Brigade Con 2014 promo video:
Tuesday, 30 September 2014
Monday, 29 September 2014
BrigadeCon 2014 panel on 15th November (12:00 EST) on how to create interesting and useful NPCs in roleplaying games, hosted by myself Tim Kearney and Mitchell Grubbs; if you want some tips for creating the supporting cast in your game or have any questions please submit them to the event or myself.
We'd love to see you all there :)
Saturday, 27 September 2014
Tuesday, 23 September 2014
Monday, 22 September 2014
Tuesday, 16 September 2014
This is a player handout that I have designed for my forthcoming Numenera game set in the fictional town of New Hope, the basic framework of the document was designed by myself but a lot of the details were contributed by the players, since I like to ensure that everyone has input and investment in a campaign setting, and what better way than to help create it?
Sunday, 14 September 2014
The morning began with many sore head following a night of mead drinking with the people of Urut's village, some of the villagers who had been out hunting on the shores proudly brought in their catch for the feast, a large and ancient sea turtle that they carried between them, securely lashed to a wooden pole; Demanor shuddered, she did not object to the cycle of hunter and prey, but she did not believe in needless cruelty and, looking at the gleeful drooling facing of the northmen she didn't trust them to exercise any restraint. Quietly she asked Strike whether she might be allowed to kill the creature (knowing that she could end it's life with as little suffering as possible)? Chief Urut seemed puzzled but gave his agreement and the elven druid knelt down beside the creature, whispering re-assuringly to it as she drew her knife. As the creature died, it squeaked and wheezed loudly, although it was just noise to the hungry northlanders, Demanor knew that the creature was expressing it's regret that it had not finished buried it's eggs, as she drew her knife across the leathery flesh and felt the soul of the beast leave the world, Demanor whispered a promise that she would find and bury the eggs.
One of the outlying guards entered, telling Urut that they had spotted a small party lead by the Rugorim heading towards the village and that there had been some strange, heavily armoured creatures with him that looked like orcs but that walked like men. Demanor was sat in the corner of the room with Ulric, both of them had been feeling a sense of growing unease, and the mention of the Rugorim's approach seemed to confirm it's source. Demanor asked the guard whether any of the creatures looked like her but the northman shook his head, saying that they were orcs walking tall like men; as the guard left to return to his post, Demanor set out for the place on the shore where she believed the turtle eggs to be buried, she only had a vague impression in her mind, a last fleeting image from the mind of a dying creature, to direct her but eventually she found the place. As she was trying to bury them a huge arctic bear heaved itself out of the water, sniffing the air, Demanor froze, she knew that the bear must have smelled the egges and, thinking it better to save some of them, she scooped up half the eggs and retreated further down the shore to bury them whilst the bear (ignoring her) make short work of the rest.
Returning to the village she saw that Ulric was staring into the flames of the hearth fire, stirring the embers with a stick, he spoke in a weary voice, saying "I feel a disturbance in the world tree, the leaves of knowledge fall in strange unfamiliar ways."
Ulric went on to explain that he had a dream where a three fingered shadowy hand had reached out to engulf the world, and each finger was an army, one of grey skinned elves that were foul of aspect, the other of black armoured orcs that walked like men and the final finger being men who eyes glittered like gems and were devoid of all kindness. Thinking that perhaps these strange men might be the stoneborn Korra asked what Ulric knew about them, he told her that in ancient northlander legends the stone men had taught the first humans how to forge metals but that one day they had disappeared, retreating to their underground holdings. Standing on the outskirts of the village, having is sword sharpened by the village blacksmith, Strike spotted a unit of a dozen black armoured figures marching in lockstep, an ancient twisted orc leading them, he leant on a staff with a severed hand nailed to the top of it.
Hearing the sound of the approaching group Demanor sought to commune with the spirits of the land, but instead found herself assailed by a vision where she saw first the severed hand on the Rugorim's staff and then was falling into a huge cauldron, only the quick actions of Korra prevented Demanor from toppling forwards and bought her back to reality.
The Rugorim arrived, his strange orc-men in tow and demanded to speak to Urut, after a heated exchange between Strike and Rugorim, Urut said that they would discuss the matter in his longhouse; nodding the Rugorim banged his staff and the door opened on it's own, both Ulric and Demanor winced, recognising the strange energies that had been the cause of their recent discomfort. Ulric shook his head to clear it and said "His power is like my own, but somehow twisted and turned back on itself."
In the longhouse the exchange of insults between Strike and the Rugorim had escalated as the Rugorim boasted of his achievement in creating a magical cauldron that had allowed him to merge the men and orcs of the northlands, creating a new breed of orc-man greater than either of the races on their own; Strike decried the process, saying that only the gods could create life and that the Rugorim had created an abomination.
"If only the gods can create life, then I am a god!" roared the Rugorim
"So you refuse my offer of alliance?" asked Rugorim and, when Urut nodded, he turned to his armoured orc-men and snarled "Kill everyone in the village, no survivors!"
Banging his staff on the floor the ancient orc seemed to break apart into a black mist that seeped under the door and roiled away from the village; leaping forward Strike stabbed one of the man-orcs up through it's jaw but the creature merely grabbed his head in powerful hands and began to squeeze, red lined the edge of Strike's vision and his ears were filled with the sound of his own panicked heart beating loudly. Diving forward Korra stabbed the man-orc in the leg with her own sword, it released Strike, dropping him to the floor, and with an almost casual back-hand (like a man swatting a fly) sent her flying the length of the room, she hit the wall and slid down it, tasting blood in her mouth. Dodging another heavy blow from one of the man-orcs, Strike ducked as the door exploded inwards and Demanor, having taken on the form of a massive jungle ape, burst through it.
Diving on the back of the orc attacking Strike, Demanor grabbed it's head and twisted, being rewarded with a loud snap, the body of the man-orc spasmed and lay still, Korra hauled herself painfully to her feet, seeing that Urut and his men were struggling with their half of the orcs and began to sing songs of northern heroism to spur them to fight, there was a clang as one of the orcs back-handed Strike with a shield sending him crashing into the wall beside Korra where she focussed healing magic through her song and was able to pull him back to full health from the very brink of death. Unfortunately her song had attract the attention of a nearby man-orc who stamped and armour boot on her chest, Korra felt her ribs crack and again tasted blood as her vision darkened.
Suddenly the room was quiet, it seemed grey somehow and muted, looking up Korra could see that she appeared to be alone save for a black garbed woman wearing a veil, the woman reached up with her two hands, one corpselike and rotten, the other immaculate a delicate, removing her veil to reveal a face half split between rot and perfection. Looking down at the dying bard Hel offered her a choice, enter her kingdom now, or find a pure soul to send in her place; conflicted but not wanting to die Korra agreed, Hel nodded and said "You have three nights until the moon rises, you must have found me someone to take your place in my halls, or your soul will be forfeit."
Reaching down Hel touched Korra and she felt the flesh on her left hand shrivel and draw nearer to the bone; she gasped as pain flooded back to her and breath entered her lungs, the sound of the fight rose up around her, it appeared that Hel has been as good as her word, at least for now she had been spared a painful feath.
The orc stood over he raised it's boot again when Strikes spear burst through it's chest from behind, he pushed the dying creature to one side whilst, in the background, Demanor tore a man-orc asunder with her powerful apelike hands; Strike ducked a thrown man-orc shield whistled past him, hitting another of the black armoured figures. The lone remaining man-orc charged at Strike who attempting to jump into the air evading the attack, but with startling speed the man-orc let go of its sword, grabbed his leg and smashed the northlander into the floor, winding him, rolled to one side Strike bought up his rapier and felt the tip penetrate the man-orc's heart, the creature gasped and collapese.
Looking around the room it seemed that the village warriors had dealt with their man-orc opponents but had paid a heavy price, all but two of the warriors lay dead and Urut himself was severely injured; shrinking back into her elven form Demanor rushed over to him and was able to save the injured chief using her healing arts, although he would not be fighting fit for days. Whilst applying her healing arts Demanor told the others that she had seen the black mist that had been the Rugorim floating away from the village, no doubt returning to the rest of his forces. Whilst Urut supervised his men stripping the man-orc corpses of metal to make more weapons and shields, Korra explained her visitation from Hel and the price that she had paid for her survival, Strike nodded, the men of the northlands are bred to me cold and place a high value on survival.
Looking around the room, Demanor noticed that when the Rugorim had turned to mist and escaped, his staff with the severed hand on it had remained behind; wanting to destroy such a foul thing she took it to the blacksmiths and tossed it into the fire, as it burned a demonic fire appeared briefly in the flames and was gone, "Perhaps the Rugorim struck a deal with a demon to increase his power and that corrupted his magic" mused Ulric.
As they all met in the village square, Urut and his villagers dropped to one knee and the orc held out his spear to Strike "We have few warriors, but we are all strong of arm and hear, will will fight for my king."
Strike reached out and took the spear with his red hand and a ragged cheer rose into the air across the village.
Suddenly the ice sheets began to explode and crack around them as iron cannonballs smashed into the ice, shattering the once stable plates and threatening to tip them into the freezing cold water, Demanor leapt into the air changing into a parakeet and flapping above the razor shards of ices whilst Strike and Korra threw various items into the water in an effort to lighten themselves and stay out of the water. Looking around Korra recognised the ships closing in on one side of the ice sheet, they bore the royal blue griffon banner of the Sapphire Island's Imperial Fleet, the personal warships of his excellency the Emperor of the Sapphire Islands; Strikes's attention had been drawn to the other side of the ice sheet where a handful of ships in a similar style were engaged with the Imperial Fleet, Strike recognised the green House Folder livery displaying a gold peregrine falcon, he has been on one of their ships before. A House Folder ship with an ice plough mounted to the front plowed towards them through the already broken ice and a familiar voice, that of the chef James shouted down "Get onboard quickly!"
Ignoring Strikes' cry of "But they poisoned us!" as the two of them recognised Mikhails ship, Korra persuaded him to climb onboard, although as he duck a flying cannonball Strike demanded "What in Odin's eyesocket is going on here?"
"I'll tell you everything once we get out of here" shouted a strained voice, looking up Strike could see Captain Mikhail wrestling with the wheel of his ship, struggling to make himself heard above the din of battle; shouting for oil and a lamp, Strike dipped his arrows in the oil, lit them and began to fire a hail of burning death towards the Imperial vessels, a number of them striking home and one of the ships was soon ablaze; from the lead ship a figure in blue robes strode to the prow of the ship, Korra grimaced as she recognised the regalia of an Imperial War Wizard. The blue robed man, gestured with his hands and blue fire burst forth, starting to melt a channel through the ice, it would only be moments before the Imperial Fleet was able to smash into the much outnumbered vessels of House Folder and obliterate them; holding his breath, Strike drew back his bow-string and fired, a single arrow catching the war wizard in the chest and sending him sprawling to the deck, blue fire already fading.
"The Erinyes! She's going down!" cried one of the sailors as a House Folder ship gave up the ghost and began to sink below the water, screaming men plunging into the icy depths
"We can't spare the time to help her" cursed Mikhail "they'll soon be through that ice sheet and then we're done for!"
"Head for the shore" shouted Strike, relying on his knowledge of these frigid waters, "lose them in the fog banks!" Mikhail nodded and spun the wheel; Korra meanwhile had headed below deck and was assisting the ships sawbones performing triage on a number of injured crew, he explained that, after their last encounter, they had returned to the Sapphire Islands to tell the Emperor that they had been unsuccessful in obtaining one of the stone men, but that Captain Mikhail had heard or seen something horrible in his audience with the Emperor, so much so that he ordered all House Folder ships to set sail, immediately, shortly after they came under attack by the Imperial Fleet. Mikhail, it seemed, had fled to the cold waters of the Northland hoping that his excellent navigational skills would enable them to lose the Fleet.
Lurking in the fog, Mikhail quietly ordered all the men to remain as silent as possible before gathering their new passengers, Demanor returned to her elven form and landed quietly on the deck as Mikhail explained, that when he had arrived at the Imperial Court he had witnessed a creature like Demanor but with grey skin and evil fangs being treated as an honoured guest; through his contacts he had been able to discover that the creature had been bought there aboard a vessel of the Imperial Fleet. Realising that the Emperor must have either allied with the creatures or been co-erced by them, he gathered his House Fleet, but his contact must have sold them out and they were set upon by the Emperor's ships.
Strike told him that the fog would not hide them for long and that their best chance would be to go ashore on the Northlands and send the boat out to sea, with any luck the Imperial Fleet would follow the boat and destroy it, not realising they had escaped; realising that they would have to give an impression of the crew still being aboard, Captain Mikhail grimly ordered the dead be lashed to their posts and the wheel fixed in place to send the ship out to sea and then the remainder of the crew, Korra, Demanor and Strike lowered rowing boats gently into the water and made for the shore.
Strike looked down at his newly red dyed left hand, he recalled the look of shock and surprise on Mikhail's face when he had gathered up the blood of the slain shortly before leaving the vessel and had Demanor perform a ceremony to dye his left hand permanently, the traditional sign of Northlands leadership (had he not slain the last of the chieftains after all?) James, the young chef had been quite perturbed by it and had asked Korra what he was doing, she explained that Strike was attempting to claim the rulership of the Northlands and that this ceremony was part of it. Trying to shake of his black mood, Strike thought about the only chief of the North unaccounted for, an ancient orc known as the Rugorim, chief of the orc one-eyes, he had served as an advisor to Ragnar and would have to be dealt with if Strikes' claim was to be successful.
Jogging ashore they soon came across the signs of a small village as they headed inland, Strike raised his red hand and approached, the gnarled orc villager chief Urut was skeptical but had respect for the old ways, including hospitality, in return for a token of friendship he agreed to provide them with food and lodgings in the village; nodding Strike drew out the dagger that he had taken from Ragnar and presented it. After a pregnant pause whilst Urut looked at the dagger he nodded and gestured for them all to follow him to his longhouse at the centre of the village. Korra asked if they had a village tale-teller and was directed to an old man with a greying beard called Ulric, a strip of cloth covered one of his eyes, identifying him as a one-eye or shaman; Korra began to tell stories of Strikes bravery and skill in combat, although Ulric did question his suitability saying that Strikes' poisoning of Ragnar was well known and such weapons were not the northland way.
Chief Urut seemed to have less concern about how Ragnar had been killed, saying it was enough that such an abomination had been removed from the world, he also told them how the Rugorim had visited their village a few days before, he had a creature who looked like Demanor with him but he had pale white skin and black hair; Rugorim had tried to convince Urut to ally his tribes with his forces, but Urut was proud and said what need did the Northlanders have of allies? Rugorim smiled and said that he would give Urut three days to re-consider, and that when he returned he hoped that the chief would have a more reasonable answer.
Full of drink and food, as everyone fell asleep on furs in the longhouse, Demanor (who had been huddled near the fire throughout) fell into a fitful dream haunted sleep; in her dreams she was walking amongst a small elven settlement, it came under attack from barbaric northland humans and orcs, in the midst of the carnage walked a small smiling elven child, as an orc ran towards the child, raising a notched axe, it suddenly collapsed, bursting into flame. A fur wearing orc with one snaggled fang grinned lopsidely and said "This is the one", he reached a hand out to the elven child, who took it and, still smiling walked off into the night with northlanders, the settlement collapsing into a flaming ruin behind them.
A scream dying on her lips Demanor woke up, the noise waking Korra; as Demanor explained her dream she saw that one-eye Ulric was also awake, he nodded and said "Yes I saw it too, I believe it to be a vision of the past, I recognised the orc, it was the Rugorim, but much younger than he is now."
Video response to Sameoldji's question "What is your style of gaming?"
Thursday, 11 September 2014
Wednesday, 10 September 2014
Tuesday, 9 September 2014
Having rescued Prince Bertram from the evil machinations of the necromancer Morphus, Brother Galen and Sila find themselves hot on the trail of an unexpected jade thief; could this jade be one of the fabled pieces sought by the Cult of Undoing to resurrect the great dragon?
Monday, 8 September 2014
Friday, 5 September 2014
I plan to be running Mythos Numenera game soon for a small group of friends, character generation is scheduled to take place on 07/09/14 at 7PM (GMT).
Below is a link to the live event where the character gen will be taking place.
Below is a link to the live event where the character gen will be taking place.
Thursday, 4 September 2014
I'm a great fan of notebooks and prepping stuff for sessions (without unnecessarily restricting your players) so thought i'd share some of the notes I made for my last Dark Sun Dungeon World game.
A couple of pages from my smallest notebook that I use to jot down random ideas and plan out sessions beforehand.
Some of the NPC cards that I use for my game, they most don't include stats since Dungeon World is a very simple system to stat NPCs for, the notes mostly include personality, NPC goals, knowledge and appearance.
My larger notebook (a diary my wife bought me), used for jotting down what actually occurs in the session.
Themiclés began to agonisingly pull his wounded body across the sands towards the cover of the dunes, a huge spear shaft still piercing his side, Athrialix slithered over to the Templar and with both hands began pulling the injured man towards the dunes, only stopping when it became obvious they were out of firing range.
In the distance Hurgen, Tk'Tak, the Bloodtide and their entourage of half-giants approached the unfolding scene and witness Athrialix pulling the bleeding Templar to cover, not wanting to agitate matters or be associated with the Templar themselves, the group elected to stay back. Themiclés meanwhile, between swallowing mouthfuls of a fruit based healing tonic that Athrialix pressed on him, told the philosopher that the mission was the most important thing, without water everyone in Arrakis would die, it was more important than anything even his own life; looking at the state of the Templar Athrialix suggested that they withdraw to the northern mountains and look for another way into the city, nodding in exhaustion Themiclés allowed himself to be pulled onto the back of Athrialix' crodlu and the small party moved northwards into the forbidding darkness of the mountains.
At a distance, the Bloodtide turned to Tk'Tak and asked if he knew what Athrialix was doing with the Templar party, the mantis man responded that he wasn't sure but that their philosopher friend was not being held against his will; at the Bloodtide's suggestion Tk'Tak transformed into a desert bird and flew over the tower to scope out the defences, he saw a number of dwarves clad in leather armour keeping watch from the roof, each with a number of throwing spears to hand, a female dwarf matched between them, snapping out orders in a commanding, military fashion. Returning to the party, they watched as the doors opened and the dwarves came out to scavenge the fallen remnants of the Templar's slaughtered crodlu mount that still lay on the sands, Hurgen approached them holding her hands out in friendship, after some initial tension the dwarves welcomed them, recognising that the half-giants were also former slaves of Arrakis like the dwarves own ancestors.
The dwarven commander, a woman by the name of Karam escorted them into the tower of Sandstone, a decaying watchtower being all that remained of a once glorious city, an old dwarf accompanying the group named Makad lamented that they had lost so much of their heritage that they could no longer even read the dwarven legends and stories carved into the walls, "It wasn't enough for Arrakis to destroy our lives, they has to take our history as well" he mused bitterly, lost in his memories. Karam explained that the lower levels of the dwarven city had long since been blocked and were inaccessible; she was interrupted by Makad who told a long rambling story about a fell creature trapped in the lower levels, although Karam didn't seem to take his story seriously, discounting them as mere legends. Karam explained that her great-grandfather Drakmar (a famous dwarven gladiator whose fame lived on even now, his exploits had inspired the Bloodtide to break free from his own bondage) had lead a group of escaped slaves north from Arrakis to reclaim their ancient home.
Hurgen asked whether they would allow the half-giants a home in Sandstone, the dwarves seemed amenable (and sympathetic) but explained there meagre resources could barely provide for themselves and the shanty town of tents filling the tower, each tent inhabited by a malnourished dwarven family; with the decrease of regular caravans due to a recent spate of bandit attacks they were barely surviving themselves. Tk'Tak suggested that perhaps, with the help of the half-giants and his friend in Shades they could set up some sort of trade concern themselves, Bloodtide was skeptical saying the Shades was a foul place rules by a man called Aráz, also known as the Slaver Lord and the Bandit King, no doubt they would be trading to the very people who were equipping the bandits.
Makad meanwhile had taken Hurgen aside and continued his rambling tales, explaining that he had been just a boy when Drakkmar bought them here, but he remembers the look of horror on the old chieftains face when he emerged from the depths having encountered the creature of the lower levels, Drakkmar said that the thing must never be allowed free and called for ten stout warriors to join him as eternal guardians; Drakkmar then descended into the depths with ten men, none of them were ever seen again but occasionally people disappeared in the tunnels nearest to the lower levels.
Under cover of darkness Athrialix took a single soldier and hunkered down in the dunes just to the north of the tower, calling upon ancient magics he cast a mantle of invisibility onto the soldier who climbed the tower, murdering the dwarven sentry on duty and dropped a rope down the side of the tower. Athrialix sent the soldier back to rendezvous with the rest of the Templar party, giving him orders to wait three days for him; sneaking into the tower Athrialix stealthily made his way through the filthy domiciles inside the tower until he located a deep well in a disused side tunnel, climbing down it he discovered that the well was blocked by chunks of fallen masonry, the lithe philosopher was forced to discard almost all of his equipment to squeeze past the obstructions and continue his descent.
A few levels up, just as the Bloodtide was worrying about where Athrialix was and what he was doing with the Templars a loud alarm bell began to sounds, the dwarves had discovered the body of the murdered sentry and sounded the alarm; during the distraction Hurgen asked Makad how they could get down to the lower levels, the old dwarf thought for a moment and then told them that there are a few wells leading down there but most are blocked and an old gate obscured by a collapsed tunnel roof. Deciding to try the gate, the half-giant Hurgen and Tk'Tak (who transformed into a mighty ursine creature) cleared the gate quickly, just giving Bloodtide time to poke around some adjoining tunnels, although he found little other than the decaying remnants of some ancient mineworks.
Beyond the gate, Tk'Tak could just make out a dull amber glow and, as the dust cleared they found themselves confronted by a roughly dwarven shape composed entirely of black stone and molten, burning rock, the creature opened it's mouth and flames flared within the snarling maw.
The Bloodtide and Hurgen continued to lead their motley collection of half-giants northwards away from the city-state of Arrakis, eventually they planned to make their way to a rumoured dwarven settlement in the far north, but first they would stop at an oasis that Hurgen had visited when she had originally escaped from Arrakis and slavery herself.
Meanwhile in the city-state itself Tk'Tak was attempted to buy supplies from Athrialix' uncle, the trader Kallisto, the shrewd businessman was less than keen to see the Thri-Kreen, especially given that he was still owed a number of rampager body parts by them, but grudgingly he agreed to help arrange for Tk'Tak to purchase some supplies. The mantis man had agreed to help Athrialix conduct a ritual to purge Arrakis' underwater reservoir of the green plague that had transformed the water to a viscous emerald coloured sludge. Athrialix needed a sample of pure water to begin the ritual; having purchased his supplies Tk'Tak set out to meet Hurgen and the Bloodtide at the oasis, planning to collect a sample of clean water from there and convey it back to Athrialix in Arrakis as quickly as possible, hopefully before the city died of dehydration.
Meeting with the others a day south of the oasis Tk'Tak delivered his supplies to his associates and the waiting half-giants, Hurgen expressed her wish to give her fellow half-giants a chance for survival; Tk'Tak transformed into a small serpent and slithered north ahead of the main group to scout out the oasis. In the oasis a number of lithe figures with slightly pointed ears, wearing light desert robes moved around the area, one of them, a figure festooned with bones and shells, seemed to spot Tk'Tak despite his diminuitive form and the mantis man druid quickly slithered back to his friends. Hoping that the elves were not necessarily enemies, Hurgen approached, holding her sword out in a gesture of peace and asked if they might take some water from the oasis; the elven response was an abrupt "If you can trade?"
Hurgen and the Bloodtide told the elves that they were leading a group of escaped slaves from Arrakis and would die without water, the elves appeared to be sympathetic towards this and allowed them to drink without further antagonism; during this time it became obvious that the elves had about a dozen Rampagers nearby, despite not being shackled or restrained in any way the creatures appeared reasonably docile, certainly not the brutal, berserking monsters that had attacked Arrakis so recently. One of the elves talked, in broken common, about how Arrakis had enslaved some of their kind and that they would use the Rampagers to take revenge, Hurgen seemed comfortable with this idea, Tk'Tak and the Bloodtide less so (privately Korvin the Bloodtide wondered how many innocents would be sacrificed on the altar of the elves revenge). Quashing his worries for the moment, Tk'Tak collected a small ceramic flask of pure water and, changing form into a desert bird, began to fly the water sample back towards Arrakis, where Athrialix was waiting for it.
Athrialix was walking through the College of Philosophy in Arrakis when he was stopped by the wheezing old figure of the aged philosophy student Coptarix, the old man congratulated Athrialix on being accepted into the 'Trial of the Magi', when Athrialix expresses ignorance of this the old man seemed surprised saying that a Templar was waiting for Athrialix in his quarters, the old student had just assumed (given their recent conversations) that it was connected with the mage trials. Politely excusing himself, Athrialix rushed to his chambers where indeed an azure robed Templar (who introduced himself as Themiclés) waited for him; the Templar explained that, without it's ancient waterworks, the city was dying and that he had been investigating ancient rumours and legends looking for anything that might help. In a series of ancient scrolls Themiclés had discovered mention of a water demon trapped below the ancient dwarven city of Sandstone to the north and had secured permission to take a small party north to investigate, although not clear exactly on his reasons for wanting to recruit Athrialix the Templar implied that he was away of the young philosopher's budding magical talents.
Flying back towards Arrakis Tk'Tak spotted the devastated remains of a massacred caravan littering the desert sands; swooping down and resuming his normal form the mantis man found a single survivor, a man called Remu. After feeding Remu a restorative tonic, the injured man was able to relate how the bandits attacked the caravan and stole their supplies, Remu took one of them down before he himself was laid low; searching the body of the dead bandit Tk'Tak found a number of coins on him, all of Pharnish origin. Sharing his water rations with Remu, the man departed saying that he was returning to the city of Shades, he thanked Tk'Tak once again and told the mantis man to look him up if he was ever in Shades.
At the oassis Hurgen was talking with Bloodtide about the elves plan to attack Arrakis using the Rampagers but the human gladiator remained unconvinced, saying that Rampagers could not be wielded like a weapon, they are indiscriminate beasts; one of the elves who seemed to have taken a shine to Hurgen asked them to join their quest for vengeanes, saying that, with their help, the conquest would occur more quickly and less innocents would die. Hurgen seemed sympathetic and with a laugh, the elf handed Hurgen back her own healing fruits that he had stolen from her pockets without her realising, grinning Hurgen handed him one back for his people.
Heading out of the eastern city gate riding atop a Crodlu, Athrialix, the Templar Themiclés and two guard began their ride northwards towards the rumoured dwarven settlement, Athrialix pausing briefly to leave a message with his uncle for when Tk'Tak returned with the water sample. As they travelled a desert bird trailing silt flew overhead, at first the avian form of Tk'Tak didn't recognise Athrialix amongst the party (swaddled as he was in light, desert travelling robes) but eventually he realised that the philosopher was accompanying the group and began to follow them. Later that night when they made camp and Athrialix excused himself, Tk'Tak landed nearby and, resuming his normal form, met up with Athrialix and explained that Pharn seemed to be sponsoring bandits to prevent merchants getting supplies through to Arrakis, he also told his friend about the elves, their control over the Rampagers, and their planned attack on the city.
Athrialix mused on the news for a moment, he had heard rumours of the elves, thieves and conmen of the deep desert, they had shaman who had ways with the beasts of the sands but would not hesitate to break the spirit of a deal if it suited them, hearing that the others were also planning to head to the dwarven settlement Athrialix frowned, "This could be trouble."
The group at the oasis woke in the morning to find that the entire elven encampment had apparently moved on during the evening and, after hunting some Rampagers in the desert, the party set off in pursuit tracking them to a camp of hide tents a few days southwest of the oasis; Bloodtide spotted the bone decorated elf entering a tent and attempted to follow him but was barred access by a surly elf warrior, things looked like they might get violent for a moment, but the shaman emerged when he heard the Bloodtide's booming voice. Bloodtide explained that he could not support an attack on the main city since too many innocents would die but perhaps the elves could attack the Blackrock fortress just north of the city, disabling the Templars, striking a blow at the Sorceror King of Arrakis and avoiding many innocent deaths?
The elf shaman said that he would consider Bloodtide's advice and showed him into the previously barred tent, on the floor were sat a circle of elves, all holding hands with their eyes rolled back into their heads, "This is how we control the Rampagers" said the shaman before leading the Bloodtide back outside again, he also warned Bloodtide that their spies had seen a Templar party heading north from Arrakis.
Travelling back towards the oasis the party were set upon by a wild Rampager, it burst out of a dune biting deeply into Hurgen's neck; with mighty sinews straining the half-giant grabbed hold of the creatures neck and twisted, feeling vertebrae grind beneath her powerful hands. Bloodtide slid below the belly of the distracted creature, slicing upwards with his assortment of weapons, screaming "The tide is rising!"
As the Rampager howled and reared up, pulling free of Hurgen's grasped, she gripped her weapon and cut deeply into the creatures chest, spilling steaming innards onto the hot desert sands, the body collapsed atop Bloodtide; moments later the gladiator exploded out of the corpse, his punch daggers shredding him an exit through the creatures spine, his blood splattered face grinned, "Well that seems to sort out our food problems."
Meeting up with Tk'Tak the group rested and began heading north towards the dwarven city; the Templar party had already arrived at Sandstone and found little more than a ramshackle stone tower surrounded by mountains, eager to resolve Arrakis' water problems, Themiclés rode forward and announced himself as a King's Templar, his reward was a barrage of arrows and spears throw from the tower; as they clattered around the Templar, Athrialix threw caution to the wind and hurled arcane fire up at the stone edifice as a distraction.
Suddenly there was a sickening thump as one of the spears pierced Themiclés' body, his Crodlu bucked wildly and the Templar toppled to the floor.
Looking for a place to rest, Korra locates a small inn situated in the poorer outskirt region of Royal City, entering the 'Rose & Dragon' they make the acquaintance of the innkeeper Samson Trebeck who, in response to their enquiries about drinks furnishes Strike with a pint of a local stout called Stiffbristle that has a picture of a boar emblazoned on the pump; all of the ales in the tavern seem to be associated with particular animals and, as she regales the innkeeper with chilling tales of the dead rising, Korra orders a flagon of Hopfoot, a light pale ale whose pump carries the image of a hare. Seeming out of her element in the surrounding of the city, the elf Demanor seems entirely confused by the bewildering array of drinks that her companions are ordering.
Having listened rapt about the legions of undead that prowl the jungles to the south, Trebeck tells them a story of his own, heard from a traveller through the city, he relates how apparently huge spiders the size of horses have been ranging far beyond the edge of the jungle; Demanor, who knows of such creatures within the jungle depths, is trouble by this, such creatures seldom leave their own territory, let alone the jungle. The innkeeper laughs when our heroes mention warning King John V about the unliving menace, saying that the King is already paranoid enough given the recent stone men that have marched out from below the mountains to defend the most ancient section of the boundary wall surrounding the kingdom; apparently the king sees them as a threat to the nations security, he has double guard patrols and imposed a curfew covering the hours of darkness. Trebeck says that they might be better off trying to speak to Salandra Drummond who is head of the city guard or, if they're really well connected, perhaps Uzriel Godric, Seneschel of the city. Strike asks about the name Godric, recognising it as a norse name, Trebeck says there are all sorts of rumours that the Seneschel's family were originally Northlanders, but nothing has even been proved.
Having retired for the evening and gone to sleep, Strike is awoken in their room at the inn by something tapping on the window; drawing his dagger the Northland assassin creeps over to the window and cautiously opens it. Pinned by a knife to the outside of the window frame by a rusty knife is a shawl that he recognises as belonging to his sister, stirred by the wind it has been rapping on the frame; standing silhouetted by the moonlight is a ragged figure, dripping putrid river water, dried blood crusted around a single clean slit across it's throat. Strike recognises the undead form of the trader Tibbs, a man he sent to the afterlife, before he has a chance to ask any questions Tibbs speaks in a voice other than his own, the voice of Ragnar (deceased chief of the Northlanders, a man Strike also sent to the grave) saying "Face me in open combat or your sister will die!"
"Let your puppet go Ragnar!" shouts Strike, the corpse's face twists into a leering grimace and then collapses, a puppet with it's strings cut.
Hearing the sound of guards approaching (no doubt drawn by the shouting), Strike climbs back thrown the window into the inn, tucking the shawl into his belt. Meanwhile Demanor has been dreaming, in her dreams she sees the young elf Zephandius reaching out to her, pleading for help, then a darkness flows over him like oil, absorbing him, she jolts awake, a scream dying on her lips and shakingly relates her dream to the others.
Strike has decided that he must confront Ragnar and he knows exactly where to do it, on the ice sheets between the Northland and the mainland, a place he knows all too well from his first flight from his home, the others agree to follow him and, leaving the city behind, they travel back to where their boat is moored and make ready to sail.
Days later the ice sheets loom in the distance, a single line of dark figures stand on the ice, numerous burning arrows rain down upon Strike's small vessel threatening to burn it to a cinder if he cleaves to his course; intent on rescuing his sister and on dealing death to Ragnar, Strike plows on heedlessly reaching the ice sheets and vaulting out of the boat, even as the burning hulk begins to slip below the water. Strike's sister stands behind the line of deathly figures, gagged and restrained by two festering jailors, Ragnar steps forward, a giant whom death has done nothing to diminish
"You should have killed me like a warrior when you had the chance Strike, but thanks to you the doors of Valhalla were closed to me and I found a way back to the living world, I have become more powerful than you could dream" came the mocking taunt of the putrid undead Northlander
"Well i'll just have to kill you now" spat back Strike, drawing his weapon and charging forward.
Sparks jumped into the air as Ragnar aimed a mighty blow with his axe, but Strike nimbly stepped around it, ignoring the huge chips of ice that sprayed into the air, but unable to land a blow back on the huge undead monstrosity; lashing out with a vicious kick Ragnar sent Strike stumbling backwards, the wind knocked out of him, bearing down on the wiry assassin Ragnar began to choke the life out of him.
Taking the opportunity now that Ragnar was in close, Strike headbutted him and slid beneath the undead chieftain, stabbing up with his sword and slicing sidewards, his reward was shower of mouldering innards and Ragnar sliding to the ice, his last words sounding almost proud, "So you do know how to fight like a man after all."
Demanor and Korra had been working their way around to rescue Strike's sister, but at the death of Ragnar all his unliving troops also collapsed as though the animating force behind them had been removed, Strike's sister also collapsed, it seemed that she had been dead for some time and her "survival" was merely a ruse intended to lure Strike to this place.
Running over to Ragnar's corpse as Demanor gave Strike the bad news, Korra discovered a scroll in tucked into his jerkin, covered in black angular writing of an elven variety, with her knowledge of elven Korra was able to translate the document was a list of elvish prisoners along with some instructions to "hand them to the child." Checking over the corpses of the once unliving army, Demanor was able to confirm that their were no elves amongst their number.
Strike put his sisters body on the burning wreckage of his boat and pushed it away from the ice sheets whilst, in the ultimate act of disdain for Ragnar, he carved off a chunk of the iceberg, kicked the corpse onto it and pushed the freezing pyre away into the cold water. The wiry northlander looked at Korra and Demanor and seemed to pause for a moment, lost in thought, before speaking: "We're going to need another boat."
Written by Kelly Grimshaw who plays the Elven druid Demanor in the game.
After the fires had died away on Strike’s uncles’ longboat we set to the huge task of sending the rest of Axehome to Valhalla. As no one had been spared it took three extra boats to usher them into the otherworld and when the flames began to spread we said farewell to the crumbling village and prepared for our own journey.
Once on board with the smouldering ruins of Axehome were far behind us it was decided that I was to be quartermaster, Korra who had still not quite recovered from her injuries was to take station as watchman so she could rest and heal herself while sitting high in the crowns nest and Strike, the only person who actually knew how to sail a ship took the wheel.
The sound of the sea and the creaking of the boat were similar to river boat trips I had taken many times before but the motion of the boat was a lot different. I would say it was what you think it would feel like to walk on a cloud.
After a few days I managed to feel the rhythm in the gentle rocking motion and it was as if I was on land once more.
The sea birds were different too. Large and fearless, swooping down on us occasionally in hope of a beak full of something. With a shrill cry that if shrieked by a large group of the sharped beaked, large talon, evil beady eyed creatures set my teeth on edge.
The ship, Strike’s own long ship he had originally sailed from the Northlands following his banishment had been designed to accommodate one person, Strike. So with the three of us occupying the small space and the rations that he had originally stocked to sustain himself I had to share them out carefully.
Long ago, when I was an apprentice however I had learned to take nourishment from the land which helped our circumstances but not by much.
From the looks of the skies and the seas Strike guessed that it would take us around ten days to complete our journey. This was our first problem.
It was going to take around eleven rations worth of food to get us through the journey but with careful planning and being able to provide for myself I was able to stretch the food little further.
Korra, more busy writing up her Elvan memoirs than keeping watch was quiet for about three days only acknowledging our existence when food appeared.
On the third day I had to admit the rations were running pretty low.
“We’re gonna need some fish.” Strike announced after hearing my report.
Strike explained that back home the sea was frozen most of the seasons and that sometimes the ice could be thicker than the height of a man, those conditions he was used to. The almost tropical climate compared to the frozen Northlands he was not, and this was evident in his lack of fish.
“Now I’m thinking, if only we had a shape changing person on board.” He smiled.
I took the not so subtle hint and with a running start dove over the side.
Traveling through the air I could feel my legs merge together and my feet grew longer and flatter taking the form of a tail. My arms, still over my head blended with my neck and my hands, firmly pressed together became the nose of a dolphin.
“Now I am going to find a hook and line. DO NOT SWIM INTO THE HOOK AND LINE!” He shouted after me.
“Or I’ll sell you by the pound at the harbour.” He mumbled to himself.
The warm water felt good after four days of sitting aboard the boat. Although I enjoyed the new experiences that the sea had to offer it was all wrong.
The air was fresh and cool, the sun beat down making my skin dry and tight, I missed the warm, damp air of the jungle and the shade it provided. Shape shifting into a river dolphin and chasing the fish this way and that making them flash like a silver coin in a peat diggers hand reminded me of home.
Korra had been left to keep watch while Strike and I went fishing but the hunger pangs had taken her concentration and it was a complete surprise when the silhouette of a large vessel appeared out of the morning mist followed by the sound of a ringing bell coming from aboard the ship.
“THERES A BOAT!” Korra shouted. “OVER...THERE…FRONT AND LEFT!”
Strike turned his attention from the fishing lines at the rear of the ship to where Korra was pointing.
On hearing this I stopped driving the fish towards Strikes lines and stuck my head out above the water. From my viewpoint I could not see the ship and quickly decided staying in animal form may be better if we were to be attacked. Quite what I could do as a dolphin I was unsure but it was still a plan.
As the medium galleon loomed out of the mist its colours became visible. They were not shy about their colours, the sails were a deep emerald green with a golden peregrine falcon, embroidered with care on green cloth, its wings outstretched, talons tucked beneath it, ready to strike its prey, very similar in stance of the stone sculpture in the long house in Axehome encircled in a horseshoe wreath of forest leaves native to the Sapphire Island.
With the wind in the sails it was a formidable sight but a picture paints a thousand words and Strikes face showed that he preferred the set in stone version.
“It’s no threat, those are trading colours of House Foldor of the Sapphire Islands.” Korra yelled.
It was obvious from the way they had adjusted their course that they had spotted us far earlier than we had spotted them.
“HO THERE!” Korra shouted as they came along side.
“Ahoy there!” Came the reply
“Ahoy there!” Korra returned.
“What’s your business in these waters?” The voice came back.
“Fish!” Strike yelled, not missing a beat.
“We have to warn them.” Korra hissed back to Strike.
“Do we?” Strike mouthed back
“Come along side. May we come aboard?” Korra yelled back to the ship. “To stop all the shouting.” She added quietly.
“Of course, come a little closer and we’ll send the gang plank over.” The voice instructed.
“I am not a fan if this.” Strike muttered.
Hearing that the ship was of no threat I dived under the surface and pushed up out of the water. I leaped towards the long ship and almost too late I realised I would not be able to make it on deck I quickly shape shifted back to my Elven form and grabbing onto the side, pulled myself up the rest of the way.
“That’s still weird.” Strike mumbled as I landed beside him.
Standing to one side of the gateway was a number of Human crewmen in what I only assumed was what sailors usually wore. Good quality, heavy cotton shirts and trousers designed for quality rather than prettiness, from first look I was not able to distinguish between the Elder and the rest of the men. Most of them were wearing scarfs and squares of emerald coloured cloth over their heads, possibly to protect them from the sun but never being on such a large vessel it could be anyone’s guess.
Strike, knowing more than I threw a rope over and the well set men easily pulled us closer. Tying their end to a peg in the handrail a long plank a little wider than shoulder width was pushed across.
There was a faint tingle of a thunderstorm in the air and one or two spots of rain hit the rough wooden floor planks, Strike must have sensed it too as he began securing any ropes and dropped the anchor, it was that or he was just putting off the moment when he had to board.
The two ships remained locked together and taking Korra’s lead I followed her on the galleon, taking the outstretched hand of one of the sailors for balance.
I was happy for what I was informed was my sea legs as it looked as if the men were in a home away from home but thankfully the ship was surprisingly steady from what we were used to.
Closer to, I could see the difference in the shipmen’s clothing of that of their captain.
It was the same clothes the crew men wore but the Captain was privileged to own a waxed suede long leather coat the colour echoing the emerald sails to protect him from the worst of the elements.
I looked back to the long boat where Strike had stayed behind to prepare and salt the fish that had leapt onto the deck in blind panic to escape my predatory form.
The wind had dropped, another indicator of the oncoming storm and the organic sounds coming from the back of Strike’s boat as clear as if he was standing next to us. The larger vessel creaked alarmingly but watching the men as calm as ever I tried to ignore it. The waves lapping against the side began creeping higher and higher as the sea prepared for the forthcoming storm, and I noticed seagulls wheeling overhead, daring to snatch morsels that Strike was throwing overbore became fewer and fewer.
I looked toward Korra, whom seemed more at ease than I studying the Captain for a few moments then sudden recognition dawned that she had seen him before. The Captain had not yet seen her and was busy shouting orders to men to secure ropes and sails to protect his ship. He paused for moment, stuck his index finger in his mouth then held it up, I had seen Strike do this before to check the direction of the wind. He nodded to himself then yelled “Looks like a storm, take the sails in, batter everything down, just in case!”
“Aye sir!” Comes reply from several points on the ship.
“Are we better apart or together in a storm?” Korra asked.
The Captain, seeing her concern walked closer.
“With a boat as small as your own, it won’t really matter being tethered alongside. As long as the storm doesn’t hit us ridiculously bad. The winds it picking up a little though.” He said pulling he collar up around his neck without thinking to offer a little more protection.
Strike had now finished preserving our catch and began pulling in his own sails and tightening any loose ropes to lessen the blows while he was away.
“Back to the business in hand. We’ve come across…” Korra begins, trying to gain the Captains attention.
“Pleasure to meet you, Michael Folder.” He said, noticing us for the first time.
“Err, Korra of house Leanessa. She said taking his outstretched hand.
“Ah yes, I had a second cousin who married one of the Leanessas’.” He paused trying to recall the name.
“Perhaps Mildred?” Korra said coming to his rescue.
“Yes, yes you know her?” He said, a little embarrassed at forgetting the name.
“Married to Thomas?”
“Yes that’s right. Personally I saw him as a bit of a lubber myself, I didn’t see the match working but if she is happy then, who is to argue.”
“He is my father’s second nephew, once removed. I think I went to the wedding.” Korra explained further.
“Unfortunately I was too busy. The life of a trader, I am never in one place for very long. So unfortunately I didn’t make it. I need to send a gift and my regards but that was all I was able to do” He said waiving his hand trying to add weight to his weak excuse and hoping she would ignore the inconsistency.
“And have you been trading along this coast for long?”
“Oh yes, yes. I have the honour of the regulars, I suppose you might call me. You…”
“How far south have you travelled?” Korra tried to hide her impatiens
“Well we largely stay close to this stretch of coastline. Trading between different places and the Sapphire Islands, the Kingdom and the heart of the Royal City. In fact you are lucky you caught us a few more days and we would have begun our journey back to the Sapphire Islands. Erm, we have just finished our recent round of trading.” Captain Mikhail boomed. Neither myself or Strike had any trouble hearing him, he seemed incapable of speaking quietly, shouting ordered across the wide deck being second nature to him.
“We’ve been down south, there is a lot going on there. We need to get back to the Kingdoms as fast as possible.” Korra said, completely understating the chaos raging through the jungle lands.
“Oh, you only have about four days travel in that direction.” He pointed behind us before continuing. “You will see the statues and the wall of the cities harbour.”
“Oh, I see.” She said to Folder before turning to us.
“Do we want to send this guy with the message?” She whispered.
“Give him the message, yes.” Strike replied from the safety of his boat.
Korra nodded before turning back to the Captain.
“Are you going back into the Kingdom?” She asked casually.
“No, no as I’ve said we have concluded our trading, we’re heading back to the Sapphire Islands. Although given how the weather’s looking at the minute, if all of you would care to join me on board this evening as my guests, I’ll be more than happy to provide you with a meal for the evening. It’s, its rare on these journeys to come across someone from the home Islands, your friends as well, I err…” He stopped, aware that we still had not been made known to him.
“This is Will he is of the North.” She pointed to Strike
Strike waved a greeting but carries on busying himself with no inclination of moving.
“This is Demanor of the Elvan Kingdoms.”
The piercing cry of gulls broke the silence as the Captain waited politely for further explanation.
“To the East, sorry, the South East. They are all gone now” She tried to clarify further.
“The forests.” Korra tried again after seeing nothing but a blank look.
“Sorry, the sea is where I do most of my work, I only come on land to trade, load my ship or the rare family occasion I cannot weasel my way out of.”
He had never heard of my people, I felt weightless and I could hear the blood pounding in my ears, so soon had my race been forgotten.
“That’s fair. I would suggest that no one goes south of the wall for the moment.” Korra continued
Fair? What was so fair about a whole race vanishing from memory?
“Well no, we certainly wouldn’t intend to, we’re a trade vessel.” Mikhail continued, completely unaware of my internal grief.
“There’s a lot going on there. There seems to be two separate armies attacking the colonies.” Korra cautioned.
“That is indeed troubling.” He looked down, pausing to think. “What say we all head down to the galley? I’ll have our chef prepare some food for us all, if your friend would care to come across as well they are more than welcome to join us then we can sit down and discuss this over a meal like civilised folk. ”
“Going below may be a good idea to get us out of this weather, I’ll certainly extend your invitation to them.” Korra agreed looking over the side. The waves were visibly higher than before, the calm waters now swirled and churned driven by the increasing wind.
“Sorry, Elf did you say?” Mikhail said turning for the first time towards me.
“Yes” I confirmed quietly, trying to hide my distress.
“You are more than welcome.” He stuttered.
The Captain turned and began making his way to a closed hatch in the floor, lifting it we could see a set of narrow steps leading down into a dimly lit corridor.
“You do eat meat don’t you?” Korra asked in a careful tone, slightly afraid of the answer.
“Oh yes, when needed.” I reply a bit puzzled at her suggestion that others would not.
Satisfied that all checks had been made at least three time and that there was no more excuses to stay aboard Strike walked onto the gang plank. The sailor who had helped us across still waiting for the final visitor held out his hand.
Strike stopped and looked at the offering. Taking a step back you would have thought that he had been offered a maggot ridden piece of meat before Strike continued, completely ignoring the crewman who just shrugged, pulled the gangplank back and resumed his normal duties.
Lead by Mikhail we wandered through the dank corridors lit by oil lamps, dipped as low enough to see by but not so much that if knocked over could be extinguished easily of the ship to large galley. It could have been a grand place but the ways of the crew and the captain were simple. In the centre stood a large wooden table, which could easily sit twenty men at once. There were chairs but mostly barrels and crates have been dragged in to make more seating. The broken seats pulled to the side in the shadows stored as firewood to fuel the cooking fire in the kitchen, again like most of this ship the furniture was for function not comfort.
Captain Mikhail drew a chair at the head of the table and placed his hands on the smooth surface worn down by years of scrubbing. We took our seats and a loud creaking sound could be heard as the heavy wooden door was pushed open. In bustled a chubby, re haired cook, no stranger to a meal dressed in a well-used apron.
“Oh yes, yes cap’n.” Wiping hands on a square of cloth I was told called a handkerchief “what will it be cap’n, are you ready to eat?”
“Yes, yes, if you could have some food brought in for our guests as well, James. Err what do you have in at the moment?”
“Well cp’n we are fully stocked, we took on provisions when we docked at the Royal City.”
He looked at Korra and smiled broadly, happy to see others aboard.
“Is there anything particular I can get you? I know the cp’n. Prefers plain simple food but I have been well trained I can prepare many other dishes” desperation of cooking something else rising off him like steam.
“Meat.” Strike cut in before Korra could answer.
“Meat? Yes, we do have some very fine salt beef we picked up in Royal City.”
“If it’s meaty and it’s got a bone in it, you win.” Strike interrupted the cook
“Very good sir, very good. And how about the two of you ladies?” James looked over turned to us cupping hands together with anticipation.
“May I have Cassoulet, I am missing home and haven’t had the dish for months.” Korra asked brightly.
James’s eyes welled with tears of joy at Korra’s request.
“My dear lady, it would be my absolute pleasure. There are so few people nowadays know how to make a decent Cassoulet, I pride myself on my own, unfortunately here I do feel it is a little bit sophisticated for the rougher pallets we have around here.” Shooting the Captain an exasperated glance.
The Captain leant on the table in desperation, obviously he had heard the cook’s speech before. He waved his hand in a circular motion to hurry chef along, getting the hint James turned his attention on me.
“And how about you, my lady?”
I had never had any human food before, even when traveling around the jungles back home I either managed to sustain myself off nature or when the occasion called for it Elven food. I had no idea where to start but wanted to try everything.
“Erm. To be honest, I have never tried human food before so I would like to try the Cassoulet, is that what it’s called?”
“Ah, oh, excellent! Excellent! Cp’n.?” Again the cook threatened to burst into tears. So very happy to introduce someone to his own food and excuse to cook different meals for a change.
“Oh, just the usual porridge will do for me.” Foldor sighed at the excitable chef before waving him away.
Thinking that the captain was not looking James rolled his eyes in his direction, exasperated at the lack of adventure.
“Yes cp’n, of course. Coming right up.” He gave a heartfelt sigh before rolling his eyes again.
Noticeably deflated at the request he loped off to kitchen to prepare our food.
Soon the sound of banging pots and pans and prep work filters through the walls and before we could begin a conversation the door thumped against the wall and in bustled James laden with large trays of steaming food.
“There we are sir.” The cook said as he handed Strike a large platter of what looked to be a chard lump of flesh with a pale yellow bone jutting out of one side.
The cook looked relived before handing a steaming large bowl of white coloured thick bean stew with flecks of green herbs and shards of dark pink meat to first Korra then myself.
I inhaled deeply and instantly my mouth watered, it smelt of stews served to me in my childhood when it was only light for a few hours a day and the wind bit hard.
“That’s for you, and you my ladies.”
“Thank you.” Korra answered and so did I.
“There’s your porridge cap’n” James said with a hint of disappointment before unceremoniously dumping a bowl of thick white paste in front of the captain.
“Err, yes. Yes very good, err James. That will be all.
Nodding to Mikhail then to us the cook left us to enjoy our food.
Strike looked around his portion of the table, looking delighted that there was no tableware, he picked up the lump the bone and ripped a mouthful off with his teeth.
“What is that please?” I ask pointing to charred lump.
“Err beef.” Strike answer was slightly muffled.
“What is beef?”
“Cow.” Korra and Strike answer just after each other.
“A four legged thing.” Strike now more audible after swallowing his mouthful.
“I know what a cow is.” I answered with mock weariness.
“This is duck.” Korra enlightened me pointing to spoonful of meat I had picked up
“Ahhhh! Mmmm, it’s very tasty.” Chewing carefully I politely replied all the while wondering what a duck was.
“With…” Korra continued smacking her lips together “…Thyme, bay leaf, parsley, garlic. All herbs that can be dried and kept aboard successfully really. The meat is possibly not the best, having to preserve it for the journey and all that, there is no shortage of bean but it is very well cooked even so.” I think she meant to give this as a compliment to the chef, not noticing that he had already left.
Nothing could be heard except the creaking timber of the ship as it fought the storm. The rations had been minimal for the last few days even with the fish and as such Strike and Korra were taking full advantage of the free food on offer.
“So then, what business brings you here? You say you are headed to the Royal City?” The Captain asked when the shovelling had slowed to common sized mouthfuls.
“Yes, we have fairly urgent news for the king. And…” Korra began.
“Really? Would you mind if I asked what that is?” Mikhail interrupted.
“Well, there is two armies south of the wall. Both looking to conquer everything.” She stifled a laugh, having already tried to tell him above deck.
“What sort of armies? Obviously we have, back at the home islands.” He stopped and started again. “How long has it been since you were in the home islands?”
“A few months.” Korra admitted.
“Have you heard about the problems we are having with the Northlanders?” The captain carefully avoided Strikes gaze, who pauses mid chew.
“What have I done?” He swallowed hard with a pretend hurt look.
“Yes, briefly. However I suspect that the reason you are having with the Northlanders is that their cities are being decimated by the Southlands. ” Korra explained, sticking up for Strike.
“Decimated? By Who?” Mikhail asked.
“Well, we are not entirely certain.” Korra admitted.
“The dead.” Strike said with his mouth full.
“There seems to be…” Korra hurriedly continued.
“The dead? What do you mean the dead?” The captain ignored Korra and turned his attention to Strike.
“The dead are seemingly rising out of the ground and stomping on settlements, villages, cities, anything in their path.” Strike said waving his hunk of cow around.
Mikhail was about to speak when the door swung back. James, holding a tray of tankards came wobbling in, trying to sway with the waves of the storm and keep the drinks in their containers. Placing the cup down in front of each of us smell the aroma of weak ale, known to those who live on the sea as grog. Alcoholic enough to kill the bugs but weak enough to keep your head.
Strike took a swallow and peered into his cup, expecting to see water. The Northlanders gave stronger stuff to their children. Korra seemed happy with the taste but to me it tasted slightly of the smell of rising bread.
“Sorry, sorry, sorry didn’t mean to overhear at the door but did you say the dead were rising?” James enquired, not sounding the least bit sorrowful.
“Yes.” Strike snapped, frustrated at being interrupted at every mouthful.
Hearing this the chef went pail, even paler than those of his hair colour and dabs at his glistening forehead with handkerchief.
“Oh, the dead rises! That is an ill omen cap’n.”
Strike gave the cook the naked chicken dance look.
“Didn’t I tell you this morning that that flock of birds was an ill omen cap’n?” He said nudging Mikhail.
The Captain rolled his eyes.
“You know very well James that I don’t believe in such superstitions. Now I admit we have seen some strange things while at sea, that thing we saw on the borders of the woodland a few days ago was a little strange I grant you and I have heard legends of the dead rising however our destiny is not controlled by such superstitions, no flock of birds overhead can affect this, we control our own destiny. Get yourself back into the kitchen.” He shook his head and sighed deeply at the lecture he was having to repeat.
“I agree regards to the flock of birds I have however first hand seen men killed then stand again and attack other men. This is happening now, I was there several nights ago when it was happening, I dread to think how far its spread. We need to get back to the kingdom to make sure it does not spread across the water.” Korra spoke over the captain, defending chef to a point
“If you want proof, all you have to do when this storm passes, sail past Axehome, (pause for effect) it is a smouldering ruin.” Strike spoke over Korra.
“Unfortunately, although I am interested I have other commitments to take my cargo back to the home islands. However I will say you have mentioned this when I get back to the islands.” Mikhail concluded.
“Please spread this news as far as you can.” Korra begged her cousin.
In the corridor the trapdoor that lead to the top deck creaked open and a seaman stomped down the corridor, through the open doorway over to his captain, leaned over and with his hand cupped to his mouth to stop us hearing, whispers something. The Captain nodded.
“If you’ll excuse me for a moment, some of the ropes have come loose on some of our cargo, I’d better go and over see this time, some of our sailors are a little green, it being their first time at sea.”
“Would it be possible for me to write an account of what I have seen in the ships log for others to see?” Korra asked optimistically.
“Erm, I would rather you not write in the ships log, we like to keep that strictly business.” The captain answered unapologetically.
Looking back on what I know now, could be to stop us seeing strange symbols we had seen before?
“You are more than welcome to leave a copy here, there will be parchment and pens at your disposal.” Mikhail added.
“That will be fine, I will begin that as soon as possible.”
“If you will excuse me for a moment, like I say I must see to the cargo. Please accept my apologies, I will be back in a few moments.”
Mikhail vanished into the gloom with the sailor, Korra, itching to put ink to parchment followed to hunt down her writing materials leaving Strike and myself at the table.
With is bowl abandoned I leaned over and hooked it back to my place. The bland pale grey paste tasted of just that, no salt, no honey nothing. I put it back quickly noticing that all the while we were eating his bowl had stayed as full as mine.
Korra returned armed with necessities and began scribing her tale.
From the sound of groaning wood the storm must have been almost at full force. I looked at Strike, trying to gain some comfort of a seasoned sailor who had a preoccupied look on his face chewing very slowly. For a heartbeat there was a flash of recognition before shaking his head and slowly tried to raise his hand.
While thoroughly enjoying his slab of seared meat Strike thought he recognised the sweet floral taste to his meal.
He glanced at Demanor, who looked as if she was enjoying everything put in front of her then to Korra, he was about to ask her if her meal tasted odd when he saw she was laying with her head in the bowl of stew, pen in her hand, resting on clean parchment. Too late he understood that the food had been laced with some sort of drug. He raised his hand to his mouth, intending to make himself sick. Before he could speak he felt his arm slacken and his hand fell useless at his side no sooner had this happened he fell forward and his head bounced slightly as it hit the table.
Observing the sudden attack of narcolepsy I began to panic. Was this what you did at a Human meal or had my companions been poisoned? If it was the later then I was still stuck I could not heal them. I had no idea with what or how, I was a shape shifter.
While this internal struggle was going on I heard heavy footsteps returning to the galley. I fought down the rising anxiety and lying on the table I pretended to be asleep.
The heavy wooden door creaked open and in walked captain Foldor reappeared with the same sailor.
With my eyes closed enough to fake sleep I saw the Captain walk over to Strike, shake him lightly then gently opened one eye with his thumb. I saw him cross over to Korra and repeat the process before standing beside me. My heart thumped so loudly in my ears I was scared he may hear as he checked my responses, making sure I stared right through him when he opened my eye.
Satisfied with the lack of response he walked to the door and yelled towards the kitchen.
“James, James! Get out here.”
After a few moments the dumpy chef appeared.
“Now you are sure that you added the dosage exactly as I ordered, I would not want any harm to come to them at all.” The captain addressed the cook.
The chef looked nervously back towards us while dabbing at his dripping forehead.
“Y.es yes cap’n. I only added a couple of drops of the Oil of Tagit, like you said.” Nodding at him, not wanting any blame. “It should only be enough to put them into a light sleep for a few hours but, but erm, it shouldn’t cause any harm.” He said, wishing for it to be true dabbing his forehead again.
“Well that is good, I wouldn’t want them causing any interference by asking about the cargo or our business. They can sleep here for a few moments. When they wake up, it is very rare that someone would recognise Oil of Tagit, it’s a very rare…” Mikhail paused to find right word “…ingredient, shall we say. It cost me a great deal of personal expense. When they wake up I shall say that they fell asleep due to your great meal James. And then we can see them on their way. Certainly I would not want them to go out into this storm in such a small vessel as that it would be dangerous. No they are far safer sleeping in the galley we can deal with our business. ”
The captain turned to the sailors, scowling.
“Of course you realise none of this would have been necessary if you had secured the cargo properly, like I asked.” Cuffing the closest sailor round the side of the head.
“Sorry cap’n, but it’s not the sort of thing we are used to lashing down, how do you tie something like that down?”
“With rope you imbecile, obviously.”
“Well yeah but cap’n, it’s not like a crate or lumber or stone, well when we used to be able to get stone that is.”
“Yes. Well tie it down as best you can, we can get back to Sapphire Islands and they can get back to Royal City, everyone’s happy.”
“Do you think there was anything in those things they were saying about the dead rising captain?” James said, it obviously playing on his mind.
“Well, I’m sure many people would say it was impossible but as I say I have seen an awful lot of strange things at sea.” Mikhail replied dismissively.
“Oh yes, what about that huge, huge wooden thing we saw loping though the forest a few days ago?” James was not going to let it go.
“Yes, well I have heard tails of tree men on the mainlands, we don’t have them on the Sapphire Islands of course. Too few trees I presume.” He said shrugging. “Either way it is not our concern, it is a concern to the mainland. We are men of the sea we do not interfere. Anyway see to it James. Hopefully when they wake up the storm will have passed and we can send them on their way.” Mikhail tried to comfort him.
“Do I have to sit in this galley on my own watching them cap’n? Its, err it’s a bit eerie.”
“No, no go make yourself something to eat. I have business to take care of in my cabin. You there sailor, your post on deck, I’m putting you on double watch for your negligence earlier.” The negligent sailor rolled eyes like a reprimanded child. Mikhail saw the look and raised his hand threateningly.
“Less of that, get up there. Let me know if any other ships approach. I can’t afford anyone else asking questions.”
With business concluded the Captain and the sailor headed out of the galley leaving James. Finding a seat he drummed his fingers before quickly standing up again and changing seats. He twiddled his thumbs as he stared at our slumbering figures then shook his head.
“Bugger this.” He muttered.
Standing up sharply he departed to the kitchen where the sound of pots and pans banging vigorously filtered through to the galley.
While the crew were deciding what to do I had resolved to shape shift to the form of a river rat, so as not to be noticed if disturbed. Once transformed I clambered up onto the table and up onto Strike’s chest.
I took a deep breath and bit him hard on his nose.
Strike woke almost immediately. Good. At least the drug hadn’t killed him yet.
He stared at me, trying to focus on what was causing the pain exploding in his head. Groggily he pushed me off and the world still refusing to focus sat up.
I took his daze to my advantage jumping off the table I scampered into the shadows to revert to Elvan form. He was going to be more than annoyed when I tell him he was drugged, I didn’t want to add to his problems by shape shifting where I sat.
Feeling my body lengthen I had to stand as I shifted. It was that or fall over. If he mentioned my nose receding and fur disappearing under my skin, I would just blame the food.
“What’sat?” He said blearily.
“They drugged you.”
“No or you would be dead. Wouldn’t you? No they used something called oil of Tagit. There’s something in the cargo hold they don’t want us to see.”
I had intended just to tell him as little as possible of the facts. As soon as the words left my mouth I cringed inwardly.
“Oil of Tagit? Right!” He hissed. There was a very determined look in his eye and his mouth had disappeared into a thin drawn line. I closed my eyes and said a quick thanks to whoever had heard my plight.
Strike looked over my shoulder to where Korra slumbered peacefully.
“I haven’t tried waking her up yet.” I said pointing out the obvious.
Strike let out a long, controlled sigh.
“They have all gone off to do what they need to do, the Chef is to come and look in on us every now and again.” I remembered.
“Really?” With a twinkle of mischief in his eye.
“Don’t kill him.” I had been around Strike long enough to have the privilege of calling him strike. I recognised that look immediately.
“You don’t feel like making a few groaning sounds do you?” Strike asked, ignoring me.
Out of the door way we could hear a chef at work, it didn’t sound like he would check us any time soon. Above the working kitchen there was a howl from the wind and a thump as a wave crashed against the hull. The storm was almost above us.
I looked around the galley, just to be sure then back to Strike.
“They don’t want to hurt us, they want to let us go on our way.”
It sounded even more stupid when I said it out loud.
“But they poisoned me.” If I hadn’t have heard what the Captain had said I would have taken it personally too. The fact that Strike was a Northlander where from what he has told me they take all slights as a direct insult just made things a little more difficult.
“NO, no they just don’t want us to ask about the cargo.” Damn it! I reminded him about the forbidden load again.
“I get it wasn’t really poison but still, there are ways and means.”
I couldn’t really argue that fact with a Northlander.
“Don’t kill him.”
“I wasn’t going to kill anybody, I was just thinking, you know…returning the favour.” There was that sly smile again.
“Right, so what you are saying is you want me to pretend to wake up while you pretend to be asleep?” I tried to guide his thoughts away from the hold and its secrets.
“No. What’s going to happen is you are going to pretend to wake up, making a lot of noise, he’s going to wander in. I am going to cosh him around the back of the head. I’m going to get the poison, and make sure that the whole crew falls asleep.”
“Ok. Don’t kill him!”
“Anything else I should know?”
“No. they wanted us to stay asleep, so that we would not ask about the cargo. Or wander off and find the cargo” I used the tone all adults used to deal with difficult children. And again he tricks me into reminding him.
“New plan!” S face lighting up.
Ah, so this time he was listening then.
“They’re all going to fall asleep and we are going to find the cargo?” I say sing song voice, giving up.
I take my seat, waiting for Strike to take up position behind the door. I found myself wondering if James would notice that the room was not how he left it, then I realise Strike us unarmed. Ah well too late now.
Strike nods and I begin my act.
“Oh, oh my head! What happened? Strike, Korra, are you ok?” There is the sound of something being dropped on the kitchen floor. Heavy footsteps hurry down the corridor and the door flies open.
The considerably worried, red faced over weight chef walks through door towards me. But he is distracted hearing the door click shut behind him. Turning towards the sound he is met by Strikes well aimed fist and lifting off the floor slightly as it connected. Strike punched him with all the strength in his wiry frame, the unsuspecting flabby chef stood no chance, I see James slump to the side out cold.
It took both of us drag him into the kitchen and prop him up on a stool to let him sleep it off. Our attention focused on the kitchen. We expected it to be empty, it wasn’t.
A scrawny, gangly, spotty kitchen lad stood slack jawed at our entrance mid-way through the important job of chopping onions.
Strike stepped forward, the boy swallowed hard and waved kitchen knife in our direction without much conviction. It was clear this was his first fight, in his domain vegetation doesn’t usually fight back.
Strike backhanded the circling blade out of the boys hand and before the boy could react flung himself at his chest.
Strike’s shoulder cannoned into him knocking him off his feet. Following the luckless lad down Strike sat on his pigeon chest using his legs to pin the boys’ arms to the floor. In one fluid motion, Strike upper-cutter the boy and knocked him out cold.
Strike looked behind him towards the door, checking no one else had sprung out of nowhere. While I stood over the recumbent chef Strike picked up the boy by his trousers, folded him in half as best he could and stuffed him into the nearest cupboard.
“Right then, poison, where is the poison? Don’t touch anything” Strike said to himself before spinning round, palms at chest height facing me, signalling for me to stop where I am while he started looking at various bottles and jars in search of the vial.
With time being short Strike tried to think.
“If it’s as rare and expensive as Mikhail says it is then if I were him I’d give it to the cook to give back to me later. How many drops did James say he used?”
I held up two fingers.
“Two drops were enough to keep us out of harm’s way. Poisons like that usually come in decorative little bottles so I don’t think the Captain would have given it some bumbling, out of shape chef to keep safe.”
While Strike talked himself through the reasoning I checked on the kitchen boy and James. Both were still where we left them. By this time Strike was convinced that the vial was not here.
“Ok so now what?” I whispered.
“Wait for the Captain.” Strike answered.
I can’t help but look at him in disbelief.
Remind me not to cross you. I though.
“Look at it this way, I can poison him but it will be a bit more fatal.”
“Exactly, I am being as nice as I can from a man from my Island.”
I know your right, just don’t like it.”
Back in the galley, Korra, blissfully unaware of what we were doing on her cousin’s ship slipped in and out the dream world. The Elvan tales and ballads she has heard recently came to life and danced across her mind. One dream was more vivid than the rest, she dreamt of one Elven creation myth. The world that we live in, she could hear a voice say to her. A voice not unkind but stern, it reminded her of one of her tutors. And all the other worlds that are hidden from the each other originated from a great tree. The worlds’ hanging from the branches like fruit. With their ancestral world of the dead at the roots. All life that appeared on those worlds came from that tree. All the races were from that tree, life blood of the worlds were from that tree. The voice faded into darkness and sleep took her once more.
Strikes little conversation with himself had him convinced that the vial was not as we first thought in the kitchen. Sneaking back to the galley we found Korra still where we left pen in hand and asleep. We sat back at our places and listened to the storm rage outside, the gods sounded angry.
We didn’t have to wait long before foot falls could be heard. The Captain walked in with three sailors behind him.
“May as will see that our guests are comfortable now that the quarters are ready for them. Each of you take one of them, be careful, I do not want any harm to come to them. Take them to their cabins. But hear this, if I find that any of their possessions are missing or they are hurt in any way I will make the person responsible wish they had never been born, keelhauling will be the nicest part to their suffering.” The cold edge to Mikhail’s voice showed he meant every word.
“Mark my words that’s what will happen if any of their possessions go missing, or if one hair on their head is touched.” He repeated for emphasis.
One of the sailors moved behind each of us. Korra’s guard put his hands under her arms and carefully lifted her out of the chair. With her legs trailing along floor, he gently dragged her out of the room. Strike did not flinch as his guard did the same and with a grunt of effort, the strapping Northerners sinewy frame must have been deceptively heavier compared to the slight bard. I opened my eyes a little to see Korra and Strike being dragged off out the door and down the murky corridor.
I felt course hands slide under my arms and was somewhat jolted as he lifted. He must have expected me to be the same weigh as the Humans.
I risked a peak as I was dragged down to our quarters. The corridor was almost too dark for Humans to see by, the crew must have good eyesight or relied on muscle memory. The dim light from the soot stained glass of the lanterns gave out as little light as possible, the flames turned down almost to extinction just in case a lamp was accidently knocked over. The shadows of the crew leapt and twisted making odd shaped creatures on the curved wooden walls of the ship.
Traveling down towards what once looked like part of a secondary cargo hold that had hastily been re-decked as a cabin, was three long strips of cloth, just over a man’s width, suspended from rope, between the support beams. I think they are called hammocks. That was the word that the Captain used before we were dropped with care into them.
Blankets were put over us and rolled up sack were slid under our heads before the four men left the cabin.
We waited in the dark for a while but the only sounds we could hear was the gentle rhythm of Korra’s snoring and the storm waging war on the ship. Satisfied we had been left alone Strike untangled himself from his blanket and sat up.
“Does not seem to be anyone around.” He observed.
“Go and see if you can find out about the mysterious cargo.”
I was about to ask why he couldn’t but I would have only been given a smart remark probably with a smirk so to save time I didn’t bother.
I felt myself shrink down, my face elongate and fur cover my skin as I shifted to the form of a river rat.
“If anyone sees you, just run faster.” I heard the wise words of Strike as I crept out of the hold.
My heart pounded in my ears as I ran along the corridors
“By the Gods! Did you see the size of that one?!” I did as I was told and ran faster when an unsuspected foot appeared in front of my nose but my disguise had worked. I was just another rat on board ship.
I scampered down another identical looking passageway and found myself looking at the back of a burly sailor, with dark blue tattoos swirled with green ink. The fantastical creatures, sea serpents, mermaids, big tentiacled things devouring ships all danced in the gloom. This was odd though, all the doors I had come to before had no guards. This must be the place.
Through a crack in the door I could see two men sat on barrels with a crate between them as a table playing a game of cards. The one with his back to the door had a large well used cutlass hanging from his waist, sat opposite was a scrawny ugly looking man.
Hugging shadows, and willing them not to see me. Using what I have heard as a description I tried to see anything unusual but the crack in the door only showed me the guards. They were clearly not too bothered about shutting it properly, there was no danger as far as they were concerned. But it was no good, I would have to navigate the door first.
A roll of thunder cut through the sound of the rain lashing down outside, inside the rhythmic creaking of the ship rolling with the waves was almost soothing and I managed to calm myself. Scampering around, I searched for an opening in the woodwork, a knot hole, a break in a plank, anything.
But I found nothing. Without warning the small ugly man throws down his cards and angrily shoves a small pile of gold coins towards the large tattooed man.
“I can believe you’ve taken me again!”
While hatchet face was shouting, I saw my chance and scamper through the crack in the open door, inside the hold it seemed a fairly normal looking cargo. Box’s and creates had been secured with webs of ropes. The smell of meats and spices stored in creates tickled my nose. Away from the door and the guards the hold was in total darkness. There were no lit candles or lamps, that I could see and if there were any they had not been lit.
An occasional flash of lightning though a port hole at far end of hold was the only source of light. The storm was in full swing, the rain beating down on glass window made it impossible to see anything. With my already good night vision enhanced by my rat form and lighting striking all around the ship I scurried around a crate and almost swallowed my tongue. I retreated into the shadows and watched what appears to be a silhouetted figure, stood as tall as a human and about as wide with its back to me.
I Stay very still in case it decided to turn around but it stayed motionless in the centre of the room. With a flash of lightening various ropes coming off the figure became visible, following them backwards they had been hurriedly attached to bits of ship that seemed available at the time. Randomly trying to keep it safe, anchoring the figure down.
Timing it so I use darkness and hide in lightning strikes I headed around the figure, it didn’t appear to move or notice me.
I move to front of the figure and looked up. The individual had been dressed in full plate armour calved out of grey stone rather than metal.
It was a statue.
Felling slightly safer I remembered to breath and climbed up to inspect it further. Its head had been calved with a helmet that covered the entire head and neck, with slits for the eyes and mouth. A large curved projection protected the nape of the neck. Under the granite helmet the statues face had been carved paler smother stone, possibly marble. All normal facial features were there with a long platted beard carved from the same stone as the body under the armour. The eyes stared blankly at nothing, they were open but no features, just smooth calved stone.
The statue had been calved with his hands out in front of him at chin height, clenched fists with one resting on top of the other, and thumbs facing towards him as if holding something. That something was missing.
It was not what I expected. Why would the Captain take so much trouble to hide a statue? We had shown no interest in the cargo, and to be honest had only boarded to warn them of what had been happening south of the wall. I found it hard to understand Humans at their best. Sneaky and underhanded was Strike’s territory.
With rat sensitive hearing and Elven understanding I heard Strike talking as I moved though the shadows of the doorway to our quarters.
“This is the life, get people to do it for me, I could be a chief.”
Hearing him talking to himself about getting others to do his work after I had just wandered around half the ship my good nature was a little strained. Instead of hiding in the shadows to shift back I sat down in front of him. Making sure he was watching I changed back.
“Ahh! By the bloody hand!” he yelled in shock, almost falling out the hammock.
I smiled at him, still couldn’t get used to me shape-shifting.
“Stop doing that, find some shadows or something, it’s not right for a person to watch you going through all those forms.” I just smile.
A port hole near the back of our room showed the storm still raging outside. As much as I mocked him for taking time on board his long he must have been glad he secured his boat.
“I found a statue, guarded.”
“Weird. Well I say weird, Nothing I have seen lately could be classed as normal…oh wait there was that…nope.”
“It looked like it was holding something at one point, it had its hands like.” I moved my hands together and in front of me.
“Like, you know the statues that are carved holding swords?” Giving up realising he couldn’t see in the gloom.
“Maybe that was what he was holding then, that or a pike.”
“The figure was calved from a different stone to its armour, marble maybe? The armour was full plate, calved out of grey stone, possibly granite. It had a patted beard almost touching its chest in the same stone of the man. Its eyes were blank, no pupil or anything” Not wanting to leave any detail out no matter how tiny added that my journey had been a bit frightening in parts I felt I was repeating myself a lot.
“I could see why they were so concerned about tying it down, don’t want it falling over. I’m not that well versed on legends. Maybe you should bite her.” Strike added cynically.
Ignoring his comment I felt that there was one thing I had not tried. I left Strike mulling things over I decided to go and have a chat.
I followed my trail back to the statue in rat form. Still ignored by the guards I sat in front of the statue and close eyes.
“What is your purpose?”
No response. Well it was worth a go. As I was able to speak with the animals I also found recently that I was able to speak with the sea, stones and land, anything inanimate. But not this time. At a loss of what to do next I scurried back to our cabin.
This time I scared Strike by shifting, just because I could.
“What now” His was on the verge of shrieking.
“You know I can talk to animals?”
“I get that assumption yes.”
“Well I have found recently that my abilities can also reach other things as well like stone and sand and water, inanimate objects. I tried to communicate with the stone but I felt my abilities were lost on this creature and have to consider that it is actually living.”
“So you are saying that it is living stone?”
“I am only guessing this. I would usually get an answer straight away.”
“In that case you may want to wake up the musical one.”
I shifted back to rat form and climbed up Korra’s hammock and onto her chest, and bit her hard on the nose.
She must have slept off most of the effects of the oil by now but still woke up groggy. This was quickly changed however when she managed to focus and saw massive rat chewing on her nose. Dropping down I changed back mid-air.
Strike still shuddered. After the amount of times I had now changed before of him I had to consider that maybe I need to be a bit fairer on him.
“What?” Korra croaked.
“They used a poison…” Strike whispered.
“What?!” She croaks louder.
“Its ok, you don’t die from it.” He tried to reassure her.
“They don’t want us to see the cargo” I whisper.
“Then don’t look at the cargo.” she whispers back.
“I’ve already seen it.”
Korra held her head in her hands and sighed despairingly.
“I don’t want to know.” She says shaking her head.
“You do want to know, we need your inelegance.” Strike implored.
“You are better versed in tales from long ago and this is something you may be interested in for one of your ballads.” Strike tried the vanity approach.
Shakes her head again.
“I don’t think, no I know I don’t…” She started to object.
“Listen, no, listen and I’ll tell you why it is important. You have seen me talking to animals? I have found recently that I can commune with sand and stone and sea as well. I tried talking to the statue and it didn’t talk back, which I can only assume is that it’s animate.” I interrupted her, as much as she didn’t want to be involved Korra needed to hear this.
“So it’s a living thing. Made of stone but looks like a statue?” She said, trying to make sense out of it.
“Ookay.” Is all she could manage.
After a few moments of silence she spoke slowly, recalling the memory.
“I have hear of legends of creatures known as the Stoneborn and from the description you have given me Demanor, it sounds a lot like them. While in the Elven Kingdom I heard tale of their kind, I think it was called the Legend of Pendrel. They were fabled to be ancient miners, similar to the Elven people and the forests, your kind are, sorry were, children of the forests and the jungle. The Stoneborn are children of the mountains. As the Elves bent with the winds as the trees do, the Stoneborn are stocky and resolute, unbreakable like the stones of the mountains.” She said gesturing towards me. “They are reputable to be great forge masters and legendry weapons and magical items that they created, however; they are just that a legend. One of the most ancient but still only a fire side tale.”
I stood silent, I did not doubt the words from my friend but even I had never heard this tale until now.
“Did it feel evil?” Strike cut in.
“No.” I answered slowly, trying to recall what I felt. “It did not feel evil, it didn’t really feel of anything.”
“A creature made of stone, would be a very helpful thing to have on our side, so what’s wrong with setting it free, you know a bit of nibble, nibble in the right places?” Strike suggested.
“Erm, because it’s made of stone and I would break my teeth?” I shook my head at him.
Strike let out a weary sigh before speaking again.
“The rope!” he yelled in exasperation.
“Oooh, yeah that would make more sense, yes.”
He rolled his dark eyes and shook his head.
“There is no clues in the story as to whether they are good or bad.” Korra continued, desperate not to lose her train of thought. “I am trying to translate fragments of an ancient Elvish text into present Elvish before I can translate it into human, the legend is that old and even then it only speaks of them being master craftsmen. There was a vague mention that when the world was young, some of the greatest magical enchantments were done by the Elves worked with the Stoneborn, with the masters of their crafting and the Elvish magic’s, they created great and powerful things.”
For some reason our minds began thinking of the great wall that ran from the mountains all the way down to the coast. For the whole of living memory every man, woman and child of any race knew that there was the old wall that ran across the mountains towards the Jungles and since the Kingdoms had been formed it had been extended from the foot of the mountains right down to the coast.
“Could it be possible that the Stoneborns had been responsible for the original wall?” Strike whispered in awe.
Around us the ship creaked telling us the storm still had not subsided.
“The part that is over five hundred feet high, yeah I should think so.” Korra mused.
“I have seen a smith with a hammer, under the right circumstances it is not a pretty sight.” Strike said almost to himself.
Korra and I looked at him lost.
“You said it was holding something, if they were great craftsmen it could have been a hammer.” Strike explained.
“No, there was nothing in its hand, he stood with its hands out as if holding something but whatever it was it was nowhere near by.” I clarified
“Ok, we have a few possibilities. First one is that we bust out of here and unfortunately for our bardic friend, slaughter everyone on the ship.”
I hit my forehead with the palm of my hand, honestly there are better ways of doing things than just killing everything in the vicinity.
“Absolutely not, shhh! Wait.” Korra began to argue then held up her hands for us to be quiet.
“There’s someone coming.” Korra whispered.
“Please. Don’t. Kill. Anyone.” Korra directed at Strike who feigned innocence, before shrugging theatrically.
We watched with bated breath as the door knob began to turn. Whatever the other possibilities our choice had been made for us. We had no time to return to our hammocks, standing around and the element of surprise was our only choice.
The door opened and in walked the two crewmen I had seen guarding the statue in the hold, returning to my Elven form had done nothing for their appearance, the large bulk of the man with shaven head and tattoos and the smaller weaselly looking man with a hatchet shaped nose to these people shadows were indeed their friend.
Their faces changed to a look of surprise as they saw us all awake, Korra still in her hammock with me and Strike standing beside her in the middle of our discussion.
“So, oil of Tagit then?” Strike asked before they had chance to react.
They stood aghast for several heartbeats, they had expected us to be knocked out for the entire journey.
Shock turned to confusion at the question, it was quite probable they had never heard of the infusion.
“Stone man tied down in the cargo hold?” Strike demanded an answer without really asking a question.
The burly man kept eye contact with Strike for a heartbeat before turning his head towards the door.
“Captain! We’ve gota problem!” He bellowed, cupping his hand to his mouth to be heard above the storm.
Over the heads of the two crewman more sailors have begun to gather around the entrance of the room. They parted as the captain appeared then closed round again as he walked into the room. His coat dark and slick with the rain that is still lashing down.
“What’d ya mean we have a…Oh?” He finished when he saw us.
“Oil of Tagit?”
He also stares for a few heartbeats, open mouthed.
“It’s a rare person who knows of the oil of the Tagit.” Mikhail paused.
“Tell me, how do you come to know about it?”
Strike held his gaze before answering.
He reaches into one of his coat pockets and produces a small, blue crystal teardrop shaped vile encased in silver filigree. Silently he placed it carefully onto the lid of a barrel and in the dim light we could see that it was almost empty.
“Well I had hoped to avoid this, unpleasant conversation. I trust you have not been, aside from the unfortunate necessity of you falling asleep I trust you have not been harmed in anyway and that your personal items are still with you?”
“I have, we have not been harmed in any way, my items are fine. Hence you are all still living.” Strike answered with a hint malice.
The captain smirked at the threat.
“Apologies for the necessary deception but with the increased patrols by the Kingdoms ships and the random inspections they have been making on traders ships, we can’t be too careful with anyone we don’t know. Even those who seem to be from the home islands.” He nodded at Korra.
“Especially when you have tied a stone man down in the cargo hold” Strike cut in.
The captain looked genuinely surprized at the revelation of our knowledge.
“Yes, our cargo is particularly rare and difficult to obtain, however we are being paid handsomely by our employer.”
“You know you could have avoided all of this by just letting us eat in piece. I was not concerned by your cargo.” Strike argued.
“My apologies, as I have said, we cannot be too careful, we know of a number of our fellow trading vessels that have taken on seemingly innocent passers-by on board only for them to turn out to be Kingdom officials in disguise.
“I’m a Northlander, somehow I don’t think we work for the Kingdom. Strike said, somehow missing what the Captain has tried to explain, perhaps it was an effect of the tincture, I made a mental note to ask Strike another time, its effects would help with painful healing procedures no end.
“And now I am sure that you are a Northlander, however I wouldn’t put it past some of the ministry in the Kingdom to effect that disguise as they would know you would not expect a Northlander to be an official. As I say I cannot be too careful the nature of our cargo and the expense that our client is going to, to have us secure it for him.” He repeated the words as if they were a shield against the wrath of a Northlander.
“What is it?” Strike asked sounding slightly annoyed at the repetition.
“It’s part of a larger set of sculptures that we discovered in a cavern below the Great Peaks.” The captain began slowly and hesitantly, deciding on whether telling us the truth or a lie would mean less consequences. “We, acquired it through some of our, shall we say less than reputable contacts in the kingdom. Unfortunately, since the discovery of the large chamber containing many, many such statues as the one you have seen, the King of the Kingdom, King John V has placed a ban on anyone quarrying in the Great Peaks. No doubt he is worried that further chambers would be discovered or that someone uncover what he has found and attempt to steal it out from underneath him. We have been forced to use than less reputable contacts and means, but one of our contacts was able to smuggle out a single one of the statues to the harbour where we were able to load it up in secret and we are now taking it back to the home islands.”
The only noise in the cabin was the creaking of the wooden hull and the straining thick rope holding its position on the ship complaining against the storm outside. We all stayed silent, trying to work out if he spoke the truth.
“I honestly couldn’t tell you why my employer wants it. I am not in the business of asking questions, but I do know he is paying handsomely for it to be returned to the home islands. Enough for me to keep my boat running and to keep my crew in grog, food and various supplies for many years to come.” Mikhail continued to explain.
“I don’t fault your logic” Strike said a little more gently, seeing him believe the Captains story softened the atmosphere a little. “But have you considered the fact that the thing itself could be living?” he continued.
The Captain looked at Strike as if he had suddenly stripped naked and asked for a live chicken.
“Well no of course not.” He said dismissingly “It’s a statue, there are...”
“To you and I a statue.” Strike interrupted.
“It’s made of stone, it’s as plain as anyone, for anyone to see.” The Captain continued ignoring Strike.
“And the Tree Herder’s are made of trees.” Strike battled with him again.
“Well, I, err I don’t know about Tree Herders, granted we’ve seen something that looked like a tree moving, but err. Look, seeing as you know about it now there is no point of further subterfuge, if you were agents of the Kingdom, I am sure you would have no doubt acted or tried to signal someone by now. So I suggest now we can disprove your theory very simply. Let’s go to the cargo bay, you all know what’s there.”
The captain led us down to the cargo hold, followed by what looked like all crewmen with no job at the moment. The room and the statue still stood unchanged from my last visit.
“I believe you’re up.” Strike said out the corner of his mouth to me as the Captain walked briskly towards the stone warrior and rapped on it with his fist.
“Look. Stone.” He said pointing out the obvious.
“The story she told speaks of Elves, you probably have a greater chance of succeeding.” Strike pointed to Korra before speaking to me while the Captain continued to tap the statue.
Not quite knowing how to show the stone fighter that I was an Elf I made a decision to speak to him while in animal form. Remembering that Strike was still not used to my shape shifting abilities and that also the Humans also in the cargo bay had sadly never been in contact with an Elf before I took a step to one side and let the shadows hide my transformation.
The captain continued to show his disbelief with a constant tapping on the stone and occasional looks at someone thinking slower than a jungle sloth.
Ignoring the Captain I scampered in front of the statue and closed my eyes. I cast my mind back to my apprentice years and tried desperately to remember the ancient Elvish. I smiled inwardly, well who would have though it? Master of tongues was right, there would be a time I relied on the language of the ancients.
“Are you with us?” I think I asked him.
After a couple of heart beats I heard Strike shuffle his feet but the statue remained silent. A crash of thunder filled the void closely followed by a fork of lightning that illuminated a lot of Humans looking embarrassed.
Taking the opportunity from the sudden blindness of the Humans I shifted back to Elven form and reach out and touch the outstretched fist, unsurprisingly it felt as calved marble should, smooth and cold.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, filling my lungs until I could not inhale any longer and paused. As I exhaled I closed my mind to the Humans standing around me, the smirk from the Captain, still doubtful of my claims. The air of disbelief radiating from them, including my friends. I closed my mind to the rats and other scavenges scuttling about the ship, a mixture of terror, hunger and lust in their daily struggles, to the creatures of the sea both magical and mortal and hardest of all the spirit of the ocean.
Finally all was hushed.
In the silence I felt something deep within the stone slumber, a tiny spark of life in the darkness. I had never felt this kind of sleep before, it was almost like a form of hibernation I had seen before in some of the jungle animals but bordering on unconscious.
“It feels asleep, deep, almost hibernation.” I explained quickly trying to keep my mind closed.
In the brief moment my mind opened so did my eyes. I could see Korra with a look of amazement and a look that she would give all she owned for writing materials to record her experiences.
I quickly closed my eyes and in the most ancient Elvish I could remember I hope I said “The wall is in danger.”
I was drawn up through the depths from the sound of stone grinding on stone and with startling speed I felt the hand move from under mine and grab me around the wrist. My eyes slammed open, praying to the Gods that I was mistaken and the pressure on my skin was in fact a Human.
The Gods, evidently had taken to rest at that moment and yes the statue’s hand was really holding my wrist.
Now with open eyes I could see the Humans eyes wide and mouths open. Not sure whether to believe what their eyes were seeing or if more live chickens were going to be needed.
I looked over to Strike. My mind was now blank with terror.
“The dead are rising? Well it’s defiantly alive! Let go?” He said manically.
“I am no threat, the dead are rising.” I whispered in ancient Elvish, scared that if I raised my voice my fear would escape.
All was hushed, a stone statue suddenly moving can do that to a crowd. Only the wind howling outside, driving the storm above us could be heard. While the statues hand remains firmly clamped around my wrist.
Slowly the Captain took a step back and crossed one hand over his body in the sign of an anchor to ward off evil while some of the crew, taking an unspoken prompt had drawn their weapons, panic making the blades dance and weave small circles trying to point them in my direction.
“I don’t think swords will help…And that’s coming from me.” Strike volunteered, his voice not so hysterical.
“You know it’s bad when a Northlander won’t use his sword.” Korra muttered.
“It’s not that I wouldn’t it’s that it would make no difference, its STONE!” Strike said feeling the need to justify his unnatural pacifistic attitude.
While the finer points of Northlander mind-set was being discussed in my mind I had become a gibbering wreck, I was tempted to shape shift free myself but I did not want him to see that sudden movement as a threat.
As suddenly as he grabbed my wrist it was released with the sound of grating stone and the hand that once trapped me was held out in front of his chest palm flat, waiting to receive something while the other remained as a fist in front of his chest.
Terror still muddling my thoughts I placed my hand in his but there was no reaction.
“A thing, did it have a thing that was taken from it?” Strike asked the crew his voice still a little on edge.
“Well yeah” One sailor said to another
“Yeah, yeah, there was like a big hammer it was holding.” He agreed.
“Where? Where is it?” Strike demanded.
“Well, err, it, err, it’s in a crate over there. When we were loading it aboard it got knocked and…” He started to explain, pointing to a pile of crates towards the back of the hold.
“Don’t care. Get the hammer.” Strike ordered.
The crewman looked a little uneasy taking orders from a Lander and turned to his Captain.
“You hear him! Get the hammer.” He barked, the mistrust vanishing like morning mist.
Relieved at his captains orders the man disappeared into the shadows and came back dragging a huge stone hammer almost as large as he was.
“Put it at his feet.” I said gently, seeing that it could not be lifted.
It took some time to drag the granite hammer to where I had told him. He jumped back as soon as it was in grabbing distance and retreated to a safe distance.
There was the sound of tortured stone and the statue bent at the waist, grabbed the hammer in his hand and picked it up as if it weighed nothing. Once satisfied of his weapon’s return he returned to his original position but this time he was holding the hammer, the massive oblong head resting on the floor.
We waited with bated breath but nothing else happened.
“Tell him about the wall again.” Strike suggested.
“So, have we convinced you it is alive, Captain?” Korra asked with a flash of smugness.
“By the Gods, I’m tired of being right!” Strike spoke, his momentary horror forgotten.
The captain decided to not dignify the question with an answer but shot a withering look back at Korra.
While the sailors were still quiet Korra told them of the legend of the Stoneborn, sowing the seeds of doubt into their minds that all other statues found and brought to the surface could also come alive at any time. Quickly taking advantage of the traumatized crew Korra used the hypnotic tones of her voice to question the Captain.
“Whom has hired you to bring him back?”
He hesitated, then realising he had nothing left to loose he answered nervously.
“Let us say, the wealthiest man in the home islands.”
“The Emperor of the Sapphire Islands?” She tried.
His barely noticeable nod confirmed her question.
In the silence the storm was at almost full force, lightning almost in time with the thunder.
“As I said this delivery could set us up for life.” He repeated.
“Well, it looks like we are all traveling to the same destination and quite frankly I do not wish to interfere with the Emperors correspondence, regardless what may lie within. For all we know he wants them brought back so he can talk to them.” Korra declared.
“Or he can use them against people.” From the uneasy looks I received I realised I spoke out loud instead of thought my statement.
“Long live the Emperor?” Korra’s voice hesitant, hoping no one would take offence to the comment.
Hearing these words a few of the more loyal crewmen echoed her words more forcefully while the Captain nodded his agreement.
Feeling the atmosphere relax I found it easier to block out all distractions and tried to contact the spirit in the stone.
This time I felt that the spirit was listening but choosing not to respond. It was though it was waiting for some sort of assurance or a command word.
While Strike began cutting the wrist thick rope that anchored it in place I began to tell it of our adventures, hopeful that some part of our story would fall on his deaf ears and he would awaken.
When this proved fruitless I spoke of us wanting to defend the Great Wall against the onslaught of the foul poison in the land that was forcing the dead to rise.
The marble creature with the sound of grinding stone moved its head very slightly towards me. Even in such panic I could see that the beard of the warrior moved as one solid piece. He opened his mouth, the smooth polished lips unmoving as the jaw slid open and a voice that sounded like millwheels grinding against each other echoed like thunder around the cargo hold.
I looked to the others to see if they understood. To me he spoke a variety of ancient Elvish, a dialect that I did not understand but it may have sounded differently to the Humans. From the bemused silence, apparently not.
“I am sorry, we do not understand.” I said in my broken ancient Elvish.
It spoke again, this time Strike recognised it as Orcish, with a number of Orc tribes living in the Northlands Strike had learned enough to haggle by.
Strike spoke back to the statue in Orcish, to me it sounded as though he was clearing his throat by gargling with gravel.
Whatever he had said it was answered by a crack of thunder and lightning hitting the ocean, illuminating the whole of the cargo hold for a brief heartbeat.
The creature, still with his mouth wide open spoke now in common tongue.
“TAKE ME TO LAND.”
“Soon.” Korra replied.
“Can we sail in a storm?” I asked both the Captain and Strike.
“At half mast, it is possible but crossing to the boat at the moment, is not ideal.” Strike conceded.
“No, I mean take this one.” I tried to make my reasoning clearer.
“There is another boat attached to it, mine in fact.” Strike answered.
“Oh. Can you not do that then?” I asked.
“It’s not very safe probably.” Korra tried explaining.
“We could tow it along, but it would more than likely capsize.” Strike admitted.
“Is this a problem? I know nothing about boats or riding them.” I admitted. Being subtle around these humans was not easy.
“The boat would go upside down!” Strike snapped.
“Oh, yes I see, that would be bad.” I finally agreed.
Hearing the grind of stone we paused our conversation and looked back to the stone creature. His mouth was now closed and the hammer’s head was now pointing at the roof of the room with his head bowed.
“Is Thor calling you?” Strike said with a sigh, after this journey anything could be possible.
“It’s going to hit land at some point, whether it be down or across.” I remarked.
“Yes. But I can’t turn into a dolphin.” Strike spat at me with more force than necessary.
The reaming ropes that lashed it safely down had snapped like spider webs when he moved, proving that the restraints were useless against him
“No, I planned something else. Not to be disrespectful to the stone, mountain man but can’t we just drop him into the ocean?”
“Yes but then you can’t speak with him.” Strike was using his speaking to small children’s voice again.
“Yes that is true but he could walk across the ocean floor and onto land. I have only dealt with rivers, how deep does the ocean go?”
“Think of the ocean as a river, which also looks like a huge lake.”
“So it does have a bottom eventually?”
“Eventually. However the bottom, is much further than you can imagine.” Strike tried to explain.
“How much further?” I felt like an uneducated child.
“If you stacked five rivers on top of one another, about that much.”
“How big a river?”
“Deep and fast flowing.”
My education was interrupted by the crash of exploding glass as the porthole at the far end of the hold blew out. The lightning that had struck the glass arched into the room and snaked towards the statue. It hit the hammer where instead of being showered in stone splinters it earthed itself harmlessly.
“Thor?” Strike called out.
“Is he bringing the storm?” Korra asked the room at large.
“That’s what Thor does. It does look like Thor.” Strikes trailed off, his confidence leaving him once again.
“What is a Thor?” I enquired timidly.
“It’s a god.” Strike said flatly.
Seeing my deflation at my ignorance he softened.
“Thor is the embodiment of lightning.”
“Could you stop the storm please, so that we can reach land faster?” I turned to the creature of lightning. The last thing we needed right now was a Northlander God turning up full of vengeance because a greedy Emperor wanted a statue to decorate his favourite concubine’s garden.
Without seeming to pay any regard to what we were saying the creature, now with an ethereal glow from the strike as if the energy had spread from the hammer, underneath the grey armour to the marble flesh beneath. Opened his mouth again and this time the voice had a faraway echo replacing the sound of stone on stone.
“The wall is threated” There was no emotion to his voice, it was not a question but a statement.
“Yes.” Strike answered anyway.
“The dead rise.” He added.
The chaos of the storm that had mercilessly battered Captain Mikhail’s ship suddenly quietened and almost instantly there was calm.
“Do what you have to do and do it quickly.” I span on my heels to face the Captain who did not answer me. He was hanging his head out of the porthole pointing out to sea. We jointed him peering out the rim of smashed glass, a few last drops of rain hit the ocean as if the clouds had unexpectedly run dry, as we watched the clouds evaporated and the sun began to shin, the sky the only pure blue you see after a storm.
“God of storms.” Strike pointed to the statue.
“Do what you have to do and do it quick.” I repeated to Captain Mikhail.
“Sorry, what did you say?” He asked pulling his head back though.
“Get. Us. To. Land.” Korra spoke slowly, and pronouncing each word carefully. The Captain did not look as if he could hold a conversation for the time being.
“This is what was causing that storm.” She persisted.
The colour had drained from his face, he looked as if he would pass out at any moment. He had been coping with things quite well up until the lightning had lashed thought the porthole, now it looked as if he was about to shut down. He rallied quickly and looked as if he was about to give an angry reply but then one of the crewmen leaned over his shoulder.
“I think you should listen to her captain.”
“As do I, it was not natural the way that storm came upon us so quickly.” Added another.
“We don’t know what that thing is, we signed up to move a statue. That is obviously not a statue.” Someone else joined in.
“To me that is a god.” Strike warned the crew. “LAND!” He commanded.
“Very well.” The captain concurred. He poked his head out the porthole and bellowed orders to the crew on deck.
“Make way for the port at Royal City! As quick as we can!”
Pulling his head in he turned to Strike
“Do you wish for your ship to remain lashed to ours? We can pull it alongside without much difficulty given the size of your vessel.”
“If we’re going in the same direction just drop my boat. We’ll move faster.” Strike instructed.
“As you wish. You’ll understand if we don’t actually make port at the Royal City harbour. If it’s found that we’ve arranged for the theft of one of these…Whatever that is from the Great Peaks, will be clapped in irons by the… ” Mikhail began.
“Then might I suggest we go to land a lot closer.” Interrupted Strike.
“Good idea.” He said before walking out of the room.
We could hear his voice indistinctly above deck yelling orders to the crew while the cry of gulls filled the tranquil sky.
“Actually stop!” Strike yelled running to the captain before his longboat was cut loose.
“Load the statue onto my ship and I’ll sail it to land.” He ordered.
The captain looked thoughtful before asking “But what do we tell the Emperor, we can’t go back empty handed, it will ruin us.”
“Tell him a Northlander took it.” Strike stated.
“Hmm, that could work.”
“It got loose in the storm and fell overboard?” I suggested.
“Very well, you there!” He pointed at a passing crew member. “See to it to that…whatever it is, is loaded onto the long ship.”
Looking to the statue, he had returned to holding the hammer downwards, with his head almost resting on the handle, his blank eyes staring at nothing.
“Do you have a name?” I tried one last time but the creature did not answer.
As rare as the skies raining down diamonds Strike pulled his money pouch out and produced fifty gold pieces and passed them to the Captain who took them without a word. While the Captain was distracted by the sudden influx of wealth Strike took the opportunity to pocket the blue crystal vile that had started this in the first place.
The sailors that had been ordered to move the statue were more than hesitant, I was told by Strike that those who travelled the seas were a superstitious bunch at their best and gossiped more than fishwives, whatever they were and so news that it was an embodiment of a god of lightning was firmly rooted in their minds.
“It took ten of us to drag it on-board captain, I dunno, err, it’s not natural.” He finished lamely.
“Look at it this way, the sooner you move it onto their boat the sooner it’s off our boat.” Mikhail reasoned.
Reluctantly ten burly crewmen dragged it to the plank that connected Strikes boat to theirs and for one hair raising moment it looked as if it would be too heavy and the plank bowed, but eventually it was wrestled onto the long ship.
The sea was so calm the surface could have been used as a looking glass, reflected in the water the statue stared blankly down at hammer, while provisions were carried from the galleon to Strike’s long ship.
“Remember a Northlander took it.” Strike said with a wink as he stepped on board.
Gangplank pulled away and we are all back on the long boat.
Captain Mikhail points in front of him on own boat I have no idea which way as there are no visible land marks in the ocean and no stars as its daylight
“If you sail in that direction for a couple of days, it should see you to land. If you want to get to the harbour of Royal City it will take about four days.” Pointing
“No, I think we’ll just head for land, thank you.” Strike replied.
The Captain turned to Korra.
“I wish we had met in better circumstances than this.” Mikhail said to Korra, taking her hand.
“As do I cousin.” Korra replied.
With all things said Mikhail turned back to duties on his own ship, he unties the ropes that were lasing the two ships together and they depart on their own voyage once more.
Before they disappeared over the horizon Strike turned to duties on his own ship, checking that the storm hadn’t bashed it about too much and finally unfurled the sails, I think that if he had been on his own he would have kissed it.
The sea breeze caught them, billowing them out like a fat man’s stomach and the boat drifts forward, running in front of the wind with a very happy Strike steering towards the shore line.
After two days plain sailing the coast rose up on the horizon. Beyond the hidden shore line the tall buildings of the Great City’s stretched up towards the heavens above.
At the centre of the sky brushing buildings lay the heart, Royal City. It had originally been built as a palace but like all prospering towns it had sprawled out to meet the ongoing demands of the constantly multiplying inhabitants.
Strike navigated the boat to a shallow waters of the beach, dropped the anchor a little way out as not to beach the boat when Korra raised a very good point.
“Do we have any means of getting him to shore or are we just going to drop him to the ocean floor and let him walk up the beach himself?”
“Yeah. Hmm. The other option is try talking to it and explain that it’s going to have to walk” Strike offered.
“But as we have no smaller boat that will take his weight, will have to try talking.” Korra cut in.
“I need to get you to the shore, this is as close as we can get.” Strike spoke at the statue, visibly uncomfortable talking to the creature, the possibly of it being one of his gods obviously a concern.
He shrugged at the lack of response, the statue still in centre of deck, where it had been left by Foldor’s crew very slowly, with the relaxed pace of a glacier started walking towards the edge of the boat.
There was no facial expression and its hands were still out bent at the elbow holding the hammer as it moved. At the edge it did not stop to judge the distance but just continued walking and with an enormous splash sunk like its namesake to the seabed.
“Let’s get to the beach. Do you want to accompany him, oh crocodily one?” Strike asked me not taking his eyes off the statue.
Peering over the side into the clear calm water, I could see the reflection of the gulls wheeling over head on the scout for food. Looking deeper I watched the stone warrior hit the bottom with a cloud of sand before it begun making its slow paced way up towards the beach.
Happy to leave it to its own devices for a while we lower down the smaller boat into the water and followed.
Our boat arrive on beach just as the warrior’s battle clad head rose out of water. Again it did not stop, water gushed out of every crevice as it walked without hesitation towards the direction of Royal City.
“Are we following it?” I asked, watching its receding silhouette getting slightly smaller with every step.
“Yes” Strike answered, also unable to tear his gaze away.
He pulled the boat out of water and beach it out of sight, before securing it to the rocks.
It was not hard to track, the huge impressions left by its feet were an easy giveaway to which way it went but it was relentless. We followed it for almost a day before we needed to rest. Unlike us the statue did not rest or tire as we do but it moved so slowly that even with a meal and a full nights rest it was easy to catch up with.
On third day of following the stone warrior one of the coastal watch towers seemed to rise out of the ground like a mushroom with each step.
Without slowing its pace the stone creature continued on its journey, even the voice hollering down did not deter it.
“Who goes there?”
“We don’t know, we just saw it walk up off the shore.” Korra being a bit quicker than either of us answered.
There was a pause then the voice shouted down once more.
“State your business!!”
“Was that to us or the man mountain?” Strikes muttered out the corner of his mouth.
“We’re following the stone man!” Strike shouted just in case.
I was beginning to get used to humans and their conversations, it was not exactly telling falsehoods if we miss bits out.
Elven hearing was a little keener than human, and from inside the watch tower I hear a voice, belonging to another man speak slightly lower than the first.
“Oh, it’s another one of those things.”
“They have seen these before.” I inform my friends.
Strike looked at me as if to say oh yay there is more than one.
“You there! In the armour!”
“What?” Strike answered in automatic response.
“Stop moving.” Ordered the first voice.
No answer. They do not seemed to have noticed us at all
“It doesn’t seem to stop. We have been following it for days!” Strike yelled, determined to be noticed.
The cry of gull’s circling high above was suddenly interrupted by the sound of a bell being rung in the tower.
And sure enough, the warning bell slowly began to bring a crowd of Humans out to see what all the fuss was about and if it was going to be entertainment or danger or, knowing Humans whether there was profit in it. They gather in the streets, peering at the relentless warrior walking forwards, not noticing what interest it was gathering.
A number of guards, wearing plate armour, carrying shields with the crown insignia of the king and carrying spears quickly formed a unit in front of the statue. They were clearly expecting trouble placed their shields ahead of the first row, spears jutting out of any available space. Watching from a safe distance Strike murmured “this is not going to end well” and with that foreboding thought we shrank away and melted into the crowd.
The solders, see that it had no intention of stopping lower their weapons, letting them rest on of their shields.
From inside the formation a voice, the kind of voice not used to being disobeyed shouted “HALT! You may go no further.”
The walking statue completely ignored him, like everything else took no notice and carried on.
“You try, it’s your God!” I pointed at strike.
“Stop!” he almost squeaked unconvinced.
But still no reaction.
“Don’t harm them.” He says a bit quieter.
“It seems that people are no threat to it but they might well be. I’m just gona stand back and see what happens. If they all end up killing each other, well then I’ll have another song to sing to remember them by.” We continued to watch the retreating warrior as we worked out if Korra meant that to be spoken or a thought.
The stature drew level with the spears, a few of the closest solders jabbed at what they could reach but to no effect. They may have jabbed at the wind
“They do not know there’s a threat to the wall.” I pointed out
As soon as the words left my lips the statue turned its head as if he heard my words opened his mouth like a child’s wooden doll and the words reverberate around the city “THE WALL IS THRETENED.”
Before continuing to walk forward, brushing past the City Guard, it was not a hostile action but as if they were leaves around his feet.
“Stand your men down!” Strike yelled over the gathering crowds, if he wanted to melt into the background he was certainly going the wrong way about it, clearly I still had a lot to learn about Humans.
A number of enthusiastic guards threw themselves at its feet, before bouncing off into the grimy city floor, possibly trying to slow the giant down. It was like watching a Human try and stop a glacier.
Seeing all attempts fail Strike turned to us.
“Yeah well, I think we should go around this lot and meet it on the other side.”
Eventually the guards also picked up on the idea that this creature could not be dissuaded from his task and began to follow it. As a matter of military pride however they walked with their spears resting on the top of their shields, lest it suddenly became vulnerable to Human weapons.
“I think it best we not be seen.” Strike mouths, clearly nervous of the amount of people gathering to watch the statue.
“Look around, there’s one hell of a crowd following it by now, look one guy’s selling food! Nobody is paying us any attention.” Korra argued.
“The pale skin stands out love.” Strike disputed.
“Even so, we’re dirty enough. There are enough travellers in a city like this.”
While they were arguing I heard one of the guard
“SIR! It looks like its heading to the wall like the others.” Picking up a slight echo through his visor.
“We obviously can’t do anything to stop it. Err, follow it at a distance. Hopefully it will just take up position like the others and stay there.” His commander sounded like he was sick of the sight of the things.
“I don’t think we can do anything else with it.” Korra whispered so quietly that it was barely audible above the crowd.
“No, we’re going to skirt round this lot and...” Strike began.
“…Going to head towards the wall…” I chipped in.
“…And pick it up to where it’s going.” Strike finished.
“Alright then.” Korra agreed, seeing it was two against one.
Picking our way through the feted backstreets I noticed that in such a vast sprawling space there was not one piece of green. It was an overpopulated desert which I understood inhabited most of the Northern part of the continent. All cobbled streets and towering buildings. I wanted to cry at such at such a huge dislocation from nature.
It felt like we had been wandering forever in my own personal hell. Dipping in and out of side streets, doubling back on ourselves more times than I would like to remember as Korra tried to recognise some part of the city.
Walking down a narrow cobbled path, littered with debris no one could longer make use of, a filthy street kid stood on the corner in the middle of eating an apple. He stood there wide eyed and opened mouthed at the sight of the stone warrior.
“We need to get to this king.” Strike reminded us.
“What’s the quickest way to the palace?” Korra asked the urchin. Again, Human words, I had always thought of them as a spiny, gritty sea creature with not much meat on them. Although now I can understand their thinking.
“Ya wot?” He said spraying bits of chewed apple.
“The quickest way to the palace mate?”
He chewed and swallowed, giving him time to think.
“If you, erm, if you take, take Crown Street down there. Err, t-t-turn onto the main street after that. Err, then its s-s-s-s-traight on d-d-down to the palace. You can’t miss it. It’s in the middle. The p-p-p-palace is so big you can’t miss it. It’s called Royal City because the palace is the size of a city.” He managed.
“Where would the king be?” Korra inquired.
“I-I-I-in the palace!” He looked at her as if it was chicken time again.
“This lie just might work.” Strike said to himself.
“T-t-t-they say he has like a golden throne room. Can you imagine that? A whole room made out of gold!” The child continued oblivious.
“Throne room in the middle of the palace is where we need to seek audience.” Korra said also in her own little world. I wish someone would tell me what they were thinking.
As payment to the urchin’s information Korra gave him a button that had come loose off her clothes. It was very shiny and ornate but still as far as I could see, a button.
To him though it was worth its weight in gold and he took it relevantly.
“T-t-t-thank you, thank you miss.” He stammered.
Strike watched him run off into the crowd to show off his treasure before speaking.
“Right then, new plan.”
At last! They were voicing their thoughts.
“I am going to state that I am acting on behalf of the Northlands in regards to all the hostile actions that has been perceived to be from our tribes. Allowing us a chance to explain to the King what the hells is going on the other side of that wall.”
“Good enough, and we are you’re…?” Korra queried.
“You are my bard.” He pointed at Korra
“And you are my council.” He turned to me.
“Okay, there’s our plan.” Korra settled.