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[WOH-Experimental Fantasy RPG] Castor's Journal

Brimshack

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This is a journal from an experimental campaign. The game system is tentatively entitled "Worlds of Hurt." It is a generic fantasy RPG system featuring standard Tolkeinesque themes as well as a materials drawn from other settings.

There are 3 players in addition to myself. We presently have 3 characters each in the game (this group has a marked preference for multiple characters, a habit they picked up from me I'm afraid). The number of characters per player will probably be reduced if additional players join in the fun, but for now that gives us a total of 12 characters. While I am the main GM, responsibility for each game is traded off between different players. Another player just ran a key game, which gives me some time to think.

...and this is the result.

The specific setting I am using here was actually developed for my old first edition D&D campaign, though I am adapting it over as the characters find their way around this world.

I'm not going to say any more at the moment, as I prefer to let the details unfold in the journal. The story is written in the 1st person, just the way I prefer to approach these things.

Comments and questions are of course quite welcome.
 
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Brimshack

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My dearest Uncle. I am sitting here tonight in an abandoned farmhouse, and I am thinking about you. It is strange to me, to think of you in this land. It does not seem to fit, with what I was told of you as a child. You were always the hero of my mother's stories. Saving her from the neighbor's dog as a child, fighting the large boy from down the hill, the one who mocked her. She worshipped you, you know.

No ill was spoken of you in mother's presence. None.

Stories of you filled my ears as a child, at least while those ears still had some use. And after the fever took the sounds from me, stories of you and your exploits were the reason I learned to read. Scarcely a day of my childhood passed to nightfall that I did not learn of the great and noble warrior in our family, the one off fighting evil creatures in strange lands.

I am told we met when I was small, but I do not remember this. I know only of the things my mother has told me, the stories she related directly from your letters. You were a great warrior engaged in war against foul enemies and creatures so terrible as to frighten me out of sleep for days on end.

Oh how I longed to follow in your footsteps! To meet you. Perhaps to serve under you. To share in some small manner the glory which you have already brought our family.

Words cannot express my joy at coming to this land, at the thought of finally meeting you after all these years.

So, here I sit, surrounded by rice fields and peasant huts stretching as far as the eye can see. For fifteen summers you have lived here, so I am told. Fifteen summers - the time it took me to graduate from the wooden swords of my childhood to the now bloodied blade that rests sheathed on my hip. Fifteen summers you lived in this sweltering heat with naught but farmers about you for miles, the monsters against which you safeguarded these peasants remaining in the mountains several days to the North.

For fifteen summers I am told the threat to this region left you with little to do but to prepare and wait. Not so much as a raid took place under your watch, not a single murder, or so much as a pillaged farmhouse, and yet a terrible war rages to the West. The war you came here to fight! You were never given a force capable of leading an attack into the wastelands, this much I understand. The peace of this region was not worth upsetting, so you took up a watch and passed uneventful days under the shadow of terrible threats and great possibilities. All you could do was to man the outpost and prepare for the day that war find its way into this region. Fifteen summers of guarded peace in this remote land with naught but farmers and errant pigs to entertain your ambition.

I wonder what thoughts you had uncle? What this life must have meant to you? Was it as disappointing as I imagine it to have been?

I have great reason to think about you tonight, my Uncle. Indeed, hardly do I see anything here that I do not wonder what it must have looked like to you? I wonder what the trees must have meant to you? Did the songbirds sound strange to your ears as I imagine they would to mine? Was the food to your taste? Did you eat the spices? Or did you ask them, as I do to remove the peppers before cooking? Did your belly approve the grains grown in this hot and humid place? Or did you - as I do - long for wheat and rye?

How did you find the farmers? Were their concerns petty to you? Did you have any compassion for them? Do I have any secret cousins living in this strange place?

What did you do for fifteen summers? How did you pass your days?

I wonder.

I wonder, my Uncle, What you would have thought of the beastly creatures now running rampant over the land? How would the burning huts have appeared to your eyes? What would you have thought of them? The mangled bodies? How would you have felt to see them strewn about the land before you?

Mostly, my Uncle, my namesake, ...mostly, I wonder why you did it? Why you chose to bring about this turn of events? Could you not bear one more summer of peace? ...to come home, a hero, albeit one with a somewhat more quiet past than your beloved family would have imagined? Could you not have found some measure of satisfaction in such a fate?

I cannot imagine the great warrior of my mother's stories content to live among these dull peasants. Neither can I imagine the hero of my mother's stories bringing this disaster down upon them as you did.

You are dead, my Uncle, as well you should be, my only regret being that it was not my blade that put you there. And still your life commands my thoughts, just as it did throughout my childhood. I cannot think of this place without imagining it through your eyes. And I cannot speak with my companions. Yet, I must communicate with someone.

So, I will I write to you, my dear traitorous Uncle. I will tell you of my thoughts about this place and the terrible events which you have set in motion. I can only hope that someday my quill and my ink will help me to vanquish your ugly spirit, just as we did your miserable carcass on this very day.

Rot in Hell my Uncle.

I will write you again tomorrow night.

- Lord, Castor Nain Shissenrel
 
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Brimshack

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Reflections on Empire
(Introducing Jayne and Cole)​

This morning I awoke to thoughts of the Empire. I guess I am wondering if perhaps you had misgivings, my Uncle. Does that explain your actions? I know that there are many who doubt the confederacy which makes this expansion possible. …many loyal to the local kingdoms, ...who spit on the forces that brought them together and led them into the rest of this strange world. …who doubt the wisdom of conquests in strange lands, places we could not reach without powerful magic. Were you one of these? Did you doubt the wisdom of our presence in this land? Or did you think it wiser to have stayed home? Would you have been happier chasing bandits out of the western roads in our home county?

It could not have been a spirit of nobility that spurred on your recent activities. Of this much I am certain. And yet…

It is said that the soul of the kingdom nourishes the souls of those warriors who serve it. Could this be any less true of an Empire? And if the uplifting message be true, could it be less true of a darker prospect? Fifteen summers spent in this land in the service of a questionable cause. Did that poison your soul? Was your greed born of disappointment? Or did you bring your corruption here with you?

Whatever its source, your corruption lies buried with you just off the road. We have now only to deal with its consequences. An orc war is an ugly thing, my Uncle. Did you forget this? Perhaps you never knew. Did you ever see battle? Ever?

All the outposts in this region have been overrun, my uncle. To the best of my knowledge, the only survivors travel with us. As of the dead farmers, there numbers will never be reckoned. If you had any doubts about this war, my Uncle, there can be no doubting the impact of your own treachery.

Did you know, it was the Empire, my Uncle, that taught me to use sign language, and introduced me to my companions? Mother, you see, had saved the money you sent home, and she used it well. We found a school to teach me the language, and our great uncle Lord Hormsfulk agreed to pay the balance of my fees. That much at least must be counted to the credit of the Empire. Were it not for the extra resources at its disposal, I would still be limited to scratching the simplest of words on paper. Through the Empire I can speak, albeit to only a few persons. And through the empire, I can write as well as any mage.

I came here with two companions from that very school, each of us intent on joining your outpost. Each of us eager to serve in your noble command.

My oldest companion is Jayne Raynier. Unlike myself, Jayne can hear quite well, but for mysterious reasons she is quite unable to speak. It is accordingly quite natural that I should have come to know her in the school, but of course they did not merely teach us to read and to gesture. Jayne divides her energies between a bow and a long spear. She also serves as our tracker, though she is less earnest in this profession than we might hope. She is a fierce warrior though. Of that I have no doubt.

The school does not merely train the deaf and the dumb, My Uncle. They also train some who hear quite well and speak with a full voice. And that is how Jayne and I came to know Corporal Cole. Cole too has learned to sign, though he is quite eloquent with his real voice. Cole is a cheerful sort, though he is a bit slow in the mornings. By midday, he is a genuine inspiration. Perhaps, that is why, Cole was given the rank of a Corporal just before we arrived in this land. He was to lead us on a short tour of the northern outposts, ending with your own.

But of course you had your own plans. They did not have much to do with us, but in effect they might as well have been a death sentence. Would that I could claim to have gone down fighting myself, but your treachery was far too powerful for that.

I awoke one morning to find myself at the point of several different spears. My companions tell me that they awoke to the sounds of screaming in the next room, but of course I would not have heard the dying troops. I knew only that the battle was already lost when I awoke. A moment or two later I surmised that the battle had been lost to orcs.

Did I mention that the spears wielded by these orcs had been fashioned in the style of our Imperial weaponry?

So too were their swords!

I cannot fully describe the sickness of knowing that one is prisoner to such creatures, that one's dear friend and companion, a fair maiden b'neath her armor, is also prisoner to such creatures. Bound hand and foot, the three of us were carried upon poles away from the outpost, mercifully away from the site of our still struggling comrades.

When I say that they were still struggling, I wish to be clear that the soldiers in question were not in possession of their arms. As I have said the battle was lost. I mean to say only that they were not yet dead. On that matter, I will say no more, except that I have wept over the sight of it every evening since.

For half a day I bounced along b'neath that pole, carried like a pig bound for the spit. My arms came near to tearing from their sockets, and I felt sure that a gruesome and violent death could be the only reason I and the others were yet to live. In such moments one is not a servant of empire anymore, one is simply pain, pain and breath, a breath struggling to repeat itself one more time.

...and once more.

Shall I describe her to you? The reason that I live and you do not?

Soon.

- Lord, Castor Nain Shissenrel
 
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Brimshack

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Of Orcs and Others Stranger Still
(Introducing Twill, Gertrude, and Orlene)​

I had been dropped hard upon the ground beside my friends. Two others were dropped beside us, and the body of a third was thrown across my face and head. I struggled to get my mouth clear of the body above me, but there was no room. I tried to scream, to vibrate those chords to which others pay head, something just make the body that bore down upon me aware of its oppression. Finally, in desperation I bit the man with all of my strength. When he did not react, I knew that the poor soul was dead, or very nearly so. Fearing myself the bottom-most beginnings of a mass grave I did what i could to breathe while it was still possible, and I struggled in vain against my bonds.

And then a hand pulled the body off of me. I could see her dark face and glistening yellow eyes beneath a shock of black hair. She was not looking at me really so much as the face of the man who had so recently come near to suffocating me. For just a moment, she seemed to savor his flesh, and then she looked at me. I wish I could say that my gaze was that of a brave man, but I know that the orc maiden saw only fear in my eyes.

It made her smile.

And in a moment, the ugly hag drew a long knife with its blade curved foreword, much in the fashion used by some of our eastern armies. She used this to free the blood from the body above me. His life streaming from his neck, for just a moment the man opened his eyes and sputtered, but of course this was too late. Gesturing to her companions, the beastly hag threw the body to the side. And as they prepared the carcass for butchering, this ghastly woman began to inspect me.

To my surprise nothing much happened.

The hag spoke in her foul tongue to several of her kind, evidently her subordinates, as she studied myself and the others. In time, she submitted the other two strangers to be harvested. Each struggled against his bonds and each cried hideously as they were hung upside down for the slaughter.

I and my own companions were instead given water and left to lie upon the ground for the balance of the night. I can only think our good fortune may have been due to our lack of injuries.

What good fortune to be conquered in one's sleep!

I took it as a hopeful sign that a lone orc paused in the late evening to check my fingers for circulation. He loosened my bonds a bit, just enough to keep my hand alive. It did not strike me as an act of mercy, for I did not think the beast capable of such a thing, but I did take heart that for some reason he appeared to care that my hands should retain their function. Perhaps that should have scared me, but in such depths of spirit, one holds on to whatever hope one can find.

In the morning, Cole's bonds were unceremoniously cut and he was dragged away from us by several orcs. When next I saw him, perhaps a half hour later, Cole walked back to us under his own power, slowly to be sure, and not without armed guards. But Cole himself came to us and cut our bonds.

It is a strange thing to say this, because you cannot imagine my surprise. We had been lying, as we were within a few dozen feet of several other gentle creatures, none of whom had been tied. I saw among them an elf, several humans, and 2 or 3 odd creatures I shall describe later. All of these more gentle beings bore the mud and the caked blood of those who had recently waged battle. One could see in some cases where they had been maimed or injured. But for a single orc, who appeared to count himself among this odd group, none of the other beast men came near.

These people were a strange vision indeed. And yet, there they were. They were not even disarmed.

I thought surely that we had been given as companions to traitors. Looking carefully at their dress, I surmised that several if not all of these men had served in the Imperial Army. One even bore the crest of a corporal. His name I would learn was Twill Bowstring. Twill proved himself a strong leader with a martial profession quite easily guessed from what I have already told you of him. Twill is easily the best archer I have met to this day. And though I knew it not at the time, his heart was far too pure to make him the traitor I imagined at that moment.

But how could Twill and the others roam freely amongst these creatures?

As I saw my companions speaking freely with the others, an orc dropped our weapons and equipment nearby, all of it in one big pile. I dressed slowly and with great pain. My sword rested sheathed at my side, but I had not the strength to pick up my shield. In truth, I feared myself incapable of drawing the sword should the lone orc do more than move about and sneer at us. ...to say nothing of the dozens of his kind milling about a few hundred feet from our strange party.

I watched as Cole appeared to discuss matters with the strange archer (Twill), to argue with the orc, and in turn to exchange words with various of their party. The orc and the elf came near to blows at least once during the conversation, and then Cole beckoned me to stand beside him and the others as we all gathered in a small cluster. The ugly hag appeared twice, spear wielding creatures at her side, and appeared to threaten Cole in some manner or to give orders to the lone orc moving amongst the human party. My only comfort lay in the calm demeanor still upon Cole's face as he spoke with each creature in its turn. Twill too appeared to stand his ground quite well, thuogh I must confess I took no comfort in this fact at the time.

In time I was to learn the name of the human female who next cast the healing spell. It was Gertrude. She is skilled in other magic as well, but it is her healing skills which mark her as the greatest asset to her companions. Gertrude cast a mighty spell that day. She took her time. At first muttering under her breath and then gesturing in ever more dramatic movements, Gertrude built her spell towards a powerful climax, all as we wounded warriors stood, sat, or leaned about her. As she neared completion, Gertrude received assistance from a single creature, Orlene, one of the fabled Inuli. As with all of his kind, Orlene is tall and slender, far more so than an elf. He still bears the distinctive streak of oddly colored hair which is his to gift to whomever he pleases. One day this shock of hair will become a talisman to someone fortunate enough to count Orlene his friend, and then it will cease to grow on Orlene's head. Until then, it is but a streak of fancy on an already beautiful creature. Just as with all Inuli, Orlene is a gifted help-meet. As Gertrude neared completion of her spell, Orlene simply placed a hand on her shoulder and whispered words of encouragement in her ear. Her eyes flashed with confidence as she uttered one final word power...

...and with a wave of Gertrude's hand, we were all of us fully healed.

It was then that Cole turned to Jayne and myself and began to gesture the significance of the morning events.

We had been spared, my Uncle, for the purpose of attacking your outpost.

- Lord, Castor Nain Shissenrel
 

Brimshack

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The outpost we came frum? You're uncle iz the Captain?

No, THE one we will be attacking!

Are you clows to your uncle? Can you help us, givn our plans? !?!?!?!

I've never met him, but I dontrust this man to simply say he is evil like that.

We wil see what we can then. In the meantyme, we could use your help as we go.
 
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Brimshack

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A Stew and a Doubtful Story
(Introducing Bile-Brew)​

In what sort of insane world am I spared by an orc hag to slay the hero of my childhood?

This single thought echoed through my head and my very body trembled to think it. I looked desperately about me to see some sign that Jayne had lied, or perhaps joked with me. ...a simple error perhaps? But of course, she had spoken truly. The more I observed the odd situation in which I found myself, the more it seemed the most plausible explanation for the preparations going on about me.

...or rather, this story seemed to somehow fit the insanity of that scene.

Had I known the source of this accusation in the shocking moments after it had first been signed to me, I would have slain the orc who made it. It was the beast-man who moved freely about with us that very morning who first conveyed this plan to the others. It turns out his name is Bile-Brew, and he has been traveling with the other humans for two days now. They met him in their first encounter with the enemy. Bile speared one of his own in the back, so I am told, pushing his victim into a flooded rice field. That done, Bile had contented himself to stand with his spear at the ready, his back to a hut as others finished with the small battle occurring but a day’s walk south of your outpost. So, Twill and his crew spared the filthy creature and spoke to him. Had I been there, had Jayne translated for me then my Uncle, I would have run the filthy creature through long before he could have finished his wretched story.

But he did finish his story, and he repeated again it for Jayne and Cole, who repeated it for me now. I could scarcely believe my eyes. You, so I was told, were alive, holed up with your men in the outpost and fighting off hordes of orcs, so it would seem. But of course this appearance was no sooner related to me than some of its central truths were denied.

I could not bear to see Jayne's words anymore, so I looked away for a minute. Instead, I watched as Bile carried up a bucket of stew to offer the lot of us along with a sack full of dirty bowls and spoons. For their own part, the majority of my companions had sense enough to avoid the meal, eating dry rations instead. The elf appeared to have been driven away by the very smell of it, or at least she seemed to hide behind a tree while the smell permeated the air about us. Cole was alone among us in helping himself to a portion of the meal. From the smile on Bile-Brew's face, I knew my worst thoughts on the swill to be well founded. For his own part, Bile-Brew set about consuming the bulk of the stew himself. I could only hope that Cole proved less perceptive than I.

Cole now joined with Jayne to relate the story to me in sign language. They told me that the orcs laying siege to your outpost, my uncle, were in fact your defenders, that they were protecting you and those in your outpost from the rest of the horde. Your initial skirmish was but a token gesture, she said, something intended to preserve the illusion of your loyalty to the Empire. And when the beast-men laid siege to the outpost they did little more than to form a protecting ring about the post and wave others of their kind by. It was their purpose, she said to ensure that you and yours never faced any real threat from this war.

This war that you started, my uncle.

And that protection is the very reason your outpost, alone among all those in this region, actually survived the initial onslaught. It was not bravery that saved you, but deceit.

But I did not know all of this at the time, or rather I did not believe it. I knew only that my companions had come to think this might be the case, and that we were joining a group intent on this very purpose. Seeing that Jayne was intent upon a new conversation, I tried to use my journal for messages. She could offer me only the hope that more information might follow. I could only hope to speak with you before any actions were taken, to find some explanation beyond that which now guided the thoughts of my companions.

Why? I asked Jayne? Why were the orcs helping you in the midst of these great offensive? Seeing Bile slurp down his bowl, I must admit I missed Jayne's answer. A new question had suddenly become more urgent?

Why were any of these beasts helping us?

Chewing on some gristle, Bile grinned and winked at me.
 

Brimshack

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Plausible Grounds
(Introducing Rearx, Taragon, and Klezh)

I wanted so badly to kill Bile-Brew in that moment. Instead, I asked Jayne again; "What do they want from us."

"These orcs follow a War Chief by the name of Hacla Maime. She is the one that spared us." Jane appeared relieved to have my attention again.

"And?"

"And Hacla is a rival of the orcs working with your uncle."

"How are they working with my uncle?"

"Haven't you noticed?"

"Noticed what" My gestures grew more violent.

Cole put one hand on my shoulder. Intent as I was on Jayne's words, I had forgotten his presence altogether. Startled, I moved as if to draw my sword a moment, only to catch myself a moment later. His face was companionate, ...but grim. And Cole simply pointed at the metal point atop Bile-Brew's spear.

Just as with the weapons I saw first the night before, Bile-Brew's spear point was of Imperial making.

...as were those of every orc in sight.

For just a moment, I had hoped to think otherwise, but we all knew the orcs did not smelt such Iron. Their weapons were shoddy at best, but these were powerful weapons. I could see a cluster of orcs armed with the finest of Long Bows walking along the road, and two more in the fields about us even carried the finest of crossbows. This was more than looting might have produced. All of the orcs in my sight, all of those that I had seen the night before, they were all well armed.

...and I thought back to my very first lessons upon coming to this land. The smoke rooms filling the cities of the southern coastline, and the mindless people wandering out of them every morning. I was not long off the ship when someone told me of renewed supplies and easy prices. For but a single coin most anyone could feed their thoughts to the dragon. They had even named the most likely route from which the banned materials had made its way into the city, a road up to the northern mountains.

It was monsters that supplied this poison, so I was told.

Sadly, I had always thought the monsters would be content to slay humans slowly, as if sending the drug to our cities were an end in itself. Watching Bile eat his swill beneath an Imperial spearhead, I knew a literal price had been paid after all.

And I had wondered how these things made it past you?

Jayne's hands caught my attention.

"...anyway, it does not appear that Hacla is the source of the trade. Perhaps, she would like to be." My friend appeared to be finished conversing with me for the moment. Her hands falling to her sides, Jayne walked away. Cole turned to speak with Twill.

I had nothing left to do but to stare at Bile and fumble with some dry rations of my own.

And in time, I studied the rest of the group. I could not see the elf for the moment, so I will describe him later.

I did see a Dwarf fuss about his own meal. Setting his great axe down in front of him, Rearx (as I am told he is called) then set about breaking his rations into even pairs which he then set on the neatly ground before him. He seemed to fuss a great deal with each portion of food, adjusting its placement in front of him and eying the people about him. Unhappy with the location of his axe, Rearx, took it up and placed it again before him, this time reversing the direction of the axe-head itself. When a pair of rations appeared properly balanced, Rearx would then consume both in rapid order before pulling out additional rations, breaking them in half and repeating the process.

I could only hope Rearx Golden Axe was as careful with the Great Axe that he carried with him as he was with his food.

Of Taragon, I understood little. His green-hued skin made for quite an unusual appearance, as did his slender build. I could tell you that Taragon's hair took the form of leaves, but I was never quite certain that was true. But that certainly looked as though it were the case. Taragon is plant of some kind. How he walks, talks, or casts spells, I do not know. But Taragon is indeed one of the fastest moving creatures I have ever met, and one of the most powerful spell casters.

And there is Klezh K'. At first Klezh appeared to be yet another tall human. As he is clad in a black cloak, I did not grasp at first that Klezh was indeed a strange creature in his own right. Eating my rations that morning I finally realized that Klezh bore no eyes in his skull. Klezh was not blind, however. His eyes were instead resting in the palms of his hands. Klezh carried a dagger and a spell pouch, but neither of these saw much use. What Klezh does, I will tell you when the time comes.

This is what remained of re-enforcements bound for your outpost, my Uncle. They never made it to your location, fortunately for them. Bile met them on the road a day south of your post, and it was he that led them here to Hacla Maime's war camp in the night. In truth, they had fled, having been attacked by a giant. I am told, these people left some of their supplies and a fallen companion behind last night.

Today, they hoped to find your outpost and determine for themselves whether or not the accusations against you are true. As we gathered our strength about us, the group seemed to reach a consensus of sorts. If the accusations were true, we meant to do you harm. In this event, Hacla's troops would engage the orcs about your encampment as we sought to slay you directly and disarm your (hopefully innocent) troops).

What we would all do, if the accusations proved false, I did not know. No-one seemed to want to think much about that possibility.

At least none of the others did.

How on earth could this day end any way but badly?

- Lord Castor.
 
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Brimshack

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The Road North​

"Well at least we're doing this one right," I thought to myself.

By doing it right, I of course meant that we were walking straight at them. About half a dozen orcs stood on the road in front of us. Your compound stood a few hundred feet up the road to the other side of them. I could see random orcs running about the fields and farmhouses in the distance. These beast-men here on the road would not long stand alone against us.

But for the moment we were doing it right, I thought, marching straight into the filth. That's how you let an enemy know their worth. It makes a statement you know. They aren't even worthy of a strategem.

That is what I thought anyway. You must forgive me the bravado, my uncle, as this was my first real challenge.

I wish that I could say that I played a key role in the battle, but this simply isn't the case. Two memories dominate my experience of this battle; the heat and weight of my own armor on the one hand, and on the other a vision of your outpost lying just beyond our enemies.

Sadly, I could not keep up with the rest of my party. Lacking my burdens, my companions moved freely ahead to engage the orcs. I remember a brief flurry of arrows flying back and forth between own party and the enemy. Corporal Twill, it seemed, had proven himself the deadliest of our party. At least two of the enemy died of his arrows. The dwarf, I remember seeing cut an orc in two with but a single swing of his axe. Beyond that, I remember only a whirlwind of movement and actions completed in the time it took to move ones eyes to focus on them. Briefly, I managed to shield Gertrude before she outran me. That gesture seems to have been my sole contribution to the skirmish.

And then the orcs seemed first to retreat and then to break entirely before us.

My companions at least had proven themselves capable of fighting. For myself, I must admit that the best to be said of me was that I could sweat in my armor without complaint. ...and that only because I lack the means to voice it.

What remained of our enemies fled the scene. Two of them passed too closely to your compound, both of them dying in a flurry of arrows. And that is when I noticed the men flowing out of your buildings on the southern side of the outpost.

I passed Bile-Brew as he added insult to injury upon the body of a fallen foe. Briefly I wondered if he had even contributed to the death of the creature he now stabbed with a useless spear. I could not remember how that particular enemy had died, or even if Bile had acquitted himself well in the battle. I somehow doubted it.

Looking past Bile and about a mile off I could see a small cluster of orcs watching, and gathering. We would not long enjoy the fruits of our victory. This was but a skirmish. A real battle awaited us upon the horizon.

Literally.

And I wondered, could an orc be anything but a coward? Bile did nothing in that moment to suggest a hopeful answer.

It did not matter.

With 2 dozen men at arms standing a few hundred feet off, I knew at last that I had finally reached my destination. Somewhere in that cluster of men, I knew I would see you. I strode as fast as I could with my party to meet you and your men.

I could only hope that you would have an answer for the charges against you. I could only hope that you would redeem yourself, and every hope and aspiration I had enjoyed since childhood.

Please, my uncle, I had thought. Make the world right again, and then lead us to victory against all of these pigs once and for all.

- Lord Castor.
 
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Brimshack

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Daming Eyes
(Introducing Kelian)

What did the elf say to you, my Uncle? I saw the import of his speech in your eyes, though I did not know what words had sharpened them.

I hadn't yet introduced myself. We stood arrayed before your own troops and you came forth from the building. Among your troops, I could see a benign spell caster as well as one specializing in more aggressive magic. The sword maiden and the archer made sense, as did the dozen or more grunts arrayed in a half circle about our own party. Even the small and furry human-like creature I presumed to be a mascot of sorts made sense.

The orc warrior and the goblin shaman were a little bit of a surprise. Scouts perhaps? Is that what you told the others? No doubt, they served well enough in that capacity. But did they serve you in any other capacity? With every moment, the answer I feared most looked more and more to be the one I would get.

And there you stood in full armor with a Great Sword in your hand, ready to use it on the lot of us. I tried in vain to find hope in your eyes. Suspicion perhaps, that would be reasonable. But there should also have been hope. A dozen warriors in your own army arrive, and there you stand surrounded by enemies. You should have suspected a trick, that much I understood. But our arrival should also have sparked a glimmer of hope, just a trace of renewed courage. I saw this hope in the gaze of some of your men, the grunts anyway. I did not see it your eyes, nor in those of your lieutenants.

I saw only suspicion, and gravity.

And in the distance I could see orcs gathering, some moving up the road. For all its importance, this dialogue had but a short time to run its course.

I must admit that I could not follow the conversation as it developed. I knew only that the elf had said something which caught your attention. Kelian had only rejoined the group as we began our march up the road to your outpost, having hid himself more from the scent of orc stew than anything else. He was what one might expect of an elf, which is probably the reason Bile-Brew took to calling him a woman. Still, Kelian proved an effective scout, if a little weak on his fighting skills.

At the moment, I knew only that he had caught your attention. Cole shot him a look of his own. That one, I recognized. Cole wanted Kelian to shut up. You must have seen that too. And for just a moment I saw knuckles whiten among both your party and ours. Shoulders straightened, a shield or two lifted ever so slightly towards guarded position. I still do not believe your soldiers knew the source of the conflict, but you did, and we did. ...and some of your principles did as well.

For myself, I learned later the words that had set the grim look in your eyes once and for all. Kelian had told you that someone was arming the orcs, someone in the Imperial Army. He had even said it was believed to be an outpost commander. He hadn't told you the name of the person. He had not told you that you were the one we suspected. That much you must have inferred for yourself.

His elven subtleties had failed him, and Kelian had obviously tipped too much of our hand. I knew that much myself, and I did not know what he had said.

So there we stood, the conversation proceeding, as usual, without my help. All seemed committed to the charade. We were there to help. You were accepting our help. The units would fight together in the coming battle.

Yet I could see ourselves in your eyes. We were your enemies already, not merely objects of suspicion, but enemies, well and true. The arrangements were but a pretense, one we would all drop soon enough.

Seeing things as they were, I could not bring myself to reveal our relationship. Cole did that for me.

Damn him!

I had but a few brief moments to tell you of myself, of your sister (my mother), of my reasons for coming, all of this translated through Cole. And I knew only that my presence seemed to make you still more angry, still more distrustful. I am no seer, but I could easily divine that I was an unwelcome twist in whatever plot you had been weaving.

You were trying to decide whether or not to kill me.

And then the arrows began to arrive. The orcs were beginning to close in. They hadn't yet resolved to make a real attack, but over two dozen men standing in the open must have made for targets too easy to ignore. Hoping to get lucky, the archers began to take shots from a distance.

So, you sent my companions to the barn on the northwestern side of the compound. I had the privilege of coming with you to one of the buildings on southeastern side.

This was no defensive structure, you had been given. And you hadn't fortified in all these years! My friends would enter a barn several hundred feet away on the northeastern side of the compound. I would join you in a small cluster of houses on the southeastern corner. The entire region was all pretty well open, except for the flooded fields and a small hill on the other side of the barn. Four separate roads lead directly into the center square, making it easy for enemies to charge in from all sides. The hill to the North hid a small cluster of peasant houses, themselves already containing many orcs. Hacla and her warriors would attack that cluster in the event of hostilities, or so she had told us. But if the enemy orcs attacked first, if any others attacked from any direction...

The entire compound could be overrun in the time it took to draw three arrows.

Once again, I hung my head, knowing this too was evidence against you. Could you have held out all this time against determined foes? Not in this pathetic excuse for a compound. If you and your men lived, it was because you had not yet been attacked, not really.

Obviously, you never expected to be.

If war had brought real danger to your doorstep, it had come with us and not the many orcs which had surrounded you many days before we arrived.

A battle was imminent, of that much I was certain. Who would be fighting whom? I do not believe that you knew the answer to tis question yourself.

I will not recount our conversation, uncle, you know it as well as I. Did you take the paper on which we wrote our words with you? Because I never found it, not in the wake of the battle, nor on your body the next day. I know not where it went.

I will tell you that when you stepped to a side room to converse with one of your lieutenants, I believed this to be a ruse. You were giving the real instructions to your trusted men, setting in motion the plan for the coming battle. How desperately I wanted to hear at that moment, to be able to listen to you through the door!

Looking to the North, I wondered... The attack would fall hardest on the barn, would it not? You had sent my companions there to bear the brunt of the coming attack.

I do not speak my uncle, but I am not dumb.

We wrote some more words when you came back, and then you excused yourself again, again with the excuse that you needed to speak with a Lieutenant. This time I knew the battle was all but under way. I had but a few moments to decide what my role would be in the coming struggle.

Did I betray you, my uncle? Did I make of you an enemy with my next actions? I can honestly say that was not my intent. At that moment, I had not resolved my disposition towards you at all, though perhaps I should have seen our future more clearly. I knew only that I would share the fate of companions. We had all come to this place together, and if I did not really know the others, then I certainly did know Cole and Jayne. They at least were my friends. They would not face the coming attack without me.

And so I opened the front door and strode towards the barn.
 
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Brimshack

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It Begins

A chill ran up my spine as I walked toward the barn. It was near dusk, and a beautiful sunset had settled in on the horizon. I could see birds flying up out of the shade trees in the middle of the compound. A wisp of clouds floated across the horizon. The newly flooded rice fields rippled with a gentle breeze.

…and not an orc could be seen.

I grew ill, knowing what was to come. The door to the barn opened and Kelian looked out. His head swiveled to the left and right, seeming to search in vain for some tangible signs of danger. He then looked straight at me and beckoned for me to hurry.. Both Kelian and I would rest easier when I made it through those doors.

I took a few more steps toward the shade trees, my eyes on the barn. More birds rose up from behind the structure. And finally, I made the connection. They were now flying with a purpose, straight up and over the shade trees, fanning out in an effort to escape some noise I could not have heard myself.

And then the first spear tip rounded the far corner of the barn, soon followed by its wielder. And another, and another. Dozens of beast men leapt from behind the raised ground which separated our compound from the rice fields to the northern side of the outpost.

Two great waves of orcs closed in on me from the right and the left. Some curled around to close on the doorway to attack its defenders. Others busied themselves in the window to the western side of the barn. Quite a few from each side came straight at me.

I stepped up my pace, trying in vain to move myself and my armor quickly enough to slip between the crashing waves of enemy. To say that I thought myself a fool for trying to cross the open ground would be putting it mildly.

But of course, my uncle, I also thought of you. Was this what you had in mind? Could you have called for the attack at this moment? Would the message have had time to reach anyone? Or perhaps I had done it myself, leaving when I knew the danger was greatest. Would you have kept me safe had I remained with you?

I thought about all these things as I ran beneath the shade trees toward the barn door. And of course I thought of my own breath. Slow and steady, I told myself. Keep breathing and you’ll live through this.

In the doorway, I could see Kelian. Past her, Gertrude had already begun her first Healing spell. It was obviously meant for me.

Twill brought down a single orc with a flurry of arrows. Others fanned out to the sides of the doorway in an apparent attempt to keep the path clear for me.

Arrows began to sail through the air toward me. Some, I deflected with my shield, but I felt one impact upon my armor. A slight pinch and fluid began to flow down my chest. The injury was not life threatening, but the point did make the effort to move more painful.

The lead orc ran past me on the right hand side, as though heading towards your building, my uncle. I caught a spray of red fluid out of the corner of my eye, and something flew by me. Looking back towards the left, I saw a bolt skitter across the ground, kicking up dust and blood as it went. To my right, the orc, simple crumpled, it’s throat a mess of blood and torn flesh. A moment later, your assassin dropped from the tree and ran with all his speed towards the door from which I had emerged.

It occurred to me that Kelian had actually been looking at that tree when he looked out the door. He had tried not to be noticed, but his eyes had rested for just a moment on that very object. Kelian knew of the assassin, even if I didn't.

Was your assassin meant to do as he had just done? Or was he there to spy on us? Perhaps to do more?

So much to think in such a short time. …and of course the reminders to breathe slowly. One thought kept pressing in on me.

I was not going to make it.
 
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