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TDOSS 7. The Bone Fiddler’s Chance

Ondo  19th Morgron – Year of the Stonehammer

Monsters Slain (0) Dungeons Looted (0) Gold Earned (0) Treasure Looted (0) Lord Cleaver (He’s the man. Sword. Whatever)

The walls ran red. Blood in the cracks and grain of the rock, the taste of iron on my tongue as I crept down the stairs under the tower. Soiling myself all the way. It was one of those times when every hasty, shallow intake of breath sounds like a wind storm and every footstep on stone is like the clanging of a chapel bell.

This was the lair of a Necromancer all right – or worse and by the state of the place, a powerful one too. Curse my luck.

You see, the more powerful the Necromancer, the more his surroundings begin to reflect the nature of his dealings. Bits of the other world begin to leak through into our Natural world. The blood soaked walls were pointing at a very experienced bone fiddler. The other thing about Necromancers? They are all evil, black to the bone. It usually starts with the inclination to heal, oddly enough. Most of their kind are failed clerics, the calling just wasn’t strong enough for them and their lack of conviction results in their inability to heal the living from injuries and diseases, stuff like that. When they realise that faith isn’t enough, they start looking for other ends and means.

Kester, an old friend of mine told me once in Kewoon that he’d been part of a desert raid on a Gith camp and had taken shelter from a sand storm in a ruin with nine other men. All experienced, all veterans. Only he and one other came out alive into the hot morning sun. He told me that the floor had given way in the night and down below the walls were made of bone. Old death magic that. Although that one other had made it out alive, he cut out his own eyes two days later before drowning himself in an Oasis. Kester went the other way and is a full time Paladin or some such. He got a dose of religion and spends his days hunting down the ‘darkness’ as he calls it. Good man in a tight spot, but a little intense.

Down and down that narrow staircase wound in a rough spiral, like the engraving on a Corrun Lion, the stone under foot giving way to hard packed earth and the roots of the earth poking through the dirt. The air was dry and dead on the tongue. To be expected.

I had been holding The Lord all this time in a sweaty grip. I was so tense that I barely noticed the dull glow that comes off him when bad things are nearby. He’s a stuck up arse most of the time, but like my man Kester, good in a spot. I stopped, narrowed my eyes at the darkness ahead and held my breath. Times like these, I go cold. Not fear, but something else more like fate has stepped in and taken hold.

‘You’re probably going to die in a minute Strongblade, no point squirming over it’ That’s what my head says to me

‘Stephan, this is bad’ That’s what Lord Cleaver says in a whisper and the fear comes back. The Lord don’t ever talk like that. Can a sword feel fear?

Catching a dry cough, I step forward into the darkness. Lord Cleaver’s glow has vanished and from experience I know that this darkness ain’t natural. This is bad.

I can hear this sound like itching, if that is a sound. Sweat is pouring off me and I can feel bile rising up, burning the back of my throat. Dark, dark magic all around. Tears in my eyes, visions of old Gra’ swimming in front of my eyes.

S’all right Stephan, I’ll get the blood off your knee, brave boy… brave boy…it’s only a scratch…’

‘If you’re going boy, take this with you. It ain’t much but it will get you food and lodgings for a few weeks. Your Ma and Da are going to miss you boy… they are going to miss you sore… we all love you lad, there ain’t no need to go… we all love you…’

‘Stephan, focusss!’ That’s The Lord hissing in my ear. Almost lost it there. Almost. Hells.

‘Enough of your shit and tricks! Show yourself’ Says I. I know I’m being watched.

I hope that anyone reading this never has the misfortune to be confronted by a real Necromancer. There are dabblers all over the place, most of them give themselves away and end up hanging off a spike or burned alive, but the real ones? They are clever enough to find somewhere well away from people and get right down to it.

This one stands before me dressed in stinking rags, his teeth filed down to points. Self mutilation is evident in his cloven tongue and the golden rings hanging, jingling from his rib cage. Runes are carved or burned into every scrap of skin. It takes me a moment to notice that the darkness is gone, banished by a thought, but not one of mine.

Behind that emaciated figure is a raised plinth and on that slab of cold stone is old Gazoo The Magnificent, still dead but in worse condition than when he’d been under my tender care. His skin was hanging in sagging ribbons about him and what looked like most of his insides were all placed around him in flat golden dishes. In his eye sockets rested two Ulgadalian coins. Nasty things and never meant for currency, or at least those coins don’t buy the usual things in life like a hot meal. Behind Gazoo’s head is a large glass jar pulsing with a dim light like a sick heartbeat.

‘Ooh. I like what you’ve done with him’ Playing the charming card. It’s a favourite tactic when I’m terrified ‘Never looked better’.

The Necromancer just put his bony head on one side and smiled, his teeth dragging along his bottom lip, drawing blood. ‘Chance…’

‘Eh? Chance?’ Odd thing to say at the time, but now I know better.

‘Behind you!’ Yells Lord Cleaver and I spin round to see something that looks like one of those Monks up at the Skaylian Monasty standing right behind me. He’s head to toe in grey robes and cowl, but I can see eyes gleaming from the shadows of the hood. A thin, mottled white hand shoots out and grabs my arm before I can spin out of the way.

‘Just one Chance’ Giggles the Bone Fiddler ‘Is all I need’

… Oh. Too tired to write anymore. Thomas looks like he needs something. I’ll continue in the morning.

Stephan Strongblade

TDOSS 6. Talk with an Orc

Zinthata  17th Morgron – Year of the Stonehammer

Monsters Slain (2) Dungeons Looted (0) Gold Earned (2) Treasure Looted (0) Lord Cleaver (Helpful for once)

If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s Orcs. Call it a pet hate if you will, but washing the stink of Orc off your clothes is a nasty job. Imagine rolling around in fox poo and burying yourself for three days in a cabbage patch and that’s not far off the mark as far as the smell goes. I don’t mind fighting them too much, more than three in a scrap is a problem, but the two that gave me grief last night were just scrawny little scouts. Lord Cleaver gave the alert, yelling something along the lines of ‘Oi! Wake up fatty! You’re on!’. Next thing I know Lord Cleaver appears in my hand (how does he do that?) , and one nasty green head is already lopped off at the shoulders. I was still yawning and blinking the sleep out of my eyes when I took the swing. The second swine was rummaging about in my backpack looking pretty wary. He tried to dance off into the shadows when I caught his eye but I hefted Lord Cleaver and lobbed him in a wide arc that took the Orc’s leg off at the knee. No more running for him, ha ha!

Before I brained him properly, the little puke told me that he was in the Grey Toad clan. Never heard of them and apart from a couple of gold pieces and a naff short sword with more rust than iron on the blade he didn’t have much on him. I did manage to get a nugget of good out of him though. He saw the cart I’m tracking the day before yesterday and had even been part of a raiding party that tried to rob it. ‘Tried’ being the word here because apparently, and you can’t really trust an Orc, when they got close the fella driving the cart did some sort of foul magicks that sent them all running scared. A black cloud of screaming badness or something like it. Translating Orc is pretty hard and I don’t like talking to them, all spit and snarls and their breath? Whooo! Anyway it seems that the cart, driver, donkey and ‘Gazoo the Magnificently Dead’ are heading towards a ruined tower that used to be called ‘Bal-Gulga’ or somethin like it’. Probably one of the old outposts set up by the first men a long, long time ago.

I’m on my way to an old tower on the trail of a dead wizard and what looks like a pretty powerful live one. This has a whiff of Necromancy about it and if there’s one thing I hate more than Orcs, it bone-fiddling, graveyard lurkin’ bastards. Hate ‘em. Hate ‘em. Hate ‘em.

Stephan Strongblade

TDOSS 5. Into the Wild Country

Sheem  16th Morgron – Year of the Stonehammer

Monsters Slain (0) Dungeons Looted (0) Gold Earned (0) Treasure Looted (0) Lord Cleaver (Orc Watcher)

So where are we?

I’ve been tracking this damn dead wizard for an age. Lord Cleaver, my magic and supposedly ‘intelligent’ sword thinks I should give up, but that shows just how much attention he pays to me – his bloody master!

A few days ago a travelling priest of Taff the Mender told me that he had seen a wagon, pulled by donkey, heading North. I’ve been trailing across country and have finally picked up a trail. I’m about a day cold by my reckoning, but gaining ground on Bluebell.

Still wondering why someone would want to steal a dead wizard and head into dangerous country. Which reminds me, I caught glimpse of a bunch of green-skins up on a bluff this morning. Don’t think they saw me, but no camp fire tonight. I’ll be freezing my plums off! Balls and ashes! Still, I’ll stick Lord Cleaver in the ground to keep watch. He’d rather be with me than an Orc. I think.

Stephan Strongblade

TDOSS 4. Anyone Seen a Corpse?

Zinthaka 11th Morgron – Year of the Stonehammer

Monsters Slain (0) Dungeons Looted (0) Gold Earned (0) Treasure Looted (0) Lord Cleaver (Still a shit)

I’m looking for a corpse? Anyone seen one? This one is dressed in fancy robes and goes under the name of Gazoo the Magnificent. I’ve been tracking the bastards who inched my wagon and dead wizard bounty for days and nothing. Not a squeak. I followed the trail to a bridge, found the wagon, but no body. The Gods!

I got a tip off from a wandering priest this morning. He said he saw a battered cart being pulled by a donkey only hours ago some miles North. Best be off, just stopped for a bite and a piss. Wish me luck.

Does it seem odd that someone has stolen a dead wizard? They must be after the bounty too. Also, does it seem odd that I found the wizard dead on the road? I didn’t really think about it before. I’ll sleep on it.

Stephan Strongblade

TDOSS 3. The Spindle Hermit

Effron 10th Morgron – Year of the Stonehammer

Monsters Slain (0) Dungeons Looted (0) Gold Earned (-1) Treasure Looted (0) Lord Cleaver (Unhelpful)

There’s a mighty, tall rock around these parts that the locals call ‘The Spindle’. At a rough guess it’s 300 feet to its highest, peaky point and is about an hour ride from the Gallow Path, a spur from the Great Northern Road. Legends tell of an old hermit that lives in a cave about half way up the spindle and if you give him a packet of pipe weed and a hard-hitting joke, he will tell you a bit about your future.

I’ve been trundling along this road on my lonie for three days since I picked up this stinking dead wizard, ‘Gazoo the Magnificent’ – now ‘Gazoo the slightly stiff and smelly’ for a healthy gold bounty and to be deadly honest I’ve got a bit out of sorts in my own head. When you’ve accomplished deeds and smacked up the monsters that I have, your memories play tricks on you and you start getting attacks of the philosophical. The monks of Etta Bree explained philosophy to me once, but I still didn’t give their gold back.

Anyway, I resolved to seek out this Spindle hermit and tell him a joke or two. I also happened to have a pouch of Wheezers Best pipe weed on me and I’ve always been a sucker for divination magicks.

Covering the waggon and the stinky wizard with long grass and brush wood, I set off with Bluebell, my horse and Lord Cleaver across my back towards the towering Spindle rock with a spring in my step, although my shoulder still hurt something rotten from the arrow I’d taken from Black Jacksie’s bowman some days ago. I should have poked his other eye out but that’s just not me anymore.

Some time later I find myself at the foot of the great standing rock and begin to climb. When I was a lad my best friends used to call me Stephan the Manky. Apparently a Manky is a hairy creature that swings around the giant Dustle trees in the jungles of Abwakaan. Years later I found out what ‘Manky’ really meant and a man got hurt quite badly in the Broken Shield at Tythe. Nice Inn, but I’m barred.

I am a good climber though and it didn’t take long to find the cave entrance. I lit a torch with flint and steel and ducked in. ‘Hallo! Hermit! I have pipe weed!’

‘Come warrior. Come in and show me your weed’ came the hermit’s rasping voice.

I stepped into an expansive, flat cave lit by a large magical globe that bobbed around the ceiling. Apart from a few blankets and a cooking fire there wasn’t much going on really. Quite dull, but then what did I expect? A hunched figure sat picking his nose, smiling at me.

‘Stephan Strongblade is it?’ Says the Hermit

‘The one and only’ says I. ‘I’ve come for a bit of your divination’

‘Feeling a bit lost are you? Lack of direction? Wandering?’ He wipes snot on his blanket and chuckles into his ratty, grey beard.

‘I don’t like explaining myself old man. I’ve got the weed and a joke, how about we just step on. I’ve got a manky wizard waiting for me downstairs and he’s not getting any fresher’

‘Tell me the joke Strongblade’ He starts wobbling a tooth and lies back on his blanket, all bones and dirt. His feet have fungus on them, like lichen on an ancient Oak. Smelly bastard.

‘What do you call an old man with a bump on his head?’ I launch a gold piece at his skull with vicious accuracy.

‘Owwww!’ Says he clutching his baldy head. ‘That wasn’t funny’

‘Made me laugh’ I threw the pipe weed on his lap. ‘Your turn’ says I

‘Very well’. The old bastard sprinkled some powder into the flames of his cooking fire with little in the way of theatricals and murmured some of that chanty stuff that makes your spine prickle and your plums crawl up. Slap my arse if his eyes didn’t flash green and roll back into his head.

He speaks in a weird, high voice…

‘Stephan Strongblade. You are going to meet a woman who is half bear, half wolf, half bird and ALL lady…. and…. You will see many, many things…. and…. Someone is about to steal your smelly Wizard’

‘Shit’ That got me up and moving.

He called after me as I ran from his cave

‘Have you got a pipe?!’

‘No!’

Idiot.

I got back to where I’d left the waggon and the old shit was right. The waggon and wizard were gone.

There will be blood tonight! Or tomorrow maybe. Depends how good my tracking skill is.

Stephan Strongblade

TDOSS 2. Black Jacksie

Mulda 8th Morgron – Year of the Stonehammer

Monsters Slain (4) Dungeons Looted (0) Gold Earned (0) Treasure Looted (1 Eyepatch worth bugger all) Lord Cleaver (Always a shit)

Sh**ing bandits! I mean who the cock do they think they are? I’m still calming down from the blood-rage, but I just about remember what the silly idiot did so I’m going to write it down before I forget and as a warning to other prancing pricks. Good thing about this magic quill is that blood doesn’t seem to stick to it…

One thing about travelling the provinces with nothing but a horse, a banged up waggon and stinking dead wizard is that you are a little bit open to cutthroats and unholy opportunistic bastards.

Sundown, the Great North Road: Woodland

‘Ho! Off your horse and put the steel down nice and careful’ Says He

Blank looks all round.

‘Shit off and on your way’ Says I

‘Why don’t you come up here and take the steel off me?’ Says I

‘Not likely, I knows who you are. You’re Strippa Strongblade, a murdering son of a bitch with a clever magic sword’ Says He

That’s one of my names from these parts. I always quite liked it.

‘Names Lord Cleaver’ Says the sword.

‘He can’t hear you’ Says I

‘Whassat you say?’ Says He

At this point the Cutthroat clicks his fingers all smug like and three raggedy little sods with longbows pop out of the shadows o the woods. Stinky bunch. I don’t suppose they’d been acquainted with soap for a few weeks.

‘Friends of yours?’ Says I

‘The name is Black Jacksie’ Says He pointing at his face. He’s wearing an eyepatch and his good eye is all squinty.

This makes me chuckle due to the connotation and he gets a dirty look on his face. He flicks a finger and arrow bangs into my shoulder. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a barb and shaft in your flesh before but it don’t hurt much at first. More shock really, so I jump of the waggon into my fighting crouch. I know its impressive, but he’s not showing his hand because he’s got the upper one with his three chums all beading on me with those long bows of theirs.

‘Alright. You know what’s what and you know my reputation. You probably want to stop pointing arrows at me sod off back in them trees before I take real offence to the wood in my arm’ Says I

I show them my best snarl and give ’em a mean side eye. That usually works on the weak or clever ones who know when to run. My luck that these are strong and stupid. Bloody work was inevitable. I slap the horses arse and he rears and bolts towards the bandits. He’s a good horse is Bluebell and he knows the score. Trained by the battle lords of Que he was, might not look like much without the barding, but he’s a mean shit of a beast and went straight for two of the bow boys, knocking them right in the dirt. That left two for me!

Bloodrage is a funny thing, you don’t know when it comes on because it just does. Like when you know you’re getting drunk but don’t know exactly how you got from sitting on a chair being all friendly to lying on the floor in a puddle of wee. Well it was on me now. Not wee, the bloodrage.

‘You’re a dead man Black Jacksie’ Says I, spit spraying through my teeth. I leap while throwing Lord Cleaver into the last standing cronie’s face. Good shot, right in the cake hole and land a foot from Jacksie. It’s here that he starts blubbing and sobbing while he’s watching me all up in his eye and Bluebell stamping his friends to red butter.

‘I’m sorry! I’m not very good at this! This is my first robbery. Please let me live’ Says he

It’s a funny moment right there when someone plays the pity card and usually I just keep on with the killing, but the thing was that he took his eyepatch off and threw it at me. Stopped me in my tracks. There was nothing wrong with his eye.

‘It’s all an act. I was trying to look dangerous. Please let me go. Please. Please’ says He all a-tremble.

So I did something I’ve never really done before in memory and I took pity. As I write this I realise that I’m actually proud of my actions and although I did jab my quill in his eye to prove a point, I think I’m the better man. I took his eyepatch though.

Onwards to Tinth and the bounty for this stinking wizard!

Stephan Strongblade

TDOSS Days of the Week in Arcaziana

An Arcazian week has seven days (coincidence?) and are named thus…

Ondo. Mulda. Preka. Effron. Sheem. Zinthata. Zinthaka

We are currently in the year of the Stonehammer, nearly fifteen years after the Orc invasion in the year of Razorsharp.

Years are named after Dwarven heros from the third epoch. Does it show? The Elves hate it and have secret names that involve derivations of botanical naming conventions. No one really cares though. No one really likes the Elves.

TDOSS 1. A Bit of History and the Dead Wizards Quill

Ondo 7th Morgron – Year of the Stonehammer 

Monsters Slain (3) Dungeons Looted (0) Gold Earned (20) Treasure Looted (Quill and Parchment) Lord Cleaver (Still a shit)

I suppose I should introduce myself first as a matter of formality. My name is Stephan. Stephan Strongblade to be mostly exact although I do have other names, by way of the Corrun Strongblades, a fairly wealthy merchant family who run weapons and metal goods from the Lake of Dead Floaters to Roger’s Roost way up in the cold Northern provinces.

I left home at 14 to pursue a career as a Cleric’s apprentice. It turns out that Brother ‘Fingers’ McPhail was a bit too partial to the Dragonsbreath spirits and his vow of chastity was about as water-tight as a Norne Whore’s under-crackers. Not so very. I left him dead in a ditch somewhere in the Forest of Sticks. Shot in the face by a poachers arrow. Shame, but he had it coming I reckon.

At the age of 16 I finished up working on a farmstead just outside Wycbold. Nice little village and very friendly people right up until the Rust Orc invasion in the YO Razorsharp. I helped to burn the dead and found that I had become rather adept with the sword out of sheer terror. I don’t mind letting you know, dear reader, that I crapped myself that day in a rather slack and literal sense. It wouldn’t be the last time.

By my 18th Winter I was guarding ‘trade’ caravans on the White Coast run. My parents wouldn’t have approved of the cargo, but I was earning a living by my sword, speed, wits and all that and was getting a bit of a name for myself as a right nasty bastard. My world turned on slotting bandits and rutting with whomever I fancied. Always willing though. Never let it be said that Stephan Strongblade lacked a moral compass. The compass don’t always point North but I’m usually one to protect the ladies if they are in distress or at least have a fat stash behind them. I don’t mind taking payment in kind either. Makes the world go round don’t it.

The next ten years or so were a whirlwind of slaying, maiming, stealing, drinking, shagging and all that good stuff. I even did a few stints in various dungeons. Bribed my way out of one and escaped from the others. I tried to keep the body count to a minimum because by that time I had a real bad reputation through most of the major towns and cities of the provinces. I still have a price or two on my head although I have tried to make amends where I can, but sometimes the scars are just a bit too deep you know? and it’s hard to bring back the dead. I’ve known enough Necromancers to know that that’s not really an option.

So here I am in my 30th Year and I’ve just found this enchanted quill and parchment. I say ‘found’ but the body of Gazoo The Magnificent is at least a week old and has begun to pong a little. The contract said ‘dead or alive’ so I’m in the clear and for once I didn’t do the dirty deed. I just tracked his wagon for two weeks out of Tinth and found him dead on the road along with his hired thugs. Lucky for me I had a scroll to identify magic stuff and this here quill and parchment shone up like a firework on the solstice. Anyone else would have left it for rubbish. This quill never runs out of ink and the parchment holds as many words as the Star Sea holds water so I reckon it’s time to start keeping a journal. I’m a famous hero you see or sometimes a villain depending on who you talk to, maybe a little short of a legend, but having my memoirs behind me should keep me in ale and whores when my glory days have run on by and my arm is too sparrow-weak to swing old Lord Cleaver, my ‘intelligent’ sword that has just enough intelligence to be a total shit about it.

Here’s a very potted history as they say and I’ll try and write regular and such. My next job is to get this stinking wizard back to Tinth so that I can get paid. I’ve turned bounty hunter for a while you see and although it’s a bit lonesome sometimes, it’s given me a bit of thinking time. Must be getting old… until next time.

Stephan Strongblade