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  #151  
Old Apr 12th, 2023, 09:44 PM
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Nukky
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Nukky drops down to the floor below beside Laisren. As he dusts himself off, he looks up to see Laisren standing still. He turns and sees Malveen standing there. He listens as Laisren gives a solemn plea to Malveen. Then, after being motioned to, the young Kobold speaks.

"Nukky...Nukky not know what pain and sorrow Miss Malveen has gone through. Nukky only wished to see family again. Nukky have good life in forest, but wished to hear from Mummy and Father once more."

"Nukky understand shiny rock is gift, payment for services. Miss Malveen helped Nukky hear from family once again. But, hearing that family is also in rock, Nukky wishes to have rock returned. To bring rock back to the forest."

The kobold slowly walks up to Malveen, his eyes staring up at the banshee in a plea. "Please, Nukky will find new gift for Malveen, maybe even help Malveen or trade with the cat statue and earring. If Malveen understands pain of loved ones going away, then maybe we can do this peacefully. Return friends to home plane."

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  #152  
Old Apr 12th, 2023, 11:32 PM
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Rock and Riddle
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You both see the stone in the center of her, glowing red.

Laisren, you lead with an appeal to reason. A strange choice for you, Oh boy who is all heart. But this body is older, and wisdom comes with the packaging you currently inhabit.

Nukky, you follow with an appeal to true empathy. You are hurt, you lost everything. She was hurt, and she lost everything, too.

But a Banshee has no reason, and a Banshee has no heart. A Banshee is only a manifestation of a suffering so great it has destroyed all but itself.

right-aligned image
Nukky, as you approach with your friend, she gibbers and foams, collapsing in on herself like a wave and then rebuilding like one, surging toward you in a near-formless ectoplasmic tide, the red rock moving with her.

All at once she solidifies back into her ruined, rotted shape. Not to attack. Not to listen. Only to see what Laisren has in his hands. She immediately darts at Laisren to yank the cat statue away. You can see the mated earring hanging from the tatter of her ear as she backs up a few feet, and then her mouth unhinges, yawping open. She greedily engulfs the statue, swallowing it whole.

As it sinks down into her, its single eye gives her a green glow. The rock, displaced, thunks down onto the uneven floor. It rolls right to you Nukky, coming to rest, warm and solid, by the small curled claws of your left foot. It is once more yours.

That should be the end of it. You can both go. But.

Laisren. You remember. You speak. Not the words, not exactly. But you give her the sense of the poem inscribed on the twin blades, and a hint of intelligence comes into her empty eyes. Her shape solidifies farther. She has not been so in control nor so fully realized since you saw her in the cabin. Her baleful gaze focuses on you.

I know you, she says. Her voice is a hollow wind. I gave you a riddle book. Laissssren. Your name means Light, did you know? Fain. Your lover’s name means Joy. Liri means My Song, did you know that? I was his song, but now I am only my scream.

You think she is finished. Is she beginning to fade? She speaks again, and now her voice is large, a seer's voice, speaking truth:

The one true consort’s name means Little Rose.

left-aligned image
Your heart plummets. Róisín! You knew this. You solved the riddle but you hated that answer. You don’t want it to be Róisín. How can it be? Fain, your Fain, Fain was meant for her, all along? Fated. Fey-ted.

But still, she is not finished: The one true Hero’s name means Dream.

Dream? That is the answer to the second riddle. You knew it was Dream. And in the old speech of your village, where you are Light and Fain is Joy, the word for dream is....Aisling.

Your favorite sister. The one who swears she’ll never marry.

You see it then, and it has been in front of you for years now, has it not? How could you, of all people, not know! But she is a closed book, your canny sister She tells fairy tales, not secrets. But the way they look at each other across the square---Malveen interrupts your thoughts as if you spoke aloud:

They stare with such heat, it lights signal fires in the tower of the archfey. But they will not admit. They are afraid. Fools! Fools! Life is short, and death is endless, and they are squandering it. They have not confessed their love, not even to each other.

Unless you and yours Light the way, unless you and yours show them Joy is possible, Rie will fall. You two who were bold enough to have each other must face the town and stand with them against the old ways.


As she speaks, the meaning of the third riddle becomes clear. It said:

A powerful Cleric of Torm and his son run into an ancient dragon. The Cleric is swallowed whole, and the child dies to the dragon’s breath. A faithful retainer rushes the boy’s corpse back to the temple of Torm, but by the time he arrives, the boy is past hope of resurrection; the powerful cleric of Torm falls prone, saying, “Alas, my son, my son!” How can this be?

You solved this. You guessed it was the child’s mother. But you can see now it had a deeper meaning. You know that many people---most people in Rie---would not think that a woman could be a powerful cleric of a War God, much less the town's fated hero. The consort is always a woman. The hero? The hero is a man. Laisren, you know Rie. Unless a man stands up and speaks this truth, the town will not believe it. Not in time.

You and Fain have to tell them, have to make the town accept not just you and Fain, but your sister and Roisin as well. Laisren. You have to get home!


OOCYou didn't take yourselves out of the portal, so I wanted to give you an answer to those glorious posts. Again, let me say: WOW, props to you both, Wyn and BTM. If we were not through rolling dice, I would give you both DM inspiration. (badger and Yoshi, a BAR has been set, but you are both amazing players, so I am unworried )

A tiny peek behind the DM screen. The third riddle is based on this riddle from First Wave Feminism and this study that was done it in 2014.

The solution and Aisling being the hero was meant to be a little META hat tip to you Wyn, an homage to a male player who is also a leader (red) on the site who felt it was important to run modules from UNCAGED. I thought it would be cool if your Laisren had the chance to mirror you and be an ally before he and Fain help kick Fomorian butt and then HOPEFULLY step out into the greater world to be the heroes they both are.

PS Wyn, I immediately nominated this for PotM.
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  #153  
Old Apr 14th, 2023, 08:48 AM
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A-ru
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Behind Laisren and Nukky, Sneech pads quietly halfway down the lichen-covered marble stairs and waits. A low, repetitive growl rises deep in the mastiff's throat, and A'ru's eyes narrow when he beholds the hate-filled apparition that killed his best friend only the day before. But the second pair of eyes looking out from behind his own liquid brown ones grow wide.

"Who are your friends talking to?"

Still uncertain as to whether Oo'loo can hear his thoughts, A'ru mutters through clenched teeth from one corner of his mouth, "It's Mal-been. Who yez call Liri."

A'ru's heart beats faster and a feeling of anxiety fills the pit of his belly.

"No. No you are mistaken. Liri is our friend. She is beautiful and soft-spoken and the kindest person I have ever known. No, that monster is not Liri."

In his growing agitation, A'ru forgets to try and be circumspect. "Hey what's that yez're doin' to me? Look, don't yez know what happened when the orcs killed her mate…Argh!"

"What orcs? What is this madness and deceit? That is not Liri! You must save her, Leader of the Free Pack!"

Thick, dark tears well freely from Aru's eyes and he starts to feel his thoughts cloud. He croaks, "No yez don't! Stop that right now!"

The kobold's red stone hits the floor, and there is a rushing in A'ru's ears like the sea washing against the shore. The hackles on Sneech's nape rise, and the mastiff rears then comes back down with a clatter of claws on marble. The ghouls turn their heads from the scene at the portal and hiss coldly, then shuffle rapidly toward the stairway.

"Destroy the abomination! For Liri! For freedom!"

"You two who were bold enough to have each other must face the town and stand with them against the old ways."

As the banshee's last words hang in the air, Sneech howls angrily. Barely holding on to control of his own will, A'ru shouts, "For the marda! For freedom!" He spurs Sneech, who tears down the stairs like an arrow loosed from its bow. The line of ghouls reaches the base of the stairwell, hissing with arms outstretched and horrible tongues wagging. But A'ru holds out his staff like a warding symbol, and his eyes glow white. In a voice that resonates with the echoing chant of a long-dead marda cleric, he cries, "The power of Lathander compels you!" The ghouls scatter in dismay before the sudden pulsing field of holy energy, and Sneech continues his wild charge, dashing between Laisren and Nukky.

A'ru's expression is grim, and his staff, limned with the wholesome green essence of The Bright, is tilted forward like a lance. The momentum of the mastiff propels him directly at the banshee, and the leading tip of his shillelagh pierces layer after layer of ghostly rags and ectoplasm, connecting with a resounding crack with the cat statue hovering at the tortured spirit's core. Malveen wails piercingly and long, not the murderous shriek destined to reset the events of her trauma again and again for all eternity, but a reflexive reaction to pain caused by a mortal wound. A spiderweb of glowing golden cracks bursts across the surface of the cat statue, and it begins to float apart in jagged fragments as Malveen's wail rises to painful intensity.

At that moment Laisren speaks, but the voice is serene and that of a woman, and somehow cuts through the terrifying shriek. "The moment is at hand at last. Lathander, let us become a vessel of Thy love and compassion, that we may heal a wound in the world itself." With his consent, a will other than his own raises the hand of the barbarian from Righ, which glows golden. The healing powers that the gods grant to their faithful have no influence on the undead. But the dormant creature that was once Baly was mortal still, and Jaa'jee's healing prayer finds purchase there, in Malveen's makeshift heart. A tether of white light arcs between the immobile banshee's core and the mirror portal, then expands into a swirling disc that obscures the entire heap of rubble.

The center of the disc clears, and through it both those on the floor and those watching from the ruined library above behold a scene that has been described to them many times. The doomed Thomas, so genial and welcoming to the party in the illusory version of Vildenai, lies at the bottom of the wooden staircase to his shop. Above him stands an orc, battle axe upraised. And behind the orc…an elf. The adventuring companions are instantly stunned, for the likeness to Baly is uncanny. With a wicked grin, the elf says haughtily, "We have our Orders, human!" The smells of summer and blood waft from the portal into the ruined ballroom, and the onlookers realize that what they are watching is, somehow, the real thing. In mere moments, the axe will fall.




 


 
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  #154  
Old Apr 14th, 2023, 05:37 PM
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Hlin stands/floats near the edge of the great, collapsed floor.

As he waits, he talks with the marda, realizing that though they are young pups ... they have had what he understands to be a cyclically-reset near-eternity of bedtime stories. They are rich in legend and lore.

"So, pups, tell me," he says, looking at them. Hlin is trying to keep them distracted, trying to head off worried whimpers and possibly even howling. But he is also curious to learn from them "... what are the legends you know of my kind and yours, of the kentori and the marda? What did we share of stories, lands, and parasites?"

He will listen as long as he can, as he keeps one eye on the the mirror visible below and one ear on the voices rising from below.

Laisren's. Then Nukky's. Then a softer, more gentle voice than he would have expected to hear in this room, in this world.

There might not be much time.

"Ok, pups, when we go, keep close to me, cling to me as much as you can and as tightly as you can. Cling to me as if you have Forgotten everything else in the world, so we don't get separated again. But cling to me with your eyes closed. For if we make it into the world your noses will ring with excitement and your head will sting with sensation. The world there is alive with leaves and mud and worms and squirrels and brooks and dew and droppings and the wind that tries to lure you with eighteen different smells from eight different directions at once ... it is a wonderful thing to be alive, pups. Even if it means losing all of that in the end."

And as he whispers to them, there is another voice that carries up from the once-fancy ballroom. It is a familiar voice, but not so as it is coated in raw revenge and purpose. There is a flurry of color and sounds of skirmishing that seem to come from far beyond.

"Quick, pups! Something has changed! We leap now while we can. One kennel-length to the right of where the mirror was so we can position ourselves safely and react to whatever we find when we land."

"Now ... cling tightly. And ... leap."

 


 

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  #155  
Old Apr 15th, 2023, 02:10 PM
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Nukky
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Nukky bends down to pick up the hot shiny rock. Still glowing even after all this time, still warm as the time Nukky gave it away without knowing its true purpose. He clutches it tightly to his chest, closing his eyes in great relief. In his mind he can hear the last words he heard that Malveen had bestowed upon him all that time ago about what he must do.

He looks up at Laisren as Malveen continues, this time addressing the Barbarian next to him. Talks of such riddles had confused the young Kobold before, but even he could see Laisren come to some sort of conclusion, some sort of answer for what he was seeking.

It was then in a flash everything happened.

Behind him a brilliant wave of light flashes, turning the ghouls away. Beside him a great shape rushes past, Aru and his steed. In front of him as the Banshee screams, a magical strike hitting her core as the statue breaks into revelations.

Emotions immediately fill Nukky. Despair at the Banshee's sudden death, worry for the Mardas' safety as they rush towards the mirror with Hlin, shock at the figure of Baly striking down the villagers. And as the Kobold is knocked back into the mirror following Hlin, one thought comes to the Kobold's mind. A thought born of the spirits of the forests, of the mother who watched over him and his kind.

Survive.

The Kobold immediately curls himself, his body doing its best to protect the stone as he is hurled into the portal, unsure of where they would be going.

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  #156  
Old Apr 15th, 2023, 04:02 PM
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A-ru
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"Open your eyes, Hero. The window is about to close." Oo'loo's voice was wringing its metaphorical hands.

A'ru sputters and opens his eyes to find they are being licked. "Confundle it, Sneech!" The ranger picks himself up from the floor and puts a paw to his forehead. The shock of his contact with the Banshee's heart had blown him back several feet, and he had hit the flagstones hard. It takes him a moment to reorient himself to the dimly-lit chaotic surroundings.

When he does, it's just in time to see Hlin floating down from the ceiling and swooping toward the portal with Nukky hot on his heels. The implications slap him across the face like a wet halibut. "A world where there's a pack o' marda but no A'ru? I damn well think not!" In a fluid motion he leaps atop Sneech and spurs the primal mastiff into one more charge.

A little too fast.

For the second time in two days, A'ru finds himself face-deep in a centaur's phantasmal hindquarters. There is a muffled, "Sht!" and then ranger and steed are gone from the ballroom.




 


 
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  #157  
Old Apr 19th, 2023, 03:53 PM
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The Wilds Surrounding Vildenai
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Oh Hlin, all your words are useless. You knew they would be. You come tumbling out into the Wilds, and all around you is green and sun and wind and moss and bugs and raccoon scat and and and---what pup is going to close their eyes and be still and take it slow? None here. They are wild and spinning and curious and tumbling and dancing and laughing and running in circles, saying It was all true! All true, the legends, we are free, to each other.

You feel your own back end blooming into being as you cross: first your foot, then a sparkle of energy running up a foreleg, then the heat of the sun on your withers, then your rump, and last your tail. Your hoof feels light. The shoe is gone, its power dispersed, its purpose served.

You are rife with symbiotes. In your head is a hum, Sybil's voice, wordless but content. She is nestled into your scalp among your hairs and growing, and two more little green vines in your armpits curling around to reach up toward the morning. Hlin, if you are buried in a marshland one day, when you are finished using this body, they will root and prosper. Until then, they are your friends who can hurl entangling vines to protect you

There is also a small fleet of teeny, weeny, tiny bright purple bugs making themselves at home in the short hairs of your coat. If you look---very hard and very close, for they are barely visible to naked eyes--- you can find more bustling about on the Marda.

All dead things that were touching you when you followed that hoof through the portal are alive, even Ra'rar, who sits up, still hurt, but conscious. She clings to your mane, saying, Ooooooooh.

right-aligned image
A'ru, something is unfolding here, opening and shifting in this strange and broken ballroom on this dark plane---perhaps it is a different kind of reset, caused by so much life intruding so deep into this dead domain. But you cannot stay to know because, in the end, it is not your story. Your story is leaping toward home with the centaur, and you must go with it. You and Sneech barrel after, dragging Oo'loo with you. He yells, No! Maaa! Maaa! but no worries, you see Jaa-Jee has left Laisren and is coming up fast behind you, reaching for the tail. Laisren himself is running for the exit in her wake.

There is a weird feeling of free fall, a blindness, a pop---and you are on the Prime, in the wilds, and it is daylight.

Oh, Aru, look! She told you the truth after all, that nightmare creature. You did need a mirror to see another living Marda on the Prime. Now, you see fourteen of them, and then fifteen as Jaa'Jee lands and hustles toward Hlin to heal her daughter. Oo'loo peels out of you as you land, blinks, and then lifts his nose to ululate, A'ruuuuuuuuu! in a wild, free howl. He wants to take your hands and pull you off Sneech and spin and dance and holler. They all do, spinning with each other in their young happy bodies. Noses up. Voices lifted. Tails waving. Alive! Alive! Alive!

Nukky, you plop out next, lose your footing, and your roly- poly body goes across the grass in a tumble. Your scales and the soft mossy ground protect you from harm, and your rock is warm in your hand, held tight and safe. Jaa'Jee helps her daughter down from the centaur so Ra'Rar can join the dance, and then the middle-aged lady comes to you and offers a hand to help you up.

left-aligned image
If you take it, it is warm and alive, as are her eyes. If the banshee didn't lie to A'ru, then perhaps what she told you was true as well. Will taking this rock to the right place restore them wholly? As the Marda are restored? Or will it only release them to the warm gods of nature they served faithfully all their lives?

You do not know. But you know how to find out, and this is your story to tell.

Jaa'Jee says to you, That centaur is asking pups? The young often neglect to study history, but I am a shaman of my people, and I am charged to remember. When the mad sorcerer-king Ag Tafann created the Marda as toys for his children, he was in so deep with the Abyss that his palace guard were Nuckelavee. You know these beasts? Demonic Horse-Man hybrids. Ag Tafann engineered the Marda so we could not live without them, so we could never escape and be free! There were some Nuckelavee demons, immortal and stuck there with us, and you would have met them, had you not come through the tunnels. She shudders. I am glad you avoided that path. But without the venom of their abyssal fleas, Marda will eventually lose our fertility and die out. The fleas themselvs will live on Marda, or visit, but they can only breed on Horsemen. The Nuckelavee allow it because thee venom has a benefit for them as well. The nuckelavee immune system is legendary, and the fleas are why. At any rate, they seem to be settling on that Kentori. Perhaps...perhaps... well. We'd all best settle near his herd, yes... She looks at Oo'loo shyly dancing his way closer to a cute terrier with brown ears and a pink nose, and she is working her way shyly closer to him. Because if we do, we'll be seeing pups, I think, and lots of them, come summer.

But now she is talking to herself, and she bustles off to open negotiations for a co-colony with Hlin. How lucky to have a diplomat on hand...

Laisren, you come through last and land graceful, tail a counterbalance, but still hard. You sure feel it all through your old bones when your feet hit. You look at your family fork, and now that it is back on the prime, it has resumed its beloved and familiar shape.

right-aligned image
Everyone else is so taken with the joyful gambols of the young marda that they see nothing else. Lions might be coming. So you look around, on guard, tail up, and you see what they do not. First, that you have landed in a clearing on the path you took from the ruins of Vildenai. Second, there are people on the path coming toward you. Four of them. Three are small and utterly inconsequential shapes that might be gods or goats or demons, and you wouldn't know. You can't make your eyes focus on them at all, actually, because the fourth? The Fourth is Fain.

He sees you too, and the warm gold sun is nothing to the brightness of his smile when your eyes meet. Now he is running. What do you feel, old man, to see your lover, here? If you allow, he is barreling into you, arms going around you so tight, one hand strong on the backof your head, pulling you in, wanting his mouth on yours. Somewhere far away, another hand touches your arm, lightly, and you feel a jolt of magic passing through you. If you look, you will see your own familiar young hand on Fain's broad shoulder, feel your body broadening and burgeoning as your lithe young strength returns.

Canterbear and his bards were the other shapes, and you know because the druid won't stop talking, even though Fain is here, and you are restored, an no one cares about your blah blah blah, druid!

Welcome back, all. Laisren, your young man here was in such a lather he hired idiots to boat him up to Vildenai. I heard him stomping all over the Wilds hollering for you. I brought him here to wait for you. I told him you'd be fine! Although, I do see you all ran into a ghost. Well, that was easy enough to put right. He turns to Fain. See, I told you. Hale and hearty and just the same, now I've peeled the age curse off him.

Fain shrugs, not looking away from you for a second. What age curse? he asks.

You will need to head out soon, if you want to get to Rie in time for the battle, but you can make it. What will you do?

Well, you have options. The banshee offered a way, and it will work. She tells the truth. If you tell Fain. he will want to take that option, stand up for Aisling. He sees the whole battle as a small chore that must be settled so you two can escape provincial Rie. Adventure! Travel! A larger life in the large world.

And you can do that. But. There is another way. When you were the old man, you had his memories. They were faint and fuzzy, but that version of you never came to Vildenai. Old Laisren never met a banshee, never even heard those riddles, but he was the hero, and the town survived; he stayed there his whole life, in fact, working your land. Laisren, inside your head, you hold at least two solutions that will save Rie. At least two futures. And where there two ways, there are a thousand.

The path you take now is wholly up to you.

This is true for all of you. You stand blinking in the sunshine, new life bursting all around you in the endless verdant green, and heroes, each of you knows: your fate is in your hands.



OOCThanks for play testing this with me. Tons of stuff went wonky and didn’t work and we had some really tough dice, but I celebrate the fact that we got all the way through. A completed game is a rarity in PBP, and I hope you all take some pride in this accomplishment. I am going to put this in the Completed Game Forum!

I loved your characters very, very much: I loved that the whole party fell for and rallied around grouchy lonely A’ru and his faithful Sneech. Yoshi, that dialect is goldeni; the little touches like calling Baly “Eldest” made it feel so whole.
(I also LOVED when he showed up and met Tru at Falcon’s Holiday Bash. They would be good friends, I think.) I will reallllly miss sweet, earnest Lais. He has the true-est heart. So many people are afraid to do a love story, but he boldly showed up with one already locked and loaded. Fare thee well, strong-willed Hlin whose determination to save the Marda also saved his own people. The diplomacy stories that you sprinkled in were especially choice. Farewell, childlike Nukky who never failed to be kind. The reversal that his elemental companion was more worldly was clever and not a thing I had seen before.

You can all write your characters an epilogue, if you like. I’d love to know, for example, how the Marda settle in with Hlin’s people and if A'ru stays with them, or how Laisren and his love fare back in Rie, and if the party goes and helps him with the Fomorian battle, and what happens when Nukky releases his family from the rock---are they alive, or is it more a spiritual release? But you don’t have to. It is fine to end here.
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Old Apr 21st, 2023, 02:37 PM
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The Battle for RighThey all dash off to Righ. For those lacking mounts (or four legs), Fainweyn has resources enough to provide one. Hlin comes along, surprising Laisren. Two days into the tireless ride, Laisren tells the bard, “you don’t have to come, you know. There's a good chance we'll all die. You don't need to die for a little town you don't know." But the centaur will have none of it. “I need to be with the pack," he says, "and the pack won’t be separated from their hero. If A’Ru goes with you, then I must.” If there's more to it than that, Laisren does not try to draw it out.

Finally, on the fifth exhausting day, a small town of waddle and daub and thatch, at the edge of a moor, in view of The Wood and The Wild, appears on the horizon. They are not a moment too soon. Entering the town, platoons have already been arranged. Arms have been deployed; axes are rare and swords rarer among the militia. Sharpened sticks, as spears and pikes, are the most common gear. The crowd takes up a cheer when they see their hero Fainweyn has returned, with reinforcements. He is a natural leader, and he knows he must step up. Laisren goes to his family, where he would be expected to muster, and where hugs must be given and forgiveness begged.

On the steps of the town hall, Fain stands above the crowd. Roisin, his consort by acclaim, rises to his side, confident and hard yet somehow perfectly demure. Fainweyn blinks at what he must do. "You must listen, we have something to say…." and then words fail him. How can he tell these scared people, whose fate will be determined this night, that he will not lead them? They will lose heart, they’ll lose the battle before they even begin!

Laisren, admist the crowd, blanches. “Oh no. If they don’t accept it… if they insist he is the hero... The prophecy! We’re all dead!” Barely thinking, he grabs Aisling by the hand. She fights back (and would usually win such fights!) but her surprise puts her at a disadvantage. Laisren drags her up the steps. In the scuffle, his tail is loosened. There is a murmuring - the family's curse is known to all, but it's a shame to be hidden all the same.

He raises his sisters hand, in his own, over their heads. “THIS is who we need. THEY are who we need.” He points to Roisin. “You all knew I wasn’t the real thing. I didn’t want to believe it. But I believe it now. THESE are our heroes! With them, we will fight. We will win! We just need..." But at this point, no one can hear him. It’s all too confusing. The crowd is aflutter with shouts of denial and dissatisfaction. A few walk away. Aisling is red with embarrassment, and she rips her hand out of Laisren's. Roisin is confused. Fainweyn looks both relieved and depairing. Aisling turns to Laisren, her finger pointing, ready to bawl him out.

Then a call goes up on the outskirts: the Fomorian ranks are spotted! To arms!

The entire town erupts into chaos. Commands are barked, boots clomp, children cry, and men and women alike run to the east. They have trained for this. Laisren starts to move to his family's place in the line of battle, but this time it's his wrist that is grabbed. Fainweyn will not let him go. They will fight side-by-side. Laisren again grabs Aisling. The three dash to the center of the line, Laisren only pretending to resist his man, but Aisling very much earnest in her objections. Roisin, still too befuddled to organize any thoughts, relies on her own training to come along.

Minutes later, there they stand in battle formation, a wall of pikes and spears. They four stand in a row, Roisin, then Fainweyn, then Laisren and finally Aisling. Once they are in line, shoulder to shoulder, not even Aisling would dare break ranks. The fomorian are disorganized, but they are many, and they are mighty, and they are brutal. They come closer, and closer. Pikes are set. Jaws are clenched. The battle cry is taken up.

There isn't time to tell the story of the whole battle. It is awesome and terrible in every sense. The strangers from the seer do more than Righ can ever thank them for. Families are torn apart, and the battleground is foreverafter barren, profaned and consecrated in blood simultaneously.

Here is what is important for our tale: those four heroes fought as one. They strove to stay together, and as a unit they were unstoppable. Then came the Chieftan of the Fomorian and his mad Thanes. Prophecy doesn't matter in battle. Only survival, and victory, or death. Fain and Lais drove as the head of a spear at the enemy. There was a mighty clash, and the Chieftan struck Fainweyn down. Laisren in that moment felt his heart shatter. He broke, as his love fell. Laisren did not hold the line that day, he want down to Fainweyn's side. Laisren clutched him, and wept, and he struggled to remove Fainweyn from the field of battle.

As Laisren mourned, the flanks of their quartet closed in: Roisin on the left, and Aisling on the right. They stood and formed their own line. They held, and they gave a mighty cry. They advanced, pike and sword, leather and steel. And, well, sometimes in battle Prophecy matters. Roisin and Aisling, they struck down the Chieftan. Aisling and Roisin, they routed the Thanes. They rallied the town. They, together, were the heroes foretold.

When finally the last of the Fomorian were felled, Rosin and Aisling stood shoulder to shoulder on the bloody field, filthy and gasping for breath. They turned to each other. A silent word hung in the space between their eyes: Consort? But that's another tale we haven't the time to tell now.
Long afterTwo men ride a dusty road. The trees are different, more tropical. The birds chirp different, more melifluous. They are far from home. But where they are together, it is home.

One man we have seen before, long red hair turned grey, slouched in his saddle. There is stubble on his chin, an enormous bushy black tail behind him, and a pitchfork lashed to his horse. The other man is dark haired and elegant. Fain has aged, but he is of course the type for whom age is merely a seasoning, a deepening of flavor. His shirt hangs widely open at the neck, revealing a terrible scar across neck and chest, remants of an injury that would have killed most men. Not him, though, he's too beautiful to fall to such things. The two ride side-by-side, totally different men. But they wear the same ring on their left hands, and they sit upon twin horses as time and space pass slowly under their feet.

They have spent a life of adventure together. Righ knew who their saviors were, and it was not these two men. The town knew all that Laisren had done for them in the battle and the time leading up to it. But their judgement of his love was slow to change, and Laisren could not forgive himself for faltering when the battle was at its most urgent. He had to leave, and Fainweyn would not let him leave alone. Laisren didn't want to leave alone.

They try to return to Righ annually, but it doesn’t always work out. They are still together. That didn’t always work out either. Yet they always came back to each other. They can't help themselves. Laisren didn't want to help himself.

They never became rich. That's not their type of adventuring. They never became the heroes of kingdoms. That's not their fate. But they were at times warriors, and intermediaries, and counselors. They have done good deeds and faced adventure, and they have come out alive every time so far. They won't always. That's not their fate.

Until then, they have each other.
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Old Apr 21st, 2023, 04:11 PM
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Normally, the start of a battle would mean that Hlin's work as a diplomat had ended ... or was put on pause until it was time to pick up the pieces again.

But this time he rode into the fight, not knowing or particularly caring about which side had the justified grievance. He was there for Laisren, and--he had to admit--his own curiosity in seeing how the young lovers' story would play out.

The story played out tragically, as it should. And yet romantically, as it would.

And the battle surged its own course, with Hlin tapping his new awareness of the life of isolated equines to communicate with the opposing army's horses, mules and donkeys to push off their mounts and supply wagons. It was a service they accepted in exchange for a promise of unfettered access to tall fields of grass, and so Hlin thought he had done his service to whatever the cause was that assembled the two armies on the field that day.

Perhaps, he realized, there had been a purpose in having been separated into two parts. A deeper understanding in the minds and desires of only-equines.

The humans, as humans do, turned on Laisren, either for his tail or his love. And the ones who spoke most loudly against the "abomination" of Laisren's love were the very ones who seemed to sense little abomination in the post-battle frolicking that had ensued in certain stables with a certain centaur.

Their betrayal little surprised Hlin, who had come to know a bit more about human nature. Perhaps there had been a purpose in having been separated into two parts. A deeper understanding into the mind and desires of only-humans.

Had life ended that day for Hlin at the tip of the spear on the battlefield or at the hands of a jealous spouse in a well-turned bed of hay, then he could have been happy with his stream of fate.

But his life and his happiness would go on. On for many years until his hooves turned powdery and his spine ached to carry even his light beard and wispy mane.

And in between, there were many more missions, including that unforgettable one with the kobold.

But the missions were never long. For Hlin kept close to the marda. His herd gave him a permanent posting among the creatures and the dubious title of "Critter-Cure Host," which he would have balked at had he not known how crucial it was to them. And he realized he had to accept some higher type of judgment for his former skepticism of the oracle's powers.

Though of course, some prophesies are unclear ... and the rest more so.

After his death, had he been around to see it, Hlin would have appreciated the sardonic fulfillment of the last prophechy that the oracle had given him--the words that the marda would always honor him in their most revered way. Could he not be forgiven for naively hoping it meant perhaps a statue? An epic tale? Or maybe even a woodland named in his honor?

But the oracle had said "in their most revered way," and so it was, cruelly literal.

As the rich tangles of vines grew out of Hlin's body and beyond grave, they thirsted for nutrients in the ground around them. Nutrients that the mardas were only too glad to provide, one leg raised or squatting in their own fashion, modestly shielded by the vine's thick, fuzzy leaves which were good for more than just blocking out the sun.

Every marda knew the place by its smell, and revered it with their own contributions.

The vines, at least, didn't seem to mind.

When the wind blew strongly, you could almost hear them repeat their favorite refrain: Hlllooooo mrrrrda. Cerrrrrm closssssrrrr? Talllllllllk eeeeezeeeeee ifffff weeeeee tuuuuuuch...
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Old Apr 22nd, 2023, 12:42 AM
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A'ru: Epilogue ExploitA solitary figure draped from head to toe in a grayish-purple hooded robe wobbled through the assembled festival crowd and came to a halt a few feet from the base of a solidly-built gallows. Atop the platform, a miserable-looking kobold dressed in rough hessian stood with a noose around its neck, while a herald in livery was calling out the doomed creature's crimes. "Gutt the Fool, erstwhile jester to his Excellency Lord Hintorn Zwibblekopf of Mattydale, having been caught absconding with..." Ten feet above the throng, a white-haired man in wealthy clothes stood at the railing of a velvet-draped box and sneered down on the proceedings from beneath his gold circlet.

From somewhere at the bottom of the hooded robe, a voice whispered, "Whatta yiz lookin' at, da'?" Peering out from inside the deep hood at the executioner, who had begun placing a sack over the trembling kobold's head, A'ru rolled his eyes. A casual onlooker would have noted the robed figure thumping itself with a solid looking staff somewhere in the groin region, which said "Ow."

Trying to maintain his balance, the ranger hissed from between clenched teeth. "Keep quiet, L'ree! And it's yez, not yiz. Yeh sounds like an idiot." There was a grumble from somewhere in the robe's nether regions. "Hush, they..." But before any more admonishments could be forthcoming, Hintorn raised an arm. The crowd held its breath. A'ru murmured, "Ready..." He chanted quietly, and a green glow limned his staff.

The Lord's arm fell, and A'ru shouted, "Now!" The hangman pulled a lever. The robe fell away, and for a split second A'ru was revealed standing atop the shoulders of another marda with gray and black marbled fur who was raising a bow. As the trapdoor opened, A'ru was already flying, the wings on his boots flapping as an arrow raced passed his ear and neatly severed the rope above the terrified and blinded kobold, who was caught by A'ru and dragged through the air over the edge of the platform. As shouts of alarm erupted all about, three more robes fell away in the crowd, revealing more marda stacked two high. A'ru howled, and a tremendous white mastiff materialized below him out of thin air. He dropped the kobold on the dog's back and shouted, "Keep 'im safe, Sneech!" then zipped upward toward the noble's box.

The masses parted before the snarling Sneech as he charged toward freedom. Lord Zwibblekopf screamed for the guards, and armed soldiers began pushing their way through the crowd. These were quickly forced into crouches by a hail of arrows from the marda warriors who fired as they slowly retreated after the dashing mastiff.

A'ru meanwhile had come hovering face to face with the red-faced Hintorn, whose personal guards were also occupied with flying arrows. "Yeh remember me, don't yez?"

"A'ru?" Recovering from his initial surprise, the leering Lord spat, "You think you'll get away with this! You were a stupid and mangy cur when you were my Fool, and you are a stupid and mangy cur now."

The ranger waggled a disapproving finger, then called out, "Fuip fíniúna an asal se!" A thick, sinuous vine shot forth from the grass below the noble's box, and with the speed of a serpent lashed past Zwibblekopf, grabbed him by the waist of his trousers, and hoisted him over the top of the box, where he hung struggling in the air and turning purple.

"Eek, unhand...Aaaah! It's riding up my...Ow, ee, A'ru let me down at once! Please, just tell me what..." A'ru flew forward until his nose was nearly pressed against that of his old antagonist. "Remember this humiliration, Onionhead. If I hear of yez mistreatin' any more o' yer servants, yez'll have a much worse crack t'worry about. Stop whinin', she'll drop yez in about one minute."

"ONE MINUTE?...AIEEE!" But A'ru was already zooming away, dodging occasional arrows as he passed over the front line of the guards who had been joined by a few soldiers on horseback and were cautiously pursuing the sharp-eyed marda archers. As the chase spilled into fields outside the festival grounds, a fresh round of missiles met the hapless Lord's men, for a small herd of grim-eyed centaur awaited them with longbows. By the time A'ru reached his team, his grinning son was already perched atop the lead centaur, and the rest of the pack was climbing onto companions of their own.

A'ru nodded in approval. "Yez did good, my boy. Jaa'jee is gonna be proud o' yez." He turned his attention to the vine-festooned centaur upon whom L'ree sat. "See Hlin, I tole yez it'd be fun t'get outta the valley now and then." He landed atop Sneech just behind the kobold, who was still blinking in confusion.

"Yez are safe now. An' yez are gonna like it where we're goin'. Hey do yez happen to know someone called Nukky? Never mind, we'll talk later." He raised his shillelagh and cried triumphantly, "Il'a'rana...ride!" and the clan took off for home in a thunder of hooves and horn blasts.

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Old Apr 22nd, 2023, 09:14 PM
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The forest gives life, and life returns to the forest. Such is the creed of the wardens of the deep woods who watch over them.

And so with bated breath, a crowd had gathered in the heart of the woods where a great fire once occurred. A large ashen oak stands in the center, where a fire began and consumed a large portion of the forest. For what would be a tragedy to most was considered to be a passing norm for those who live in the forest. The cause of the fire was not known. Many speculate it was a passing lightning bolt that hit the great oak, igniting it into a brilliant blaze. Others believed passing adventurers were careless with their fire as it burned overnight. Or maybe perhaps a hapless fiery elemental was summoned, engulfing the entire green in a blaze. Whatever the case, the fire had killed many people of the woods that evening.

But years later, the cause does not matter. The ashy soil gave root to new life in the forest, young trees now growing tall where their predecessors once stood. The families of those who survived came together and formed a new community, strengthening their vows to protect and watch over the wood. And now, as the crowd stands around, they whisper as the young Kobold who left the commune had returned. Behind him, unknown strangers stood: a large gathering of strange dog-like people with one a jaunty hat and staff leading them, a centaur bearing a large bow and humming a respectful tune, and two men holding each other tightly as they watched their friend walk forward.

In Nukky's hands, the various forestfolk recognize the stone that the Kobold had found the day after the great blaze. The Kobold now is carrying it with great reverence as he approaches the ashy oak. And in his hands, the Kobold raises it up. A roiling flame encircles the Kobold as many gasp. Through the embers, a spirit emerges, the same woodland spirit embroiled in burning embers and flames that many worshipped as the Mother Forest. The spirit lays her hand on the stone, and the fire spreads to encircle them both.

With life, we blaze until ash. With death, we nourish the earth.

"And in return, new life is born." And as the words leave Nukky's mouth, a brilliant light shines from the rock, causing many to shield their eyes.

And just as suddenly, the light and fires fade. In Nukky's hands the rock is split in two. In doing so, a warm orange wisp rises up until it eventually coalesces into a faded form of two Kobolds. Their forms smile down at their son.

Thank you, our dear little spark. We are glad to finally be home, Nukky. You have truly grown.

Nukky looks up, lips pursed and tears welling. For years, Nukky had been pondering on the nature of death, blindly following the teachings without worrying what they meant. He never felt sad or angry about his family's deaths, and believed it was a natural course of life. But in a matter of a few days that notion had changed. Watching what happened to Malveen, how her own sorrow warped the plane around her, made the Kobold realize that he was doing the same to himself. He had stifled his own feelings, burying memories of his mother and father until he had learned from Malveen how they sacrificed themselves for him. And in his quest to return their spirits to this world, he realized how far he would go to save the ones he loved.

He turns around, tears now fully forming as he faces his friends Hlin, A'ru, and Laisren. All had lost something in their pasts, and together they had found their futures. And for Nukky, he found what he truly wanted to say to his lost family, who gave their lives so that he may live.

"Thank you, mammy and poppy. Nukky is home with new friends. Nukky misses you very much, but is happy you are now free." Nukky's lips tremble as he does his best to choke out the words. "Nukky was very sad when you died, not knowing why you were gone. And now, Nukky is happy to bring you back home."

His father smiles. Truly faithful and good friends you have made, my boy. You truly have made us proud. They then bend down and give an ethereal hug to their child.

"N-Nukky know you have to go now. Nukky will do his best to be a good warden. Nukky promise."

His mother pats him on the back. We know you will. And remember, little Nukky. We will always be watching you, through the winds and woods of the forest. Goodbye.

The young Kobold sniffs as he looks up and smiles. "Goodbye."

-----

Life is always in constant motion. Relationships forged fade away with time as people go their separate ways. Even in the forest, the wardens themselves change hands, letting the new guard take over duties for the old.

But no matter where those roads may take people, the memories will forever remain.

And so it is a new story has been told, of a Kobold who left the forest to travel the world, to spread their arms of protection to all he meets. Some say he commanded great spiritual powers, others that he fought back against those who would do harm to nature.

But in all these stories it is said that this young Kobold would always greet new people with a smile and a goodberry.



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Last edited by BestTeaMaker; Apr 22nd, 2023 at 09:24 PM.
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