Chapter 1 - A Nightmare in Meadows Nov 25, 2018 0:18:12 GMT BlueShadow, aliscot, and 3 more like this
Post by LiquidChicagoTed on Nov 25, 2018 0:18:12 GMT
Act 1: Return of the Darkness
Chapter 1: A Nightmare in Meadows
“When the unliving servant calls forth the undying master…“
- The Al’Anfanian Prophecies, Verse III: Of the downfall’s servants, First Sentence
“The subject known as Korobar, also known as the “Tobimora Shadow” in common parlance, undeniably a Northman in looks and stature, has committed numerous crimes in the Bornland and especially in Tobria. Among others, he desecrated graves, abducted innocents, tortured and murdered them. His ultimate goal was, as it can only be presumed, to raise an undead army, with the help of vile, necromantic powers and his pact with the Archdemon Thargunitoth. Together with the Banray, Middenrealm Intelligence has pursued the black mage under my leadership and we managed to put an end to his vile deeds, deep in the Tobrian wilderness. During this confrontation, the subject was heavily injured and fled into the Black Sickle mountains, where his track was lost after a violent confrontation with orkish raiders. It can be assumed that Korobar met his end at the hands of the same raiders. In conclusion, your eminence, the threat has been dealt with”
- Excerpt from the final report towards High Spymaster Dexter Nemrod concerning Korobar, the Tobimora Shadow, written by Delian of Plainsbridge, Inspector for Arcane Crimes, Middenrealm Intelligence, 1013 BF
“Prepare for the times to come! You know what was and what is, but I have the gift of prophecy and I have seen what will be. Thus I tell you: You know nothing! You think you have suffered? Oh, you know nothing and your pain is yet a mere wisp of wind over a field of wheat. You don’t know true suffering, but you will. Prepare for the times to come! Prepare for the day where your fate will be decided, in black and red. Prepare for the day where you have to choose your side, where you have to choose between those who are righteous or those who will survive. Prepare for the times to come!”
- Xeraan, mage and demon cultist, to the only survivor of his attack on the Middenrealm warship 'Lady Yasinthe', 1014 BF
“When the dead raises the dead, the spheres shall open and there shall be a howling and gnashing among the mages and anti-mages and the luminous illuminated”
- The Oracles of Fasar, Verse I, Fourth sentence
“In short, we have found no previous records of misdeeds attributed to the Tulamid scholar Hamid ben Seychaban. While his interest in ancient lizard magic and his fascination for obscure and dangerous cults do not meet our approval, we have found no evidence of criminal misbehaviour. If you decide, in your wisdom, to grant his request to buy land in the village of Drakesfield, the church of Praios will accept the decision”
- Letter written from the office of Amando Laconda da Vanya, Inquisitor of Praios, to Sister Laniare Armand, Drakesfield’s priestess of Tsa, 1014 BF
“Then, the first of the Marked Seven shall appear and his mark shall be the almandine and the knowledge of HIS name”
- The Oracles of Fasar, Verse I, Fifth Sentence
Baliho, the Duchy of Meadows
The year 1015 after Bosparan’s Fall
He is king, emperor, god. Power beyond measure pumps through his veins. On his command, cities turn to dust. A snap of his fingers and mortals writhe in agony. He turns the seas into boiling blood and the rivers into viscous slime. He topples mountains over blooming cities and forces the oldest of trees under his will. He watches, as they tear themselves apart at his command. His legions are indomitable. Millions upon millions of slaves listen to his commands. His thoughts guide the stars through an endless night. Even the most powerful among the gods throw themselves into the dust before him.
He is the light.
His victory is hollow.
And with a gasp, Iiro jumped up, his eyes wide open. Breathing heavily, he took a moment to collect his thoughts, as his heart beat furiously in his chest. A nightmare, nothing but a nightmare. Not the first time he had them, but usually, there were orks involved. This one, it was different. No orks, no... details. He narrowed his eyes, as he thought back to what just happened, but the details became increasingly blurry. All he remembered was the feeling, bliss and nightmare at once. He felt all powerful and hollow, driven and without a purpose at the same time.
The headache came only shortly afterwards. It wasn’t from the surprisingly potent drink he had bought the night before, at least he hoped so. No, it was the kind one had when spending an entire night without rest. Briefly, he glanced at the window, groaning at the thin ray of light that fell through the closed shutters. Had to be almost noon by now.
Reluctantly, he pushed himself out of the narrow bed. It was a small wonder he didn’t outright fall out of it, but perhaps that would have been better. Still shaken from the strange dream, he staggered towards the mirror. It was actually just a shard of a larger piece, but it was enough for him to inspet himself as he briefly washed his face. Tired blue eyes stared back and his hand moved over the stubble beard that was growing on his jawline. With a sigh, he poured a few hands full of water over his dark brown hair, before turning to grab his clothes. Worn-out leather, sturdy and practical for a journey, but a far cry from what the fancier folk of Baliho was wearing for the current occasion.
Already he could hear them, on the smaller of the two market squares just outside his window. The Baliho Market Week, the largest of its kind in the northern Middenrealm. That was only natural, as the city, located in the sunny south of Meadows and surrounded by vast, fertile plains, was also lying right at the point where two imperial roads crossed. Though not being the capital of Meadows, Baliho had eclipsed Duke Waldemar’s seat at Trallop in terms of wealth and importance, a fact Iiro was able to see for himself during his journey through the duchy.
As such, the yearly Market Week attracted all sorts of people. Local Cattle Barons, whose power often surpassed that of the actual nobility of the area, competing with Almadani’s, who had come to sell wine and other southern goods that were not common in the harsher north. Fast-talking traders from Albernia, merchants from the Bornland, probably even a few Horasians. Merchants, but also circus folk, artists, jugglers, acrobats, all who were capable of entertaining the masses. Some had come just to see and to be seen. And then there were people such as Iiro, who were chiefly looking for work.
He pulled the grey cloak he had bought just yesterday over his shoulders. The ragged wool was perhaps a bit too warm for the early days of Rahja’s month, but he still shivered at the unsettling dream he had. Whatever it was, it wasn’t like anything he had ever dreamt of, or anything he could have imagined. That was not a dream meant for mortal minds.
After letting out a heartfelt yawn, Iiro turned to the door. While tired, he doubted he’d find any more sleep today, but maybe a good meal and one of the strong drinks the Meadows was known for could help him get over it. He was at least glad to have gotten a bed for himself. The city was overcrowded during this week and even though the Black Bull was hardly the fanciest tavern in town, he knew few could afford being choosy at the time. And it was more than enough for him, the commoner who was born in an inn half the size and grew up in a house even smaller than the taproom.
“Bad night, m’lord?”, the barmaid greeted him as he staggered down the narrow staircase and into the taproom. During this hour, it was not as overcrowded as usual, but he saw quickly that he would not be able to get a table all for himself. Briefly, he glanced at the young woman. The hint of freckles and the thick braid of flaxen hair gave her face a decent beauty and her attire dress was cut in a way to deliberately put attention towards her buxom figure. However, Iiro was almost certain that she had a slightly slower wit, from the few talks he had with her.
“You can say so”, he mumbled. “You didn’t tell me the room came with nightmares” She blinked, showing that she did not understand he was joking. “It doesn’t”, she replied. “But you’re not the only one having strange dreams lately. Folk’s been complaining for a couple months now, but it’s been getting worse” Besides her high, grating voice, she had a way of stretching her words in the way that was common among the people of southern Meadows. Iiro himself had spent years losing that same accent, during his childhood in the Valley of Svelt, where he had grown up surrounded by settlers from all over the continent.
He grimaced. “Hope I get some work soon then”, he spoke. “I didn’t plan on staying for long” With this, he glanced at the counter, then back at the barmaid, who had leant slightly forwards, revealing even more of her chest. Gulping uncomfortably, he gave her a smile. “I, uh, take something to eat. Whatever you got today”
“Uh-huh”, she agreed, before she turned around, walking to the kitchen. Iiro blinked, as he glanced through the room. What he had told her was true, he did not plan on staying for long. Perhaps he had already been here for too long, if the nightmare was any indication. Being so close to home, after what had happened, perhaps it was the reason for his bad dreams. No, he had to leave, in the only way a man like him could. Now all he needed to do was to find a stranger who would hire his services as a guard, preferably someone from farther away.
There were several who looked at least rich enough to be able to hire a sword. First, he spotted the bornish trader he had bought his cloak from just a day ago. The stout, bearded man was in the presence of two thick-necked men though, who had their arms crossed, a glare of distrust on their faces. He sighed, knowing that he would have no luck with that one. Similarly, a woman with the loud, melodious accent of the Albernians was apparently already in a talk about the exact same topic with a pair of dour-faced siblings.
He quickly focussed onto a man who seemed promising. Sitting alone, he was clad in a fine robe that seemed almost out of place, surrounded by the usual patrons of the Black Bull, many of whom seemed to outright avoid him. He was young, perhaps not much older than Iiro, with carefully trimmed black hair and a neatly styled combination of a goatee and a twirled moustache... a horasian beard, as the style was called, if he was not mistaken.
The man was reading in one of the large stacks of paper that could be bought out on the market square. Iiro had been told that this was the Aventurian Messenger, the biyearly collection of news from all over the civilized continent, distributed in major cities throughout the Middenrealm and Horasia. Of course, he himself had spent most of his life in regions few people would consider civilized and reading, well, it wasn’t his strength.
“May I?”, Iiro asked, as he cleared his throat to gain the man’s attention. Briefly, he looked up from his paper and his bluish grey eyes carefully mustered the man in front of him. Then, he nodded, his smile a mixture of charm and amusement. “Why, of course”, he said. “Don’t let me stop you” Even before Iiro had sat down, the man was back to his reading already, the paper covering most of his face.
“Here you go”, the barmaid said, as she placed a bowl in front of Iiro, followed by a small jug of watery ale. “The ale’s on the house” Iiro gave her a thankful smile, before he quickly, and with hunger, reached for the wooden spoon. The portion she had brought him was more than decent, but pale and dry. It was, apparently, several potatoes, boiled and cut into smaller pieces. Chewing on one of them, he quickly grimaced.
“What is that?”, he asked, still chewing, as he looked at the barmaid. The girl raised an eyebrow and the look of utter obliviousness tarnished her otherwise considerable beauty. “It’s a potato”, she replied, stretching the word to its limits. “They don’t have potatoes where you come from?” Iiro sighed. “Yeah, I know what it is”, he growled. “But that doesn’t taste like a potato. Tastes like... ugh, like nothing” He forced himself to swallow the bland, dry thing and not even his hunger was enough to make him ignore the utter lack of any taste. Iiro was not a man of high standards and he probably would have eaten it if it would have tasted bad. But he couldn’t say that either. But this utter lack of any taste... it felt wrong.
“Try”, he offered, as he handed her a spoon full with potato. The girl did as she was told, grimacing slightly as she chewed on the bland meal. “Could use something”, she admitted. “You’re not the first who complains today, but that’s all the hot meal we have today” Iiro rolled his eyes. Just his luck... “Where did you get them either way?”, he asked and the girl smirked.
“Lares brought them in today”, she said, before apparently realizing that the name meant nothing to the mercenary in front of her. “Lares Honswooder. He’s from the east, Tobria or so. Bought potatoes on the way, in some small place in the mountains” She shrugged. “Never saw bigger potatoes in my life”, she explained. “Some as big as my head. Shame folk doesn’t like them” With the same movement, she picked up the bowl again. “I’ll get you some bread”
“You know...”, the other man said, now looking up from his paper, the moment the girl had left again. “When it comes to that girl and large parts, her head is not the first association I’d make” He shot Iiro a grin and after a brief moment, the mercenary replied with a polite chuckle. “She’s a nice girl”, he said and the stranger nodded. “Pretty to look at, but painfully slow”, he complained. “So you had an encounter with the local delicacy... bland pou-tay-toes” He stretched the last word in the same fashion as the people from Meadows did and the ridiculous result actually got Iiro to genuinely chuckle.
“Haven’t gotten to introduce myself yet”, he said. “I am Iiro Redal, travelling mercenary” The man with the moustache smiled thinly. “A nivesian name?”, he remarked, to which Iiro nodded. “From my mother’s side of the family”, he explained. “Though I was born here in Meadows, raised in the Valley of Svelt” The man’s elegant smirk grew slightly thinner. “So, you are a local, so to speak?”, he asked, before he chuckled. “It matters not. I am Vittorio Crawford” With this, he extended his hand.
“Let me guess... Horasian?”, Iiro replied, as he shook the hand, noticing the hint of an accent in the man’s voice. Vittorio shook his head. “I am flattered, but no”, he corrected him. “Though you are not too far off. I hail from the gentle hills of fair Almada, crown jewel of the Middenrealm” He hesitated for a moment, before his smirk became slightly conspiratorial. “Though, you do seem more open-minded than most of the people I meet here. Willing to talk to the Almadanian”, he added. “Can you promise me not to call Inquisition and Banray on me?”
Narrowing his eyes slightly, Iiro gave the man a nod and Vittorio leant back again. “Then behold”, he said, as he turned his hand around. There was something on the palm, a sign, carved into his flesh with black ink. Iiro blinked, not quite understanding why the man made such a big deal out it, before it suddenly hit him. He had seen this before, in Lowangen. “You are a mage”, he said.
Instantly, Vittorio raised a hand. “Not so loud”, he reprimanded him harshly. “The hospitality of the Meadows is downright proverbial, but still, there are people here who would rather burn me at stake than to shake my hand” He forced himself to smile. “Furthermore, I was trained at Grangor” Once more, Iiro had to give him an empty look. Slowly, he began to understand how the barmaid had to feel, that girl who had never left Baliho in her life. To her, he would seem well-travelled, but Almada? Horasia? Those were the places his parents had told him about, not what he would have expected to ever see. And here was this man, talking about such a fascinating place so freely.
“That... is a place in Horasia, am I right?”, he guessed and Vittorio sighed. “My bad”, the mage mumbled. “But not entirely wrong. It is at Horasia’s northern border, the beautiful city of canals. What I truly meant though is that the Academy of Apparitions is part of the grey guild” This however was something Iiro understood at once. “You are concerned because a grey mage would meet even more hostility here”, he deduced.
Vittorio’s smile was slightly pained, yet genuine. “You are not slow of wit, my new friend”, he complimented him. “You might lack education, but I appreciate a man who can think on his feet” Then, he nodded. “Yes, this is a concern of mine, especially with these Banray fanatics out on the street”, he admitted. “You have seen them as well, haven’t you? I wonder what is going on that has called them to this remote place”
Indeed, Iiro had noticed it, come to think of it. He was not a mage, so it wasn’t something that concerned him, but now that Vittorio mentioned it, it was true. He had seen remarkably many Priests of Praios in Baliho. More than that, the Banray was here and even in the small village he had grown up in, people had known better than to get in the way of the magehunters.
“That leads me to question why you’re even here”, Iiro brought up and Vittorio smiled, as he put down the stack of paper entirely. “A question I have asked myself before”, he admitted. “And I mean, I know the answer. I just have to ask myself if it’s worth the risk” He leant forward, narrowing his eyes. “You know your way around here, Iiro?”, he then asked.
Truthfully, Iiro had to shake his head. He had never been to Baliho before and two days were hardly enough to get familiar with the overcrowded city during market week. Vittorio seemed mildly disappointed. “So, I believe you have never heard the names Hamid ben Seychaban or Korobar, am I right?”, he asked, with his voice lowered, as if he was sharing a great secret with his new acquaintance.
Iiro shook his head. “Those men aren’t locals either, right?”, he deduced, having noticed their odd names. Vittorio shook his head. “Hamid is a Tulamid, as far as I know”, he explained. “And this Korobar is a Norbardian. What matters is that their trail has led me here. I don’t know who they are, or in what way they are connected, but I intend to make a... business transaction with them”
The way he worded this was slightly odd and Iiro caught up to it at once. “What do you seek to buy from them?”, he asked and Vittorio smirked. “A book”, he told him. “Old, yes, but also valuable if you know the right people” He placed a hand on his chest. “As a matter of fact, I do”, he said humbly. “So I looked for this book. Travelled all the way to Selem, to search in ancient, half-rotten libraries, filled with the shrill whispers of madmen. And apparently, I am not the only one looking for this book”
“Hamid ben Seychaban and Korobar are looking for it as well?”, Iiro asked, to which Vittorio nodded freely. “I am telling you this because I don’t think you are a rival in my search”, he explained. “Am I correct in my assumption that you cannot even read?” He quickly raised a hand. “Ah, I meant no offense though. Instead, I would like to offer you to work for me”
While it was what Iiro had hoped for, finding a far-travelled employer to get him out of Meadows, he did not show it yet. It wasn’t his first time as a mercenary, so he merely crossed his arms. “What do you want me for and what would I get from that?”, he asked. Vittorio’s smile was wide and undeniably charming. “I want you because you seem to be a good fighter. See, I am in a bit of a predicament here, can you guess what it is?”
Iiro thought about this for a moment. “You fear it is only a matter of time until someone recognizes you”, he deduced and Vittorio nodded. “Of course, I could disguise myself, hide the sigil, wear some common clothes. I’m an illusionist, for Phex’ sake, I could figure something out”, he agreed. “But that would go against the Codex Albyricus, badly so” He noticed Iiro’s expression and sighed. “Mage rules, in short. Demands of me to never hide my identity as a mage”, he explained. “In Almada and Horasia, they are more lenient. But here in Meadows? While dozens of Banray flagellants patrol the streets? If I do anything wrong while I’m here, they are going to burn me alive”
“This means...”, Iiro began, but Vittorio cut him off. “This means I want you for two reasons. First, I bet you are decent with a sword. If anyone here starts trouble, you have to defend me”, he explained. “And second, I need the help of a local without magic abilities to gain the assistance of some potential allies in my search for the Tulamid and the Norbardian who might have my book”
“And what do I get out of it?”, Iiro asked, to which Vittorio’s smile returned. “One gold coin per day”, he offered. “And I will pay for food and accommodation” It was a generous offer and Iiro was not sure if he could trust it. However, all he had to do was to look at the measly five silver coins in his purse. It would get him through Baliho for half a week, then he’d be broke. Vittorio’s demands were reasonable and his price more than that. Meant the man was either lying or hiding something, but it didn’t have to be to Iiro’s disadvantage.
“I’m in”, he spoke. “What do we do first?” Vittorio crossed his arms, looking thoroughly satisfied for a moment. “Well, I was hoping you could tell me”, he replied. “I’m having two leads. Seems like this Korobar is no stranger to the Church of Praios. I... actually don’t want to think about the reason for that to much, but I bet they know more. Of course, they won’t even speak to a grey mage, if I’m lucky, which is where you, my new assistant, comes into play”
Asking the Church of Praios... Like most Aventurians, Iiro had respect for them, perhaps even fear. The King of Gods was not someone to be crossed lightly and his priests embodied this aspect with natural ease. “Or?”, he asked and Vittorio sighed. “Or you accompany me”, he spoke. “I wish to visit the library. Not only is it supposed to be the largest in the whole duchy, more importantly a contact in Gareth told me Hamid ben Seychaban borrowed a book from here. It is just, the men there will recognize a mage when they see one. I fear they might start trouble, unless I am accompanied by an intimidating bodyguard, such as you” He shrugged. “Both might give me a lead and I need your help for them”, he admitted. “So, given my predicament, I would like to ask you which you prefer. Your intuition might just be the right pick”
[Offer to ask the Church of Praios for information] [Offer to accompany Vittorio to the library]