This is a write-up by one of the players (Kelly Grimshaw) of our first Sapphire Island Dungeon World session, Kelly plays the elven druid Demanor in the campaign.
Walking through my home known to the rest of the world as the Wildlands I could feel the piece and serenity of the land. The air, usually sticky and humid. The heat from the living forest made the animals and insects sluggish and their music would not be heard until the sun went down leaving the air cool and fresh. That was in summer.
Now the summer Lady had made way for old man winter and the crisp air hinted with the tin twang of snow on the way.
I had been asked by my mentor to go down to the old ruins of our people where a group of southern mainlanders had made a temporary home to collect various materials to aid the development of their way of life.
They had asked permission from the Elven council knowing that they would agree. Before I was born they knew that our time in this world begun to dwindle as with all growth something’s must fade and die. Our time with this world had nearly passed to make way for the time of the Humans. As with all young the Humans sometimes got over enthusiastic if unsupervised and the task was given to me to make sure that the land was not over worked.
Accompanying me was my friend Korra and Will.
Korra, a fiery eyed human bard from the distant Sapphire Isles. She told me she is the bastard child of a noble, receiving little other than some basic schooling by way of compensation for the social stigma that she faced;. She is desperate to add something to the status of her noble house and bring some glory to their name and hopefully gaining acceptance of herself in doing so. Something that thankfully does not happen in Elvan life she travelled to the mainland in search of ancient legends and to carry news to the mainland outposts of her house.
She had hear that a ship of her house was to dock on the coast and wanted to hear news from her homeland.
I met her very briefly while collecting herbs, barks and berries in the heart of the Wildlands. She had been exploring the jungles of the mainland eager to discover stories, from whom I do not know. Whilst there she was bitten by a venomous serpent and was if I had not have fallen over her she would have died. I saw she was responding well to the treatment and I carried on my collection. She told me she often thought of our meeting and employed our other companion Will or Strike to his friends to find me so that she could tell the world of my adventures. Although I am still not sure the Humans would like to hear stories of an Elven Druid.
Strike I had known a lot longer. I had found him also wandering the Wildlands, I had helped him through his strange new lands and as a thanks and respect he bound our friendship in a Northlander blood ritual. On the long travel to the main land he had told me of how he had been made an outcast from one of the Northern barbarian tribes after he had poisoned the Chief for taking advantage of his younger sister. An act I believe he would commit again to save her. After his uncle replaced the old Chief the old warrior personally made sure he was safely stowed away in a trading ship. Although his blood still ruled the tribe Strike had broken one of their most sacred laws by using poison and not a fight to the death. I do not blame him, looking at his sinewy wiry frame he would have had no chance against a warrior of Odin. Once I had shown him though the dense rainforests he became a thief living on the streets of the cities and from the stories that make it through to me a damn good one.
Before we began Strike had confided in me that he did not trust Korra. When he had first met her, somehow, I did not ask for the details she had recorded the story of how Will was banished for poisoning the chief after he took advantage of Will's sister. She twisted the facts, to make the story more interesting and in her version, the sister did the poisoning and Will took the blame. Worried that someone may one day hear or read the new story and take it as the truth, Will stole Korra's most treasured possession, an ancient flute given to her by her half-sister and held it as surety to prevent her account of his banishment ever being delivered to the masses.
With this knowledge I believe that Strike would never leave the bard’s side as a reminder how devastating stories could be.
But I digress, we walked on with the rainforest to our backs towards the coast. We were chattering about everything and nothing as we climbed to the top of one of the hills that littered the landscape and the conversation stopped.
In the distance, over the next rise was a dull red glow. Wisps of ash and embers rose up on the hot air against the white feathers of snow fall.
“I recognise this, stay here.” Strike said before slinking forward.
Korra and I looked at each other and both moved towards him.Stretching out below us was the smouldering ruins of the frontier settlement. Splintered timber littered the floor with the remains of the huts scattered to the four winds. Trees had been uprooted or snapped in half like twigs and the earth was black where the fire had taken hold. Stirring some ash with my foot I found the broken glass of a lantern, looking further I found several more, the possible reason for the fire.
Strike turned my attention to huge dents dotted around the site. I had no explanation for these strange impressions and so I turned to the land in search of answers.
The unmistakeable signs of a gigantic creature had charged through the ruins and obliterated the settlement. The fire was started by the lamps being smashed and with all the curing timber around it had spread fiercely and quickly. I was answered.
Next I asked what is about to happen.
Whatever was responsible may return. If no one returns then Nature will take back the land, evident in the dwindling Elven ruins around the carnage. Feeling a little frustrated with answers I had already known I asked the final question, what is about to happen?
There are no bodies, if everyone had fled in terror who would have moved the remains? That was as maddingly unhelpful as the first two but it did make a very good line of reasoning.
“Since I was last here the settlement has expanded, the clearing is larger…” Korra began before wandering around trying to recognise anything in the wreckage.
“Could these dents be catapult?” Strike asked.
“No forget that, there are no boulders, just the holes.” He answered before we could.
“Possibly footprints.” I mused.
“There big footprints.” He replied.
“Ents.” I replied flatly.
“How big are these Ents?”
“As big as a tree.” I shrugged.
“Do they have legs?”
“After a fashion.” It is really difficult to explain a tree being, it is much easier just to show what they are.
Strike began his investigations again then returned. “Around twelve feet.” He muttered. “Can they be twelve feet?” he directed this question to me.
“Trees can be twelve feet. Trees can be six inches.”
“Would they attack a village?”
I let out a long controlled sigh. That answer is complicated. “There are some who think that the land is worked more than it should be…”
“But would they wade in, obliterate and set fire to settlements?” Korra asked as she walked over to us.
“I think the fire was an accident, people running terrified not looking were, knock over a lantern, this happens all over the settlement and suddenly the whole village is ablaze.”
“What about the bodies?” Will asked almost casually.
“I was just going to come to that.”
“Do Ent’s eat?” Strike asked, his voice faltered slightly at the thought of the things coming back.
“The same way plants do.” I replied, also with the image of a huge creature romping through the forest.
“What about other creatures?”
I looked at him blankly. “Don’t know about those, they’re not plants.”
“No, but you know stories and legends.”
“Yes.” Korra and I replied together.
“Well what in your lands eat human flesh?”
“Erm Ogres, giants, Cyclops…” Korra tried to remember the legends she sung of.
“Well are they round here?” Strikes voice getting more high pitched with urgency.
“Not that I know of.” Korra replied.
There was a weak, strangled sound, “h e l p!”
After searching the site we eventually discovered the back of a figure bound with thick rope to a tree; edging around the trunk we found a man barely alive, stripped to his waist. His eyes were missing, red encrusted holes stared blankly at nothing, his left hand had been cut off and a strange symmetrical web like pattern had been carved into the flesh of his chest.
I tried to get a feel of the land but a horrible sense of unease and irritability washed over me, the usual calm and tranquillity of the Wildlands had been disturbed.
“You do have a knife on you?” Korra asked Strike. Her answer was a sly smile.
“But who is he?” He asked chewing the side of his thumb.
“I don’t think he is a threat. I think he was a logger.”
The poor man was whimpering as we spoke, Strike cut his bonds and had to catch him before he fell; lying him gently on the ground Korra began tending to his wounds, singing as she did so, trying to sooth and calm him. When he was a comfortable as possible Korra tried to make sense of what happened.
“Men came from the south with some sort of priest. We were to be sacrificed to wake the sleeping
Giants. They took my eyes with a burning brand, after that all I could hear was screaming, so much screaming. They tied me to a tree. I heard crashing and splintering then silence. I have been shouting for someone to find me ever since.” It took a while for him to tell his tale but when he had finished Korra asked what he wanted.
“Don’t leave me here. I don’t want to be left here. I was offered the chance to go with the traders, I said I was making a new life here.” His voice trailed off to sobs.
“There are legends of giants.” Korra told us.
“The Sapphire Islands were formed when tow giants were fighting, after days and days of sharing blows and they were both about to give up, one giant punched the other so hard his teeth flew out his mouth and where they fell the smaller islands were formed. He fell hard, so hard it killed him and his body became the larger island of Mercia.”
“Where did it go?” Strike asked, breaking her spell.
I examined the lay of the footprints for a while before I spoke, “They emerged from the jungle behind us, attacked the settlement before bounding back the way it came. But there are Human tracks going towards the coast” I said pointing both behind and in front of us.
We discussed at length what we would do next and eventually decided to continue to the coast to try and make contact with Korra’s ship and see if they had any news about what had occurred. Taking one last look around, something caught my eye. On a large stone mantle that could easily sit four humans I noticed the same geometric web pattern drawn in blood roughly the width of a Human. I yelled in surprise and Strike and Korra were by my side.
“Is it a ritual?” Strike asked eventually.
Staring at the grotesque pattern, echoed on the man’s chest it seemed familiar yet not, “Yes but at the same time no. It is similar to the druidic patterns used in rituals but those had never been drawn in blood.” I tried to remember every ritual I had ever cast to try to find some understanding in the design.
“There are tales that tell of certain symbols and rituals that can control the energies of an area. I don’t know why they would do this but could these men have influenced this place in some way.” Korra asked standing a little way from the stone.
Strike turn to walk away and with the forward step came a slippery squelching noise. Bending down to investigate his face turned to a look of disgust when his questioning fingers pulled out a severed hand from under the plinth. Apart from it being detached from its owner the other noticeable thing was that the fingers were cut down to the first knuckle where ragged flesh hung from the bone.
“Well I think I found the marker.” Strike said. I was not sure if he meant it as a joke or not, sometimes it was hard to tell. Korra took the appendage and studied it closely. It was easy to see that it was too badly damaged to reattach.
“Do we keep him with us?” Strike asked gesturing with a nod of his head towards the broken man.
“Yeah, he is going to carry our equipment.” Korra replied.
“How is he supposed to navigate the jungle floor with all its trips and pitfalls, we can’t shout instructions to him at every step.” Strike pointed out. “We could end his pain right here and now. This is a little too urgent to be dragging him around.”
Without warning this argument began to irritate me more than I could describe. I could not understand what was to discuss. Either we took him with us, left him to fend for himself or we laid him to rest. It was that simple. I tried to quell my irritation as the debate continued.
“It’s no life with no eyes and no hand…” I heard Strike continue.
“I see your point but I am not going to help you do it.” Korra answered.
“Oh just make a decision and stick with it!” I snapped.
“Don’t get me wrong, I am going to do it…”
“Well I am not going to help.”
“Just do it then!” I yelled over them. Their look of shock echoed my own. Something was not right but I could not say what.
After making the man as comfortable as possible we headed to the coast, it took roughly half a day to reach the cliffs that overlooked the ocean as blue as the gems that shared its name, climbing to the highest point of the cliff with the salt spiked air whipping around us we gazed out hoping to see the ship already docked or at least gliding towards the coastline. What we saw was neither of those things.
The boat was stuck on the rocks, it was difficult to tell if the rocks that held it there had punctured the hull or not. The colours of Korra’s house floating in the water looked almost like they were flying in the wind. The bodies of the crew bobbing in the water, some face down others staring vacantly into the sky; we scrambled down as fast as the shifting sand dunes would allow and from our viewpoint on the shore it was clear that as well as the attack there had been sever fire damage.
“We need to get onto the ship and look at the damage.” Strike began but was cut short by the look Korra gave him. Her eyes said it all.
“If it was my people the boat would have been sunk.” He answered her unspoken question.
Wading out to the boat Strike found that the ship was not as badly damaged as first thought. In the water, close to the hull he saw a stranger in the midst of the swollen and distorted bodies of the sailors; dragging the body back to shore we helped Strike pull the Orc onto the sand. He was dressed in the heavy furs and leathers of the Northlands with a short bow still in one hand with no other signs of injury besides a clean line down the centre of his chest where he had been stabbed.
“This and a number of others were scattered over the boat and sticking out of the crew.” Strike explained handing over a black crude Orc arrow.
“Could it be Ice Giants?” Korra asked.
Strike and I exchanged a glance before he replied, “Can’t be Ice Giants, too fookin’ warm for a start.”
“You don’t know that, may be its not as much as you’d think.”
“It’s a giant made of ice, the sun doesn’t feature much in Ragnarok.” Strike answered in a singsong voice, possibly reserved for slow children.
“Look, we need to make this ship seaworthy and decide where to go from there.” He continued after seeing the hurt look Korra gave him.
I waded back to the ship with Strike to inspect the ship. He was right about the damage only being mostly superficial with the primitive Orc arrows embedded in the wood and the crew. There were no symbols drawn in blood or otherwise that I could see but inspecting the bodies of the sailors they did have something in common; they were all missing their left hand, I shouted this back to Korra who looked puzzled.
“What about your Orc?” I asked Strike who had started to pull the boat off the rocks.
“He was not of the same boat.” He grunted.
Back on shore with Strike busy beaching the boat and Korra scouring the shoreline for anything of use or value I found myself alone. Using this time to attempt to understand the feelings of anger, irritation and frustration I was sensing from the land.
I felt two great weights trying to pull me up. My eyes slam open and I find my hands around the neck of the sacrificial man. The weights pulling me are Strike and Korra trying to prise me off him.
I hurriedly let go, the man falls to the ground clutching his throat his eyes closed as he gasps like a fish out of water trying to catch his breath. As I watch the white welts begin to change colour to angry purple bruises while the man looked totally confused at the unprovoked attack.
“I was mooring the ship when I looked over to find the beach empty and a strangled cry coming from the jungle. We raced to find you with over the old logger trying you hardest to kill him!” Strike said to me as I struggled to escape both their holds, as confused as the old man.
“I’m going to let go now. Care to explain what happened what happened?”
“As my spirit melded with the land red anger and hatred filled me, as though the land had been provoked in some way and I woke up to both of you pulling me off him.”
“I did say kill him but I meant a blade to the back of the neck. But whatever works best.” Strike sniggered but stopped when I looked at him.
“I don’t know what to say, I wanted to see why my mood had been so effected…” I began but was interrupted from the treeline being ripped open by an enormous tree figure of an Ent who stomped into the clearing. It roared incoherently trying to voice the anger it felt. I had never seen such a murderous look on the face of usually such gentle creatures and seeing the others dive for cover I tried to grab the old logger round the waist to pull him to safety.
As soon as he realised someone had grabbed him he began thrashing around wildly trying to break my hold. I could not blame the man, the last time I had grabbed him I tried to kill him; he successfully managed to break my grip and all I could do was watch from my hiding place as the massive treeherder looked directly at the screaming man before crushing him under its gargantuan rooted foot. Satisfied he had been trampled into the earth the Ent roared once more before stomping back into the trees.
“It was his anger I was feeling.” I mumbled still shocked from the actions of the treehurder.
“At least he died in battle.” Strike tried to comfort me.
Still staring at the retreating figure I spotted the same reddish brown symmetrical symbol daubed on the creatures back, in its centre someone had nailed a severed hand to the trunk of the Ent.
“Follow that tree?” Strike suggested.
“Get that thing off it.” I growled.
“What thing?” Strike replied.
“The blood symbol, with the hand nailed to it.” I snapped.
“Follow that tree then.” Strike answered; I am so distracted by the damage inflicted on the Ent that I did not notice the black Orc arrows rain down around me. Strike flew at me, grabbing me round the waist and flung me behind the safety of a stone pedestal with him following close behind.
“I don’t think they like us.” He smiled weakly at me.
“They won’t when I’ve finished with them.” I hissed, the image of the Treehurder still burned brightly in my mind.
Fur clad Orcs began to emerge from the treeline black feathered arrows raining down around us.
“This is not defendable. We have to get to the boat!” Strike shouted about the clattering of the arrows that fell short.
He snatched up Korra on the way down the sand and slung her over his shoulder. The Orcs grunted orders to each other in their own language while Strike lead us down the beach, easily leaving the lumbering creatures behind us.
Strike dumped Korra into the boat and frantically began to look for weapons, any weapons.
I entered the water and using the energies of the sea transformed into the form of a salt water crocodile. This time I was ready for the flow of hatred and used the tide of rage to my advantage.
Strike emerged from the boat brandishing a spear, he tested its weigh and flung it at the Orc nearest the boat. The Orc dodged out of the way but not fast enough. It let out a bellow of fury as it scraped down the side of his skull.
The Orcs drop their short bows, the waist deep water making it impossible to use them efficiently and as they wade deeper I lash out at the Orc nearest to me grabbing him in my jaws and dragged him under. He was not going down easily though and before I managed to get a tight hold he dragged his dagger down my side. Once under the surface I rolled twice. On the second roll I felt the life force leave the Orc and letting go his limp body floated away.
I surfaced to see Strike launch another spear at the Orc he had wounded, hitting him directly in the neck; as he fell to his knees an Orc behind him returned a spear to Strike hitting him in the shoulder. I twisted round to find two Orcs closing in on me. I opened my massive jaws intending to snap at one while tail whipping the other but I misjudged the distance and was repaid with a spear driven deep into my shoulder, with the deep wounds breaking my concentration I could feel my shape trying to re-shift back to my Elven form. As I transformed I threw my shillelagh into the face of the approaching Orc whose axe was already high above his head ready to strike, distracting him enough that the axe whispered past me instead of burring into my skull.
Seeing my struggle to get onto the ship Korra held out her hand to help me up but the shapeshifing and Orc attacks have left me too weak to pull myself up, seeing my struggle last remaining Orc pulled his axe up over his head to fling into my back. I can see this out the corner of my eye but I do not have the strength to do anything about it; from the side I see Strike realise what the Orc fighter is about to do and picking up a spear stabs at the Orc, hitting it in the top of the shoulder.
Distracted, the Orc pulls at the spear shaft and bringing Strike in closer rakes his clawed fingers across his chest. Strike used this to his advantage and ignoring the pain like his forefathers he gets in close enough for to skewer the creature though the neck with his trusted rapier.
The splash of the dead Orc gives me the final ounce of strength to climb aboard, I fall onto Korra and roll over onto my back, breathless, beaten but still alive.
“You two wait here, I’m going to find those bows.” Strike said before dropping over the side of the ship with a splosh. I pull myself up enough to watch my friend and savour collect up the dropped Orc weapons when he stopped and looked at the tree line, I could not see what he had seen but I had a sense from my friends body language he was being watched.