miércoles, 30 de diciembre de 2015

Crusader's foundling

Farmers everywhere grow or raise most of the things they need. The rest, they buy in shops, like this one in a town just like any other.
'Something important today, Marsh?' - asked the clerk
'A bit of a family meeting. A few of the boys have grown enough for their name-choosing' - said the woman, smiling, by the sound of it.
- 'That's nice, isn't it? The young ones growing into adults, I mean' -
- 'It is, right? More hands, less work, they say' - 
They spent a few more minutes chatting while a rude looking man in a badly-battered armor walked slowly through the merchandise, paying attention to a few items. The clerk and the client seemed a bit nervous, but when the conversation started sounding awkwardly as if the clerk didn't want to be alone with the stranger, he plod to the counter.
- 'I want half a dozen coils of rope, the sturdiest you have. Also, rolls of fabrics, thread and sewing needles. Where could I buy milk, and dried meat and vegetables?' - 
The clerk seemed nervous and scared, the stranger seemed taller and stronger this near, so it was the client who answer, smiling charmingly.
'We use to change our surplus milk and harvest here, but I think Bill - she signaled the clerk with her hand - sells them to John, down the street. John's sister smokes and dries provisions for selling adventurers, mercenaries and whatnot passes through, if that's what you want. - The stranger looked at her calmly, Marsh thought he looked to people as if they were a different species.
- 'Thanks' - he said, before turning his head to the clerk - 'Now, could you help me with the other supplies?' -
While the clerk gathered the thread and sewing items, the stranger shouldered the ropes, three and four coils at a time, and loaded in a cart outside, helped by a younger and even quieter man. After everything was loaded, the young took the reins, the man looked at the clerk first, and at Marsh after. Then he climbed up the cart and the two drived down the street, to John's store.
- 'What a weird couple' - said Marsh.
- 'Didn't like them. Muscled, armored brutes aren't of my liking' -
- 'Their money was, though' -
- 'Gold's always good. Besides, things are not so good I can pass on good money.' - answered the clerk, before going inside again.


The stranger was now with his captain. - 'Name-choosing?' - he was asking. The second in command, an old but still strong, one-eyed man, said - 'Some cults have that kind of ceremonies, but are not so much name as host choosing. Children are not strong enough to host most demons, so they wait till they grow and then they're possessed. We should storm that farm right away, before they can reinforce their ranks.' - 'Such cults are not the only ones using that kind of ceremonies. - countered the captain - In the south and north there are tribes we believe each person has the right to decide how he's to be called. We're not going to storm anywhere if we are not sure. Sergeant, tell the troops tonight is a stealth. Light armor, no horses. Get them ready.'


The wet soil's smell filled the nose of the sergeant, bringing him memories of youth. They felt as old as if they were another man's memories. Happy times, green grass, cattle... a simple, happy life. The sergeant and his troops were crawling as stealthy as they could, considering the bulk of their bodies and weapons. Light armor was riskier, but their work was to make sure before signaling the heavier armored soldiers, so they had to get there in silence, so, light armor.
It was a cold night, the fog made it eerie and colder, and the tension could be felt in every man. They were almost wishing for this to be a fight and to start as soon as possible. That always meant rushing into problems, so the sergeant had to control them, and himself, as best as he could while they got near enough the farm's buildings to crouch by them instead of crawling like beasts. The sergeant could hear words, but not understand them, so he slid along the wall, toward a window.
- 'What do you mean, killed them?' - asked an old man's voice
- 'What does 'kill' usually mean? That bloody child killed his parents with a bloody hammer.' - the voice sounded just like the woman at that shop
- 'Could have been the mercenaries you saw in town' - 
- 'They seemed more like the ride-in, kill-em-all type. And then that child is the only one missing' -
- 'And today of all days!' - 
- 'It's a Black Moon, for heavens' sake. They're brutes, but even they must be able to learn with time. That's why I propose to bring forward the ceremony.' - 
- 'The ceremony can't be rushed! The proper respect must be paid, the proper rituals must be followed' -
- 'I fucking know! That's what you all said before, but if those were Crusader's soldiers, the sooner we can count our reinforcements, the better' - 
- 'It'll be hours before the new hosts are completely taken' - 
The woman's voice was strained with frustration, managing to convey the shouting even when she was whispering.
- 'I already know! So let's start the bloody ceremony now, get ready as soon as we can and kill that blasted child when we find him instead of wasting time looking for him' - 

The sergeant was thinking that the lieutenant had been right about storming in, but now was too late to change plans and... what was that burning smell?

- 'Smell that?' - asked the old man
- 'Something's burning' - hurried steps drew near the door while the sergeant walked back as fast as he dared and as quietly as he could.
They opened the door worrying about the smoke, though
- 'You don't think...' -
- 'Better be sure. Let's go...' - 
A loud crack interrupted the woman, Marsh, the clerk called her, and part of the barn's roof fell in, letting red flames through.
- 'The barn! the barn's burning!' - the woman shout, as the two of them ran towards it. At that point, the sergeant thought he had hear enough and things were going south too quickly to wait more, so he nod to one of his men and that one signaled the main force with his hooded lantern.

The night's air filled with shouts of surprise and war cries when the riders reached the farm and started hacking the farmers, and the sergeant was proved right when hellish fire sprout from them, and they grew horns and claws and fangs, and pounced on the riders. The sergeant and his men also joined in the fight, using surprise to get some easy kills. When no one else came forth to challenge the soldier's strength, they checked the buildings before setting them on fire and then gathered in the fire's ligths.

- They were talking about children sir, and a ceremony. -
- I told you, dammit! - 
- Silence, lieutenant. Have you checked the buildings? -
- All but the barn, sir, that was in fire already. - 
- Short as the fight was, if the children were there, they'll be dead already. Let the trackers get their dogs and look for tracks outside. If some of those demons have flee, I want them captured or death before sunrise. -


The dogs did find a track, children by the size of the footprints, and not too many. They got to them in the forest, illuminated by the lanterns, bows aiming at them. A small group of three girls and four boys, and a fifth standing before the armored soldiers and the barking dogs, a bloody hammer in his hands, covered in blood. More blood splattered his face and stained his clothes, and his expression was grimly regarding the soldiers, waiting for them to move and willing to fight with a farmer's hammer against steel swords and shields, and armored men.
Brave or crazy as he seemed, demon seemed not. The captain dismounted slowly, weapons sheathed, hands empty as he walked forward, towards the boy.
- 'Calm down, boy.' - 
- 'Go away. I have already killed more of you than you can gain by taking our bodies, so learn from that and go away.' -
- 'We don't want your bodies, boy. We are the Crusader's soldiers. We were warned that children were going to be sacrificed tonight, so we came. You're safe, now.'-
- 'We trusted the demons we had as parents while they raised us. I know better than to trust you.'-
- 'I understand, boy. Lieutenant, we won't go further tonight, organize guards, tend the wounded, recover the dead. Boy, we have food, milk too, if there's a baby among those other children. Tomorrow we all will go to the town's temple for them to take care of you. We're no demons'-

lunes, 21 de diciembre de 2015

The Mountain's son

Balin and his wife Kera lived in the mountain range, north of the Empire. When they were younger, Kera used to joke about Balin's true love being the mountain, but with the decades, the joke had lost in humor and Kera had gained in bitterness. "This is an absurd place to live, far from other Dwarfs, far from the more populated outposts, far from the richer veins..." Her complains hurt Balin for he loved his wife dearly, although, certainly, nothing could compare to the magnificence of the Mountain. It was just another mountain on the range for everyone else, but for Balin, it always was the Mountain, with capital M.

One night, Balin came back and found the fire out, the pot empty, and their home, cold. Thinking that something must had happen to Kera, he took a lantern to keep the mountain winds from putting out the light, and went out searching for her. He shout her name to the dark until he could not talk anymore, and he finally came back to the house, determined to search again the next day, with sunlight.

Balin lit the fire and, when he got warm, looked around, for any clues about where could Kera had gone. And he found a clue in the shape of a message written with coal over a piece of leather. Dwarves' runes are made to be engraved in stone, a laborious work, so their sentences tend to be as short and clear as they can. Translated, Kera's message would have been more or less "I went back to my family. Be with your mountain."

Sadness and realization overcame Balin while he drop to sit on the floor. He didn't remember having ever felt so alone.

The next day he almost woke up already in the mine, in the last shaft he had opened on the Mountain. He was already hitting the rock with his pick, although he didn't even remember how he got there. He wonder what he was doing, what was the point of discovering the Mountain's secrets and gifts with no one to share them with. And got angry. And then he got furious and started hitting the rock harder, complaining first and then shouting the Mountain for his love for it made him lose his wife.

And then the rock gave way and left a hollow under the pick. At first, Balin didn't understood, lost as he were in his fury, but years of mining took control and he realized he had found a geode, the first one he had found in the Mountain.

And he could hear a child's cry from it.

Astonished, he looked inside the geode, pouring light with his lantern, and saw a little wounded baby inside the geode, crying. Balin knew not what to do but to take the baby out of there, so he took the smaller pick he used when he had to get gems out of the rock, and started hitting as delicately and fast as he could until he could put his hands in and take the baby out. He (he was a "he") was still crying, but Balin's was relieved when he could see better the wounds and realized it was barely more than scratches. He wrapped the baby in his own coat and ran with him back to the house, looking for something else to protect him from the cold and then go down to the hamlet and look for advice about taking care of babies.

For the next months he fed the baby with goat's milk, following the advice of Mara, an old, half-blind dwarf-woman who was also considered half-crazy. At least she was crazy enough to accept Balin's story without questions and giving him the advice the baby needed. For the next years the hamlet's opinion was that Balin had a lover, the mother of that child, and that that was what made Kera leave. Since Mara helped Balin but was too old to be his lover herself, they thought she knew the affair and had helped keeping it secret.

Be as it may, Balin named the child "Berg" and raise him as miner. However, Balin often caught Berg with the sight lost to the horizon and got thinking that a dwarf born from the Mountain wasn't meant to be kept there, less so considering the relationship with the hamlet's people. They kept to the lover's story and so the dwarves Berg's age taunted him, until the day he lost his temper and badly beat a few of them. Finally, Balin decided he should do something for Berg's future but he had grown old by then, and that winter was going to be his last. "I'm dying, son." he told Berg "as grand Mara did. You will be by yourself now, but I think fate has more for you than mining the Mountain. Open that chest" Berg did so and found a piece of a geode, half carved. "I intended to make a shield for you with that, part of the geode you were born from, but I had not enough time or skill. I ask you, take it when you go and find somebody able to make a shield from it, for I hope it'd be a link with your mother's strength in your traveling."

miércoles, 16 de diciembre de 2015

Spoiler warning, Make your own luck

Haldron suspiró, cansado. Los ritos funerarios élficos son tal como puede esperarse de una especie que tiene todo el tiempo del mundo para rituales y para quienes la muerte siempre es una tragedia debida a violencia de algún tipo, accidentes o, raramente, una enfermedad mágica.
Por suerte, no cambia la parte esencial, la que impide que el Rey Liche levante a sus muertos para que luchen contra quienes les lloran.

En todo caso, los largos rituales resultan agotadores para un humano como Haldron. Al menos le queda el consuelo de saber que, si los asediantes consiguen pasar las puertas, la atención que ha puesto en respetar sus costumbres puede haberles perdonar que sea un nigromante.

La ciudad de Leafall, donde Jaria había tenido su problema con los gólems de Iñigo Sharpe, había resistido un asedio troll durante las últimas semanas. Varios de los ciudadanos pensaban que el motivo del ataque era tomar o destruir uno de los artefactos del archimago, localizado allí. Algunos decían que era uno de sus dispositivos para controlar las lluvias y las tormentas, otros, que era un detector de monstruos que vivían en la oscuridad entre las estrellas. En cualquier caso, su destrucción no supondría nada bueno.

Los trolls que asediaban la ciudad consiguieron abrir un hueco y los personajes tuvieron que encabezar la lucha. El que encabezaba el ataque tenía pintada una calavera en el rostro, como si ya estuviera muerto. Quizá en ese momento fueran sólo las expectativas de los jugadores las que les hicieran pensar que el Rey Liche estaba involucrado, pero cuando, tras un golpe mortal de necesidad, la carne del troll se convirtió en ceniza mientras su esqueleto seguía luchando, quedó confirmado.

El combate fue aprovechado por un grupo de trasgos para colarse, y los personajes les persiguieron por las callejuelas, subiendo hacia la ladera donde se situaban las casas de los más ricos. Por supuesto, les mataron sin dificultad.

Por la mañana, un soldado fue a ver a Eiseman, que estaba liderando las fuerzas de los defensores, para decirle que habían encontrado un mensaje entre las pertenencias de uno de los trasgos. El mensaje pedía a alguien llamado Jareh que siguiera con el plan. 

Empujados por los trolls atacantes, muchos refugiados habían buscado y encontrado refugio en la ciudad, así que hicieron que la guardia buscara entre ellos a alguien llamado Jareh, y sólo algunas horas después volvieron para decirles que le habían encontrado en la zona alta y que había tomado como rehén al hijo de la familia que le había acogido.

Los personajes entraron en el sótano donde se habían alojado los pasados días: Jareh, la mujer, esperaba junto al pozo con su daga en el cuello del muchacho, y un hombre armado esperaba a su lado, preparado para defenderla.

"¿Crees que me importa la vida del chico?" preguntó Eiseman. Jareh sonrió y degolló al muchacho. "¿Y ahora?" preguntó, mientras empujaba, con la daga ensangrentada, unos guijarros al pozo. No habían llegado a caer cuando el guardaespaldas de la asesina se puso en el camino de uno de los personajes, que se lanzaba al combate. Éste no fue fácil, pero no hubo daños graves entre los compañeros. Y si alguno de ellos esperaba oír arrepentimiento en la voz de Eiseman cuando dio a la familia la noticia de la muerte del chico, quedó decepcionado.

No hubo mucho tiempo para la decepción, sin embargo, pues un temblor de tierra silenció a todos. El temblor se repitió una y otra vez, cada vez con más fuerza y con menos tiempo entre ellos, y de pronto la casa donde Jareh se había refugiado se hundió en la tierra.
Como si se abriera el mundo bajo la ciudad, casas enteras caían por las grietas que se abrían en el suelo, partes de la muralla cayeron sobre atacantes y defensores, permitiendo que los trolls entraran, indiferentes al peligro del terremoto, sólo la matanza en sus mentes.

Eiseman acudió de inmediato a la zona más peligrosa y empezó a combatir, arengando a gritos a los hombres cuyo valor flaqueaba. Los demás personajes llegaron después y ayudaron en la lucha como pudieron, hasta que sólo quedó el jefe de los atacantes, un troll infame conocido como Médulaliento. La lucha se prolongó lo suficiente como para que se abrieran enormes grietas que se tragaron a muchos combatientes e incluso casas enteras. Finalmente, consiguieron eliminar a Médulaliento y escapar antes de que la ciudad entera se hundiera. Cuando el polvo se asentó, sólo quedaba un cráter de Leafall.

Cientos de vidas se habían perdido. ¿Cuántas más se cobraría la destrucción del artefacto del Archimago?