June 8, 2016 at 10:54 pm #1828
“Brother Cassiel, I am Brother Captain Stern, Favored Of Krom. Our story started a few weeks ago in Fanlu, where a messenger seemed to stalk me in the marketplace. We had him picked up for questioning. He told of a Battle Axe emblazoned in the sky at this very place, and upon seeing me in my robes in town with my holy symbol out he felt compelled to follow me. We sent a specialist to investigate and she has yet to return. We came here in search of her and to investigate the facts of the mans story. So here we are meeting you. What is your story brother?”June 14, 2016 at 8:52 pm #1831
Stern takes a deep breath and begins, relating his story in an almost confessional manner,
“I did not have a religious upbringing, Brother.”
“From the time I could stand I was baptized in the fire of combat.
Taught never to retreat, never to surrender, taught that death on the battle field in the service to Krom and the Cabal was the greatest glory I could achieve in my life. Not understanding at the time that the two were not necessarily the same thing.”
Stern shakes his head at his young naiveté.
“At age 7, I was taken from my mother, I never knew who my father was. I was plunged into a world of violence, manufactured by a thousand years of Illumian Cabal warrior society to create the finest warriors of my people.”
“The Cabal, forced me to fight, starved me, forced me to steal and to… kill. These things I did with great reluctance and, so I was told, with skill beyond my years when I had to. An unruly battle savant. By rod, lash, and deprivation I was punished.
Taught to show no pain, no mercy, constantly tested, tossed into various brutal arenas, left to test my wits and will against other initiates, until finally the instructors deemed me ready for service to The Cabal.
As I grew older, life in the Cabal became more and more difficult, leaving me in seemingly untenable situations over and over again because of my blaring difference. My faith in the Lord of Battle, and deep sense of right and wrong, clashing with the demands of the Cabal.
Within the secretive depths of an Illumian cabal where mystery and intrigue, misdirection and espionage are laudable traits, a straightforward young warrior like myself stood out painfully until finally….. I grew disgusted by this life and feeling the guidance of Krom, I left, boldly severing all ties and setting out into the world to pursue life according to my own ingrained ideals. From the moment I walked out I felt the might of Krom within me grow. Oh in my time I have been affiliated with the formal Church, assisting it from time to time as the Lord directs me but my spirit is not that of a cloistered cleric, and as such I would roam on. Bringing the fire of Krom to the darkness of this world.
My road has not been easy but it has lead me to find kindred here and there. The majority of which are waiting outside.
The Mighty Hrothgar, a skilled fighter whose match has yet to be found, he too has come to learn the might of Krom in battle. The elegant, yet powerful Caris, High Priestess of Elhonna whose many miracles have save countless lives and villages alike. And Grognak a hot headed spell slinger whose magicks shake the very foundations of the world when employed erasing foes in the mere blink of an eye. Powerful they are in combat; they make Krom proud. Even better so they are in trueness of heart, bringing peace in their wake.” Stern’s eyes shine with pride.
“And Grey, My first real friend, well…” Sterns steady gaze goes unfocused and he stares off into space for a bit his thoughts on his friend. “…if Krom wills it you will meet him later.” He finishes bringing his Steel blue eyes back to Cassiel.
“Grey is actually the main reason we are all here in Yun Shan. He and I together with our old group K’ni, Krylon and Ran traveled north, northeast from the moors of Cydonia to Absalom for two months. It was in Cydonia that we met our other companions, Hrothgar, Grognak, Caris, and Tealia. Grey had convinced them to travel north to Yun Shan as well but due to the current situation and demands upon them they could not travel with us at the time. We vowed to meet again in Fan Lu.
Grey, Krylon, K’ni, Ran and I hurried out of Cydonia to meet a caravan heading east to Absalom. We had been in Absalom for barely a single night before it came under assault by the forces of Orin Targ.” Stern stops to smile at the memory of that horrible night and the trials that followed.
“We were forced to flee, taking with us a sizeable amount of refugees. We saw them, through the trials of the desert and fell beasts, to the village of Shuku. After that we took our leave and continued on up towards Yun Shan.” His expression closes up with remembered grief, his voice drops to a whisper. “The road after that was a dark one, we lost Ran but made it to Fan Lu, Grey’s ancestral home. A good sized city a week or so from here.”
His countenance brightening now “We made Fan Lu our focal point, Grey’s manor our home. From there we have traveled near and far doing what we can to aid and protect the peoples of this strange land.”
Gaining inspiration “From focal point to Home, Fan Lu is our home now. We have branched out from the manor in many ways. Grognak keeps a tower surrounded by vast tombs of knowledge at a nearby Monastery, Hrothgar having gained a bond with his patron spirit has made his home on the mountainside overlooking the city.”
Cassiel raises an eye brow at the mention of a “Patron Spirit”. Stern raises his hands “All will be explained in time.” He whispers before continuing.
“The Champion of Elhonna, Caris has taken up part time residence in a kingdom to the south called Shin ling. Where we recently drove back the forces of an invading Orc hoard, their leader a singularly devastating and devious daemon of an Orc, seeming to be tied to Grummsh himself, with great supernatural aid in any event. That too is a story for another day.” Stern smiles.
“And I… I have been doing my best spreading the great word of Krom in this land. I am not an evangelical man but I have established a small temple/orphanage where with the aid of the Old Man we are raising these boys in service of Krom. All learn to fight, some go to special training from Hrothgar, some are seeming more bent to the priestly ways and I hope shall soon be taught in those ways as well, that the fire of Krom may yet light their forges “But I have not the tongue for it, though I have been looking for someone to take on that mantle”.” Says Stern with a leading nod towards Cassiel.
After a cleansing deep breath Stern leans in “And now that brings us to the present.”June 14, 2016 at 9:21 pm #1832
After a long pause, Cassiel gets up and fetches a pair of small steel cups and a btole of some dark liqueur. He pours them both a glass and sipping it slowly He begins to tell his tale, voice growing stronger with every word.
Some time ago, my brothers and I were called upon to provide support to our King’s army. We marched out in all our glory, from the High Axe of Krom to the newest of acolytes. We marched from our Bastion Temple to the east, heads held high, singing to the Glory of War and to…..Krom. Many goodly folk flocked to our banners, our numbers swelled. I found myself again in the company of The Radiant Guard, a valiant group of hardy adventurers I had traveled with in my younger days before taking up the mantle of Forge Warden and the duty of training new generations of the faithful.
For nearly a week the land trembled with our advance, it was a time of great bravado and boasts of deeds to be done. One and all we would honor our Lord of Battle in the war to come and drive back the forces of S’peranza the wretched Wizard King of Voi. We would turn the tide in favor of our rightful King Ogni.
I never had the chance, the bastard spell casters ambushed us, catching us as the sun was high a day or so from the battlefield. Explosions and destruction were all about us, I stood with my chosen and the Radiant Guard near the vanguard of our forces. The last thing I recall of that time was an actinic violet light washing over us brighter than the sun…then darkness….
Suddenly, it was night, a foreign star speckled sky over head barely glimpsed through the gargantuan boughs of mighty pines. Of the Radiant Guard only three of my friends were there and only a dozen of my acolytes.
I fell to my knees immediately shaken by not only the disorientation of our transport but from the awful feeling of Kroms gauntlet removed from its rightful place around my soul, leaving me bare to this strange unforgiving land.
I lost two acolytes that first night to the horrors of this land. After that it was a losing battle of attrition, bereft of all but the faintest measure of our Lords gifts we struggled, fought and died. At the end of the first month there were only six of us left, my three hardy friends of the Radiant guard and my two toughest acolytes, though at that point they had proven themselves more than acolytes and I inducted them into the Brotherhood, a sad induction it was. On a cold rainy night over the corpse of one of our own, the area around us strewn with what I would call Hobgoblins. Ferocious fighters and worthy opponents.
It was not long after that when we ran out of land. In the distance at night we could see the signs of habitation. With hope at last we built a sturdy barge and took to the water, yes, and just another mistake in a long line of mistakes since coming to this land. The creatures of the water are just as unforgiving as those of the land. Saved only by a sudden storm that pushed our blood drenched raft south before we capsized and washed up on the shore of a heathen shrine.
The inhabitants of which were strange, but welcoming. They took us in and gave us respite despite being unable to communicate. We had lost track of time in the wilds of the land, and in the quiet of the Shrine time became nonexistent.
We regained our health and strength. With those we became restless. Unable to reconcile our defeat at the hands of such a cowardly wizard and our exile into this horrid land of spirits and strange gods. All but bereft of the light of our lord. Unable to communicate fully with the Monks, unable to tell where we were or even when. We eventually deiced to strike out on our own to find more civilization and somehow figure out what to do next.
We did not make it even a whole day away from the Shrine when we were set upon by creatures out of nightmare. Then there were three of us. I was gravely wounded and without aid I would have died, alone in this horrible land, frightened that I would never see the halls of Krom, that I would never sit beside His holy forge.
My friends dragged me all but dead into a wood walled village. We were tended to but with obvious disdain. We were after all, foreigners. My wounds both physical and spiritual were grievous. My surviving companions of the Radiant Guard at my urging left the village to range ahead and look for signs of civilization and hopefully answers to our questions.
They never returned.
I was put up in an empty cottage on the east side of the village. During my convalescence I was tended to by various villagers and even once one of their so called Priests came to see me. I refused his barbaric healing spells. I would rely on my own grit and tenacity to make it through as well as my limited healing skills.
Forsaken and alone I carried on. Before long I was able to move about the village, ragged and treated like a stray dog. In a state of benign neglect, I crept about unable to understand these strange people and their even stranger ways. The fire of Krom so distant here, leaving me cold.
Soon unable to stand it anymore, one dark night I gathered my remaining things and struck out east, back towards the Shrine. I had barely gone a hundred yards from the village wall when I was set upon by Gaki, not just any Gaki but the corrupted remains of my last two Axe Brothers.
With righteous vengeance and furious anger I destroyed them, with tears in my eyes at the injustice of it all.
It was then I felt it, a gentle pulse in my soul as I wandered into this clearing. I took it as a sign, though before long it felt like I was a man dying of thirst in a desert who sees the waters of a quenching oasis only to reach and find a mirage. Cool refreshing waters turned to choking sands.
I built my cabin, my garden and became self-sufficient. No longer would I live on the scraps of the villagers. Through determination and will power, even so far from Krom, I rebuilt myself stronger. I prowled these lands purposefully searching for combat, striving somehow to reach Krom but finding nothing but emptiness….a finely honed blade in the darkness.
Here he pauses, and smiles for the first time
Well maybe not emptiness. I found my wife or maybe she found me. But that is another story, suffice it to say that she and I connected regardless of the language barrier. Though with her patient teachings I did learn their language, and eventually gained a better understanding of their outlandish ways.
She would sneak out of the village at every chance she could, even risking the dangers of the night to be with me. Not to mention the dangers of her kin folk and the village itself should they find out what she was up to. She was a fiery tenacious woman, totally at odds with the mewling, sheep-like villagers. I was as happy as I had ever been….for a time.
When she began to show the first signs of her pregnancy, we decided to reveal our marriage to her father, that officious prick. He and his brothers grew enraged and I let them chase me out of town, rather than slay them all.
For months they would not let me see her, even began barring the gates so I could not enter. No one would speak to me, until a bright summer afternoon. Her older brother appeared to inform me that she had died in child birth. No doubt of neglect, I should have taken his scrawny head then and there but I did not. I ran for the village. They had gathered in what numbers they had to stop me. They could not! In my utter grief I threw them aside like sickly stalks of wheat, I rushed to her house only to find it empty. They had taken her to the village shrine for internment.
The heavy stone doors of that forsaken place stopped me then, I battered on them until my fists where raw, fingers broken. In the end they would not even let me see her, they would not let me say good bye and the heathen bastards would not even allow me to consign her body to the righteous flames. Instead she was left to rot….
He chokes up fully at this point and stops talking for a while, his features wracked with unforgotten pain.
After that I existed in a fugue state, simply existing here in my cottage. Going to the aid of travelers set upon by the creatures of this land, or the village itself despite the horror they had inflicted upon me and mine.
I would go down to the shrine on occasion to help the brothers with their stone work, being a stone mason back in my home land I showed them the proper way to quarry and dress stones.
Here I have been ever since, time has become meaningless to me. I do not even know how old I am anymore, though I was in my late thirties when we came here I know decades have passed but I do not feel very much older…. He shrugs.
Thus was my life day in and day out until a few weeks ago. I was awoken by the sound of my wife calling for me. Admittedly I was enraged and grabbing up my axe I rushed out into the clearing to strike down whatever despicable creature would dare to profane my wife’s memory.
There in the center of the clearing, just beyond the radishes, was my wife, or at least the image of her smiling, beckoning me towards her waiting arms. Tamping down the fires of my rage, having played this idiot game before with similar creatures, I pretended to be entranced and stumbled along towards her.
When I made it to the center of the clearing, she stopped and smiled at me, her likeness so perfect, and her demeanor so exact! I was stunned and that’s when the fire in the sky came roaring down upon me and I felt once more the strong grasp of Krom armoring my soul, filling me, having been so empty for so long I gasped and was struck unconscious.
When I woke, I knew something had changed, I knew that Krom had not forsaken me after all. I felt different but still unsettled and unknowing exactly what I should do.
I have spent many days wondering what it all meant. Should I strike out in the direction that the light appeared, or perhaps in the direction where the ghost of my lost wife appeared? What was Krom trying to tell me? Why did he send me a sign, and why so vague? What did he want with me? I even considered traveling back to the shrine, to ask the goodly monks there to do a divination, to do what I had always refused to do, reach out to the crazy gods of this place for help, or at least a hint. Until that night I had felt resigned to die as an old, a lonely curiosity, lost in a land that does not understand me. Cut off from my God, my friends haveing long since died, and there being no way I can make the trip home alone, and what would be left when I got there anyways? I have been lost but now I am apparently found…by you. A mighty Favored of Krom, I cannot help but believe the Lord of Battle has brought us together for a real reason.
June 22, 2016 at 8:08 pm #1839
Cassiel, Smiles genuinely happy for the first time in a long time, He reaches out and grasps Sterns strong forearm, “Too true Brother Stern, but now” and Cassiel stands up abruptly“we cook and you can introduce me to your mighty companions!” with that the two divine warriors throw back their chairs and stomp over to the sturdy door and out onto the porch, Where everyone else is suddenly peering off into the distance at Lone bear’s antics or perhaps at a pretty butterfly.
“Come children, let us be well met and then well fed.” Cassiel booms out, coming to stand before you all.
June 23, 2016 at 8:15 am #1848
Hrothgard sighs a bit overhearing Stern’s invitation. The thought of another relative stranger joining them does not sit overly well with him. But, of course, he trusts his Brother Stern and therefore his judgment.
Hrothgard smiles to Caris and squeezes her hand. “Seems we have company to meet…” he says as he stands and takes her hands offering to help her up…June 24, 2016 at 4:45 pm #1849
Grognak remains silent. As he raises out of his comfortable old chair to join the others a thought races through his mind..he whispers to himself,”I hope you enjoyed the comfort of that old chair Grog, because I have a feeling things are about to get real uncomfortable”. Then he straightens his robes, breathes deep, and slowly walks across the room to join his friends.June 26, 2016 at 6:15 am #1850
Caris smiles at Hroth as he offers his hand up. She looks to Stern to try to get a read of what’s happened in the cabin. His face looks calm if not wistful even. Although parts of his conversation with Cassiel leaked through the cabin walls, she didn’t catch most of it. It appears that her dear Stern has met with a bretheren of his Lord Krom, the uniqueness of that not lost on Caris after finding her people in Shen Ling.
She smiles at Cassiel and thanks him, looks over her shoulder at Lone Bear and looks back at Cassiel, “what about our friend out there, shall he come in too?”June 26, 2016 at 1:23 pm #1851
Somberly he says“All our welcome in My house Lady, if you can cross the threshold”,he finishes with a wink.
“Even skinny up tight casters”He drops a beefy hand on Grognak’s shoulder as Grog walks up“and tree hugging Unicorn kissers.” Laughing boisterously, He goes to drop his other hand on Caris’ shoulder, then thinks better of it dropping into a low comical bow.
Now tell me,”He asks rubbing his hands together and smiling, once everyone is in the cabin,Who here knows how to cook?
The rest of that day revolves around cooking and of course drinking,with real home brewed southern ale, none of that watery crap you have to drink up here. Everyone pitching in cooking, arguing about the best ways to do things, general chaos in the kitchen but having a blast doing it. Telling tales and boasting of exploits long into the night.June 30, 2016 at 7:20 pm #1852
The next morning you all wake, though having slept in a pile on Cassiel’s floor you feel as rested as if you had slept in your own beds after a quiet night. Instead of the rip roaring barn storming riot that was last night. Oh you are all still a bit groggy but from deep sleep not deep drinking.
Caris you prop yourself up on one elbow and look over the curve of Grognak’s back to see a splendidly armored Cassiel quietly stuffing things into a beaten up old back pack. Roused by the wakefulness of one of the pile, the rest of you rise up or roll over to regard Cassiel. A big smile on his face.
“Wait here, relax. I have to go tidy some things up and I will be back tomorrow morning.” With that he slings his pack hefts his axe and strides out the door whistling, stopping just past the threshold to poke his head back in and nod smiling “Krom be with you.” Then he is gone, you can hear him whistling for a while in the distance.
July 1, 2016 at 8:59 am #1853
Caris nudges Sterns back with her elbow… “Where do you suppose he’s going? He’s just going to leave us here in his house?” Caris sits up amongst the pile of comrades she had just awoken with and says to no one in particular, “Yesterday was a lot of fun, and Cassiel seems nice enough… does anyone find it odd the level of familiarity he is showing us? I mean… we just met the man.”July 1, 2016 at 10:40 am #1854
Laying back on the floor hands behind his head staring up into the rafters. Stern begins to speak
“In any other circumstance you would be right Caris. Imagine if you will, you have been somewhere for so long that what was once foreign to you, is now your daily norm. You lost your connection to Elhonna for longer than you can remember, then one day a great priestess walks up to you and you can start to feel that connection coming back. Then you are offered to come home and join others in your faith, to teach the ways you were taught. Would you take the opportunity? Would you not have things that maybe you have to settle before you leave? We as adventurers have barely just learned what it is to call a place home. Cassiel has settled here in this one place for countless years.”
July 3, 2016 at 7:06 pm #1856
- This reply was modified 6 years, 4 months ago by Stern.
You spend the rest of that morning lounging around in the cabin, it is good to be away from everything you have accrued over your time in Yun Shan. Not a single pressing notion or concern. Just relaxing the morning away. Caris eventually gets up and makes everyone a yummy breakfast. Everyone even skips their usual daily rituals, Weapons practice, prayer or study. To just simple exist in the peaceful clearing. The smell of the huge pines, the swaying of Cassiel’s small garden, butterflies and puff balls floating through the sunlight glade. Critters scampering around in the forest, the birds chirping and the sun shining warm through the cool breeze.
Later in the afternoon, you wander through the woods around the clearing. Seeing the animal paths as well as manmade stone markers here and there, eroded by time. Also here and there in the woods strange fetishes hang from the lower tree branches or are tied to low shrubs, their purpose unknown. There are times when your peaceful perambulations are halted as you feel yourselves being watched but without malice or evil intent, sometimes you even sense curiosity.
You return to the cabin before the sun sets to settle in for the evening, Hrothgar volunteering to make dinner that night. As the sun sets and the shadows fall, you cannot help but tense just a bit, even after the day you have had and the feeling of security in the humble cabin. It is just who you are now, it is the subtle change life on the fringes of civilization has wrought in you all, some more so than others.
Which is not to say that the jokes and laughter do not ring out loudly from the open door to the cabin as you enjoy your feast and southern Ale. You are after all heroes, each a monumental bad ass in your own right but when combined with the others in your merry group you become truly mighty.
You stay up long into the night, sipping your drinks and letting the fire go low, and talking in low voices of your designs on the future, slowly relaxing into slumber.
July 5, 2016 at 9:15 pm #1871
Stern, you wake to the rhythmic sounds of someone chopping wood in the clearing of the cabin.
You look out the small window to see Cassiel, stripped to the waist again, in the center of the clearing a sturdy wagon is taking shape. He stops to wipe the sweat from his bald head, before he carries on hacking the branches of a small tree he had drug into the clearing while you all slept.
In fact it looks like he has been at it for quite some time. With the exception of the wheels and axles, the body of the wagon looks pretty much done.
Without turning back, his voice carrying well He says “Well Boy, seeing as how you’re up now, why don’t you come help me out. That is if any of you are skilled at anything other than fighting? If not well then I will teach you a thing or three.” And he keeps on chopping, pausing again “Oh and someone do make breakfast. I am starved.”
He begins singing to himself, his deep voice carrying easily through the walls of the cabin, waking anyone who is not already up.
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