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Once, a long time ago, there was a forest that was so large that not even the swiftest traveler could cross it in a single day. It was an entire realm of sentinel pines and hoary oaks, shrouded in the shadow and mystery of the trees. Rivers and lakes formed the lifeblood of many people, though many others chose to eke out their lives far from these trade lanes, living by meadow and creek and glen.
It was known as the Blackwood, and even the smallest child had heard the tales of strange deeds and magical meddling under its boughs. Those who lived within its bounds did so at their peril, huddled together in small villages and walled cities to save them from the wilds and from the darkness in the night. Those who walked out into the Wood only did so for great need or great folly, and to walk alone was to invite disaster.
Othmar the hunter knew that better than most. He had seen the strange horrors of the Wood first hand, and had survived to tell the tale. His charms and trinkets had kept him safe, and that lesson had been embedded deep in his heart. On this particular day, heavier rains had begun to dissipate into softer showers, and Othmar found himself wandering as he often did; perhaps merely following his feet, or perhaps with greater purpose than it might have appeared.
Not far away, another hunter roamed. Though he was younger, Hungry Jack had also learned of the mysteries of the forest. Where it was a source of fear and superstition for most others, this young man looked at its light-swallowing depths and saw all the potential that laid there. Here was enough space and enough intrigue that even an orphan might make a name for himself. The summer rain fell like a long sigh, and his feet had begun to stick in the soft earth beneath him as he made his way down an old forest path.
Though he had set out some days ago, he had not yet journeyed very far from New Bannon, the village where he was raised and reared. It was a modest thing, but boasted not only a wooden palisade, but a small Celebration of Unity. Such a place of worship was not often seen outside the larger cities of the Blackwood, and it always hinted at wider lands where the sun kissed grass and flower, unmolested by thicket or grove for many long leagues. New Bannon was a symbol of protection and safety for a few hundred Woodfolk, and served as a bright community in a dim, watchful world.
But it was not a welcoming home for everyone. Those who trafficked in the darkness of the Wood were accepted in some villages, but the presence of the foreign god of Unity, Mareal Turi, was strong in New Bannon, and He did not welcome the old and mysterious ways of the Wood. Starchaser had not desired neighbors in quite some time, but the village and its priest made it clear that she wasn't welcome anyway. As rain fed her garden just outside her window, the haggard, scarred woman found herself in her lonely cottage, going about the day's activities as she always did.
More than a day's journey to the West, the heavy rains that had visited New Bannon were just beginning to greet the city of Three Rivers. The weather had been cooler than Riverfolk were used to in the summer, and a lazy fog was beginning to recede as larger and larger drops began to pelt the surface of the city's three major waterways.
Those rivers brought food, trade goods, and more luxurious items from the Elder Kingdom as well as the Blackwood's northern reaches. Often, they also brought travelers; such was the case for an old man named Smiling Benjamin. He had arrived just two days earlier, and had spent that time wandering the streets, sampling the rustic atmosphere of the Blackwood's smallest major city.
Perhaps not far from where Ben walked the streets, another old man had been awake for hours, preparing for a lesson that never came. For all its size, Three Rivers operated with the easygoing nature of any small village, and rain was as good an omen as any for the City Guard to suspend their training for a morning. Instead of hammering away at wooden dummies or squaring off against recruits with blunted weapons, Old O'Bannon found himself with nothing to do. His cousin, Allard, had just left the previous day, and his friend Rutger had been gone since the full moon three days past.
Othmar glared at the falling rain sullenly and pulled his worn leathers closer about his body. It was bad luck to be caught in a heavy rain while searching for a friend, Old Fen had told him. Unconsciously, his right hand reached under his cloak to rub the smooth surface of the wooden rain drop she had carved while telling him. To others, the small charm would be lost among the hundred others, but Othmar knew exactly where to find it, as he knew the location of all his remaining talismans. Perhaps, he reflected dismally, the lessening showers also heralded a lessening of bad luck. He could certainly use it.
New Bannon was not a locale he liked to frequent - near all of the villagers looked at him almost as suspiciously as those of his hometown - and he did not know the area well. The rumor that an old crone lived alone out in the forest nearby, however, had been too much to pass up. The shattered remains of his brother's talisman, still hanging in its pouch about his neck, drove him into the unfamiliar terrain in the vain hope that, this time, it might actually be Old Fen.
Unfortunately, it was not doing much to help him actually find the cottage. He had been wandering the forest for days with no success, and was beginning to give serious thought to enduring the disdain of the villagers in order to get some directions.
Ancestors forgive me. He muttered under his breath to no-one in particular, a habit he had developed to replace contact with the talismans he had lost to his father's fire. It was bad luck to think ill of neighbors, and all woodsfolk were neighbors in the Blackwood.
Fighting a rising wave of irritation, Othmar cast about, looking for a suitably large tree with the thought of climbing it to survey his surroundings. Might be an old woman would want a fire on a day like this, and the shower was letting up enough that there was a chance he could see the smoke.
And if not, he thought with a grimace, reaching into one of his pouches to find the sharp edges of a carved tree, there's always the village.
Jakob walked quietly along the deer trail, arrow nocked, looking around carefully.
Othmar, where are you hiding? It's been days and all I've found is your empty shack and your old campfires...
I need to find you, if anyone can understand my situation it would be you...
What I would give to have heard all those stories first hand, I'd know where to go next...
Gosh I'm hungry, a couple rabbits is poor haul for 3 days hunting, even distracted...
I could really use your luck with game, these rations are awful and expensive (and I don't have too many left) ...
And then he crossed paths with...
To see how well he notices whatever he meets (1d6+4) (awareness)
His stealth roll to avoid their notice is amusingly also (1d6+4)
(regardless if it is athletics (3+2) or theivery (5), assuming armor penalty applies (-1))
It didn't take Othmar long to find a suitable tree. Like the poles of a great caravan tent, old grandsire trees seemed to be placed at even intervals in this section of the wood. One in particular had low-hanging branches, and seemed sturdy enough to support his weight for a good distance upward.
Meanwhile, not far away, Hungry Jack's head hung low, his hope dwindling. As luck would have it, no sooner had his eyes fallen to the earth beneath his feet than he spotted a set of footprints. Their shape made it plain that they came from a man. Further, they appeared to be the delicate, methodical tread of a hunter, weaving his way westward.
Starchaser sits in her cottage, singing softly to herself, throwing various ingredients and roots into the great iron pot that hung over the fire. She had bought it from one of the smiths in New Bannon, and is said to have carried it out of the smithy with her bare hands, the iron pot that had to be as big as she was slung onto her back, barely a bead of sweat trickling down her brow.
Carrots, celery, potatoes, and onions all went into the pot, as well as some strange meat that couldn't quite be identified (nor in truth could Starchaser very well identify it). She continued singing as she tasted the soup, and threw in big huge handfuls of herbs.
They used to rumor that she would grab you up and throw you in the pot and boil you for lunch if you were bad. They would rumor that she would climb in through the window, and smell out the children who had soiled the bed, since her eyes were so bad (in truth her vision was fine, probably better than many of those same children). They continued that rumor until she cooked up a big pot of her finest stew, brought it into the town, and set up bowls for everyone. This was quite a while ago, for the children anyway, but most could remember it quite fondly. The parents kept the children back from the pot, and the children told themselves that she would steal them up. The old woman left the pot in the village for that night, and left the bowls and such. She had built a fire while none of the villagers were looking, and the pot kept boiling. When the children's parents went to sleep, they crept out of their houses, and tip-toed over to the pot. All Starchaser knew is that the pot was completely out of stew the next morning, when she came back to get it. There were sleeping children all around the pot, who had eaten their gluttonous fill and then fallen asleep right where they stood. After that the children had a tacit, if slightly terrified, respect for her and her magic pot.
The rain had never deterred Starchaser from gathering her vegetables, and she gathered up the herbs in her garden so she could dry them before the winter set in. The shack seemed to glow eerily while the light of the fire peeked fleetingly through the cracks. Starchaser glared at the glow, and it dampened visibly under her scowl. She turned back to the vegetable patch, and growled under her breath. The little mud chimney reached out of the thatch roof and the smoke from her soup twirled into the sky, reaching up through the rain and spreading as it reached higher into the sky.
Having long since abandoned hope of the Town Guard showing up for training, O'Bannon resigned himself to a lazy morning, sat upon his favorite rock by the riverside, and dangled a line into the water. Still a couple hours until lunch, O'Bannon's concentration was broken by a local youth, still just a boy, who had recently been accepted into the guard, rushing noisily to the training area.
"Stop! Don't bother hurrying, you won't find them. You're lucky you picked today of all days to sleep in, they cancelled training for the day. The captain would have had your hide"
O'Bannon sets his fishing pole down, stands up, and dusts off his tunic.
"Today would have been the first day you got to actually train your swordmanship with another guard right?"
The boy nodded.
"Grab a sword, boy, and I'll show you a thing or two.
No, not one of those wooden dummy swords, grab the real thing. Those are children's play sticks and will only teach you to be careless.
Alright? Are you ready? Stand like this - move your right foot a bit, just like mine - and let's get started"
Having finished the impromptu lesson, O'Bannon returned the sword to the training rack.
"Not bad, not bad at all, boy. You're pretty good for a green recruit. Just remember to breathe like you did at the end there and you'll be a pro in no time"
Though at times it seemed as though his feet would slip on the rain-slick branches, Othmar was able to climb the oak until his eyes were well above the canopy. Even with the cloud cover, the world above the trees was much brighter than the world below, and it took him a few moments for his eyes to adjust.
When they did, he saw a tail of smoke snaking its way up into the western sky, mocking the raindrops as they fell in gentle sheets. It was a fair distance away, perhaps as far as two hours if the paths turned out to be as soggy as everything else. Turning about, the sun shone down from the eastern sky, though it was far in the distance. If Othmar was any judge of weather, it might still be raining when he reached the old hag's cottage.
After several minutes of diligent tracking, Jack's trail ended abruptly at a large oak. As far as could be told, the footprints simply disappeared into the tree.
After making her way back into the cottage, Starchaser looked to find a fox in her home. Beyond belief, it was floating lazily near the fire, casting glances about the room with its eyes of topaz. In a moment it took notice of her, but didn't seem to mind her presence.
"Thank you kindly, O'Bannon, sir!" the youth called as he left the training area. In the few hours they had spent practicing, the rain had strengthened almost a downpour, and ever so often the rumble of thunder could be heard from far off. Boy and old man both were soaked to the bone, and the boy seemed eager to seek out a fire.
In the adjacent guard house, light poured out from a window on the upper floor, revealing the silhouette of the guard captain. "O'Bannon!" he called, "Should my old mother catch you in weather like this, you'd not hear the end of her scolding!" His tone was characteristically jovail. "Get you indoors with a fire and something warm to eat, ye daft old man!"
"Hunter Othmar, I'm Jakob from New Bannon, remember? You told me the tale of the hungry river stones when I told you my nickname, Hungry Jack... This was just last month, after you stopped by our village to trade."
Jakob shifted back and forth, and gripped the strap of his backpack nervously.
"I figured you were one'a the only who'd understand what happened to me last week. And I thought maybe you could tell me more tales that would help me find my way. I've got a gift now, and I have to use it quick to make my fortune before it's too late."
Othmar's eyes squinted as he examined the lad closer. Now that he mentioned it, the face did look a bit familiar. It wasn't often that someone was interested in listening to one of Old Fen's stories, after all.
Hungry Jack, eh? Yeah, s'pose I remember ye.
Othmar slipped gracefully from the branch down to the ground to be on eye level with the youth. He didn't know whether or not it was bad luck to talk to a visitor from a tree branch, but he thought it might be.
Now, what's this about a gift? What kind? And how might me and my stories be helpin'?
"I was out hunting, and my feelings got the better of me, so I shot an arrow off at the setting sun. Then I heard a great scream, and when I ran to check it out my arrow was in the shoulder of a huge dark Hart... and... and then it spoke to me!"
Jakob looked intently at Othmar, wondering if the strange expression meant his tale was being disregarded as merely a fancy, but he pressed on:
"It threatened to kill me if I didn't fix it, and then it cut my hand and told me how to heal it instantly. Then it thanked me, and stabbed this here antler fragment into me, which helps me heal even better."
Jakob held up the antler fragment on it's leather thong.
"I used to think my life would be nothing but hunting. Then the magic stepped out of the woods and into my life. Your tales and talismans are all about how to stay safe around magic. I'm living a tale now, and I need a "happily ever after", not a "never seen again" kind of ending."
I hope my next adventure hurts less than the Hart.
Othmar flinched back a half step when the young hunter held up the fragment, hand flashing to the pouch at his neck. After calming himself, he grimaced as if he had a bad taste in his mouth and spat to the side.
I'm thinkin' ye missed the point 'a my story, lad. Ain't no "happily ever after" with magic. Not truly. Magic is the worst kind 'a bad luck.
Old Fen had never really told him that last part, but it seemed pretty obvious to him anyway. He took a second look at the lad before him, perhaps a bit older than he had first thought, but still not yet a grown man.
Poor lad, doesn't know what's waitin' fer 'im. Maybe this one'll listen.
Might be I know a tale or two can help, but they ain't about usin' that thing, they're about choppin' it off clean; gettin' rid of it 'fore the grace the ancestors gave ye runs out.
Lore roll to see if Othmar actually knows any stories even loosely related to this kind of thing. (1d6+4)
Jakob's stance which had become proud and excited by the end of his tale, suddenly collapsed back into uncertainty and dissappointment.
He sounds just like the old folks when they talk about HIM. They said he refused to hex his brother free of the enchanted wood because he was angry at his brother's warnings about magic. I always knew that couldn't be true, no-one would just let family go like that, but this doesn't make sense at all.
"But, but... you use magic talismans to help keep you safe! How is that different from using this to help people?"
"It's just a little rain captain. You're just trying to make an excuse for cancelling training! No matter, it appears I'm late for lunch anyhow, and I'm sure the little lady will have put some tea on by now. I'll be expecting you out bright and early tomorrow morning captain. I don't get up that early just to fish"
O'Bannon wiped the rain from his eyes, checked the training racks again, and walked inside for lunch.
Last edited by JustPlayItLoud : 03-29-2012 at 02:33 PM.
Ain't no magic. Othmar corrected, holding up one of his various charms to demonstrate. Just some lucky carvings made to remind me 'a the tales. Tales teach us superstitions, lad, and superstitions are important. They got more power than magic ever will. That's what keeps me safe.
Starchaser entered the house, put down her herbs on the table, and looked up. A single fox, with a golden pelt and eyes that seemed to glow an unnatural color stared back at her. She stopped moving for a few moments, and they sat in utter silence, besides the stuttering of the fire. The fox floated between Starchaser and her soup, and by the gods, no one would stand between that woman and her soup.
Starchaser eyed the fox warily, shaking her stick at it. This is a spell isn't it! It's one of you damn elves! I tell you, you took my child, but it ends there. This is more than just a deal, this is some kind of sick joke. You can either tell me where my child is, or you can get out. Her voice was full of stoic rage, but her stick was visibly faltering, and beads of sweat dripped down her face. She inched towards the pot of soup, instinctively protecting her food.
The stick of course, was just part of a yew sapling that had grown when Starchaser first came to the cottage. She knew that it would have to go if she wanted to make the garden functioning, and so she spent a day and a night pulling up the tree. She was considerably exhausted upon finally heaving the roots out of the ground, and it was one of the first major accomplishments she made upon leaving the keep. She could rip out such trees quite easily now, but it was a great endeavor for her weakened and saddened state. She whittled the branches and knobs off of the sapling, and made it into a rudimentary cane, by which she could overcome the natural disinclination she had to treading over heavily forested land. The cane held some emotional value for her as well after that, a sort of proof that she could be self-sustaining, and needed no one.
The children used to talk about the stick as if it held its own great magic. If they went into the woods to watch Starchaser perform her strange and terrible acts (which were mostly just embellished tales from the children who actually went, and only saw an old woman planting in her garden), they saw her with her stick constantly. It was said that touching the staff could turn you to stone, and only the witch could turn you back. They also said that behind the cottage she had a garden of stone children that she would periodically chain to a tree and set free, only to laugh and torture them with hot irons and then turn them back to stone. Of course, the back of the cottage was mostly just trees, and the children never explained how a witch would have hot irons by which to burn said children, or where she would get chains, but such are the tales of children.
Starchaser herself simply views the staff as a token of her new life, and takes it with her everywhere because it is useful in the heavily forested areas in which she lives and also because it can help ward off attackers who think of her as some ancient and magically powerful crone. This has deterred many a bandit who came to her home.
I've seen THIS before, old Granny Esme called Brother John's Holy Book superstition, and he called all her horseshoes superstition. Superstition is just another word for someone else's fragments of wisdom.
"Right, and now there's this magic in my life, so I need something more powerful than magic to protect me. If I learn enough tales, I should learn enough superstition to keep me safe too. I've always been good with tales... even Sister Roganja said so."
If Othmar's words calmed Jakob, Jakob's only furthered Othmar's concern. He knew well the look he was seeing on the youth's face, for he had seen it many times on his brother's as well. It was the look of someone who was hearing his words but not heeding their meaning.
The boy is listening with his hopes, not with his ears. Has no one taught him the horrors of the wood?
He thought for a moment of chastising Jakob, but caught himself before the words could spill forth.
It never worked with Morden. A small voice whispered to him. It sounded like Old Fen, but he knew it was his own regrets. Might be things would have ended different with Morden if he had been less direct. Might be this was a second chance. Maybe in time, with enough stories, the boy would see his folly. Truth be told, he wasn't even sure if he knew a way to rid him of the curse. If they could find Old Fen, maybe she would know. Or she could get him to listen, the same way she had done for Othmar.
She never got Morden to listen. The doubt didn't sound like his mentor this time, and he ignored it.
Tell you what, lad. I'm on a bit 'a an errand, looking fer... an old friend. He fingered the curving lips of a wooden mouth dangling at the edge of his jerkin as he spoke, silently begging the ancestors for forgiveness. It was bad luck to deceive someone who came to you for help. You come with me, and I'll fill your head with all the stories you could hope for. Might be we can even do something 'bout that nickname 'a yours. Game's easy enough to track after a rain like this.
A huge grin broke forth on Jakob's face, like he had just received a pony.
"Thank you, hunter Othmar, I sure have had poor hunting searching for you these last few days, and I'd be happy to share the road, the hunt and your search with you. Many of the tales from the Holy Book talk about the advantages of fellowship and unity.. if'n you don' mind superstitions from Cerai, I could pay you back with some stories in exchange for your own."
Othmar grimaced a bit at that, although he was sure not to let Hungry Jack see it. He wasn't sure what good superstitions from Cerai would do him in the wood. The ancestors were the ones that had lived and died in the forest, toiling for the good of the future generations. Everything he needed to know could be found in their words.
Might be. He grumbled at length. But later. Saw some smoke off this way, and I'm tired 'a standin' 'round in this rain. Pull that cloak tight 'fore some troll seeps in ya' with the rain. Don't you know it's bad luck to let the rain in you?
Bad luck. Everything about this screamed bad luck to Othmar. He should leave the boy and keep moving, but something wouldn't let him. Some part of him thought Old Fen would be disappointed with that. She had taken him on, after all, bad luck as he was. He wished she was still here to guide him, to tell him how to ward off the misfortune he was bringing upon himself. His hand went again to the pouch at his neck as he led his new companion off towards the faint wisp of smoke he had seen in the distance.
I'm gonna find you some day. He vowed silently. And when I do, you're gonna tell me everything.
It seemed like you implied that you were going back to your house for lunch, but then walked inside the guard house? I went with the latter, but let me know if you'd rather change it.
When O'Bannon made it inside, the guard captain clasped his arm and lead him to the table. They were each given hard bread hollowed out into a trencher and filled with fish stew. To judge by the rare amount of fish in the stew, it was no small wonder that O'Bannon hadn't caught anything that morning.
Lunch proceeded with the usual familiarities: news, rumors, and an impromptu contest between two guards about who's wife was lazier. At its climax, one guard leapt up onto the table with a cup in hand, spilling ale on his adversary as he proclaimed a number of intimate facts that his wife no doubt would have protested.
In time, the bustle settled down and the O'Bannon found himself and the captain with two cups of ale and nothing but the afternoon. The captain let loose with a powerful belch, then cleared his throat. "Well," he said to O'Bannon, downing the rest of his ale. "If we're to make a day of it, perhaps a tavern could provide us with finer ale. What say you, O'Bannon? The hearth of the Raven's Smile to warm our bones?"
For all her posturing, Starchaser only received an amused look from the fox as it rolled like a barrel through the air.
The trees, the trees, the lovely trees,
Have fallen to their knobbly knees,
And knobbly knees conceal with ease:
The Beauty in the cottage.
The fox's voice was small, like a child's, and wispy as the smoke that curled up the chimney. When it finished speaking, it alighted on the hearth and cocked its head, as if eager to gauge the woman's response.
Othmar and Jack
The going proved slow enough for the two hunters. Their skills of woodcraft helped them to avoid the gullies and natural deadfalls scattered like seed throughout the vastness of the Wood, but for all their effort they could find no game. The rain continued its slow fall, masking their scent, but no tracks could be spotted along their course.
Almost a full hour into their trek, Jack noticed a strange thing to their left. Where the rest of the wood was cloaked in shades of shades of brown, green, and dark greys, there was a section--a small clearing, perhaps?--that seemed lighter than its surroundings.
Starchaser lunged forward, and threw the cane onto a chair by the table. The chairs were heavy oak, and the table was a single round of a tree that was placed on the trunk of a smaller tree above which the cottage was clearly built. The furniture was in the cottage was there when Starchaser first came to the cottage.
She thrust one long, arching leg towards the fox in a backbreaking thrust, throwing all of her might into the blow. Her previously bent over back straightened, and Starchaser leaned forward, into the toes of her feet and the vicious kick.
Attack(1d6+6) Damage(1d6+5) the 1d6 result is halved (to 2) for a sum total of 7 damage.
Starchaser used her Massive Talent attack on this, and cannot use it for the rest of the combat.
How many cottages you seen could light up a whole clearing? Othmar asked, not taking his eyes off the light. Either the whole thing's ablaze, or that ain't a cottage. Might be pokin' your nose into strange lights in the wood'll get you into that story you want, but I'm wagerin' it's not the kind you're hopin' for.
"Well, I'd be a fool to search out your advice for 3 days and ignore it straight away. Shall I squirrel up a tree and see how far we are from that smoke you saw? If it's right over yonder, then we'll know you don't want to see the smoke at all, but if we missed it on the way here, we could do with a fresh direction."