Odwin Vraduna drew a heavy breath through his nostrils. The salt of the sea palpable in the air. The Windjammer Flame of Trele had cleared the last water-lock and made it to coastal waters. Odwin could see a few lights from the port city of Prieteberg. The sun had set an hour ago, and the captain had ordered quarter sail. Come morning, they would set full sails towards Gilhal. Odwin thought of his comfortable office back at the capital.
Odwin cleared his throat before turning to walk below deck. In the fore cargo hold Odwin found two of his trusted marines standing watch. They nodded and let him in without a word. Captain Pitman had cleared the hold for Odwin to use. It was spacious compared to usual ship quarters, which outsized his quarters by a order of magnitude or two. Lantern light illuminated the hold, swaying with the motion of the ship. A woman with auburn hair clad in a green dress was taking notes by one of the many tables in the hold. She was Odwin’s chief scholar.
“Good evening, Sibil,” Odwin said, hanging his coat by the door.
“Sir,” she turned as soon as she heard him.
“How goes the studies?” he asked as he approached one of the tables. On top of it rested a set of artefacts that looked like medallions. Beyond the table stood a metallic chair that changed appearance each time he looked at it. Its surface was dark but mottled with opalescent colors. Patterns would form, then fade, only to shift into something else.
“More magical properties,” Sibil said with her Angesian accent. “This… ‘mirror’, for lack of a better word, seems to store information.”
Odwin frowned. “Supernatural,” he said. “Magic is word for the superstitious folk.”
“Well, this supernatural object seems to store information in it,” Sibil said. “Seems like astronomical data - but the sheer amount is staggering.”
“Something for the astronomers,” Odwin said. “What have you found about the chair?”
Sibil responded with silence, before walking over to where the chair stood. The chair seemed to light up, with distinct lines of light tracing along the armrests and the backrest. Odwin gasped. The last time he had gasped was when Sibil had opened a portal to the Paraworld Aethyr.
“That is highly responsive supernatural technology,” Odwin said.
“Indeed,” Sibil said. “I…” she hesitated. “I can feel it call on me. I can also tell that it is reaching into the hull of the ship.”
Odwin stepped closer to the chair. The chair made no response. For all his experience, Odwin had never been able to work supernatural forces. Sibil, however, had immense potential. As he stood there, he noticed the chair pulsed with distinct patterns. Sigils of some unknown origin faded in and out at the armrests. He realized he would have to study them for decades to even glean at their true meaning.
“What about the other artifacts?” Odwin said and turned to a new table. Upon it lay a four-fingered gauntlet. Sibil made no reply. Odwin turned to the chair again and saw Sibil sitting in it. Her chest heaved with heavy breaths. The chair pulsed with light. She closed her eyes. Odwin noticed lines of light pulsing into the deck of the ship.
“I can feel the ship,” Sibil said. “I feel the water against my, no the ship’s body. The wind.”
Odwin took a step back, gasping. The whole ship began to tremble. “Sibil…”
“This chair…” Sibil began. “I am sitting in a helm. I can command the ship. I am the ship.”
“Odwin, go above deck,” She said.
The ship trembled. Lanterns danced. Odwin stumbled towards the door, opened it and ordered the marines to guard it with their lives. He staggered up the stairs to the top deck. The crew were shouting, scrambling up ropes or clinging to the railings. A droning sound deafened over the desperate shouts of the sailors. The sails were still - no wind touched them.
Odwin walked over to the railing. Below him he saw the water, only it was not brushing against the hull. He realized the vessel was flying.
Monday, December 11, 2017
A storm had reached the Vineyard, a modest settlement not far off the Old Svalich Road. Aside from the occasional thunder, the only light visible was from the kitchen window. Here, long ago, the Martikovs had settled and produced wine for years, if not decades. The warming hearth was blazing over some logs. Dag and Stefania plated the table, while their children ran back and forth. From Adrian’s room, they heard a lazy tune, a tired performance of Big Tom’s Hijinks. Stefania imagined for a moment that it was Adrian who was playing, but could not hold the thought for long.
The mushrooms and the onions were soft and simmering in the broth. Against Dag’s wishes, she had also included some mutton in the occasion of their guests. Dag did not think much of them. Davian, her gruff father, muttered but not saying anything in particular. She turned to get a ladle, only to notice that the elf was sitting by the table. She had not met many elves, but she imagined they would at least talk more. This one, Lorien, was silent.
Stifling her surprise, she made a polite smile. “Is the room to your liking?”
Lorien looked up at her, waited a moment and nodded in recognition. “Well, then,” she said. “Supper’s soon ready.” She smiled and turned around, only to meet Dag’s worried look. Lately, he had not been himself. Nightmares had wracked him in his sleep, and in the day he seemed aloof and worn.
“It smells delicious,” a foreign-accented voice said. “What is that? Lamb?”
In the door stood a tall figure, who fit through the door by a small margin. Covered in silvery scales, Heskan stood very much in the posture of a soldier. Stefania never thought she would see a Dragonborne, let alone host one in her home. In his arms, almost as if carrying a baby, he held a wounded Vallakian by the name Ernst. Heskan bore him to the closest chair and eased him down. Ernst winced in pain as he rested his leg on a small stool.
“There now - it will heal soon.” Heskan said.
“It looks nasty, that injury,” Stefania said.
Heskan met her gaze with his silvery and black eyes. “Yes, it is a crippling injury,” Heskan stated as a matter of fact. “Fortunately, I have much training in healing mammals. I should be able to make him walk again within some days.” Stefania shuddered briefly at the phrasing. Mammals. Ernst seemed uncomfortable, shifting to put some distance between himself and Heskan. Unlike Lorien, Ernst was talkative in all the wrong ways. When the the others weren’t around, Ernst had made some inappropriate suggestions.
“Careful, Ernst, do not strain your knee,” Heskan said.
“Hah! Or I might just finish the job,” a husky woman’s voice said. A red-haired woman said down next to Ernst, tapping him on the shoulder. Ernst paled at the touch. Valentina was no woman to trifle with. Valentina threw a glance at him that might as well have been a throwing axe.
“We should leave him here,” a golden voice said. “He could work, couldn’t he?”
Stefania turned to see Lucio standing in silken night clothes. His skin was a titillating purple. He was plucking his lute with his gentle hands. They certainly were a strange company. Lucio was a stranger one, even. A so-called tiefling with a tail that seemed even more perverted than his flirting voice. These strange folk were the ones Adrian had died for. These were the folk Adrian had fought for.
“No,” Heskan declined. “Ernst is on a path of atonement.”
Dag muttered, before saying aloud “there is no atonement.” He looked more nervous than usual. Stefania tried to meet his eyes with hers, but he turned and fidgeted with the broth.
“Atonement is one of the roots of the Great Tree, Lucio,” Heskan said. “Even the vile can find redemption.” The words hung heavy in the air.
“What if you can’t?” Dag asked, stuttering almost. “What if there is not redemption?” All eyes came upon him. After a beat of silence, he finally said “Supper’s ready.” He lifted the kettle onto the table. “Guests first.”
Stefania called for the children to sit down. Dag began filling a bowl for the guests. He was about to extend the bowl to Lucio, before Heskan’s voice rasped.
“Dag, your wife has worked hard and it is late,” he said. “Why don’t you let her eat while it is warm?”
Stefania looked up, having made her children sit down. Heskan looked at Dag. For one moment, he was sitting in the chair, looking at dag. In the next moment, Dag let go of the bowl and dashed to the east door. Before she could react, Heskan’s body disappeared in a flurry of maple leaves. By the time she had turned around, Heskan embraced Dag, and for the first time she heard Dag cry. He rambled about a conquering dragon of death, about nightmares and how he could not sleep.
* * *
A cacophony of cawing flooded the bedroom. Heskan snapped to as Lorien shook him awake. He heard thunder. Trees breaking. Another thunder. No. Footsteps.
“Find out what is coming,” Heskan. Lorien nodded and disappeared without a sound. Heskan went for his chainmail, shield and warhammer.
Dag appeared in the doorway, looking quite befuddled. “Wha- what do I do?” he stammered. He was sweating. As a tree in the distance crackled and tore apart. Another footstep. A slow, rasping groan thundered louder than the actual thunder. A familiar groan.
Heskan’s silver eyes glowed in the darkness. “Oil. All the oil you have. Bring it to the stables.”
Heskan donned his armor as quick as possible. Lucio and Valentina armed found their weapons. With each strap fastened, Heskan heard another quaking footstep trembled everything.
“Heskan,” a gossamer voice called. “It’s a giant-”
“Tree,” Heskan said. “I know.” He had lost brothers in arms to such things before.
Outside, a fierce storm was sweeping down from the mountains. Rain hammered down, obscuring the approach of the creature. Valentina stood took a step out from the store room and stared to the south. Heskan stepped up right behind her.
Heskan made the sign of the Great Tree and touched Valentina on the shoulder. A cloak of silvery maple leaves appeared over her shoulders. “I stand by you, Valentina,” he said.
The creature stepped closer and came into a trot. It towered high, an mutilated oak fashioned to have a maw and thousands of dagger-like teeth. Green eyes flared with fel magic. It smashed its body into the structure of the Winery. Branches whipped out, crushing parts of the Winery printing-press room. Valentina gripped her axe and ran towards the hulking tree-creature.
Valentina roared and charged at the tree-being, landing heavy blows with her axe. Heskan followed suit, slamming his warhammer into the trunk of the creature. For each connecting hit, his warhammer flashed with green and gold energy. The energy rippled along the surface of the creature, tearing apart its bark. From the ceiling, Heskan heard arrows flying. Valentina landed another blow, which caught in the surfaced roots.
The tree-beast turned, its eyes fixating on Heskan. Behind it, the printing press room had collapsed. Crushed stone and timber remained. It lashed back, its branches whipping and entangling Heskan and Valentina. The branches clenched hard, crushing at Heskan’s waist. He grunted as the tree-creature raised him above ground. Held aloft, he could see Lorien and Lucio firing their bows and crossbows. Lucio called out and sang a sour note that distorted reality. The voice transformed into crackling waves of sound that ripped at the tree. Leaves and branches splintering. The tree-being roared and lashed around itself. Its maw gnashed against Heskan’s armor. Despite the quality of the armor, the teeth cut through armor.
Heskan gritted his teeth, drew his breath. He could spew icy cold frost. Lorien raced off the roof, daggers out. The branch clinched again. All Heskan saw was black.
“No!” Lucio yelled. “NO!” the second scream shattered the very air itself, blasting an ugly piece of the tree apart. The creature fell apart, crackling and falling upon the ruins of the printing press room.
“Heskan!” Valentina yelled, running over to where Heskan’s body fell. “Heskan!”
All Heskan could see was a spectral dragon, flying in the darkness. Calling for him.
Saturday, December 9, 2017
A setting concept told in stories.
In the silence of a starry night, a single bolt of starlight raced from the sky to the land. In the marshlands of Osidenc, the falling star was revealed to be a craft of some kind. Local farmers discovered the wreckage and were shocked to find it surrounded by the corpses of strange creatures. The authorities were summoned and the site was cordoned off, and the farmers were told to forget what they saw.
Mayor Adus von Retter was called in to deal with the incident, bringing his best Witchfinder, Captain Marnhelm Fochterwald. A week had passed since the incident, and they discovered that one of the farmers had slowly turned mad in the matter of a few days. The Witchfinder quickly suspected supernatural activity of some kind, but was unable to identify the source. In a bid for further assistance, the Mayor sent a letter to the Gilhal Academy of Philosophies, requesting the aid of the famous Natural Philosopher Odwin Vraduna. In the time before Vraduna arrived, the Mayor succumbed to seemingly the same madness as the farmer had.
In order to protect the local villages, Captain Fochterwald had widened the perimeter around the wreckage and taken to preaching to the populace. In his mind, a witch had infiltrated the marshlands and the wreckage was some sort of ruse. Unwittingly, Captain Fochterwald had himself fallen under a supernatural influence and was being directed by a survivor from the wreckage.
Vraduna did not arrive alone, however. Following him was a detachment of marines of the ship Flame of Trele. Not only was the way to the marshlands dangerous, Vraduna himself was considered an asset of the Arbor Kingdom. Shortly after arriving at the wreckage site, Vraduna’s camp is attacked by mad villagers, all dressed in black garb. With little time on his hands, Vraduna only managed to pick some select objects from the wreckage before the marine commander ordered a retreat.
One object that Vraduna recovered was a strange, metallic chair. Little did he know how important that object would become.
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