Saturday, March 3, 2012

Jon Harrow, The Child

We came upon the child in the alley in the Dockside, and Eric was standing before the body looking down.  I came to him and placed my arm around him, trying to comfort my young Protectant.  Dawnstemple had no true brothers or sisters, but I knew he was thinking of the orphans he had grown to adulthood with before leaving for the Order.  His eyes were bleary and for the first time I wondered whether my knight was ready for this work.  The body before us, shattered by the cruel sorceries we had been following for only a day had claimed another victim.

“I came across children discussing this, this.  I was in the Marketplace and, they said the body.  I, I need time Brother.” Eric looked swollen in the face, and I smelled the bottle of sour he had thrown into the alley upon his breath.  All men seek courage, but I wished he had gone with faith over drink in this situation.

“We will see the girl is buried well, Brother Eric, and make this your call to arms.  I refuse to let another one of the innocent fall to this creature.  We will take the body to Loren and he will tell us…”
I had only enough time to jump away.  The tears had turned, and I felt the breeze of the cudgel as it left his side and went towards my face.

“I know, Brother, but we cannot tell how long the creature had held sway.  Perhaps this one was our assailant.”

“I refuse Jon.  If you wish to take this innocent to that, that monster, I will personally draw the Faith upon you.  I will call to the Suncrier, the Hall of Protection, and the Hall of the Masters, and see you offered to the Sun for communing with sorcerers.”  Eric’s chest swelled with his breath, leaking out in short chuffing sounds of a laborer.  I saw the haze of battle in his eyes, and I backed away raising hands and offering comfort.

“I understand Eric, and I will follow your desire.  You know that we will be set back by your decision Dawnstemple?”

“For this, I will bide our time Harrow.  We do not do this to our flock, and this child is an innocent to be protected… We should have protected her Jon.” The tears came again, and I worried about Eric as I embraced my Brother.

He was one of us, and would serve well as a Crier, or even a Justice if we kept him away from the Inquiry.  But his arm was strong and his mind clear and I needed him now to be the strength of the Sun’s hand, and help me deliver this monster to its final rest.

“She seems to be of age, though as you claim I assume her innocence.  This creature would have an easier time taking one who was pure, or so corrupted by sorcery to be an empty vessel.  She has the signs from the Tomcat, though she has been damaged far more.  The puddles of water about suggest she had frozen from in to out, and she seems to have shattered.”  Dawnstemple was back, and I agreed with his ideas on the death.

“This body was moved, Brother Eric.  And recently to thaw here instead of there.  The body has none of the putrescence of neither Leon nor Yuri, and I would say it has been hours, perhaps a day.” I began saying prayers of succor and guiding to the body, though it may have been my only true prayers in year.  I wished the spirit no suffering, and none who suffered this violation should feel pain in its last.

“Do you think it has taken again?” Eric had said his own side of the prayer, to call his Order’s dead to lead her through the Lightless Lands to the Hall of the Sun. 

“Perhaps.  Perhaps it was defeated, and fled from the city.  I doubt this, but there will be no more for this creature Eric.  Do you swear by it?” I reached my hand to him, and grasped his gauntlet in my hardened fist.

“By the Light that calls at Dawn and the Light that battles the dark.  By the Sun’s glory and the Moon’s shield.  We will solve this Brother, or my life is forfeit.”   I knew Eric to be a man of his word, and I wished to not see him fall for his oath.

We brought a Crier and several novices from the Church of Dawn’s Tears to take the girl to a crypt until we could identify her.  The process would require many runners to take a drawing through the streets.  She was pretty in a plain way, perhaps Penny or her sisters would know of her.  Sadly a girl of such beauty would be called by some of the street’s own criers, and perhaps she had been offered some silver or gold and denied it.  If so someone may know her, or perhaps she was just a baker’s daughter, or a weaver’s prentice.  Someone must know her.

I walked the streets of the Dockside myself, letting Eric sit behind at our rented rooms for the day.  I went from prentice shop to small hovel, merchant’s house to Guildhall.  I spent the hours seeing the face of a dozen mothers and fathers hoping for news of their lost daughters.  There are stories of girls running away in every town, but in the Fall there are hundreds every season who disappear.  Some leave to join a Sisterhood, others walk the streets, and still others choose some young laborer or gentleman to take her on adventures.  I knew she was a man’s daughter, a woman’s pride, and I wished to know what had taken this girl into the clutches of the monster.

I stopped by the Temple to hear news and found it in the cloisters surrounding the Crypts.  Several novices and old Sister Timey were sitting with a family as the mother cried into Timey’s shoulder.  The two could have been mother and daughter themselves, Timey’s calloused hands running over the woman’s hair and pressing her to her aged breast.  Timey saw me and handed the mother off to her Protectant, a beautiful Sword' s daughter to the Sun, and who had stripped herself to novice brown to stay in the Cloister.

“Young Jon.  It has been so long, and my eyes did not think to see you again in these cloisters after the incident with Novice Brilliant.” Timey’s missing teeth made her smile endearing, but I knew her for what she was.  She was one of the Wise, a sorcerer sworn to the Light, who gave only her own blood or her novice’s woman’s blood to the Lord for her spellcraft.  She had made her oaths, and as one who bled to the Sun she and her Protectant bore the blade rather than the spades and cudgels His male worshippers had to carry. 

“Beautiful Timey, Lady of the Hills.  How is the mother?” I kissed her on the cheek, feeling the leathery texture of her skin.  She had spent so many years amongst the Isles and in other lands that she seemed more institution that woman.  I had been a novice myself when the cloister event had occurred.

“Her daughter will be laid to rest with a full service.  Is this your inquiry?” she looked into my eye with a mixture of fond memories and . . . fear?

“Yes, it is my inquiry.  What seems to be the problem Sister?” I leaned in close to take her arm and she cradled my own and patted me on the hand.

“I have much to tell you, Jon, and very little of it is good.  Come, and we will speak sweet Child Harrow, but first we will go to the Depths.” She smiled at me as we went to the large oaken door that led down.

The Quiet Depths.  I hated the place when I was a novice, and spent as little time as possible.  This was the place for meetings, and punishment or ‘contemplation’.  Timey had sent me down there many a time, and it felt like old times.  The Quiet was the home of the smaller crypts of priests and protectors who fell in combat, but were not worthy of a large niche in the upper cloister or the Temple.  I knew at least a few who had fallen there as friends and allies, though coming to visit made me hope I would not wind up here.

“Ahh, now we are safe.  I have had the novices and acolytes sent back to the cloister waiting for you.  The tombs of forgotten priests from a century ago can wait to be cleaned.  I have heard you have been to Loren Kisamain.  Oh Jack, I remember you as a rake but a sorcerer’s imp?” the clucking tsk from Sister Timey was the worst.  I knew I was caught, and hoped to sneak away as I had so many times from this place.

“And I was to bring the bodies to the Temple?  Lady Fivegrace had requested me for the Inquiry, and I would expect the Lady to have your ear in such things.” I was surprised at Timey’s response; a knowing nod as I sat exasperated, propping myself against one of the crypt walls.

“And you do not believe I placed Kisamain at her Lady’s call?  I am a Wizen of the Sun’s Blood, but I know my limitations.  I fear for you, however, because there are things that even that elder will not know.  Forgotten things, kept quiet by the Ten Churches and even the Cults the world around.”

The Ten Churches?  The great halls of our Lord, across the seas and atop great mountains, the Churches were where the High Priests dwelled and pondered with their cracked black skins, exposing themselves to the full power of the Lord and his Host to bring knowledge to the Brothers and Sisters.

“Ahh, I see you did not believe.  Not many can stare at the Sun, but those who do have long memories.  
The Sword's daughters and Wizen of Blood keep some of their secrets, and pass their on through blood and flesh.  We remember the Wars of Faith, the Rise of the Pretender, the Moon’s Cry.  And you have found a place in the records of our newest endeavor, dear young Jack, though I fear you may not come to enjoy it.” She looked on me with that same look of fear, and I knew where it came from now.

I am a drunkard, a carouser, and a failure kept only for his talents with staff and tongue.  To be placed in such company?  I may dirty their clear clean waters, and leave a few Sisters less bloody.

“Jon, you hunt a creature that has not been seen in some time.  Though I fear that we cannot aid you directly, we can point you in the right direction, and protect you with our hands and eyes as long as we can.” Timey placed her gnarled hand against my own, and whispered the name to me.

Defiler.  Priest breaker.  Nasty bits of work, heretics turned to spirit and corrupted by magic long forgotten.  To the Wizen they are bogeymen, things to scare acolytes and swordsisters, those who made their pacts to live forever at the price of the cold.  I had heard of such a thing once, when a certain Wizen much older than I had chastised me then quickly quieted.  Tamera Sailrunner was her name, and even if Timey had lost some of her strength her ability to turn my bowels to water and make my balls crawl into hiding had not.

“They are not able to be killed.  Contained?  Yes, but only in a Vessel.  They feast on heat, and spirit, and broken oaths.  They will take my magic and twist it against me . . .  but not a Chanter.” She smiled, and raised her hand to my lips. “Kiss my palm, Brother, for I deliver your salvation in it.”

Friday, March 2, 2012

New Art! And An Apology

Ladies and Gentlemen... We are finally starting to get some interest and I do humbly thank you for spreading around Jon Harrow to your friends.  As some of you know I am currently going through some stress in the whole work and home situation and I thank you for your patience as we move forward to find out what is going to happen to Young Jon Harrow and his friends, enemies, and the inquiry.

Also received a nice little gift from Angela Rovnyak.  She had sent me some requests for information regarding characters so I sent her the thread over at ENWorld where we have been posting a lot of the updates (Hello to any traffic from the site!).

I cross-posted to the thread and Good Gaming but here is the picture in its JPG glory:

I love a lot of the details here.  Hope you also enjoy it; she has said she may be producing more from the materials and the story here!  Oooooh... Looking forward to that.



Saturday, February 25, 2012

Chanters, the Wise, Pathers, and Channels:

I have sort of taken a different method in discussions of how magic works in the Legendfall setting.  For those of you who play in roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons you know that there are a few basic spellcasting classes.  The classes focus on Divine Magic and Arcane Magic.  I decided to take a little bit of leeway from various sources and ideas that I have been taking off from while looking to create a certain ‘unique’ identity.

Chanters, or sorcerers, are what we have seen so far.  Chanters come from a variety of traditions but use the same basic principle: trapping a spirit or elemental force to use to your bidding.  While Chanters are usually seen as evil individuals, some Chanters actually bind spirits to protect others from the vindictive nature of the spirit.  I feel that Chanters fill the role of exorcists and summoners in the setting, though they seek out their prey in many different locations.

Some trap spirits in living vessels to use as minions (see: The Master), while others trap their spirits inside of Spirit Boxes.  Spirit Boxes can take the shape of anything, but they serve as traps and binding locations for the forces contained within.  Imagine a skull filled with abjurative stones, a tree carved with eldritch symbols, or a diorama that contains sympathetic materials that call to the spirit and allow them to be contained.

Chanters use various materials for their work, and these materials are usually why they gain their ‘evil’ moniker.  Blood is a common material for capture as it can be used to call to more vengeful or hungry spirits.  Other materials that may be used such as dirt from the creature’s location, native foliage, or even the Chanter themselves (allowing them to use a bit of Channeling to their own devices).

Chanters use spirits to power their spellcraft, or use their knowledge of spirits to perform alterations and callings to spirits of the dead or catatonic.  Chanters are able to speak with the newly-dead by binding the spirit back to the flesh through various methods.  They may also use a spirit to animate a body for the use of cardiomancy (forcing the body to reenact the moments of its death through spirit-memory), or even binding a living creature’s spirit away to allow for possession.

Pathers are those who follow codes of conduct to appease nature and make themselves stronger.  Somewhat like practitioners of taboo-based traditions, Pathers sacrifice the earthly form to take themselves along a path of mystic journey.  I’m really working on Pathers as of this point, and would love to expand on their mythos and some of their taboos as I go along.

Channels are probably the least “D&D” of the casters.  Channels are passive conduits of magic, though they use their powers to benefit those around them.  Imagine a living ward, tapping into powers as a living form of magic.  Channels are prized amongst those who keep them, though the life of a Channel is sad and forlorn.  Imagine being radioactive, filled with a power deadly for others to touch in its raw form but serving to power the Empire around you.  Channels are uncommon in strength in the lands surrounding Legendfall, but I do believe there will be more discussions of them in later works.

The Wise use knowledge to create effects.  The Wise are somewhere between scientists and practitioners, and take a little bit of everything.  One of the Wise may bind a spirit to propel a sphere to generate energy in a simple turbine, or use the Paths and Channeling to make great works.  Usually the Wise gather together in societies to help to teach their ways, and combine their specific arts and knowledge to become greater than the sum of their parts.

Lady Fivegrace: A Lady's Circle

The Lady looked to her face and saw her age in every reflection in the Hall.  She knew that there were those who found her fair, but fair had been replaced by cold so long ago that only her courtiers kept her young.   How many called her hag behind her back, giving her the love and lust she needed to keep strong?  Neither Lord nor Lady needs any but their people, and the Lady did not know a single one she could trust.

The Prince had given over a task to Lord Leon, and often he spoke with the Lady of its progress.  A grand gift to his son, who may as he did live to be a Prince while born low.  How long had it been since the King was locked into his tower?  How long ago had Elinir been bound to this damned place to replace the sister lost to the Queen’s fickle Fates?

She combed her hair each night as the sunset shown through the great windows of Fivegrace Manor, looking out to the sea and wishing to be there.  Elinir was to be her father’s heir, an heir to stone and steel and men.  She had not forgotten being locked in her own King’s Cage, being forced to grow her hair long and remember her courtly lessons as her father spoke of Duty.  Duty, that tiny word with a million letters, a thousand broken promises, and one soul yearning to be away from it.

It is not that she did not love the people of Legendfall.  She had fallen for the city upon her first visit, when the then slim Lord Fivegrace took the Mason’s Daughter through the streets to show her the finery.  She had clapped at the scenes in the Square of mimes and jugglers, and been amazed at the masked messengers known as the Ladies of the Bells.

Then she took her heart’s blow, the pain that she knew.  The puppets showing her downfall, the stories that had been true but sank to gossip.  The Rider and the Maiden, the shame, the King’s Justice, delivered at the hands of the Maiden’s sworn lover. 

She wept even now to think of that poor girl, seeing her sister’s woe told in a farce.  She pressed the wrinkles to raise them, smirked in the mirror, and took inventory of the next day.  Morning meal and mass with the Lord, a tour of the Temple on High to survey the newly sponsored sculptures.  Then two men to make members of the Guard, and more talk on who to stand for election for Guardian of Legendfall before she could go to meet her Circle.

In the midst of her daydreaming she did not hear the soft feet creeping.  Not until they were upon her with their garrote. 

“Sleep, ma'Lady.”

She moved quickly, but the first thrust of her comb did no damage.  She grasped the head with her off hand to yank out the thin dagger within the comb, but her assailant was on her, quicker.  Bare feet made for poor kicking, but she had other weapons close to hand.  As she whistled she heard the rush of the steps, and felt her attacker pulled from her body. 

The mastiffs had been the only part of her dowry she adored.  Great beast, pale gold with their ruffs dotted in black, she had bred the bitch for her children and even nephews and nieces.  These two, Mott and Bailey, were her favorites, and she fed them on rib roast and beer until they grew as surly as any guardsmen. 

The guards came far too late, but by then the attacker had been dispatched.  Though some said in whispers she took the dogs to bed her husband joked that he would rather miss a night in her bed than remove her favorite foot warmers.  Even covered in blood up to their necks she loved her two guards. 
Let them think what they will, she thought, but I would rather a dog more loyal than a lover as fickle as the boys I am sent.

Her husband came to her that night, and the Lord promised more guards and a glorious eagle to show her courage.  She scoffed, though she had always wished an eagle when she played at being Elins the soldier-boy.  Mass was quiet, and as the Lord clutched her hand at the end she could remember why she had fallen in love with him.  Gout and sickness had made his belly hang like an overripe peach but he would always be the man who had given her the single golden rose plucked from the crown of the Temple on High itself.

They played at being patrons and marveled at the work in the Temple, and she waited to enjoy her Circle until late into the day.  When she arrived at the small cottage where they met in her feigned poverty she finally felt like Elinir again. 

“Ahh, Elinir!  It has been a month of waiting, and so much to go!” she always loved to see the faces around her, Lea the fat matronly mother who still took to her back for her supper.  The two women embraced and began to speak in hushed tones about their days since last seen.

She then saw Olin the barber speaking to Sir Lucian.  The Circle were men and women who enjoyed each other’s company, who came to not feel alone, and tell wonderful tales and weave songs.  What had started as a jest between Elinir and her chamber maid had grown, and it was in this place they all told their stories or others, and could be free to think and feel.

“Ah Elinir!  Have you brought us a tale or are you hear to lend an ear?” Tolk, the peg-legged singer at many a bachelor’s call, came waddling to her and embraced her.  For a strummer he had wonderfully strong arms, and if the Lady chose to bed down to sees how he felt to her what of it?  She was no Lady here, just as Lucian was no knight, or Lea was no whore.

The Circle gathered, and called the roll.  They stood at six, though at the moment Kailin had not been seen in a few meetings.  Elinir thought to ask after him, but it would look strange if Lady Fivegrace became interested in a man like Kailin without sending an Inquisitor to meet him.  The ringing of the iron bell called them to order, and Elinir sat back in her seat.

“Who has a story to tell?” Olin boomed as they grew quiet, talking over the hushed crowd.  Each of the men and women of the Circle told their secrets.

“I heard there are a thousand cells within the King’s Cage, each filled with the gold of a lost Lord!”

“I was told by a trader that the Hillfolk are ready to war…”

“My son disappeared three nights ago, and I fear they will want to ransom him.  I have no money, and they, they took my boy!” Sir Lucian broke down then, and Elinir was there by his side.  The Circle was her safety, but she knew that then she had to leave some of that behind.  She took Lucian to her breast as he wept like a child, and Lea took on his other side.  The two began to rock him, and as they looked over him Elinir knew her own eyes were reflected in the muddy brown of Lea’s gaze.

The Circle broke for the night but Lea stayed on, and Elinir sent word that she would be abroad in the city and could not sup with her courtiers. 

“Lucian, sweet Lucian.  My flower and light, what has happened?” Lea looked upon the man with pity and the love of a maiden.  She had told of her love for Sit Lucian Stonebreaker to the Circle and the bachelor knight had been called forward to join the Circle at their next gathering.  A love blossomed and burned under Duty, that word, and Elinir sometimes wondered at whether Lea’s birth had prevented two wonderful people from being together in the love she wished she could hold.

“It was Brendan, my youngest.  He flew out like a bird, my strong hawkish boy.  He went as the boys will to deliver messages in the Alleys, and when the light came.” He held his fingers spread, a man holding to stone and finding only sand.

“Brendan was a wise boy and strong as his father.  Strange things go about; this, this will bring me to some thought.  I will call the Guards to search the streets for him, and we will find him Luc.” Elinir knew her lies for what they were, but hoped that they would bring comfort.

“Yes my light, we will find him.  I will set the girls to work with their ears and their legs.  Perhaps he has just followed his father’s way, true?” Lea touched Lucian’s scalp and Elinir saw the phantom of a smile appear on the face of the knight.

“Perhaps, he is a strong young man, but before the age of the sword?  The boy has been alive for ten years.” Lucian shook his head and Lea grabbed his chin, stopping the motion.

“And who says he is as dirty as you, devil?  Perhaps he only wishes to crawl into a soft pillowy set of arms and rest there, and will wake up tomorrow from his irresponsibility and find you in your house.”

Elinir wished to believe that.  The Alleys were the home of merchants and hedge knights, and lords kept small homes there to keep ahead of their rivals in business, and speculation was common.  The Lady had the same luck of finding a boy messenger who disappeared as a black grain of rice in a storehold.  She stroked his hair and wished that Lucian had been more careful, and knew she would seek out whatever was required to bring his boy home dead or alive.

Friday, February 24, 2012

{Short} Rag and Bone: Needs Must

Aye, am I a pretty one.

The years, they take from me and I them, eh?  Not a much or many that old Ragibon not take.  Bring me your pretties, your dearest, copper bangles or golden statues.  I know they price, and you know me.  The washers keep their cloaks to dry aside when are about, but Ragibon know when to stay at home than be about. 

Ragibon know the smell of blood, deed, and take to rooftop and cellar to keep the blood aside.  Would you were that crafty.  Garin be that crafty, and bring the Ragibon treats and pretties and news too quick.  The night not made for traipsing, much as pretties made for thieves and them like the Cat.

Ragibon wandered them highs and lows for Small Jon, and get the news.  Old Mad Mirk in his crèche in the waters told Ragibon of the strange.  That strange, the kind those take the body and leave men a Ragibon to go to ground.  Look to Tiny Pol in the streets where she sell her love and potions and get back Ragibon’s pack.  The pack, the pack, from places far it go and went.   Ragibon have the secret to the pack opening and crawl in, and find the prize and sleep there in the smoke and the grime of that place.

Garin is a boy, but so was Small Jon.  Ragibon taught that to fight afore that had any manners, afore that knew that’s hole from the grave.  Not know that?  Not know what Small Jon did as a little them?  Found a pretty and lost a pretty and need to come a calling did Small Jon.

But some pretties too pretty and Ragibon not take.  The box that brought to and want to crack.  How Ragibon crack such a thing?  T’were fair and pretty, covered in the Isles work and makes to hold a strong thing, a bad thing for them to have.  So Ragibon turned away, but know that that thing and them will find a breaker.

As the bones grow tired, and the face grow weak and Ragibon remove the nose and take it to the hand.  Scrambling!  A thief! A rake who want to take Ragibon!  But no, the nose knows and the nose grows red, red with that thief blood.  Ragibon keep things, and none take from until get in the ground.

Ragibon came here an old man for fighting, but young man for learning and trading.  No face then just hands and guts and balls to play the game.  Now Ragibon own more than know, and keep all close like one of the scalies from them’s stories.  Make, take, hoard and hold.

Take?  Take from Ragibon?  No, Ragibon take and take and eat and drink, make and break and be great.  Them not know the hand that holds it.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Master

It had waited for its reward for so long.  Hours, and it was so cold.

“You did as I commanded, though you have not given to me my prize, Young One.”

The tongue had frozen, and the lips were cracked.  This body was not long, and it did not wish to go back.  Back into the glass, back into the place this monster had trapped it, back into the deep shadows of itself until it was needed.  It dug into its vessel, seeking the soft places it had hidden the object, where it had cut and carved the space and thrown out the chunks of ice that had once been heart and lung.

“Frosted, but still useable.  The Prince knew to trust Leon, but I believe our replacement shall serve quite well.  You are so hard on them aren’t you?  A week in this one, a month in the last, and who knows how long once I send you forth again?  I would send out another, but you have been such a good pet, and the costs, the costs.”  The Master brought its newest prize, its vessel.  It abhorred the taste of the old, the slowness of the blood, the cold settling in bones and brain of its cracked host.

“Yes, my sweet.  A young man, a change for you yes?  I have opened the way; liquor of the Vale, a few drops of sleep.   He will soon pass even beyond you but his mind is weakened to  be no trouble.  Treat this one better; I cannot call too many more messengers without notice, and the Dockside waifs have thin blood unsuited for such a glorious thing as you.”

It nodded, and raised blackened fingertips to the nape of the vessel’s neck.  The hair needed to be long to cover the wound, though the last vessel had served with a scarf round the neck.  The flesh parted, the bone drilled, and it felt the heat of new life.

“The liquor will make you drowsy, and do not strain yourself.  All I need of you is a simple thing tonight, and then you may sleep.  I have heard things today, and my wards are weakened from my activities of late.  I need a maiden, soft, and flowered.  I have great plans for you Iceheart, and I will make my way with you soon.  There is a priest looking for us, and I know you will serve well at my side.

“Yes master.  I live to serve you.”

The body felt supple and warm, and it luxuriated in its new vessel.  It felt the memories fading out of the boy who he had been; a lunch of cockles, a bottle of brandy shared with a young noblewoman, fumblings and the sound of footsteps, the feel of the sap across the back of the head.  It had not truly felt pain in centuries, but it could remember such things through the eyes and body of its vessel.  It slowly began to undress, feeling itself gain control quicker, its movement surer.

“Do you remember, pet?  The day I finally caught you?”  the Master had taken a cup of his foul wine, and gestured for it to sit down beside him.

It had tracked its master through the cold wastes for weeks, seeking to crawl within the heat it radiated.  It rode wolf and fox, hawk and hare, until the master lay down before a fire in the high mountains.  It knew something was wrong as it rushed forward, the master too quick to wake, alone for the first, his hand covered in steam.  The force of the spell, gripping and holding it, and though it broke the bonds it could not escape.

It had not known it was upon the ground of one of the Ancients, holy ground, unable to escape.  It had once served the Ancients, a priestkiller, a defiler of altars but this place had no weakness.   He knows, it thought, as the vessel around it burned.  It was newly taken, and even still the dog within could smell its own fur burn as it twisted, almost making the vessel kick and scream.

“You were a prize, a prize beyond anything.  Those mountains had been known for spirits, of powerful creatures to bind to the cold, perhaps to bind to wands or staves.  You though, you were different, far more than I ever expected.”

It had not seen a cage of that type before but it remembered the lessons it had learned before.  Ago.  It knew the feeling of the constriction, the muffled sounds, the chanting that would strap it into the object.  Once they had been bones with precious stones set for teeth and eyes.  This one was simple, glass and crystals, and in the center a hook made of obsidian.  The hook was what caught it inside, and it writhed and twisted inside its bonds.

“I felt you, you know.  From the first time I was in that valley, I knew you were no mean geist.  I captured others on the trip, and even made the bracelet I wear from others, but you were the jewel.  My guide into the mountains had told me of the place I bound you, a holy place where they take their warriors, or their maidens.  Whichever it was it was enough, ancient and mystic and perfect to take you.

“ If I had left you there how long would it have taken for you to go mad?  How long before you dissipated into the Shadow?  Would you be stronger for it, or so weak as to not take over a worm?  Perhaps if you fail we will learn.”

This monstermaster  had no blood, for it was poison.  Its mind was bare of places to grip, its heart and veins tainted by something.  It tried several times to attack, tearing him.  The first ten villagers had gone in the night from the Sickness, and then it had taken the Elder’s daughter.  Elkskin boots stripped bare had been its first sign, and it was by torchlight it made its first true kills and drank out their warmth and spirit through already-cracking lips.

“I do not believe you are made to serve in such a clime as this.  But needs must, and I need your power here more than some hedger or tribal beastlord.  I have not called you in ten years but in the last ten weeks you have done quite well.  Go Iceheart and seek out my bidding.  Keep quiet and take only what I need.”

“Yes, Master.”

It hoped for a sign of weakness, forgetfulness to let it take its vengeance.  Until then it would serve, and perhaps it could find power in its old duty.  To hear the sounds of prayers quashed, and see the dark out and pull the spirit and rend it.

It relished the notion as much as its hopes to kill its Master.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Jon Harrow, Amongst Friends

When we came through the Tit safely I knew that we had a bit of a trouble.  If I were to round up every pale faced thug I would have to take a quarter of the Dockside under the Sun’s justice.  From the men of Drusia with their braying laughter and wicked throwing arms to the Hillfolk who still dwell in their ancient barrows even in the bright sun of the Fall.  The Brotherhood may be of some assistance, but I hoped to put off the meeting with Elder Helm as long as possible.  Though I am a man of the cloth there are those who feel I may not hold the heights of honor inherent to a Son of the Light. 

I also had to get actual work done before I wished to head to the Temple.  There would be litanies and vespers, bowing and scraping, supplicants and sycophants and a group of novices who want to be the Harrow of hushed handed stories.  While Helm is understands my methods there are those who stand as Fathers of the Church who would not take so kindly.  I enjoy my freedom to walk under the Lord rather than look upon Him, and so Eric led the way to our next arrangement.

I came to see Hetna because she was kind, and I missed her bread and birds.  A talented baker, Hetna was a small woman with the laugh of a harlot and the face and eyes of innocence.  Once a Sister to me in the Order, Hetna had not aged a day during her tenure under the Lord.  Some say she was blessed, but I knew that whatever blessings she had received were meager.  At fifty she kept a stall at Market, selling songbirds and hawks to sailor and noble alike.

“Ohh, my handsome man!  What bring you to me, poor sweet little Heti of the Birds?” she came from behind her stall and leaped into my arms.   I once served as Heti’s Protectant on her sojourn to the great Temples.  We drank wine together under starlit skies and she was one of the few women to know me in her heart.  I would want to make her my wife, but her husband Lark was one of the kindest men I knew and she loved him above even her birds and Lord.

“How could I miss my beautiful girl?  I have brought my new Protectant to see you, though I never expected him to last a season much less the few years we have been away.” I ran my hand through her hair, soft as summer grass, and smelled the smell of sweet fruits and nuts that perfumed her in her stall.

“Flatterer.  And this one could have taken a turn with me when we were young!  I am charmed, good Brother, and if you give me a moment we walk through the market?” Hetna knew my stomach craved the food stalls, the smells of the spices, and the beauty of the artisans.  Heti took our hands and led us to the stall’s back end, and we helped to close up her store.  I do not know why she is so paranoid; even then no one would touch Heti’s wares in fear of Lark.

The Dockside Markets are full of every rare treat you could wish and some which you will cry to know you have not seen.  The stalls filled with apples from the Northern orchards, small sweet-sour red berries of the South and their hearty wine, silks and wools.  The cost of a thousand kingdoms passes through the Markets and the merchant dens surrounding the Market, and each merchant could buy and sell a priest or sorcerer for the coin in his strongbox.  The crafters threw pots, wove tapestries, hammered steel and curved wood to bow, while the luthiers of House Crosswind played their strings as paid girls danced to tempt a sailor to buy their small finely-crafted instruments. 

“Everything a price and every man a buyer.  Have you seen such a place before Brother . . . “ Heti paused in front of the girls, swaying her hips and clapping her hands to the rhythms.

“Dawn, Eric of Dawnstemple.  Yes, I have seen such a place across the sea, though never such beauty in the craft.”

“Ah, the craft?  Hehe, a Brother who does not use his body when he could use his eyes?  Wherever did you find a man so, unlike you Young Jon?” Heti ran her hands along Dawn’s arms, and then hopped onto his shoulders to be borne to our next stop.
Lark can be heard far before he is seen.

“Little Lark, Little Lark, what you bring today?  A hand of rice, a hand of fruit, from O so far away! Appleappenyacoppersofine for all but a feather you will be mine, Little Lark Little Lark what did you bring from O so far away!” Lark’s cart was always tended by his two children from his first wife, though he always sang the calling to it. 

Sweet rice and candied fruits were the Lark’s stock and trade, but it had been long since he was Little Lark the coaster’s son.  A shorter time ago he had been Julian Skylark, the Rook of Lord Fivegrace.  He ran the walks and sails of the Dockside, his long nose and stubby fingers having brought low many a pickpocket and a few rapists without the hand of the Lord assisting.  He sat in the high seat of his cart like a king at court, surrounded by the young of all of the shop mistresses. 
Though he had trouble walking at seventy, his eyes and ears were sharp, and I knew that when I needed information I could get it from his mouth.

“Ahh, the lucky Jon.  Robyn, Hawk, get me down from this throne and let me see the boy.” Lark was helped down by his son and daughter, and grasped my hand to kiss the palm in reverence.

“No need for that, Lord Skylark.  Though I have need of much from you.  Perhaps we can start with a bag of sweet lemon, and some balls of sweet rice dipped in cocoa for my friend here.” I handed the man two thick gold graces, the coin of commerce, and when he saw the color of it he knew why I was there.

“Such weak men the Lord presses.  No offense, son, but I once had to knock this one to his knees with my bare hands but he was the weakest.  Lots of good men lost to the Wars here and there, yes, but I haven’t been a Lord to anyone but my own lady for a fish’s age.” Julian raised his wife to the sky, though I saw the effort and went to brace him.

“Hands off of me, you lout! The day I can’t bear my girl cross the threshold is the day you bury me beneath the seas.” Skylark was a follower of the Crested One, a goddess of the waves.  Many sailors from the East swore fealty to the Blue Queen, and while the Lord burned his Sons and Daughters the Queen called her own to her home beneath the seas.

“Now is not the time for prayers, Rook.  I came to see you about some strange things that have occurred last night.”   I looked to the old man and saw him go from joyous friend to the Rook I knew when I was young.

“Yes, a Lion and a Cat scratched, and nothing lost or gained.  Is this your first time Inquisitor?  There was a third man”

“Or woman.” Heti said in his arms, curled against his grey chest.

“Yes, a woman.  These days a woman can wield a hammer and the blade.  What more do you need from me Brother Jon?”

“Your ears.  You must have heard something Rook, and I would like to hear of it.”

“Nursery tales.  An urchin who had huddled at the Guildhall seeing a lanky man come through the window at a bound.  That window, the open one, was twenty feet in the air if it was a step.  Calls of screams, and the eyes, like burning stones in the head.” Lark shivered like a boy hearing a frightening tale, then chuckled at the whole business while handing me my parcel.

“Tales told by a sorcerer and his diggings could fit that.  I do not believe that whoever went to that place was a footpad.” I took a bit of the sweet lemon and sucked on it as I looked on Lark’s face.   As I continued with the description  he color drained slightly, but he stood straighter.  At least I sparked his interest even if he had not believed me.

“Sorcery?  Lord Leon was on his deathbed as it was, apt to catch the shivers or the drop.  And we know the easiest explanation is that the Lord had warded himself.  He seems like the type, though the handbow was strange to hear of.  Leon doesn’t seem to be the kind of man who would carry a highwayman’s weapon.”

“True, and I don’t believe that Yuri would have a blade upon him lest he be hanged for attacking his victim.  Though a sorcerer could have just stopped their heart, or brewed a poison to take Leon slowly.” The Rook had moved the conversation past his wagon and with the help of Heti to lean on had grabbed a table at a bar near the edge of the market.

“Crime of opportunity.  The thief may have had the right time to take it, or the right placement.” Eric chimed in, and Julian seemed to see him in a new light.

“True son, but they did cover their tracks quite well.  If even a sorcerer cannot call the dead back to speak, we may need to look into some things.  The lords to hire a Chanter, or perhaps a merchant as sun and sea knows Leon was hated by enough of them.” Lark spat into his kerchief, then took a slice of candied apple from a sack he had taken from his own cart to gum and chew with his remaining teeth.

“Merchants?  The merchants fight amongst their own, but if any would come against a Lord, it would be”

“Anarchy?  Yes Brother Eric.  But I have seen it when I was the Rook.  Once Tall Clay of the Smiths beat a Lord to death with his bare hands.  He’s long dead, but the merchants look after their own, and he was not found out until he had his forge burn him alive.” Lark knew all of the secrets of the past, and though I hoped he knew of yesterday he seemed to be only using his wits and not his ears.

“He burned alive in his forge?” Eric looked to Julian for confirmation.

“Parts of him burned, yes.  No one was sure who did the deed, but the Smiths put his ash into a hundred swords for the Battle at Giant’s Teeth, and each of them hit sweetly for those damn sellswords.”  Julian slapped his thigh and then punched Eric in the shoulder jokingly.

“We need to go, but I will take your counsel.”

“And I will keep your coin, Brother Jon.  Take some sweets for someone; one doesn’t know when you may need a sweet for the sweet, eh?” Rook winked, and gave me the hug of an elder to his favored son.  Though we had had our scuffles I always respected the Skylark for what he was: The best of us and a man who held to his family.