Classic Fantasy The Fourth Charm
#11
Music 
The dire owl had been trailing them for at least four hours now. Thwarted by the thick canopy and Chi-Chi’s keen eyes, it’s undead nature kept it in endless pursuit, desperate to taste flesh and serve it’s given purpose. It was an annoyance, but nothing more.

Were it not for Chi-Chi’s experience as a ranger, they would surely have been lost in the Mehlens, especially in the pitch darkness of the now late evening. They were making their way to the East ranger station, figuring that would be the most plausible place for the girls to retreat to, but they had emerged from the tunnel in the Western Mehlens and so had a ways to go. Chi-Chi estimated they were half-way there - somewhere in the South quadrant now.

They dodged zombies as they went, skeletons too, Mehlen beasts - the lot. Chi-Chi was truly invaluable; he was a great ranger and it showed. Now they were guided by the moonlight, moving as quickly and quietly as possible.

“Chi-Chi?” Taok whispers, a couple paces behind him. 

Chi-Chi makes a noise of acknowledgement, hurrying them further.

“The silence is too loud, can you talk to me?”

“Wha’ about?” He’d recovered his mint leaves on the trek and was putting them to good use.

“Anything.”

There’s a pause as the pair avoid a clearing. They can no longer tell where the owl is - it’s too silent. Had it come upon them in the dark, instead of earlier when the remnants of sunshine still dappled the forest floor, they would have had no way of knowing. 

“Anythin’ how? D’you wan’ a story?”

“A story’d be great.”

Chi-Chi thinks for a minute or so.

“One time, wi’ Zadi, we were in this abandoned Mehlen building - all stone, fallin’ down. We’d been told there were some scavengers got into some trouble, legal trouble, told to bring ‘em back. It was kinda weird, playin’ the authorities - I did good cop, s’ma thing. Don’ like makin’ people uncomfortable. Zadi’s...real impressive bein’ intimidatin’. Yeah, we brought ‘em out, one got stuck under some rocks, had to pull ‘er out. Went back in for their stuff, ended up squattin’ out there, didn’ wanna go back to Zlas these people. S’were I got this axe.” He shows off the very ordinary axe , before replacing it in its leather loop-strap on his belt.

“Whole building started fallin’ down on toppa us. Yeah...real scary. Not as scary as this though, maybe not for Zadi. She’s done a lot more intense stuff than I ‘ave. I mean, she fought a dragon but tha’s not the half of it.” 

He stops talking for a bit and Taok looks around, thinking some creature is passing them by. When they see nothing, they turn to look at him.

He’s chewing his lip - out of the mint leaves he’d collected on the way, it was too dark to see properly now. He looks uncertain what to say or if to stop talking altogether.

“What is it?” 

He looks up at them, a battle waging in his eyes. Taok makes a hasty charisma check.

Chi-Chi sighs heavily, looking down, “I dunno. She’s just -” Pause. 

Quieter now, and slower, “She’s done so much, y’know, quite a bit younger than me too. Jus’ feels like somethin’ happened to me, she’d be all business. Not like she didn’t care but...she’d do somethin’. Make things happen, all the people she knows. But I…

I dunno. Kinda fell apart in wi’ Khalia, wanderin’ around in the dark, hopin’ she’s saved ‘erself again. Jus’ feel like...s’not my thing. Can’t keep up with ‘er or the world, like maybe -”

He starts again, “I’m a good ranger, but...she’s a hero. Feel kinda cliche now.” He chuckles drily. “Jus’ feel a little useless sometimes.”

The eerie silence of the Mehlens never felt more prominent. 

“But ah well. Bein’ silly, tha’s what she’d say. We gotta long way to go, Tae. Look at ya, got me bein’ all melencholly - melancholic. Somethin’ like that.”

He smiles at them, but it’s not as bright as usual. Taok doesn’t like it, but they don’t know what to say.

They continue onward, and this time Taok doesn’t ask for a story. 

The night grows darker as the moon hides behind the clouds. They can hear the echoes of the storm over Zlas in the distance and occasionally, if they’re lucky, the flapping of massive wings. 

So far they’ve been very successful in avoiding the creatures roaming the woods, but as they wind around a couple of broad trees, they encounter an obstacle they can’t avoid.

There’s a small, canopied valley separating the pair from the most obvious route forwards. It would cut down their time before reaching the East quadrant significantly, but they can spy four zombies lingering along its slopes. 

Both are very anxious to keep moving, but Taok is not very combat-ready and uneasy at the thought of injury after last time. Chi-Chi is more determined, having deeper personal connections and a lot of experience under his belt. He pulls out two slings from his mint leaves pockets in his armour and hands one to Taok.

“A shot can’t ‘urt, right?” He says with a grin. “Know you’re not great at this but I reckon we’ve a few seconds ‘fore they reach us.”

“A-Alright…” Taok takes it hesitantly and quietly unsheathes their sword.

“Oh, tha’s handy too.” Chi-Chi gets his axe ready in turn. “Right then. On the count o’three..”

Two small but lethal stones fly out at one of the closest zombies, falling anticlimactically to the ground. The zombie snaps its head to the side and lets out a deep groan. All four start lumbering towards them.

“Crap.” Chi-Chi, frantically scrambling around for another rock.
This time one of the rocks cracks against one of the zombie’s heads, leaving a deep, bloody gash in its wake but it keeps stumbling forward.

The creatures are closer now, loping towards them at a surprising speed. Their rotting faces slack with dead, leering towards them. They have one last shot before they attack. 

“I’m not sure this is a good idea, Chi-Chi…” Taok says squeakily, “I don’t know how to use this thing!”

“We’ll be fine.” Chi-Chi replies with grim confidence. 

Taok makes an anxious high-pitched sound, before releasing their final stone with trembling fingers.

They watch in wonder as Chi-Chi’s expertly calculated shot downs one of the monsters, the rock bursting through its undead neck as it slumps, useless to the ground. 

“Woah- '' There's another grumbling sound as Taok’s rock finds itself wedged deep in another’s chest, spinning it with the force. “Did I-”

But the zombies are on them now and neither are particularly agile. Their claws rake across Chi-Chi’s body as he’s unable to twist away but his armour protects him and he remains unscathed. 

The same cannot be said for Taok, unfortunately, who, even with the use of heroism/luck, has no agility or armour and is immediately below half health. The creature rips into them, clawing down their arm and torso, teeth scraping to find purchase on their body. 

Taok breathes heavily, panic addling their brain as they scramble backwards, trying to pull the creature off them and slash at it with their sword. An axe comes swinging down from behind the zombie, burying itself in the monster’s back and drawing its attention away.

“TAOK! GET UP!” Chi-Chi roars, surrounded now by three bloodthirsty zombies - or brainthirsty, I don’t know.
Taok brandishes their sword, not entirely sure how to use it on a live target, and brings it down on the one that was attacking them. It’s messy and unrefined but luck is on Taok’s side and, through a lot of frantic chopping, the zombie is defeated.

There’s a slow moment of horror as they turn to Chi-Chi and realise that, by helping Taok, he’s left himself defenceless. The monsters surround him and attack, ready to bite into him with their claws and teeth but at the last second Chi-Chi twists out of the way, displaying a kind of agility he can usually only dream of possessing, and slams his axe into his aggressor twice, nearly felling him. It’s brutal, stunning and distracting, Taok’s sword thumping into the ground inches from the creature’s head - missing, badly.

It’s fingers claw up Tae’s legs and they snap back to attention, ripping away from its grasp and raising their sword for a final blow. With a decisive crunch, the weapon pierces the zombie’s head, nailing it to the ground, unmoving.

There’s still one left. 

Impressively, whilst Taok was busy with their crawling zombie, Chi-Chi has almost finished off the other. It staggers around, claws reaching out almost blindly, tugging at Chi-Chi’s flesh and armour. Taok bounds towards it but trips on a root, their sword flying through the air, “Ah-”, just before Chi-Chi mercifully puts the creature down. It’s a slightly odd display, actually. 

The two slow down to breath for a moment or two.

“You - You doin’ good?” Chi-Chi inquires, panting heavily and bent over.

“Actually”,Taok gingerly picks themselves up, “I’m a little -”

A menacing growl resonates through the pass.

“Fuck!” Chi-Chi curses in a hushed voice, pulling Taok behind him to the cluster of bushes they were hiding in previously. “Be quiet!”

Taok stills, eyeing their sword where it lies at the other end of the bush.

From the gloom at the opposite end of the valley, a figure walks into view. It’s tall, warped, darker than shadow - a monstrosity. It pads calmly towards the bushes where they huddle in fear. 

Taok’s hand inches towards their sword, Chi-Chi frowns at them. They shuffle a little further. 

“I can see you moving.” A surprisingly casual voice calls out. 

Taok stills. 

There’s a silence.

Taok shifts a little to peer up over the bush, but sees nothing. Chi-Chi places a hand on their shoulder, “Tae…” He whispers.

They swivel around to look at him only to come face to face with the dark figure and its pet; an elven-featured man with obsidian black skin and a short stature, and a shaggy-looking black lioness curling around his feet.

They all stand frozen. The man has his hand on the sword on his back, brown eyes searching them. “Who are you?” He inquires, voice clear and sharp but not unkind.

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Ending might seem a little abrupt, but this way getting very long so I decided to cut it here. 

That's pretty much it to be honest.

Gonna use a little more space to make it a more substantial note.









Yeah.
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#12
“Uh…” Chi-Chi begins, “M-Mister...Ailzeize?”

He looks unsure how to address the strange being standing before them, and uncomfortable with what he settles on.

Still, the man’s face cracks into a smile and his hand falls to his side, “Volro, please. I see you’re one of us. Who’s this?” The lion at his feet grumbles quietly. “Oh, and this is Agles. My bad.” He reaches down to appease his companion who nuzzles him good-naturedly. 

Taok sits, bleeding, in confused silence before they place the name: Volro Ailzeize, the founder and representative of the rangers who was born when the Mehlens rose and aided the first Zlas settlers in their construction of the city. He still looks 26.

Chi-Chi relaxes a little and stands up, pleased with the absence of formality. “This is Taok, my friend. Were lookin’ for some friends o’ ours somewhere in the east quadrant. D’you know Zadi p’rhaps?”

Volro chuckles, “Zadi who? I know a lot of people. Good job with those zombies by the way.”

Taok splutters, still on the floor, “Y-You saw us?! Why didn't you help!?”

The dark elf looks down, amused, “You’re surrounded by bodies. I heard you from a ways off.”

“O-Oh.” They avert their eyes, embarrassed.

Volro retrieves his wandering lioness and rummages around in a saddlebag, of sorts.

“Hernhill.” Chi-Chi finally replies, following him, “Zadi Hernhill. Big adventurin’ party? Killed that dragon while back?”

“Ah, yep. Glad to have her join…” He looks distracted, fumbling around with a box.

“But 'ave you seen ‘er?” Chi-Chi says, a little impatient now.

“Give it a second,” Volro retorts, “Go look after your friend will you?”

“What d’you mean?” Chi-Chi turns to glance at Taok, who smiles weakly with their torn arm and chest. “Fuck, Taok!” He rushes over, “I’m so sorry, I didn’ realise!”

“It’s alright. There’s nothing much to do anyway.”

Chi-Chi fusses over them, pulling out a stiff, sun stained piece of fabric from one of his armour pockets; Chi-Chi practically lives in his armour. “D-Does anyone ‘ave any water? Volro?”

“I’m coming.” Volro kneels beside the pair holding an impressive but practical healing/medical kit. After a brief examination, wary of the time they are spending in an unsecure area of the Mehlens, he leans back and unclasps the kit. 


“No broken bones, all flesh wounds. Unfortunately, there’s a very high risk of infection - zombie claws are...bad for that. I’m no varim, in fact I barely know what I’m talking about, but I can at least clean and bandage it. The rest we’ll sort out at base.” He gets to work tending Taok’s wounds.

“At base? We’ve got somewhere to be…” Chi-Chi says, uncertain.

Volro doesn’t answer for a while. “We’re coalescing at an old mine. A lot of the stations got hit so there’s a lot of people in the woods right now. Probably more than there’s ever been. A lot of the forces will either have made their way into the city - unlikely on the first wave - or they’ll be retreating through the night. I don’t know what we’re up against, but I don’t want good folks getting caught out here, especially wounded. I won’t stop you, but…” He sighs.

“Honestly, we don’t have any vars at base either, but...your friends could be there. We’re not far from the other quadrant. Who did you say you were looking for?”

“Zadi Hernhill and Ris…” Chi-Chi glances at Taok.

“U-Um...I...I don’t know her last name...Ranger 84?”

“Ah yes. I remember. Lead a hunt for a dire wolf little over two weeks ago. It was very...wet, we had a rainstorm. Hanswift, Ris Hanswift. No, I don’t believe she’s there either. Neither of them. I’d still implore you to at least stay the night in the mine, it’s dangerous out here and it’ll be hard to find two very skilled rangers in the Mehlens at night.”

Volro leans back from his work, stands up and eyes Chi-Chi critically. “You need a little patching up as well.” 

“S’just some cuts an’ bruises.” Chi-Chi replies, “We-”

A bloodied hobgoblin stumbles into the clearing, followed by three others. There’s a surprised pause as everyone evaluates the situation before the hobgoblins - with their orange-reddish skin and gray hair - throw up their hands and back up. They look as though they’ve been properly beaten.

“No!” One of them garbles, “We leave! We go! Both…” It seems to struggle for a moment, “Not...blood. Be good. We go now.” 

There’s an awkward standstill as they retreat. Volro turns to Chi-Chi and Taok with fire in his eyes, “Well.” He grins, “Looks like we’ve won this one then.” Agles rumbles in contentment behind him. “Usually I’d be after them but we have to get you lot back, huh? Don’t worry, the rangers will take care of them.”

The trio pack up their equipment and take off through the Mehlens once more, with Volro on Agles’ back and Chi-Chi helping Taok along. They’ve got an hour to go yet before they hit Volro’s base and the Mehlens is more dangerous than they’ve been since their world began. A long night indeed.

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Sorry this one took so long to write, I'm not entirely sure why to be honest. I struggled with some of the dialogue this time around, but hey, a lot of stuff when on in the background too so. I'm running out of ink. 
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#13
Lore w/Taok 2: Shadowfire


But a week ago, Taok kneels at their low desk scratching out a plan to discover the relics. It’s a Sunday, and they’re expected at work tomorrow, but that doesn’t stop them staying up till the early hours of the morning - through a storm no less - to record their findings. They’re excited; for once, they feel useful.

A lone candle casts dim light throughout the study and shadows dance across the walls. The rainstorm batters the house and the weak foundations shake. The house shudders. 

Taok is wrapped up in a beige threadbare blanket, engrossed in their work. A cold meal lays forgotten on the floor beside them and various other ornaments dot the room: an elegant swan figurine that Taok took a liking to, a forgotten shell hairpiece focus for their mum - rejected - ,an old mind-controlling crown that was the subject of one of their past investigations. This is their life, really. 

Their quill dips into the ever-dwindling ink pot as they pull out another sheet of paper. It was time for something more coherent, something they would look over as an account on their findings. Their plan, their experience, their knowledge.

The shutters bang as they struggle to keep the wind at bay.

7/12/09

Today, in the Dangerous Hillside, two elder spirits from the Audathan Empire/Undead Crown Clan + others war - that really needs a name - came to me from a book. The book was titled ‘Thieves of Dread’ by Shetv Truthsnow which I don’t remember buying. 

They gave their accounts on their sides of the war and one - Muenchw? - informed me that 3 relics of Ozmatar exist in this world and that if they are offered to the god, Ozmatar will be at peace! I’m not sure how true that is or if this Ozmatar even exists but it’s too exciting to ignore! This could actually really be something. 

Before I forget - though I’ve written it on 5 pieces of paper, I need to stop using so much of it - the relics are named [pause, shuffling papers] Bravemark, Nightblood and Oathkeeper. Oathkeeper’s a whip, Nightblood’s a bowl and Bravemark’s a ring. I’ll write the full spirit’s account as I remember it on the back.

I’ve never heard of these ‘relics’ before but I feel like they must be in the Mehlens. Everything is, basically. Zlas is barren of everything but people. I think they must be in some old ruins or something. Maybe I’ll hire [ pause ] rangers. That might be expensive though. Alright, down to business.

Plan
Bring a book and pen to work every day and as soon as work’s finished head to every ranger station nearby and gather their accounts. No. o beasts, beast species, plant species, concentration of animals, no. o scavengers, no. o ruins, etc. Find a center of activity if possible. 

Won’t be able to go to every station but maybe the big ones with most info.

Maybe ask Bonnie to get off work early - probably won’t let me though.
                                           ---------------------------
I feel like I should have more of a plan than this. I really hope I can do these spirits justice. Well, I should probably get to bed at some point...and stop writing this down...

Taok rises from the kneeling desk, sorting the papers to the side. After a long night of researching, they really better some sleep.

The candle goes out.

Taok pauses. They were going to bed anyway they suppose. 

The shutters rattle and creak.

Taok heads to the door. They’re being silly.

Behind them, the candle relights, and as they turn to face it there scorched into the wall is simple, jagged human script:

                                            h U r r Y

The shutters break and wind rushes into the room, scattering everything on the desk but the candle stays lit, its taunting flame bobbing up and down threateningly. 

                                           h U r r Y


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Bit of a short one this time. For a lore w/taok there wasn't actually that much to learn - I might rename it. It's more on how Taok found Oathkeeper to begin with, so I suppose it's more of a flashback. Also, crazily, almost all the events so far have taken place on just one day. ONE DAY. That's insane. But it's practically Monday for them now anyway, past midnight. But yeah, not much else to say.
Hope you enjoy! Let me know if anyone wants rolls, random names, rule stuff, etc. I've just kinda been writing it so far.
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#14
Leaning against Chi-Chi’s side, Taok stares as the sword on Volro’s back sparks and shimmers. It’s the most magical object Taok has ever seen, which isn’t surprising seeing as it shares its origin with its wielder. It’s the only thing they can focus on as they make the crawling journey to Volro’s base. Their wounds burn as if flame is licking up their chest and they’re devastatingly tired. The unnamed sword is comforting, akin to a carrot on a stick, egging them on. It’s probably just their fervoured imagination.

“How far is it?” Chi-Chi speaks in a hushed voice, careful not to attract too much attention. Agles’ tail twitches and flicks, reminded of his presence.

Volro doesn’t look back. “Just ten minutes longer.” The voice of a man used to being quiet. 

They walk onward some more minutes. The sword seems to glow in Taok’s vision. Strangely, they feel more in control of themselves now. The pain seems bearable and once more they’re excited. This is an adventure after all, right? They immediately feel guilty, imagining how many Zlas soldiers would have died in the attack. This will help, they console themselves, I didn’t cause this just because I wanted some excitement. They don’t feel much better.

“How-” Chi-Chi pauses, trying not to sound whiny, “Are we...approachin’ the base yet?”

“Hush, nearly.” Agles’ tail whacks him lightly.

Some time later, there’s a break in the canopy and a beautiful domed building rises into view.

It’s small but, even in the nearly pitch blackness of the Mehlens, Taok can make out a series of masterful carvings engraved into the exterior and rivers of gemstones and metals winding in grooves in a twisting pattern around it. It’s crafted from wood and Taok marvels at the craftsmanship of such a building. For a mine, no less. They really should have gone sightseeing the old UCC buildings before this; drawings don’t really do them justice.

Maybe their god was real. The eyes, the spirits, the storms...It might really be...Taok mulls this over as they step into the clearing, following Volro. 

“WAIT!” Chi-Chi yanks Taok back and they cry out as the motion jolts their arm. Volro quickly backs up as well where he had been maneuvering around what seems to be quicksand to join them. 

“What is it?” Volro responds sharply.

There’s a powerful WHOOSH as a massive bird swoops into the clearing, talons extended, it’s wings propelling itself back into the night sky as it’s prey scurries out of it’s range. Taok gapes in shock and horror. They’ve never been more thankful for the Mehlen canopy.

“I feel you could have mentioned that to me sooner.” Volro says, surprise etched into the lines on his face. “Seems...important.”

“Yeah.” Chi-Chi replies, catching his breath a little. “Sorry. How are we gonna…get in there?”

The dire owl circles above, silent but clear in the sky. A roaming, black shape. 

Volro clears his throat, “We could try to pass unnoticed, but it is an owl so probably not. We could distract it maybe?”

“Could wait till it goes away?” Taok suggests weakly. 

Volro hums, dubious. “I am...not adept at fighting flying things. I...I don’t know what we can do here.”

“How ‘bout…” Chi-Chi brainstorms, “We make our own canopy?” 

“Eh…” Volro is silent for a while, thinking. “There’s quicksand around here, I was going to say but...owl. This area was strangely preserved  when the Mehlens rose. I could...run for it and you guys could try and make your way to the door? I don’t think it could take me out in one, but if it picks me up I’d be in the air. Yeah, I dunno.”

Taok fights through the fiery haze of their brain, searching for a plan. “I think we should distract it, noise and fire maybe, but it would draw people to the area. Also this is a base right? Call and see if anyone’s inside.”

“You know, that makes sense. HEY!” Volro yells into the clearing at the wooden building and, after a moment or two, a figure appears at the door. Volro quickly follows up with, “DON’T COME OUT!”

The figure pauses.

“THERE’S A THING IN THE SKY!”

Chi-Chi leans over, “S’an owl.”

“I know- IT’S A BIG OWL!”

The figure retreats and closes the door slowly behind them.

“NO, WE NEED YOUR HELP!” Volro continues to yell. 

The door creaks open slightly, releasing a modicum of light to spill across the ground.

“CAN YOU- “ Volro pauses, “GOT ANY IDEAS?!”

Listening intently, Taok can hear a murmur of sound across the clearing. Whoever is at the door is speaking, but aggravatingly quietly. 

“Speak up!” Chi-Chi calls.

A poised, cold voice returns, “No! Figure it out.”

Volro splutters, “I’M YOUR SUPERIOR!”

The door closes again. 

Chi-Chi and Taok look to Volro for his reaction.

“I-” He pauses, “That’s never happened before.”

There’s a brief silence before Chi-Chi says, “Well, what’re we doin’ then?”

Volro groans, “I don’t know. Maybe we make it think there’s a creature and when it’s swooping and pulling up, we run? Trail a mouse on a string?” He collapses on a rock, “I don’t like this.”

Taok smiles a little, amused. “Maybe we do what Chi-Chi said. Hollow out a log or something and hold it above our heads.”

“Sure.” Volro grabs a large log, “I don’t want to blunt my sword.”

Taok hands him their sword. 

He looks surprised, “Really?”

“Yeah. It’s a little blunt already.”

“Why do none of us have a dagger or an axe?” Volro inquires, “Oh wait.”

Chi-Chi looks caught out, “I- I actually use this. I don’ know if that makes a difference.”

“I-” Taok starts, “I use- Nevermind.”

“Look you can ‘ave it if you want, I’m jus’ sayin’...”

Twenty minutes later, the group is in possession of a hollowed out log, a half-cylinder of heavy bark, and a mangled, useless sword. Volro hands Taok his second, non-magical sword in exchange. It’s similar to their previous one but of a darker metal with a better grip.

“T-Thank you.” Taok stutters.

“I don’t really know why I carry two anyway.” Volro winks at them, turning to heft the bark-log over their head. He squints at Chi-Chi, “Do I know your name?”

“Dunno. I’m Chi-Chi.”

All three of them are strong, to some degree (Volro: 4, Chi-Chi: 3, Taok: 2) and together they have no problem carrying the log out into the clearing. The real question is whether the owl will immediately break it. 

Inching out beyond the canopy, the trio crouch low to the ground and stay silent. The owl is hardly going to hear them but not being able to see the creature makes them all uncomfortable and endeavour to make as little noise as possible.

Slowly, they make their way towards the dome. It’s completely quiet, apart from the sound of their feet scuffing the grass. Taok feels the pain burn up their arm. They really need that treated soon.

A huge force barrels into the logs and huge, sharp talons rake against the strong wood. The log splinters and cracks above them as they battle and yell to keep the bark between them. It’s a heavy weight and it feels as if the log will split in two but, just as soon as the presence arrived, it takes off silently once more.

This time, they use the owl’s retreat to their advantage and sprint across the clearing, Chi-Chi still yelling.

“AAAAAAAAH!” 

Volro slams the intricate wooden door open and the group rush into the interior of this undead crown clan marvel. 

There is only one room to the building, but a hatch in the floor reveals the true entrance to the mines. Old hammocks are strung across the curved walls from long ago and opposite the entrance there’s a massive reflective surface - not unlike a mirror, but instead polished metal - layered on top of the wooden wall. It stretches from floor to ceiling and, unfortunately, makes the scene appear a thousand times worse.

Bodies of hobgoblins and rangers alike are strewn across the floor in such a number that the floorboards and threaded rugs stain red with blood; there are a considerable number of rangers and Zlas citizens in comparison to the goblins.

Most of the rangers look to have been killed with weapons - predominantly arrows - however some have been strung up by the vines that dangle from the ceiling, either around their neck or torso. Their number increased by the mirror, they appear like grotesque, dangling puppets. 

In the middle of it all stands one man. Of average build, black skin and green eyes, he observes the group coolly. He’s bald and his lidded eyes remind Taok of Damven, except where Damven’s are friendly and unassuming, his are arrogant and proud. 

“You’re the one who didn’t open the door.” Volro says, not having yet noticed the massacre, closing the door.

“I opened the door just fine, it was you who were unsure on how to proceed.” He tips his head up slightly.

Taok and Chi-Chi are too busy taking in the slaughter to notice, Taok wordless in their horror, Chi-Chi pale and faint.

The look on Volro’s face as he turns around is indecipherable. The best way to describe it is perhaps ‘surface calm’. It’s disturbing. His eyes rove over the bodies of his dead companions, those who he so diligently learned the names of, those he led, relied on and learned to protect. It’s the destruction of everything he has built over the years, people he’s trained and fought with as they grew older, who now lay massacred in a place he’d deemed safe. 

He moves on.

“Alalu. How are you alive?” Each word, every syllable, is intense and laden with emotional meaning and power. It’s slow and practiced. He’s experienced this before, Taok surmises impressively. 

“I hid well. Alone. Unlike the rest of them.” He casts a disproving eye around the rest of the solemn room, the swinging dead. He tilts his head back to Volro, “There’s one more.”

The hatch swings open behind Alalu and a tall, well-built man climbs up. He’s older, probably in his early forties, with shoulder-length, curly blonde hair and light brown eyes. As you should probably assume by now unless I state otherwise, he’s dark-skinned. He has rounded features and it’s not hard to tell he’s been crying, but he wears it well as he scans the room, heavy armour shifting as he stands. He has an awesome wolf fur mantle lying on his shoulders that shimmers a little with the candlelight - also, yeah, there’s candles. This is a lot of describing for me. 

“Guests, huh?” He says in a very gravelly, deep voice. He sniffs. “Little late."

Volro somehow appears to be taking it all in his stride, “Anyone else?”

“No. As Brildulm said, you were a little late.” Alalu replies, his voice slipping around the room like mercury or silk - that doesn’t make sense, does it? 

“I…” Volro closes his eyes briefly before replying.

Taok still hears the conversation - You told us we were safe here - I’m sorry, I thought - but it doesn’t seem to matter anymore. Their vision swims with images of the...disaster, slaughter, massacre, battle, whatever you’d call it. Their wounds burn and their heart burns with it.

You were a little late-
-I don’t believe she’s there either. Neither of them.

Crushing guilt - there’s nothing I could have done - and crushing relief - they weren’t here.

So where are they?
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I had great fun writing these bloodthirsty little demons! Very much a change of pace from Taok & co, probably should have gone harsher on their language but idk. I don't enjoy writing 'mean' dialogue, didn't skimp on the combat descriptions tho...eesh. So yeah! Learnt this too. Can't believe they ------ (that's for after) before a n y b o d y I've been writing so far - Ris, Taok, Chi-Chi, etc. Those guys have been dodging around it for e v e r. Seriously, it's so annoying. I never feel like I'm making progress in this game! But I'm having a great time so. Hey.

This is the most full thread I've ever done - yay! I've been looking a little at Ironsworn recently so might play some of that. Probably not here though for first times. Also a lot rulesier than what I'm used to, barring dnd which is awesome. Anyway, just feeling conversational. 

Onto the story! 

----------------------------------------

Six days prior to the battle at Zlas, two female hobgoblins stumbled across a hidden, overgrown tunnel on the outskirts of the Mountain Covert. They’d been walking nearly all day under the pretence of hunting for game and had decided to make an attempt at a wolf eight hours in. In truth, they were bored and looking for anything exciting - treasure, battle, food. Things had grown lax at camp recently after Zanreran had walked away with the mage’s crown, marking another victory for their raiding party. There were no civilisations near enough to attack and they were mostly operating on autopilot. 

Grokrag and Zanreran had tracked the wolf for miles, hoping it would lead them to its pack or kin, before it lost them.

“Ugh.” Grokrag garbles in her harsh language, flopping down onto a rock in frustration. She’s better dressed than her companion, almost stylish, and her reddish-brown hair is well cared for and sleek; Zanreran sheared her’s off a few years ago on a whim when it bugged her in battle. 

Zanreran backs up a few paces to inspect the last visible tracks and hums in response before shaking her head and standing. “Gone.”

The two aren’t close, their relationship is one of gain and climbing the ladder, but for hobgoblins they get on better than most. Which is why in moments of frustration, they don’t devolve into violent, bloody mass on the forest floor. 

“HOW is it gone?!”

That isn't to say they don’t fight. 

Zanreran scowls, brown eyes narrowing, as they stalk over to the rock, “Don’t fucking ask me, you’re the woodswoman.”

Grokrag waves their hand as their companion drops to the ground below them, taking a break in the midday heat. “Use your fucking sight-shit or something. I can’t track if there aren’t any tracks, dumbass.”

Zanreran turns and thrusts Grokrag off the rock, clambering up with their little hobgoblin legs to sit cross-legged in her space. “King of the Hill, I’m concentrating, don’t shove me.” She murmurs quickly as Grokrag fumes beside her.

The sun beats down on them - it’s one of the warmest days they’ve had so far despite it being Autumn - as Grokrag fans themselves, waiting for Zanreran to finish.

Thin trees litter the landscape before them and from here she can see the far-off buildings of Millwharf and the shimmering bay beyond it. They’d taken over the village over half a year ago and it didn’t look like there was much else to go. Villages were easy game for a band as large as theirs and it wasn’t long before they’d ransacked most of the surrounding settlements. They were now penned in by the Deep Chelmsson Expanse and the larger cities to the west. There wasn’t much point in being a commander if there were no battles to command in. They needed something to break the tension; a new challenge that wouldn’t immediately squash them because, at this point, Grokrag was ready to wage war on Kamry for five seconds of bliss. 

“I found it.” Zanreran’s voice thrums with magic and power, a river of calm and force. It’s pretty cool but Grokrag will never admit it.
She springs to her feet, “Well fucking great! Where is it?”

Zanreran unfolds their legs and points a long arm at a patch of dense shrubbery some paces away. The greenery looks out of place among the sparse woodland. “There. Alone.”

Grokrag cracks their bones and settles into a smooth stance - lower to the ground and defensive. She unsheathes her sword. “Shut up. I’ll go first so you don’t screw it up.” She reaches out a small, orange hand to part the draping vines and peer into the dark tunnel. 

Too late, she realises that letting light in will alert whatever lies inside and she is immediately sprung upon by a small, sickly grey wolf that ravages her shoulder for 2 END. The two hobgoblins enter a concise blood frenzy and beat the near-pup to a bloody pulp, forgetting to preserve it for food. 

Grokrag finishes up mashing the thing and bends down to inspect its remains, barely noticing their wounds - would that I played her instead of Taok (jk, love them but, still, the stress).

“Not a great meal.” She grumbles, prodding at it a little whilst Zanreran pushes forwards into the tunnel. 

“Goes quite a way.”, the bald hobgoblin comments, “Might be worth our while to check it out.” The unspoken word of “treasure” floats between them. “Just for us”; the silent threat: “just for me.”

Unsurprisingly, the tunnel leads them to the outskirts of the Mehlens - the deadly, shunned forests of the South - and right on track to becoming soldiers of Ozmatar, as per the current timeline. However, their pathway offers more than just a war; it also satiates their only remaining need: treasure. (cool italics, cool italics)

In the form of a relic. A small, sparking ring buried in the rock, uncovered by Zanreran’s magical, investigative power. One of the keys to unlocking peace in Zlas and the Mehlens.

It’s Bravemark.

For courage.
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