[Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

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Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Postby RobJN » Sun May 26, 2013 7:00 am

Thorn's Chronicle continues...


Cushioned though they were, and suspended above the deck of the horseless carriage on heavy coils, my teeth still nearly rattled out of my head.

The dwarven contraption reached the speed of a tall man’s run after mere minutes, and within five more, was moving fast enough to outpace an Alaysian white at full gallop. And it still picked up speed.

A lantern fastened to the bottom of the empty driver’s bench threw out a wedge of light, but it only served to illuminate gaps in the even spacing of large glowing spheres bolted to every third or fourth set of stone-shaped columns that lined the tunnel.

I was unable to get a good look at the globes, but it appeared that some sort of worm lay coiled within, its brilliant white glow diffused by a clever frosting of the surrounding crystalline sphere.

“Anuja,” Silva called.

Aurora turned, looking over her shoulder, tossing her head and spitting out a mouthful of her streaming hair.

“You make it too quickly,” Silva said.

“The thief lies ahead of us. We can close the gap.”

“You make the stones too hot. There will be no water left.”

Aurora looked up, at the tall pipe and its billowing cloud of what I’d worked out was steam.

“We must run faster than he,” the shrike insisted.

“I hate to interrupt,” Varis said. He looked back from glancing around over the rim of the front wheel. “My dwarven is a bit rusty,” he said, “but that signpost that just flashed by showed a bent arrow.”

“Stop leaning on me,” Ana said, nudging her arm into Giliam.

“This time it isn’t my fault,” the warrior said. “It’s like some invisible hand is pushing me.”

“Well, tell it to stop!”

I hadn’t noticed it until he said something.

Beside me, Demarra was not complaining in the least.
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Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Postby RobJN » Thu Jun 06, 2013 3:15 pm

Thorn's Chronicle continues...


The shaking, flickering light from the lantern illuminated the ground ahead, and it was clear that the rails did, indeed, turn to the right, following a curve in the tunnel. Turn through the metal path did, it still felt as if my body wanted to carry in a straight line, and the invisible hand Gilliam mentioned pressed relentlessly the more the metal-wheeled carriage tried to follow the turn.

Sera’s breathing had quickened, and I could feel a sharp tingling of her fear. Her fingers tightened around my hand.

“Ready your spells of heat warding,” Aurora called, over the rush of wind and the singing of the metal on metal.

She slid across the rear of the carriage, so that she sat on the side facing the turn.

“Quickly!” the shrike prodded.

Ana sat forward, to keep Gilliam from jostling her, and she clutched at the silver flame amulet at her throat.

I lost track of her incantation as I centered my awareness, pushing away the slivers of Sera’s fear, of my own. I brought my will to bear on the air surging around us, on the wood beneath, on the remembrance of the creature that was the leather upon which we sat.

I had time to shape the idea of the coldest of winter nights, to settle that idea over the surroundings like a thick blanket of snow, and then the crackling sputter snapped my attention back to tunnel.

Aurora held her hands out over the side of the carriage, at times dangerously close to the rough-hewn walls of the tunnel.

Sickly purplish light pulsed from within the dark gems in each of her bracers, and brilliant arcs of lightning curled and twined around her outstretched fingers. The cascade of tiny bolts leapt from between her fingers to the blurred spokes of the carriage’s wheels, throwing up a shower of white-hot sparks as the rims carried the lightning round and round.

The wash of heat was nearly as intense as the shock that blossomed from the exploding manor house many miles behind us. I’d seen trees burst apart at the slightest touch of lightning, knew it to do similar and terrible things to flesh — charring and searing with the briefest of contact.

My spell and that of the acolyte of the Flame seemed barely enough to keep that heat at bay, but only barely so.

The press of the giant’s fists against us lessened as the tunnel straightened, and Aurora’s lightning show flickered twice before ending with a sizzling of the air. Luckily, our speed carried us away from the reek of her lightning’s burning of the air.

She shook her hands, turning away from us when trying to tuck them beneath her arms only brought a hiss of pain.

It was enough to see the golden glow from the clear stones, and the shriveling of innumerable blisters along the backs of her hands and fingertips.

“I thought for sure we would fly right off this track,” Gilliam said. “Just sail like a slingstone right into the wall.”

“Thankfully, we didn’t,” Ana breathed. She glanced over my shoulder. “Aurora? Are you well?”

“It will pass,” the shrike said. Reddish light joined the golden, and the tank behind us again ticked and rattled, as the water within began to boil, again. The tones, though, were higher. The water level sounded significantly lower than when we’d started out.

“Thorn,” Silva said. She motioned to her seat. “We make a trade of seats, yes? I must have words with my anuja.” Her tone of voice should have chased the lingering heat from the right side of the carriage away. Couched as it was as a request, it still carried the cold weight of demand best followed.

I shook my head at Sera’s puzzled glance my way as we traded seats with the siren.
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Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Postby RobJN » Wed Jul 03, 2013 6:13 pm

Thorn's Chronicle continues....


They argued. Fingers pointed, glares were exchanged. The few words I could hear — when their voices climbed above the clattering and squeaking of the carriage — were Ancient Thonian. Silva did not appear to come out the winner, as she turned away from the shrike, arms crossed, her expression like a thundercloud. She glanced up over her shoulder several times, but Aurora pointedly ignored her.

The tunnel walls at times grew close, or widened well past the arc of the lanterns at the front of the carriage. Other paths of iron curled away from the one we were on, but the side-tunnels were closed off, some with stone-shaping, others looking to be the result of collapse.

It was difficult to judge how much time had passed. Well into our journey, the great metal tank at the rear of the carriage began to tick, and the clouds of steam streaming away from the vent pipe grew thinner. Barely a wisp escaped by the time the tunnel widened into a broad cavern.

The wind of our passage, too, tugged less and less at our hair and cloaks, and the cones of light shed by the lanterns shrank, the glow fading from a steady yellow to a dull orange.

Aurora smirked at Silva as she leapt from her place at the rear of the carriage to the driver’s bench. She had to scoot to the very edge of the bench to rest her feet on the footrest. She gripped a levered handle to one side, and pressed with her toes, the footboard canting slightly forward. Our speed noticeably lessened as something within the metal wheels ground and scraped. Gilliam glanced over the side of the carriage, then snapped his head back, batting at a shower of sparks that erupted from the front wheel on his side.

Aurora looked over her shoulder at the man’s startled cry, her golden brows coming together in a frown.

“Anuja—“ Silva began.

“I know, sister,” the shrike said, through gritted teeth. She scooted a bit further up on the bench, pressed harder at the footboard.

“I will not speak that I told you it was to be so,” Silva said, lifting her chin ever so slightly.

The grating of the wheel to Varis’ right rose in pitch, gave a wail, and the wheel began its own shower of acrid-smelling sparks.
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Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Postby RobJN » Fri Aug 30, 2013 1:02 pm

Thorn's Chronicle continues....


Aurora shot her sister another withering glare.

“Release me,” she said.

“Nieah!” Silva said, with a shake of her head.

“Near-sister, this is not the time to argue. Release my seals!”

Silva looked as if she was going to argue again, then snapped her mouth shut. She took a deep breath, and sang a tri-chorded note.

The sound washed over me, sent an icy shiver down my back. I felt it press me back into the seat. The air itself thrummed with incredible power. I could feel it prickling just beyond feeling.

Above and behind me, Aurora’s voice lifted, blending a pale fifth into the chord. Her note cracked, and then broke as it became a keening shriek, like the sound of a hawk on wing for prey.

The shrike abandoned her place on the seat, leaping into the air. Her hair gleamed like a miniature sun, her eyes two points of molten gold. The wings again tore free from her back, but the bones were thicker, the membranes stretching as they flared.

Aurora hooked her hands into claws, gave a flick of each wrist, and her vambraces slithered, twin whips of streaming golden metal lashing out to wrap around the great tank on the back of the carriage.

I could see the muscles bunch and tense along her arms, and Aurora’s wings gave several beats, creaking as she pulled against the carriage’s momentum. Red and white light flared amidst the shrike’s golden glow.

Silva gasped, her look of resolve crumbling to one of concern. “Stabdha murkha aja,” she muttered. Her fingers twitched, but she did not tell her near-sister to relent.

The iron carriage was slowing. WIth each pull of the wings Aurora had sprouted, the wheels turned slower. I could hear the metal of the tank groaning as the shrike pulled against it with the two long, golden leads.

Aurora sank slightly lower with each beat of her wings, as the carriage’s momentum became less and less. She glanced down, once, and I saw her feet twist, elongating. Bones shifted and flesh rippled, until her lower limbs resembled something nearly dragonlike, three-toed and tipped with dull golden talons.

They were perfectly suited for the running strides she needed once she could no longer remain airborne. She kept her wings open, and they still beat, between each stride. The talons dug deep into the gravel, punched into the ironwood planks as if it were soft pine.

And still the carriage slowed.

Finally, it stopped, giving one final jolt when Aurora collided with the tank along the back. Her hair was plastered about her face and back, steaming. Her wings sagged, the tips dragging along the ground as she took a few short steps.

“Away!” Silva called, when Ana and I reached towards the gasping shrike. She tugged at our sleeves, ushering us towards the cart’s doorframe.

A tall, wooden-framed tower rose above the tracks, an impossibly large tub of what looked to be iron perched atop it. A pipe projected from the thing, the rust-lined spout gaping over the tracks. Two heavy blackened chains swung amidst the swirling dusts kicked up by our rather unorthodox stopping procedure.

“That chain!” Silva said, pointing. “Pull it. Make it quickly!”

Gilliam and Varis leapt ahead of us, and they both caught a link, bringing their weight to bear against the chain. Each link was as big around as their wrists.
High above, the tub gave a grating, creaking groan, as Gilliam and Varis sank closer to the ground. They each gave another haul at the chains, until their toes brushed the ground.

A torrent of brackish water gushed from the rusted spout, a heavy column of it falling on the carriage and shrike. The dust cloud billowed away from the downpour, to be replaced by plumes of steam.

We did not need Silva’s urging to hurry away from the clouds, retreating further away from the tracks, towards a squat structure huddling a little ways back from the water tower.
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Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Postby RobJN » Sun Sep 15, 2013 8:08 pm

Thorn's Chronicle continues...


Perhaps three heartbeats passed, and there was a brilliant green flash from the cart. I blinked against the sudden glare, and caught my breath. The column of water stood, frozen solid, ice riming the spout and edges of the tank.

The base of the column hissed and crackled. It was too clouded to see more than the shadow of the carriage’s bulk.

Beside me, Sara shivered. Our breath plumed.

Gilliam gave a low whistle, before his teeth started chattering.

“I was just getting to like the relative warmth of this place,” he said, rubbing his arms.

“How did she…” I began. Yes, I could do something similar with my magics, but it took hours. Days, for a quantity of water such as Aurora had frozen in a moment.

Steam and icy vapor flowed from the glimmering column, and Silva ushered us into the small cabin, away from the dangers of the Radiance-laced fumes.

“We will need—“ she began.

“A fire. Blankets,” Ana finished. “We have done this before.” She was already unlacing her bedroll from the bottom of her pack, and Varis was doing the same with his.

I turned my attention to the small hearth in the corner of the dirt-floored room. While the woodwork of the cabin’s walls was crude at best, the hearth — small as it was — was a masterpiece. Shaped to look as if it flowed up from the ground, it had the general shape of a large cave opening, complete with small stalactites and stalagmites. When I opened the metal box next to the hearth, I found it full of peat, rather than wood.

In moments, I had several clumps of the stuff alight. Sera raised her hand, gave a few twists of her fingers, and the fitful flames smoothed out.

“There is not much fuel,” she said, addressing my concern before I’d even voiced it. “A small threading of Energy, tied off, will make sure it lasts.”

Gilliam found a small cook pot amidst the cupboards, and filled it from his waterskin. He emptied one of the packets the halflings had given us into the pot, gave it a swirl, and hooked it from the notch in the carving above the peat fire.

“You didn’t think those just for decoration, did you?” he asked me with a wink.

The air within the small cabin was just tipping towards being comfortably warm, and smelled of mushrooms and onions when there came a sharp crack from outside, and the grating of ice upon ice. Silva gave a short cry, and dashed from where she’d been keeping watch in the doorway. Ana was close behind her, a blanket under one arm.

They returned moments later with a bedraggled and shivering Aurora bundled in the dark wool. Her hair was plastered about her face in lank, damp curls, her golden eyes sunken, her features grayish and drawn. She coughed, each one wet and wracking, and I saw that her arm was an angry, inflamed red beneath the golden bracer. Skin flaked and fell away as the shrike coughed, blackening and turning to ash before it could drift to the floor.

“Halav’s balls, it’s like at the temple!” Varis hissed. He backed away as Ana and Silva settled Aurora by the fire.

Silva either hadn’t heard the warrior, or chose to ignore him. She unfastened her cloak and fished out the clear stone that hung about her neck. She drew the chain over her head, wincing as it caught several strands of her hair in the process. She sang a note, and the golden veinwork began to glow within the gem. She placed the chain over Aurora’s head, closing the shrike’s hands over the stone. Those adorning the shrike’s bracers kindled to light. After several minutes, the light grew steadily brighter, and Aurora’s shaking eased.

Silva sat, supporting the shrike, coaxing her to take small sips of the broth Gilliam had made.
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Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Postby RobJN » Sat Dec 07, 2013 6:24 pm

Thorn's Chronicle continues...


There was quite some argument, between the golden-haired twins, their tones hushed, but the words though clipped, coming out harsh. At length, Silva sat up straighter.

“Please make use your binding magics, if she is…” Silva frowned. She looked from Ana over to me. “Tvam bahsase kim? Like the she-goat? Or the bull?”

“Stubborn?” Gilliam offered.

Silva nodded, tapping a fingertip against the tip of her nose. “Yes! That is how I would make to speak it! She has stubborn and wishes to make on, but she must rest.”

The twins glared at each other at that last, and Aurora made a very goat-like noise before struggling to turn on her side, facing the small cabin’s wall, her back to her sister.

Bicker and argue though they did, Silva did not leave the shrike’s side for the remainder of our stay at the small resupply station.
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Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Postby RobJN » Sat Jan 11, 2014 8:51 pm

Thorn's Chronicle continues....


First Half Moon (on or about Nuwmont 9, 998AC)
My dreams were again haunted by the crackling of flames, punctuated by cries of the old and young. The babe’s shrill wail, I think, was what propelled me from sleep, coupled with the deep ache of regret that surged through the bracelet. Tears glistened, within Seara’s dark lashes. How could she sleep through it? I did not want to think of how many nights she’d had to grow used to such dreams.

I slipped the bracelet from my wrist, rising as quickly as the aches in my muscles from the cold and the floor would allow. Short, fat tongues of flame still lapped at the glowing block of peat. Silva looked up as I tread carefully past my sleeping companions.

“She is well. The sleep speeds the stones’ power,” Silva said.

Aurora’s complexion looked better, not as hollow or waxy-looking as it had when she’d been brought in. Her color seemed a bit high, and she still radiated an unnatural warmth.

Silva gave a short snicker. “There is very little of her that is natural,” she said.

“How is it that you answer my questions before I can ask them?”

“Your mind turns very loudly, and so I hear it.” She pointed to her temple.

“You hear my thoughts?”

“Not every one. Only the loudest. They have grown louder since the making of this.” She fished the Soul Gem from beneath her gown, staring at it in the firelight, turning the milky, opaqueness an orangish hue. At one or two of the corners, though, I could see a bluish discoloration.

“Do you hear any of the others’ thoughts?” I asked her.

She blinked, looking up as she let the stone drop back against her gown. “The others?” Her eyes darted from one to the other of them. She blinked again, blushing and glanced hurriedly away from Gilliam.

“He dreams of—“

“That’s quite all right,” I told her. “I think it best I didn’t know.”

“Yes,” she agreed. “That… that is as it should be.”
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Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Postby RobJN » Thu Mar 13, 2014 9:27 pm

Thorn's Chronicle continues...


"Enă," Silva said, gesturing with a pitted dowel of the dark fungal wood. Sera moved the slender, glowing wand of pure Energy where the girl indicated, and the ice thinned, breaking free of the spokes of the great rear wheel of the iron carriage.

Her fine control of that wand-like flame put my clumsy fist-sized orbs of druidic fire to shame. In another twenty minutes, we were underway.

Silva and Aurora sat beside each other, with Gilliam and Varis to either side of them, while I sat across from them, with Sera, Ana, and Demarra. Behind us, the tank ticked and hissed, a small but steady stream of steam trailing from the tall vent-pipe. After hearing how it was merely the boiling of the water that turned the wheels, and not magic, Sera had called up a thread of Energy in the midst of the newly-refilled tank, tied it off, and left the dragonstones lining the bottom of the tank — as well as those of the twins’ bracers — dark.

The shrike sulked, mostly, throughout our journey down the iron-bound path the carriage followed. Like the first part of our journey, we passed several side-branches, both open and sealed.

After the third complaint that we travelled too slowly, I felt Sera’s temper spike, rushing like a hot flame up and down my spine. Her voice, though, was calm, smooth, as was her expression.

“We would not be so far behind your villain if you had not pushed this contraption — and yourself — past its limits. You have obviously never had to draw water in the middle of a Boldavian winter, or had a mother and grandmother both sick with the crimson cough. I could keep a kettle of willowroot tea at a boil for nearly an entire day without having to refill it.”
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Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Postby RobJN » Sat Mar 15, 2014 3:57 pm

Thorn's Chronicle continues...


Miles fell away beneath the wheels of the iron carriage. We stopped twice, to stretch aching legs and take meals. Not long after our second break, Aurora blinked, her breath catching. She sat up straighter, lifting her nose.

“Do you smell that?”

It was nearly another few miles before we caught the scent in the air:


Smoke.

The tunnel walls leapt away and Sera severed the thread of Energy. The iron carriage ground to a halt just before a large stone obelisk carved with relatively fresh lettering of a very old dialect of dwarven.

Past the marker, the carriage’s path took a gentle curve and several other pairs of iron tracks sprouted from each side, leading to low-ceilinged carriage houses, and then continued out to a rocky shelf broad enough to hold a small village. But it was difficult to make out much detail through the thick haze of smoke that lingered among the smoldering ruin of the town the dwarven marker named as “Vilch.”

Whatever had happened, the fire came quickly, burning hot enough to blister the stone foundations and first floors of many of the buildings. The upper floors and outbuildings were nothing more than ash, though some on the outskirts still retained skeletal shapes, a dull reddish gleam peaking from between splits and breaks in the fungal wood.

“This was not one single blaze,” Aurora said, through the kerchief she held over her mouth and nose.

Her eyes were quicker than mine in picking out the signs of multiple fire flashpoints. Though their placement came at random intervals, they all originated from the same line the iron railed path traced through the center of the township.

Except for the popping and snapping of charred remains of the woody fungus stalks, the town was silent. Judging from the extent of the fire and what it had done to the very stone, we would not have found any survivors, had we the time to look beyond the few streets through which we made our way to the edge of the cliff within the great cavern.

A metal framework sagged against the cliff’s face, pitted and blackened and still too hot to stand closer than a few feet.

“This would have been some sort of elevator,” Varis said. “Goblins in the mountains used something similar, but made of wood and rope rather than iron. No doubt copied from works like this of dwarven make. Down there, at the bottom, is probably a plate of metal big enough to hold a few of those odd iron-wheeled contraptions, with pulleys and cranks to raise and lower it.”

Gilliam kicked a loose stone over the cliff’s edge. It took some time before we heard the clatter of it from below.

“That’s at least two bowshots’ height,” he said. “Where are we going to get that much rope? The general goods shop will be closed for a while.”

“We won’t need it,” Demarra said, from the other side of the smoldering gridwork. “This is definitely of dwarven make. ‘One road is good, two roads are better,’ as the saying goes. There is a ladder, pinioned into the side of the cliff.”

“Tombs, tunnels and heights,” I heard Ana murmur. “One is bad, three are worse.”
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Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Postby RobJN » Fri Apr 04, 2014 8:00 am

Thorn's Chronicle continues...


Demarra was the first over the edge, followed by the Twins. Sera was next, and I went after her, with Varis, Ana, and Gilliam finishing off the file.

We weren’t more than a quarter of the way down before the Darra whistled sharply from below, bringing us to a halt.

“What is it?” Varis called.

“Shh!”

I looked down, and Sera, glancing up at me, shrugged as best she could.

Marcu?

I shivered, and nearly lost my grip on the rung. Silva’s voice rang in my mind, cold and quicksilver.

Your Darra nearly slipped on a corpse.

A corpse? On an iron ladder bolted to the side of a cliff in the deeps beneath the Cruth?

Another icy shiver rippled across my mind, and I saw, as if remembering, a broad-shouldered, half-rotted corpse, pinned to the stone by long, sturdy darkwood shafts.

There are three more below.

“What is it?” Varis whispered down to me.

“Demarra found what is left of those who took this route before us,” I whispered back.

“But we’re—“

“I know,” I said.

“Not magic again?”

I shook my head.

There came several sharp snaps beneath me, and Demarra gave another whistle. As we started back down the ladder, several muffled thuds and jangling of metal echoed up from far below.
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Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Postby RobJN » Sun Jul 06, 2014 5:59 pm

Thorn's Chronicle continues....


We were fortunate, that the winds swirling through the vast cavern carried the smoke from the still-smoldering platform at the base of the metal framework away from us as we made our way down the ladder.

It was definitely dwarven work: despite looking to be quite old from the weathering, it was just as sturdy as the day it was forged and hammered into place down the sheer cliff’s face.

About half the way down, we could see the shadowy mass looming below us. More mushrooms, even larger than those we’d seen as the dwarves’ prisoners, spread out along the floor of the cavern as far as wee could see into the gloom.

The elevator’s platform was a burnt and smoldering ruin, many of the metal parts having softened and sagged under the intensity of the flames. This included those of another of the steam-driven carriages. Even if we could have put it in working order, it was turned the wrong direction, and the mechanisms to rotate the platform had oozed and fused together.

Sera looked around, her gaze distant. She ran her fingers along paths in the air, and when I squinted, I could barely make out wispy strands floating in place, fading here and there.

“Energy,” she said, “an immense amount of it, pulled together very quickly.” She frowned, clucking her tongue and shaking her head. “Badly woven, threads snapped… it is no wonder it burned so hot. It can not have held together for more than a moment. Such a waste.”

“Old Magic,” Aurora said. “Not so neatly refined as your Essence manipulation, and entirely drawn from the world’s Energeist.”

“This reeks of wizardry,” Ana agreed. “But something is not right… The air should be positively unbreathable with the amount of corrupted magic that’s been thrown about, and yet…”

“He makes aid of the Eye,” Silva said. “It makes bigger of a tiny amount of magic.” She clenched her left hand into a fist, staring intently at the golden-veined red stone entwined in her bracer. “This is not what I would have it to do.”



What could we do, but walk? We followed the iron paths laid out for the carriages, into the great and looming fungal forest. Our way was not left to darkness. Tall posts of squared-off fungal wood were sunk into the slightly raised bed upon which the iron rails were laid, a small dark metal lamp hanging from a cross-piece. Inside each, a dark and shivering wisp of blackflame danced upon a twisted taper, the shadowlight illuminating an area about equal to that of a regular torch. These were placed, perhaps every forty or fifty paces.

“Most ingenious,” Varis murmured. “It doesn’t need refilling, since it doesn’t actually consume any sort of fuel.”

“It is still unnatural,” Ana grumbled.


We kept a brisk pace, our steps quicker in the gaps between the pools of shadowlight. Appropriate lighting, I thought, for a forest however many hundreds of feet below ground we were. And yet, despite Ana’s convictions to the contrary, backwards though it may have felt, it did not strike me as anything beyond the bounds of the natural world.

“There are no sounds,” the young cleric whispered to me. “It cannot be a forest without…. Sounds. Bird calls. That sort of thing.” She waved a hand at the dark stalks rising to either side of the iron rails, and weird, diffused shadows of blueish light flickered over and through the fungal trunks.

“Quiet means no creatures are about,” Varis said.

“Or would you prefer a pack of giant spiders to — ” Gilliam asked.

“Vatu!”

Gilliam cut short his jibe, and we turned to see Silva, a hand held up in a closed fist, one delicately pointed ear cocked towards the dark stalks to our left. She slipped her other hand into the pouch at her belt, bringing froth the unevenly-cut silvery-veined blue stone.

Aurora’s eyes narrowed, and she sucked in a sharp breath, but Silva cut her off with a curt shake of her head.

“Janami bhoh,” Silva murmured, her tone somewhat warmer than her manner, and some of the tension eased from her golden-eyed twin’s shoulders. The shrike sighed.

Silva brought the stone up before her, and breathed ever so slightly over the largest of the facets. The veins within the blue stone began to gleam, and their reflection in her silvery eyes looked like the shimmering of moonlight on ripples in a lake. Though we were miles away from the smoldering ruins of the elevator and the drafts put off by the heated air, loose strands of hair danced about Silva’s face in as if in a breeze. She brought her free hand up, the sleeve of her gown fluttering despite the absence of any wind, and she pointed, into the woods.

“Kati?” Aurora scanned the shadows between the thick fungal stalks, but evidently, her golden eyes were not as keen as whatever magic augmented her sister’s vision.

“Dvah. Sapt. Trayodazha” Silva’s eyes grew wider with each word, which I knew to be numbers. Ever increasing numbers.

“Too many!” the shrike hissed, and snatched the siren by the arm, giving her sister a tug to send her stumbling into motion. She glanced back at the rest of us before steadying Silva by the elbow, their strides lengthening, perfectly matched. “Run!”

“I was kidding!” Gilliam said, as he grabbed Ana’s wrist and urged her along beside him at a sprint.

I had no desire to look back at the chittering, clattering horde of spiders that clambered through the fungal woods behind us.
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Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Postby RobJN » Sun Aug 24, 2014 1:20 pm

Thorn's Chronicle continues...


“There is no way we can outrun them!” Demarra panted.

“Save your breath for running!” Gilliam called from ahead of the Darine. He was only a few strides behind the golden-haired twins, pulling Ana along beside him. Varis had dropped behind Sera and I to cover rearguard.

“Stall them!” Aurora shouted back at us. “Make one of those wind barriers.”

I felt the weaver’s fear deaden to nervousness. She didn’t have to, but she shook her head.

“I do not have the strength for wind,” she gasped. “But….”

She slowed, stopped, and turned. Varis nearly crashed into her.

“Behind me,” she murmured. My arm suddenly felt as if I’d slept on it, so intense was the icy burn of Sera’s Power. I had to look to see if my fingers flexed, for I could not feel them.

She pointed two fingers at the ground at the far side of the iron-bound roadway, then slashed them across its width, to the other side, leaving a shimmering red scar hanging in the air, which I knew the others would not be able to see.

Sera spoke a word, but it was lost to the dizzying ringing in my ears. The hollow coldness of her Power, usually consigned to just below my skin, seemed to buzz and burn from deeper still, in my bones.

A wall of flames twice Varis’ height burst from the ground with a dull roar, growing to a fierce, nearly electric crackling. It gleamed blue as it rose from the ground, bleeding to brilliant white at the jagged top. The sharp, acrid smell of burning hair and ichor washed past us as the first ranks of the spiders careened into Sera’s barrier of Energy-wrought flame.

Behind, there came a flash of green, and words that cut through the hollow ringing in my head — words of Power. Two more flashes, and the air thrummed with a clear, warm tone.

Hazy, green-tinged walls of light rose from each of the rails, stretching into the distance. I blinked, looking through the white spots dancing before my eyes. The rods of iron gleamed... Not a trick of the light: no longer iron, but gold!

“Go! Twenty strides for one is all the power I could draw!” Aurora called. A large green stone burned, cupped in one hand. She gave Gilliam a hard shove in the back with the other. “Eyes front, we very well may run straight into worse.”

“You— those are—“

“Dead men have no use for gold,” Aurora snapped.

I felt hands at my side, could barely feel fingers encircling my wrist. Varis hoisted me.

“Feet, Thorn, at the end of your legs. Move them!”

I tried, but it felt as if Aurora had turned my boots to lead. No… not Aurora…. Sera.

I felt her, distant through the bracelet’s link. I saw her, beside me, felt the collar through the leathers of my sleeve, like something made of solid, glacial ice. She was helping Varis to pull me along. Her lips moved, but I could not hear through the buzzing in my head.
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Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Postby RobJN » Sat Sep 20, 2014 10:04 pm

Thorn's Chronicle continues....


My senses returned, and I became aware of a rhythmic swaying all around me. I was not being carried, or if I was, my companions had made a stretcher or litter. But no, the cadence was not one of footsteps, but faster, to and fro.

There was a rumbling grind, seeming to come from all around, but mostly from below. I opened my eyes, to a fitful orange-yellow of a single lantern's light. I saw familiar shapes in the shadowed light, silhouettes gathered about the corners of what looked like a small slat-sided hall.

I glanced to my left, as a cool feeling of relief shivered up my arm from the bracelet. Sera leaned forward, worry fading from her features, replaced by an exhausted smile, only to crumble again. She bowed her head, bent lower, so that the loose strands of her hair brushed the plank floor.

Bright relief darkened into fear, and shame, and I felt a bit sick to my stomach.

“Forgive me, Marcu. I reversed the draw. I know it is forbidden,” the weaver whispered, the words tumbling out one after the other. A sob hitched her voice, and she swallowed it, shaking her head but still staring at the floor. “I know I will be punished, and I will accept it. But know that I did as I had to to protect my Shepherd. There was no time to petition, I— I had to…”

The sickness lifted ever so slightly as a bubble of pride welled up, only to sink beneath a chill wash of fear. I will not describe the images that flickered at the edge of my mind at her mention of punishment. I dared not look too closely, to try to pick out which were imaginings, and which were memories.

This only made the young woman bow deeper, nearly pressing her forehead to the backs of her hands, pressed flat against the floor.

“Sera, there is no need—“

“I have crossed the Seventh Injunction, punishable as grand high theft of not less than Twelfth degree. That means loss of two. A knife, heated properly, should be enough to—” I felt a sudden sharp, phantom pain ghost across the last two fingers of my left hand, enough that I closed it into a fist. Sera flinched.

“Absolutely not!” I struggled to sit up, felt the room spin. And then it righted itself, but still swayed stiffly from side to side. And the grating rumble persisted. My head throbbed with it.

“For every transgression, especially one such as this, there is always punishment.”

I looked down at the weaver. She had not moved. Her presence in the back of my mind was as a rabbit when it finds itself in the hawk’s shadow, with no burrow in sight.

“Sera.”

She shivered. “Take my name, if you must. You gave it back to me. It is yours to—“

“It is yours, Sera. Seraphina. Daughter of Fire, the name given to you by your parents. I saw it in your dreams. It is very fitting. I cannot take what is not mine. And what is mine, I freely lend to those in need. Do you understand?”

She shuddered, again, her breath catching.

“But I—“

I leaned to the side, placed my hand on her head, stroked her hair. I could feel the dampness on her cheek, gently lifting her chin so our eyes met. Hers were reddened.

“I have never been to Glantri, and know very little of their people, much less their laws. But if you have broken any of them, then I declare them void. I do not sit in judgment of you, and declare the scales between us balanced. Do you understand?”

For the briefest of moments, the hare bared teeth, but then the hawk’s shadow passed, and the weaver nodded.

She even tried to smile.
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Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Postby RobJN » Sun Oct 12, 2014 3:55 pm

Thorn's Chronicle continues...


Her smile cut short, as the clattering grind from below climbed to a grating shriek. The brass bell in a casing above the doors on either side of the slat-sided hall began to ring. I could hear other, similar bells sounding outside our hall.

Sera fell against me, and I fell back as well. Gilliam tumbled from his seat among several sacks, rolling away as more of them tumbled from the haphazard pile in the corner.

Silva gave a yelp, that Aurora stifled as she closed her arms around the girl’s shoulders. Golden eyes flashed as the shrike glanced from corner to corner, looking for potential threats. Varis kept himself on his feet by clutching at one of the posts holding up the ceiling.

Ana spat a curse as she nearly lost her seat atop a crate. Demarra had been leaning against the door frame, and she merely spread her arms slightly for balance. One hand darted to the hilt of the knife tucked into her belt sash as a clamor arose from the other side of the door.

There was the heavy scrape of an iron bolt against a catch, and the door opened. A gray-haired head poked through the opening, not much higher than the darra’s waist. Dark eyes nearly hidden beneath bushy gray brows scanned over us. A thick, tusklike mustache quivered beneath a rather bulbous nose as the gnome spoke, his voice not entirely unlike the sound of the door’s bolt:

“Imperials have SarGarr all bottled up. That means inspections. Now, I likes my gold, but even that’s not worth trouble from the Brass.” He spat rather noisily on the floor. “So get off of my hauler before they get here. If they catch you,” he continued, his tone more indicative of a ‘when,’ “we never met. Yes?” He turned his gaze to Silva, who nodded.

“Let it be so,” she said.

The nose bobbed in return. “Right. Now off with you!”


Outside the door was a small balcony, with steps descending along either side. These led to a drop to the tunnel floor perhaps a bit higher than our gnomish custodian, or to a narrow metal walkway which led around the outside of the slat-sided hall. Sure enough, beneath the hall were several large sets of wheels, and beneath them, the metal tracks. Our hall was the last in a line of several of them. It was difficult to say how many more there were, as the tunnel was filled with billowing clouds of steam and smoke from what must have been much larger versions of the boiling-water contraptions that turned the wheels.

Between the swinging lanterns, and the flickering light from more of the glowing-filaments suspended within the glass bulbs bolted to either side of the tunnel support beams, and the shouting of the gnomish crew members, the whole scene was chaotic mess.

All of that made it quite easy for the all of us to slip across the tracks, and into one of the many shadowed nooks along the far wall of the tunnel. A joining of hands, a whispered word from Silva, and a tingling shock later, the princess had us enveloped in a hazy color-leeching, light-bending veil. We hurried through the shadows, only slowing when we had to cross a stretch of open, lighted tunnel beneath one of the filament bowls.

There were at least two more gnomish haulers on the tracks ahead, their crews similarly shouting back and forth and waving lanterns this way and that.

We were perhaps halfway down the length of the second hauler’s chain of wheeled storage halls when the first stalls began to appear from the haze and steam enveloping the tunnel. The further we progressed, the more of them appeared, at first simply tucked off to the side of the tunnel, then more and more crowding along narrow, haphazard lanes barely wide enough for three to walk abreast.

Most were lit by oil lamps, the yellowed light spilling over cloth-lined booths showing wares of one kind or another, from trinkets, jewelry, and carvings to gears and tubes of copper, brass and iron. Other, larger booths held larger collections of tubing and intricate assemblies of what I assumed were spare parts for haulers or the great boiler-engines that pulled them. Here and there were stalls selling foods, some with open fire pits where various meats turned on spits. Another stall held something hissing and sizzling on a grating over red-hot coals. The largest crowds gathered around the bread makers’ stalls.

Gomes and dwarves made up the majority of the crowd, dressed in a fashion similar to the few gnomish halter crew members I’d seen before we were shooed away from the machine: wide-brimmed helmets, mail beard-guards draped to one side, those beards plaited and tucked into wide belts. Many wore leather coats over the canvas coveralls, garments that looked to be tunic and breeches sewn all together into one piece, a fashion I’d never seen before or since.

Sprinkled throughout the crowd were figures perhaps a head or head-and-shoulders taller than the dwarves, very nearly Gilliam’s height, and still others that were even taller than Varis. A group of them passed by our location, and Aurora had to lay a hand over Gilliam’s, as he reached for one of his swords— the taller figures were clearly orcish, or had very strong orcish blood: shortened, upturned noses, vaguely pointed ears. The shorter figures I first thought to be merely tall dwarves, until it passed beneath one of the stall lanterns. The shadows fell back from its helm, revealing yellowed, orcish eyes staring from above a scraggly, dark beard from which short tusks protruded. Another, slightly shorter, revealed pointed, yellowed goblin’s teeth as it hissed a laugh at some shared jest.

“What do you make of this, Thorn?” Gilliam asked.

I could only shrug, studying the faces that passed by, taking no notice of us behind Silva’s veil. Dwarves and orcs rubbing shoulders without steel between them was one thing, but shared blood between the two?

What to make of it indeed.
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Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Postby RobJN » Sat Nov 08, 2014 11:39 pm

Thorn's Chronicle continues....


The press of market-goers was soon too much to make the Veiling worthwhile. Drawing up the hoods of our cloaks made our group as inconspicuous and anonymous as any other. We would have made much better time past the various stalls and booths, had not Silva or Gilliam stopped at every third or fourth to look over the offerings.

Ana kept close to Demarra. “The last thing we need is trouble if one of these merchants should find something gone missing.”

Far from being offended at the young cleric’s warning, the Darra laughed. “Mine are not the fingers you need to worry about,” she said, her eyes going from the cleric’s to regard a steadily growing volume of voices ahead of us.

“Heaven of Stone,” Varis sighed, “what trouble are they up to now?”


“If you’re not going to buy, then move along!” The dwarf’s voice rasped, like a shale rockslide. His hair and beard were that dark color, eyes such a dark brown to be nearly black.

“I will not ask you again,” Aurora said, her voice low, her eyes gleaming points of molten gold in the depths of her hood.

“And I told you, missy, that if these are too rich for you, then move along down the lane.”

“Your pardon,” Gilliam said, stepping up behind the shrike, and laying a hand on her shoulder. His knuckles went white. “Come along, little sister.”

The conversation was held in a mishmash of an older dialect of the Thyatian Common, the one used almost exclusively now by Darokin merchants, and an archaic dwarven, close to that spoken by the captors that brought us beneath the mountains.

“What is it that makes yours command such a price?” Demarra asked, appearing silently at my side, over Aurora’s other shoulder. She brushed a large belt pouch at her hip as she reached out to run a finger over the glass top of the display. The clank of coins within was obviously intentional, but it drew the dwarf's attention nonetheless.

Beneath the clouded pane, I could see jagged-edged fragments of stone. I leaned closer. Not just clumps of rock… some of those edges and spurs were regular. Crystalline, faceted. Not just dark stone.

Black, with veins of purplish light gleaming in their depths.


The dwarf cleared his throat. “Well, look at them. A good thrice-again the size of any of the others’ here.” He waved a hand vaguely up and down the lane. “Go on and look, you’ll see.”

“You sell by weight, then?” Demarra asked.

The dwarf’s chuckle sounded a bit like an earthquake. “Only Kagyar can weigh a soul, missy. And only he can place a price on those we lost harvesting these beauties. Got to make sure the clan is compensated. And pay to replace ‘em.

“Any gob-wit with a sack and a chisel can scrape them off of the fields. But if you want quality stones, like these… you have to harvest them from further in. That takes tools. Guides. And they cost, to better the pay of the Brass’ Surveyor’s guild. And of course, security.”

Behind the dwarf, in the shadow of the brazier’s light, came a jangle of chain and rattle of plate. Two figures, even taller than Varis, shifted their weight. Their arms were crossed across broad chests, but I had very little doubt that they could have hands on weapons in the time it would take to blink.
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Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Postby RobJN » Sat Nov 22, 2014 3:15 am

Thorn's Chronicle continues....


It was difficult to tell whether Gilliam’s or the dark-bearded dwarven merchant’s eyes went wider as Silva began producing platinum coins, one after the other, from the pouch at her waist. They were thicker than those minted by the Empire, and at first drew a skeptical glance and a snarl.

Silva said something, with an almost dismissive gesture at the growing stack of thick, dragon-stamped coins.

“Go on,” Aurora translated, “weigh them, and perform any test you would like. You will find them to be of a a purer content than any you have seen or will likely see again.”

The merchant’s grumbling lessened with each test he had one of his attendants perform. They weighed substantially heavier against like coins from around the Known World, sank faster and deeper when dropped into a tall flask filled with a purplish bubbling concoction.

We left with the entire contents of the display case, plus half again as many that were kept in the back. When I say “we” I mean, of course, that Aurora kept possession of the stones, secured in a pouch very much like that of her sister, that seemed to neither bulge nor hang any heavier against her hip no matter how full it seemed to get.

“I don’t mean to alarm anybody,” Gilliam said, after we’d put several turns, avenues, and stalls between us and the dragonstone merchant, “but it would appear we’re being followed.”

“Those dark-cloaks have tailed us for the past fifteen stalls,” Demarra said.

“Dark-cloaks?” Gilliam asked, turning to glance over his shoulder. “I hadn’t noticed them behind the ones in gray.”

The darra made a most unladylike snort.

Silva gave a sigh. “They number?”

“At least seven,” Gilliam said.

“Eleven, by my count,” Demarra said, sticking her tongue out at the warrior.

“A dozen,” Aurora said, “Half again as many closing on each side. Three more if we take this next turn.”

Gilliam and Demarra darted looks past each others’ shoulders.

“Accursed mists,” Aurora grumbled.

“This next right,” Silva said, indicating the last aisle of stalls down the winding way we followed.
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Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Postby RobJN » Tue Mar 17, 2015 7:57 pm

Thorn's Chronicle continues....


“Eyes,” Aurora hissed, and I barely had time to bring my arm up to shield my vision before she rasped “Diphiya!” It was followed a moment later by a chorus of screams.

Brilliant, white light bled around the creases left by the folds of my cloak, leaving me to try to see past shimmering daggers of brilliance at the corners of my vision. I hefted my staff, ready to join the fray, only to find that of our followers that Gilliam and Varis hadn’t put down, Sera and Ana held in invisible bonds of air and faith.

“Agragjha…” Aurora warned, but Silva pulled her sleeve away from the shrike’s grip. The palm-sized blue stone glimmered from between her fingers.

“This, or the black?” Silva asked, with a nod towards the pouch at Aurora’s waist. The muscles along the shrike’s jawline bunched, but she said nothing.

Silva walked between the two ranks of our would-be assailants, head cocked, as if listening. Finally, at the far left, she nodded, and drew back the hood of one of the spell-bound figures.

He had deep chestnut hair and beard, nearly but not quite black. Where his eyes should have been a like deep brown color, though, they shone a yellow tinged with red about the pupils. What little of his skin that was visible under the dark steel helm also held a pale, yellowed cast to it.

“These, they are yours?”

The dwarf grunted.

“You follow. For what is your purpose?”

When the dwarf didn’t answer, Silva held the blue stone closer, directly in front of his oddly-colored eyes.

“You will give answer, or I will take it.”

The dwarf spat, again, but Silva danced to one side. The dwarf’s eyes followed her motion.

“Uplanders, with the coin to buy out that thief’s stock, with not just one, but two of the Syharwehrven?” Yellowed teeth shone beneath the bushy mustaches as he flashed a hungry grin. “And I suppose you think to just waltz through Sar-Gaar.”

Silva’s eyes moved from those of the dwarf, to the stone, and then she turned towards me.

Syharwehrven?” She perfectly matched the dwarf’s gravelly inflection of the word, though she spoke it slowly. The look in her eye could have been that of one tasting a fine wine or ale. “I do not have the meaning.”

It was beyond my knowledge of the dwarvish tongue. I could only shake my head.

“You won’t get three steps past the first gate, Syharwehr,” the dwarf said, looking Silva straight in the eye. “You got lucky with that trick with the light. But that only works on eyes that still see. The Brass will have you spitted on irons before the glare even fades. And don’t think you’ll be using that trick with the folded light, either.” He smirked, when Aurora’s hands closed into fists at her side.
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Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Postby RobJN » Sat Apr 18, 2015 4:17 pm

Thorn's Chronicle continues...


First Half Moon (on or about Nuwmont 10, 998AC)

“This will never work,” Ana muttered, tugging the tattered cloak tighter about her shoulders.

“It’ll work,” Gilliam said. “It’ll work better if you slouch more.”

“And scratch,” Demarra said. She brought her hand up, clad in a too-big leather glove, and worked at the back of her hood.

“Well at least with that, there is no need for deception,” the young cleric said. “Flame alone knows how many different kinds of vermin those brigands left behind in these cloaks.”

We trooped along with Grellk’s mercenaries, garbed in spare, ragged and patched cloaks, voluminous hoods pulled up, hiding most of our features.

“Make sure yer Syharwehr produces more of those platinums at the first checkpoint, and things’ll work out just fine enough,” the dwarf growled. “And you,” he said, pointing a thick finger at Ana. “Just keep those pretty blues pointed at yer boots. Get us into a deeper pit than we’re already headed into, if the Brass see those. And keep that gob shut.”

The Darra stifled a chuckle with her borrowed glove. Ana looked like she was about to say something, but instead diverted her gaze, her features lost beneath the hood’s shadows.

“Its another fifty fer each ‘please,’ and ‘may I,’” Grellk said with a sharp-toothed smile.

“You wish to renegotiate our pact?” Silva asked.

The dwarf’s smile vanished, and he swallowed audibly. He didn’t say another word until we trooped up to the sally port to the side of the great iron-plated rail-carriage gates, and then it was a hushed and gravelly exchange with a black-bearded dwarf in the familiar brass-scaled armor of the troops of this realm’s ‘Karrnath.’

My knowledge of the dwarven language is spotty, but I knew that title to be a mix of word-roots that translated, very roughly in the Common, to something like “Death-Cutter.” Again, I wished for the company of the dwarf Durin, who I’m sure could have filled two skeins with elaboration on the various nuances of this strange title.

Coins changed hands, and it was difficult not to hurry through the broad doorway that the guard opened up for us. His dark-eyed gaze was directed into the pouch in his gloved hand, his attention fixed on counting the coins therein. Not even Ana’s exaggerated shuffle drew so much as a sideways glance.
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Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Postby RobJN » Sun Aug 30, 2015 6:28 pm

Thorn's Chronicle continues...


Passing down a corridor wide enough for three to walk abreast, we then stepped into a vast, vaulted chamber. At first I thought it another cavern, but a closer look showed the walls to be of crafted and smoothed blocks of the dark granite of the Peaks. Each edge was taller than Varis, fitted with the typical dwarven precision denying even a thumbnail to be slipped between the stones. They sloped gently upward, the peak of the long tunnel-chamber’s ceiling lost amidst smoke barely lit by yellow-orange light from the torches lining the walls.

It was clear the great gates opened into this vast chamber, and three pair of the iron-bound trails ran up the center, flanked by great flagstone platforms that made the activity of the marketplace seem a ghost town in comparison.

It was as if the merchant traffic of the ports of Specularum or Ierendi city were given iron wheels. The iron carriage upon which we’d hitched a ride, with its five containers trailing behind the one in which we stayed was apparently short for its kind. Several sat at idle, lined up one after the other, a dozen large cargo holds in length. What looked to be siege towers turned out to be long swing-arms, fitted with block-and-tackle, great iron chains being used to hoist entire containers from the backs of what turned out to be long flat wheeled platforms.

Grellk snorted. “Can’t wait to see yer faces when we reach Kor-Karrest.” He snorted again, and rolled a shoulder forward — and we had to move on.





I will spare you the details of another two and a half days’ journey in another of the great rolling containers. At each checkpoint, it seemed we nearly depleted Silva’s pouch of its coinage, and Aurora grumbled of highwaymen and the hangman’s price. Still, it enabled us to pass the miles if not undetected, at least unmolested by the troops of the Karrnath.

The middle of the second day brought us a welcome change — sunlight, and the taste of water in the air, as we passed through another vast cavern, the top lost amidst clouds and the heavy mist from a waterfall that plunged from someplace well above, if not open to the sun, then exposed to it.

“The Throat,” Grellk explained. “Runoff from the winter’s melt. Most of the fields below will probably flood, with the heavy snows that came down so early this year.”

By “below,” Grellk meant the lands along the shore of a lake that spanned most of the width of the great chamber. Our iron carriage rumbled and clattered along a long, raised bridge of wood and iron and stone, one of three that spanned the vast lake. A great many farms spread along the shores, and shimmering canals carried water further from the lake, to irrigate farms further from the edge of the water. I could even see, here and there, what looked to be true orchards, rather than forests of the seemingly endless fungi.

A few hours later, we passed a low stone building, a huge brass wheel sprouting from its side. The wheel was wide, and the outer edge lined with scoops, or paddles, endlessly pushing water down a long reservoir, along which the iron-spanned trackway ran parallel.

Grellk laughed when I asked him about it. “Resorvoir? Nay, that’s the Emperor’s Aqueduct. Runs all the way to Kor-Karrest. Probably all the way to His Imperial Majesty’s water closet, for all I know.”

We were less than a half day from this ‘Kor-Karrest’ when Aurora and Silva both sat up straighter, sniffed the air a couple times, and exchanged worried glances.

“What is it?” Ana asked. She sniffed, too, her nose wrinkling slightly. Varis and Gilliam both reached for their swords, but the shrike shook her head.

“This is no danger you can fight with a sword,” she said.

The air had begun to taste… flat. Ashen.

“No, do not breathe too deeply,” Aurora warned. “If you must, do so through a water or wine-soaked kerchief.”

“You mean that smell isn’t Gilliam?” Demarra asked, through the folds of her sleeve.

Silva looked the Darra over, and pointed to her own wrists. “H’arhi-na.”

“You must remove any of those bangles that are made of gold,” Aurora translated. “Wrap them, in leathers if you have it, or better yet, a wooden box.”

Demarra looked between the twins, but when she saw they were not smirking in the least, began picking through the tangle of bracelets, wristlets, and accompanying charms, working the golden ones free. Sera had spare leather pouch, which she lent the Darra.
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Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Postby RobJN » Wed Nov 11, 2015 10:19 pm

Thorn's Chronicle continues...


The great whistle at the front of the iron barge gave a long wail, and below, as well as behind and in front of us, wheels began to grind and shriek. Bright orange and yellow sparks leapt forth, some of which tried to jump through the gaps in the planked flooring. Orange and red pinpoints showered the sandy ground to either side of the metal lines on which the barge rolled, quickly fading to coal black specks. Between the scalding steam belching forth from the massive boiler tank at the front of the line of barges and the cascades of sparks from the grinding wheels, there wasn’t all that much to be seen through the square windows. I, for one, was not keen to lean out and catch any of the sparks or cinders in my teeth, or eyes.

Aurora, though, gestured with an extended thumb and forefinger, swiping them downward from the golden circlet across her brow, and a shimmering veil of clear, pure ice hissed into being, draping from the base of the diadem, fully enclosing her face from forehead to delicate cheek bones. Thus protected, she leapt through the rear hatch in our barge’s roof, returning some few minutes later, her cloak smoldering in several places.

“There was too much interference to make out much more than a few clusters of lights drawing closer. At the rate we’re slowing, we should be there within a few minutes.” She looked around the chamber, at each of us. “Cloaks, gloves. Hoods up.”

Gilliam shook out his cloak, on which he’d been sitting until then. “It doesn’t feel all that cold out there,” he said. “If anything, I’d say it’s gotten warmer over the course of this past day.”

“It is not the cold against which we must guard,” Aurora said.

At her tone, Grellk opened a yellow eye. His bushy brown eyebrows drew together even as he pushed his helm back, sitting up. “Those won’t last very long once we leave dockside,” he grumbled. His gaze shifted from Aurora to Silva, and he bared his pointed teeth in a grin. “I might know a merchant dockside who could provide you with the necessary equipment.”

“And just how many coins would it take to jog your memory?” Varis asked with a scowl.
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Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Postby RobJN » Sun Nov 15, 2015 12:45 pm

A progress report, if anyone is interested:
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Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Postby RobJN » Sun Nov 15, 2015 2:44 pm

Thorn's Chronicle continues....


It took three platinum coins, but that price also got us off the barge ahead of Imperial Brass cargo inspectors. It involved a leap from the connecting joint just before reaching the docks, and was nearly worth the price, to watch Grellk’s smirk fade after his off-color remark about Sera and I getting entangled in the collar-and-lead. The strange connection the device forged made the jump easier. Sera’s sense of space and timing is much better than my own. The briefest of nudges of woven Thought helped a bit, as well.

The bustle at the Kor-Karrest docks made Sar-Gaar’s bazaar look like a half-vacant holiday’s marketplace. Dockside sprawled along several miles’ arc of platforms and barge track interweaving along the periphery of what Grellk called the city’s rim.

“Probably covers half the Rim,” he said. “Different sectors pipe to different parts of the city. Oh, the Ministry of Trade takes the Empire’s share, and woods and weapons have to go through tighter securities than the grain and unrefined ore.” He grinned.

“I think I’m going to be picking wheat out of—“ Ana’s elbow in the ribs stopped Gilliam from finishing his statement.

Grellk’s mercenaries closed ranks around us, and we trooped through the crowded lanes between stall after stall. I soon lost track of how many rights and lefts we took. When the crowds grew too thick, the dwarf ushered the twins to his side. Our passage went somewhat easier then, leaving a trail of mutters and whispers, too many to untangle and make sense of.

He led us to a stall at the end of a nearly-unoccupied side street, and I noticed both Varis and Gilliam’s hands edge towards the pommels of their swords. Demarra’s hand did not stray far from her right leg, where I knew she wore at least one dagger within easy reach through a slit in her skirts. A tingle of fear shivered across the bracelet, quickly subsumed by the familiar warm prickling as Sera clutched at threads of Spheric power.

Grellk waved a dismissive hand, which he then closed into a fist and banged against the stall’s counter.

“Tamac! Drag your carcass out here and drag your carcasses out here. Or I can take your business to Divos.”

A white-haired head poked from behind a flap at the back of the stall. Perhaps a shade taller than Silva or Aurora, with a nose that looked more like a small apple than a nose. Dark eyes squinted above that nose, blinking behind small rounded lenses held in place by twisted wires. An equally wiry beard bristled from an otherwise rather weak chin. The head was joined by the rest of the merchant, as he tromped up to the counter, nails in his boots clacking on the paving stones. He shook a black-grimed finger at Grellk’s nose.

“Divos! That quarter-blooded scab’s wares will leave you half exposed after a day!” he blustered. “A copper’s price gets you what you paid, I always say. I— Oh…” The squat figure retracted his hand, patting about a large pouch-laden belt until he came up with a rag, with which he wiped at his fingers, which I think actually put more grime on than it took off. He adjusted the lenses perched on his large nose.

“Manners, Grellk?”

The dwarf snorted. “Won’t be naming them, but your clients need a half dozen of your finest.” He leaned closer. “Not the scrap you tried to sell me that first time.”

Tamac’s large nose lifted, even as his somewhat-hunched back straightened. “I can do numbers, dwarf. Six cloaks when you guard eight?” He lifted a hinged portion of the counter, and bowed, gesturing for us to enter. “Please, good Masters, if you would step back here, I will see to your fittings personally.”
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Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Postby RobJN » Tue May 10, 2016 3:20 pm

Thorn's Chronicle continues....


Despite the high ceiling and multiple ventilation slits cut across the roofing panels, it was still painfully obvious to my nose and eyes that Tamac was a tanner. Shadowy figures moved about behind canvas partitions, their movements becoming more agitated as our gnomish host began to bark orders. Several shorter gnomes, their hair more gray than white, appeared from the gloomy depths of the tent, squares of slate and chalk in their hands, scratching at them as Tamac called out measurements.

He gestured for Varis to step towards a carpeted corner of the tent’s entryway. The gnome then clambered atop what I’d taken for a low shelf for ledgers. He produced a knotted string, which he held up, using it to measure along the warrior’s arms, across his shoulders, and from shoulder to the ground. He did this for each of us, the other gnomes scratching at separate slates. Once of us was measured, another gnome appeared to scurry back into the depths of the shop, slate full of measurements in hand.

Yet another appeared some minutes later with a leather mockup of a heel-length, deep-hooded cloak. Yet more measurements were taken, and marked made on the rougher side of this sample cloak with different colored wedges of chalk. Through this whole procedure, Tamac and another of the gnomes chattered back and forth in mostly gnomish ‘gnimble,’ — a mixture of verbal shorthand mixed with various facial expressions and hand movements. Occasionally, I also caught an out-of-place word in the same old dwarvish tongue that was so commonly spoken in these caverns.

This measuring and refining process took several hours. We each tried on two different cuts of the cloak. I could not tell what the differences were between the two, but the gnome had us turn full circles in each, arms at our sides, and then outstretched. More notes went onto the slates, which were passed back to the depths of the shop, along with the bulky mockups.

At last Tamac clapped his hands. “Well, now if you’ll give me a turn of the daywheel, I’ll—“

“Half a turn,” Grellk said, crossing his big arms. “I have other contracts in the City, and can’t be babysitting these surfacers out here in the fringes for an entire day’s turn. ”


I’d read accounts of tribes on the Serpent Peninsula and the Thaneigoth Archipelago wearing cloaks made of the hides of great lizards, terrible beasts that towered over even the tallest of men. Those hides turned aside all but the most finely honed obsidian spear heads. Even blades of Ispan steel had a difficult time piercing those creatures’ tough skin.

Tamac’s cloaks seemed to be made of stuff just as thick and resilient. They dragged at each step like sodden wool in icy water, draped heavily across the shoulders. It was not easy, freeing an arm to draw a blade, much less free ing both to use a bow or staff. We would be fighting the cloaks as much as any adversary we might encounter, should combat break out.

The deep hoods brought on all manner of neck aches and cramps after a few hours’ wear. Varis likened it to a skirmish he’d been in, in which kobolds dropped from ledges above, to cling relentlessly to his and the other soldiers’ heads and backs.

A length of thick, spongy reddish fabric was apparently also part of the extravagant price we’d paid for these cumbersome cloaks. These, we were told to wrap about our mouth and nose, like a scarf in the coldest part of winter, once past the checkpoint between the warehouse quarter and the true merchant’s sector.

I did not really think we would have any trouble keeping ourselves warm, between the relative warmth of the city and the cloaks’ ability to trap heat and try to stifle us beneath their folds.

To our misfortune, we found that the scarves did nothing to filter out the acrid stench the clung to the cloaks. Indeed, they had their own musty sweetness that made my vision swim if I breathed too deeply.
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Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Postby RobJN » Sat Sep 03, 2016 1:18 pm

Thorn's Chronicle continues....



For all the concealment afforded the broad, deep hoods, they did no favors for our vision.

“Only first-timers wag their noses back and forth,” Grellk said. “Especially in the Market Crescent. Now, I don't mind the extra pay, what comes with fending off skulks and cut purses. But I have meetings elsewhere in the city, and not with company to be impressed with blood on the cloak and boots, ye see?”

So we kept our heads down, and followed the broad shoulders of the mercenary ahead of us. One would have had to be a dwarf to be able to retrace the roundabout and circuitous route the mercenaries chose as we made our way through the maze of stalls and hovels. Still, more than once, I saw a cloak drift back, revealing a hand on a sword. It must have been enough of a deterrent, as our pace rarely slowed, and we made our way through the ramshackle stalls, sheds, and shanties that comprised the fringes of the Crescent.

What I’d first thought a simple heaviness in the air grew thicker, the further we got from what I thought of as our arrival point. At some point, the yellowish light shed by whatever it was that was in the strange globes that dangled from most stalls grew hazy, eventually growing thick enough to look like a proper mist or fog of some sort. It lent an ever so slight metallic taste to the air, and I thought I saw flashes or motes of golden light teasing the edges of my vision every so often.

By the time we reached the end of the alleyway that emptied into a broader, leveled stone walkway, the mists had solidified into a fog to rival that of a morning in Specularum or Akorros.

Pockets of foot traffic, or small groups pushing barrows or hand carts emerged or dissolved into the mists perhaps a bow’s shot from where we stood.

Across the slab-way, down a short step, heavier carts and full wagons trundled along, several lanes across, Through gaps in the passing lizard-drawn merchant traffic, I spied two pairs of the now-familiar parallel iron tracks, these sunk nearly even with the flagstone roadway. Between those, great posts had been driven into the ground perhaps two and a half to three spans in height, a thick layer of tar hiding whatever kind of metal they might be made of. The mists above shone with a muted yellowish-orange light, shed by larger globes lashed to crossbars atop the post. A long, many-stranded rope of some dark fiber snaked through a hoop at the end of the crosspiece, dipping ever so slightly as it disappeared into the misty distance, presumably to another such post hidden further down the road in the fog.

A shove in the back caused me to stumble.

“What did I tell ye about gawping?” the dwarf spat. “Places to be, Uplander. Yours is not my only contract.”

He led us along the slabway, which stretched as far as we could see, which between the other foot traffic and the mists that seemed to ever hover a bowshot distant, admittedly wasn’t very far.

Thankfully, we did not have to dash and dodge between the wagons and carts moving along the many-laned street. Black wrought-iron stairs led to a gantryway that stretched across what I counted to be six lanes. From that vantage, I could see a bit further through the mists, from which bloomed occasional spats and fits of orange-yellow light. These, I saw, came from a smaller iron barges that used the railway down the middle of the street, a long arm lifted from the contraption that turned barge’s wheels making a hissing, sputtering contact with the braided rope dangling from the poles. Each time it skipped over one of the contact rings, it spat a great shower of sparks, and caused the light-globe to flicker and dim. The wagons and carts to either side gave a wide berth to the pitted stones near each of these points.

I hurried along before I received another prod in the back.
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Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Postby RobJN » Tue Jan 31, 2017 1:06 pm

Thorn's Chronicle continues...


If the portion of the city we’d seen so far was a twisting ramshackle ramble, Grellk and his mercenaries led us through equally labyrinthine streets, but the buildings crowded to each side were of a more permanent nature, made of fitted, mortared dark stone blocks. Most were streaked with an oddly greenish tracery. Some that we passed, though, exhibited beautiful branching wispy patterns, almost... tree-like..

Anna, too, noticed, but one of Grellk’s men swatted at her hand when she reached out to trace one of the meandering grooves. His only explanation was a terse grunt and shake of his hooded head.

Grellk’s only response when I asked him about them was to reach into a pocket and withdraw a rounded, palm-sized contraption. He pressed a knob on the side, and the clasp sprang open. He held it up, sighting through a slit in the thing’s lid, turning a fitting that ran around the edge of the faceted glass surface. Beneath that glass were a series of geared workings and a pair of needles that floated on some sort of odd metallic liquid that seemed suspended above the cogs and gears of the guts of the device. I assumed another pane of the glasswork separated the needles from the rest of the device. One of the needles looked to be of the blackened, twisted iron that the city builders liked to use for their ornamentation, while the other gleamed a familiar reddish-gold. The finest splinter of red dragonstone, with a single golden thread running its length.

“Ten ticks, men,” the dwarf rumbled as he snapped the device shut. “Get the lead out of yer boots, gawpers, unless you want to be caught in the next flume’s out-vent.”

At my third attempt to question him, Grellk just shook his head. “Less gawping, more walking, Uplander. It’s still twelve more blocks to the nearest canopy.” He raised his voice, and I’m sure I noticed the slighted tremor of uncertainty in it as he barked “Seven north, five east! Put yer hustle on!”
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