Pascal Game 10 – The Blame of Loss or Murder

Spring 609 –

The mists weaken around us day by day, and I fear not only for what our present holds – but our future as well. As hypothetical – say we do manage to succeed in our conflict against Chriopholer? What then? The mists will still recede, and the old conflicts of the lion folk will rear their heads again in our peaceful valley. There will come a time where we of Vecatra will need to once again fade into obscurity lest we be subjugated to the judgements of the outside world. I fear what will become of our friends amongst the town who do not share our views – will they be persecuted for suffering us to live? Or will they be given clemency?

There is a certain amount of wonder in my mind for places beyond the mists – I recall stories my father would tell, passed down from generation to generation – of the sea, of the mountains, of the wonders of the world outside our little valley and our way of life. This last market a group of traders and wanderers found their way through the mists to Luisant – a strange bunch, who followed the ways of Vecatra while still living amongst the lions. From them I obtained two things – the first was knowledge – that it was possible to live our lives outside the mists, that we can make ends meet – I’m no trader, but I believe a wandering tinker would prove useful to the outside world, and would be a good way to have a degree of anonymity. The second was a map – it depicted rivers, pathways, and cities, all outside our world – of the much larger world – of the world my father would tell me stories of when I was young.

I’m still not quite sure what our plan for dealing with Chriopholer is – we keep delving deeper and deeper into the caverns, performing tasks that feel like we’re helping it rather than hurting, and while it confuses me, people much more competent and/or confidant than I say it is the right thing. I’m not sure what the town guard can do to it – there are many beasts and monsters living within, which they can surely help with, but I feel that their swords and pikes would be but toothpicks to it. My uncle and I currently labor towards larger weapons – devices that can launch wood and steel with great force – enough to topple stone, yet I fear that still is not enough. I know that Auriane is working to create bombs, that could be more promising, as could whatever ancient lion device that cousin Isabel is working towards. I still worry that our efforts may be in vain, but really – what else can we do other than fight it in our own way?

Aspen came to me near the end of the last market – they would like to see me become a mother, provided I can aid in the destruction/ dissolution/ whatever descriptor is applicable to the demise of the ancestor entity known as “Truth”. I have not met them, but I have heard the tales, and how they stand as anathema to Aspen’s will. I know not how an encounter with them will end, how it will change me and the people of the Veneaux family, but I do believe that the only way to fight them is with a greater Truth that can persuade them to end their cycle of using the truths of the world to harm others. I may create a weapon that can end Chiropholer, I may find a way for my people to live safely in the outside world – but if I can’t lead that weapon to and in battle, and if I can’t lead my people to safety, then what good is it having these devices and ideas? While things are moving faster than I could have possibly have imagined, in a vector unseen to me, I think the only way forward is to have the strength and wisdom of the standing folk, guiding my arrows, my voice, my people – Me.

Svart’s Internal Dialog – Time to Go to Court

Svart had been in the woods searching. First, to find the blocked paths. He had gathered what he could, and then returned to find the rest of the stones needed for repair of the broken cairn. They cairn couldn’t be fixed without Svart. Svart wondered if those were what THEY had told him to seek, but he did not think so. There was still something else to find. But first, he would rest.

Svart got up from my rest. It was time to go to court. He usually misses court, but he needs to fulfill his duties and know what is going on in his city. He gets up from his bunk and puts on his best tunic, and dons his regal wolf-bear cloak. Satisfied that he is looking his best he heads to court.

He tries to enter without making any sound and stands in the back. Still, when he enters a hush spreads through the room as the various factions realize Svart is there. Those that followed the Witch’s orders knew fear and began to worry. Others wondered what it meant. Knut, Svart’s friend and ally, gave a nod to Svart knowing he was there to support him in court. The room tried to regain its composure and continue with its conversation.

The Mages tried to befuddle his attention. They had been casting spells on Svart to keep him between markets from remembering that they are mages. However, Svart is overcoming their enchantments and is able to remember now. The green mage had switched to a blue outfit to try and enhance his magic, but Svart saw through his attempts. Svart was becoming immune to their spells and remembering who they were.

Various issues were brought up on monster hunting at court. The mages wanted to be put into a position of handling this as they could manipulate it for their own advantage. Knut saw through their lies and made it a matter for the fighting men like us. The matter of the Master of Coin was brought up. Ever since Victor had been manipulated by the Witch to make bad decisions, nobody else had been able to handle the city’s coin as well as he could. Svart has always paid his taxes. Svart is hardworking and dependable. Others, like the Gothics must not be pulling their share. Looks like they might have Ragnar work things out. He’d sort things out. He’s a good Njord with a sensible head on his shoulders.

Roots Ever Deeper Part 7: A Storm Approaches

Thunder rumbled overhead. Black clouds hung low and swollen, ready to burst and release their precious cargo to the thirsty earth below. Spring was here, and the rivers ran rapid with the thaw, carrying life from the rills to the swamp and beyond. Bird calls and the chirping of tree-dwellers blended into a song of life, growth, and green that swept him along its current as he strode deeper into the forest, eyes near closed as he listened for the song.

‘This might be our last Spring.’

The thought came to him unbidden, yet undeniable. The Mists were all but spent, the Court reduced to whispers and final blessings granted through shrines despite the restoration of the Grove and the leylines beneath it, and Etienne could hear it in the song of the woods. There was life, yes, but life fed by death. Growth, at the expense of something, some*one* else. The green shoots reached for the sun, but their flowers and fruit seemed…lacking in some essential element, leaving them hollow and unfulfilling in the stomach.

Already the Hungerer’s restlessness was visible, the effects of it waking resulting in the constant gnawing in the gut, the weariness in the bones. Would their winter stores make it to the first harvests in summer? Each ration stretched shorter and shorter by the day, and if nothing changed, the elders would be reduced to eating pine shoots and grass soup by the end of spring.

Finally reaching the Grove, he paused to take it in: the mushroom circles and carefully tended herb plots; the newly crafted shrines in their place of honor; the canopy overhead stretching out shadows to protect from sun and rain alike. It looked much like it always had, but for how much longer? Without the Mists, if they were to survive the Beast Below, what sort of a future would their children have? One of hiding and secrecy, the Grove reduced to a place of secrets and lies instead of joy and laughter?

He looked at his hand, once again overgrown with bark and moss much like his Patron, the temporary reprieve from the granting of the patronage faded like a dream. It was a visible sign of their Oath, a reminder of one possibility for the Circle and Luisant, and one he hoped wouldn’t be required. He *wanted* to trust in kith and kin, in the spirit of cooperation and comradery that had been built up these past few years, but was he right to make that call?

The clouds above gave out, no longer able to hold up under their mighty load, and the pale morning turned to a sodden gray as the heavens wept. Tears of joy and relief, or tears of sorrow he could not tell. Perhaps it was both, and rightly so, as his own tears mingled with the rain as it fell, each one a silent prayer for wisdom that he was unsure if it would be answered, but needed to be made nonetheless.

From Atop the Summit, I Vow To Those I Could Not Save…

Hakon is gone.

I knew it would happen someday. A violent man usually meets a violent end, but should not have been like that.

Vulnerable, alone, ambushed not by men but monsters in the bunks we sleep in.

Sigi slit the throat of one of the vampire spawn. The other tried to charge at me but Sigi held it at bay.

I invoked stone spear after stone spear at the thing. Each laced with hatred and fury at the beast that feasted upon my friend. Eventually one hit the beast in the heart and it went limp.

But it was far too late. Hakon was barely alive. Paler than I’ver ever seen him. He only had enough time to gasp his last words to Brother Erasmus.

I slammed a wall with my fist. Tears welling up. Fury roiling. Despair grasping at mind.

I didn’t have time though. I had a mountain to conquer. Miva could see it painted on my face. She handed me a small bottle. I knew what is was. It wasn’t an ordinary brew. Something to cope with the suffering.

I chugged the thing. It tasted awful, but I barely noticed. I left the bunk and went through the tavern. I must have terrified the Eparch as she nearly drew her sword upon me. Clearly the death of a friend casted a darkness over me. I suppose it was a natural reaction, as in that moment I was a good man preparing to war with demons. I had a mountain to climb.

The archmage tasked us with a mystery. A complex ritual of magic that required skilled use of both incantation and hand signs to channel great arcane power. He provided us the material for the circle and instructions. Java and Sygrun constructed the sigil. I volunteered to perform the ritual.

When the circle was ready. I took a deep breath. I had the steps clearly in mind, the incantion on my tongue, and my hands flowed from sign to sign with a grace I didn’t know I had. An twisted thing appeared, incomphrensible shape and arcane light. The archmage asked it questions I had no understanding of. Then when he finished he gestured to me to ask my questions.

I had none… I had climbed the mountain to save my friend from his curse. I failed. Why was I here? Facing this arcane thing?

Then it tried to pry into my head. Tried to surface old fears. I grit my teeth and barked a snippy question to halt its advances into my mind, binding it with the circle. Eventually Java suggested a question and I asked it. I got an answer I didn’t understand. I sure hope Sygrun remembers what that thing said.

We no longer had questions. We really should have thought harder before we started the mystery. I starting to channel energy to dismiss this thing and end the ritual, but I was weary from it’s psychic assault. I had to beg Sygrun to enter the circle and lend me just another ounce of strength. She did, and the beast vanished into the evening air.

The Archmage was impressed with me despite me berating myself for my recklessness. “You’ve become very adept despite your short tenure as a wizard”

He remarked at Java knowing the boundaries of her ability and lightly scolded Sygrun for not being brave enough to enter the circle with me. He made it clear that together we three mages can do much more together than we ever could alone. We had reached the summit and impressed its owner.

If only Hakon could see me now. I wonder what he’d say? I think he’d be proud of me.

I think he is proud of me. I’m am a talented mage.

I am one of the best mages in Runeheim.

I vow to all those I could not save,

The Night Malefic will run when the good man goes to war

The Mark of Recognition

During court it was decided that Mages would be required to wear an armband that signifies them as a member of one of the Guilds recognized by the Gothic empire. This edict was in response to complaints from some peasants that blamed mages for crops growing weird and other odd happenings.

While I agreed, that maybe a mage could be responsible for those things, this edict seemed like a poor way to handle this. It was reasoned that if Knights and Priests have to wear marks of their order, why shouldn’t mages? While I had some small pride in becoming a mage, others were concerned that marking mages would make them easy targets for malice.

It is a foolish thing, choosing to inflict violence upon a Knight or Priest is unthinkable for most of the citizens in Runeheim. Who would dare to incur the wrath of the powerful knight houses or go against the words of Benalus by attacking his devoted?

But mages are sometimes not afforded this protection. Some view mages as either heretics or heretics waiting to happen. Some view mages as perverters of the natural order, greedy men and women who defile the land with every breath they take. If a peasant decides to blame a mage for his crop failing and decides he has nothing to lose by stabbing the mage in the back, Would the guild swear vengeance for their fallen comrade? Or would a rival mage just see a threat to their power removed without their hands being dirtied?

I worry that this edict puts myself and the other mages dedicated to Runeheim in danger. I can only hope I fostered enough good will amongst the people in my Woodwise duties and my efforts in defending the town from the undead to feel safe with my back turned on people I’m trying to protect.

Since You Left…

Severin stands at the grave of his wife, who died tragically, but of completely natural and explained unavoidable occurrence that did not result in a malefic apparition nor any dark secrets, just three years previously. He thinks to himself in a manner that seems to him as if he was speaking to her.

“My life has changed so much in the last few years. From a gatherer who spent most of his free time in the tavern to a knight of the new order serving the local Lady. Funny, my clothes are still just as patched. Still, my life isn’t the only one that has changed.

Esme is 13 and becoming a young woman. Rude things have been said about her by Yves friends. Not so rude that Yves or I would have to step in. While those boys think they are being daring, at this point they don’t know any of the concepts that would be really rude. It does bring attention that I need to have a woman talk to her. There are some things I just am not suited for trying to explain. I certainly am not ready for it. What I can do is try and make sure she gets what she needs for a better life. She has been taught the etiquette and Jovienne recipes, perhaps I can manage to get her a position in the castle kitchens?

Yves, now 11, is taking over his duties as my squire. I was worrying earlier in that day if he and his sisters might have trouble adjusting to my new status as a knight. However, with no prompting on my part, when a member of the community decided to find jobs for all the children of the village to keep them active, he declared he was going to be my squire. For now, he is managing my jerkin, boots, and other leather items. He is being taught how to care for my regular sword and bow. When I have armor, he’ll look after that to some degree and if my previous experience with knights means anything, more importantly, he’ll help me put it on and take it off.

Feyette is now 10 and corrects me, and rightfully so, when I act like she is still a younger child. She is the age now that I keep thinking Esme still is. She seems to have grown up the quickest and takes me by surprise the most in that since you have left. Perhaps I can take over my beekeeping and brewing to her, which would also mean what I know about apothecary skills also.

Finally, Bijou is now 17. First of our children as you called him. He is old for a dog, and has had a hard life at times. Especially recently with the things in the woods and trouble the kids have gotten into, that he has protected them from. He might not make it to see any of the children married even if he does not meet another troll. He has been watching over them better than I have in the years since you left.”

Profit

Risk and reward, to forces that balanced Ragnar’s life pulling upon him like weighted stones, threatening to topple him in either direction, I life without reward was punishing and cruel, hardly worth living, while I life without risk was indolent and tiresome, and created nothing of value. Ragnar pondered what his life has been these past months, and he found an imbalance, he’d always readily accepted risk, but often refused reward, from pride, or from carelessness. It was while he was pondering this that Lady Fafnir approached him “I want to make you my knight.” The words themselves were shocking, the unsettling sensation upon his body as she said them even more so. He’d heard much about the Fafnir’s many unpleasant things, he knew their Maxim, Sven had told it to him long ago, “Everything is Ours” a declaration that rang throughout the world, frightening, powerful, it resonated with Ragnar. He spent many hours thinking of the offer he had been made, he did not believe Lady Fafnir to be a good person, but her offer had awakened ambition within him, a fire that had burned to embers within him. The maxim turned over in his head “Everything is ours” or could it be: “Everything is mine?”He needed more in order to be able to protect those he loved, he needed power and influence to create peace in his home, perhaps he was making a mistake, but Ragnar had never been averse to large risks. It was time for reward, it was time for Profit.

The Power of Names

“Ragnar Stoneskin, it is a simple name, earned through an act of bravery, an act of defiance, defiance of death. But what does it mean to be Stoneskin, are you a shield to protect those around you? no in that you have certainly failed, Death follows you Stoneskin, a list of names soaked in blood sits at your feet, Rolf, Hakon, Halbjorn… Esparei? Some sacrificed themselves willingly yes Stoneskin, yet if you had been stronger would they have needed to? Though again, perhaps it is arrogance to assume you could have ever saved them, perhaps you simply do not matter Stoneskin, and when you die your name will become dust, as the river erodes the mountain so too will you become nothing. You say that as long as you draw breath then you will push onward, I hope that has served you well, for it is all you can do isn’t it? Keep pushing forward Stoneskin and perhaps someday-” Ragnar threw a rock into the still water of the river, disrupting his reflection and quieting his mind, he looked at his reflection, distorting in the water, turning away from it before the water stilled. He walked away, the never-ending pulse behind his eyes driving him forward, as always.

How Willow and Ash Found Their Place and Got Their Feet Wet — A Vecatran Folktale

Once upon a time, when the world was brand new, Trees walked the earth like creatures, looking for their favorite places to grow. None could settle into the ground, and eventually, the many faces of Vecatra grew tired of the chaos and indecision. They called a meeting of all the Tree people so that everyone could claim a territory for themselves. As the day of the meeting approached, the trees all talked excitedly about which areas they wanted— Oak and Holly arguing in booming voices over which time of year was best, Fir and Pine arguing over the high mountains—until their voices sounded loud as the ocean.
There were two trees, however, who didn’t participate in the shouting and bragging. They were quiet souls, given to contemplation, and didn’t like the noise and competition of the greater forest. These two, Ash and Willow, had been friends since they were saplings, and so they wandered away to find a quiet place together.
It was early Spring in this new world. The snows were melting, the rains had been falling, and without trees in the ground to anchor the soil and slow the waters, fields, and low areas were beginning to flood. Rivers crested their banks, carrying away good soil and carving new channels. Willow and Ash, out walking together, discovered a deep channel with a river raging away at the bottom and stood together to watch. The waters raced and churned, for the river was in a hurry to reach the ocean. Ash threw a stick into the water and they and Willow watched it sail away.
“Willow,” said Ash, “I don’t want to go to the meeting.”
Willow looked at her friend. “Why not?” she asked.
“Vecatra scares me. How can I ask for what I want if I’m too scared to speak?”
Willow looked back at the water. She bent her head as low as she could and dipped the ends of her hair into the river. Her feet were sinking into the mud around her. Ash threw another stick.
“I don’t want to go to the meeting, either,” said Willow. “I bet the faces of Vecatra wouldn’t even miss us if we stayed here.” She had sunk to her ankles in the mud, and the cool earth felt good around her toes. Just upstream, a part of the riverbank gave way, and mud collected against the little dam she was making with her feet. Soon, water pooled and a little eddy formed. Ash dropped a seed into the eddy, and they both watched it swirl around.
Ash hopped to the opposite bank. “You should let your feet sink into the ground,” said Willow. “It feels really good.” So Ash wiggled their toes until they were buried, and then laughed as the worms crawled around the hairs on their feet.
“Willow,” said Ash, “you’re growing.”
And she was. She was growing strong and supple, nourished by the water and rich mud of the riverbank. Her feet sank deeper still, and she stretched herself further over the water. “I love this place,” she said to Ash. They looked very handsome over there in the evening light, their broad leaves glowing.
That night they watched the stars come out and shine in the still water near Willow’s feet. If they wished for anything on the evening star, neither said anything about it to the other. They had always been comfortable with silence in each other’s company.
The next day, all the trees gathered together around standing stones in a great meadow. At the appointed hour the many faces of Vecatra arrived—they came as a great, branch-shaking wind and as a shower of rain. Some came on the notes of a tune, and others in a twinkle of starlight. In the mighty presence of such company, how could the Trees keep up their arguments?
One by one the trees discovered their places and left quietly—some abashed and others with a short laugh, as if they were just learning their purpose in life. Oak and Gorse together took the fields and meadows, with Aspen close behind. Fir and Pine took the high mountains, along with their cousin the Cypress. Apple went on a long walk to keep a meeting she had with an emerging species of monkey and wound up settling near a mountain range in the center of the continent. Soon the meadow was empty again, and Vecatra saw that it was good. They just had one more stop to make on this early Spring morning.
Meanwhile, back at the riverbank, Willow and Ash were having a great time gazing at the surface of the water and trying to count the fish swimming by. It wasn’t until the small birds took shelter under Ash’s branches that they noticed that the wind had picked up and that thunderheads were starting to gather overhead. Ash felt their heart race, and Willow was nervously flashing the white side of her leaves. Thunder boomed, distantly yet, as Willow tried to tug her feet from the sucking mud.
“Willow,” said the River, in a voice like an echo from a deep cave, “Where are you going?”
“I don’t know! We missed the meeting!” She replied.
“I think Vecatra is coming to us,” said Ash.
“Ash, Willow, listen,” said the River. “Have you not already chosen your places?” Willow stopped tugging at her feet to consider the question as a light rain began to fall. “Am I not a worthy place to grow?” asked the River. “Have courage. We will face Vecatra together. Let me help you.”
And so Willow and Ash buried their feet even deeper in the mud, toes becoming roots and reaching into the river bed. Water filled their trunks and branches, and swirled around their knees. Willow felt the River cool her anxious heart, and a sense of belonging suffused her spirit. Ash took a deep breath and looked at their friend, and together they faced the growing winds.
“Willow and Ash,” boomed the voice of thunder. “We missed you this morning!” “We…we already found our place,” said Willow.
“We didn’t want to trouble you,” said Ash.
“Are you sure?” asked the Thunder. “We could give you any place you want.” “We’re sure,” said Willow.
“Why would you not face us?” asked the Rain.
“Oh, hush,” said the River. “Am I not a face of Vecatra? I knew where they were and we have chosen their place together.”
There was a pause.
“So be it,” said the many faces of Vecatra together. “all is as it should be, and as it shall be. Willow and Ash, yours are the waterways. Guard them well.” And with that, they left in all their noisy splendor, and to this day Willow and Ash stand side by side near the rivers and streams of the world, cooling the water in summer and anchoring the banks in spring. The rivers strengthen the trees, feed them, and carry their seed. All is as it should be, and Vecatra sees that it is good.

On Seeking and Finding

The midmorning sun shone through the near-barren trees, barely chasing away the lingering mists that clung to the forest floor. The running creek masked Valko’s footsteps, though he was already treading lightly – albeit leisurely – down the pathway through the ancient trees.

He’d intended, as usual, to skip over his daily responsibilities, though his pack was heavy with a few mining tools. They were something he’d tossed in there at the last minute before setting out, and certainly didn’t intend to use. Working on such a beautiful early-spring morning almost felt like a sin.

Had things in Luisant always been so complicated? As a youngster, he’d always tuned out the endless droning of the elders, only pricking up an ear when gossip was whispered. Politics bored him, and he cared little for the religious disputes clashing within the town as he found it easy to get along with most. If he really wished to weasel his way into an unfolding drama, he had no trouble batting his eyelashes to charm his way into a situation. He’d do anything (as long as he had an easy out) to leave with a good story.

Stories…

Perhaps he’s been searching in the wrong place.

The lofty fairy tales that he’d been seeking while he spent months at the edge of the Mists always seemed to elude him. He’d already perused most of the relevant tomes in the village and picked the brains of others in search of the stories that stirred his soul. Surely there was something beyond the borders of the village that was even more magical and profoundly inspiring. No responsibilities or obligations had been able to curb his incessant thirst for it, leading him into the swirling fog day after day, and late into the night. His soul yearned for the untouchable and mystical, something that would shake him to his core as if the very earth was rumbling beneath his feet.

But now, the world was quite literally rumbling beneath his feet – the stirring of an ancient being was a reality he’d have to now face, whether he was ready for it or not.

Stories, however lofty, are typically forged in some fact, event, or feeling. Even the tallest of tales carry wisdom, hope, victory. Did he really think he would find such a spark tucked away into a mountain crevice or trapped under a murky bog? That some benevolent creature of the woods would hand him a scroll for naught in exchange?

It wasn’t that he didn’t care for the others, though. He wanted– more-so now than ever– to give back to the town the life and sustenance that it had given him. And being there, in the midst of the action amongst his brethren, was the most inspired he’d felt in moons.

Perhaps, a quiet thought suggested, the reason he sought grandiose tales was due to how small he’d always felt. How mundane was the life of a textile monger, the daily drudgery of a merchant’s life. Yet was it really mundane, then, when those textiles protected those he loved from the cold or kept them cool in the late summer sun? When it protected them from the claws and fangs of the monsters that threatened them? When there was love darned into rips that needed repair, embroidery to show a little spark of the soul wearing the garment?

Even something as mundane as fabric holds stories, and it took the village splitting apart by the seams for him to realize that.

Valko felt a little miserable at the revelation, a rare frown creeping into his expression.

Ah, there!

Nestled into the bank was an excellent deposit of iron, just out of sight from the overgrown foliage it was tucked into. Even at a glance, Valko knew it’d provide good metal for armor or weaponry for one of the town’s protectors – and someday, perhaps even him. The thought dispelled the spiral of negative thoughts.

Gently, Valko scooped the moss that had been diligently growing over the stone, spreading the patch onto a nearby boulder to let it keep growing. He whispered a prayer of thanks to the forest for providing such a resource. He withdrew a small pick from his rucksack and crouched by the stone, settling, for the first time in a long while, into work.