Seith and Sword Is Funded – I’ll Be Incognito For A Bit

Posted in Fate of the Norns, Roleplaying Games, Writing with tags , , , , on March 23, 2015 by Chall

So, good news,

Seith and Sword is fully funded.

A big thanks to my backers, my friends and family. I am very excited to write this novel for this particular game setting. Fate of the Norns is the truest rpg to the Eddas that I’ve encountered. Furthermore, as I discovered while writing the kickstarter blogs, their take on Norse Mythology is pretty much my own. I’ve got the novel all planned out and the rough draft is already a quarter of the way done. I’m so looking forward to getting this novel to my backers. They won’t be disappointed.

I’ll be very busy. While my daily word count is manageable I want to blow away my deadlines. The earlier I finish the more time I’ll have to refine. I’m putting my all into Seith and Sword, and as such, until it’s done, I’ll have less time for blogging. So if you don’t hear from me for a while, this is why.

When Sieth and Sword is complete, you will hear about it, trust me.

"The Wolves Pursuing Sol and Mani" by John Charles Dollman - Guerber, H. A. (Hélène Adeline) (1909). Myths of the Norsemen from the Eddas and Sagas.

I hope to have Seith and Sword done well before Ragnarok.

What I’ve Been Up To Lately – Fate of the Norns Novel: Seith and Sword

Posted in Fantasy, Fate of the Norns, Publishing, Roleplaying Games with tags , , , , on February 27, 2015 by Chall

So, it’s been a while, lemme explain.

Last Phantasm I had the pleasure of playing Fate of the Norns: Ragnarok. It’s a Norse Saga RPG that takes place during the twilight of the gods. It uses Elder Futhark runes in it’s resolution system. The rule book is absolutely gorgeous and a mere 5 minutes after playing I bought the hardcover and a bag of their metal runes.

Given that I’ve been working on and off on The Childe Hel, given that I’ve been stewing in constant Norse Mythology, I rolled the idea that I might be a good person to write something for Fate of the Norns sometime. Andrew Valkauskas, who’d been demoing the game, suggested I roll a submission Pendlehaven’s way.

I did, and, well… this:  

For the past moth or so I’ve been submitting synopses, pitches, character bios, the whole 9 yards. I now have a solid story that I’m very excited to write about. I just need backers.

Seith and Sword is the story of two Volsung siblings fleeing the wrath of a Nibelung hero in the last golden days of Harald Fairhair’s reign. The feud will drag in the likes of Louhi Mistress of Pohjola, Bjorn Eriksson, Gorm the Old and Vargeisa the Fire Wolf. A dark tale of vengeance, survival and family.

Right up my ally really.

So, if you like what I’ve written on this blog and would  like to read an awesome Norse saga, please back! The investment is sound; I’ve already started on the rough draft and have no plans on stopping until the novel’s done.

Since my focus will be 100% on this I’m putting my other projects on hold. This doesn’t mean they’re done, It’s just that I’ve agreed to work on Seith and Sword until it’s complete. I’m tackling an agressive timeline and can’t afford to be distracted.

Still…the payoff will be an awesome Norse Saga that’ll be complete before the end of the year.

Game Master Musings: Player Agency

Posted in Game Mastering, Roleplaying Games, RPG with tags , , , on August 6, 2014 by Chall

A friend of mine quit a RPG group she’d been playing with for years. Her reason?

“One night I forgot my character sheet. They told me it was fine, we’d muddle through. By the end of the night, I realised it made absolutely no difference if I brought the sheet or not. So I left.”

For the past few months, she watched everyone else roleplay. She tried to contribute but was either beaten in initiative  or drowned out by the other players.  Hanging with friends is fine but sitting at a game and not being able to take part, is like sitting at a feast and not being allowed to eat; Aggravating, frustrating, and not something you want to do on a weekly basis.

What she didn’t have player agency. Player agency is the ability to affect your game. This can be done through roleplay, enacting cunning plans, slaying monsters, creating humorous/memorable moments at the table, and so forth. If a player finds herself regaling her old RPG stories then she had agency. If she feels the game would continue unchanged without her, she lacks agency.

This post covers ways players can lose agency and how to prevent such loss.

So without further adieu:

Table Drown Out

I love boisterous players, they drive the game and stage stunning scenes. However, they can also drive less boisterous players from your table.

Some players may be shy, new to the game, or so polite they kindly wait their turn. If you’re not careful said turn may never come. Boisterous players can snag every bit of agency from the quiet ones: At the end of every scene, they’ll immediately pull you into what they’re doing next. If another party member offers a plan they’ll shoot it down for their own. If you run a scene for someone else, they’ll jump right in and steal it.

What’s tricky is boisterous players aren’t aware they’re robbing agency, they’re having a great time and assume so is everyone else. Trickier still, you might not even notice; Quiet players are quiet and as such easily drowned out by the noisy ones.

Granted some quiet players may be fine with just hanging at the table. The danger is assuming all quiet players are like this. In my experience, most are not. They really want to play and find being drowned out aggravating. These players are the types who will leave your game for ‘real life reasons’, which is true because any outside interest has become more rewarding than game.

A further thing to note, boisterous and quite are relative terms. A boisterous player may become quite if introduced to a new game or new group of players, a quiet one might become boisterous if given the chance to shine.

How To Deal With It

Open communication is a good route. Suggest the quiet player talk to the boisterous ones about the issue or ask, in your capacity as GM, if he would mind you speaking on his behalf. Be careful with this option, though, you don’t want to go behind anyone’s back and cause hurt feelings, the goal is to help the quiet player become more comfortable not draw in conflict or ostracise anyone.

As for other techniques:

Keep a mental note of how much time you allot to the group and each player. If someone’s missing out then cut them in. Ask the player what he’d like to do. If he can’t think of anything throw something at him; an NPC needs his character’s unique skills, he falls across a piece of valuable information, draw in something from his character’s background and so on. . .

Just be thoughtful of what you throw at a quiet player. Make it light and fun, suited to his taste. For God’s sake do NOT throw something horrifying at him unless you know he and the group are okay with such things.  We’re GMs not dread bodhisattvas who enlighten through shock and terror.

Don't be like this arse.

Don’t be like this arse.

Finally, some players are absolutely fine having very little screen time. Respect this, and allow them to remain in the background. They key point is, always give them the option to be involved.

Min-Maxing

Min-maxing is not a GM only problem. If your game revolves around mechanics and certain players have broken said mechanics, then not only are you frustrated, but so are the players who haven’t done this. They get to sit and watch other people be awesome while sitting on the sidelines. They lack agency.

How To Handle This

If you’re okay with min-maxing: Give players of lagging characters advice on how to optimise. This way, you’ll be able to up the challenge of the whole group without having to make specialised challenges for two groups that are on completely different cales.

If you’re not: Let your players know before character creation that you won’t stand for these shenanigans. Be involved in character creation and nip any problems in the bud. Be involved with character advancement.  Feel free to be as meta as you want about this; ‘Yes the rules don’t specifically say you can’t make a character who can lift the Moon, but I’m asking you not to.’ Just be prepared to offer alternatives, minmaxers are players too.

 

The Solo Adventurer

Some players don’t like working with others. Every chance they get they’ll go off on their own happy fun me time. They are the thieves who wish to sneak through the entire dungeon (as opposed to just down the hall), they are the matrix cowboys who explore virtual worlds for hours on end, they are the Wolverine who’ll do the job himself bub. While they strike off everyone else at the table… waits, maybe they order takeout or something, regardless they lose agency.

How To Deal With This

A few ways actually:

  • Talk to the solo player and gently point out that you’d like to focus on everyone, not just him.
  • Solo adventures aren’t bad in of themselves, just try to keep them concise and offer all the players opportunities to take part in them.
  • Throughout character creation and the game work with the players to forge bonds between their characters. Many solo players will bring others into their plots if there’s an in game reason to do so.

Rules Confusion

It’s very easy for any player, especially new ones, to be confused with the rules.  This confusion can lead to indecisiveness and inaction. The player doesn’t know if the action she’s taking is smart so doesn’t do anything.  Worse yet, the player does something and the GM slaps her with a mechanics gotchya, stung she decides to play more cautiously aka: not at all.  Lack of agency all around.

How To Deal With This

During character creation explain the basics to everyone so they know what they’re getting into. This will ensure better characters and prep the players for the actual game.

Don’t engage in gotchya moments.  If a new player’s character is about to suffer an attack of opportunity, warn her. If her character’s first fireball will incinerate the party, warn her. If all she’s played is D&D and in your GURPS game her character is about to charge into 4 guys with prepped crossbows, warn her. In short: don’t be an arse to players new to the system. Your laughter will lead to an empty table.

It's not a good thing when Naga's shrill laugh echoes your own.

It’s not a good thing when Naga’s shrill laugh echoes your own.

 

Secondly, as a GM, take the brunt of the crunch. Know your system so well you can recite its grapple rules in your sleep. I ran a successful GURPS game for years with my players only needing to worry about whether their rolls were under their target; I shouldered the damage multipliers, spell costs, and reactions for them; just call me Saint Chris.

Railroading

This one’s on us GMs, if you design/run a game in a linear fashion, where characters have no choice but to follow a specific path no matter what, then all players lose some agency. This is especially a problem with some older adventure modules where generic characters, with no relation to anything in the plot, are the rule. Playing these can feel like being trapped in a computer RPG, you’re forced along the quest path and the results of your actions will always be the same, no matter what.

How To Deal With This

First get player buy in. Let them know the gist of what you’re running and that you can’t do it if they don’t play along. However, even with this buy in, you’re not done.

Know the adventure like the back of your hand. If the PCs go off the rails adjust dynamically. They chose another route to the abandoned keep? Random monster time. They spotted and killed the enemy spy right away? He doesn’t report in, so the main antagonists react accordingly. The characters decide to work for the antagonists? Roll with it, let them stomp  whomever they were supposed to protect.

Finally, roleplay your NPCs. If the PCs did something amazing the NPCs should comment on it. If the NPC was betrayed then she should be gunning for revenge. If the PCs saved the village they should get a free night or two at the inn. Portraying your NPCs as three-dimensional characters will make even a tightly railroaded adventure seem like a living world.

GM NPCs

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The game should be about the Player Characters. It’s all well and good to work on behest of a king, save a space princess (I wouldn’t though, it’s been done) and protect a village. That’s all fine because the PCs get to call all the shots and do all the things needed to resolve the main problem. However, having a GM ubermench call the shots, and do all the things will end up with your players planning a movie night for next game, and you getting back to your novel.

How To Deal With This

Don’t do it, no matter how much you want to. Yes, we all run games we’d love to play in and it’s likely your players will want to play in it too, but they do not want to watch your personal tale of glory. This is why, during character creation, make sure both your players and yourself like the PCs; they should be characters you want to write stories about, plotting adventures with them in mind should be a pleasure.

No, don’t  make a character to save the PCs butts “just in case”, that’s being patronising, it’s annoying.

If you absolutely must have specific characters as an active part of the game make them pregens.

In conclusion

I hope these tips help. If you find even one bit of this advice useful then I’ve done my job.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

Game Master Musings – Why Do Players Not Write Backgrounds For Their Characters?

Posted in Game Mastering, Roleplaying Games, RPG with tags , , on June 18, 2014 by Chall

Recently a good friend of mine asked “Why do players never write backgrounds for their characters?” It’s a good question that’s stuck with me for weeks. Since I’m a player as well as a GM I thought I’d give a crack at answering it.

Here it goes:

1) Creating Characters Is Work

GMing will always require more work than playing but don’t belittle how much effort your players put into making their characters. Take standard D20 character creation for instance: There’s rolling and jotting down stats, choosing race (jotting down all the racial bonuses), choosing class (jotting down all the class bonuses), feats, skills, saves and that’s even before  rolling starting coin and jotting down, in pain staking detail, each and every piece of equipment and its corresponding weight.

Remember too that your players may not know character creation as well as you do. Much of their effort will be spent referencing the main book,  asking questions and helping other players create their characters.

Depending on the system character creation can be exhausting; Asking your players to then generate a background, right after their recent struggle, will seem as inviting as homework on a weekend.

2) There May No Viable Purpose Behind It

Every stat serves its purpose and you need to write down equipment in case the GM calls you on what your character has. Background on the other hand? In many games it’ll be something you write once, hand to your GM and it’ll never come up again.

This is a problem.

As a Game Master never tell your players to create backgrounds if you plan to do nothing with them. It”ll be wasted effort on their part.

Another friend of mine uses character backgrounds to drive his entire game. If you put a lot of work into yours then it’ll directly correspond with how much the game is about ‘you’. The family, friends and foes you draw up will show up as major plot elements. On the other hand if you don’t put anything into it, you won’t get much of the spotlight at all.

I trust you can see how this can motivate.

Even if you don’t take this approach, if you ask for a background make sure elements of it come up at some point during game. Otherwise, your players are just throwing their ideas into a vacuum and that’s no fun at all.

Note: Some games, such as Pendragon and Fate roll character background into the rules, therefore there is an immediate insentive to write them up. However, even in cases where there are no special rules why not award some sort of bonus or XP for such extra work?

3) You Will Use This As A Tool To Screw Me Over

If you’ve turned PC backgrounds against players before the y may be hesitant to let you do it again.

Players write backgrounds to compliment their characters. If I make a paladin I expect that I may need to rescue my wayward brother at some point. If I make an assassin I (the player) will relish the upcoming confrontation with my kingly father.

If you twist these in uncomfortable ways that make a character look foolish, it frankly sucks. As a paladin I don’t expect to be served my wayward brother in a meat pie without ever having the chance to save him. As an assassin I don’t want to be drugged in my sleep only to wake up naked to be ridiculed in front the court.

Before you do such horrible things be sure you know it’ll be something the player, if not the character, will like.

4) My Character Will Most Likely Die in 5 Minutes

Incredibly gritty and lethal games can be fun but don’t expect players to make detailed backgrounds for characters that you plan to Gorge R.R. Martin.

If you invest a ton in a character and he dies in the first round of the first conflict, that’s a lost investment.

5) I Don’t Have Any Ideas

It’s quite possible that a player may not have any immediate ideas for his character beyond race and class. Perhaps even a short creative writing assignment reminds him of his asshole English prof. Mr. Withers. Whatever the reason, if a player can’t or doesn’t want to write a background then don’t force the issue.

However, if he’s cool with, it there is a work around. Come up with a background for him. Either write it up on the spot or make up, and document, elements of it as the campaign progresses. I’ve found this technique has worked really well in drawing shy players in. Suddenly introducing the character’s Mother, who just happens to be the leader of the friendly resistance cell, does wonders for helping a player feel involved.

 

And those my answer to this question. I hope you’ve found them informative and helpful.

Dragon Trinity Crash Solo Adventure Book 1 – Call of Cakethulu

Posted in Adventure Book, Dragon Trinity Crash, Fate, Roleplaying Games, RPG, Writing with tags , , , , on June 18, 2014 by Chall

So I’ve been busy.

Work on The Childe Hell progresses. I’ve outlined 43 chapters and have finished the first draft for  up to Chapter 4. It’s going slowly but steady.

While working on said novel I’ve also put together a solo adventure book; Dragon Trinity Crash: Call of Cakethulu. This is a labour of love and as such I’m providing it for free, you can find it here: DTC Book 1 Call of Cakethulu . However, in order to play, you’ll need to be familiar with Fate Accelerated. If you don’t have it you can get it easily enough via Evil Hat for a song, err well actually for pay what you’d like but you get the gist.

This book took me a month or three to write up and I’ve had a lot of fun doing it. So much so that I commissioned a cover for it from the spectactuar gNaw.  I think I’ll make more of them, so keep an eye on this blog for more DTC goodness.

In the meantime work on the ADX Anthology continues , once it’s finished you’ll be able to see a full Fate Core hack there.

 

 

 

Chall’s Secrets of GMing

Posted in Game Mastering, Roleplaying Games, RPG with tags , on May 6, 2014 by Chall

A good friend of mine will be reclaiming the GM seat for our biweekly game. He asked if I had any advice. He doesn’t need it, he’s an awesome GM. However, I agreed to provide some pointers. So here they are:

Note: The following assumes you have a solid grasp of role playing game terminology and concepts.

PCs Are Important

Player Characters are the focus of the game. This doesn’t mean the universe revolves around them but it dose mean they must be the center of their story.

For example:

  • In Fantasy: The PCs aren’t Gods, they’re probably not royalty, the fate of kingdoms is not at their whim. However, they are the only ones capable of defending their Orcish village from the Paladins of Lord Genocide.
  • In Space Opera: The Galaxy’s huge and the Celestial Crest is everywhere. While masters of their world the PCs are in no position to take down the despotic Galactic Kings. However, they can make a fool out of their Star Archon and wrest local control from her iron grip.
  • In Steam Punk: The PCs’ air pirate ship is just one of many. They aren’t the most famous buccaneers, yet. They’re pushing for it.

How does one strive for this PC-centredness? Here’s some advice:

Character Creation

Usually players create characters together in the first game session; take advantage of this. The sentiment “Make anything you want.” signifies you simply don’t care. That’s bad.

Ask each player what they’d like to play. Watch for anything that doesn’t fit and offer alternatives. If a player asks what you’d like to see don’t say ‘oh anything really’you’re the GM you should know what you’d like. If a player can’t think of anything offer the types of characters you’d make for this game  as suggestions.

Have the players write out some general ideas about their characters before they jot down a single stat. Where did they grow up? What are their goals? Who do they know?

I highly recommend they also answer: How do I know the other characters? This can really help your game run smoothly. If the characters know each other they have a reason to stay together and are less likely to write problematic PCs.

Most importantly work with the players as to ensure you like each PC, if you don’t the rest of my advice won’t work.

 

Character Backgrounds

If the players have given you backgrounds for their characters don’t simply reward them with extra CP/Xp/Freebie Points; use these backgrounds in your game. Make family members, friends, rivals and foes as key NPCs. Have organizations they mention show up. Take them to places their backgrounds mention.

Your meta-plot doesn’t have focus exclusively on PC history but said history should be an important part of it. The PCs are works of art given to you by your players. Including their stories into the larger one shows that you’ve listened and care.

PCs > NPCs

As mentioned before the PCs must be the center of your game, as such do not regulate them to sidekicks to your NPCs. Taking orders from NPCs is fine, being motivated to help them is great but never put the PCs in a situation where it’s obvious a group of NPCs, who are readily available,  would do a better job. This doesn’t mean the party must be the best at what they do in the entire game world, just that, for the situation at hand, they are the the best choice available.

If you ever get to a point in a game where you’re talking to yourself as two or more NPCs, for more than 10 minutes, you’ve failed.

When writing  NPCs save yourself  time by jotting down only background, motivation, goals and necessary stats. Then, if the players end up liking, or loving to hate this character then you can flesh her out further.

Mortality wise be ruthless with your NPCs, they can die at any moment. Use your parties allies and friends to demonstrate how deadly the world can be. This includes villains, occasionally one-shotting the big bad is exactly what’s needed.

Planning and Running The Game

The following are some simple tips that I’ve found useful for planning and running my games.

 

Know Your Group

Character creation will give you a good idea what of your players want. That being said be sure to keep their tastes in mind and throw in little things that each player will like. If one likes romance, throw some his way. If another likes intrigue, mix some of that in. If a third likes building things, give her a chance to do so, and so on. . .

Also, if you know some of your player’s triggers DO NOT HIT THEM. If you do so knowingly you’re an asshole. If you stumble across one remove it from the game. RGPs are meant to be enjoyable and not destroy friendships.

 

Twenty Point Notes

When I write my adventure notes I simply jot down twenty things. A ‘thing’ in this case is:

  • Plot Summary: The basic idea of what I expect to happen.
  • PC Hooks: Specific notes on why this particular adventure matters to certain PCs.
  • NPCs: Short stat block. Notes. Plan. Motivation.
  • Scenes: A short note on a cool scene I hope gets played out.
  • Clues: If the adventure is a mystery add clues that will enable the party to find a way forward.
  • Troubleshooting: Some ideas on how to tackle things that would ‘break the game’.

Once an adventure is finished I copy my NPC notes to a Rogues Gallery document.

Depending on the game you may need maps.

Finally draft up some screen shots and music that  fit your game and you’re ready to go.

 

PCs > Plot

If a player comes up with something brilliant that circumvents your hard written scheme, go with it. Allow her action to change the scope of the adventure and perhaps even the entire campaign.  It’s scary, yes. You won’t get tell your story the way you wanted to but, it’s not your story, it belongs to the table.

This kind of flexibility is what makes table top games better than Computer RPGS:

  • In table top: Mario could convince the Koopa Kids to join his side and fight against their father.
  • In table top: Link can lure Gannon out of hiding with a clever plan.
  • In table top: Samus doesn’t have to follow her former commander’s orders to not use her armor to its full potential.

Furthermore, if a player comes up with a ‘fan theory’ that blows your actual plot away, change your plot to match. Let the player be right.

 

Setbacks Must Happen and They Must Be Awesome

The flexibility of table top goes both ways.

  • In table top: Mario might get captured.
  • In table top: Link could cheese off the Gorons and get chased away from Death Mountain.
  • In table top: Samus might screw up in such a way that leads to the death of her former troop.

This is okay, setbacks make everything more exciting. Just make sure the PCs can recover.

  • Peach escapes and saves Mario, now they both must fight to regain the Mushroom Kingdom.
  • Link is forced to defeat Darunia and become king of the Gorons.
  • Samus is on her own, but she works better that way.

Setbacks should be interesting and open new possibilities for the game. Allowing your PCs to experience failure increases their investment in the game; as long as you don’t make fun of them for said failures. PC decisions, victories and losses should all matter.

Note: ‘Setback’ can easily mean PC death.  Personally, I never go out of my way to kill a PC, they’re important to my game and losing even one can upset most of my future plots. I’d much rather let a PC live with failure than ice her. That being said, it still happens from time to time, but I try to make such death’s awesome.

 

Challenge

When you run a game do so with the lie that you’re aiming for TPK. You’re not but this lie makes things more exciting.

As for challenges, tailor them to match the party. If you know your PCs and the game system this shouldn’t be too hard.

You should ensure there are several tough challenges. You should also ensure there are one or two easy ones so the party can show off how awesome they are.

Don’t draw up rigid challenges that have only a set number of answers. If a player throws out an idea that you never thought of but would work, then roll with it; even if it turns a difficult challenge into cake walk.

When it comes antagonist NPCs try to err on the side of cunning. The ‘big bosses’ should be tougher than the PCs but only just. If they’re overpowered you’ll wipe out the party and your campaign. If they’re overpowered and you go easy on the party the players will resent you for it. In short make strong (not overpowered) foes and play them smartly.

An addendum:  If the PCs knowingly cheese off someone way more powerful. Someone you had no intention of throwing at them, someone whom you’ve warned is out of their league; then feel free to TPK.

Addendum II: On rare occasions it can be fun to throw uber-NPCs at the party IF there’s a way to deal with or defeat her non-violently. Make sure to give your players plenty of hints of what they’re getting into before they run into this situation.

Finally don’t hang your ego on challenge. Being a GM isn’t about showing how much cleverer you are. It’s far more about imagination and inspiring excitement.

 

Ensure Everyone Has A Part To Play

The initiative system is genius, it forces the GM to go to every single player and ask ‘what do you do?’ then each PC gets the spotlight for one, full round. Take this concept and apply it to the entire game.

There are boisterous and reserved players. The boisterous ones will hog all the game time if you let them; this will lead to the reserved ones getting board and frustrated. A good friend of mine nearly left gaming entirely because of this. It’s aggravating being part of a game that you don’t get to play.

When I run I describe every scene in detail and ask the group “What do you do?” I listen to those who speak  first, pause and then go to everyone else to make sure they participate. If a player can’t think of anything for his character to do I’ll throw something at him to keep him involved.

If the scene turns into a long role play session than I’ll be looser with this rule and  just allow everyone to talk. However, if I see a player doing nothing I will engage them.

The key is to give everyone, whether boisterous or reserved, roughly equal table time.

 

Flow With The Core Mechanics

Be familiar with the rules of your game and use them. Don’t be afraid to teach your players the rules, if they become more familiar with them they’ll enjoy the game more. That being said:

Try not to reference the book constantly.  If you run into a rules snag and find you’re taking over five minutes to look it up/debate make a solid ruling with what you know and move on. After the game  investigate in more detail and let your players know your final decision in the next session.

Keep the mechanics consistent. If the difficulty to lift a car is X in one scene keep it that way in another. Jumping around will only confuse players or convince them you’re railroading them.

Think about working with a problematic roll rather than fudging it. If your villain fails an easy save and gets turned into a chicken, let it happen, either his henchmen will flee with him or the PCs got an unexpected easy win. A critical takes out one of your PCs? Sure he drops but give another PC a chance to save him with an epic first aid roll.

Granted, in cases where a player has been rolling horrible all night you may want to fudge a small amount so he walks away with some victory.

The Plot Must Flow With the PC Decisions

Your NPCs aren’t static bits of code and graphics that respond only in set ways. While not as important as the PCs they should still have personalities, motivations and goals. When PCs do something to aid or stymie their plans have them react accordingly. The King the PCs saved will not just give them a reward and send them on their way; he’ll become a good friend. The supervillain they thwarted will keep them in mind for his next plot. The towns and villages around the PCs will hear of their heroism or cruelty and react accordingly.

In short your campaign should be a living one that enacts its plots on your PCs and reacts to how they deal with them. In that regard, make sure your metaplot notes are loose and leave plenty of room for change.

In Conclusion

Game Mastering is a rewarding experience. You get to craft a memorable stories with your friends. The with part is key; players must know the actions of their PCs are meaningful, otherwise you’re simply forcing them through your own personal novel.  Novel writing is a worthy and wonderful pursuit but it’s not the same as Game Mastering. Make sure the PCs are characters you like, throw them in the center of the narrative and let it all  live and grow based on the player’s actions and the dice. You’ll end up with a tale better than anything you could have created on your own.

Dark Crystal Fan Fiction: The Hunter And the Shard

Posted in Dark Crystal, Fantasy, Fiction, Publishing with tags , , on March 1, 2014 by Chall

It’s been a while, I’ve been hella busy.

These past few months I’ve been writing up a massive outline for my novel The Childe Hel and waiting for word on Author’s Quest.

Well word just got in and…. I didn’t even make the top 20 list.

Ouch.

Sting of defeat huh?

Still, my heartiest congratulations go to the winners and honorable mentions.

Regardless of how I placed, I’m very proud of this work. If you folks like it let me know and I may continue it in fan fiction form.

It’s sad I can’t make this cannon but I’m richer for the experience in writing it and thankful for the Jim Henson Company for providing this opportunity.

 

Prologue: The Beast of Change

UrVa held the tiny, wooden stick in his lower hands with perfect stillness. His upper hands manipulated hammer and chisel. With gentle taps he shaved the final, miniscule spiral. He passed it to an upper hand and blew off the tiny shavings. He squinted at it amidst the light of the sun globe on his cave’s wall.

The curved lines held a pattern that spoke of long life, yet terminated roughly, spilling currents of the future into the void. UrVa’s creation held beauty and sorrow; he frowned, not entirely pleased with it.

He squinted further as light from the Great Sun spilled into his cozy chamber. He tucked the ‘Gelfling wand’ into his coat and turned to check his gear.

He placed a lower hand on his trusty rucksack to feel the contours of its contents, knowing instinctively it held everything he needed for his journey. He swung the pack onto his back with a smooth, practiced motion.

He lifted his quiver filled with arrows, their silver fetchings glimmering in the morning light. He fitted this onto his hip.

He lifted his bow with an upper hand. It was crafted of crimson yew, its curve smooth and strong. He ran a finger along its string, made from reverse twisted lelrik sinew. He slung the bow over his shoulder.

He swept a lower hand and the sun globe died but his room became brighter with the rising Great Sun.

Now ready, he stepped out into the circular Valley of the Mystics. Its cliffs were worn with time. Sturdy wooden bridges crossed the upper ledges. Stairs carved into the rock led to the upper levels and out of the valley. Numerous caves yawned out of the cliffs; the dwellings of his fellow Uru. The dusty ground was dotted with colorful sand gardens fenced in by large, smooth stones.

The white Great Sun, peaking above the eastern cliffs, usurped the Rose Sun’s dimmer light, turning the sky blue.

The Ritual Guardian, urZah, attended the Dawn Mystery. He held a ladle of green sand and carefully poured it into a white pebble circle, slowly revolving his upper hand so as to rain the grains in a prefect spiral pattern. While doing so he raised his long Uru neck to gaze disapprovingly at urVa.

The Archer let out a rumbling chuckle and ambled gracefully over, admiring his dear friend’s handy work.

“So wise one; what do you see?” urVa’s lips were still but thoughts reached urZah none the less.

UrZah grunted, “Nothing good.”

The Ritual Guardian’s green eyes locked with the Archer’s brown, his lower hand squeezed urVa’s tightly. “The beast of change stirs; it threatens to devour all. You will go, but you will not be safe.”

UrZah’s urgency struck like a spear of ice. The Archer staggered for a moment,but he lurched forward and hugged his friend. “Still, I must go. UrSu calls us to follow our nature, yours is a still pool, mine is a flowing current. If I stay I will betray myself and stagnate.”

He rumbled another chuckle, “Besides, if Change wishes to devour me, best give it a moving target.”

He pulled away to find his friend wearing a dubious look. “Then go, but do not end your own journey. If you do, you’ll be truly lost.”

“With your words, I could never be lost.” Said urVa, patting urZah’s upper hand with his own. “Until we meet again, friend.”

With that, he turned to a stair and made a long accent up, seemingly walking into the Great Sun.

The other Uru stepped out of their caves to watch him go; some from the upper levels, others from the lower. Their long necks stretched, to get a better look at their departing brother.

UrSu the Master stood beside urZah, his gentle hand resting on the Ritual Guardian’s back, his expression resigned with a hint of pride. UrZah’s gaze drifted back to his sand painting, searching its spiral for a sign of hope against the foreseen.

Chapter 1: Nari the Silfa

As Shabasha sailed into Vastel-Re, the tiny, purple Dying Sun followed the Rose Sun as it sunk beyond the plain of Skarith in the east.

Shabasha was a seapede, large as a tall ship, with an enormous gray-blue, round shell upon whom stood two sturdy masts with triangular, sapphire sails. Two decks wound around her; an upper enveloped her shell, and a lower layalong her long, segmented back. Her round, smooth, chitinous head was raised above the water like a figurehead, her antenna twitched casually.

Along her decks and masts ran tan Sifa Clan Gelflings, keeping Shabasha’s sails taught and guiding her into port. While they worked they sang an eveningsong; a brisk ditty about Ekka the Tracker.

Vastel-Re was a sprawling city. Its harbor was expansive and docked numerous vessels, though none as exotic as Shabasha. Its buildings were solid, wooden constructs scattered about haphazardly, the tallest being five stories. Lights lit the windows and smoke rose from the chimneys. Gelflings of all colors and clans swarmed the streets, their voices rose in chatter and eveningsong. The smell of the sea and fresh fish hung in the air.

Beyond Vastel-Re lay Skarith, its fields rich with wheat, orchards laden with fruit, quaint Glefling farms strewn all about.

Beyond Skarith, towering over Vastel-Re, even at this distance, was the Castle of the Crystal with its many towers zigzagging up into the sky and its walls pulsing with a haunting, purple luminescence.

A group of Woodland Clan Gelfling guards waited for Shabasha as she drifted to her dock. They were five; all dressed in green cob-leather, complete with bronze hawk helms and armed with halberds – their cross-shell blades pointed forward officiously. Their captain, who had a very crisp, blonde beard, stood at the head.

The Sifa sailors regarded them with disdain. One rough elder buzzed down on her sea-gray wings just to glare.

“All this to collect port tribute Joseph? I’m honored.” Called a light, mocking voice from the lower deck.

It belonged to a fit Sifia Gelfling. Young, but with tufts of silver in her black, shoulder-length hair. A silver torc hugged her neck. Set in it was a black stone with a silver wind glyph. She was dressed in the same loose-fitting garb as the rest of the sailors.

At her side was the snow-white Grotton Gelfling, Kylx,dressed in a long black coat with silver trim, a wide-brimmed hat and, most noticeably, a red blindfold.

“We’re here by order of skekSil, don’t tarry us.” said the Grotton Gelfling, his gentle voice tinged with a slight edge as he waved his hand dismissively.

Shabasha turned her massive head towards the guards and chittered loudly with annoyance. A crystal-backed, black idrell landed on the Sifia’s shoulder and squawked.

The guards stumbled at Shabasha’s disapproval and lowered their pikes. The captain stood his ground and, as if lecturing a child, said “Nari the Silfa and her pet cave gob. Yes, you will pay us port tribute but we’re also here for a deeper reason.”

“Oh?” Nari replied, waving for her crew to lower the tribute, “Better be quick, I have business at the Castle.”

The sailors lowered three barrels to the docks. One of the guards knocked on one and it hummed. He grinned, “Echo Wine.”

“That’ll do.” Said the captain. To Nari, he added “It’s my duty to inform you that Castle of the Crystal is closed, Emperor’s orders. No one is to go in or out.”

With a sneer he added “Least of all the Silfa.”

“Oh?” Nari replied haughtily. “We’ll see about that.”
Twenty hearty Woodland guards stood before the castle gate. The castle’s crystal walls shed eerie purple light. Two large sun globes on either side spread a pool of true illumination.

Nari and Kylx approached them boldly.

“Out of the way.” Nari waved, “We have business with Master skekSil.”

The guards tightened formation, their bronze armor clanking. The one at their head lowered his pike “No one passes.”

Nari glared and replied “Listen you garthdee, we have a delivery for the Chamberlain,” she waved a large leather purse before him, “so let us through or you’ll answer to him.”

“You’re calling me a garthdee?” The Woodland said dryly, “We serve the Emperor, you serve his flower maid.”

Nari’s brown eyes narrowed and her hand went to her knife.

Kylx, blindfolded or no, sensed this. He sent her a silent, mental-missive. ‘Sister, don’t. There’s nothing to be gained by causing trouble.’

Nari squeezed the hilt of her sheathed knife, then let go. “I’d wonder why the Castle’s in lock down but the answer’s obvious.” she offhandedly commented while casually hanging her pouch on her belt.

“Woodland has failed the Emperor.

Again.”

It was the guards’ turn to squeeze their hilts.

“Nari, don’t.” Kylx warned.

Nari grabbed her brother’s hand, “This wouldn’t happen if he hired a Spiriton troop.”

Then she, with Kylx, ran. About half of the guards shouted with outrage and gave chase.
Nari had changed into a tight, black, sleeveless tunic, with a red cord belt and bear legs. Her hair was tied in a pony tail. Her gray, gossamer wings folded across her back. The torque, with her wind birth charm, stayed on.

Kylx and Aunt Ada, the rough elder from before, exited Shabasha’s shell.

Kylx’s blindfold was off revealing his wide, pure black eyes. Ada was equipped with a wooden bracer, embedded in black stone with a sliver patience glyph.

“Nebrie steaks with my shh root rub, as ordered.” Kylx said, tossing a tightly bound, waterproof sack at his sister.

She caught it and tied it to her belt, opposite of her treasure purse. “Thank you, brother.”

To Ada she said “If I’m not back before the next sunset Shabasha goes to Kylx, take care of them both.”

She patted the seapede’s neck and Shabasha cheek-rubbed Nari in return, nearly knocking the giggling Gelfling into the drink.

Kylx stared off at the distant castle. “Woodland’s swarming, it’d be best if we waited for the castle to open.”

“He’s right.” Ada added.

Nari held out her hand for Nirqu, the idrell to land on. She scratched the bird’s feathers and the idrell cooed softly.

“Are you even listening?” Kylx exclaimed.

Nari touched Kylx’s shoulder and Nirqu walked onto it. She then answered in an all business tone. “When did I say we’d deliver the Donidam egg?”

“By tonight.” Kylx said, shaking his head in exacerbation.

“When have we ever failed the Master?”

“Never.”

Nari patted his cheek. “There you go. I’m listening but your words are nonsense.”

“I promised Mother I’d look after you. Ada, can you talk some sense into her?”

Ada chuckled dryly, “Oh no. She’s never listened to me.”

“Just be careful.”

Nari grinned sweetly and picked up her knife and bow. The bow was the greater, made from rare black yew, strung by wire vine which lived off the suns and its ever living stave. She then made a great show of putting both on the deck and stepping away. “There, now if I’m caught no one can accuse me of being an assassin.”

“Wonderful.” Kylx huffed.

Nari kissed him on the cheek, checked the pouches on both hips, picked up her snorkel and dove into the Silver Sea.
It took a good hour for Nari to traverse the chill, night-dark harbor and a further up the Vastel river. She spent most of it underwater, taking breaths through her snorkel and then diving long and deep.

Every time she peeked above the surface, she saw Woodland with their sun tubes shining on land and water, combing the docks and questioning everyone they met.

Eventually, the Castle of the Crystal loomed before her, blotting out the stars. Its purple glow giving no real light. The parapet sun tubes, on the other hand, illuminated the river nicely.

She’d get one shot at this and surfacing in the light would lead to arrows, then drowning, then death.

‘Ketch.’ Nari silently swore.

She patted her treasure purse, closed her eyes, sucked in a large breath and dove under the surface.

She swam quickly, deeply, blindly. She clawed water until her fingers slid along the slimy river bottom. She continued, faster, farther, until she felt rough rocks.

Her lungs were screaming but she kept her breath.

Nari clambered up the stone, feeling frantically for the opening. It took an agony of forever to find the sharp tooth and the rough lip of the monster face that was the sewer drain.

She pulled herself inside its mouth.

The current pushed against her. A gurgleof air escaped, her heart pounded. At near panic she pulled herself up as fast as she could. Suddenly, her mouth broke surface but bumped slick stone preventing the rest of her from rising.

“Good enough.” She thought, deep breathing in the putrid sewer air.

Once she had calmed, with some reluctance, Nari dove down and swam along the pitch black tunnel, letting her snorkel scrap against the jagged ceiling and taking breaths of the toxic air available when the snorkel broke surface.

Eventually, the tunnel opened into a large pool. She could see two, bright, sun globes beckoning her to land and, almost as importantly, offered the promise of fresh air.

She grinned in exhaustion. ‘Nearly done. Hope you guys are hungry.’

Nari took a deep breath, dove and swam the length of the pool. Within moments she felt rough rock on the opposite side. She untied the nebrie steak pouch, pulled herself up and, with her head still underwater, flung the sack onto the landing above.

She pushed herself down. Water dulled the chorus of yaps and growls thatechoed above her. She held herself deep for a good three minutes, her Sifa endurance sustaining her. Then, when the barks and snarls were silent, she quickly pushed herself to the surface.

She climbed onto a rocky landing. Two sun globes, on either side of an archway, lit the dark stone. Above her, dim purple crystal shone. At her feet a dozen large puff balls – garthdees, to be precise – lay around the shredded steak bag, snoring, making pitiful whimpers, little paws moving. Very cute but Nari knew if she’d surfaced with them awake, she’d suffer their many, many teeth.

She had just caught her breath when she heard rushed footfalls and saw flashes of light from the archway.

‘Ketch!’ Nari leaped, buzzed her wings, and flew straight over the water and towards the western wall.

A moment later, five Woodland rushed in, their sun tubes running along the ground.

“Hieke, Fizgig!” cried one as he knelt beside two of the larger garthdees.

Three flashed their beams on the water.

One unfolded her green wings and took to the air, her beam dancing across the ceiling.

The one by the garthdees sighed, “Only sleeping, they’re only sleeping.”

“Yani, anything up there?” called another.

She swooped around the chamber, her light strafing above. “No, looks all clear.”

Nari, meanwhile, had already pushed herself through a tight, shadow-covered crack in the wall.
Nari crept through the western crack, up the rocky shoot and into the Shaft of the Crystal.

It was vast, wider than a house. It was hot. Thra’s burning blood lay at the bottom, its glow staining the walls red. It was deep Nari’s ascent would be too long for her liking.

The Sifa jumped, spread her wings and flew, the rising thermals helping her.

While she flew she kept her eyes on the wall, never looking up. IT was up there, the Dark Crystal. Its presence felt like a cold sun. It took all her will not to peek.

‘If Gelfling looks the Crystal will entrance her and she will fall.’

Master skekSil’s warning, Nari heeded it well.

She spied a large steel door on the western side of the shaft, skekTek’s secret lab. Not her destination, she was forbidden from entering and had no interest in doing so. She flew past, weaving slowly and carefully around the large crystals hanging before it.

She ascended further, sweat dripping from her everywhere. The norther wall held a small, shallow alcove. She flew forward and grasped its warm surface. She tugged on a small hand hold and part of it swung in and she ducked inside.
Nari had to wait with her back against the secret door. She heard constant footfalls and the occasional snatch of conversation.

Woodland knew someone had penetrated the Castle.

In spite of the wait, she enjoyed her rest in this cool crook; the walls around her pulsed purple, coloring her florescent.

As night waned, a stone of anxiety rolled in Nari’s stomach. Regardless, she would not move until the time was right. Woodland voices still echoed in the hall beyond.

Only when these voices were a mere murmur, did she trigger the door and step lightly into the hallway.

Nari sneaked quickly through, the red carpet muffing her footfalls.

Finally she arrived at a familiar wooden door with gold filigree.

Before she could knock, voices rose in the passageway and shadows danced across the wall. She was about to dive for cover when the great door creaked open and five uniformed Podlings dragged her inside.
The Podlings were half Nari’s height, despite this they Gelfling-handled her in the waiting chamber. Three branched off to push the door shut and two escorted her behind a wooden dressing blind that had pastoral Skarith painted on the outside.

“A thousand pardons. The Master’s expecting you, he ordered us to prepare you for his august presence.”

Nari fought down her fight instinct. “A-alright. Good. Fine. Get me ready.” She let out a deep relaxing breath.

The Podling’s uniforms were the same for the boys and girls: a long black coat with silver buttons and a pillbox hat on their bald, pink heads.

The speaker pulled Nari over a grate. Her partner briskly climbed a ladder and swiftly dumped a bucket of hot water over her.

The Sifa yelped.

In the background the other Podlings were shooing Woodland away.

“It is Master’s business.”

“You have no authority here.”

“Go back to your dust and hallways Wooldand.”

As the guards grumbled away, Speaker Podling stripped Nari of her tunic, scrubbed and dried her. She then helped her into a regal, hooded, green Woodland robe. Meanwhile, Ladder Poding tied Nari’s hair into two, neat braids.

Speaker, with a beneficent smile, announced “Ah, now you’re ready. Please. This way.”

Ladder Podling handed Nari her treasure purse.

“Thank you.” she said graciously.

Nari was escorted beyond the waiting room and into the main chamber. It was grand; the size of a Gelfling mansion. Stately, white marble covered the crystal walls with fragrant and colorful flowers crawling up it. The ceiling, though still pulsing purple, was lit by a grand chandelierand warmth came from a cozy fireplace to the right. To the left, a stately door. In front of Nari sat a huge polished, black marble desk behind which stood the master.

SkekSil towered like a tree. His beak was sheathed in gold. His face black as night, his green eyes held genius mixed with kindness. He was dressed befitting a Master, in a grand, royal, red robe.

“Hmmmm, yes you are here. This is good. Sit, be welcome.” His voice was slippery, his talk strange but his spirit spoke strong. Nari felt a great weight lift off her shoulders, as if returning home. She would be no less comfortable in the arms of her father.

She climbed the Gelfing chair in front of the great desk. It was three Gelfings high, its seat firm and straight, it was bolted to the floor so there was no danger of falling.

When Master sat, he was still taller than she.

“Please, Gelfing will tell of her journey, yes?”

Nari lowered her gaze respectfully. “Master, we swiftly retrieved the Donidam egg as requested. It was a long, dangerous journey. The Donidam nearly killed my brother, I was forced to slay her. We returned to Vastel-Re just in time but Wooldand’s locked down the Castle, I had to use the secret way.”

“Yes, very troubling that is, lots of nasty problems in the castle. Hmmm… dangerous times. I am glad my Silfa is safe.”

Nari lifted her treasure pouch to him. “Master, did I make it in time? Is this to your liking?”

SkekSil’s claw hooked the loop of the satchel. With dexterous fingers he opened it and a brown egg, large for a Gelfing but tiny for him, rolled into his hand. He held it between thumb and fore-claw, brought his green eye to bear, and examined carefully its gold flecked surface.

Nari sat on the edge of her seat.

SkekSil slowly smiled. He carefully put the egg back in its purse and tucked it in his pocket. Sounding pleased he answered. “Yes, of course, my Silfa never fails me. Yes, you do your parents proud.”

Nari bowed and saluted with her fist to her heart. “All glory to my Master, I live to serve.”

She then risked a questioning glance. “Master? May I know why Woodland’s in such a stir?”

SkekSil looked sideways at Nari, his expression suddenly troubled.

Nari immediately bowed her head. “My apologies Master, if it’s not for me to know, it’s not for me to know.”

“Hmmm…not that. Master wants to tell his Gelfling but is afraid such tidings will hurt her. She who has worked so hard for skekSil, she who deserves no pain.”

Nari regarded her Master with the utmost determination and replied “Master, I’ve weathered everything from the Swamps of Sog to the Claw Mountains, bad news is nothing to me.”

“Gelfling leaves me no choice.” skekSil sighed. He then leaned forward with his hands folded in front of him, his voice lowered to almost a whisper. “A Woodland has stolen a Shard of Lies from skekTek. Rian has betrayed his master… Rian has fled. Poor foolish Gelfing knows not what he has wrought.”

Nari giggled “Hah, so that’s it. They dropped the goof and have to be competent for once.”

“That is not all.” skekSil added, his tone sorrowful. “Skesis designed the Shard of Lies as a trap. It was meant to draw in the Hunter, imprison him so he no longer kills Gelfling. Crystal of Lies is incomplete, it will not trap the Hunter, only lure him. Rian and all of Thra is in danger.”

Nari gripped the armrests of her seat. “The Hunter?”

“No, no.” crooned skekSil, “Nari should not think of this. The Hunter is dangerous, the Hunter has already killed Nari’s family. She should not go after Rian, it will only lead her to suffering.”

Nari broke gaze with him, gritting her teeth said said. “Master, I know how dangerous the Hunter is. If this Rian is still alive, he’s good. So good that the only Gelfling who can catch him is me.”

When Nari looked up, steel flashed in her brown eyes. “Loose me on him, Master. I’ll capture Rian, secure the shard and, ancestors willing, finish the Hunter for good.”

SkekSil rose and put his two black claws over his heart. “No, no… Nari will be killed. SkekSil couldn’t bear to lose his Silfa. She is like his child… it will pain him gravely.”

Nari stood on her seat “Master, please. I’ve never failed you. Uou’ll get the shard and Rian.

I have to do this.”

The Master shook his head sadly, “Master pleads but child will disobey. Best to give child everything he knows to help her survive.

Gelfing will open her mind.”

Nari smiled in relief, “Of course, Master.” and she knelt in her chair.

SkekSil leaned forward and focused.

Pure thought and will ran into Nari’s mind.

“Rian. He’s slightly younger than Nari. He has a light complexion, clever blue eyes, short red hair. He was wearing a guard’s uniform. He’s cunning and fast.

The Shard of Lies. A long, clear, knife shaped crystal, bigger than Nari’s hand but shorter than a Gelfing sword. It was stolen from skekTek’s lab a day ago. Once it has been retrieved be very careful it will show you visions, these will be lies, do not fall for them or all is lost.

The Hunter . ..

Nari suddenly trembled, visions of shining, white, feline mask and scorpion tail rose to the surface of her memory:

“Nari, Kylx run!” cried her mother in anguished fear.

She felt her stomach drop. She squeezed Kylx’ hand and ran.

“We can’t leave them!” he screamed.

“Promise me you’ll look after each other!” And then a scream of pain cut suddenly short.

“Mother! I promise, I swear I’ll look after her.” Kylx sobbed back.

“Just run!

Shabasha!”

 

Kylx leaned his chair back against Shabasha’s shell.

“Ow!” he winced as the Great Sun rose in the east. He quickly shut his black eyes and tied the red blindfold back in place. He tugged the brim of his hat to further block the light.

He felt Ada’s firm hand on his shoulder.

Kylx sighed. “She’s too stubborn. I would have felt better if she had taken her weapons. Woodland holds long hate, they’ll kill her if they find her.”

“She’s here.” replied Ada’s aged voice. “Your sister always makes it back.”

Kylx stood and grasped Ada’s arm, “Let me see please.”

He sensed Ada’s nod and his mind reached out. He grunted with effort, aunt’s mind was as still and calm as granite but powerful worry drove him and within moments he was able to share her sight.

Ada was watching a Woodland captain, her green hood pulled deep, shadows hiding her face. She was walking quickly for Shabasha.

Ada had noticed she was alone and she moved with the long strides of a Sifa.

After another moment they both knew for sure, as her spirit warmed their minds.

“Lower the gangplank.” Ada ordered.

The cousins did so, none questioning and a few sharing secret smiles as the Captain came on board.
In the Captain’s quarters, on the upper deck, Nari peeled off her Woodland robe and cloak. She held it frowning. Master had given it to her, yes it could prove useful but… she spat in it, folded it and stuffed it out the porthole, wrinkling her nose as she did so.

“Glad to have you back, Captain.” said Ada while handing Nari sensible, Sifa garb.

Kylx grunted in agreement.

Nari pulled on her shirt, spun and hugged her brother. “See? Everything turned out.”

“It could have easily not.” Kylx grumbled, but hugged back.

Nari pulled up her trousers and tied her sash around her waist. She grinned at Ada. “Glad to be back. We’ve got work from Master. Set sail for Port Ethdelg immediately.”

“Yes Captain.”

There was no salute, such things are useless with family. Ada marched outside and yelled the order.

Nari closed the door, her expression turning grave. “Kylx sit down. We need to talk.”
SkekSil held the ringer for a full second. A moment later the peephole, in the sturdy steel door, telescoped at him and the gruff bark of skekTek came over the comm. “It’s late. What do you want?”

SkekSil, who had removed his gold beak covering, revealing the green underneath, wore his most patient smile and said. “SkekSil has brought something for his good friend, yes? Something he’s been looking for for a long time, hmmm?”

He could feel the wheels of skekTek’s thought turning, literally. Long ago he’d planted a telepathic barb in his mind and it had grown deep.

“Fine, come in.”

The door ka-chunked and swung open.

The lab’s visitor chamber was fully armored, steel walls covered every inch of purple crystal. A dozen, obvious camera lenses stuck out of the wall. The door beyond, into the inner lab, was fully sealed with an imposing steel spinner lock.

SkekTek stood before him. He had a fair complexion, a long face, pointed beak, his scrawny hands were clasped together outside a cream colored, stitched robes. He smelled of cleaning chemicals.

SkekSil ambled forward, pushing skekTek aside with pure casualness.

SkekTek snarled/snorted and pressed a solid button, the hallway door ka-chuncked closed. He spun on his guest. “Well, lets see it.”

“Of course.” skekSil crooned. He pulled the treasure pouch out of his pocket and handed it to the Scientist’s eagerly waiting claw.

He tore open the bag and held the donidam egg between thumb and for-claw. He raised it to his monocled eye which telescoped to get a better look. Up close, small golden sparks arched between the brown egg’s golden fleks.

SkekTek did a double-take, examined the egg more closely, grinned triumphantly and pumped his free fist in the air with a victorious “Haaaaaaah!”

“Yes.Yes. This is perfect. This will complete my Nionsork nicely.” He tucked it into his pocket.

He then snapped his attention to skekSil “How did you get it?”

“Hmm, your ally has his ways.” he answered smugly.

“Whatever, what’s important is you got it and gave it to me. Now if skekMal can retrieve the Shard my good mood will be complete.”

“Hmmm, unless your true ally finds it first.” skekSil added.

SkekTek raised an eyebrow and suddenly glared accusingly at ‘his friend’. “What? You already have it? Did you steal it just to get a rise out of me? The Emperor will hear of this.”

SkekTek’s jolt of suspicion nearly knocked the mind bard loose, this would not do.

“No, nooo. skekSil is your friend, be at peace. SkekSil only has your best interest at heart. He only meant, just as he found the egg, he may also be able to find the Shard.” The Chamberlain pushed, with steady pressure, the power of his will through his words.

SkekTek still glared, but his shoulders slumped.

SkekSil put his claw gently on his ‘friend’s’ shoulder and guided the Scientist to his uncomfortable metal seat.

“SkekMal is nasty, brutish, stupid.” he added with venom. “Clever Gelfing may give him the slip, if so, skekSil’s methods will triumph. Many eyes are better than two hmmm?”

Feeling skekTek’s suspicions ebb, skekSil risked a thought nudge, ‘Now give my my reward you ingrate.’

SkekTek sat, thought, fidgeted and finally said

“Of course, you’re right. Enough of this, now for your reward, what will it be?”

SkekSil feigned pleasant surprise. “Your friend is getting old… bones ache… hmmm? Your friend requires essence.”

The Scientist glared at Chamberlain for a long moment and barked “Essence is only for the Emperor.” At which they both let out screeching cackles.

“Heh, hah, yes, for the Donidam egg, essence. The finest in my stock.” SkekTek wiped a tear from his good eye.

He then hammered a button and roared “Slave 136, get out here!”

A small door slid open in the far wall. Out of it walked an emaciated Gelfling.

Her hair was stiff, most of it had fallen out. Her once brown eyes were covered with a milky film. She wore ripped seafaring clothes. Around her left arm was a wooden bracer, embedded in it was a black stone etched with a silver key glyph. She had a more than a passing resemblance to Nari. She held a silver tray, on it a clear flask that contained a blue, luminescent liquid.

SkekSil’s green eyes flashed and his lips tightened.

Was this an insult?

He forced himself to relax. No, of course not. This was simply skekTek’s way of subconsciously struggling against his mental influence. SkekSil made a silent note to be more careful exerting his will against his ‘friend.’

“Sifa Clan.” skekTek said with pride. “Their essence is like a fine wine. It gets better with age.” He reached down and snatched the flask. The husk that was Nari’s mother let out a forsaken whine.

“This particular vintage was harvested by skekMal. I agree he is bestial but he has his use.”

SekSil took the offered essence. The aroma was like the sea but it warmed his beak.

“Hmmm. One can suppose.” skekSil said dismissively, eying his former Silfa.

It briefly occurred to him that he could tuck the essence away, perhaps even use it to reconstitute his servant. Nari would be over the moon.

The Chamberlain snickered. Like that would happen.

“Often poor, poor people outlive their use. What happens then? Hmmm?”

He drank the Gelfing’s essence before her despairing eyes, enjoying the strong tones of savory betrayal.

Chapter 2: Eka The Tracker

“. . . so we’re heading for Port Ethdelg.”

Kylx rubbed his pointed ear thoughtfully, looking troubled. Nari sat on her bed, her exhausted, shoulders slumped, her head lowered and eyes closed.

Finally he broke the silence, his tone cautious, “Makes sense. If I were on the run that’d be the first place I’d go. I could catch a ship and disappear into the Silver Sea, run for the Black River or, if I’m desperate, flee into Dark Wood and hope Spiriton finds my pursuers before finding me.

The only catch is; what if he’s still in Vastel-Re?”

“If he was, he’d have been caught. Woodland’s everywhere.”

After a moment she shrugged.

“That and I have a hunch.”

More tense, thoughtful silence passed.

“You’re not going to try to talk me out of it?” Nari asked.

“No.” Kylx snapped. “The Hunter killed our parents. We capture Rian, use the Shard of Lies as bait, then we finish the Hunter for good.”

Nari sighed, “I’m sorry. I should have known you’d be for this.

I’m their natural child but I ran when we could have fought . You, you wanted to stay and fight or die. Foundling or no, you’re Mom and Dad’s true son.” she said, rubbing her arm and avoiding Kylx’s gaze, blindfold or no.

“Ketch,” Kylx hissed, he reached over and hugged Nari tight. He pulled off his blindfold, wincing in the cabin’s light, she glanced up at him wiping a tear away.

Locking gazes with her he asked “How many times do I have to say this? You’re my true sister. If you hadn’t pulled me along I’d be dead. Now, though; we’re stronger and we can fight the Hunter on our own terms.” He smiled fiercely.

Nari, grinned back wickedly. “Yeah, everything bleeds.”

A rough knock at the door startled them both.

“Captain, the crew wishes journeysong.” Ada’s tone left it in question who was in command.

“We’ll be right out.” Called Nari, grabbing her hornpipe off its wall mount.
The Rose and Great suns were near to passing by the time the crew gathered on the lower deck for journey song. They carried various instruments, mostly pipes and drums. Kylx held the grandest, a lelrik bone sitar, treasured by his adopted father before him.

The sails were dropped, Shabasha drifted along the shore of the Silver Sea. Some distance behind her lay Vastel-Re, to port and following her on her southward journey, a long stretch of beech bordering the Dark Wood.

The Sifa gathered around Ada silently. Kylx strummed a haunting cord from his sitar and together the Gelfings rose in music. It was a fast-paced tune. Ada’s alto rose above it, her voice calling tones that flowed along the music perfectly. Nari’s horn pipe occasionally surfaced for its own solo.

No words in this journeysong but these Gelfings, as with all Gelflings, were connected by it. This wordless song spoke of myth and rumor. Recent rumor, in fact. It told of the mysterious hero the Crimson Star, how he tricked and stole from the ravenous Rebog Mother, to return the Woodland Queen’s crown. Ada’s voice was joyous as she sang. This particular song was a good omen.
The Rose Sun set in the east, lighting Port Ethdelg in its crimson hew. The port was a compact affair of one to two story stone buildings. Its docks held ample room for Shabasha but only a single Sifa approached for dock tribute.

“Hail grandfather.” called Nari respectfully, as Shabasha lowered her neck so she could walk down it.

“Hail child.” responded the old dock master with equal respect.

When Nari stepped off the dock Shabasha chittered, Nari reached up and scratched under her chin, the ship grmmmed affectionately in response. Beyond her, on the north Ethdelg beach, Nari spied a cluster of tiny sloops and a large crowd somberly lighting them on fire.

“My deepest condolences grandfather.” she said with true sympathy.

“Thank you, child.” replied the dock master.

Nari turned to her crew. “Three barrels of echo wine and two chests of bronze shell.”

“Aye, aye.” replied Ada and the rest of the crew snapped to it.

Shabasha lowered her neck so Kylx could walk onto the dock, Nirqu on his shoulder, nuzzling under his hat.

“May we bear witness?” Nari asked.

The grandfather, eying the generous bounty being set before him, bowed before her and said “That you may.”
Seven ships were lit and set out onto the water. The crowd, a mix of young and old, stood tearfully watching them go. Mothers and fathers embraced and howled. Grandparents stared off with bitterness. Children clung to their parents. The Great Sun sank into the western Silver Sea. The chill wind kissed body and soul while carrying the scent of funerary incense.

Nari and Kylx stood far apart. Nari’s head was bowed, in her hands Nirq was cupped, she rubbed his feathers fretfully with her thumbs.

Kylx unbound his eyes and squinted even in this dim light. He touched Nari gently on the shoulder.

“I’ll talk to them. I’m a stranger, the ghosts won’t see me.”

Nari glanced up, biting her lip. “Thank you.”

Kylx smiled gently, turned, and with long strides walked towards the funeral.

He knew well Sifa tradition and superstition. However, while he grew up surrounded in it, he was never expected to comply. It left him an outsider, but such a state had its advantages.

An elderly couple watched him approach. When he got closer their expressions turned surprised and fearful.

“Grandfather, grandmother.” Kylx greeted, in a perfect Sifa, dialect.

Grandfather squinted at him behind his glasses, then a relieved smile lit his face “Oh,” he chortled, “You’re so pale, I thought you were a ghost.”

Grandmother nudged him and hissed “Lale, don’t be rude.”

“I’m not being rude!”

Kylx politely cleared his throat.

“Oh yes, how can we help you deary?” Grandmother asked.

“My sincerest condolences, I’m curious of the cause of this terrible calamity and hope there’s a way I, a humble finder, can help.”

“A finder!” Lale gasped, seizing Kylx’s forearm in a boney grip.

“No Lale, you’ll put this fine young man in danger.”

Lale payed her no heed, “A finder! Yes, you can help. Come with me.”

“There!” The old Gelfling jabbed a boney finger at a farhome. It was a story high, square, solidly built. They were on the southwest corner, or what used to be it, it had a large hole, as if something crashed through on the inside. The debris had been cleared and sat in neat piles to either side. Three saw horses in a semi-circle blocked this new entrance. A guard, dressed in tsambertis hide armor, armed with spear, holding a lantern, stood watch.

He walked quickly up to the group. “What’s this? Clear off.”

“This is Nari the Silfa, she’s here to deal our vengeance.” Lale said, gesturing beside him.

Nari stepped fully into the torch light. On her shoulder hung her her black yew bow, her brown eyes glimmered proudly, her wind charm gleamed at her neck. Kylx stood at her side, his wide brimmed hat hiding his eyes in shadow. Nirq, resting on his shoulder, glared at the impudent young Gelfing.

He stumbled back, stammering “The Silfa? My apologies. How can I be of service?”

Nari brushed the guard aside and gestured for Kylx to step forward.

Her brother looked slowly, carefully, around the area and since they were already sharing sight Nari saw all he discovered.

There were gouge marks in the walls of the farhome. Gelfling prints were everywhere, obscuring the direction the beast took. The ground, to the north, a stone’s throw away, was stained with pools of blood, saw dust had been sown to sop them up.

Nari spun back on the guard. “The creature, was it chasing someone?”

“Y-yes, a Woodland, he ran out that door, well there used to be a door there, and the Hunter busted through close on his heels.”

“Did the Hunter catch him?”

The Guard shook his head. “No. Our warriors fought it to a standstill, then. . .” He paused, seemingly at a loss for words.

“Out with it!”

“The Hunter changed before our eyes. When it crashed through the wall it was an enormous phantag, whose face was a shining mask. Then, when our warriors harried it, it suddenly turned into a sleek tesongir, also with a shining mask, whose claws and poisoned tail killed seven of our best.

My uncle was one of them.

He chased Woodland into Dark Wood. May they both run afoul of Spiriton.” He let this all out with shuddering breath. His pained expression was one Nari knew too well.

She clapped him on the shoulder and, in a warmer tone, said “Thank you, we have faced this thing before and plan to again.

May your Uncle’s praises be sung aloft morning, noon and nightsong.”
Grandmother had insisted they take sugar biscuits. Nari found them sweet and delectable. Unsurprising since Grandmother wore the Hearth charm.

She smirked at Kylx, “These are a match for yours.”

Kylx had already finished his four and wiped the crumbs off the map. “Perhaps, but I’d like to see her beat my shepherd’s pie.”

Nari giggled. “After we deal with the Hunter we’ll come back and have a contest.”

Ada said nothing, she was too busy munching.

They were back in the captain’s quarters. There were no lights aside from the silver stars that shone through the porthole. All three shared Kylx’s vision and thus saw everything in prefect detail.

“Klyx and I will go here.” On the map, Nari tapped an outpost a day’s journey from Port Ethdelg, Yrtep Hall.

“You’ll have command of Shabasha and go here.” she swept her hand southeastwards and tapped the mouth of the Black River.

“Question the Podlings, see if Rian’s already passed by. If so, leave word and chase. If not, wait for him or us.”

“You two tracking the Hunter into the arms of Spiriton, I don’t like it.” Ada said plainly.

“It’s our best shot.

If Rian’s still alive, he’s in or passed Yrtep Hall. Kylx needs to go because his eyes will spot the Hunter before he spots us. I’m the only one going with because, if Spiriton does find us, they won’t see two Gelflings of different clans as invaders.”

Ada snorted. “No they’ll see you as easy pickings.”

Nari rolled her eyes, “We’ll be fine.”
The night march through Dark Wood went uneventfully. The tall trees hung in close. Their footfalls were muffled by moss. Crickets chirped, a mound mammoth lurched in the background but came nowhere near.

Thanks to Klyx’s sight they kept near, not on, the trail at a steady pace.

No sign of Rian. No sign of the Hunter.

The Great Sun’s light was peaking through the trees when Nari signaled a halt.

“Switch to my eyes. We’ll keep walking for Ytep.”

Kylx nodded and tied on his blindfold.

After a hushed morningsong they the continued on.

The birds called, the forest rustled with life, a large hungdin slithered by on the other side of the path. Kylx and Nari felt sleep claw at their minds but fought it off with a brisk pace and cold moke tea.

Suddenly Nirq hopped on Nari’s shoulder and softly pecked her pointed ear. She grabbed Kylx and pulled them both further off the path.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nirq spotted something.”

They both dove deep into foliage, Nari’s brown eyes sweeping the path, the forest beyond, and behind them.

She squeezed Kylx’s arm.

Two pale Gelflings, Spiriton Clan, were creeping through the wood on Nari’s side of the trail. They were young. They carried weapons, one a bronze sword, the other a stone axe. They were wrapped in tambertis hide and wore green war paint. They were moving, in a cautious fashion, towards them; anxious, excited looks on their faces.

:They’re babes.” Scoffed Kylx.

“It’s the grownups we can’t see that I’m worried about.”

Nari hefted her bow, her other hand hovering over her quiver.

“You don’t think they’re coming to say hello?” Her brother quipped dryly.

“If we make it to Yrtep we can claim hospitality, before that. . .” she let loose an arrow, it thunked into a young one’s forearm which bled and he dropped his sword. Immediately she loosed another and it punched clean through the other’s thigh.

“We’re fair game.” Nari grabbed her brother’s hand and ran towards the two wounded warriors.

They cried, looks of shock on their faces, and rolled out of the way.

Suddenly beyond them an elder Spiriton leaped over a log. He held a wiry strength, wore a long, curled, white mustache, bore a jagged fang-shaped scar on his left shoulder, was wrapped in the same sort of armor, and carried a spear. He let out a war-cry and launched the spear at Nari.

She dove one way and pushed Kylx the other, the spear sailing between them.

“Ketch! Did they send the two pups to flush us out?”

“What do we do?”

“Follow me, we’ll kill the old one and break the circle.”

She could hear other war-cries around her. Nari rolled to her feet, unsheathed her dagger, let out a roar and charged the veteran, Kylx following closely behind.

“Why aren’t you shooting him?”

“Can’t shoot and run.”

The Spiriton hefted a war club and charged straight for Nari, a look of grim determination on his face. Nari’s intense brown eyes locked with his blue. At the last moment she darted forward with her full speed, ducking inside club reach, her knife slipped through the hide and clank.

“Ketch!”

“Hah!” the Spiriton roared, he grabbed her by the scruff of the neck and threw her backwards. His club thumped right where she was, a split-second after she rolled out of the way.

Nari hopped to her feet, long knife still in hand, she was forced to fall back as the club nearly struck her face. She bumped into Kylx.

“We’re not fine. Best surrender.”

The veteran had the same idea. He held his club aloft, fully blocking her path, while four Spiriton warriors surrounded them, weapons ready.

“Ketch.” Nari threw down her weapon.
Nari tugged at the ropes binding her wrists and watched her captors converse a ways off. Kylx was bound beside her. Nirq sat above, in the tree they were tied to.

The Spiritons first removed the arrows from the young ones, in moments they were tended and bandaged. Then they spoke in hushed tones, occasionally glancing back at their prisoners. Nari tried to eavesdrop but could only make out a hissed “Novices!”

“Guess they’ll take us to the Hall?”

“That’s what I’m hoping.”

Eventually the warriors marched back, the vet in the lead.

“Untie her and hand her a bow.”

“Sir?”

“Now.” the vet roared.

The warriors quickly complied.

Nari stood, and was handed her black yew.

“Careful.” Kylx cautioned.

“I know.”

Glancing at the vet she said “You’re not tricking me into fighting you, I won’t die here.”

He snorted and handed her an arrow.

Pointing east he said, “I want you to hit that.”

Nari squinted, “You mean that cluster of burble cones?”

The veteran nodded with deadly solemnity.

Nari could barely see the yellow bundle. She drew, aimed, “I’ll hit the stem.” and fired. The arrow flew and, exactly as she predicted, snapped the stem sending the cones tumbling to the ground.”

The warriors were impressed. Kylx chuckled.

Not so with the veteran, who wore a look of harsh confusion.

“The wind charm… your skill with the bow. You’re Nari the Silfa.”

He jabbed a finger at the bashful, bandaged young ones. “They were stupid enough to race on ahead, in plain sight. You fired, why aren’t they dead?”

Nari shrugged. “They’re cubs, I don’t kill cubs.

However, if you’d made that mistake…”

She tapped him gently on the neck.

The vet was agape at her audacity.

Nari smirked.

Everyone was silent.

“And now, we’re dead.” moaned Kylx.

Suddenly the vet let out a great laugh and gestured to Kylx. “Untie him. These are friends.”

It was time for Nari to look dumfounded. The old warrior flashed her a smile, “Those two gathdeks are my sons. You showed uncommon mercy sparing their lives. As a father I must give you back yours.”

Nari grinned with relief. The warriors cut Kylx free, he stood and Nirq landed on his shoulder.

“I’m. . .”

Nari cut him off, “The white mustache, the scar, that you and ‘most’ of your kin are invisible in Dark Wood. You’re Ekka the Tracker.”

“Hah!” Ekka roared, slapping Nari on the back.

“I’ll wager this meeting is worthy of song!”
They traveled with Ekka and his kin to Yrtep Hall. They stuck to the path; Ekka no longer worried about intruders this close to the fort and Nari no longer needed to hide. The warriors were jovial, even more so when Kylx shared his strong moke tea.

The chill wind still blew through the trees, but bothered none in the presence of such good company. The birds called each other across the wooded sky, Nirq occasionally answering them.

Suddenly, Ekka signaled the warriors to halt. Immediately they lowered themselves to a fighting stance, hands hovering over their weapons. Seeing as they were glancing around for danger, as opposed to glaring at Nari or her brother, the Silfa drew her bow, Kylx crouched ready to duck for cover.

“Here.” said Ekka pointing at a bit of scrub to the right of the trail. The group huddled around him, eyes searching the ground intently.

A feline paw print, roughly three times the size of a Gelfing’s hand, was imprinted faintly in the dirt.

“Could be the Hunter. It changed to a tesongir in Ethdelg.” Nari whispered, her gaze sweeping around in fearful alertness.

The warriors glanced at Ekka for confirmation.

“It’s a tesongir alright. It’s two night’s old. No reason for it to be out of the Swamp of Sog, no reason for it to be near Yrtep.

Best be cautious.”

He looked back at his sons and made a shooing motion. “You two hide. If there’s trouble, wait for it to end and then run home.”

“But father. . .” the eldest protested.

“Don’t argue with me.” Ekka said in dark, even tones. “Your mother was right, you both need more training. Hide, now.”

The two scattered off into the woods.

He turned to Nari, Kylx and his warriors. “We’ll move ahead, I’d appreciate if you’d cover our advance.”

Nari nodd. Kylx touched Ekka’s shoulder.

“There, we can communicate.”

The tracker looked aghast.

“You can thinkspeak, with a stranger?”

Nari giggled, “My brother’s more than just a cook.”

Ekka grinned and waved for his warriors to relax, “Related more in talent than blood. Fine, we’ll talk this way.”

“May we share your eyes?”

Ekka shrugged “I don’t see why not.”

At single gesture from Ekka, the Spiritons stepped between the dark pines and disappeared.

Nari and Kylx followed, stealthy enough but Ekka and his warriors put them to shame.

Ekka crept through the Darkwood, stepping silently around trees, keeping low and near the brush. At every moment he took in every detail; every tesongir print, every bent twig. The signs lead directly to Yrtep.

Years of experience told him it had moved slowly, carefully along the trail. It was smart, not merely relying on darkness for cover. At the fort Ekka swallowed his shock and signaled his warriors to halt.

The gray, mortared stone of Yrtep was before him. These walls and the blood pine tiled roof of the keep were familiar a sight to him, comforting. However, the silence was not. Yes, birds still called each other, the wind still rustled the trees but it was noon, there was no noonsong. There were no guardsmen walking the wall.

What there was was a set of faint chip marks running up the wall as if a great beast had climbed over. Ekka squinted, the stain on the parapet was dried blood.

‘This is bad. We’re circling round to the north gate. Cover it, if you spy something dangerous, shoot it.”

Nari’s wordless acknowledgment was felt across the mental link.

Ekka sent a similar instinct to his warriors and they circled west, and then northwest to the gate. They made no sound, they kept as one with the trees, their movements corresponding with the rustling wind.

Ekka’s jaw tightened.

The north gate had been shattered within, with enough force to knock flying pieces of the stone archway. One such stone lay at Ekka’s feet. The tracks before it were huge; a phantag’s to be precise. In the back of his mind he could hear its trumpet’s call and feel the rumble of the earth as it charged.

The keep inside had collapsed. The northeast support had been knocked out and the ruin leaned in that direction.

Ekka felt ill, many warriors lay stiff and still on this battlefield. They were strewn about. Some crushed, some slashed, some curled as if stung.

Nari kept her feelings hidden. The ache of Klyx’ pity was felt across the line.

“Don’t.” Ekka growled. “Be thankful. They faced the Hunter himself; A grisly but grand death for any Spiriton. We will sing of them proudly.’

Ekka’s most pressing question answered, he now focused on the rest of the scene. Again, he was surprised.

Arrows, as large as spears, two score of them, were peppered throughout the keep. None of them pinned a warrior. They were mostly shot into the ground, as if to deter pursuit. There was a puddle of blood, away from any proud warrior, that stood alone. The arrow that did it had been snapped and lay broken near the east wall.

“I’m following the trail. Nari, cover me.”

Ekka could feel the point of Nari’s aim just over his shoulder. He sent a silent message to his warriors, they stayed where they were.

Ekka stepped out of cover and onto the northern trail. There, just outside the gate, he saw a single pair of tracks. They were large, far too large, heavy, booted. A giant. . . with a long body and a tail, he saw its sweep mark.

“What do you think?”

“It’s similar to how I’d stand if I were shooting.” replied Nari.

Ekka huffed. Just as he thought.

Then he caught something new; a set of Gelfling prints in hard-soled Woodland boots, running, towards the archer.

“Hah!”

He swiftly followed the track a short ways to the east. The giant had followed along with Woodland. However, after about a yord, their trail vanished. For an hour Ekka searched but, for all his famed skill, he could not pick it up again.
Ekka, three of his Warriors, Nari and Kylx sat around a small fire just outside the keep. Ekka’s two sons and the fourth warrior were sent to inform the Spiriton Queen of the Hunter’s attack.

The six were exhausted, the rest of their day had been spent wrapping the warriors of Yrtep in shrouds and burying them amongst the ruins of the hall. It was now dark. They were warmed by the fire and the meaty ashnoth stew Kyxl had scavenged from the keep’s stores.

“If you weren’t in your sister’s business I’d recommend you as a suitor to one of the princesses. This is the best ashnoth I’ve ever tasted.”

“I cooked it in honor of your fallen.”

The Spiriton cracked smiles, cheered and took swift pulls from their wine skins.

“Kylx and I will be leaving right after this meal.” Nari stated bluntly.

Ekka nodded “Where do you think they’ll go?”

“Shog Hog. It’s big, smelly, crowded, the perfect place to hide.”

Ekka snorted “With a giant?”

Nari favored him a sly grin “Naw, the Gaint’s going to make tracks elsewhere to lead us off Woodland’s trail.”

“Hah!” Ekka chuckled. “Just so. Just so.”

“Our Shabasha’s waiting at the mouth of the Black River, we’ll board her and sail.” Nari shrugged. “Who knows? Even with his head start we might catch him before he reaches the city.”

“You’re right to say we.” Ekka grinned.

“The deaths of my clan force me to chase this Rian as well. Best to work with you than against you.”

Nari thought it over for about a second and cracked a wicked grin. “Welcome aboard.”