Lava Troll Fluff
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Listen carefully son, for my days on Immoren are nearly spent. What I tell you, you may not believe - but you must always remember! There will come a time when you will pass it on to your sons. Do not speak freely of it, for it means a swift death by imperial hands.
In a different age, when I was merely a youth, we sailed the HMS Eagle on the northern ocean in search of longbacks. You will find no record of this ship, but her skeleton still lays in the northeastern corner of the bay. Even in these days, the longbacks were rare and difficult to find. The oil distilled from even one would make the captain a rich man and we would have enough food to last the winter. The old witch told that fool of a man that his fortune would be made in the north, so north we sailed – further than any map I have laid eyes on.
The oceans were rough and the temperature was colder than the dark night that descends after the winter solstice, even though it was only spring. We saw mountains of ice floating in the water, a silent testament that we had sailed too far. Flightless birds made their homes on these sea mountains in the thousands. When we approached too close, their squawking shattered the silence.
… already you look at me in disbelief, but these wonders are only the beginning…
North we sailed until a dense fog obscured everything from sight. Our lookout called into the fog at regular intervals, listening for an echo. On the third day, we heard the echo … land! When we saw it first, we believed it to be a large sea mountain spanning miles in every direction. As we drew closer, we realized this was not ice, but a black rock, whose surface was polished to a brilliant sheen. Although we did not know it yet, this son, is where the sea of liquid rock meets the waters of the great northern ocean. Rumors of its existence can be found in the ancient lore of our ancestors, but it is no fable. It is real son, but you must never speak of it! They will hunt you and they will kill you!
My time dwindles and you may think my mind has already left Immoren for the halls of our ancestors. … no matter, when I finally pass you take what is in the chest under my bed to the old crone that lives at the edge of the woods. Show her the black ice!
… so passed my father from this world – rambling, feverish … he was no sailor, just a simple farmer with an odd polished black stone. Delusions of sea mountains, ships that do not exist, and flightless birds occupied his last moments; how quickly the mind decays from the red fever.
The hiss of the steam exhaust from trenching jack snapped me out of my ruminations and signaled that the deed was complete. Father’s grave had final been dug. I had to resort to hiring a trenching jack to use as a gravedigger, for the ground during this time of year was frozen solid and no amount of digging, even by a trollkin, could break apart the earth. Few came to the burial, fearful of the red fever that had claimed my father’s life. It was only me, a few old men who knew my father in a bygone era, the trenching jack, and a young immigrant, clearly of Cygnarian descent though he tried very hard to hide it, who owned the jack. There was no ceremony, the goodbyes that needed to be said had already passed between us prior to the onset of the madness. Yet, I could not bring myself to leave father’s freshly dug grave. I stood there for what must have been hours, fiddling with father’s stone in my pocket, thinking.
“Gale!” … the sound of my name brought my thoughts back to the present.
“You will quickly join your father standing out in the cold like this!” concern marked Marianna’s face as she yelled from her second story window overlooking the paltry lot that doubled as a cemetery in our village. She was right, of course. The Khadoran winter is fickle and cruel. I quickly nodded and took my first steps away from the grave, but my feet did not direct me to our cottage near the docks. I wandered with no particular destination in mind. I had to keep moving to avoid freezing to death.
As I walked I recalled all the good times I had spent with my father. When I was just a boy he had taught me to hunt and track in the taiga. That fall we had brought down a winter argus together. I had heard stories of the two headed wolves that stalk the northern forests, but I never believed them to be true. I remember the two headed wolf had an odd energy surrounding him, the kill was exhilarating, but it never seemed quite right. I never did find out how my father knew the beast’s name, for in our native Kossite they were called “wiedzimin”, or ghost stalkers. The wolf’s pelt had yielded quite the sum of gold at the market, more than we had expected. Some hooded traveler from the South, had purchased it and held the pelt with an air of reverence. We never did catch his name … its odd how the mind focuses on details seemingly long forgotten at times like these.
Wolves, two head ones at that, I can hear their baying. I realize that my aimless wandering had taken me out of our village and to the foot of the pine forest. From my vantage point on the slight hill, if you can even call it that, at the outskirts of the forest I can see the entirety of the village. Interesting, I spot a Khadoran military caravan on the southern road. Two score foot soldiers, winter guard probably, but I cannot place their uniforms from this distance, a heavy warjack leaving a trail of billowing black smoke that must be visible for miles, and three wagons make up this military contingent. One of the wagons is apparently heavily armored and has cannons. Those fools will mount a cannon on anything that will bear its weight. It's a silly sight; that armored wagon looks like it will fall over if it were to make use of its artillery. I shake my head and carry on with my wanderings. Nothing good ever occurs when the Khadoran military shows up. We may be part of the nation, but our elders still recall the times of Kossite glory.
Last edited by zreef; 03-26-2012 at 07:29 PM.
Wandering while pondering my past has taken me close to where the old crone my father spoke of makes her home. I reach into my pocket and run my fingers over the black stone. As long as I had made it this far, I might as well respect my father’s dying wish, even if it was made under the bewildering effects of the red fever. I walk along the ridge of the hill toward an old hut from which small wisps of smoke rise. Good, that means the crone will be home and not out wandering the pine forest for herbs, berries, and rare bark. Even in the Khadoran winter, that crone manages to survive and with uncanny luck find useful sustenance in the forest. The farmers in the village below attribute this to witch craft, but any tracker knows that experience in the forest makes the difference between survival and going hungry.
In the village below I see the military contingent start to gather the farmers. Looks like there will be some official announcement. Probably a great victory in Llael or against those Cygnarian warmongers – that or some new tax. Its always victories and taxes with the imperial army as both yield new recruits for the war efforts. Victories always inspire the young and brash, those hungering for glory and fame. Here on Kossite land, our Khadoran pride is a bit more tenuous. That means taxes. I will worry about that later, time to get rid of this stone and put my father’s spirit to rest.
I approach the hut and begin to yell for the crone, but I realize that I do not even know her name. The sound that escapes my lips is an awkward mumble, which elicits a hoarse chuckle from the occupant of the hut.
“Has my beauty befuddled your mind boy?” the crone asks as she steps out of her home.
She is old, but precisely how old I do not know. As far as I can remember she has always been old. She is dressed in aged rags and a cloak made of wolf hide that casts an unusually dark shadow across her wrinkled face. She uses a cane, made from an old, gnarled root of a species of tree I have never seen in person, to keep herself steady. She moves slowly, but with a purpose. Grabbing my hand with a firm grip, she pulls me toward the hut.
“Come boy, let us not spend more time out in the cold than we have to or the cold will be the death of us.”
I let her lead me inside her meager dwelling. There is a fire pit in the center and a sleeping bundle to the right. The rest of the hut is taken up with rickety shelving housing all manners of jars and bundles of dried herbs. My eyes focus on a faint glimmer in one of the corners. I spot an intricate contraption made of gold. It looks ancient, older than the crone herself, and clearly not manufactured in the imperium. It looks heavy and must be worth a fortune.
“You couldn't lift it boy,” the old crone admonishes me.
I begin to protest that I am no thief, but as I turn to face her, my courage dwindles. She looks at me with her ice-blue eyes and stretches out her hand, waiting … waiting for my father’s stone. I instinctively reach into my pocket and pull forth that odd stone. Obsidian he called it. A name I had never heard before. Her eyes widen when she the firelight reflect off its black surface. I place it the palm of her hand, not knowing what to say. Her eyes close and she looks like she has drifted off into a deep slumber.
“The wrath of Dhunia is upon us child,” she says in soft motherly tone.
“The winds herald its coming, the oceans batter the land in a testament to its fury, and the flow of the earth has shifted in its wake … thus it was foretold and so it comes to pass. Manifest to one generation, judgment passed on the subsequent, and the reaping of the third.”
“You must go North! Find the lands surrounded by seas of liquid rock and abate the wrath of Dhunia!”
“It will keep you safe in your time of need, but now you must run,” she swiftly pushes the obsidian into my hand and shoves me out of the hut with the strength of a male trollkin in his prime.
My mind registers the searing pain in my shoulder even before I hear the report of the rifle. My hunter’s instincts take over as I frantically try to comprehend the situation. Gunfire in the distance, smoke from the village, three lone figures on the outskirts of the village heading in my direction – widowmakers, no one else could make such a shot at this distance. I race for the tree line, it’s my only hope.
The earth explodes around me; my body feels weightless. Flight – it is a serene feeling – gliding through the air. Time seems to slow and my eyes focus on the sun. It is a beautiful day, cold – its always cold this time of year – but beautiful. There is a soft ringing in my ears … it is getting louder! Panic sets in as I feel myself falling. All the air is forcibly expelled form my lungs as my body impacts the frozen earth. I find myself struggling to breathe looking at a massive smoldering crater. Just beyond the gaping hole in the earth I see the old crone chanting and waving her cane.
Magic surrounds me. Air rapidly fills my lungs and I am saturated with renewed vigor as the spell ebbs and flows through me. The wound I sustained on my shoulder repairs itself and the disorientation from the artillery blast ceases. I am finally able to gather my bearings and take stock of the situation. My senses are heightened from the magic that the crone forced into me, allowing me to see and hear further than any human should. The village is in absolute chaos; most are dead, a few are fighting back. It will not last long. The heavy warjack obliterates the wooden cottages with its axes. My home still stands, but at this rate not for long. With my augmented sight I can now see that the jack is a berserker, and by the looks of it an old one, possibly fifth generation or even earlier. Even from this distance I can hear the hiss of its steam powered pistons and the crash of splintered beams as it uses its massive bulk to walk through the local smithy. I am thankful that it muffles the sounds of the dying. We have a saying in our village: “In the south winters are white, in the north winters are red.” It seems to fit this day well and tomorrow will be heralded by a red dawn. A deep thud brings my focus back to more immediate threats. The armored wagon lumbers forward up the hill directly toward the crone’s hut, smoke billowing from its cannon. I have lost sight of the windowmakers, not a good sign.
“Run child!” the crone yells as the shell impacts and detonates against a glowing blue arcane shield.
I jump to my feet and take of at an unnatural speed toward the pine forest where I have hunted my entire life. I hear the distinct wiz and whine of the bullets before the report of the riffles – a good sign -- I must be at the limit of their range. The bullets impact a tree a few feet to my left sending splinters of bark and wood scattering in all directions. I spot an old game trail to my right and decide to follow it, hoping that the effects of the spell will last long enough to put some distance between myself and those widowmakers. The forest is thick enough that the wagon will not be able to follow.
Last edited by zreef; 03-26-2012 at 07:38 PM.
After covering a number of miles I veer off the game trail and start looking for a pine tree with densely packed branches. Rather quickly I find a tree that suits my needs and begin to climb. I need to be off the ground before nightfall to avoid predators and any potential pursuit. There is a secondary benefit to such a tree; the pine needles will protect me from the wind and with a little luck I will not freeze to death.
I climb up about 15 feet to avoid being spotted from the ground and find two sizeable branches I can use as a makeshift bed. I remove my belt and use it to secure myself to one of the branches. After my preparations are compete, I pull the obsidian stone from my pocket. It is a small wonder I did not lose it during the attack.
As I examine the stone, I ponder if the old crone survived the assault. I have a feeling she did, one way or another. It finally hits me that everyone I know form my village is probably now dead, executed by the military. With the adrenaline gone I am left with only anger and sadness. Why did they attack our village? We paid the taxes and never outwardly defied the regime. We are too remote of a village to be used as an example to others in the empire. That Cygnarian immigrant from which I hired the trenching jack, could he have been a spy, or suspected spy? I wipe the sweat off my brow as I ponder the reasons for the senseless violence against my village. Sweat? When it is this cold? I notice that I am unnaturally warm. I look down and realize I am gripping the obsidian with all my strength and it seems to channeling my rage and grief into heat?!
A rustle, only a short distance off, snaps me back to reality – I am being hunted. How much time has passed while I was lost in my grief? I undo the belt that secures me to one of the branches of my makeshift shelter and place the obsidian back into my pocket. Through the branches of the pine tree I see a Kossite tracker. He motions to someone and keeps moving. If he tracked me this far, it won’t take long for him to figure out where I am. I draw my hunting knife in preparation, it's the only weapon I have.
The three widowmakers pass below my tree, each about ten feet from the other, their guns at the ready. I make my move as the third one pass underneath me. I drop down behind the last widowmaker and in one swift motion my left hand wraps around his mouth pulling his head back to expose his throat. With my right hand I slit his throat. Too much noise – from the periphery of my vision I see the other two widowmakers begin to turn around, the closer with his gun raised and taking aim. I do not have much time; I flip up my knife so I am holding it by the blade and throw at his center of mass. I prop up the slowly dying man in my arms as a shield. I feel the impact of the bullet, but no pain. The second shot never comes. The only sound in the taiga is the screaming man crumpled on the forest floor a few feet away from me – my knife found its mark.
I look to see what happened to the last widowmaker, letting the now dead man in my arms slump to the ground. My arms are completely covered in blood, which is steaming in this temperature. To my surprise I see the Kossite tracker casually removing his heavy throwing axe from the dead Khadoran riffleman’s back.
“I was hoping you would take your revenge on the Imperial army, “ he states while wiping the gore off his axed. He walks up to the screaming man writhing in agony and releases him from his misery in one stroke of his axe. He pulls my knife free from his bowels and tosses it at my feet. Pity, I would have liked to ask him some questions about the slaughtering of my village and let him suffer a bit more.
“So you knew I was up in that tree,” I ask my fellow Kossite.
“That's right,” he responds without bothering to look at me. He begins to pick over the man he just killed, looking for anything of value.
“My name is Gale, do you know why they attacked our village?”
“I had no idea they were going to slaughter the village. They hired me on to track fugitives from the law. I am from Khazat, about 30 miles to the southeast. If you didn't kill these three, I would have taken them further into the woods and then made sure to lose them. They would have been dead by daybreak. The imperium cannot kill our people whenever they see fit, “ I sense the anger inside him rising. It could have just as easily been his village, his family, and his friends.
“They call me Yuri,” he says as he cuts a golden tooth from one of the bodies. “Now let us go kill the rest of them,” he exclaims and throws one of the rifles to me. “I presume you know how to use one of these?”
I snatch the rifle before it hits the ground. “Absolutely,” I respond as I chamber a round. I grab the rifle from the body at my feat and check to see if it is loaded. I will be able to fire two shots in rapid succession, before having to reload. We quickly strip the bodies of ammunition and provision in the dwindling daylight and begin our trek back to the village.