Heart of Darkness

They may be called the Palace Guard, the City Guard, or the Patrol. Whatever the name, their purpose in any work of heroic fantasy is identical: it is, round about Chapter Three (or ten minutes into the film) to rush into the room, attack the hero one at a time, and be slaughtered. No one ever asks them if they want to.

This book is dedicated to those fine men.

Terry Pratchett, Guards! Guards!

Field diary of Erik Gywntine, Aide-de-Camp to Lieutenant Marjorie Syndenstar.

3rd Quen’Pilar – 10th hour

We are being sent to the sewers.

It has been five days since the hot water failed. Three days ago the Plumbers Guild reported two of their members missing and formally requested the Watch to send down a search party. Naturally the Watch houses are pushing back and disputing which of them has jurisdiction to intervene – none of the house captains want to send their boys wading through shit. This could have gone on indefinitely while the city froze, but today one of the ambassadors from the Clovis Concord made a formal complaint to the thrones that their embassy staff have to fill the bath with a kettle. So this is suddenly political and the 5th has been called in. The Lieutenant has asked me to document the whole affair – if we find two drunk plumbers skiving off there’ll be hell to pay.

For this mission 5th Platoon consists of: 

LT M. Syndenstar.   
ADC E. Gywntine   
Squad 1 Squad 2 Squad 3 
SGT. E. Finwe SGT. C. Tamina SGT. O. Gryffid 
S. Assikor P. Belmek S. Lesedelle 
U. Bevon E. Enkom I. Brylos 
B. Myrva A. Gallas C. Dimniss 
Y. Oddo O. Kalen A.Edhelriel 
B. Rheon P. Medwin T. Galmin 
D. Urmnur C. Nasryn P. Hadwyn 
N. Wiegold G. Terfel T. Rotmur 

Supplies and equipment: Standard patrol kit plus plumber’s guild standard mask, noseplugs and glow pebbles. 

4th Quen’Pilar 8th hour. 

Entered the sewers via the Queen’s gate barracks access tunnel following the maps supplied by the guild. Limited visibility from the glow pebbles but not as cramped as I had imagined. The smell is atrocious but the noseplugs and masks block out the worst of it. Making steady progress so far. 

4th Quen’Pilar 12th hour. 

Spoke too soon. Trooper Gallas severely injured.  

The platoon was descending a staircase with Gallas on point when the screaming started. A corrosive ooze was lurking on the roof and dropped onto his helmet. When he felt it land the poor lad made the mistake of looking up. Damn thing flowed onto his face. We scraped it off in time to save his life, but not his eyes. 

Bandaged him up as best we could before sending him back to the surface with Troopers Nasryn and Terfel. The Lieutenant reassured him that the priests will be able to cure his sight but the entire platoon is shaken. Jumping at every puddle. We are switching from glow pebbles to standard torches – swamp gas is a risk, but the flames should keep away any more of the creatures hiding overhead. I fear we know what happened to our missing plumbers. Bad business.

4th Quen’Pilar 18th hour.


After sending our wounded back to the surface we pushed on towards the water supply network. Progress was slowed by the need to check every crack and shadow but no further oozes spotted. At times the torch smoke threatened to fill the narrow tunnels but we all felt better with real flames illuminating the dripping arches.

Until we found the bodies floating in the sewage. Sergeant Tamina was the first to recognise them. Gallas, Nasryn and Terfel.

Tamina ran to their side, straight into the trap. A fountain of corruption burst from each of the defiled bodies, contorting into demonic forms with voiceless mouths agape and hungry for flesh. They latched onto Tamina like leeches and dragged him beneath the filthy waters.

Our countercharge sent the corpse oozes into a thrashing frenzy. Trooper Oddo went down in front of me with one clinging to her face, fresh red blood pulsing through the horrible translucent slug body. I slashed at it while the others tried to prise it off, but my blade went straight through the foul thing with no effect. We had to burn it off before she sufficated. Oddo will live. Sergeant Tamina and Trooper Medwin not so lucky.

We have five dead, three of whom were sent back to the surface not twelve hours ago. We have improvised litters for the fallen and the entire platoon is going to retrace our steps to determine what enemy lurks in the darkness behind us. They will pay for this.

4th Quen’Pilar 22nd hour.

Route to the surface closed.

Grim mood as we overnight in the sewer complex. We made good time on the return, quickly passing the point where Trooper Gallas was attacked. Not far beyond that the tunnel closes into a dead end. Were it not for the fresh tracks that lead into and out of a cracked and slime encrusted wall we could believe that we had taken a wrong turn. Some witchcraft has sealed our escape route.

I shall not lie, I was close to panic at this point. I do not know if the others felt the same but the Lieutenant did not give us time to despair. The troopers were established into a defensive perimeter while the Sergeants consulted the maps to identify a fortifiable position for tonight. We are billeted in an immense vaulted cavern that must have once been used to store the stonework used to build the sewers. The remaining offcuts now serve as temporary cairns for our fallen. No more scouting parties to be sent out. We will move as one. If the enemy wishes to fight then they will face us all.

The biggest problem for tonight is how to stomach food and water laced with the sickly-sweet stench of this place.

5th Quen’Pilar 6th hour.

A grim night, but no sign of hostile activity. Moving out to see how much the sewer maps have been altered versus our maps.

5th Quen’Pilar 12th hour.

No further changes to the layout, but no obvious routes back to the surface. We will strike towards our original target in the heating centre as this offers the most potential exit routes.

Morale holding up well under the circumstances, but the stench and tension are draining. Sergeants keeping a close eye on the troopers. Calm before the storm.

5th Quen’Pilar 16th hour.

Trooper Dimniss missing.

We were passing through a short section of pipework that forced us to proceed in single file. Tense initial entry made by Trooper Myrva without incident. Once we had the pipe secure crossing was quick, Troopers Rotmur and Dimniss last to cross. Rotmur was in front, reports that Dimniss was following behind in constant communication. At the halfway point when Rotmur looked around he was alone.

As if he vanished into thin air. Worse than a direct attack. Entire platoon spent several hours searching but no sign of a struggle or a body. Can’t stay in this spot forever looking at the same empty pipe.

5th Quen’Pilar 23rd hour.

Still no sign of Trooper Dimniss. Snatching moments of fragmented sleep, knowing whatever took him is out there.

6th Quen’Pilar 2nd hour.

Woken by screams – friendly fire injury. Trooper Rotmur discharged crossbow at Trooper Assikor while both were on guard duty. Assikor struck in upper right arm, walking wounded. Trooper Rotmur reprimanded and relieved of crossbow.

Morale of the platoon as black as this shithole.

6th Quen’Pilar. Overnight – time unknown.

Major attack. Multiple casualties.

Forward troopers spotted movement ahead. Undead, armed and moving in combat formation. We formed into battlelines to meet them, only to be outflanked by gargantuan ooze coming through the wall on our right. Burned straight through the stones and ate our weapons and flesh as easily.

If the monster had any mind it would have wiped us all out. Luckily it stopped to consume the bodies of the first few unfortunates who fell underneath the torrent of acid. Gave us enough time to dispatch the undead and use their corpses to slow the corrosive advance of their erstwhile ally. Had to use all the remaining oil flasks to finish the thing off.

Trooper Assikor was killed in the attack. Several members of squad 1 surrounded Trooper Rotmur, shouting Assikor would be alive if Rotmur hadn’t shot him. Sergeants had to intervene to restore order.

I don’t know how much longer we can last like this.

7th Quen’Pilar?

Trooper Rotmur unaccounted for after second shift change.

8th Quen’Pilar?

No attacks since last entry.

More routes shown on our maps are sealed off or missing entirely. Forced to detour and double back through pipes for hours. Fresh water running low.

My father’s watch was damaged in the attack, time unknown. It is a small thing set against the deaths of so many but unable to measure the hours it adds to the sense of isolation.

11th Quen’Pilar?

I don’t want to die without seeing the sky again.


Our captor has proved me with a few minutes to finish this account.

Battered and bruised, hemmed in on every side by horrors we took the only available path and pushed on. In the filthy depths of the next chamber we learned what we were being herded towards. A monstrous troll squatted as lord of its own squalid little island, bloated on corruption and filth. We drew up in battle formation and the Lieutenant demanded it stand aside or be destroyed. The beast gibbered and tittered some doggerel about not turning but made no move to attack us. It claimed to know who had brought us down here but would not be drawn on the subject, devolving into vainglorious boasts and outlandish promises of a golden future. Realising that it was attempting to befuddle our minds with some foul sorcery we attacked it with blade and flame. To my shame it batted me aside like I was nothing in the first few seconds of the fight. When I regained consciousness I was in shackles.

Our captor has said much of his motivations, but this account will be destroyed if I record them here. He claims that he will write the history of his cause and my account is merely to serve as a curiosity from the final days of the old regime. I have completed this diary as per my orders from the late Lieutenant Marjorie Syndenstar and now I shall endeavour to meet my fate in a manner befitting a Glassblade.

To my dear sister and nephews I send all my love. Until we meet again.

I would like end by stating for the record that 5th Platoon did their duty to the last with courage and honour. 

A Bedtime Story

He had brushed his little tusks and now Rennik snuggled under the thick moorbinder hide as his Granny placed another peat slab on the glowing fire.

‘A Story, Granny’
‘What Story my Love?’

She smiled, it was always Ragnarok. She cuddled in next to his and tousled his hair.

‘Ragnarok was an Orcish Chieftain who united the 7 Tribes of Wildemount under the banner of Gruumsh, The Ruiner. In the depth of the Great War, on the march towards Vallenheim, his son Odar fell ill with a mysterious malady. Ragnarok prayed to Gruumsh and made sacrifices of scores of warriors, burning them on huge pyres, asking for his son to recover. But Gruumsh was an impatient God and told Ragnarok to kill his son and continue the attack. Ragnarok prepared to do his bidding but as he raised his axe, a great gale arose around the campsite. Whole trees were swept up in a whirlwind that obsured Ragnarok and Odar from the rest of the army. Then suddenly the wind died down and there standing facing Ragnarok was his son, Odar, seemingly healthy and restored. Odar told his father that he had been spared, not by Gruumsh but by Melora, the Wild Mother. She offered his son’s life if he would turn around his armies and take no further part in the coming battle. Disillusioned with Gruumsh and grateful for the salvation of his son, He took his Axe and broke it in two, vowing to return to his home and fight no more.

Tiamat’s wyrms had been guarding the skies above the Orcish Army and when they saw that Ragnarok had betrayed the forces of Evil, they flew to tell their mother. Infuriated, she came rushing from her lair, intent on seeking revenge. She caught up with the army on the outskirts of the Penumbra Mountain Range and attacked, laying waste to much of the Orcish Army. Mounted aboard his Griffon, Saoirse, Ragnarok took to the skies and fought Tiamat for three days and three nights. Saoirse clawed at the Goddesses eyes while Ragnarok rained down blasts of eldritch energy on her hide. As blood fell from her gargantuan body, the trees below of the Vermaloc Wildwood became infused and have kept her chromatic markings to this day. At last, with a swipe of her Venomous tail, she smote the Griffon, sending Ragnarok tumbling to the ground. As he lay there bleeding, her five heads arguing over which one would do the final deed, he cried out to Melora. As he reached out to stop her maw, A huge gust arose and his axe appeared in his hand, reforged anew. He swung the axe with all his might, driving a deem gash down her side and with an invocation, eyes white, shoved her backwards, through the wind, through the edge of this plane, back to the depths of avernus, to skulk and scheme her revenge.

Ragnarok looked at the destruction the three day battle had wrought on the landscape and saw the bright red tunic of his son. Odar had been slain, frozen in Ice by the dragons breath. He wept for his son and carried his body home on his shield.’

She paused as his tiny snores interrupted. She slipped out of the hide and resumed her knitting with one eye on her grandchild and one on the door. In the hearth, the embers crackled and glowed.

The Map and the Territory

An extract from Urgon Wenth’s unfinished memoirs, collected and edited by Elro Aldataur. Working title for future publication ‘An Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount’.

… After evading these horrors for several days, it is always a relief to finally clear the treeline and see the Flotket Alps rising in the distance. However, a cautious traveller should remember that the Savalirwood does not give up prey so easily. The bones of those who let their guard down at this point litter the borders of the forest. Regardless of the time of day or weather conditions I have a firm rule to never strike camp within four hours march of the woods.

Other accounts the reader may have read will skip ahead at this point to the peaks of the Flotket Alps, the Rime Plains or the Crystalsands Tundra. This is because most accounts are written by chinless scholars tucked up safe indoors with a map and a bottle of wine. From this cozy position the area between the Savalirwood and the mountains is an empty space between more interesting destinations. I do not consider myself a soft man, but after battling through the Savalirwood or trekking across the vast tundra I rarely feel the urge to race straight up the mountain paths. I would encourage a sensible campaigner to consider the benefits of recuperating for a few days in less challenging terrain.

Northeast of the Savalirwood the mountain streams and meltwater form a small inland lake known locally as the Wash. The Wash spills west past the ruins of Molaesmyr into the Frigid Depths and east past the ruins of Uraliss into the Emerald Gulch. Neither route is particularly safe or advisable (you will note I write “ruins”, not “happy and thriving town”) but a fast river boat or two is a fair means to approach either location if you plan to pick through the rubble.

Between the Wash and the mountains lie a few small farming communities, mostly composed of those unwilling to live in the dwarven cities to the north. To be perfectly frank none of these is worth much ink and most consistent of just three or four extended farmsteads. In the summer months the farmers move their flocke north to graze on the mountain pastures, in the winter they shelter from the storms on the lowlands. This also means that they are furthest from the Savalirwood at the height of midsummer and only draw near again when winter lulls the wood into slumber.

Technically these farmers are part of Uthodorn but they have a saying which just about sums that up: “Dust from the west, orcs from the east, trouble from the south, tax collectors from the north”. I am told that by law criminals are to be held and turned over to the Glassblades when they make their scheduled patrols. In practice the punishment for outsiders who cause trouble is a shovel to the back of the head and an unmarked grave in a turnip field.

Barter is the main form of trade here, with copper and silver a distant second. You’ll be hard pressed to break a gold piece and most people will assume you came by it looting one of the old elven tombs. (Before you get your hopes up I will say again that the elves do not bury their dead with gold. Grave robbing is rarely a profitable enterprise). If you want food or clothing then your best best is to trade goods. Decent tools, ironmongery, salt, spices, tobacco, alcohol, medicine or herbs will usually buy a warm meal and a night in the hayloft. A good song or a fresh story won’t hurt either.

Unfortunately for those who like their comforts there isn’t an inn between Shadycreek and Uthodorn. If you’re looking for a bed then your best option is the temple of Ilmater which lies on the main trail to Uthodorn. The preachers will give a bed and a meal to anyone who needs it, although they expect those who can to earn it with work or donations. Again, goods are preferred over coin, especially medicinal herbs not available locally.

The temple hosts a small market every five days and a larger fair on the first of every month. The monthly fair draws richer merchants and officials from Uthodorn, so its the spot to head for if you want to buy a mule or join a wagon train headed north. A journey in any other direction is best organised from Uthodorn.

Pirates Never Cry

Captain Al’Ocean Pokrock-Sea stood in the early morning sunlight of Pier 6 and gazed up in wonder at the galley. Overhead a pair of Dwarves were standing on the scaffold finishing the lustrous final coat of Buccaneer Black. Another worker was finishing the fine detail one the lettering of THE HELLHEISTER. Seeing this beauty, it’s sails furled, ropes coiled, the very definition of ship-shape, the little Kenku felt a small tear forming in his eye. He pulled himself together quickly. Pirates never cry.

‘You Old Poo-head! What’s this pile of poo?’ The captain whirled around, recognizing the mocking voice of his first and best mate. ‘Tabby, you poo-eater, glad you could finally make it. It’s a long way from Felderwin but being late on your first day? You poo’.

The tabaxi laughed and slapped his old friend on the back. He looked up at their brand new ship with a smile.

‘Look at us. Hey, look at us’
‘Look at us. Who would have thought’.
‘Not me’.

They had been through a lot together over the past few years. Hard times in the off-season when the ferries were empty, cold nights when the rum ran out and the huddled together on their little keel boat. There were times when Captain Pockrock-Sea wondered if it was worth it. The years at Darktow Pirate Institute, the jibes and insults. The voices haunted his dreams sometimes, ‘A little bird told me you want to be a pirate’, ‘Hey Seagull, eat poo!’ ‘No pirate is going to take orders from a Kenku’.

Tabby Mul-Lamphrey looked at his captain and saw the quiet contemplation.

‘You earned this, captain’.

The Dwarves were finished now, one gave a long, high undulating whistle and the scaffold descended to the deck. The captain looked down along the pier and spotted a large Orc, Oarnoc Yevlaf kissing his mum on the cheek and slinging his axe over his shoulder. A Tortle he recognised as Whalin’ Tony was kneeling beside him, giving a giant hug to his two kids. One-eyed Euain was cheerily signing goodbye to his fella, a burly Were-bear who owned an artisanal bakery in Ice-haven. His crew assembled and walked down the pier, their smiling faces causing Al’Ocean to once again choke back a tear.

He thought about all their hard work and the support of all his funders, he knew he wouldn’t let them down. He thought about their past adventures and all the adventures to come. He looked back at Tabby.

‘We earned this, old friend. We earned this together’

He hoisted his knapsack over his back and for the first time, started up the gangplank as the snow started to fall.

The Sergent

Tarak Whiskeyjack looked every year of his age. At 56 the old city watchman should have retired or promoted years ago but he never quiet got around to it. His left wrist ached as he pushed open the heavy door to the changing room of the City Watch. The familiar smell of polished leather and old sweat greated him. Looking around the cluttered changing room he saw two of the younger watchmen. They glanced up briefly as the door opened but gave him no heed and went back to changing for their shift. Most of the other watchmen tended to steer clear of Whiskeyjack, supersticious as they were.

Whiskeyjack made his way to his locker in the back left corner. He’d been using this locker for over 30 years now, each item inside in its rightful place. Folded, stacked or tucked away in perfect handmade, well-worn compartments of his own design. He was always proud of his locker. He reached for his Sgt’s badge, he never could be bothered to try for the captain’s exams – too much hassle about legislation and not enough about the subtilties of the job. Besides, it took you off the street too much anyway. Molly had given up trying to press him years ago, the money was hardly worth the extra headaches and besdides the boys were grown and married themselves so it was just those two in their small half-acre plot by the river.

Whiskeyjack stood before the large noticeboard looking at the details of the shift. As always he was on his own for this rota – he preferred it that way and the watch captains knew better than to mess with 30 years of tried and tested. Partners tended to get in the way anyway, more of a burder than a boon. They say the wrong thign or they didn’t know the right people or too keen for advancement. There was a breed of new watchmen that wanted to take shortcuts and seemed to think they were better than the people they interacted with. Whiskeyjack ran his finger over the parchment nailed to the board to check the routes of the others this evening – his was blank as always, he crafted his own way through the city and tended to know where the trouble would be before it happened. He did this to make sure none of the younger ones would fail to do their proper round and instead languish in the nicer parts of town. Whiskeyjack grinned as his finger found the name he was looking for, Beryll’s young lad was on the Widdershin’s beat today. Not the roughest onee but definitley would need your wits about you. Whiskeyjack nodded to himself, he had promised Beryll he’d look out for the boy. He always had a habit of collecting strays and waistrals but given enough time he could set him up right. Most of the watch had been under his wing at one stage or another.

Whiskeyjack put on his cap and walked out of the guardroom. The chill night air whistled soflty through his armour. ‘Another night on the toon’ he thought. He always pulld the odd hours, the holidays. ‘Spending your retirement in the cold!’ was Molly’s oft recited refrain, he always corrected her ‘semi-retirement’. A bit less time on the beat but still active. Her business was booming these days, everyone needs a lawyer for something but he could never get his head around the intricacies of the law and, more importantly, the politics surroundind it all. He preferred the odd hours, the holidays – give the lads a bit of time with their young famalies, plus, it was the odd hours that people most had need of someone. Mostly just to listen, sometimes to help a wayward drunk home, now and then a purse to recover or a fight to break up.

Whiskeyjack tested his joints with a half squat, only moderate creaking. Warm up completed he hit the road through the old lanes and alleys making his way down from the watch keep into the heart of the city. He didn’t even have to open his eyes to navigate he knew them so well. Every stone, cobble and brick but more importantly the people between them. The joke was the streets here were paved in Whiskeyjack’s booth leather as hrough his wanderings of the city managed tto know all the twists and turns of the streets and the people in them. They joked that the streets here were paved with old whiskeyjack’s boot leather.

At the bottom of Widdershins street Whiskeyjack propped himself up against the wall of the Salt and Steele. Most of the punters would be in their beds by now but there’d be a few stragglers left behind, either drooling into their cups or fixing to cause trouble of some sort. If Beryll’s boy had left on time he’d be swinging by here in the next 30-45 minutes or so. Might as well nip inside and give a nod to Lottie and check up on her and her bairns, the blighting cough had taken them down hard and besides, on a cold night like this maybe a dram would help stave off the chills – up until now it was looking like a fairly slow night anyway.

The return of MR SWORD

Mr Sword held up the obsidian sword in front of his face. The blade was perfectly polished reflecting the dwarf’s face. Mr Sword squinted into his reflection through the spectacles he was wearing. He adjused his fake moustache.

“Yes, this is good” Mr Sword brushed his hair and replaced his hat. “No one will ever see though my cunning disguise.”

The blademaster turned the corner and admired the building that stood before him. It was constructed of pale sandstone from the great quarry of Namburg. Above the wide door was a sign “Namburg Sword Museum”. Yes, Mr Sword had come to the right place.

Continue reading “The return of MR SWORD”

The Old Cutpurse

The chatter subsided. It was late in the night and inside the tavern, it was heading towards closing. The little squat halfling behind the bar could keep serving all night but the crowd were growing tired and outside the window, below the horizon the dawn sun threatened the moon. Soon the mist and smoke would clear and the patrons would doze and snore but there was still a dram of ale in most of their mugs as Pancho the Grimm turned to the bard.

‘Play us one more Red? An old one for the road.’

They murmured appreciatively. It was tradition, a way to say goodnight to the evening with respect. Even now, maybe especially now, the old traditions held weight.

Red shifted in her chair and pursed her lips.

‘An old One? I don’t know any old ones. Sure I’m only a kid compared with you old bastards’

Another roar of approval- She had them eating out of her hand.

‘I’ll sing one in the old style, will I? Just check that Herself isn’t hanging outside the door!’

Pancho jumped up and wrenched open the door, exposing the drunkards to the silvery pre-dawn blue. He Gasped comically and fell to the ground crying, ‘She’s disintegrated me, the fucking witch!’

As the roar of laughter subsided again, Red began the pluck the Viol and sang out clearly in a voice that seemed to come from a far off plane.

The Old Cut Purse

Trad Arr. Clink

When I first came to Kossos I was only a child

With an apple in my pocket and hanging of thirst

I went down to the Tailstones looking for work

And i soon ended up on the Old Cutpurse

There the demons and the devils were bartered and sold

And the old men with the money would flash you a smile

In the dark of an alley you’d work for a gold

For a swift one off the wrist down on the old Cutpurse

In the Throat in the winter we shivered in rags

But there were boys in the taverns who’d give you a smoke

If you didn’t have the money you’d simper or curse

You’d be flying on the Marrow on the Old Cutpurse

There were husbands and workmen, green, pale and tanned

They would all come down searching for invisible hands 

And they spit and kicked us and sometimes much worse

And they joked about meeting the Old Cutpurse

One evening as I was lying down by Butcher’s Halls

I was picked up by the Reavers and kicked in the balls

On the steps of the Pagoda I was beaten and mauled

And they ruined my good looks for the Old Cutpurse

In the Spillway the old ones who were on the way out

Would dribble and vomit and grovel and shout

And the Reavers would come along and push them about

And I wished I could escape from the old Cutpurse

And now I’m lying here I’ve had too much booze

I’ve been shat on and spat on and raped and abused

I know that I am dying and I call for a nurse

Who would save me and take me from the old Cutpurse

After the Moonfall: God-Butchers

“What do I know of cultured ways, the gilt, the craft and the lie?
I, who was born in a naked land and bred in the open sky.
The subtle tongue, the sophist guile, they fail when the broadswords sing;
Rush in and die, dogs—I was a man before I was a king.”

Apprentice God-Butcher Ruhollah methodically removed the thin blood from the edge of his Estoc. It shamed him the noble instrument was sullied with such filth. The cleaning was necessary in two ways, it removed the stain of the unworthy from his blade and it put him in the correct frame of mind for the Ritual of Loss.

When the sword was restored to pristine glory he reverentially placed it upon his small shrine. Reluctantly he unclasped his helmet and cradled it in the crook of his arm. Scowling, he sniffed at the thin air. In this place it smelled of absolutely nothing. While he wore his helmet he could pretend to himself that a faint smell of the sacred blood still lingered. Without that scent the world was sterile and flat. Another loss.

Dropping to one knee he let his thoughts wind back to his youth in the Tailstones. Relentless heat and the heavy small of blood. Childish games of bravado, feigning indifference to the roars of the God. Underneath the shadow of the sacred enclosure they would dare each other to creep closer, shrieking and fleeing before they ever touched the outer wall. Knowing the other children were lying, still half believing when they said they had touched the wall, crept through the gates, seen the God up close. He remembered the faces of his friends. He remembered the heart stopping terror the day the wall fell and the God punished the city for hubris. The sounds off the buildings falling around him, trapping him in darkness. The indefinite period without light or water or hope. Only the constant bellows of the God had let him know he was still alive.

There was never any sound in this place.

He had cried out over and over again for the God to spare him, for anyone to rescue him. Panic had given way to a numb fatigue. Eventually the numbness was replaced by a cold fury. He had roared back at this cruel God who couldn’t even be bothered to kill him quickly. He battered against the fallen masonry ignoring the dust that spiralled downward and threatened to choke him. The blood and pain from his torn fingertips spurred him on, screamed at him that he was still alive. Until the sudden rush of light had seared his eyes and sent him staggering backwards. An irresistible force dragged him out of the rubble ignoring his struggles and curses. When his vision cleared the titanic figure of the God-Butcher was already wading back into the ruins to search for other survivors.

Until that day he had never considered what the God-Butchers really did. The God was not some distant unknowable force. It was a cataclysm at the heart of city, barely held in check by mere men and women. The assembled rescue teams were the dregs of the city, drunks, thieves, beggars. Though battered and bruised they stood in the shattered remnants of their homes and responded as one to the God-Butcher’s shouted commands. For the first time he understood the pride and heroism of his people, the nobility of their never-ending struggle against their terrible foe. Ignoring the pain in his hands he limped forward to assist the rescue party.

It was days later when he learned who had pulled him from the rubble. Immediately after securing the God, the legendary Macid Rex had marched his weary and battered butchers though the ruins of the outer wall into the devastation of the Tailstones. While the other High Lords of the city had fled or cowered in their palaces Macid Rex and his elite had been digging through the dust and corpses with the mourners and rescue crews. No bardsong, no parade to the glory of Salt in Wounds had even resonated with Ruhollah more than that simple image. He gave up his childish fancies of glory in battle and vowed that he would join the God-Butchers to serve the people. It was this concept of duty that sustained him through the long years of labour and study. The God-Butchers had no use for fools or idlers. Months of wading through shit and piss drove away those too vain or delicate for the order to use.  

He learned the proper degree of respect for the great beast, leaned when to stand his ground and when to retreat. He buried those who were clumsy or slow to learn. He learned to rely on the other aspirants, when to follow and when to lead. The day when he received his Estoc and earned the rank of apprentice God-Butcher had been the proudest day of his life. Without wasting time on vanity ceremonies, the senior God-Butchers had sent the new initiates straight to work carving flesh for the ever-hungry city. As Macid Rex had always said, service was their duty and reward.

As ever his thoughts came back to the great captain. Within the order Macid Rex was a living legend, the Eidolon they all strove to emulate. When a sudden bout of reflux had scalded a team working in the oesophagus it was Macid Rex who had borne them to safety one by one through cuts and hidden channels even another master would struggle to walk. When the High Council tried to raise water taxes or cut funding to the rebuilding efforts, it was Macid Rex who faced them down. When an unanticipated movement of a hindleg trapped a team of fleshminers, who else could direct the weeklong campaign to reposition the limb and allow them to escape? When Namburg had sent the vipers of Sub-Optima to strike at the God, who else could lead the interception team directly from the flank to the heart? On that dreadful day when the God had shuddered and fallen still, it was Macid Rex who had stepped forward to save the city. He had reminded the terrified people who they were, given them fresh pride and purpose.

“Our enemies have struck a terrible blow at our heart. They think we are destroyed, that we are too weak and fearful to strike back at them. But we are Salt in Wounds. We are more than our God! There is plenty of meat for the taking. We shall feast on their flesh and raise their city to the ground. Shed no tears. Shed the blood of Sub-Optima!”

Every God-Butcher in the city had wanted to join the march north but they had duties remaining in the city. Ruhollah had remained behind to start work on the silent harvest. It was like entering another world. There was no sense of the reverence he once felt as the living landscape reacted to his every movement. The divine spark had fled, his purpose now was the grim task of carefully sorting the good meat from the spoiled. Managing and charting the corruption as best they could. He had vented his anger against the river demons who swarmed the city, promising the masses fish and water in exchange for slavery.

He had not been on the fields of Hellhest when his comrades tore through Sub-Optima’s emaciated dwarven slaves. While those assassins had cowered in the castle and sent wave after wave of sacrificial orc and horseman and dogfolk against the furious alchemical battalions. Where the righteous anger of Salt in Wounds had destroyed this dross Sub-Optima had revealed their true selves. Undead abominations, fire demons and river devils, eldritch flying horrors had rained down on Macid Rex and he had sent them all screaming back to their pits. In the end Sub-Optima had unleashed their final gambit – the moon demons and meteor weapons they had been testing on the empire for months. As an endless tide of horrors enveloped the battlefield and the demon moon itself cracked and fell upon the world even Macid Rex could not achieve victory. He had returned home to warn his people what was to come.

The empire was breaking apart. Meteor weapons were destroying supply routes and the fear of famine was taking root even though supplies were still plentiful. Looting and rioting was everywhere. The council and the noble houses were split between fleeing, profiteering and surrendering. Once again it fell to Macid Rex to take command. He had quelled the riots with brutal action and fresh meat. He rallied the defenders and smashed the profiteers. He let the cowards and useless eaters leave with whatever loot they could carry. He sorted and graded the prime cuts from the offal. All the while making his contingency plans. 

Ruhollah spat. They should not have expected honourable combat. The Swarm Witch had come like a disease, twisting the minds of noble men and women and turning them against their kin. Tempting the remaining houses with promises of elevation in her new empire of lies. Destroying the faithful with Dunamancy she had learned from their own treacherous mages. They had slain her avatars many times but their blades were coated only with tainted water. The only flesh that they could cleave was that of her brainwashed slaves.

Some of them remained loyal and willing to until fight the bitter end. But Macid Rex had refused to dance to the witch’s tune. He would not see his people slaughter each other until Mesmerelda could harvest the secrets of the holy city unopposed. He had rallied the few Binder-Lords who remained loyal and persuaded them to release the sacred harpoons to keep them from enemy hands. He had gathered the remaining Archmages and master alchemists for his grand purpose. And finally, he had led his remaining butchers deep into the Godcorpse to reveal the great secret…

Ruhollah opened his eyes and rose to his feet. After replacing his helmet, he took a moment to centre himself, to hear his harsh breath echoing in his ears. Hefting his Estoc he gave thanks for the labour and craftmanship of the ancestors who had torn this bone from the God and fashioned it into such an exquisite weapon. He raised the blade into a fighting stance and began to flow through the practice forms. Silent contemplation was proper for the ritual of loss, but he preferred to move when he contemplated the rites of revenge.

The mages had talked much and said little about this place Macid Rex had selected to house the precious artefacts. Dunamancy, astral, timestream. The words meant little. Only the duty mattered.

The mages would guard the portals to ensure they could not be followed. They would study the magics that Mesmerelda had used to cripple their city. The witch would learn that a sword could cut both ways.

The alchemists would study the Godbane that had ruined their civilisation. They had the notes of the archtraitor Nespib. They had samples of the damaged flesh. In time an antidote could be devised.

There were creatures in this strange place. Their flesh was weak stuff to those who had tasted the divine meat but the God-Butchers would harvest it to feed the faithful. They would protect the sacred harpoons until they were needed again. They would guard the last of the trueflesh.

Macid Rex had given them their tasks, but had declined to join them. He would not abandon his people and the holy city. He had remained behind to lead those who kept the faith. He would live and die in the sacred city he had done so much to build and serve.

Ruhollah redoubled his efforts, the Estoc becoming a blur of bone in his hands.

Already there were those who whispered Macid Rex has been more than mortal. That he had been sent by the God to show them the true path, to preserve their way of life. Ruhollah paid no heed to this idle nonsense. It diminished the memory of the man. He had been flesh and blood, driven by implacable will and an unquenchable sense of duty to his people. He was mortal and his success was the greater because of it.

Then there were those who whispered that Macid Rex had been driven mad at the end. Ruhollah glared at the bloodstained rags he had used to clean his Estoc. They would not say such things again. Macid Rex had never sought or given false hope. If he said he had heard signs of life within the egg, then it was so.

Panting hard Ruhollah came to a halt and shouldered his weapon. Their path was clear. They would harvest and study and guard. Someday the sacred harpoons would be sink once again in the blood-soaked soil of his homeland. To the sound of divine fury he would draw his Estoc and cut the flesh of the young God with the bones of the old. They would tend and harvest the flesh to feed his people. He would walk the crimson pathways that few were ever privileged to see and hear the heartbeat of the divine.

They were flesh and blood. They were Salt in Wounds. They would have their revenge. 

Mesmerelda 38

There’s no fanfare as she enters the room, the royal horns having being disbanded and sent to teach music in the rural schoolhouses. Indeed, many vestiges of the grandeur of the Red Room have been stripped away as devout iconoclasts continue to measure, weigh and value the remaining statues. One gets the impression that ornaments or jewellery would would look out of place on her- she has more than enough gravitas in her posture, the confidence of her speech and her searching, inquisitive eyes. She is undeniably impressive, even more so when one considers her years. After interviewing emperors, actors and executioners, I am accustomed to feeling uncomfortable, with her it’s a different sensation- sitting across from this young gnome, I sense a barely contained and lethal power- as if standing on the bank of a mighty river during a storm.

CV: Ms. Phantagone, How should I address you now?

M: However you like, You can call me Mes, Lady Phantagone, Attorney General, Supreme Ruler, Goddess, God-killer. Whatever you like kid.

CV: Lady M?

M: It Doesn’t matter to me. Don’t worry kid, I’m not going to get angry over what you call me.

 CV: Okay, well thank you so much for taking this interview.

M: Well I’m not the original Mes…

CV: Of course, I mean I appreciate any of you speaking to me, it’s rare.

M: She doesn’t like to advertise.

CV: I understand, but she must be aware that there are so many citizens who want to know about her? As a new queen, sorry, leader, so little is known about you, er, her. 

M: We are aware of the reservations the citizens of Kossos have and I have been sent  to answer questions. We are really committed to being a transparent and accountable leader.

CV: Ok, well it’s been just under a year since the slaughter, the battle of Hellhest and the Moonfall. Since then, we’ve had a change of government, a lot of rebuilding and new education programs but also a lot of tribunals and trials. How do you feel you’ve dealt with your new role as leader?

M: Look, I will say, first of all, I didn’t want the job. I asked Ernodal to do it, but he had his own thing going on. So I took the job reluctantly and yes, there were definite teething problems. I was on my own back then, before the simulacrums and clones and unseen servants. You have to remember, I hadn’t even finished wizard school. I hadn’t travelled much, I was carrying alot of anger around my father’s death. So I was overly-defensive, I admit that. There was a lot of opposition to my taking over. I suppose I could have been a bit more lenient, maybe a few banishments instead of defenestrations, but I find that if you leave a problem fester, it turns into a cancer. Sometimes the harshest punishments are best. But, you know, with our re-education programs in full swing now, we’re starting to see a major decrease in insurgent behaviour. The people of Kossos are getting on board with our message: ‘One for all, all for Vaul’. 

CV: Do you think your administration has done enough to help the people transition from theocracy to em, social democracy?

M: There’s always more we can do. What happened in the slaughter was deeply traumatic for the people. Many died, many more lost their livelihoods and people are still suffering the effects. To ask them on top of that to accept a new way of organising society is a lot. But the fact of the matter is that the entire ruling class of Kossos was killed either in the slaughter, the battle of hellhest or the weeks after. The people wanted a new stability. With our water programs, back to work schemes and Flesh to Bread initiative, thousands of kossovians are beginning to feel the benefits of a society that treats all of its citizens equally.

CV: Let’s talk more about those first few weeks. I’m sure you’re aware that there are a small number of people who still believe that it was in fact Sub Optima who killed the Behemoth and started the chain reaction of deaths. 

M: *Laughs* Look, you’re going to have conspiracy theorists with any situation like this. An independent inquiry found beyond any doubt that the beast was killed by the onion wizard, acting on behalf of…

CV: I know, but Sub Optima were there, in Kossos…

M: Don’t interrupt me when I’m speaking.

CV: I apologise Lady M.

M: I’m getting tired of explaining this. Sub Optima were in Kossos on a diplomatic mission, trying to finalise a deal to share our water supplies when the Behemoth was attacked. We attempted to save the beast but we were too late. The trauma of the slaughter left many kossovians disoriented and confused. We spent a lot of time over the past few months healing as many as we could, but there are still a small few who insist on an alternate reality. I feel sorry for them. We’re doing everything we can to reach out to them.

CV: What is your biggest regret?

M: I try not to have regrets. With dunamancy, there’s little need for them. If I had to pick one, I’d say it was giving Mario the benefit of the doubt so many times. He nearly destroyed us all.

CV: You’re known for being everywhere now, there’s a Mes in every neighbourhood. How many simulacrums have you made?

M: State secret. *laughs* Let’s just say, I’m number 38 and there’s plenty more after me. Cracking multiple simulacrums was one of our proudest achievements. It’s taxing on the mind but the timesaving and increase in production is outstanding. If I had to point to one thing that has aided the rebuilding effort more than anything else, it’s the multiplicity. And the determination of ordinary Kossovians of course.

CV: And the original? Mesmerelda Prime? Where is she?

M: You sound more like a spy than a journalist, Casey. She’s on leave, I believe on one of the islands off the coast. I think if anyone deserves a break, she does. I can’t say more than that without a risk to her security. 

CV: Do you suspect a threat against her?

M: It just pays to be vigilant, don’t you agree? Kossos still has plenty of enemies, but rest assured, we’re tracking down and eliminating threats at a much improved rate.

CV: Well thank you for your time, can I finish up by asking what does the future hold for Mesmerelda Phantagone?

M: A really pertinent question. The future is an area of research we are very interested in. In fact, we are learning that how we perceive time may be slightly more complicated than we thought. There are many ways to get from A to B, speaking arcanely, if we can decipher the codes of the future, the possibilities are very exciting. We’re pursuing a number of lines of research. Hopefully we’ll be able to move assets out of counter-insurgency and Justice into research as the need for policing lessens. 

CV: And any men on the horizon? Will there be a royal wedding any time soon?

M: Would you ask a male politician that question?

CV: I mean, eh, I just mean, it’s something our readers are interested in I’m sure.

M: I think that’s our time.

CV: Of Course, thank you for being so generous with your time.

M: It’s no problem. You spend six months in a pocket universe crossbreeding modify memory with mass suggestion and then you find out that one interview in the paper has the exact same effect. 

CV: *laughs* There’s no such thing as bad press. Our readers will be heartened to know that our new leader is so capable and innovative.

M: Yes. They will.

As an aide whispers in her ear, her eyes narrow and she rises, nods briefly and strides out of the room. I am tempted to snoop around the Red Room, a room of such historic significance but I get the feeling that now it is just the same as any room in the city. As I walk down the palace steps, I feel only slightly more enlightened than I did before but at the same time, I do feel charmed. One for all, all for Vaul.

CASEY VARGOLIS- The Kossovian Tribune Sep 16 2251

Ernodal – aftermath

“I really don’t think you appreciate how fucking pissed I am Ernie.”

The booming voice shook the leaves on the blueberry bushes. Insects twitched and dropped dead at the infernal sound. Ernodal gave one of the remaining berries an experimental squeeze and sighed. Rising to his feet he carefully wiped the juice from his fingers before replying.

“I thought you’d be happy. When Mario destroyed him he should have been blasted straight back to the Abyss to face the music.”

“So where the fuck is he? Why am I not strumming a jaunty tune on his intestines to accompany this conversation?”

“Because Mario unmade him.”

“NO. I would know if he were dead.”

“But he didn’t die. We were both there when the Navigator killed the Usurper. You saw him die, watched him dissolve into ash and fade into nothingness. This was different. Mario erased the Navigator. He reached into him – into us – and unpicked him. Like he was never there.”

“Hmph. You survived.”

“I did what you taught me. I found a chump to stand in front and take the hits.”

The air was still for a moment. Then the earth began to buckle and crack to the sound of titanic laughter.

“Oh, that’s a good one. I like that… Just like old times eh Ernie?

Seriously thought, are you sure about this? He was wily.”

“It didn’t do him any good. All his escape routes and paths fell away in the end. He was out of options and he knew it.”

“Very well. In this matter I will defer to your specialist knowledge of that sneaky fuck and whatever that nutjob Mario did. I hope it hurt.

So that leaves me and you. I note that my favourite warlock is drawing power directly from my throne these days. Or at least he would be if he wasn’t baking muffins on a camping trip.”

Ernodal looked around the remains of his old village. Nature was already reclaiming the elegant dwellings but it would be a long time before anything grew on the scorched earth. He had thought of placing a memorial of some kind but standing here it didn’t seem necessary. Whatever was left of his campfire would mark the place for a short while until nature took it back.

“I was passing by. It seemed a shame to leave all the berries for the birds”.

“So you just go back to the food industry? Couldn’t you, I don’t know, build a temple to me or something?”

“I think that’s Clerics.”

“There’s a lot of up and coming warlocks these days smartass! I’m getting a lot of attention from Salt in Wounds. And Namburg too. There’s a big gap in the worship market.”

“You’re welcome. A fella on a street corner was shouting about you last week. How the terrible Demogorgan destroyed the victory moon and slew Kossus. 

“That’s what I’m talking about! What did you say? Did you big me up?”

“I bought him a meal. He was hungry.”

“My will be done I guess”.


Jhakri Hiranjan braced himself at the entrance to his cave. The tremble in his hands was not caused by the biting wind that stirred the last of the fresh snow. His quivering fingers caressed the bright prayer flags around the cavemouth and he felt his courage return. The moment he had been steeling himself for was had come and he was going to do his duty. As it drew near he closed his eyes and stepped out into the path, bellowing in the secret tongue:

“Avaunt, demon!”

He was not expecting a reply in the language of the flatland traders.

“Who, me?”

The Jhakri opened his eyes. A thin figure stepped out of the air before him.

“Demon I abjure and command you to begone! This is a holy place!”

“I think there’s been a mistake. I’m a cartographer. I draw maps.”

Hiranjan paused. The apparition was offering him a map. This wasn’t in the holy texts. Although… Recoiling he blessed himself and drew himself up to his full height.

“Foolish fiend! Do you think me so gullible? Try as you might your sort can never pass for flesh and blood! You stand in fresh snow wearing the lightest robes without shivering. You appear from thin air. I address you in the language of demons and you hear my words clearly. And finally, that “map” you claim to draw is naught but a crude sketch of triangles! Begone from my sight!

To his amazement and delight the spirit began to drift away back down the mountainside. Inside his cave the prayer bells began to slow their frenzied dance as the demonic power which had disturbed them receded.

The enemy was crafty indeed. But at the last minute he had recalled the blessed Jhakri Aanga who had rejected a cloak of snow and branches from a similar traveler. The demonic mind was crafty but could not create art as men did. The could only make crude imitations.

In an uncharacteristic bad mood Ernodal took extra time adding “crazy man cave” to his map. Squinting at the peak overhead he carefully added another triangle of the right size.

Euan was right. The art was hard and everyone was a critic. 


Ali Goran glared at the other three members of the Ventral regions research society.

“All right, who was it this time?”

Melcul let out a loud snort. Ali tried to catch his eye but obese orc stared down at the table and his pint of Red Setter, clearly struggling to keep a straight face.

“What do mean Ali?”

That was from Roan. He switched his attention to the halfling but the little shit was cool as a breeze. No wonder he always won when they rounded out the evening with a game of cards.

“Have you perhaps received some fresh correspond… corres… Oh twins I can’t….”

Wilhelmina’s voice cracked as she tried to keep her tone level. The witch’s giggles set Melcul off completely. The rest of the bar turned to stare as the booming laugh of the enormous orc drowned out all other conversation. Wilhelmina nearly fell off her chair. Roan drained his wineglass and watched his friends a twinkle in his eye.  Ali reddened.

“I should never have told any of you irresponsible amateurs anything. I can’t think what possessed me to…”

That set them off again.

It had seemed like such a good idea at the time. As the days stretched into weeks and Ernodal failed to return Ali had been forced to conclude that the unfortunate young man was dead. Wracked with guilt, Ali resolved to continue his research in memory of the poor fellow. So he had decided to swallow his pride and reach out to others in his profession, seeking to pool their knowledge and ensure such a tragedy never reoccurred. He had hoped for insight, sympathy, maybe a little admiration. He hadn’t counted on disbelief and scorn.

In hindsight it was a little hard to believe. Ernodal shouldn’t have been able to last a day without dissolving into a puddle of spoiled meat. Centuries of research had shown that a greater fiend couldn’t be housed in a mortal body without uncontrollable and fatal mutations. His new study partners had made numerous well cited objections and concluded that Ali had been mistaken or deceived.

Which was why he was so happy to receive the letter from Ernodal. His relief had turned to horror when he read that Ernodal had sprouted wings and a tail. The horror had turned to mortification when he reached the end of the letter and read the overwrought pleas for Ali to recommend a new tailor.

Oh, they’d roared with laughter that evening. Since then he had been getting a fake letter weekly before they met in the pub.

Ernodal had grown two extra heads and needed a loan of his spare turbans. (Derivative!)

Ernodal had eaten too much and now he and his friends were haunted by a demonic pile of faeces (Infantile!)

Ernodal and his friends had been granted a Barony and he was welcome to visit (Unlikely!)

And now this week, two letters!

“You need to coordinate your pranks better. I have received two pieces of drivel at once.

In the first, Ernodal reassures me that he is doing well and has made peace with his demons! This is neither funny nor clever, and it brings dishonour to the author.

In the second…”

Ali paused for a moment, unable to keep a straight face.

“Okay, this one is actually pretty good. Ernodal writes that his demon was really three imps in a trenchcoat”.


The Pramukha stared at the corpse for a long time. When he spoke his voice was calm and flat but it carried easily over the assembled crowd.

“Tell us again how it happened.”

The young woman kneeling in the snow to his right clasped her hands together. She kept her eyes fixed on the clear sky and spoke slowly as if each word was precious.

“The flock were uneasy all day. A great storm was brewing over the peaks to the east. When we had gathered half in together the rest grew wild and refused to come closer. I cursed them, but they were trying to warn us.

It had been burrowing underneath the village. It surfaced between the sheep pens, a pillar of ice, scale and teeth. It was so quick! Nothing that size should be so terribly fast.
It took the herd in the pens first. That bought us a few seconds. I screamed for the others to scatter that it might not take us all. But the children ran towards me…”

She broke her gaze from the sky and scooped closest child into her arms, partly to hold him and partly to block his ears.

“The tales don’t do it justice. To see it coming towards you, an avalanche of teeth and malice… truly the ice worm comes to feed on flesh and soul alike. The shadow fell across us. I felt the fiery breath, reeking of fresh blood from the sheep. But it was hurled away from us! See the tracks it tore in the ground!

A figure hung in the sky. In form it was like a person, but it shone like the noonday sun. A dancing aura wreathed his head and light flowed from his outstretched hands.

We have all seen the paintings of enlightened souls. I knew what he was.

The ice worm was maddened by blood. It surged towards us again but light stream forth from the ascended one. With a gesture he threw the monster back like it was made of paper.

When the ice worm was still the figure descended to the earth. We fell to our knees but he bade us to stand. He blessed the children, conjured music from the air to make them laugh. We did not have the learning to understand his speech. The only word we could share were the name of the Irlandi monks. He made the sign of the monastery grew delighted when we prayed towards it.

We bade him to stay but he seemed to have a great and urgent business with those holy ones. He ascended once again on a pillar of wind and we lost sight of him as he flew over the ridges. We sent word to the nearby villages that all may hear and see the proof before you.”

Several villagers sank to their knees and gave thanks to the Irlandi and the sky spirits. The Pramukha remained standing. He was still trying to calculate the vast fortune they could harvest from the body of fully grown Remorhaz.

Untroubled by religious fervour or dreams of wealth the children finished their blueberry muffins.


The room was tiny, barely wide enough for the narrow bunk. A small slab of chipped granite was balanced on a battered crate to serve as a desk. With the floor taken up by the meagre furniture all the books, scrolls and scraps of occult paraphernalia had to be crammed into gaps between the rough stones or suspended from a network of strings and ropes. Silver bells, feathered frames and half-filled jars swayed gently in the breeze that streamed through the open door. Small trinkets from across Vaul and far beyond hung on delicate threads – nothing larger than would fit comfortably in a pocket. Swords and knives of various sizes were hung around the walls in well-oiled scabbards. There was no bare steel on display, no sign that these were there for a visitor to admire or the resident of the room to reminisce over. These were the working tools of someone who made a point of always having several weapons to hand.

The grey-haired woman at the crude desk was making notes on a battered map. Ink stains on her sleeves suggested that this was a common position, but she was dressed as if she was about to set out on a hike down the icy mountains. A battered rucksack at the foot of the bunk. Perhaps she was used to leaving with little notice.

A whisper from the darkness above caused her quill to stop scratching. One hand darted reflexively to the nearest hilt while she scanned the room. Her eyes fixed on a blue glass jar containing a cricket from the plains half a continent to the east. She frowned as the cricket twitched again. To her left the silver bells began to stir. The dreamcatcher spun in a breeze that left the other papers untouched. A jar of otherwise unremarkable sand started to glow yellow.

Without a sound the woman rose, flowed into a fighting stance. With a slight smile she slipped out of the room, prowling down the corridor to see what had triggered her alarms. A familiar figure silhouetted against an open door made her pause. Her voice was a hoarse whisper from lack of use.


The figure spun around, startled. As he turned she saw she was mistaken. He was slightly broader than Fionnleth, the hair was darker… and his expression was that of a frightened child.


“H… hi Mam”.

Dropping her swords she raced towards him, nearly knocking him off his feet as her arms crushed around him. Gods, he was taller than her now. How long had it been since she saw either of them? As the years had slipped by she’d forced herself to stop counting. It just made the pain worse. When she felt she could speak again she drew back slightly to look at his face. So much like his father.

“If you are here alone then Fionnleth is…”

He nodded and pressed his forehead against hers, tears streaming from his eyes.

“Dad is gone. But it’s over Mam. Tarnik and the Navigator, Etricht and Mario and the moons… It’s all over”.

“Etricht? MOONS? What…?”

Ernodal just stared at her for a moment, trying to decide where to begin. Then his nervous smile widened into a tearstained grin.

“Well, I made some great friends…”


Dreamseer Aumpata tossed another handful of Charroot onto the fire. The bitter smoke from the herb mingled with the earthy notes of the dried horse and centaur dung, swirling smoke filling her darkened tent. Closing her eyes she focused on her breathing, ignoring the aches that plagued her old joints and the usual din of the Khan’s encampment outside. As the smoke filled her lungs she began to drift into the seeing trance.

The great powers were in disorder. Namthar had died in fire, Kossus in a final bout of bloodletting. Scenes of disbelief and mourning filled her mind as the followers of the two struggled with their loss. Aumpata was unmoved by their narrow-minded wailing.  She would pay her respects to the fallen powers and remember them in her songs, but there were many powers to pay homage to. Some rose, some fell. It was the way of things.

Other images filled her mind. A bloodknight called for vengeance for the great loss of his people. Grolantour gloried in the series of wars that swept the land. The goblin ancestors cried out as their people faded, disappeared forever, grew reinvigorated and stronger than ever. He stonefolk died in their thousands and their tombkeeper waxed powerful with their death song. Or did he die with them? Visions were treacherous.

She knew these contradictions meant she was straying far into undecided futures, indulging in idle fancies. Dangerous to linger too long in this part of the dreamland.

She drew her gaze backwards towards what she knew be true. Namthar and Kossus, dead in fire and blood. Fire and blood, fire in the blood. Spiderweb, branching path, family line. A warrior proudly embraced her son, grown to manhood. A constellation of nineteen iron stars orbiting a crimson moon. One by one they tumbled from the sky. The falling stars raced over the camp of the Khan, one of them shifting to become a great winged figure armed with spear and whip. He chanted as he fell to earth amidst the tents. “Khorin.” Twenty in the old tongue.

Opening her eyes the dreamseer nodded in satisfaction. Good omens for the future of the Khanate at an auspicious time. It had been many months since the great hunt. Soon the offspring of the celebrating heroes would be born.