Saturday, August 15, 2009

Campaign Postscript: Thiabaut's Reflections

Another recycling day today-- but with a purpose. This is what comes of running four games on the weekend and trying to write four different articles simultaneously. Anyway, after the end of the last Third Continent campaign, I wrote up a little afterword from the perspective of one of the NPCs having him go around and see how the various PCs were doing after the campaign's end (back in May of '03). For those in the current campaign, this takes place about 80 years ago. Here's what I wrote:

Thiabaut’s Reflections:

The black heart of Nochet lives, scarred, reduced, packed with those who could make it into the center through the winding streets as the Lunar Fleet arrived. Many more fled out through the gates of the city as best they could. Whole sections, neighborhoods have been flattened, but mostly at the edges and along the river. I would say that perhaps a little more than half of the city is destroyed. More is abandoned. Old lines of trade and communication have broken down. Many traveled south, to Heortland, others went North and East, hoping to find a place in the sparse countryside of the Cincor River Vale or in one of the new Principalities on the verdant plains. Those who remain, they are the city folk, multi-generational, some never having been beyond their neighborhoods, most never having been outside the city walls. Nochet led them to the heart of the city, the places where few went before, it having collapsed. There they found apartments surprisingly intact, buildings less rubble filled than they might have been. As I walked through the streets I could hear the timbers rejoin and the rocks fuse, quietly, slowly, imperceptibly.

Nochet is still a scary place and now I hear how it moves. I don’t think I can stay here for too long. Nochet himself and the Avatars are gone. Well, gone at least how they were, given flesh and form. They have returned to being quiet gods hidden the alleys, rubbish pits and dark corners. They ask me to stay, to lead this place, but that’s not anything I’d want to do. Yes, I tell them, I was involved in all of this, I fought the Warlords, I stood at Whitewall, I was there when the Red Emperor died. But, I clung on for dear life on the journey. It is not something I’d ever give up, but it is not something I’d ever want to repeat.

I stopped by the house of Theodorus’ daughter in-law. His magics had kept his neighborhood intact and free from harm. The residents knew this and she’d become the honored matron of the block. I brought her the news of her father-in-law’s death, the story of his heroism and a number of objects he’d left behind. Then I spent the evening being incredibly charming. She has a number of suitors, I know that, but the fun is always in the competition.

When I was ready to leave I called Mal. He popped up…though differently from the way the Elf used to. He tried to explain it to me. He’s able to move and transport, but with limitations. Somehow his powers were curtailed by what happened, though whether is was by Triple or by the Seven Mothers, I can’t be sure. Then again, he know how much his powers scare people…he’s smarter than people give him credit for…and he might just be hiding them. Devakki has him dressed funny, so I made sure I bought him a new hat while we were in the city. Surprisingly no one questioned why I had an Elf child in the city and Nochet made no fuss about his presence.

*******************
It has been some months since Whitewall was saved. I keep finding myself on the road. I find it is a good life, and of course, I mix it between actually walking and having Mal take me wherever I want. He seems not to mind it. I know the others, with some exception, don’t travel like this, they have too much on their plate.

Today I ran into Colvin in Cricket. He had a handful of those Meldek from Whitewall with him. After the siege was lifted, many of them split off, some of them heading to Pavis to join some kind of soulless clubhouse there. Others, including many who were once in Nochet left to travel across the sea. My sense of it is that Virocana would be left in the hands of others and that they were traveling to rejoin their brothers. Some, especially the younger ones, decided to remain here. They have at hand, in Colvin, an example of a magi who is active in the world. A number of them have taken to emulating his path as a investigator, some as adventurers. A number have become a cabal, assisting Colvin in his work as they travel up and down the coast.

Colvin seemed well, those still as terse as ever. Not unfriendly, but more of a cipher who listens more than he speaks. He did tell me that he was on the trail of Miguel. He then pressed me gently me for any information I had. I said I had heard nothing, though I suspect that he knew I wasn’t saying the whole truth. Still, he has his own secrets. I’m sure even I know less about what he and his Meldek are up to. Certainly, I noticed the small temples to Velhu opening up in the coastal cities. I wouldn’t be shocked to find that some of the treasure from the Cave of Kings and elsewhere had managed to find its way into the coffers of this cult. So long as he didn’t pawn that evil fingerbone to do it, I have no problem with it.

**********************************

The Cincor River Vale is vastly different than I remember. The land is lush and verdant. In some places it is overgrown. The population here has risen, but there is still rich land available. No wonder so many were able to leave Nochet for here. Though I suspect he did not wish to, Cassius Roddano, was forced to take leadership here. From what I understand, Whitewall changed him and when he came here and took leadership, he did it in the name of the people here, not in the name of the Lunar Empire. He still has a cabal of Yanafal Tarnils Scimitars as his honor guard, but the worship here is simple.

He did not remember me from the first time we met (which was a good thing since I was a skeleton then), but he knew me from the celebrations after the siege. We had a pleasant meal together. He is informal, but quiet. I suspect the death of his sister affected him more deeply than he can say. He asked me nothing about the death of the Red Emperor, but I could tell that it shook him deeply. His knows he was a pawn in these things and has determined to make up for that.

The people here respect him and the order he has brought. Cincor as a whole has become a land of small kingdoms, bordered by potentially threatening neighbors. Roddano will keep back any, such as Agrikans or the coastal city states, who might try to take things here. He keeps the Lunar Judical Code, but rejects any other trappings of the Empire. At the same time, his civilized sentiments mean that the Orlanthi are kept in check. Of the many new places I have seen, I predict Roddano’s land will last the longest.

***********************************

After I left the Cincor River Vale, I traveled north through the jungles. Here lie a number of smaller “kingdoms”. All of them have thrown off their Lunar yoke, and split into tiny domains. The Agrikans, split into several factions, have four different places here, the most important being in Pamesani. As well, Gemanshol retains great swaths of land, as well as a Yelmi contingent. Combined with the influence of the coastal cities, and the threat of invasion from Holy Country and these jungles have become dangerous. After the third time I was captured and questioned, I opted to call Mal. The fall of the Warlords helped a lot, but this place was going to be a mess for some time.

*************************************

The Kingdom of Sha-Karag. Now this is a place I could get used to. I wasn’t around…BECAUSE I WAS DEAD…when Maraketh managed to become King of this place, but he seems to have done pretty darn well for himself. I heard some story about a big dry desert and a horde of flying heads or something to that effect, but I don’t worry about that. In fact it is difficult to even imagine that when you’re laying on pillows being fed chilled grapes by servants.

It is interesting, the people of Sha-Karag are Malkioni like Maraketh’s people, but they behave very differently from them. Certain virtues, such as modesty and frugality, are less important here than honesty and chivalry. Hence, my ability, as a guest of the King to be surrounded by lovely exotic Zothiquean beauties in fine silks feeding me dinner. On the other hand, King Maraketh seemed less comfortable throughout these proceedings. I caught him looking at me and blushing and then turning back to his lovely bride to resume his very serious conversation about political matters.

It’s funny, among his own people, Maraketh seemed like the most relaxed of a tribe of uptight warriors in plate mail, but here he is the one with the straightest backbone…blushing constantly and lowering his eyes modestly. Still, his people seem to love him for this. Their thousand Knights returned alive and with tales of the battles their King had won, ensuring his lasting legacy in the annals of their history. Apparently, during the siege of Whitewall, Sha-Karag had its own enemies to battle, with the Mad Sultan’s Children, warriors of magic, pouring down into the land. The bards here have composed songs of those battles, with Knights and Drakes fighting desperately side-by-side to stem the tide…until by a brilliant stroke of genius, someone (ME!) activated the Wane of Magic. It reached out to here, destroying the Mad Sultan’s Children and the Mad Sultan himself (and some Drakes, which is too bad but I understand those parts sell well on the open market). I made sure that Maraketh announced in public that I was the one who set off the Wane. I profited well from that celebritydom.

However, the celebrations to commemorate me, Thiabaut, destroyer of the Mad Sultan and savior of Sha-Karag, were overshadowed by another announcement the next day. I heard celebrations and cheering in the streets, managed to extricate myself from between a couple of guests in bed and went over to the window. It seemed that earlier that morning, the Vizier had announced the pregnancy of the Queen of Sha-Karag. I decided now would be a good time to leave, I knew Maraketh would be occupied with matters of state and in the midst of such a blessed event, best not to have a pagan thief cultist waiting around. I counted up my silverware and left.

******************************************

My next stop was Vemdeez, for a brief stopover to see Uzbak Snakeskinner and get the story about what was happening in this part of the world. After the battle at Whitewall, Uzbak had called all of his Orlanthi warriors together. They were expecting a victory speech, but instead he took off his helmet to show them they’d been following a troll, then turned around, mooning them and spraying them with hot, liquid troll feces. He then bounded off into the air. Only the intervention of Kallyr Starbrow kept them from rioting.

I had supper with Uzbak in a small inn. He told me a little something about his travels in the Overworld and how he’d managed to stay alive. He told me he’d been in contact with the Owl since Whitewall. Having lost all of the other swords, she had lost some of her power. A number of her cities on the Spirit plane had been ravaged by the celestial hurricane Devakki’s confrontation with the Bad Man had created. Now, she was offering Vemdeez an alliance. Uzbak thought that perhaps they might take it.

From what I understood, Vemdeez was sparsely populated. Apparently being human and worshipping Troll goes does something to your overall fertility. Several of the city-states of Zothique, now without a Lunar authority, were eyeing the Vemdeez lands. As well, the Carmanians to the south might consider conquest. An alliance between his people and that of the Only Old One’s daughter might serve them both. We talked longer into the night, exchanging Trickster stories. Vemdeez seemed like a nice enough place, a bit trollish though. It was strange to see people painting themselves as trolls and wearing amulets of Kyger Litor, but I’d seen stranger. Again, I thought about how much evil we’d destroyed…the Red Emperor, the Chaos Cultists, The Bright One, Triple, Lord Death on a Horse, The Bad Man… and I wondered about the wars that would happen because they were gone.

Overall, I thought we’d done right and still do. The world is a better place for what we’ve done and I’ve come out ok. Except for having to watch those apes…

*********************************************

My next stop was to I don’t know where. Mal knew apparently and took me there. I found myself in a foreboding place, beside a river. A storm hung over head and I saw people digging. I walked over to the edge of the hole and looked down in to see what they were digging for.

When I woke up, I found myself in a tent. I knew that I’d looked at something I shouldn’t have. My bones were chilled, though I knew that is was still blazing hot out. Audara was sitting there, eating. I could tell that a grand meal had been prepared, but apparently I’d been unconscious for some time. I gingerly reached for an apple which had rolled off the table and outside of Audara’s sight.

“Umm…what was that?” I asked.

“We’re digging the foundation for the new enclosure. We’ve reached the outer layers of Hell. Right now we’re tunneling into the foundations of the old Enclosure.” She nodded very seriously.

“I see…so I shouldn’t have looked…”

“Probably not.” She finished her plate. For the first time I noticed the man in the corner, his cloak dripping with ashes. He still scared me.

Audara continued. “The new Enclosure…our new city will be ready soon enough. Then we can put the Spirits and the Demons back.”

I thought I understood. “Ah, so that’s why you’re digging into Hell. To give them passage back.”

Audara looked at me strangely. “No, we’re just building the foundation, the basement on top of Hell. The Spirits and Demons are here.”

“Here…what do you mean here?” I said, not understanding.

Then she looked at me and behind her eyes, I could see them, a boundless screaming pit, a line of demons tracing its ancestry back to the beginning of time, all of the spirits of fury and insanity and devastation that had once been held in by the walls of the Shargrashi, the Walls of the Enclosure, Alkoth.

I began to babble and foam at the mouth. I’m fairly certain I peed myself.

“They’re here…” Audara said. “I ate them.”

***************************************

Again, I don’t quite remember how the next part of my journey happened. When I woke up I found myself outside. A gentle rain had awoken me. Mal was sitting beside me. He was wearing that strange little Grazelander outfit Devakki had fashion for him. I noticed that he had the hat I’d purchased for him though.

When I first sat up…I was gripped by terror for a moment. I thought I was beside the hole Audara’s people had been digging. Instead, it took a moment to resolve. I realized that I was looking into the crater, the crater we…I…had made in Beast Valley. Hanging in the center, in the air, perhaps the size of a small house, was a great black sphere…the Void Sphere. It had shrunk, but it still drew. A slight wind moved past, evidence of the remaining force of the thing. Below it, where the sphere had receeded, I saw a perfectly spherical crater…the bottom was filled with water, a lake fed by the river running through the Valley. I could see ripples on the surface of the lake at the point below and closest to the Void Sphere. Water gently rained upwards into it, creating a rainbow from the light passing through it.

Mal walked me around a bit. I saw things moving in the tree, creatures and beast. They seemed to have congregated around this place. But instead of the threat I had felt before, I could feel that these things were here guarding. Mal seemed to enjoy it…he careful recited their names in a language I could not understand. The Valley was lush and from this place, raised above the floor and the green, I could see for miles.

Later, Devakki returned. She had with her Icehand. For a moment I felt a twinge of jealousy…unreasonable and without basis. He greeted me, we exchanged a few moments of conversation before he excused himself to head back out of the Valley. Devakki prepared food. I spent the next several hours telling her of the people I had seen, our friends, how things had fared in the eight months since Whitewall. She seemed pleased to listen, and I was as charming as ever, but I could tell there was something else. Her attention kept wandering…as if she heard something different in the noises of the night that I did not.

Finally I asked. “Devakki, what are your hearing?”

She looked back at me and smiled. For a moment my heart broke. There was something of wonder there, even as she looked past me into the night. “I’m listening to the world…”

And she meant it. We sat there for a time longer, she tried to explain it…how she saw and heard the world, saw and heard the plane of the spirit…spirits of all kinds, changed by what had happened…changed as she was. I confess it was beyond me. She was in love with the world. In love with everything around here.

That was something I could never compete with. It perhaps explained the look on Icehand’s face when I spoke to him, to be in the presence of someone in contact with something so much greater.

When I finally felt tired, I excused myself and climbed into my sleeping blankets. As I began to sleep, hovering between this world and the other, I saw Devakki rise up, gossamer, silver flying, rising her steed into the sky…her bow drawn and ready…a protector, an avenger, shepherd of spirits, guardian of dreams, transcendent and lovely. When I woke up, she had already headed out into the Valley, so Mal told me.

I asked him to take me to the place I had put off.

****************************************************

I had only seen a few blocks of Glamour the last time I had been here, before I had condemned it to destruction. I feared for what I would see here. Instead, I found a bustling city. The arches and columns of the Lunar capital, had, for the most part, remained intact, undaunted by the absence of magic. True, some things had fallen, but overall what I saw was a people and an Empire carrying on business as usual.

Someone had explained this to me when I was in Nochet. That Orlanthi and the other Gods are the Gods of Heroquesters and rebels because they are about change and revolution. By their nature, they live in an unstable world. However, there were few heroquesters among the Lunars, because their power was that of stability, order and status quo. Again, another example of the contradiction of this Empire, a land embracing Chaos and yet given to Order. These people had seen drastic changes and yet they carried on. This was the power of the Empire.

I heard much in the streets, rumors about the new Red Emperor. I heard tales of how the Wane of magic had reached across the Empire, destroying much of the power of the land. How people, drawn together and praying to support the force of the Empires magic had felt it dissipate, how those in charge had been driven mad…how the people had flooded out into the streets to see the Moonbridge fall like sparks from the Sky…how the Moon had gone Blood Red and then Blackened and then fought back and forth across the sky before plunging to the ground like a great Red Sun…how everyone who had watched it had thought they would die in that moment…how they had been blinded…and once they could see, the moon was once again in the sky…a pale red, not Crimson, and smaller than it had ever appeared.

The Glowline had been reduced. Many tools of the Empire had fallen, the Imperial Magic Schools, the Mad Sultanate, the Crimson Bat…The Red Emperor appeared in the capital, backed by the Cult of the Red Emperor and the Wardens of the Black Fleet. He established order. Even at the same time, the army straggled back as best it could, marching disordered through Sartar and Tarsh…harassed and ambushed, perhaps half of it making it back within the Lunar borders. Tarsh, Sartar, Jarst Garsting, Cincor, Talastar, the Redlands, and others…each in turn declaring themselves free of the Lunar Empire. None strong enough to challenge it directly, and all too divided to unite against their enemy. Anarchy reigned, then the Red Emperor came forward.

The Far Provinces, Heortland, Pavis, Zothique, and Vemdeez…these were released from the Empire. Now, the Empire would be made up of the Lunar Heartland, Carmania and the Dara Happan Tripolis, less Alkoth. Even so, this would take a toll. Nione months afterwards, the noises had begun, the Carmanians and Dara Happans at each others’ throats and in turn plotting against the Empire.

I could see the strain on Zol’s face. We met in private and there he seemed smaller, not nine feet tall, but perhaps eight. He still bore the Serpent Blade and the Sword of Power…a short sword, now fused like that and empowered with the magic that Zol himself possessed. His coral armor had gone a deep red. I noticed these details, how much had changed, and yet how much he was still Zol. He’d introduced me to his father and his two brothers like an old friend. Which I guess I was, still it was striking.

Eventually Destis arrived. He was dressed more formally. I had heard his name in the streets, they called him the “Shadow of the Emperor”. It was said that together they formed an Emperor stronger than any before, even in the absence of the direct touch of the Red Goddess. For a brief moment I thought about returning the Lich potion to him, but then decided against it.

There, in the Chambers of the Lunar Empire, the place from which the fate of Virocana had been directed and commanded, we sat and ate a nice meal. We chatted about people and old friends. I talked of how Kallyr Starbrow had taken the leadership of Sartar, and had married the Feathered Horse King. I told how Carmalson had managed to complete the trials of Kingship and take the crown of Heortland. I mentioned how Brian of Volsaxi had mysteriously died soon after.

At the mentioned of Brian’s death Zol and Destis looked at each other. Destis smiled.

“Poor Barbarian.”
We talked about the Empire. They saw that there would be trouble for some time, but eventually that would be calmed. Carmania would eventually war upon its neighbors and have its nose bloodied. Dara Happa could be kept in check by the threats from Tarsh and elsewhere. It would not be a perfect solution, but peace could be maintained. The Empire would leave Sartar and the other places alone.

“There will be peace…and once the people are used to peace, then the Empire can be a force for good.” Zol said. “And if they do not wish peace…”

“…then we will show them peace is the best option.” Destis said, finishing Zol’s sentence.

******************************************

I eventually left Glamour, in spite of the wonder of it, because I had finally found the last piece of information I needed.

I found him in a back alley restaurant of Karse. I’d followed the trail of food poisoning and strange chaos lunches across the continent.

The kitchen was dirty and disgusting, a perfect place to ply his trade.

“Hello, Miguel…” I said so softly he could barely hear it…before I struck as painfully as I could.

******************************************

And full circle I’ve come. Back in Nochet. I’m nervous…standing outside of Lady Wailingsong’s house. I’ve brought gifts of course, presents for her and her children. I’ve given her a year to mourn, traveling around the continent to clear my own head. I’m back in Nochet and a little more frightened of talking to a woman than of the city.

I knock on the door.