle.

    “Then what happened?” asked Jepeth again. “Tell us or I’ll have to start calling on the wounded.”

    Harbottle shrugged, extended his arms outward, and then clasped them in front of himself.

    “I can only tell ye what I was told by others,” replied Harbottle. “And it’s everything so don’t go disturbing any of the wounded. That’s not fair to them, they’ve been through enough”

    “Ha, ye are indeed ‘Just’ as the Wisp said!” said Tejnik.

    “What?” asked Harbottle, confused.

    “Ignore the daft mage,” said Jepeth. “Please, tell us.”

    “Earlier this afternoon a loud, inhuman scream was heard from the graveyard,” said Harbottle. “Those that were the closest, in the smithy and the music conservatory, rushed in first thinking someone was getting torn apart. Instead they witnessed a man raising the dead.”

    “Necromancers!” spit Jepeth angrily.

    “Sheath the sword, Brigand, I’m not done yet,” said Harbottle. “Anyway, whatever that man was doing the dead started clawing their way out of their graves and began to swarm. Someone ran back and got the town bells ringing calling the guard in. Those first poor souls tried to keep the dead at bay as the Town Guard arrived. They formed up and tried to contain them within the graveyard.”

    “Were they trying to get into the city?” asked Tejnik.

    “No, from what I was told they were just trying to get.. Out. The necromancer was attempting to get the horde past the magically enclosed gate.” said Harbottle.

    “They broke the line of guards at the southern entrance?” asked Jepeth.

    “Well, no, whomever was leading the horde was smart. He and a force of them did crash upon the guards there but at the same time they seemed to have dug their way out on the north side. A host of them escaped the graveyard and fled towards the mountains,” said Harbottle.

    “An undead host.. Fled?” said Jepeth. “That doesn’t sound like mindless skeletons or bone knights.”

    Harbottle shrugged.

    “Did anyone get a good look at the necromancer?” asked Tejnik.

    “Was it a Lich?” asked Jepeth.

    Harbottle shook his head.

    “No.. ahh,” Harbottle began. “This is maybe where the frayed nerves of battle have clouded the testimony of those who were there.”

    “What do ye mean?” asked Jepeth.

    “It was neither Lich nor man. It was not an elf, a gargoyle, an orc, or a little goblin,” said Harbottle cryptically.

    Jepeth cocked his head at the healer sitting across from him.

    “Was it a bloody cow, Harbottle? What was it?” he asked pointedly.

    “I’ll tell you what they told me,” said Harbottle. “But it makes no sense. They described a man pulled apart. As if there were two skeletons inside him and each were trying to walk a different direction. Pale, thin skin like a fish, gaunt features, a mangled arm ending in bones.”

    Jepeth and Tejnik remained quiet a moment after Harbottle finished speaking.

    “Who did this creature kill at the beginning?” asked Tejnik.

    “Hm?” replied Harbottle.

    “The scream, who did it kill?” said Tejnik.

    Harbottle shook his head. “No, it was the abomination. It was screaming.”


    ***

    A dark cave in the Serpent’s Spine Mountains was full of sound. Moaning, groaning, creaking, crying, screaming, laughing noise. It was terrible. The cacophony made every normal creature in the cave flee deeper within to escape the horror that had come to lodge there temporarily.

    A voice in the darkness spoke to itself.

    “Why,” it gasped. “Why have you done this to me?”

    “Quiet boy,” said a voice from within. “Have I not given ye what ye wanted? Am I not true to me word?”

    “No-- not this,” it begged. “I.. I don’t want this..”

    “Shh, lad,” said the voice from within. “You’ll disturb our crew.”

    “I don’t want to do th.. this..” it whimpered. “Please.. Please..”

    “Not long matey,” the voice from within answered. “It be close soon. I can feel it.”

    “Noo,”

    “Revenge,” the voice from within breathed.

    The abomination reached a hand of bone up and touched the side of his face. He felt the bone of the other ripple as it talked under his skin: “Revenge for us both.”

    The abomination cried. He tried to remember who he was. That he was once just himself. But literally within his head he heard the voice again.

    “Ye’ll never be alone again, Willibrord.”
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