Shadow of the Demon Lord @ Gamezilla RPG night

Into the Tomb of Cycles

Collected from the notes of Sister Margery and the maps of Brother Hector is the secret history and location of the “Darkstone”, a weapon against the Shadow of evil. The artefact is a remnant of the first folk, who hid it away after using its power to defeat an invasion of trolls.

The weapon is hidden deep within a first folk tomb within the barrows. Brother Hector named it “The Tomb of Cycles”, but its real name, if it ever had one, is lost.

At the urging of Izzy and other village elders, The Heroes of Chuton have ventured towards the tomb. You climbed through the many ancient bones in a mass grave of the first folk and found, in the light of the setting sun, the entrance to the tomb. Its vastness awaits you.

A room hewn from rough rock, the low ceiling gives it a claustrophobic feeling. Iron bars in the rock mark where a rope ladder was once hung, you had to construct your own from spare parts. What little light the setting sun still gives off picks up a thin cloud of dust, which coats the air.

The centre of the room contains a stone statue of a knight, easily six feet tall.
To the North, South, East and West, passages have been carved into the stone. They descend slowly, and quickly pass out of the range of your lanterns. Atop each of them is a symbol, carved in the rock. The symbols are functional, and easily identified, despite having been smoothed by time.

To the North, a flower pushes its way to break the dirt.

To the East, a ship is wracked by storms.

To the South, a tree, cleft in twain by a mighty Axe. It’s left side is filled with life and leaves, while the right is barren and cold.

Finally, the West shows a warrior’s shield, emblazoned with a radiant sun.

Each of these symbols has a clear fist sized slot in the rock beneath them.

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Notes of Sister Margery

Sister Margery kept pages of careful research into the First Folk, and a great weapon that they used against their enemy:

The Cult are raising the Shadow. If the Shadow is cast into our world, then the Great Devourer will step through.

We are not safe in the light. The sun is our enemy. Darkness shall deliver us. It was not so for the First Folk.

When they fought the trolls, the daylight hours were a time of safety. When their armies were routed, and the peril grew too great, they called upon the heathen fey for aid. They fey gave to them a powerful weapon. A Lightstone.

When placed in the throne of the fey ruler, when the stars shone bright, it raises a sun so pure that the trolls were banished.

The Lightstone shone until it was dimmed, but I believe if yet has power. A Darkstone, able to summon the darkness of pure night. The stone was buried somewhere in the barrows to hide it from those who would use its power for evil. To stop the shadows, we must retrieve the Darkstone. By plunging the world into night, we will save it from itself.

Only the Swords of Astrid have the wisdom to wield the Darkstone. We must retrieve it. We must plunge the world into darkness, to save it from itself…

The final entry is scrawled, the ink is smeared:

The Shadow whispers lies to me. I do not listen. It says it will kill me. It cannot harm me in the dark. Hugolin will save me, and then we will save the world.

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Shade and Flesh

From the journal of Alaric Clay:

I should have known. I did know. There’s no shadow without light. The woman was lighting candles, I saw her, I even said it out loud, but it seemed ridiculous… There were so many lights after all. So many flames. To extinguish them all…but then I took my torch to the top of the stairs and we kicked open the door and she knew, she knew as well, and now she’s dead.

It’s my fault. Well not again. Never again. Tower knows, it’s started helping me, a sounding board. It can’t do much yet, but at least we’re talking now. Tower will help me, just as I saved Tower’s life. I suppose twice now: the shadows consumed the ink in the books, and the oil in Tower’s gears.

The horrors we saw. The congealed darkness strung between horses’ ears. The acolyte who consumed his brothers and sisters and became a stuffed and bloated demon in skin. The shadows…another great shadow demon. Like in the town hall.

I’m rambling. I know that, but then I’ve been through an ordeal. My thoughts are slowly becoming ordered. I’m not a babbling madman; Tower confirmed that. I am a man of reason; of study. That’s why I went to the tower archive at the Oroborus Monastery. Henri and the others translated another section from Hugolin’s journal, and we learned of a weapon from ancient times that might defeat the great demon which has cursed us. One section of the monastery held clues as to its location; another, the tower archives, information on its nature; and below, a traitor who knew secrets possibly of use to us, and another great demon bound by a ritual that needed to be renewed. Some of the folk who had been to another demon-plagued village felt that the possessed villagers there may have marched on the monastery, so we decided we would all go to ensure it did not become a bastion of evil.

I decided to seek out Sister Margery, who had been researching the weapon in the archives. Tower came of course – though it had not started speaking yet – and so did Coal the gnome, Jack of the Woods and Raya the Unwashed, the orc child. Aside from Coal I did not know my companions well, but I had heard that Raya had already acquitted herself well in battle despite her age and size, and Jack – though I think he is one of those who made the pact with Redleaf – seems to genuinely believe his magic does not come from the Old Gods.

Anyway. We found demons. Horrific demons. Shadows which sapped minds and corrupted bodies and stole souls. We killed many of them – including a possessed servant who was relighting the candles. That’s how I worked it out – they were relighting the candles, because they needed the light to cast their shadows. But then we let light into Sister Margery’s study – she clearly thought we were demons ourselves – and the great shadow appeared and obliterated her. We killed it before it could destroy the information we came to find, but only just in time. And now we return home.

But I knew. I knew. And I know to trust my understanding in future.

For now…I will try and understand this weapon. Hopefully it is built on principles of magic; it seems old enough that it might predate the Cult of the New God.

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On the Unified Origin of Faiths Old and New
An ecumenical treatise by Sister Hüvje van Chuton

It is a belief considered by the elder theologians of the Cult of the New God to be misguided at best—and blasphemously heretical at worst—that the New God proclaimed by the blessed Saint Astrid is anything but the lone, supreme deity that rules over all of Creation. There is much debate among these same theologians as to the precise nature of those beings of ancient devotion known collectively as “the Old Gods”.

The more liberal-minded among them may argue that these Old Gods are primitive, unguided attempts to discern the nature of the New, blind stumblings in a pre-enlightened time that found evidence of the divine without correctly interpreting its true nature. In contrast, a hardened zealot who fears even the faintest breath of theological impurity might declare the Old Gods to be creatures of corrupting power—demons perhaps, who seek to mislead mortals away from the Wheel and into sin, or duplicitous faerie folk who dazzle the followers of older paths with trickery and ensnare their senses.

Between these two extremes is the canonical word of Astrid herself, which decrees that the Old Gods are, in essence, nothing at all. The fervent belief of mortals in these elemental beings who turn the seasons and shape the moon created pale shadows of gods, formed of nothing but the longings of the devout. They hold some power, but they are dumb things devoid of true life or will.

I risk excommunication by writing this, and perhaps even worse, but all three of these beliefs are wrong. Yes, I—an anointed priest of the New God—have come to believe truly that one of the so-called Four Truths preached by Astrid is untrue. If it offers the reader any comfort, I believe truly in the remaining three: the soul is eternal and turns on wheel of life through seasons of life, death, purging, and rebirth, and the demonic host seeks to pervert that cycle by corralling mortals into cages of sin.

In a way, I am not even so far from believing the fourth. I believe there is only a single divine being, and that Astrid’s New God is a window into that divinity through which we trembling mortals may peer in order to seek comprehension of the incomprehensible. Recent events, however, have led me to conclude that this singular celestial force is far greater, and that the New God is but one of its faces.

Long ago, we were less gentle beings. Survival was a daily struggle as we strove to stand up against the harsh elements of the world. The night blinded us, the winter froze us, and the woods held untold horrors that sought to devour us. Much as the canonical teachings of Astrid state, I believe that we sought to understand the order behind these colossal forces by seeing divinity and intelligence within them. Unlike Astrid, however, I believe that we were correct.

What is a god without devotees? What is a mortal without the divine? It is my belief that beings both mortal and immortal are intrinsically bound through some mysterious affinity. When we were more brutal people, the immense and unknowable divine showed us its face through brutal gods, but now as we have become more settled, living safer and more predictable lives, here is the New God, a less brutal but more philosophical deity that busies itself with the trappings of modern life.

We see this great being in whatever form we need to see it. Like an intricately cut diamond, this divinity has a multitude of faces, and while none of them is its “true” face, none of them are false either. Freezing hunters who feared the icy embrace of the cold saw the divine in the cruel power of winter, and a cold, cruel god is the face that the divine wore when it spoke to them. Human-dominated cities are full of complex social relationships, ever-changing technologies, and labyrinthine politics, and we have a New God who speaks to us in words we can understand.

Last night, I performed a binding ritual to imprison a malignant archfiend within a powerful magical circle. The ritual was not of my own making—I merely repeated the steps given to me by those who had performed it before me—and yet I could not have succeeded in my task without the cleansing and fortifying power of the New God flowing within me. However, there was another there with me, and we were equals in the task. We each took our part, performing many of the steps in equilibrium, but also apportioning some to one or the other who was more confident in that activity.

At the climax of the ritual, I slashed open my own belly with a blessed sword of Astrid, and my companion and I spoke the final words in unison as my blood spilled into the sacred fire of that binding circle. She then helped me drink the holy, healing water of the New God from the ouroboros chalice, and she supported me as I staggered from that accursed room, safe in the knowledge that the vile creature within was safely imprisoned for another six and sixty years.

That companion was a woman named Blys, and she is a true believer in the old gods. I have seen her wield divine power, just as real and potent as any of the miracles the New God channels through my hands. The divine force that gathers at her back is no less real than the one that lurks within me, and yet it is clearly divine. If her power came from demons, then she must surely have corrupted the binding ritual we completed together. If her power came unknowingly from the New God, then surely it would not tolerate her blasphemous claim that it comes from elsewhere and her connection to the divine would be severed.

Yet, Blys spoke the words of binding with me, and the binding held. Blys painted the circle and placed the iron bars around it, and those barriers proved true and strong. If the source of her power were anything other than genuine and good, truly divine, then that ritual would have failed and I would not be alive to write these words today. Further, the ritual included elements of witchcraft, suggesting that it, too, is not only real but also divine, for if it were intrinsically evil, the ritual could not have acted against the will of the demon.

The Inquisition of the Swords of Astrid would take my life for daring to write these blasphemous words, but I cannot deny the truth of what my own eyes have seen. If Blys wields a divine power that is real and true, and that power bears the purity of purpose required to successfully bind a powerful demon, then the gods in which she places her faith must be real. Equally, I know that my own faith is truly placed, as the New God sends his will coursing through me as lightning down a ship’s mast. If both my faith and Blys’s faith are true, then the old gods are just as real as the New.

The only answer to this riddle that I can fathom is that they are all one and the same, a single profound well of divine energy and purpose that is beyond our feeble mortal comprehension in its entirety, but which can reveal tiny portions of itself to us in guises that make sense to us. These guises are real and true, tiny splinters of a truth too immense to be comprehended in its entirety.

Though the wide ocean may smash our boats, the harbour yet grants us safety.

- Sister Hüvje van Chuton, Priest of the New God
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Swords of Cutter
Like the Swords of Astrid, but with gears

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Hey Lion, we were pretty lucky at that monastery, weren’t we. Big Dog found us, and he must have followed us all the way from Chuton. Lucky he made it. Good doggie.

I mean, we’re lucky that Cutter came with us and not with another group. Big, strong, dumb Cutter. Well, not dumb exactly, but he can’t read like you and I.

Anyway, it was lucky that he was with us because he could break through the door. If he hadn’t been there, we wouldn’t have been able to get in. Neither would those demons who were friends of the demon that we killed with the silver anchor I suppose…

But then we were lucky that the Curator had set up all those traps – the magic cannons, the collapsing stairs, the wind-up rug – because they helped us to defeat the demons.

We were lucky we found the telescope when we did. If we hadn’t, then you wouldn’t have tried to take the cover off the lens, and the Curator wouldn’t have set you on fire. I’ll bet that hurt.

And that probably didn’t seem lucky at the time, but if you hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t have met the Curator. And he wouldn’t have told us that he didn’t trust us because we could be shadow people, and Cutter wouldn’t have shown him the Sword of Astrid Sword that he doesn’t show anyone and that he was willing to swear the Sword of Astrid oath, and rebuild the order if the Astrids all died.

And if that hadn’t happened, the Curator wouldn’t have known that we weren’t shadow people and that he could trust us. And if that hadn’t happened, he wouldn’t have told us about the Golem that was guarding the map to the Barrows. He wouldn’t have been there to help us work out how to get past the Golem.

If he hadn’t done that, the Golem would have killed us all. Probably.

We were lucky that Roach could sneak in there without waking the Golem, and that he could grab the map and run out between its legs. And how it spent a minute mindlessly bashing against the door, even though the door was splintered into a million bits. That was lucky, because if that hadn’t happened, I don’t think Roach could have got away.

And it was lucky that she led it through the Room of Bones and it fell into the bone pit trap that the Curator had set. Because if she had gone the other way, then she wouldn’t have been able to lead it past the cannons and the rug, and it wouldn’t have been slowed down and it probably would have caught her. Probably.

And it was lucky that she threw the map to you when she did, because if she hadn’t, she would have been definitely been caught. And then you caught the map and it was lucky that you can fly so fast. Why don’t you fly that fast all the time?

Anyway, it was lucky that you flew as high as you did, because the Golem almost caught you, and then it was lucky that you dodged around those towers and stuff because if you hadn’t, you might have flown away too fast, and then the Golem wouldn’t have chased you.

But it did! And luckily, when it crashed through the Observatory, it didn’t smash the giant Telescope, even though it ran through the windows right beside it. Because if he did, Cutter would have fallen off, and the Telescope would have been ruined and we wouldn’t have been able to read the map and…

But it didn’t. It just smashed through those big windows and ran after you. And it was so fixated on you that it didn’t see the cliff and didn’t see the big lake and it just ran straight off the cliff and right down into the big lake. And it didn’t come out again. That was lucky.

Because if that all hadn’t happened, then we wouldn’t have been able to put the map into the big telescope with the help of the Curator, and we wouldn’t have known to turn the Telescope around so that it worked more like a microscope and showed us in amazing detail the barrows around Chuton and exactly where the magic weapon to defeat the Demon Lord can be found.

And it was pretty lucky that the Curator turned out to be possessed by a shadow creature who hadn’t been able to get the map until we came along and now also knows exactly where the magic weapon was, too.

Because if that didn’t happen, he wouldn’t have disappeared, leaving us alone in the ruined Museum. And if that didn’t happen, I would never have got the holy book of the Swords of Astrid. And if that didn’t happen I wouldn’t have been the one to read it to Cutter. I wouldn’t have been the one to tell him how the reformed Swords of Astrid should think and act.

Besides, in the ruined museum, I found this little owl’s head. Look, it’s a tinkly bell. It’s my new lucky charm.

Pretty lucky, I reckon.

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Tears and Fingers
Alaric nearly dies, and Tower nearly wakes. Hope is rekindled.

From the journal of Alaric Clay:

I’m writing this as we head home on the train from Foundry. Yesterday we found inquisitor Hugolin’s journal, and Henri and some of the others managed to crack the code he used to obscure its contents. He’d made many notes useful in following up the misery that has befallen my beloved Chuton. One in particular spoke of an acquaintance of his, an ex-inquisitor turned surgeon named Keyvan, who had been in touch because he had been employed to replace the fingers of a mysterious woman. Of course, Sister Hüvje, Branka and I all came to the same conclusion – it had to be her. The woman from Oldoak. The one who brought the Demon Lord’s Shadow to Chuton, who cut off her own fingers to call in a demonic favour. We had found her.

So off we went: the Sister, Branka, Vertrix and, for some reason, the horrid goblin, Chrissie Todd. I never did find out what she wanted, or why she went. We walked to Oldoak, then bought tickets on the train; someone paid extra for first class, and I followed suit, but I regretted it. The carriages are so…wasteful. Tower – as I’ve come to call the clockwork who know follows me around – came along too, but I didn’t bother trying to put it in the carriage reserved for them. Instead I spent the journey losing myself in work, redesigning the interior of the car to fit more people in relative comfort. There’s precious little need for first class train travel these days.

Foundry was everything I’d heard; a marvel of engineering, everything that Oldoak could have been but wasn’t. But even there, the divide between those who work and those with money was writ large. We managed to ingratiate ourselves with a dwarf checking credentials, and he drew us up papers that made it easy to ascend to Foundry’s lofty heights and find the bar out of which Keyvan plied his trade, replacing organs for those with the money to buy them.

And this is where I don’t know what I was thinking. I was still ashamed, I suppose: of what we had done, signing the pact with Red Leaf and slaughtering the Swords of Astrid. I had killed three men – more – who believed they were purging the world of evil. But even as I reminded myself of the creature they had unleashed in their “holy” crusade, that these servants of the New God were no holy paragons to be looked up to, I felt sick. Was this my life now? Caught between demonic and otherworldly evils, and servants of a god whose only saving grace was that they were mortals like us?

Whatever I was thinking…I was rash. I waited in the bar while the others investigated Keyvan’s back room. Then, when four shadowy figures entered the bar heading for the same back room, I followed them, intending to…what, exactly? Warn my friends? Ambush the villains? No. If I’m honest, I…I think I truly wished to die, fighting an evil I could be sure of. And I nearly got my wish. The figures turned out to be Harvesters – mockeries of men who used special knives to pierce the tear ducts of mortals, drinking their tears just to feel something, all emotion being lost to them as they have replaced too many of their body parts with the organs of others.

I know the touch of those knives. I felt one drive deep into my eye socket, I watched blearily as the creature drank my tears. I tore myself away, with my face slashed open; I dragged myself to the Sister, hoping for help, only to feel another of those knives in my back. I collapsed.

I was dead. Or as close as one can get without stepping on to the wheel.

I don’t know what I saw, or what I felt, not exactly. But in that moment, as I teetered on the brink, I realised I couldn’t be so selfish. Things hadn’t worked out how I’d hoped – but if I were dead, if my soul languished in the underworld – or worse, Hell – what could I do to set things right? Here were creatures who stole from the bodies of the innocent. Here, too, was a man who had betrayed his church and his fellow humans, to fleece the desperate and the rich and the criminal out of their crowns. If I died…would my friends be able to find the woman from the train, Eleanor? Would they be able to stop her on their own? And what about Owen, and Gwenda, and my mother? I still had family in Chuton. There was no time for wallowing, for guilt, for despair. There was only time for action…and perhaps for hope.

And so somehow I pulled myself back from the brink. My face was still a ruin, but after I threatened Keyvan and helped the others force him to tell us what he knew, he fixed that for me. I still look much the same, save for a thin web of silver scars.

As we rode the train home to Chuton, the Sister ran a service, giving hope to those riding in the regular carriage with us. I saw their hope, and I even shared their faith – not in their god, for I still find it more plausible that the Old Gods in their multiplicity exist than a single, all-powerful New God – but in the idea that perhaps not all hope is lost. Perhaps we could, as the Sister suggested, bring some of these folk back to Chuton with us. I was lost in thought on the way home.

But not all my thoughts were of hope. I had a new mystery. For Tower, the clockwork, who so far had only mimicked me since I rescued it from the goblins, had awakened just a little when I had nearly died. Had moved, so it seemed, to protect me, to save me somehow. But when I somehow returned from death, it spoke – so softly I barely heard it. “So close,” it said, and then spoke no more, back to its old simpler ways. I do not know what it waits for, or what it had felt close to – but I feel, somehow, that it does not mean me harm. Quite the opposite. But I will look on Tower with new eyes from now on – much as I look on the world with a new face, threaded with silver.

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The Woman on the Train

Amelia didn’t know which of her many problems was making her more miserable. Her empty stomach was the most immediate one, clenched and aching like a fist in her belly. When she managed to forget her hunger, though, other problems crept back into her mind: the loss of her home, her parents’ constant fear, the cramped and stinking conditions inside the train.

They had been riding in the bowels of a third class train carriage for days. The enormous city they had arrived at the night before would have been thrilling if she’d had the energy or enthusiasm to be excited. Instead she had just stared miserably out of a filthy, tiny window, barely seeing the immense steel-clad walls, glittering towers, and serpentine train lines.

She and her mother had spent a tense few hours while her father had gone into the city to find them a place to stay, meaning they could finally get off this awful train. It worried Amelia to be without him, so she stayed close to her mother’s skirts and willed herself to be invisible. Other children had told her terrible stories about child-snatchers, robbers, and even worse who preyed on refugee families. Part of her knew that her father, a once portly but now rapidly thinning shoemaker, would not be able to defend his family against any capable attacker, but she still felt terribly vulnerable with him away.

Seeing his familiar silhouette shuffling through the shadowy station after many hours away gave Amelia a brief thrill of joy, but the expression of weary despair on his pale face when he drew closer told her everything she needed to know. There was no place for them in this towering metal city; they would have to move on.

Don’t they need shoes here? Amelia wondered. Surely everyone needs shoes, and my papa makes the best shoes.

Amelia’s father gathered his wife and daughter into a dark corner of the train carriage and whispered that he had bought some food for them. Two weeks earlier, she would have turned her nose up at the paltry strips of jerky, the dark brown flatbread, and the hard, yellow cheese, but her shrivelled stomach growled and grumbled like an impatient dog when her father passed her a share.

She tried to do as she was told, to eat slowly and make the most of what would be her only food today, and probably the next, but the humble meal vanished in just moments. She might not have believed it was ever there, except that she could swish her tongue around in her mouth and savour the left-over tang of the jerky and the sharp bite of the aged cheese. After a small sip from her father’s canvas water-bag, she nestled between her parents and watched the crowd, her stomach satisfied for the time being.

The train was moving when she awoke, and through her sleep-crusted eyelids Amelia caught a glimpse of a steel-grey ocean outside the little windows. She realised she had been woken by voices, and as she rubbed eyes and came fully awake, she heard a woman’s voice.

“I know there isn’t a lot of space,” the woman was saying, “but if you don’t mind a bit of temporary inconvenience I am sure it will be worthwhile. This will be a service for followers of the New God, but if you follow other beliefs and feel that you might take some comfort from our rituals, you are welcome to stay.”

The voice was soft and sweet, but it carried an odd sense of authority and strength. It was as if a school teacher had woken up one morning and found that she was a queen. Intrigued, Amelia rose to her feet and peeked around the corner.

She gasped. The woman who had been speaking was the most beautiful that she had ever seen. Even in the meagre grey light from the narrow windows her hair gleamed like gold, falling in gentle arcs around her face and down to her shoulders. Her skin glowed with health, with tinges of pink in her cheeks, and her large, alert eyes were startlingly blue, like a perfectly clear sky.

Amelia’s surprise at seeing an apparent angel come down from God to visit them grew even greater when she realised that the woman was a priest. Her slender throat was ringed by a clerical collar, and she wore symbols of the New God on her clothes.

“Hello little one,” said the priest, and with a shock Amelia realised she was talking to her. “We’re going to hold a mass here in a little while. Would you like to help me to get set up?”

Gobsmacked as she was, Amelia had been brought up to know her manners. She closed her gaping mouth – though her brown eyes stayed as wide as ever – and she ducked into a neat curtsey. “Yes, Mother. I can help.”

The woman smiled and somehow became even more beautiful. “Oh, I’m nobody’s mother,” she said with a chuckle. “Just call me Sister. My name is Sister Hüvje.”

With another curtsey, Amelia recited her introduction as she had been taught. “I am Amelia Hart, madam – uh, I mean Sister. I am the daughter of Rollo Hart the cobbler and Tarla Hart the dressmaker, and I am at your service.” She added one more curtsey for good measure.

Sister Hüvje’s little smile grew into a wide grin. “Well! Rollo and Tarla taught their daughter excellent manners, young Amelia. I am very pleased to make your acquaintance.” Instead of curtseying, the priest bowed like a gentleman, and for the first time in what must have been weeks, Amelia giggled.

. . .

Usually Amelia was bored in church and couldn’t wait to leave, but this time she sat in rapt attention, her eyes fixed on Sister Hüvje. The end of the carriage had been made into a makeshift chapel, with trunks and suitcases placed in rows to form simple pews, with Hüvje in front, standing behind two crates covered in a cloak, to serve as an altar. Amelia was perched on her father’s tool-chest in the back row, comfortably squeezed between her parents and feeling warm and safe.

The sermon had been powerful and filled with hope, reassuring the forty or so faithful gathered in this temporary congregation that love and community and faith can weather the worst of storms. Amelia didn’t understand all of it, but the words made her feel good anyway.

Finally, Sister Hüvje had placed a chalice on the altar, a gleaming silver cup with a stem shaped like a twisted serpent biting its own tail. She filled it from a leather waterskin, prayed to the New God, and then walked out among the congregation. “Drink this,” she said, “and be filled with the light and the love of God.”

People were hesitant at first, but soon the chalice was being passed from person to person, with each taking a sip and then passing it on. The golden-haired priest refilled it from her waterskin several times as she worked her way through the crowd, coming closer and closer to where Amelia sat with her parents. Finally, Hüvje stood in front of them, but her kind face was clouded with worry.

“I’m sorry,” she began. “I’m… I’m out of water. I didn’t plan for so many…”

Beside her, Amelia felt her father stir. “Here, take this.” She looked up and saw he was holding out the canvas bag of water that he had bought in the city. He offered it without hesitation, but even young Amelia could see the tension in his face. Safe drinking water was becoming hard to find, and who knew when they might get more.

“You are very generous,” Sister Hüvje said, filling the chalice then handing back the much-lighter water bag. She passed her hand over the gleaming cup and muttered a prayer in a funny language Amelia had never heard before, then passed it to Amelia’s father. “Drink, Rollo Hart. Be filled with the love and light of the New God, and know that there is hope.”

After he had drunk, Hüvje passed it to Amelia’s mother. “And you, Tarla Hart, drink from this and be filled with the love and light of the New God.” She took a swallow from the chalice, and Amelia was slightly alarmed to see tears trickling down her mother’s cheeks. “Don’t cry, Tarla,” Hüvje said kindly. “You will find a safe place for your family.”

Finally, Hüvje leaned down and passed the chalice to Amelia. “Your turn, my polite little helper,” she said. “Drink, and drive away some of the darkness that somebody so young should never have to know.”

The glittering bowl of the chalice grew in Amelia’s vision, and she could have sworn that there were glimmers of golden light reflecting off the water inside, like the yellow sunlight of a summer afternoon glinting off the river near her home. She leaned forward and placed her lips on it, finding it pleasantly cool, and then she swallowed a mouthful of water.

Despite the coolness of the metal, the water felt strangely warm inside her like a spoonful of chicken soup on a cold winter’s day, and her fatigue and worry melted away. It was a funny way to think of it, but it really did feel like there was pure love inside her, and it made her feel wonderful.

Hüvje gave her a playful wink and then moved on to give water to the last few people in the congregation, while Amelia put her small arms around her parents’ backs and hugged them fiercely, letting the love shine inside her.

. . .

After mass was over and the temporary pews had been returned to the luggage racks, Sister Hüvje sat quietly by the window, watching the sea. Amelia was feeling better than she had in weeks, and it made her bold: she walked up to the priest and gave another curtsey.

“Hello Sister,” she began. “Thank you kindly for doing mass for all of us.”

Those dazzling blue eyes turned to Amelia, and the smile did not appear quickly enough to cover up that Hüvje had been thinking about something sad. Amelia knew what that looked like: her mother had that look in her eyes almost all the time now.

“What’s your story, little one?” Hüvje asked softly. “Why are you on this train?”

“Oh, uh…” Amelia wasn’t used to adults asking about her life, and she stammered while she gathered her thoughts. “There were soldiers. They came to Portmouth – that’s the town where I live – and they told my mama and papa that they needed our house, and they needed all the other houses too. Everyone had to leave and the soldiers ate all our food too. We walked to other towns but there was nowhere to stay, so papa bought us tickets for the train so we could try further away, maybe get away from the trouble, but I think there’s trouble everywhere.”

She stopped, feeling suddenly unsure. That was probably the most words she’d said to any adult in her life, apart from her parents, and she felt like she was being disrespectful somehow, and that she might get in trouble.

If the Sister was angry, she didn’t show it – her face showed only sympathy. “That sounds terrible,” she said. “I’m sorry you had to go through that. You’re right, though: there is a lot of trouble right now. It’s very hard to get away from, and my friends and I have been trying. We thought maybe it would pass by on its own, but it seems inclined to get comfortable, so now we’ve decided to force the issue.”

Much of what she said passed over Amelia’s head, but she caught enough. “Is that why you’re here, Sister? Are you trying to fix the trouble?”

Hüvje nodded, and a lock of golden hair dropped across her eye. “We’ve been chasing after a very bad lady. She made some horrible magic in our village, and a lot of my friends died.”

Amelia gasped and clutched her hands to her mouth. “A witch?” she gasped.

The priest shrugged. “I don’t know, exactly. Something bad. Anyway, we heard about a man in that big metal city back there who might help us find her. We found him, but… He didn’t want to help, not at first. He had very nasty friends, and they tried to kill me and my friends. They almost succeeded with my friend Alaric, and he is very lucky to still be alive.”

She gestured down the cabin to a young man with an intelligent and gentle face, who was staring out the window is much the same way as Hüvje had been earlier. In the light from the window, Amelia could see a faint spiderweb of scars on his youthful face, almost like silver threads.

“Did they cut his face?” Amelia whispered.

Hüvje nodded. “I think they wanted to steal parts of him, to put into their own bodies.”

“Harvesters!” She didn’t mean to be loud, but Amelia involuntarily shrieked with fright, and several heads turned towards her in annoyance. She covered her mouth with both hands and felt her cheeks burn with embarrassment. “I’m sorry Sister Hüvje.”

“No, that was a natural reaction,” Hüvje said with a soothing smile. “They were very scary… well, I was going to say ‘men’ but I don’t know if you can call them that.”

“Hansel told me Harvesters weren’t real, but my best friend Antye said that they are, and she’s the best at reading in our school, so I think she’s right. Hansel is only sixth best.”

Hüvje cocked an eyebrow and sighed. “A lot of things turned out to be real. It wasn’t so long ago I thought there wasn’t any magic, either, or fairies or elves. They’re all real too.”

“Fairies are real?” Amelia hissed.

“Yes,” Hüvje replied, “and they aren’t nice at all.”

“I know!” the little girl responded. “My auntie read me a book that said you must never make promises to fairies because they always make your promise go bad.”

The priest shook her head, and for a moment the smile vanished, replaced with deep grief. “Oh sweet, clever Amelia. I wish the people of Chuton were as wise as you.”

“What’s Chuton? Is that where you’re from? Are you-”

Amelia’s question was interrupted by a large hand dropping gently onto her little shoulder, and a familiar voice spoke from behind her.

“I’m very sorry, Mother. I hope my daughter isn’t bothering you.”

Amelia placed her hands on her hips and frowned at her father. “It’s Sister, papa. Sister Hüvje doesn’t like being called Mother.”

There was a moment of shocked silence, and then Hüvje burst out laughing. After a moment, Amelia’s father joined her, and then Amelia did too, not knowing why they were laughing but simply enjoying it.

Hüvje was still smiling when she said, “Not at all, Rollo Hart. Please, join us.” Amelia’s father looked slightly dazed as he sat on the wooden bench opposite the priest. “I was just talking to your very lovely daughter about the troubles that seem to have sprung up all over.”

“Yes, it’s…” Rollo hesitated. “Oh, I shouldn’t bother you with my worries.”

“Please,” Hüvje said waving a delicate hand in the air. “I’m a priest. Other people’s worries are the heart of the work I do.”

“Oh… very well then…” Amelia could see her father was struggling to gather his thoughts, just like she had earlier. She wondered if Sister Hüvje being so pretty had anything to do with her father having trouble putting his words together. “The army moved us on. They said they needed Portmouth as a staging post, but honestly, I don’t know anything about any war, and nobody can give me any answers. My grandfather built that house. It was supposed to be Amelia’s one day.”

He idly scratched his stubbly cheek with a shaking hand as the words finally started to pour out of him. “I just don’t know what’s going on. I thought it would be just Portmouth, that maybe there was some news of raiders from across the sea, but then we got to Woodborough and it was already packed with refugees, no idea where they all came from, five men to every job. My old papa always told me a cobbler would never want for work, but he never figured on everyone being destitute and leather being hard to come by, nobody even able to afford a repair, let alone a new pair of shoes.”

Rollo’s words tapered off, and Amelia was shocked to see that he was weeping. Before anyone could interrupt, he continued. “Thank you so much for giving us a mass,” he said. “It’s been so long, and it really made a difference. The atmosphere in here is lighter this evening than it’s been since we got on board.”

He looked up at Hüvje with a hopeful expression. “You’ve already done so much, but I wonder… Could you maybe perform the rite of forgiveness for me?”

The effect was sudden and startling. Hüvje’s entire body stiffened and for a fraction of a second it looked like she might leap right out of her chair.

“Oh no!” Rollo said, holding out his hands beseechingly. “If I’ve said the wrong thing, I apologise-”

“No!” Hüvje snapped, and then she blinked and Amelia watched her sort of deflate. “No,” she said again, softer this time. “I apologise to you. I…” She took a deep breath. “The village where I live was attacked by black magic during our forgiveness festival. It was the beginning of the trouble, the night the bells tolled.”

“You heard that too?” Rollo said, his bushy eyebrows raised in surprise.

“I think everyone did. Everywhere I’ve been, they reported the tolling of bells. It’s a bad omen. Very bad indeed.” She leaned forward and touched the cobbler’s hand. “I am sorry for my reaction. I haven’t been asked to conduct a forgiveness ritual since that day, and…”

“I caught you by surprise.”

Hüvje nodded. “Exactly. However, if you feel a need to confess, then it is my divine duty to witness and forgive. Would you like to find somewhere private?”

Rollo glanced around. “Have you seen this place?” he joked. “This is about as private as we’ll get.” He looked down to his daughter. “You can stay if you like.” Amelia just nodded solemnly.

“Okay then,” Hüvje said, and Amelia could see a change in her posture, a slight straightening. It was as if she was becoming more priest-like. “Rollo Hart,” she said softly, but with quiet, undeniable authority. “I draw a sacred circle around this place where we meet. This place is sealed by the bond of confession and forgiveness, blessed by the New God.”

“Thus I witness and thus it is so,” Rollo chanted, repeating the words he had been taught when he was almost as young as Amelia.

“In the light and love of the New God, I bid you confess your sin, give up the weight that burdens your soul, be forgiven and regain your freedom.”

“Oh, uh…” He stammered again. “I confess… that I am a thief. I…” He gulped audibly. “My family was hungry, and I tried to find food for them in Forge. The shopkeep in the market was charging obscene prices, taking advantage of people’s desperation, but… but there’s no excuse. He turned to fetch me some bread and cheese, and… I stole some strips of jerky while his back was turned. I tried to tell myself that I was stealing from a thief, someone exploiting refugees with inflated prices, but… I’ve never stolen anything in my life. Even when I was a boy my friends would steal apricots from the orchard but I refused, and they teased me, said I was a coward, but I knew it was wrong, you see? But after fourty-four years in this life I’ve become a common thief.”

Tears were now streaming down his face and Amelia was gaping at her father’s words, but he pushed on, unheeding. “I’ve lost my entire place in the world. I always thought I was a good man, an honest and just man, but a few weeks with little food and lost hope and I’m swiping food from a street vendor like a damned street urchin. Maybe I was never a good man at all. Maybe I was just never tested, and now that I have been tested I’ve failed, I’ve shown myself to be false and weak, and oh God I’m sorry I failed.”

His words vanished in a flurry of sobs. Softly, Hüvje spoke. “Do you wish to be forgiven?” He nodded, and his wide, desperate eyes were shiny with tears. “Then I forgive.”

Amelia placed her small hand on her father’s trembling knee. “I forgive too, papa.”

He stared down at her dumbly, frozen in a moment of surprise, and then his sobs erupted into laughter. “Oh, come here you darling girl!” he shouted and pulled Amelia into a hug. “You are the loveliest little girl I have ever known,” he said as he held her. “I am such a lucky man to have you as my daughter.”

Amelia didn’t know how long the moment lasted, but eventually her father loosened his bear-like embrace and she slid down onto the bench beside him. She had been so lost in the moment that she had forgotten Hüvje was even there, so she was slightly surprised when she saw her sitting opposite. There was a smile on her lips, but her eyes were sad again.

“Rollo Hart,” she said softly, barely more than a whisper. “As the circle is still drawn, I wonder if you might do me a favour and hear my confession in return.”

Amelia felt her father’s body shake as he choked on his surprise. “Oh, certainly!” he finally managed to say. “Though I can’t imagine you have much to confess…”

Hüvje’s blue eyes had turned toward the sea, now the colour of slate under a bruised silver sky as the last of the daylight began to fade. “I was a chaplain,” she began. “It was the marines, you see. I was bored of the farming life, wanted to see the world, so I joined the navy. I wanted so much to help people, so it was natural to become a chaplain, even though I didn’t really believe in anything back then.”

She sighed, and her gaze turned to the grubby ceiling of the carriage. “Howard. That was his name. Silly young Howard. He thought he was in love with me. I tried my very best to discourage him, to convince him it was just a silly infatuation. I should have tried harder, been firmer with him, been cruel, but… well, I have never been keen on people hating me. I like to be liked. I was used to just getting my own way, I suppose.”

“We were docked at some little fishing village down the coast, a rugged place, the only safe port for miles around because of the cliffs. Howard left me a note, said he had one final thing to say to me, and that would be the end of it. I didn’t know. I had no idea he had that kind of desperate impulsiveness in him. The note said to meet him at the top of the highest cliff above the harbour, and like an idiot I did it. I don’t know what I thought was going to happen, must have thought we were really going to put this whole silly business to rest.”

Hüvje’s gaze had returned to the window, though it was now so dark that there was little to see outside. “He’d laid out a picnic for us. Wicker basket, gingham cloth, everything. I think I made him angry when I refused to eat or drink with him, refused to even sit down. He reached into his pocket and I was suddenly sure he had a weapon, but he pulled out a silver pendant on a chain.” She reached into her robes and Amelia heard a faint tinkling and she drew her hand out. “This one.”

The medallion was exquisitely worked, and looked like it was made of pure silver. It showed an intricately detailed ship ploughing through a rough sea, and a woman hovering in the sky above it, with what seemed to be beams of light emanating from her.

“That’s the Sea Saint, isn’t it?” Rollo asked.

Hüvje nodded. “The shining woman who would appear in the sky to guide sailors through storms,” she confirmed. “Howard said I was his Sea Saint, his guiding light, who kept him steady during the storms of his life.” Her gaze had drifted down to the floor. “I picked the wrong moment to be cruel. I snapped at him, said no, I was just a chaplain, and he was just a stupid boy with a crush. I said that I’d tried to be patient, but he’d gone too far, and I would be going to the captain and reporting his behaviour. He would almost certainly be discharged from the navy.”

“I turned to walk away, and suddenly he was on me, grabbing at my clothes and pulling my hair. I thought he was trying to force his affection on me, so I realised almost too late what his real intent was. It wasn’t until he said that we were going to be together forever and yanked me hard toward the cliff edge that his plan became obvious. He meant to kill us both.”

“I struggled and we fell, but he kept dragging me toward that terrible drop, crawling on his knees with one fist clenched in my hair. His insane passion had made him terribly strong, and I was sure I was about to die. I tried to dig my fingers into the ground, trying to find a handhold, and…” She hesitated, and Amelia watched with silent wonder as a single tear traced a slow path down her smooth cheek.

“There was a rock in my hand. I must have picked it up when I was grabbing at the ground, but I honesty have no memory of picking it up. It was my chance. I wheeled around, surprised him, I think, knocked him onto his back, and I only meant to make him let go of me, to shock him into loosening his grip, but suddenly I was furious. How dare he? How dare this little fool try to kill me? Kill me? I brought that rock down on his stupid face again and again and again…” Her fist thumped on her thigh with each repetition of the word.

Hüvje looked down at her clenched fist, her eyes misted with memory, then folded her arms over her chest as if she was feeling cold. “When I returned to my senses, there was nothing that could be done. He was dead. I had killed him. It’s been almost ten years, and I tell myself every day that I was defending myself, that he was trying to kill me, but I know the truth. I didn’t have to kill him but he made me angry, so very angry.”

She breathed a heavy sigh. “But I committed another sin that day, perhaps even worse than the first. I was suddenly afraid of what might happen if anyone knew what I had done, so I made up a story. It was the story I told my superiors when I returned to my ship, and the story I told the inquest when I was returned to base. It was an elegant lie, so close to the truth that it was almost indistinguishable. Howard gave me the pendant, I told them, and then he told me goodbye, turned away, and leapt from the clifftop before I could stop him. The proof was right there on the rocks at the base of the cliff, right where I had pushed him. The damage I had done to his face was easily explained by the fall, and I had this stupid shitting Sea Saint pendant to back me up.”

“I don’t know if they believed me or not, but I was discharged from the navy. The higher-ups had decided I was compromised by my affair – that’s what they called it, an ‘affair’, like it was something I had a part in even though I’d done everything in my power to discourage him – so I was moved on. I headed inland, away from the sea, found work here and there, and eventually ended up the deacon of the church in Chuton.”

She held up the silver pendant and stared at it. “I could never throw this thing away, or sell it. Couldn’t wear it, either – it’s been living in my pocket for nigh on a decade. Symbol of my secret shame, that I have never told a living soul before today.” Her stream of words trickled to a stop, and she sat in silence, staring at the silver disc in her hand.

Amelia’s father cleared his throat, then said softly, “D’y- Um… Do you wish to be forgiven?”

Hüvje’s blue eyes rose and locked onto his, and there was a fierce desperation in them. She nodded wordlessly, and her lips quivered as the tears began to flow freely. “Yes,” she managed to sob. “Yes, I do.”

Rollo placed his hand over hers, hiding the silver pendant from view. “Then I forgive.”

Amelia put her little hand on top of his. “Me too.” She hadn’t understood most of Hüvje’s story, but she was perceptive enough to know that her new friend was feeling a terrible pain in her soul. “I forgive you too.”

Despite her tears, Hüvje found a smile. “Thanks little helper,” she croaked, and her blue eyes sparkled like sapphires. They sat there for a long time, their hands joined. Finally Hüvje extricated her hand and looked again at the pendant. “I almost threw it out the window and into the sea,” she admitted, “but that would be a waste. It is a pretty thing, no matter how I came to have it.”

She opened the clasp on the chain and slipped the pendant off, then held it out to Rollo. “Here,” she said. “To buy food for your family. No, take it. I have no need for it, but you do.” He reluctantly took it from her and closed it inside his callused hand. Hüvje reached into another pocket and drew out a broken pair of spectacles with a brass frame and lenses tinted black. The metal was twisted and one of the dark lenses was cracked, a narrow sliver missing. Hüvje threaded the silver chain through the frame, placed it around her neck, and fastened the clasp.

Rollo stared. “Is that what I think it is?”

She nodded. “Harvesters took exception to our mission in Forge. We survived the encounter. They didn’t.” She absently fiddled with the broken spectacles as she spoke. “It’s been a strange few weeks. Wasn’t so long ago I was a simple village deacon, and now I’m some kind of monster slayer, killing things from scary stories. All to defend this damned village…”

“Chuton?”

“That’s the place.” The dark lenses glittered in the feeble lantern light as she turned the spectacles over in her hands. “You know… we might be able to help each other. I’ll be honest: Chuton has had its share of troubles recently. Things seem like they might get better, but I sense we’re not through it yet. Still, if you want, there are unoccupied homes there, and gardens and farmland if you want it. There’s cattle, so there’s leather, and we don’t have a cobbler. It might not be completely safe, but… well, it’s something.”

“That is a very kind offer,” Rollo replied. “I am tempted to say yes, but I must consult with my wife first. Can I give you an answer tomorrow?”

“Certainly. Right now, though, I think a certain little priest’s helper needs to sleep.”

Amelia had been fighting to keep her eyes open for a while, but she hadn’t realised Hüvje had seen that she was struggling. Her father’s arms surrounded her once again and lifted her off her feet, and she fell asleep in his warm embrace.

She didn’t see that Hüvje’s gaze had returned to the dark window, but now her look of melancholy had been replaced by thoughtful purpose.

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A vision of the future by Tonk, goblin futurologist

What if we no longer had to be forced to work, and could to choose to spend our precious mortal hours as we please? Where numbing toil and the struggle to earn a living is a relic of a primitive past?

Freshly returned from an extremely inspiring and informative expedition to the progressive village of Hallowood , Tonk, the goblin futurologist, is keen to share his vision of a new world.

I joined Jack of the Woods, Henri, Tonk, Raya and Glint to form a delegation of the most-broad minded Chuton scholars to witness first hand a new way of organising a village’s economy, and one that could bring in a golden era of societal development, that can both elevate quality of life of Chuton and solve the energy crisis we face today.

Hallowood, free of the shackles of prejudice brought on by our narrow-minded culture, has implemented a plan to recycle the deceased and reanimate them for labour. This is a town that for the last 10 years has relied on corpses (Reanimated-Beings) to perform all manner of labour. Reanimated-Beings carry loads for the blacksmiths, cook at the inn, clean houses. We interacted with them personally, noting that they had intelligence to follow simple commands in dark speech. These are creatures that are non-violent, do not eat, sleep, or burdened by the selfish instincts of our animal-selves. A decade in, Hallowood is reaping the rewards economically, a village the size of Chuton, but with a non-stop economy producing an output that has literally raised an army.

We interviewed “The Teacher”, that for modesty, and for a lack of better term, serves as the town’s mayor, and supervisor of the Reanimated-Beings. A Reanimator, to coin a new term. A genial and visionary fellow, that has brought the town to an unprecedented achievement and has promised to share some of the breakthroughs he has achieved in exploring the Reanimation Arts.

Imagine a future where the living are no longer required to labour in the fields to produce food, or break their backs mining for coal. All labour would be taken over by a renewable form of energy producing Reanimated-Beings, and the living would be free to pursue whatever desire they value. Art, education, gardening. Current state Reanimated-Beings, which I have barely experimented with have still a rudimentary intelligence, but with resources poured into the Reanimation Arts, this technological barrier is but a simple hurdle. Once we achieve knowledge to create super intelligent reanimated-beings, this will spark a revolution that will usher in a new golden future elevating us species to an unprecedented level.

The matter of trust in Reanimators, those that have excelled in the art of reanimation, is an important one. Until Reanimated-Beings achieve a degree of moral independence, we have to rely on Reanimators to pledge that they will direct Reanimated-Beings to the greater good. This is but a matter of regulation and supervision, no different in the trust and checks we put in place for those that we elect for public office.

While many of the close-minded and bigoted would dismiss this as a fantasy, I predict that in 100 years’ time we will as a society have vote down laws that prohibit the consort of the dead and living, for the greater good of our society.

As a humble goblin looking to move our society forward, I put myself at your disposal to engage and debate these exciting visions and answer any questions relating to the delegation’s visit to Hallowood.

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Henri's personal journal entry 430...
My first life taken

My horns have grown back, kind of.

We had just arrived in town after resting from our encounter with RedLeaf in the forest and a near dead inquisitor, Hugolin, came stumbling out of the church with a declaration that if the town sided with the cult of the New God we would all be absolved and safe from their wrath. There was a caveat… we had to take up arms against RedLeaf and the fey.

Simultaneously, a vine crept forward with a proclamation from RedLeaf offering further safety from the crusaders if we dispatched Hugolin’s men.

Mayor Izzy put the town to a vote as we could only follow one path. Sister Hujve and most of the humans wanted to side with Hugolin, and the rest of the town thought pitching in with Fey would be the smarter option. Of course, neither option could fully be trusted.

The walk back to the village from the forest allowed for a few hours of solid contemplation about the past 34 years of my life and I reflected on the memories of the people I met through the time. Even though I had some shitty encounters with those who one would consider being part of the faerie folk, I was only truly taken advantage of by humans.

My mother’s parents, the people they sold me to as a slave, my old master the great wizard Bartholomew, and even Father Bert with his false God. I feel that it is their actions that are all responsible for me deciding to help RedLeaf.

I opted to join with the majority and helped defend the town against the crusaders.

There were three areas that needed protection from the advancing cult followers: the bridge on the river, the forest, and the road into the city which is where Branka, Coale, Tonk, Alaric, Virtue and I volunteered to go.

We had a couple of hours to prepare for what, we didn’t know, and so we made the most of whatever was around us. There was an odd pit in the middle of the road that had been dug up by the inquisitors’ men and so we barracked around it with carts & wagons to lead any incoming soldiers via a certain path. Tonk and Virtue climbed a tower to keep watch as the rest of us hid out to decide our next moves.

Two armoured men on war horses road into town. I couldn’t see where everyone was hiding due to my position, however the spot gave me a direct line of sight to the horsemen and I knew my shadow darts were effective on the Swords of Astrid previously so I used them again. The riders made their horses charge through a barricade that was formed from spikes and shortly after the riders were easily killed by my companions.

Tonk and Virtue motioned that there were others coming through the woods. It was getting dark and I recalled an incantation for Darksight that I remembered transcribing for Bartholomew many years before. After saying the words of power, I was able to see into the night as if it was a bright day. I changed my position to the edge of a building close to the woods and I sensed the thoughts of two people sneaking their way over.

I retreated along the wall of the building and motioned for Branka to come around, as she is much more skilled with a physical weapon than I am. While she advanced, I formed a dome of shadow around me to conceal myself in darkness so nobody could see me. Branka engaged with what appeared to be a low paid mercenary and the sounds of metal clashing rang through the air. Tonk sent one of his reanimated beings to assist as fodder.

Cloaked in darkness I lept forward and touched Branka providing her with Darksight as well. Even though the Dwarvish people can see in the dark, the blackness that shrouded around me, and those nearby, could only be seen through with magical site. The mercenary swung out towards Branka but was unable to connect as he may as well have been blind. Branka hit back wounding the mercenary. Tonk’s reanimation was unable to see as well and swung blindly at the mercenary to no avail.

I called forth a blade from the shadow surrounding us and I could ‘feel’ my horns grow back and form out of shadow when I brought forth the blade. I struck out at the mercenary and the sharp ethereal edge sliced through his throat with a life ending finesse. It was the first time I took another’s life, and I am fine with it.

I couldn’t see what the others were doing, but from the sounds, or lack thereof, it seemed that all the newest wave of intruders had been taken care of.

Once again Virtue called out there were more coming down the road.

I hid inside a building near the road entry along with a couple of others. We saw two robed men carrying a chest making their way along the road on foot. They stopped just before entering and triggered something in the chest causing it to open up. Some sort of machine based creature with multiple tentacles came out and its bladed arms ripped apart the two men who unleashed it. I tried to read its mind but it didn’t seem to be of humanoid intellect.

What happened next is a blurred memory as I think I was too consumed in thought about the life I had just taken, but I recall that the six of us came together to bring the creature to its death.

It is now time to fulfil the pact we made with RedLeaf and if I have to kill again, I will.

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[an untitled journal entry]
[no subtitle]

From the personal journal Sister Hüvje, priest of the New God and minister to the town of Chuton. It was visibly written in a hurry, and lacks the careful lettering of the previous entries.


Mad. The world is mad. We’re mad, they’re mad. The mad slaughter the mad.

Fae! They make pacts with fae? How could they be so foolish? Men and women, even inquisitors, might be cruel or deceptive, but they are a known quantity, a force we might negotiate with or threaten or deceive, but the fae… Oh, by the gods old and new, the fae

The cost. Oh, the bloody, terrible cost. I cannot decide if that killing blow that was bearing down upon me like the judgement of god would have been better off landing and ending this fraught existence, instead of being deflected by that towering metal man.

Morning is still hours away, but what will it bring? The Inquisition are gone for now, and more than I can count lie dead, some by my own hand, and by the will of whatever divine force uses me as its instrument.

How can that even happen? They called down lightning on our heads while I scorched them with rays of searing energy and bludgeoned them with a gleaming hammer that flew on its own, formed from the very celestial essence of the New God, striking down their horses and setting their clothing ablaze even as they cried out to the New God for succour.

How can that happen? How can two disciples of the same god tap into the same well of divine will to murder each other? Are the gods mad too? It may be the only thing that makes sense any more.

But we won, didn’t we? We held the bridge. We killed or repelled every invader. We won. Chuton is safe, at least for today, and we’re all fucking damned. We’ve thrown in our lot with folk who lie as easily as they breathe and on their orders have massacred the warriors of the church, and we must surely be damned.

I wouldn’t sign that accursed contract. I let the others sign it – god knows I couldn’t stop them, no matter how hard I argued – let them prick their fingers and sign in blood and how could they not see that they were damning themselves? How? Blood rituals and vows of loyalty to the dark powers of the wild and damn me too because no, I didn’t sign, but I vowed long ago to protect these folk, who I thought were good in their hearts despite their flaws, but now they’re plunging their souls into hell and the idiot that I am I’m running in behind them.

Is it punishment? Was I damned when I bashed that idiot boy’s head in and threw him from that clifftop? I wonder sometimes if I actually fell, that he succeeded in pulling me off and forcing me to join him in death, and perhaps everything since has been the fractured thoughts of a dying brain, half-smashed on the rocks at the bottom of that cliff. Or maybe I am already dead, and this is the purging of my soul, the pandemonium of a hellish afterlife where nothing makes sense any more, where priests slaughter priests with power from the same god.

I try to be gracious, to remember that they were afraid, that even the might of the Inquisition seemed like the more surmountable obstacle compared to the mystical power of the fae, that they signed their souls away to a creature whose very veins run with hot, liquid lies because they were too afraid of the alternative. But then I remember their wordless, gleeful shrieking as they surged into my church and dragged that priest – an inquisitor, certainly, and no doubt one whose hands were stained by the blood of many, but still a priest who was seeking sanctuary in my church – and murdered him together, a unifying activity for a community of damned fools.

He locked his eyes onto mine as he they came, and despite his inquisitor’s facade I saw fear there. Even the zealot may know doubt, it would seem. As they grabbed his robes and dragged him out, he shared his final words with me, and they may yet save-

[there is a large ink blot here, as if something previously written has been hurriedly obscured]

No, he cannot die in vain. I must keep that secret. It may yet save us all.

I am tired. Even though the power of god has healed my wounds, they still ache deep inside. I need sleep. I know I should eat but the very thought brings bile to the back of my throat. I wonder if I will ever be able to eat again.

So, I will try to sleep. I have the chalice, and it still brings me comfort despite all of my confusion. It saved me today, turning water from the river into a healing elixir, and several of my companions drank from it. Many of them who signed that damned contract fought alongside me at the bridge, and by battle’s end I could see the doubt in their faces. The consequences of their choices are starting to weight on them, and I doubt the fae will find them terribly willing to abide by that contract when the sun rises. And yet, they sealed it with blood. They may yet be forced to do even worse.

Sleep. I must try. I can’t think of a title for this entry so I will just leave it unfinished. No almanac wisdom is coming to my mind tonight. The normal life of a farmer seems million miles away.

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