In volume 2, I decided to run a hybrid play-by-post and online game. The following begins the adventures of a squad of Cymru wardens. It takes place four months after the events of FoLW 1.24, but only includes Dinty and Edwina from volume one.
The 15th day of the month of Equos, 22 years after the opening of the Caers: in the city of Cymru, on the continent of Tirane, on the world of Eifer.
|Horror from the Pit|
In the months following the opening of the Horror-Portal to the south, the people of the city of Cymru had been on edge. Many of the holy warriors and priests of Grumbar as well as Desna went to fight back the incursion. The Cymru Counsel hired troops to accompany them, and later shipped all prisoners out to workgangs supporting the warzone and the other hinterlands.
Finally, winter came to an end, though barely. In the months that followed the opening of the Portal, the weather had worsened. Though never a bitter cold climate, the winter of the Year 21 and 22 after the Opening of the Caers experienced brutal snows and ocean storms.
After the dissolution of the North Cymru Irregulars, the members went their separate ways. Malpais Rana woke from a fever dream and headed south to his people. Grind and Piper traveled east in search of a hidden Fae city. Louis went to bed one night and was not seen the next. Nota’Cor, Rolli, Dinty, Edwina, and Al took the clockwork automaton, Zanpip, back to Professor Andalus before going their own ways. Nota’Cor was determined to hunt the wizard Rista. Rolli vanished as quickly as he had come. Dinty returned to the service of the Temple of Desna - with some chastisement and penance from the Priestess. Edwina returned to the streets, stealing what she could to buy medicine for her sister. While Al, disappeared without word.
As the winter progressed, the Cymru Counsel formed the Cymru Wardens in an attempt to patrol and defend the villages and towns loyal to the city. Since the noblin patrols had also gone south to fight the Horrors, the Wardens were also tasked to keep the roads open.
Recently, the goblin Dinty, with permission from the Temple of Desna, joined the Cymru Wardens. Soon after he found the human, Edwina, jailed for theft and sentenced to serve on a work gang at the Horror-Portal. Dinty convinced the Cymru City Guard to reassign her to the Wardens. For the next week, Dinty and Edwina split a bunk bed in the North Gate barracks along with other Warden recruits. The ten or so other recruits kept to themselves.
Finally the time came for the new Wardens to leave Cymru. One afternoon during a particularly nasty rainstorm, one of the ranking members of the newly formed Cymru Wardens, entered the barracks, informed them that the next day they all marched north, and they would be divided into teams of five under a Warden Commander.
Just before evening mess, the recruits marched to the center of the barracks yard and stood still, while three wardens (a pair of dwarves, and a human) approached. The two dwarves took turns calling names until they had five recruits and then led them away to eat.
The human stood before them looking wet and tired. He wore a visible symbol of the goddess Desna around his neck. “I will spare you any embarrassment and not give a speech about how great you are.” He eyed them.
Dinty (a fine goblin of noble bearing with a prominent nose and devastatingly beady eyes that often looks confused) he knew from the Temple. The human girl, he knew Dinty had recruited from jail. Otso, the samsaran - a healer on loan from the temple of Morrit - stared off into space blinking and muttering. Rounding out the group, was the enormous shmkia, Goreal, with its big bearlike head with small black eyes and wild coarse brown hair, snorted tiredly and stared at Dinty; the goblin simply nodded to the warden.
Scratching his butt, Dinty hocked a loogie and elbowed Edwina. He was sure she wasn’t paying attention. Edwina jumped with a start, blinked, and looked around quickly realizing she’d been staring again. Dinty looked around at everything, except the behemoth bear staring at him.
The human cleared his throat. “For those of you who do not know me, I am Hal Saldana, Paladin of the goddess Desna, blah, blah.” He spit. “Don’t think the paladin bit means I’m nice or only drink milk. I was a soldier before Desna called me. And in this business, I’m a soldier still.” He stared up at Goreal. “You have joined the Cymru Wardens.” He eyed each member of the group. “Your job will be the thankless task of defending the frontier and trying not to die.” Spitting again, Hal walked back to his place in front. “Therefore, you will need to learn to rely on your team members. Or your ass will be a rotting corpse.”
“Dinty, you have been promoted the rank of Corporal in the Wardens for your experience, my familiarity with your skills, and your unfortunate membership in the North Cymru Irregulars.” The human glanced down at the goblin. “This isn’t the army. You role will be support and logistics. You will make sure this motley bunch pulls together.” He pointed his thumb at the shmkia, “Sometimes, that just means pointing them in the right direction and hoping.”
“We will be recruiting more for our station as we travel, but until then this is your team.” He saluted. “Desna have pity on you all. Dismissed until first light when we march out.”
Dismissed, the new recruits shuffled off to mess before settling in to pack their gear and get ready for their journey.
Otso, the samsaran, watched the his squad mates depart with a cool detachment before slipping back to the barracks. He spread his last orchid flower petals on the floor and lit a stick of incense, then kneeling before his bunk, he prayed to Morrit the Piper, Lord of the Dead to protect them on their journey or else return them to the Wheel for rebirth without the taint of undeath.
He quietly focused on his breathing, trying to call up a memory of his before-lives, but his mind remained blank. Smoothing his tunic with his thin blue hands, Otso smashed out the incense and gathered the flowers.
Opening the windows to the barracks, he let the flowers drift off in the spring winds. “Well, time to eat.”
The 16th day of the month of Equos, 22 years after the opening of the Caers: in the northwestern section of the city of Cymru
The next morning, up before dawn, Hal Saldana’s squad of Warden’s stood by the last wagon of the caravan. A few minutes earlier, the paladin had led them here and told them that the Wardens had assigned this squad guard the rear of the caravan. “It’s because I’m human,” he spoke bluntly. “They’d prefer my squad in the back. Less reliable, the Colonel said.” He spat. “I will be guarding the center wagons with the other paladins.”
He examined the squad. “Dinty, I leave you in charge. That means making sure everyone stays together, and if we are attacked try to keep everyone alive.” He pointed at the shmkia. “Goreal, you are too big for the wagon, so you will have to walk. The rest of you can walk or ride.” He nodded and looked at the sun, “Let’s hope the gods don’t decide to have fun with us today.”
Dinty saluted Saldana and then turned back to his squad. “Right, you lot heard the man and by Holy Desna we’ll watch the rear like no other! Watch your backs, watch your squadies backs and above all else be wary of any four legged creatures we might encounter. They're all in on it!” Otso frowned at the comments on four legged creatures. “ Edwina you're with me. Goreal you stay 10 paces back as a rear rear guard and the samsaran can ride the wagon.” Dinty skill Teamster at 10. Roll 3d6. Result 6. Dinty skill Tactics at 10. Roll 10
The samsaran climbed into the back of the wagon and stowed his pack and staff. “I am called Otso.” It was soon obvious to him that Dinty had worked caravans before as he expertly organized the wagon and the draft horses then positioned his team for defense.
Goreal, wanting to add to the conversation, mumble his replies. Being ten paces back, he realizes he’d have to raise his voice loudly for anyone to hear. “That’ Dinty’s a little bossy,” he said, “but he seems to know what he’s doing.”
The samsaran sat among the bags of food and other supplies. He watched the sky brighten as they traveled beyond the western gate. “The gulls have not arrived yet from the north,” he told Dinty. “I can not recall a time in all my lives, when the gulls had not already come to Cymru this month of the year.” Otso shook his head and watched the shmkia trying to listen and stay back. “This summer will be unlike any other. Cold and wetter in Cymru. Who knows what it will be like in the village where we will be stationed.” Otso, Racial Memories - IQ 13, roll 11. Skill Naturalist 13, roll 13
“I don’t know what birds have to do with anything,” Dinty replied surprised. “I don’t think they're in on it.” He waved his hand toward Otso. “I try not to think about things I don’t understand. Gawds, don’t give me a headhurt or you’ll get first watch at camp tonight.”
As if summoned, a shadow darkens the wagon as a winged creature flew overhead, silhouetted against the sun for just a moment. There was a whoosh, almost silent, as the creature’s wings beat against the sky, and then plummeted soundlessly toward the earth, it’s shadow widened on one of the goats being herded behind the wagon. As the creature rapidly draws closer, it shrieked a cry that is equal parts raptor and man.
As the creature fell, it came into clearer view. Roughly the shape of a man, but with huge feathered wings that opened to slow its descent, it spun at the last minute. Bringing its feet down toward the ground, huge black talons sprouted from clawed feet adorned with golden feathers. Brawling at 13 - Roll 9
The goat slammed against the ground, and the talons dug into its flesh, sending rivulets of blood streaming down the animal’s sides. It bleated, answering the beast’s shriek with a cry that was likewise almost human. The predator landed with a crouch atop its prey, then stood to its full height, easily a head taller than an average human. A pair of huge yellow eyes took in the surroundings before its wings beat the air again; it rose.
Dinty and Goreal both have Combat Reflexes and made their Perception rolls against the surprise. Otso also reacted. Everyone else was surprised this round.
Dinty shot a withering glare at Otso. “You brought this on us.” He pulled his crossbow and aimed it at the interloping avian terror. Calmly taking stock he said, “We’ll gladly exchange food for services. Far be it for me to prevent the death of a four leg, but you should know that if you steal our food not only do you break the law of Cymru. You also open yourself up to being its replacement in our stockpile. Licking his lips he looks pointedly at Goreal who is behind the raptor. What do you have to say fer yerself?”
Goreal moved menacingly towards the birdman, responding to Dinty's glance. He prepared to strike or grapple and keep the thief from flying away.
The creature had startled the horses drawing the wagon, and the driver struggled to keep them in check. Otso scrambled toward him to lend a hand.
The Garuda eyed Dinty and his crossbow, then his talons reflexively tightened around the goat. However, his wings began to patter a little faster, and he slowly descended toward the ground. The goat, still alive, bleated in pain. Something like confusion came over the creature’s avian face, but it made no move toward the long pole-arm strapped to its back, nor toward the roped harpoon looped around its belt. Finally, the bird-man spoke in a strangely accented Dwarvish.
“You would feed Nikala? You would bring a great dishonor to you and your family,” the Garuda said, folding his wings across his back completely.
Goreal watched for Dinty's command and wondered: "Why would the bird-man would kill the goat, if eating it will cause others dishonor?"
Dinty said. “I don't know nor care about all that honor and foolishness. I know that we could use a good pair of eyes to help us watch for danger and another sword arm never hurt the cause neither. If it makes you feel better we could let the bastard loose before you stole it.”
Nikala looked around, eyeing those who’ve stopped in their tracks at his intrusion. “This one is Nikala. This one will take your food and give you eyes. Yes. You have no honor, but neither has Nikala.”
The wagon driver driver with Otso’s aid steadied the horses. Edwina, standing beside Dinty stared surprised at Nikala until finally she realized she had been staring.
|Paladin Hal Saldana|
From in front of the wagons, came yelling as the dwarf Warden Commander Angus Gravefury and paladin Hal Saldana approached the scene with guards in tow. “Is this the thief that’s been raiding livestock? Where are the nets?” Hal Saldana raised his hand. “A moment, Angus.”
Approaching the group, he paused. Saldana stood over six feet tall. Dressed simply in a common clothing and chainmail, only his symbol of Desna marked him as more than a mere soldier. “Dinty, what is going on here?” Eyeing the Garuda, “Any reason you flew into an armed caravan and killed a goat?”
Dinty mocked. “This one is Nikala. This is our new scout, he's taken my offer of food in return for keeping us aware of what might be creeping up on us. It's up to yerselves of course but I think we could use some eyes in the sky. Plus he looks like he could fell a horse in one blow!
Nikala eyed Saldana, regarding him with caution. “Nikala has no honor. Nikala must hunt. The brood no longer has need of us or our bloodlines.” Then, turning to Dinty, he says “Nikala does not like horse. Too much is wasted. Too many eyes to Nikala, make it hard to hunt.”
Dinty slapped his leg. “Do ya hear that cap’n he don't like horses neither! We definitely need him now.”
Hal stood for a moment then looked behind at the angry dwarf, Angus. “Dinty, the godsdamn dwarves would as soon hang him as recruit him.” Hal watched the garuda thoughtfully. Loudly he called, “And you Nikala, you admit to stealing livestock?”
The paladin looked from the dwarves to Dinty. What a day, he thought. “Ok. Nikala. Do you accept the offer of pardon I, by way off the impertinent yet ever resourceful goblin Dinty, offer you?” He stopped and started at the garuda. “Swearing, on whatever gods or honor you believe, your loyalty to the Cymru Wardens, to fight in defense of the people of the villages, the roads, the towns, etc, and also to stop killing their damn animals?” Hal spat.
Nikala turns his eyes to the goat beneath him. It has bled out while the conversation continued. “I cannot bring this one back.” He catches himself. “No stealing. Only hunting. Only thought hunting was especially good around the stone ground nest. Sometimes, hunting is best close to the nest.”
Otso, the samsaran, walked closer. “I’m afraid it is correct, Commander. The goat is dead.” Nearby, Edwina suppressed a snicker.
One of the dwarf commanders stepped forward. “I dunno like this one bit,” he said, his voice thick with the accent of the eastern Caers. “You want a bird to swear?” Angus laughed. “”Why not you’ve already got a bear?" And pointed to Goreal who looked up at the mention of his name and gave a big toothy grin.
“Yes, Nikala will swear. Nikala has no honor but does not wish to be dishonorable.” The Garuda straightened, appearing strangely excited, youthful. “Nikala will bring you eyes. And bring you his blade. Nikala will bring you the sky for your kindnesses.”
Hal nodded. “Welcome to the Cymru Wardens, Nikala.” He took his butterfly pendant and said a brief prayer. “With us you will defend the roads, the villages, the towns, the people.” He thought for a moment. “And the livestock, from bandits, soldiers, monsters from beyond, and your run-of-the-mill goat-eater.” He turned to Dinty. “Show this one the ropes. Best case we get it to the frontier where we can get him fully settled.” He turned to the caravan. “We’d best be on our way.”
Dinty laughed. “Right you are cap’n! All right you lot, back to it! Don't act like you've never seen a samsaran summon a birdman afore!"
Goreal interjected quietly “I have not”.
Dity waved the bear off. "And you Nikala, time to start earning your keep.”
That night the caravan stopped at a waystation. Camp was made. Food was eaten. Watches set.
Being used to a soldier's life, Dinty does what he always does. He says his prayers, sharpens his weapons and keeps a close eye from a sensible distance on the caravan horses. He makes his rounds and makes sure the others are doing their jobs. When he gets a chance he will extol upon Nikala the evils of horses and revel in Nikala’s “shared hatred” which he assumed was Nikala’s meaning when he said he "didn't like horses.”
The 17th day of the month of Equos, 22 years after the opening of the Caers: on the road west of Cymru
The next morning they packed and moved on to the village of Hygom. Everyone seemed in better spirits after a night's rest and a full belly. As the caravan took to the road, the samsaran took his staff and set pace with the shmkia. Despite camping in an old tent beside a dusty waystation, Otso’s clothes looked neat and his white beard groomed. He carried a hunk of dried beef, which he cut in half, the offered part to Goreal. “Good morning to you, shmkia. We haven’t had much chance to talk. I am Otso.”
Goreal took the dried beef, which looked small in his giant hand, and ate it in one bite. He grinned at Otso, “It is a good morning; Atgur blesses us with his presence!” Goreal looked to the skies while shading his eyes.
Otso laughed as he picked out the shmkia’s words over the chewing. “Atgur? Our sun in the Old Tongue.” He smiled calmly. “Do your people revere Atgur?” he asked.
“Atgur protects all, Atgur will be there for us whether we show reverence or not.” Goreal says with a smile and a nod.
Otso watched the large bear-like creature thoughtfully and debating for a short moment patting its arm in understanding. “The gods are like that. And yet, what does Atgur ask of you? For myself, Morrit the Piper asks us to contemplate the Wheel and the return we will surely face.” Glancing at the early morning sun, he continued. “Many of his followers hunt the undead and the necromancer as Wheel-breakers, but the Lord of the Dead has many faces.” Otso paused.
Goreal said. “Atgur asks for nothing. We follow Atgur’s example, to show our gratitude for the protection Atgur provides our world.”
“I see. You revere Atgur, yet he demands nothing of you.” Otso laughed. “Perhaps, I should have followed Atgur instead. Morrit can be exacting.” The samsaran watched the cypresses sway in the cool spring air. “What does Atgur tells us about the chill this year?”
Goreal looked a little confused, “Atgur is not a god of words, Atgur is a god of action. Atgur fights the cold and dark, no matter how long it may take, victory will come. Does Morrit share the secrets of the gods with his followers?” Goreal eyes grew wider at the prospect of this.
Otso considered the question. “He does through his teachings, his priests, dreams and visions to his followers. As Atgur warms the earth and dispels the night, Morrit teaches us about the Wheel and our place in it.” He stopped and drew a circle with spokes in the dirt with his staff. “We are born, we live, we die, we travel to the place beyond and await rebirth. Morrit protects our travel after death and struggles against the curse of undeath.” Otso continued walking. “We priests of Morrit lay the dead to rest. Other times we heal the sick and injured. Sometimes we return some to the Wheel when it is clear they are too quickly embracing Chaos.” He sped up a bit to catch the wagon and keep up with Goreal’s long strides.
Goreal spent the rest of their conversation pondering if slowly embracing Chaos was somehow better. He worried that asking about this might look stupid.
When they stopped at midday to rest, the paladin Hal Saldana returned to the rear wagon to check on his troops. Nodding to Edwina, who sat idly on the edge of the wagon eating a pear, he went looking for the garuda. The girl watched him go, licking her fingers of pear juice. She glanced at the olive trees nearby.
Beneath them sat the Garuda, kneeling on the grass and dirt, his wingtips dragging patterns in the dust. As Edwina watched, the Garuda looked to the sky, reaching out with another hand to pick something off the ground. As Nikala lifted it, Edwina realized it was a rabbit, likely something the Garuda had drummed up on the hunt he’d presumably left on at the crack of dawn, returning before most of the camp, save for the last watch, had awoken.
The Garuda never took his eyes off the sky, but held the rabbit above his head. The blood had long since dried to clots in the rabbit’s fur, like Nikala had saved the animal for this occasion. Looking back down, there was a rending sound, and Nikala stood again. He was, she realized, tearing the creature apart with his hands and beak, but he consumed none of it’s flesh. Instead, he scattered the animal around, tearing it apart joint by joint.
From a nearby olive tree, a raven squawked, then glided to where Nikala was finishing this grisly task. The raven began to hop around the ground, picking at choice morsels here and there, seemingly inattentive to the other birds that began to launch themselves out of the trees to partake of this feast as well. There was a cacophony erupting in the olive grove as ravens and other birds walked the ground around Nikala, who kneeled amongst them with his head down for a moment, then stood again, walking away from the buffet he’d created for his smaller cousins.
Hal approached the olive grove, fighting a feeling of disgust. Desna counsels us to judge only those who consort with Horrors, he thought, not to judge those whose ways are not our own. He glanced at Edwina, who now looking ill, tossed her pear away.
Approaching the garuda, he called. “Nikala, I want to talk.”
The garuda shifted his head, showing Hal the side, one giant yellow eye focusing on him, the pupil large, but narrowing in Hal’s direction. “Yes,” Nikala said. “I have many words for you. Ask me which ones to say to you.”
Hal took a deep breath. “You agreed, when talking with Dinty, in joining us, but I wanted to see if you knew what you were joining. We are the Cymru Wardens: new group formed because frankly most of the soldiers and guards have been shipped south to fight the Horrors.” He turned to observe the dwarf commanders. Not yet time to go, he thought. “You said you had no honor. Why is that?”
Nikala blinked that huge yellow eye. “No nikala has honor. We are cast out of the nest.” He breaths a sharp puff of air, something that might be a forlorn sigh. “We..I fight for my brood’s mother, for her to be Matriarch after Matriarch died. She is defeated, and now her children are all nikala. Our honor is lost, our right to the blood of the nest, gone. We must go, or face death.”
“I’m not sure I completely understand,” Hal told him. “You have no honor? What will you swear by then? Your gods? Your family?” He paused. “The Wardens are new enough we have no set traditions.” He glanced at the Nikala and looked again at the pieces of rabbit.
The eye stared, unwavering, though after a long moment, it blinked. “Nikala will still swear to the gods. Swear to Great Brood Hen. Wise Night Flier.” Finally, the garuda breaks his gaze, sweeping an arm around the olive grove. “The One Who Eats Death, I have just made offerings to him. I would swear to him. Or to the Watcher, who watches over the Cousins, who watches over all nikala.” He touched the long pole arm strapped to his back, the blade glinting menacingly as he followed up with a strange hand motion. “The Hunter, who gives us bounty and keeps the ground creatures safe until harvest.”
He fixed his gaze on Saldana again. “Swear to all of them, or the ones Hal Saldana chooses with his words.”
Hal thought for a moment watching carefully. “Swear to defend those who need your strength and to your duty as directed by your superiors in the Wardens so long as as such orders uphold the common good.” He coughed. “By what gods you revere, by your life and blood, and by your weapon.” Hal spit in the dirt.
“Yes. Swear to all my gods. Defend those who have need of Nikala’s strength. Swear to act with honor, though I have none, and to listen to your brood’s leaders. Swear to uphold the common good. By my gods, my life, my blood, and my weapon.”
Hal saluted Nikala. “Good. As a Warden Commander, I declare any and all crimes you may have committed against the Republic of Cymru to have been pardoned. Welcome to the Wardens, Private Nikala.” He began to turn and stopped. “When the time comes to face whatever fickle Fate has chosen for us, may we all do so unwavering and clear-eyed.”
Still feeling ill from watching the bird-man destroy the rabbit, Edwina climbed down from the wagon and decided to find Dinty. Walking beside the other wagons and squads, she stopped suddenly when someone called her name.
Dinty spied her by the wagons and called. "Awh Ed, how are you enjoying your first caravan? Keeping a safe distance from the evil in our midst I hope."
Looking around nervously, Edwina replied. “Umm, what evil, Dinty? Is there something I should know.”
Dinty laughed. "No, no… (under his breath) she doesn't know, shouldn't scare her. ( Louder) Oh no, nothing at all, just discussing the weather and what not. It's an unnatural cold and there's no birds. That's what Otso told me! But don't fear you have the paladin's and the faithful followers of Desna at your side to help ward it off!"
She smiled with relief. “I’ve always thought it strange you have been a soldier instead of a wild goblin, Dinty.” Surprised by her words, she continued. “And a follower of Desna. How does a goblin do that?” She leaned against the wagon and watched Dinty.
Several humans, a gnome, Galna, and a dwarf, Quintin, sat near their wagon and became agitated at the sight of Dinty and Edwina talking so close to their wagon. Finally, the dwarf called to them. “Look you two. Watch what yer doin’ wit our wagon," he drawled in an Eastern accent.
Dinty smiled at Edwina. "Nothing to worry about good saer, I'm watching it sit there and she lean against. I'm good at watching things, that's why I'm a warden! You'll never have to fear of things not being watched with swarthy wardens such as myself around! Why … whoa, hold on… oh nevermind I thought that this tiny lass moved your wagon a hair but rest assured she did no such thing. You're welcome for my observance of the situation. Now my companion and I must go over there and watch other things." With an exasperated sigh, Dinty motioned for Edwina to follow muttering under his breath about not needing more things to watch.
Edwina followed Dinty across the clearing. “You handled them pretty good. I guess you got that from soldiering so long?”
Dinty shrugged. "Some, but mostly growing up in the temple of Desna taught me that words will get you out of many perils when you are my size. Wild gobo rely on their numbers to win the day. I must rely on my head and alliances with bears and ogres and bugbears and really anything on two legs that is really big...Bird people..."
Edwina smiled. “And human girls, too.” The sound of shouting could be heard around the wagons. “There’s the sign to march. Guess we’d better get back.”
The story continues with Fragments of the Last War 2.2 - Caravan to the Frontier: Part II, The Trial.
We've been using Google Docs for the PBP. A good start but some kinks to work out.