An excerpt from the journal of Orman Ras….

Year Four: Greenbelt

Well….interesting times, interesting times indeed….

Upon our defeat of the Sepoko Bullywugs, we harvested the heart of their leader as instructed by “our” Bullywug. A ceremony was begun in which the heart would be eaten – a ritual of assuming a leadership role – which felt normal to me for some reason. I was offered to take a bite and suddenly became ravenous. If not for the swift action of the frog-man – I would have consumed the entire heart by myself. I chewed the hard muscle and experienced a series of flashes…almost like memories…

You see an army in front of you in the distance, too far to make out the enemy, but their army is huge stretching miles across and deep, extending to the horizon in every direction. The ground is broken and covered in blood and pitted iron. You look to your left and right. To your right is a gaunt creature with the head of a jackal and clear, jagged teeth. He rides astride a weary looking horse whose ribs stand out. To your immediate left is a writhing creature oozing green ichor. He rides a massive quadruped, shaped like a horse but covered in mottled green plates like an insect. To your far left is a tall man carrying a dim lantern in his left hand and a massive scythe in the other. His horse is skeletal and the bones are covered in onyx runs. The one on the far right speaks in a deep tone, “This is your domain, lead our armies, bring their soldiers to me, to cross my dark waters”.

You see lovers in the throws of passion, gripping each other. As you look closer you see that the woman has deep black wings and her lover seems bound. Shackles bind his ankles and wrists. Even so bound he tosses her across the room before they rejoin in a lustful embrace.

You see a woman cut, slicing herself across her abdomen.

You see a woman command a massive dragon, his black horns and scales make it difficult to see his jet black pupils. At her command the creature bends down and stands motionless as she opens its gut secreting a creature inside. With a word, the dragon heals. She commands it again. It takes flight. The memories fade as a voice speaks, each word sounds like it is spoken amongst a clash of arms. The voice is outraged.__

Three times you have turned down a crown. The first time, I thought it was because the tribe was too small, made up of creatures too base to be worth its while. The second time, I thought you were merely being politic, playing allies against each other, merely postponing your rise as king. I saw your father in you as you were raised to a position of power, the power in the darkness. *I relished your defeat of Charon’s servant. Like Charon, his servant had thought too much of himself, grown accustomed to a position of power that was not due to him. You slew him and drew Charon’s ire. But he knew he could not act. He knows that he cannot touch my son. And if he knew who your father was, he would shake in terror.
Then I saw my own nature reflected in you. Your spells turned the tide as you repelled the barbarian horde. I knew the pride of a mother. *

But now you have turned down another kingdom. The Bullywugs were weak, it is to be sure, but no weaker than humans. With you at their head, they could be fashioned into an army. Do you think I would not come to your aid. Have you forgotten who you are? Have you forgotten who your father is? Have you forgotten your role in this world? You must rule, you must lead, you must kill in battle, you must spread misery, you must prepare the land for return of he who has not walked the planes for aeons. *

All that – in just a few seconds.

My mind reeled – not sure what to believe. I spent a few days letting the information sink in. One of my parents was War, one of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. I spent a few days anticipating the delicious carnage which would be my destiny, the comfort of knowing I had a powerful parent – if not a god, something akin to it – who would support me in the destruction of my enemies, who would protect and aid me versus those who foolishly dared deny me…only to swing over to moments of clarity when I feared for my soul. (But then again – did I even have one?) After all, are not the Horsemen dedicated to end of everything?

Ignorant thing that I am – I recalled vaguely that that War was a man who rode a red horse with angry eyes of fire. I proceed to get an elaborate tattoo of a red horse on my back. (It was only a few days later when I discovered I was grossly mistaken.)

I choose not to share this insight with my allies at first. I feared they would try to kill me. I also feared that if I was harmed they would call vengeance upon themselves from powerful forces. I contemplated leaving the party and accepting my fate. I decided to wait – until a week or two after the wedding. I drank and entertained myself in various ways and avoided thinking of the matter.

A few days later – the Summoner that has plagued us from time to time – attacked us. It was a difficult battle – he was immune to most of my spells and his “pet” was…impressive. I was thrilled to use my new spell to clip its wings – anytime I can kill a bird pleases me greatly. Finally, in time, our enemies were slain.

The Summoner was brought back to life in his natural gnome state. I expected a sad and sentimental reunion between father and son (Venrick). Instead our king quietly and calmly questioned his father and explained he had a lot to answer for, much to do to make up for all the evil he had done. His father – who had lost his wife and his life quietly listened to his son and agreed. There was no disrespect or judgment from the son, no excuses or explanations from the father. Bur rather a strong sense of honor, integrity and responsibility. It made sense of course – the son learned from the father – so what may have seemed strange or off emotionally to us made perfect sense to them. We had chosen wisely – making this “silly” little creature king. But if the son is the product of the father – what did that say about me? Just moments earlier I had attempted to eat the heart of the defeated Summoner and was annoyed when Venrick had stopped me. I feared that I would have to leave my companions…and soon.

It was decided that we would finally rescue the loved ones of the woman who warned us of a recent attack of our kingdom. After some difficultly we managed to have an idea of where they were: Drelev Keep.

After a recon by Derrick and Sam (they actually managed to spend time in a house of ill repute and not enjoy themselves with a woman!) – it was decided to gain entrance to the tower by posing as a traveling troop of entertainers. (I would be a Wizard of course.)

It was also decided to gather some sort of gift to sweeten the way in. “Windchaser” – a renown “wild” horse appeared to fit the bill. Off we went and we quickly discovered the horse had been awakened and was the prior companion of Varn. A quick conversation with the horse made us ware of the following: Varn’s soul was still being held by Charon, that a soul held for one year becomes the “property” of the holder and Varrn had been dead for 11 months…

My friends decided that we would summon servants of Charon to begin a conversation for the soul of Varn. (I suspect if Venrick was around – we would not be summoning dark outsiders.) I tried to dissuade them at first – for my own protection and also because devil and demons are crafty and wind up getting the better end of the deal – always. But they were not to be persuaded.

Devon, who at times appears to know all things – did a bit of research and I learned the following: Szuriel – the black-winged woman with bleeding eyes and ragged teeth – is the Horseman of War. (Then who is my father? The one that if Charon knew who he was _would shake in terror?) _I felt like a fool for the Horse tattoo and wondered if I was more a pawn in dark dealings then a powerful demi-god in training. A few divination spells and it was decided that we would summon a servant of Szuriel. I could almost hear my mother laughing…

I finally shared my linage to my allies _ I could not risk the summoning without them knowing this. Rather than hate or disgust – there was acceptance. (Although Devon said he was “not ok with it” – he thought it would be a good idea to avoid eating hearts for a while.) Very strange…I suspect this is “friendship”, but part of me wonders if this is not foolishness on our part.

The circle was created, the spell was cast….and to our surprise – instead of a servant…there she was – Szuriel. I have to give my friends credit – they instantly knew the danger we were in and their faces paled as she casually wiped away the summons circle with her fingers. With a smile she said: “Really, if you wanted to talk to me child, you could have just called me.”

I had gone over this moment in my mind a couple of hundred times – pictured it as a solemn moment where I would renounce any chance of being a “good” person and proudly proclaim: “Hello Mother, I’m ready to begin the end of all that is, etc. etc…”

Instead, as if I were an embarrassed schoolboy, I took a step backwards, hung my head and said: “Hi Mom.”

She talked to us for no more then five minutes, with casual polite contempt – as if we were three little birds and she was a giant cat. Before we knew it, we agreed to surrender to her the Eye of Charon (She claimed she wanted it just to annoy Charon) and a particular sword – supposedly created or blessed by Gorum. Szuriel coyly said she wanted it only because the idea of a sword of some other god of war vexed her greatly…but she did let slip that the sword, along with the eye – could allow her to do something…

In exchange for those two items – she would get Varn’s soul away from Charon and save him from eternal damnation. But was this true? I am not sure she made any promise to free Varn’s soul – simply to take it away from Charon. A year from now, would Varn’s soul still be in her position? If I were her – having all the power in the negotiations – that’s what I would do. We asked for clarification and she replied with a wicked smile and a thinly veiled threat that it would be presumptuous to try to try to learn more.

We all agreed to the “deal” and she gave her word to keep up her end of the bargain. Would she? And if she did – wasn’t it in all in her favor? She teased me about how pretending to be a traveling entertainer was degrading to my linage and hinted that she wanted me to get the sword as it would be an asset to my “success”. I muttered that I would like to speak to her in the future. She said she would like that and with that was gone.

I shook my head and smiled. As the full weight of what I had learned and what we had agreed to sunk in – one thought played in my mind:

When Venrick got back and realized what we had done – there would be hell to pay.

Interesting times, interesting times indeed….


jtspalding swordandpaper

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