Shadow of the Demon Lord @ Gamezilla RPG night

The Forging of a Sword
Branka's only written attempt to explain

Scribbled in dwarvish on dirty parchment

I would rather beat this tale into my armour or a demon skull than scratch it out on parchment. I suppose there is something safe about knowing that I can throw this into the forge once the story is told.

I was raised in a dwarven city. If you haven’t been to one then my description wouldn’t do it justice. The warmth of the stone, the protection of grime, and the glint of greed in the eyes of my brothers and sisters.

Like so many, I was trained in the art of smashing the most evil thing you could find with the heaviest thing you could find. I was too young and arrogant to appreciate the war we were fighting.
Hennet and I dared each other to venture down into the deep, to find a battle worthy of our skill. All we found was death.
Her death.
I ran from the demon. The sound of her screams and bones being crunched chased me out from the safety of the earth to the dangerous land of the sky where I found myself in Chuton.

Human villages are never in need of warriors. They need skilled workers. My skills as a blacksmith were overlooked, they already had one.
So I took up the role of farrier. Enough to get by. Not enough that greed could overtake my soul. I beat my memories into my work. My hatred for demons grew. As did my guilt.
I always thought the festival of forgiveness was a joke. I don’t know why I attended this one. It still amazes me that something so peacefully could uproot our lives so well and cast us into darkness.
The Demon Lord.
I saw my neighbours turned into warped creatures. I killed them.
I saw the might of the Demon Lord. I ran.
I saw the evil woman who helped to start the destruction of my life. I raged against her.
I saw how she enslaved innocents. I vowed to meet them once more.
I saw my village set upon by invaders. I killed them.
I was forced to kill gremlins. I choked them with my beard.
I saw my comrades make pacts with the fae. I spat on their decision.
I saw the unleashed evil leave hundreds without a home. I offered them mine.
I saw men turned into beasts. I killed them.
I saw more men turned to beasts. I killed them
I found a sorcerer who turned dwarven engineering to a murder machine. I killed him.
I faced the Demon Lord. I blacked out.

And now?
Now I have seen my good friends sacrifice themselves. Over and over. I have seen the pain and brokenness of our townspeoples’ souls, even as we clawed our victory from the clutches of fae.

The Festival of Forgiveness is not a joke. Pain was laid bare. Scars were revealed.
All of mine ripped open and gushed at the words ‘The Demon Lord gave me sight. He could see everything you did.’

Betrayal.
To a demon.

Hennet was screaming in my head. The cries from the Town Hall as I sheltered outside when Chuton first fought the Demon Lord echoed through my soul. The sight of Huvje’s body on the ground made my hand clench around my Warhammer. The pain at my friends vanishing into the earth for the rest of eternity flung me across the room.

I didn’t see a blind man in front of me. I saw the instrument of the infinite suffering of our world.

I don’t even remember my Warhammer connecting. I only remember the feeling of victory as Vert’s skull was crushed. The fire of it. Like working in front of my forge. Even when the blood stopped pouring on my boots the fire continued.
Feverish and bloated. Ugly and deformed. My soul reflected on my skin. Carrying the sickly sweet smell of decay.

I cannot remain in Chuton. I move on with Cutter to rebuild the Swords of Astrid. To work as their blacksmith and farrier. To train warriors in the art of killing demons.

They will root out the greatest evils in the world. They will crush them with the heaviest weapons I can make them.

I wonder what the timetraveller I saved will think of me when we meet again in 100 years.

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Time and Again
Alaric's discoveries concerning the Dark Stone, and Tower.

From the journal of Alaric Clay:

It’s been too long since I got things out of my head and onto paper. Perhaps that’s part of the problem.

I finally learned Tower‘s intent, weirdly enough, in another tower – the spire belonging to the wizard Caribdus. Despite my previous trust, my gut feeling that despite its words it meant me no harm, that wasn’t true. It wanted my soul. What was therefore animating it, I’ve no idea. I couldn’t wind it down – it had somehow removed its key and become self-winding (though the key was there when I found it). But it couldn’t have my soul.

A clockwork, I have always believed, deserves to be treated like a person – they have a soul like the rest of us, of course. But their creation disturbs the natural order. To pluck a soul from the Underworld and trap it forever in a body of cogs and gears… Never to move on, to be anchored to this world forever, like one of the fae. Never to be scoured, to forget and to be reborn. That is…unnatural for we mortals, no matter which gods you believe in. Those that have life, I would never take it from them, unless they asked – and assuming I can find a way. But I will prevent the creation of any more – and I will prevent the creation of anything that resembles them, that might grow to desire a soul. Perhaps all things built in the shape of men desire a soul, as Tower did; I will build no more of them.

“As Tower did”. No longer.

We defeated the Demon Lord’s scheme, oh yes. But you know that. You’ve seen the sky. I was there, though; I saw it.

Twice.

I’m still not used to the double memory of short-term time travel; to seeing something through the same eyes more than once from different angles. It gives the whole thing a vividness lacking in other memories. And so I remember it all very clearly, or at least what I was looking at. What I didn’t realise until I was too late, because my younger self wasn’t looking, was that Sister Hüvje had decided to replace Havelock. Not before the sacrifice, no; he was already dead, had already given of himself as intended to fuel the ritual that would damn and save us all. I don’t know why she brought him back, and had the elf slay her instead. I don’t know what…well, I hesitate to use the phrase “possessed her”. She might have ruined the entire ritual, or weakened it, by being the one to die. I’ve no idea what she was thinking.

I’ll have to ask her. Because she still lives. Ensnared by Tower, by the empty clockwork which hungered for a soul. Apparently if it couldn’t have mine, another would do – but not just any soul. It didn’t want Havelock. Nor anyone else who died. Just her.

So one quest is done. The elf roads we repaired, the lore that we sought, the ritual we chanted…and now the darkness we have brought. All succeeded. But at such a cost.

There will be a way to undo what that machine has done. If magic can put a soul into a machine, then it pull it back out again. And if that’s what Hüvje wants, then I won’t rest. Maybe the key Branka found can help her, and if not, I will walk the earth to find it. In the meantime, I can find ways to help us survive this darkness we have brought.

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The things people do to survive.

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The things people do to survive. But after they survive, how can they live with the things they’ve done? Goblin Tonk B. Macletonk had been wrestling with this quandary for weeks, unable to sleep, eat let alone find a correct answer.

It started with a murder and forgiveness. Gravedigger Havelock’s confession to battering a woman with a shovel. A taint on Chuton, a shadow over a village. The village accepts and moves on. How can you live with the things you’ve done? Maybe you choose to forget.

It ended with a sacrifice and damnation. At the subterranean throne room at Crossings. The Goblin brought back to life as the last act of Sister Hüvje, before she resolved the quandary by giving her life. How can you live with the things you’ve done? Maybe you choose not to live.

Consider Tonk, master warlock and necromancer. Taken to wearing an inquisitor’s skull mask along with a collection of macabre trinkets braided into his hair. The mask hiding his torment, except for the ever damp stain of blood tears where his eyes should be, he stares past the shadow of the Demon Lord towards the throne, still aglow with the golden light Hüvje’s divine intervention, resting his hooded gaze as his companions eagerly if not desperately take the knife to Haverlock and then to Hüvje. The town of Crossings a graveyard of innocents. The world robbed of the sun. The things people do to survive.

Tonk turns to the magical tome that had been in Elenor’s possession. He takes the first page, commits it to memory, and disintegrates it with a cantrip. How can you live with the things you’ve done? Maybe you choose forgiveness.

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Hüvje is standing

Hüvje is standing in the top room of a wizard’s tower. She and her companions are talking to the wizard about the ritual they need to conduct in order to bring a year of darkness to the world. This will be a catastrophe that will cause the deaths of millions, but will avert an even greater evil: the end of the world, the extinguishing of all life, at the hands of a demonic force comprised entirely of shadow. “Without light, there can be no shadow,” the wizard is explaining to them. “Now, the dark stone is enough to complete the ritual, but it will work better with the aid of human sacrifice. It will work even better if that sacrifice is willing.” Suddenly, a thunderous crash shakes the tower, as a duplicate of the room they are standing in falls in upon itself…

Hüvje is standing in the top room of a wizard’s tower. The wizard lies dead upon the floor, his bearded head split open by brutal magic and whatever mysteries are contained within his brain oozing onto the expensive carpet. The wizard stands about the corpse, his face twisted with madness and rage. “I have to stop you!” he shrieks. “You destroyed the world, you fools! I came back to stop you! I have to kill all of you fools before you can kill us all!” He stretches out his hands, and bolts of arcane lightning leap from his fingertips…

Hüvje is standing at a cliff top. Far below lies a harbour town with a large military vessel anchored at port. At her feet lies the body of a young man, his skull crushed. Whatever hopes and dreams are contained with his head are oozing out onto the grassy tussocks. The rock that crushed his head, caked with blood and white flecks of bone and yellowish brain matter, is clutched in Hüvje’s slender hand…

Hüvje is standing in a vast underground chamber. Something immense and dark and unimaginably terrible looms before her, as vast as death itself. Close by, she can hear a strange, grinding voice, like steel dragging on stone, the harsh clatter somehow formed into words, as it recites a strange chant. She raises her hands, perhaps to cover her eyes and block out the hideous evil sight, or to cover her ears to shut out the mechanically droning voice, but she is frozen when she sees her own hands. They are made of steel…

Hüvje is standing in the top room of a wizard’s tower. A cool breeze is rushing in through the smashed window, making the curtain flutter and dance. The wizard is nowhere to be seen, but she is shocked to see that her companion Alaric, the young mechanical engineer, it standing in his place. This shocks her, because Alaric also standing beside her. One Alaric shouts, “That isn’t me!” The other Alaric shouts, “Wait, I can explain!” All the while, the thumping of hard feet on the staircases of the tower is growing louder as the wizard’s golem servants charge upstairs to destroy the intruders…

Hüvje is standing in a vast underground chamber. Something immense and dark and unimaginably terrible looms behind her, and she can hear the screams and clashes of desperate battle as her companions try to hold the demon back, to buy them time to complete the ritual. Henri the faun and Glint the elf stand with her, and Havelock the gravedigger lies at their feet, a silver sickle lodged in his skull. Whatever fears of punishment or hopes of redemption are contained with his head are oozing out onto the hard flagstones. He volunteered to be the sacrifice, she knows this, and yet she cannot bear to let one of her congregation, the people Father Bert entrusted to her, die in this dark, forgotten place. She makes a decision, and then turns to her companions. “Don’t stop chanting, but listen. I need the two of you to do something for me.” She hands the precious sacred chalice to Henri, then crouches to pull the sickle from Havelock’s head…

Hüvje is standing on a crowded city street, and all around is chaos. The ground shakes and rolls, and houses are losing their tiled roofs, dropping chunks of masonry, and in some cases collapsing entirely. A young man is trapped, a fallen balcony pinning his shoulder to the wall, and he feebly calls for someone to help him. Hüvje summons all of her strength and shifts the rubble just enough to free him, and as she does the man’s face is suddenly familiar. The last time she saw it, it was staring lifelessly at the cloudy sky hanging above a tall cliff top that stood above a harbour town. But no, it isn’t his face, and yet… A brother. Albert had a brother, and he lived in Crossings. “He makes wagon wheels, can you imagine?” Albert had said, mockingly. “He must be so jealous of me and my life in the navy.” This was before the madness, before the misguided professions of love, before his attempt to murder her, and before she bashed his head in with a rock. “Get out of Crossings,” she shouts to the injured man. “Go south, into the forest. Take nothing with you, do you hear?” He stares at her as if she is mad, and right at this moment Hüvje feels compelled to agree with him. “Damn it, Charles! Don’t let your mother lose her other son! Run to the forest! Now!” He starts with surprise as this complete stranger addresses him by name, but it seems to work: he turns on his heel and runs toward the south gate. Hüvje watches his departing back, her mind a tempest of confused emotion…

Hüvje is standing, rooted to the spot with fear as a gigantic man made of baked clay swings its enormous fist at her head. Her paralysis breaks just in time, and she ducks the powerful but clumsy blow, then rolls nimbly between its splayed legs. She regains her feet, already at a run, and makes a final effort to sprint out the door into the glaring sunshine. Her companions greet her on the street, and they all turn to look up at the bizarrely twisted form of the wizard’s tower, unsure what to expect next. Suddenly, somebody says just two words, but they fill Hüvje with icy dread. “Where’s Alaric?” The engineer, her friend, was still in the tower…

Hüvje is standing at the edge of a circle of standing stones. The air is icy cold, and in the black sky above them, the stars blaze with an unnatural intensity. Something hideous, a writhing mass of black tendrils and oozing flesh, towers over the circle of stones. Jack o’ the Woods exhorts his tame elk to charge it with its great antlers, but the wild fear in its rolling red eyes makes it plain that the best wishes only to flee from this place. Still, Jack’s mastery over it is strong, and the tips of its horns spear into the blubbery black flesh. There is a hideous high-pitched scream—Hüvje never would have thought that such a huge animal could emit such a shrill cry—and the elk pulls back, its antlers and muzzle wreathed in caustic smoke as the unholy creature’s flesh burns and eats away at the poor creature’s head. Beside the screaming elk, the Chuton Lion is writhing on the muddy ground, similar acrid smoke pouring from his metal claws. “Hüvje, please!” the clockwork beast bellows in its weird metallic voice. “My claws! It’s eating my claws!” Abandoning caution, Hüvje runs to the mechanical protector of the town of Chuton, the living statue whose beacon used to be a light of hope. “God, I bid you, make this one whole again!” A warm golden glow envelops the large iron paws, and in a moment its curved, sickle-like claws are whole again…

Hüvje is standing in the midst of nothingness. Far away, she can hear the screams and clashes of desperate battle, and she has the faintest memory of an agonising streak of fire enveloping her throat from ear to ear, as if her priest collar had been made of red hot iron. Yet, that pain is no longer bothering her. Like the sounds of battle, it is far away. Hüvje has the sense that she is moving upward, and there is a whisper far above her, like the song of a barely-heard choir, and a voice calling to her. I am not afraid any more, she thinks. This is what was supposed to happen. At that moment, a terrible, crushing force grasps her heart, tugging her backward. With a wail of loss and grief, she is falling, back down to the place she had just left…

Hüvje is standing in the top room of a wizard’s tower. She and her companions are talking to the strange duplicate of Alaric that has appeared in their midst, and Raya the rash young orc-child is bracing to leap forward and kill him, convinced he is an illusion sent to confuse them. The pounding of the golem’s immense feet is now deafening; at any moment, they will burst into the room and batter all of them to death with their enormous, baked clay fists. “Please,” the additional Alaric is shouting. “I shouldn’t be here, meeting you! This is time magic, and something has gone terribly, terribly wrong! You have to let me go!” Like the sudden appearance of dawn above a mountain range, Hüvje understands. “Alaric…” she begins, hesitantly, a terrible thought appearing in her mind. “We shouldn’t be here, should we?” Alaric nods, his face a mask of sorrow. “This needs to be set right,” she continues. “Is this what you are trying to say?” He nods again, and the look on his face makes it clear that he knows what she is going to do. “Run,” she says. “Get out, and quickly!” He ducks under the swinging fist of a golem, and vanishes down the stairs, and Hüvje turns to face her remaining companions, including a completely baffled Alaric. “We shouldn’t be here,” she says softly. “I am so sorry. I love all of you, but this has to be set right.” Not allowing herself time to think, time to feel fear or doubt, she holds the sacred chalice and the blessed sword of Astrid above her head, and calls the power of the New God down into the twin relics. The hairs on her arms stand on end as the divine energy flows through her like a lightning rod.

Hüvje is standing in a vast underground chamber. Something immense and dark and unimaginably terrible looms behind her, and she can hear the screams and clashes of desperate battle as her companions try to hold the demon back, to buy them time to complete the ritual, but she knows her part in this ritual is about to come to an end. “Henri, this cup is filled with water. When the moment is right, pour it into Havelock’s mouth. You will know when it is time.” She hands over the sacred chalice, and then turns to the elf. “Glint, I cannot let Havelock do this. It is my sacred duty to protect the people of Chuton. Take this sickle.” For a moment the fear overcomes her, and she falters. “Glint… I am the sacrifice now. I declare in the sight of the New God that I am willing. Now, it is time.” It is strange to think that Glint is showing his trust in Hüvje in such a strange manner, but to the elf’s credit he does not hesitate. In one swift stroke, Hüvje’s pale throat is slashed open from earlobe to earlobe…

Hüvje is standing in a vast underground chamber. The immense and dark and unimaginably terrible being that towers in front of her has been completely forgotten as she stares in disbelief at her metal hands. No! she thinks. “No!” screeches an inhuman voice of metal dragging on stone. I was going to be with my God! she thinks. “I was going to be with my God!” chatters the deafening, clattering, clanging voice of a machine. “I was the sacrifice! I was willing! WHY AM I STILL HERE?” At that moment, the ritual is completed. The underground chamber is plunged into a darkness deeper than any Hüvje has ever known…

Hüvje is standing on a cobbled city street, trying to decide what to do next. Just as she is about to run back inside the tower, Alaric comes tumbling out of the door. Hüvje’s relief is short-lived, for suddenly there is a deafening crack of thunder. Above their heads, a bolt of lightning, pure blinding white, strikes the conical roof of the tower. In an instant, the entire upper floor explodes. . . .

. . . .the entire upper floor exploded, sending chunks of ivory-coloured stone flying in every direction. Trailing behind it came strangely beautiful arcane sparks and flames in dazzling emerald green and deep ruby red. Hüvje had no idea what the wizard had stored in that uppermost floor, but it reacted very badly to being struck by lightning. Acting on instinct, she summoned a dome of shimmering energy to protect them from the hail of smashed masonry.

“What the hell happened up there, Alaric?” she asked, as stones the size of mead barrels bounced harmlessly off her divine barrier.

“I’m not sure,” he said, staring up at the destruction high above them. “But I think it’s been set right now.” Hüvje detected a hint of sadness in his voice, and resolved to ask him about it later, if they were to find a private moment.

“Well, we know what to do now,” Hüvje said. “Before everything went to shit, I think we got enough to complete the ritual. We got the words to the chant, and…” She paused.

“Sacrifice,” Alaric said, completing her thought. “Who will volunteer to be the sacrifice?”

Hüvje sighed. “The people of Chuton are good, kind folk. Somebody will volunteer, I’m sure, and if not…” A fragment of memory like a mostly-forgotten dream touched her mind for a moment—a flashing silver sickle, a dark shape rising from a pit, a pair of metal hands—but just as quickly it was gone. “Do you think the wizard was right? Are we going to fail?”

The young man shrugged. “All we can do is try.”

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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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