The Working Barbarian

A Tale of Blood, Fire and Steel

Archive for the tag “Polls”

I have Magebane for you on Line 1

The greater good is a tricky thing. It so often requires you to do something morally or ethically grey, perhaps even something a little bit evil. Other times it could just require you to do something that you’d really rather not. The greater good asks for a special kind of selflessness that is not often found in ordinary people in ordinary situations. It always asks for something extra-ordinary. Because it isn’t supposed to be easy to make the hard choices and to put aside you own selfish wants and desires. so despite the obvious temptations to reach out to the spirit of Freya, the girl who she failed and lost, Jala is reaching out to the spirit of Magebane. What secrets will the tyrant’s spirit yield?

28 - Hall of the Listeners

Will Magebane give up her secrets easily? Even in death she could prove to be stubborn. Or will she spill the metaphorical beans and reveal the darkest secrets of her master The Whelpslayer? These are questions which shall be answered in the fullness of time, when we return on Monday August 18th (baring accident, incident or marauding dragons) for the next instalment of our tale. Part 29 shall come from my own fevered and addled mind. A nightmarish hellscape of word and song, devoid of reason and logic and riven with an all-consuming doubt.

Stay tuned, we shall see what this week does yet hold…

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Part 28 – The Hall of the Listeners

Jala eyed the hilt of the dagger warily.

“My body…” she muttered darkly. Wojji nodded gently.

“It’d be a dreadful shame to let it go to waste,” he said. “When the last of your breath has fled your lungs and your eyes have caught their final light, your soul would be able to depart knowing that your body would be going on to a purpose greater than feeding the worms and the grubs of the earth.”

A high price indeed – and yet, was it really? The necromancer did not propose to slay her on the spot, merely to use what would no longer be hers to use when the time came. A lump of flesh and bone, the image of Jala but not the warrior essence of Jala.

Jala reached towards the hilt of the dagger, and for a moment thought she saw a look of intense avarice and greed cross the face of the man offering it to her. At the last moment, her arm dropped to her side.

“You are a man of business,” she said flatly. “Let us negotiate.”

Wojji’s face fell dramatically, but he recovered smoothly.

“It was worth a try,” he said, tucking the dagger away. “The barbarian tribes of the North don’t often come by these parts, and I fancied that perhaps you were the one who would… no matter. Negotiate. Indeed, let’s.”

Kru leaned over, her lips brushing against Jala`s ear and her voice soft and low.

“We have nothing with which we can negotiate,” she said. “Yet.”

Jala nodded in understanding.

“Master Wojji,” she said, “I cannot give you what is not mine to offer. I do not know what fate I pursue, and to what ultimate destiny my body will go. Perhaps I am to perish in the belly of a dragon, as a vision I have had seemed to show, or perhaps I am to be obliterated into starstuff. I do not know, and so I cannot promise that I would uphold my end of the bargain were I to promise you my body.

 “I can, however, offer you something that I know I will have. I can offer you the body of the Whelpslayer himself.”

 The necromancer raised an eyebrow.

 “You really feel you can deliver on such a promise?” he asked.

 “I feel the truth of it in my bones and in the heft of my blade. I make you the traditional honour-bound oath of my tribe : Under the moon, under the stars, above the crisply fallen snow and amongst the deep dark pines, I so swear that I shall have the corpse of the Whelpslayer to deliver unto you, or that I shall die trying.”

 Wojji blinked.

 “That’ll do it,” he said, spitting into his palm and holding it out. Jala eyed his moist hand.

“That’s disgusting,” she said. Wojji shrugged.

“Fair enough,” he said, extending a pinky. Jala wrapped her own pinky around it and they solemnly shook, sealing their pact as Kru looked on with a knowing smile.

“Right,” said Wojji, wiping his hand on his clothes, “now that that’s taken care of, drink up – we’ve got a Listener to bother.”

*

 Jala and Kru were led through winding canyon tunnels until they came to a stop before a simple wooden door.

“Is this the fabled Hall of Listeners?” Kru asked, a note of disappointment creeping into her voice. Wojji shook his head.

“It takes two to access the Hall of Listeners,” he said. He pushed the door open and they stepped through into a small antechamber. It looked like a sort of clinic, which would make the elderly woman who occupied it a sort of doctor. She initially did not notice that she had visitors as her arms were elbow deep into the chest cavity of a zombie which lay on a table before her, watching her work interestedly.

Wojji cleared his throat. The woman glanced up, irritated.

“What?” she snapped. “I’m in the middle of an operation, Wojji. Would it kill you to knock?”

“Yes, but not for long,” he replied with a smile. To the others, he said, “This is Yarla, one of our more hands-on members.”

Yarla snorted and returned her attention to her patient.

“Funny man,” she said. “I’d love to see you patch a perforated spleen sometime.”

“I’m confused,” said Jala. “Are your workers not risen and driven by magical forces? Why would the state of their organs matter?”

Yarla sighed and pulled her blood and ichor stained arms out.

“That’s correct in principle,” she said, “but long story short a machine with missing parts is hardly an effective machine. Our workforce is no good to us if it’s dropping to bits all over the place.”

“Necromancy is a many-faceted art,” Wojji explained. “Some of us are better at the act of raising, overcoming the most stubborn of bodily inertia. Others take a more resorative path.”

Yarla held her hands over the gaping hole in the zombie and muttered a few words. A cold breeze seemed to pass through the room as dead flesh knotted together before Jala’s eyes. The zombie stumbled to its feet, good as new though still quite clearly dead.

“And that’s that. Now, then. As wonderfully lovely as it is to see new people, to what do I owe the dubious pleasure of interruption?”

“They are here to see Sonja,” Wojji replied.

Yarla whistled and wiped her hands on a nearby cloth.

“I see. Well then, let’s not waste time. Stay here,” Yarla instructed the zombie. It slumped into a corner looking almost dejected as it watched the others leave the room.

“Will it be alright in there?” Jala asked. Yarla rolled her eyes.

“It’s a zombie,” she said. “It’s not even one of the smarter ones. It won’t need food, warmth, rest or company. I think it’ll be ok standing in a corner for a while, don’t you?”

They continued in silence until they came to an impressively large door of silver and steel, covered in runes and ornate symbols. This, it seemed, was the entrance to the Hall of Listeners. Wojji and Yarla waved their hands over the door in an elaborate pattern, causing the runes to flare brightly then fade away into nothing. Slowly, slowly, the door swung open.

The Hall was a massive chamber that seemed to stretch away to the distance in all directions. The room was filled with nothing but beds, rows upon rows of beds in which lay the prone forms of the Listeners.

Wojji led the into the room, walking silently and reverentially down the aisles between the slumbering folk. Eventually they came to a bed in which lay a young girl, fair of hair and fast asleep like all the rest.

“This is Sonja?” Kru said. “She’s but a child!”

“She may be a child but she’s the best damned Listener we’ve ever had,” Yarla snapped.

Jala gazed down at the girl, fascinated at the thought of the power she had despite her tiny young frame. Wojji pulled a jewelled pendant from one of his many pockets and polished the inset stone thoughtfully.

“You will have but 10 minutes,” he said, “for even as strong a Listener as Sonja cannot maintain a direct relation with the dead for longer. Think carefully of your question, Jala; be sure of what you want to know. Are you ready?”

Jala nodded and Wojji pressed the pendant to Sonja’s forehead. It glowed a deep rich golden colour, and Sonja’s eyes flew open, eyes of the same glowing lustre. The girl lay unmoving, stared fixedly up at the ceiling.

“The conduit is open,” she said in a sing-song voice. “The dead speak and but few listen. Would you hear what we hear?”

“We would,” said Wojji gravely. He looked at Jala. “Whisper into her ear. Tell her what you want.

Jala leant down, her lips resting by the child’s ear.

28 - Hall of the Listeners

The poll will closed at noon BST on Sunday 10th of August. If you cannot vote, or if you cannot see a poll above, please enable cookies or try a different browser. Alternatively travel into the depths of the most ancient and loneliest forests of the Old World. At their heart, where no light penetrates their canopy and all is shrouded in darkness older than man. There you must light a fire and speak your choice. Then run. Flames anger the trees…

How About No?

There’s something about Necromancers that makes people uneasy. Hanging out with dead people all the time marks you in some way. It makes you a little bit unearthly, different, other. From a certain perspective this has its advantages. It gives the necromancer an aura of aloofness and mystery that is a very desirable, some might even call it a business asset. It does however make it very hard to get people to trust you. Especially if you’re trying to get something big out of them. Say for example, the rights to their still warm corpse. Which is going to be a bit of a stretch at the best of times.

27 - Secrets of the Heldrakai

Jala has decided that she doesn’t particularly like the proposal put forward by Master Wojji, which I suppose is entirely understandable. Bodily autonomy is kind of a big deal. Even when you’re dead. This does mean that she’s going to have to find some other method of payment or leave empty-handed.

Exactly how this all pans out will be the decision of Sam Kurd: adventure, dreamweaver, visionary (plus writer.) We’ll be entering the world of his imagination as he takes us on a majestic odyssey of fiction and wonder. Which is more impressive than the brief he was originally given. (Which read “Oi, you! Write something.)

The next chapter in our ongoing tale will arrive on Monday the 4th of August.

An Unexpected Turn of Events

“Man plans, God laughs.” – Yiddish Proverb

Jala had set out from the City of Stars to find the Heldrakai Necromancers of the Ghormish Barrens. She joined a caravan and set out across the desert. What could possibly go wrong? How hard could it be? Well as it turns out, quite a bit can go wrong. As Jala discovered when she found herself surrounded by an undead horde in the ever-smoking ruins of a dead city. I suppose you could call this an occupational hazard of sorts.

25 - Sandworms, bloody sandworms

The wise voices of the faceless sages of the internal-webs have counselled Jala that it might not be entirely the best idea to go all sword crazy. There are some schools of thought as to why this might be:

a) How exactly can you kill something that is already dead?

b) These cryptic a-holes are the guys that you were going to ask for help so it might not be the best idea to piss them off.

Either way, Jala has laid down her sword and places her fate into the hands of the mysterious Heldrakai.

Next week as opposed to another instalment in out ongoing saga there will be a quit recap as to what’s happened over the last couple of months. Much like we did at the start of April we at Barbarian Towers want to make sure that everyone can catch-up or have their memories refreshed before we once again plunge head-long into adventure.

Part 24 – Sand and Camels

“Please! Oh, please, Jala, would you let me … interview you?” Hervel’s eyes shone brightly as he looked up at Jala, the barbarian woman standing at least a head taller than he.

“No.”

“Fantastic, now can we…oh” His entire posture seemed to sag as his mind finally registered her rejection. Jala didn’t think she had ever seen anyone look so disappointed.

“I’m sorry…” She felt awkward, heat rising in her face as she felt eyes of the other caravan travellers on her, “I don’t do…interviews.”

“No no, it’s fine, really. I mean, of course you don’t do interviews. Warriors don’t do that sort of thing, how foolish of me. You’re all too busy fighting things and looking out for things to fight, stuff like that. Why would you have time to do something as silly as an interview with the likes of me? Sorry. Sorry to have bothered you…” Hervel walked away, notebook dropping back into his pocket as he muttered admonishments to himself under his breath.

“That was a cruel thing to say to the poor man”. Kru had silently come up beside her. Once again she had her face mostly hidden by a hood, but Jala could see the gleaming glare of the Star Witch’s single eye in the shadow. Jala looked away, going more red.

“I don’t do interviews” She growled, hoisting her heavy pack up onto her shoulders and heading to the wagon where they would be storing their things for the duration of the journey. Jala had the horrible feeling that Kru was smiling underneath that hood, and not in a good way.

That first night was possibly one of the most uncomfortable and downright unpleasant experiences of Jala’s whole life. At least until the next day. It took her no less than 3 attempts to manage to sit on one of the infernal camels long enough for it to stand up and start moving without falling to the dusty floor in a heap. Typically, her travelling companions had no such difficulties, and simply sat smirking at her obvious discomfort.

When they finally did get moving, Jala found the saddle she was forced to sit upon almost unbearable. No matter how she shifted her weight around she could not get even remotely comfortable. After a few experimental shifts, she wasn’t sure she even dared move around too much. She was sure the beast she was riding had it in for her, and would throw her off as soon as it got the chance.

Hervel seemed to have gotten over their earlier embarrassment, and now would not leave Jala alone. Instead he insisted on riding alongside of the barbarian, jabbering away from beneath a strange floppy brown hat that had appeared from somewhere that made him look like a poor impression of a farmer. His glasses were constantly slipping down his nose, which drove Jala nuts. Why did he not just fix them so they stayed in place?!

She was fairly certain Hervel’s attention was the doing of Kru. The Star Witch rode the camels with the same strange ease she seemed to do everything, and chattered away with Tim the Guildmeister for the most part, catching up on the history of Stellastellathororn since she had been sleeping. Jala almost began longing for the noisy, smelly, busy streets of the city. Anything but this fresh hell she was in. Marek seemed to feel some sympathy for her, and sat on her shoulders for the first part of the journey, though he soon sought the shelter of the saddlebags instead.

They soon left all signs of the city behind them, and found themselves out in a huge sandy plain. There was some evidence of a track through the sand that they were following, though it was clear the desert worked hard to reclaim its land. The temperature steadily dropped as they made their way through the night. Jala found this strange, though not terribly uncomfortable (the one thing that wasn’t on this damned journey.) It reminded her of the meeker evenings back home in the North, when the tribe came together at the communal fire and told stories of their ancestors late into the night whilst feasting on the latest catch by the hunters. That all seemed so far away now…

They stopped after a few hours when the caravan reached a scrubby set of what you could have possibly called trees, if you had never seen a tree before. The caravan leaders swiftly set up tents for the group, and drew watch rotas for the group. They had seen no danger that first night, and it was unexpected until at least the second night, but you could never be too careful. The desert could eat you up in seconds if you took your eyes off it, even for a moment.

Jala drew first watch along with two others. Thankfully Hervel was not in the watch rota, and had finally found someone else to bug about being interviewed. The quiet coolness of the desert night came as a relief to the barbarian woman, and she allowed herself a small sigh of relief as she was finally, alone.

Sitting up on a small rock face that overlooked the scrubby not-quite-trees, Jala turned her eyes to the sandy plains. She reflected that this was the first time she had truly had an extended time to herself since… well, not counting loosing Kru in Stellastellathororn, since before she had met Freya.

A pang of guilt swept through Jala as a small, eager face swam up in her mind, eyes glowing with pleasure at having found some new and exciting moss, Marek at his rightful place on her shoulder. Freya had reminded Jala so much of her own younger self, eager to prove herself and unafraid to stand up for herself. Her hands clenched as she yet again felt the blade sliding into Freya’s small body, as she saw the surprise and horror in those deep trusting eyes one last time.

‘It wasn’t your fault Jala’

Jala’s eyes snapped up, her hand instantly on the hilt of the strange sword at her side, ears straining to hear…hear what? That voice. It had sounded so much like Freya.

*

The rest of her watch passed uneventfully, though Jala kept her eyes and ears open for any other signs of life. The next morning came quicker than she would have liked, and once more the barbarian warrior was faced with the horrifying prospect of riding a camel. Coming face to face with the impetuous beast was an incredibly bad plan – she learned camel spit was very sticky and didn’t come out of eyes or hair very easily.

The day dawned bright, hot and dusty. Everyone (everyone except Kru that was) found themselves coughing and spluttering as the wind flicked dust and sand into their mouths, noses and eyes at every chance it got. The sand got literally everywhere, driving everyone nuts. Even Kru couldn’t seem to keep the endless dust out of everything.

They stopped again before midday. Jala would have been frustrated at their slow progress, but any excuse to get off of the damned camel without falling off was one she would gladly take. The place they stopped this time had more tree-like structures, and what could only be described as a lake with a lakeside hut. Jala could only blink in astonishment. A lake. In the desert. How on earth did that even work? The whole point in a desert was the lack of water. Tim laughed at her apparent astonishment.

“The lake is attended to by those with…ahem…talents shall we say.” The guildmeister glanced around furtively to check he wasn’t being overheard. He had finally ditched the ridiculously dramatic cloak and tied it down next to his bags in the caravan. It had not seemed very impressed. He now wore pale, loose fitting clothing that still somehow managed to hide what shape he was, and looked very odd in the process. At least his hat wasn’t as stupid as Hervel’s. “Without the lake, crossing to Alkathum and back would be near on impossible, especially for a group this size. The amount of water you would need to carry is just impractical. Some of my…ahem…associates help out here from time to time and make sure the lake stays topped up.”

Jala glanced at him. “You know, you would appear a lot less furtive if you stopped saying ‘Ahem’ all the time when you’re trying to hide something.”

Tim went red and shuffled off, muttering something about water and a wash. Jala had to admit, a wash and something to drink sounded heavenly. A chance to be free of dust and sand, even for a short time, was worth a lot.

Of course, it was whilst the majority of the company were bathing in the lake that the sand worms decided to make their presence known. By this point Jala was bathed, dressed and was standing by the lakeside hut. The door opened moments before the attack, and from within came a voice.

Image by Kekai Kotaki

Image by Kekai Kotaki

“You child, you with the destiny. I can tell you more on what you wish to know but you must come here now and prove your strength of will to me. If you do not, this knowledge will be lost forever. I offer only once.”

A hand emerged from within the darkness, proffered for her to take. At that same moment, screams rose up from the far side of the lake. Huge, bulbous sand worms erupted from beneath the dunes, mouths dripping slime as they bared their razor sharp teeth. A group of guards raced to intercept them, but would they be enough to protect the rest of the caravan?

Jala looked back and forth between the offered hand and the impending battle. Which should she choose? Help save the people of the caravan right here and now, or possibly learn something which may save herself in the future?

24 - Sand and Camels

The poll closed on Sunday the 9th of June at noon BST. If you cannot see a poll above, try a different browser or enable cookies. If neither of this options work then there is not a lot you can do. But as you flee from the ancient polling sites but sure to walk without rhythm, lest you attract the worms.

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Last week Jala was approached by a member of the popular media with an offer of an interview, of potential stardom and fame, to have her name on the lips of every citizen of Stellastelathororn and beyond. But Jala is from the far and distant frozen north. A place where the media is non-existent and news is generally communicated by shouting at someone on the other side of the valley. So it is not entirely surprising that Jala is having none of it.

23 - Cooler Heads Prevail

Our next instalment will arrive on Monday the 2nd if June. It will come courtesy of Nel Taylor. She is a figure now less shrouded in mystery, less of an unknown quantity. Nel returns as a guest author to bring us more tales of derring-do and fantasy shenanigans.

Part 23 – Cooler Heads Prevail

The choice loomed large in Jala’s mind, shouting down all other thoughts. A deeply passionate voice, screaming white-hot with rage, was demanding a swift and bloody resolution. ‘Strike at the heart of the beast!’ it howled. ‘Quick, decisive action! Kill! Kill!

She was tempted to listen to this voice, oh so tempted. With Magebane’s blood still cooling on her blade, her warrior soul thirsted for more. More blood, more carnage, more bodies piling up around her calves. The feeling was fading fast, but the bloodlust was strong, just as it had been when she slew the illusionary beige dwarfs in the depths of Kharäzdhuin.

And yet…

Another, calmer voice prevailed. It spoke in a quiet hushed tone, a gentle caress. It wound its way through Jala’s turbulent thoughts, soothing and sedating. The voice urged caution. The voice recommended strategy, patience and smarts. The voice was the touch of ice on a fevered brow.

“We head South,” Jala declared, “to the Necromancers beyond The Gash. Let them pry the truth from this bitch’s cold bones.”

Then she pitched forward onto her face and gave unconsciousness a try for a while.

*

She awoke in a soft bed. This confused her greatly, as she’d never really experienced a soft bed before. A soft bedroll on the hard frozen ground, certainly. But a soft bed? Goosedown quilt? Duck feather pillows? She felt uncomfortably comfortable.

She looked around herself. The room was sparse but welcoming, not gaudily decorated or stuffed with lavish unneccesities. There was a dresser and a mirror, a wardrobe, a bowl of water, a stoat sitting on a chair beside the bed, some nice curtains.

“You’re awake!” Marek cried happily. Jala nodded. Halfway through the action she remembered her wounds and expected the sharp stab of pain – but none came. She lifted the bedcovers and took an appraising look at herself. As expected, bandages everywhere – but the dressings were clean, no sign of blood.

“How long did I sleep?” She asked. Marek looked uncomfortable.

“Er-“

“You slept fitfully, Jala,” said Kru, “for the Bastard Sword cuts deeper than flesh.”

Jala jumped. The Star Witch had appeared from nowhere, in her damnably sorcerous way.

“Don’t do that,” she said sternly. Kru smiled.

“I’m glad you’re recovering your strength. You’re going to need it. The journey south will-“

“How long did I sleep?”

“You have been out of action for almost a week, madam warrior,” said Calathor, stepping out of a shadowy corner that Jala was certain he hadn’t been standing in just moments before.

“Gods, I wish you mages would walk about and open doors like normal people,” Jala grumbled.

“That wouldn’t be much fun, would it?” asked her erstwhile companion the Guildmeister from her bedside. She glowered at him. “In fairness, I came in the window while you were looking at Calathor just now.”

“Lovely,” she replied, voice dripping with sarcasm. “Anyone else planning on materialising in front of me? Is the turnip man going to pop out of the wardrobe at me next?”

There was an uncomfortable silence. Mark cleared his stoaty throat.

“Erm, are you sure you’re up for a long trip, Jala?” he asked. Jala sighed.

“He wasn’t a real turnip man, he was only dressed as- look, never mind. I feel fine.” To demonstrate this, she climbed from her bed and fell onto her face. “Mfee? Mfine,” she said into the carpet.

The Guildmeister helped her to her feet.

“You’ll be right as the proverbial rain in a few hours once you’ve had a good stretch,” he said. He rested his hand lightly on her shoulder. She shrugged it off.

“What is our plan?” she asked. “I trust things have been set in motion as I lay in recovery?”

Kru nodded.

“We join a southward-bound merchant caravan in three days. It will take us as far as Alkathum, the Ghormish capital. From there, we strike out to the Gash and beyond. My suggestion is that we hire a guide and a mercenary or two on our arrival in the city.”

Wonderful. Another city. A desert one this time – in addition to bustling crowds and noise and stink, Jala would have to put up with oppressive heat and choking dust. Still, it would be worth it. Worth it to squeeze information from Magebane. Worth it to get closer to this Whelpslayer and avenge Freya’s village. Worth it for other reasons, the calm cool voice from days ago suggested…

She shook herself. “A good plan,” she said. “When you say ‘we’ join the caravan…?”. Kru smiled.

“Well I would hardly let you journey alone, would I? Certainly my city needs me, but the stakes are higher than we ever thought they could be. This Whelpslayer … well. Let us suffice to say he has delusions of grandeur, but also the ruthlessness and drive to achieve his ambitions if left unchecked. As for the rest of us, well, I can’t speak for Marek-“

“You can if you say ‘Marek will be coming with us,'” said Marek.

“Apparently I can speak for Marek. Marek will be coming with us, of course. We would do well to have a representative of this guild…” at this she glared at Calathor and the Guildmeister, who both had the good grace to look uncomfortable. Jala got the impression this had been an argument that had lasted over the days she’d been out.

“Er, well, lots of things to do-“

“Grave goings-on afoot-“

“-rebuild the city-“

“-arcane mysteries and such-“

“-got to weed out Magebane’s supporters, very political stuff-“

Jala sighed and grabbed the Guildmeister’s collar.

“You,” she said. “You’re with us.”

The Guildmeister looked unhappy for a moment, then his face went blank. Jala wondered idly where his mind went to when he did this, then found she didn’t care. She poked him in the belly.

“Oi,” she said. “I said you’re with us … er … I don’t think I caught your name,” she finished lamely. The Guildmeister returned to the physical plane with a bump.

“I don’t think I dropped it,” he said. “My name… is unimportant.”

“No it’s not,” said Marek, “we can’t call you ‘Oi’ or ‘that fellow with the noisy cloak’ can we?”. The meister sighed.

“Very well,” he said. “There are some who call me … Tim.”

“Tim.” Jala said flatly. Tim looked embarrassed.

“It’s short for Timammon, and it doesn’t do a lot to help cultivate the air of mystery that a competent Sablemagus needs to project so I’d rather we just dropped it or changed the subject, ok?” he answered hotly. Jala shrugged.

“Very well, Tim, as you wish.”

“ANYWAY” Kru interrupted loudly, “I think we should let Jala get her rest. We have many preparations to make for the journey.”

Jala, suddenly tired, nodded. It would be a long journey, no doubt fraught with peril. They all seemed to be. The world was growing ever bigger, and the threats it held grew bigger to match. She only hoped she was up to the challenge.

*

They made their way to the caravan offices on the night of the third day. The caravan was due to set off long after the sun had set. Apparently this was the best way to travel through a desert, and the caravan master liked to set the sleeping pattern from the outset of the journey. It made no difference to Jala whether she slept when the sun did or with moon. Her blade would be ready.

The caravan was taking them on as both passengers and guards. A reasonable rate was agreed, and once the caravan master met Jala he agreed that she was certainly at least as capable as his own guards. They outfitted her with a new sword, a clumsy weapon but one that would do the job. The Bastard Sword made them nervous, and she could hardly disagree with them. She kept it wrapped in furs with her personal possessions. She knew she would use it again, when the time was right.

The caravan was a series of small wagons and several laden down beasts of burden. These were the strangest creatures Jala had ever set eyes on, and she’d once seen a Frost Hare with three ears. They were coarse, lumpy and misshapen, with saddles crammed between their back bulges and an offensive odour that followed them like a cloud. They eyed her viciously and spat in her direction.

“What in all the hells are those things?” she asked a passing young merchant. He pushed his spectacles up his nose and squinted through them at her.

“What, the camels? They’re … um … well, they’re camels.”

“Camels? Will we not be travelling by horse?”

The young man laughed. “Well, we could do,” he said, “but they’d all be dead by the time we got there. Horses from these parts don’t fare well in the desert.” He shoved his hand out at her. “I’m Hervel.”

Jala stared at his hand.

“Jala,” she said, turning back to the camels. Hervel dropped his hand awkwardly.

“So,” he said.

“So.”

“First time with a caravan?” he said? Jala nodded. “It’s my second run, to Ghorm at least. I must say, I’m glad you and your companions seem like the sort who can handle themselves. On the last journey, we were set upon by giant scorpions, lost two wagons to quicksand and were attacked by a marauding raider party. It’s a tough run.”

Jala sighed.

“Of course it is,” she said, feeling an uncharacteristic tiredness and heaviness in her limbs. “We wouldn’t be doing it otherwise. Sometimes it seems my whole life is a series of choices, each resulting in more violence and bloodshed than the last. I set out to seek my destiny, now I wonder if it is simply to be a lightning rod for danger.”

Hervel said nothing, but he took out a book and started scribbling in it.

“What are you doing?” she asked warily.

“Just getting that down, it’s gold!” he said happily. “The readers will love it. Don’t worry, I’ll credit you properly. Is it ‘Jala’ with one ‘l’ or two? Any apostrophes?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Well, I suppose I didn’t introduce myself properly. Hervel Macaloon, roving journalist and cataloguer of adventure and derring-doo. The readers of the Stellastelathororn Chronicle just lap it up. Live vicariously through the peril of others and all that. Where are you from?” he asked abruptly.

“From? I am from the tribes in the mountains to the far North, beyond-“

“Oooh, a barbarian warrior!” he cooed. “As strong as she is beautiful, as cold as her homeland. She is the wielder of the Bastard Sword, she is the slayer of Magebane. She is vengeance, she is death! Ah, it’s too superb!”

“How did you-“

“Please! Oh, please, Jala, would you let me … interview you?”

“What?”

“Over the course of the journey? It’d be a character piece, a human interest piece. What spurs the noble warrior to leave her homeland, righting wrongs, avenging deaths? It’d be beautiful, I’d write it beautifully for you, it’d be my best work. Oh say you will!”

His face shone with youthful excitement and fervour, his grin almost wider than his head. He seemed so earnest, so young, so like another companion she’d once had.

How could she say no?

23 - Cooler Heads Prevail

The poll closed on Sunday 25th of May. If you cannot see a poll above, please try a different browser or enable cookies. If problems still persist seek out any local priests, shamans, hermits or holy (wo)men and enquire as to whether you have recently offended any gods, deities or major spirit world entities.

Forewarned is Forearmed

“Know your enemy.” It is a saying as old as the hills, assuming we’re talking about some hills in an area of high geological instability. (Seriously, hills are surprisingly old.) After all, how can you defeat that which you do not understand? You need to know how your enemy thinks, you need to be able to know how they’ll act, how they’ll respond, what they’ll do. Then, and only then, can you attack their weak point for massive damage. It is a fact known to all followers of the art of war.

22 - Death DrivesAnd Jala is no feckless dilettante or weekend warrior. She’s made of tough stuff and know that a wise warrior arms herself with knowledge as well as steel. Whoever said “words will never hurt me” clearly wasn’t using them right. So Jala will seek out the dark knowledge of the Heldrakai Necromancers.

The next instalment of our adventure arrives on the 19th of May and comes from the pen of Sam Kurd. He knows things. Terrible things. We should probably kill him before it’s too late. That’s if it’s not too late already…

Magebane Must Die

And thus ends our two-part special. The climactic conclusion of Jala’s showdown with Magebane, the mysterious swordswoman who seems to be behind so much of the ill that is blighting the northern lands. But despite her prowess Magebane proved to be no match for the towering inferno of Jala’s rage. Now Magebane lies bloodied and broken on the floor of the great hall of Castle Solaris and entirely at Jala’s mercy. Judgement is coming, justice shall be meted out, an end will be made.

21 - Memories

Our next instalment will be unleashed into the wild and untamed lands of the internet on Monday the 5th of May. The next portion of our tale will spring forth from the mouth of James of Clayton, the Dreadest of all Dread Warlocks. From the untamed void he will use his dark eldritch magics to conjure forth words that will cut through your mind like a hot knife through butter. His telling will scar itself onto your very soul, marking you until the very end of your days.

This will be a lot more fun than it actually sounds. See you next Monday.

Part 21 – Memories

The snow fell softly, drifting lazily through the crisp mountain air before settling to the ground with nary a sound. Deep within an ancient forest, at the edge of a frozen tarn, a young girl plays around a roaring fire. In her hands she wields a thin branch, with it she slices at the falling snow. Her wild cuts fill this soft and muted world with sharp chorus of thwip, thwip, thwip. The thwips are interrupted by the crunching sound of footsteps. The girl turns towards the approaching sound and sees a woman emerging from the trees. The woman carries something over her shoulder.

“Mummy! Mummy!” The girl shouted running towards her “You were gone for ever!”

With a grunt, the mother heaved a mass of fur and blood from her shoulder, letting it land with a flumph in the soft snow.

“I ran into a very uncooperative boar.” She replied “Come on, give mummy a hug.”

The girl and her mother embraced, squeezing tight, not wanting to let go.

“Mummy?” the girl asked “Why are you shaking?”

“Things got a bit hairy towards the end love. The brute almost got me.”

“But you won in the end Mummy, because you’re the best.”

The mother smiled weakly.

“If only that was enough to see me right. Sit, it’s time I dispensed some of that sage, motherly advice that the elders are so found of.”

The girl sat herself by the fire and pulled her knees up under her chin.

“A fact which all hunters should be aware of is that there is nothing more dangerous than a cornered animal. Now some animals are always dangerous. An ice serpent, for example, is always going to be trouble. Fangs as long as your arm and scales like iron, if it’s at all humanly possible you avoid them like the plague. Because like as not, they’ll tear you to pieces no matter what. Now most animals aren’t like that, not until you force them into a corner and don’t give them a way out. Then something snaps inside their heads. When the threat of death closes in, even the most placid of deer will change into a wild and furious monster. If they’re staring death in the face, fighting wild and crazy makes a sort of sense. Chances are they’ll die anyway, but if they’re lucky they might take someone down with them, maybe they’ll even escape. The important thing to remember is when they’re in that position, they don’t have anything to lose. Do you understand?”

The young girl nodded.

“Now that little nugget of wisdom isn’t just a warning, it’s advice. Because it’s not just animals who get like that, people do too. One day you’ll find yourself with your back against the wall, with nowhere to run and no way out. When you’ve taken a good old-fashioned lumping and you’re out of options, you’re allowed to go a little bit mad, you’re allowed to take the big risks and do the stupid things. It’s important that you go down swinging. But fighting alone might not always be enough to see you right. You’ve got to reach deep inside yourself and grab hold of your anger. Now just hanging onto your rage isn’t going to be good enough. Anger is like a wild horse; sure, you might hang on for a while, but soon enough you’ll get thrown and like as not you’ll wind up dead. You’ve got to have the strength not just to hold your anger, but to wield it. For rage is a weapon that burns both hot and cold, it is the greatest of all blades and naught is proof against its edge. You wield that anger right and it’ll make a sword look like nothing more than a stick.”

“Wow…” whispered the girl.

“Now I want you to make me a promise” said her mother.

“What?” asked the girl.

“Promise me you’ll always go down swinging. Promise me that when the time comes you’ll take as many of your rat bastard foes as you can into the cold embrace of death.”

The young girl was silent, unnerved by her mother’s request.

“Promise me Jala! Never give up, never surrender!”

*

Frozen Tarn

Stinging flashes of pain began to rouse Jala from the blackness which had swallowed her. As she returned to consciousness Jala could feel a burning in her cheeks, a burning which was quickly followed by a hard slap to the face. Her fingers tightened around the totem within her pouch.

“Wake up you bitch. I want to see the life leave your eyes when I kill you!”

The voice sounded familiar to Jala, but she couldn’t quite place who it was, nor why she instinctively felt such malice toward its owner. Something had happened between the two of them. A disagreement? An argument? No, it had been a fight. That would explain why so much of her body hurt. She felt groggy, unsure of where she was or what had brought her to be here. Her mother’s voice still rattled around her brain never give up, never surrender. Jala was sure there was a reason why they had sprung to mind, why those words were important. More slaps assailed her face.

“Wake up! WAKE UP!” The screaming continued “No one defies Magebane!”

Magebane… the name struck a chord somewhere within Jala’s mind. A single clear, ringing bell that banished the fug and confusion. In an instant everything came rushing back. Stellastelathororn, Castle Solaris, Magebane, the fight, her fall; clarity and context. Go down swinging.

Jala’s eyes snapped open and gazed straight at the ruined face of her opponent. In one smooth motion she ripped her hand from the pouch on her belt, her totem still tightly grasped, and plunged it into Magebane’s thigh. Nearly a foot of razor-sharp ivory pierced through the flesh and muscle and out the other side. Jala wrenched it free from her enemy’s leg, leaving a ragged, red hole. Magebane howled, staggering backwards, her hands trying in vain the stem the flow of blood from the wound.

Jala’s arm slumped back to the ground, the ice serpent fang falling from her hand with a clatter. She let out a short laugh that quickly became a wet sounding cough.

“No one puts Jala in a corner and gets away with it.” She whispered.

Magebane continued to wail and moan as Jala began to slip back into unconsciousness. Sure, Magebane could still kill her easy enough, but now there was at least the chance that she might not see out the night, at the very least she’d never walk properly again. Jala could live with that. No one could argue that she hadn’t gone down swinging. One last surge of effort to drag her foe down with her, and now she was spent. She felt tired, so very tired. She just wanted to close her eyes and let sleep wash over her.

She could still hear her mother’s voice, an unending litany of “Never give up, never surrender.” But the voice grew quieter with each passing moment. Jala felt cold, as if lying in a snow drift, with hoarfrost or soft rime forming on her skin and armour. She let out a long rattling breath and she could have sworn it fogged the air as it left her lips. Her mother’s voice started to sound different; younger, much younger, like the voice of a girl. An echoing and distant voice, as if shouting up from the bottom of a deep well. The voice began to grow in strength as the chill deepened. Then the words changed. Gone was the previous litany. The platitude gave way to simple instruction.

“Get up!” it shouted “Get up Jala! You have to fight!” The words filled her blood with white fire, an icy chill of rage and a keening wail for justice.

The voice sounded like Freya’s…

*

The words rolled her to the side like unseen hands, just as Magebane’s sword hit the flagstones with a harsh clang. The words dragged Jala to her feet. A vital force seeming to flow through every inch of her being. Gone was the confusion, the lethargy and the waiting for death. Even the hot, wild rage had left Jala, what dwelt within her now was something sharp and calm, a murderous and clinical hatred.

Magebane turned sluggishly towards Jala, her face pallid and drawn, her breathing slow and heavy. She limped towards Jala, dismay writ large upon her battleworn face. She swung at Jala with a sluggish, almost languid, lateral stroke. It was a clumsy and imprecise attack born more out of desperation and despair than anything else.

Jala stepped inside Magebane’s guard before the blow had chance to land. She moved in close, almost as if to embrace her foe. Instead, she dislocated the shoulder of Magebane’s sword arm. The sword fell from Magebane’s hand, her mouth held wide for a scream that couldn’t quite bring itself to arrive. With her foe now disarmed, Jala grabbed Magbane and tossed her to the ground like a farm hand would toss a sack of potatoes. The once proud and mighty tyrant hit the ground without grace or dignity. With both one arm and one leg rendered useless, she lay on her back unable to right herself, gasping like a landed fish. Against all odds, the proud and mighty Magebane had fallen.

Jala towered over Magebane’s prone and vulnerable form, standing tall and strong. She was, in this moment, wrought from Old Stone quarried from the roots of mountains; hard, immovable, unyielding; a titanic weight pushing down on the skin of the world. The heady thrill of victory had not yet set in. Jala was still in the thrall of the fight, for though the outcome now seemed a foregone conclusion, the fight was not yet over. Even on the cusp of victory things could change, a certain thing could disappear in a puff of smoke just before you could grab hold of it. The very same thing had after all happened to Magebane mere moments ago. Jala clenched her fists till her knuckles turned white. The cold hate within her was warming quickly, warming into a simmering rage that threatened to boil over at any moment and swamp reason and logic beneath a red tide of vengeance and retribution.

Magebane lay at Jala’s mercy. It would be so very easy to put an end to her plans and schemes and general all-purpose maleficences. One quick thrust and it would be over. Freya, her family and all who had been lost in the village would be avenged, justice would be had. It would be easy, but would it be right? The notion warred within Jala. As much as she wished to enact her own justice in Freya’s name, there were surely others who had been wronged. Others whom Magebane had made suffer, those weighed down by the yoke of her tyranny, those laid low by her cruelty, and those murdered for her own desires. The Sablemagus Guild had bled at Magebane’s hand, that much she knew, and so surely had so many others in the city. Was it right for Jala to take vengeance away from them, just to slake her own thirst? A choice was to be made.

21 - Memories

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