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Kiltayre: Session 19 review, part two

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Felghanis was hustling along through the snowstorm. The wind would have frozen their lips shut but Kalista’s spell protected them so well it felt like a cool autumn wind. Still, their visibility was cut severely by the heavy fall of wind driven snow, and what sounds they could hear were only from a few yards away. It was like the world had gone grey all about them even the colour of the sound had been washed out and lessened.

“Jonas is in the Sipran Keep. I just know it,” Felghanis said. “If you can Locate Object for a Ursa Bellor heraldry piece we’ll know.”

They debated briefly but Kalista did as Fel’ suggested.

“Odd. There’s one that way. On the other side of that mill, I guess.”

“It could be Thiridea.”

“It could be Jonas. They’re the only two with the Ursa Bellor heraldry who could be anywhere near here. So much for Jonas being in the Sipran Keep.”

Felghanis pushed the pace and the form of the keep loomed above them in the white-grey of the snowstorm. As soon as the young necromancer saw the path leading to the gatehouse he broke into a full run, but the path was treacherously icy and he slipped. It jarred his wrist but he stood up and pressed on. The others took it slower and safer.

The gates were open, it seemed to Fel, but as he closed to a distance where detail was apparent he realised the half a foot of oak was severed as if by a massive chopper; the wood might as well have been nothing more than straws of carrot. Guards lay about in pools of blood, their bodies cleaved open in a pile of still steaming innards, each looking like they were cut down in a single massive blow. When the others arrived at the gate Felghanis was already in the main hall; guards, men, maids and children were in blood-drenched piles.

Somewhere above an inhuman voice laughed, “This door will not stop me.”

“Coward!” Felghanis yelled in challenge, the most real feeling of anger he had sensed in years. He moved past the dead and saw bloody hoof prints led up the stairs. Don, Kalista, and the dwarves caught up to him.

A splintering sound echoed from above. Screams and the smashing of armour reached the party’s ears. Together they raced up the steps in time to see an onyx skinned figure draw its double handed sword from the body of a retainer.

It faced back towards them and laughed. “More to the slaughter. Kill everyone in the keep.” It began to rush forward.

Felghanis uttered the curse of Blindness but it seemed to shrug off the magic. Don’s dogs were invisible, they could smell the infernal stench of the creature, and even though scared the hounds leapt into the battle.

Kalista wavered in her resolve. This… fiend was responsible for all the carnage and now it was bearing down on them. It was so strong, its blade swung almost impossibly fast, and it tore their defences to shreds. Even Kellor’s normally stalwart shield-work was no match for its dusky great-sword.

“Coward?” It laughed mockingly, eyes on Felghanis, and slipped past Don’ to fell the necromancer in a single stroke. “You cannot prevail.” It laughed again, berating them with its amusement at their efforts.

They stabbed at it and the hounds bit its legs trying to pull it down. Too strong, too steady on its feet, shrugging off the dogs’ attempts neither of the hounds managed to upset its balance.

Don’s shield shattered and the female dog used its Dimension Door ability to avoid what would have been a lethal blow to its skull. Felghanis hit the demon with a Ray of Enfeeblement and it visibly sagged. Kalista’s summoned dire ape battered at the fiend with little effect until the demon dispatched the conjured creature with a rapid volley of slashes.

Kellor’s shield was shattered, the dwarf knocked prone, and then in a blink of the eye Don’ was disarmed then felled also.

“I’ve been so stupid,” Kalista admonished as she drew one of the oils of curing they had after bartering with Madam Lim. With a few well-placed lobs and one passed to Aenir Felghanis and Don’ were healed enough to fight back.

But it was not enough. Kellor was trying to fight from the ground, as was Felghanis, and suddenly Fionnghal used his Dimension Door to escape the battle.

Kalista screamed, “We must run!” But she had to heal her friends, or at least try.

Aenir tumbled along the wall and got to the animist mage’s side. “You’re right, girl. Can you stop it chasing us?”

“I might be able to,” Felghanis commenced the summoning of a powerful undead creature from the nether plane.

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Kiltayre: Session 14 (part 2)

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Felghanis stowed the book and with Herath at the lead they all headed back to the coast. As they travelled, slowly, Kellor got used to swinging his axe again for their firewood needs. The dwarf seemed happy to be useful again. Aenir and his battle-brother were in good spirits. May have been relief that they were still alive together.

With most of the day ahead of them they pushed as far as they dared whilst collecting wood. After setting camp Felghanis began deciphering the book. Kalista tried as well but she couldn’t make heads or tails of the writings. It may as well have been in ancient Lecorrean for her.

It was written in ancient Hrimpursar runes and the phrasing was esoteric since it described the Ritual of Fimbulwinter. The book revealed that the ritual also summoned a kind of dire elk that the Hrimpursar loved to hunt and eat. There were many other secrets in the book:

  • Hrimpursar claimed a right to blanket the land in winter.
  • This was the second of three books.
  • It described the ritual.
  • And how the ritual must be done at least 60feet from any tears of the elders. “There must be no regret or the ritual will fail.”
  • Each book could be used to find the others. It held a kind of empty “spell structure” that could be fuelled with any spell of the first tier. The heading and rough distance to the book being asked about would be given. However, this could only be used once per day.

In the morning they would have their energies returned enough that Kalista could cast the necessary spell into the book and determine where it may be. She gathered herself and charged the spell-structure. The sensation was wrong. It was like two shadows were competing for her attention and neither could be trusted. One sense was the book lay in Vrim. The other sense that it was in Stonecrest, or at least where the place was marked on Felghanis’ map. Confused she shared it with the others.

“We should go to Stonecrest,” Felghanis. “My uncle said they have a grand library.”

“The high plains are dangerous. Moreso than these woods,” Herath cautioned. “And far colder. It may not be possible to travel in the winter. Even the bison leave the high plains at this time.”

“But it’s not that far. We’ve been further. We can go back along the mountains’ foothills and cross to the high plains further west.”

“Vrim is far closer and Vrim will have hot food,” Don’ said.

Aenir and Kellor glanced about the party, “Vrim is so much closer. We should go there first.”

“If the book’s not there we can head to Stonecrest afterwards.”

Felghanis looked dismayed but said no more on the matter.

“Either way,” Kalista added diplomatically, “We still need to rest this night.”

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Kiltayre: Session 14 (part 1)

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The Scours were bound, including the werebear Thiridea, and Fel took Kallista aside.

“We bury them up to their necks and leave them in the snow.”

Kalista was shocked, “Torture them? Leave them to their death? No! I’m not doing such a heinous thing.”

Fel was momentarily silenced.

“Let us see if Kentos’ spirit will allow us to take the book,” Kalista changed the topic.

They walked through the barrow in the harsh white light of Kalista’s Lumos spell. Rough hewn stone all around and not one of the black smokey forms of the wraiths. Until they came to the chamber of the giant-slayer.

“You can take the book but touch nothing else,” said the spirit gravely. Its hand touching the long sword of bone at its hip.

They both nodded then edged into the room. Fel carefully picked his way around the spear that lay across the sarcophagus. It was a massive weapon. Fel could scarcely get his hand around the haft if he had tried and the blade was like a full bastard sword mounted on the end. It shed power and dim light but Fel was not tempted. He had no love of weaponry.

Touching the book the leather was soft and smooth. He eased it from the carved stone satchel of the ancient hero. In his hands it felt heavy but when he scanned it with Detect Magic there was no enchantments. The book was mundane, per se, even if it did contain a ritual of never-ending winter.

When Fel turned back to Kalista the wraith was gone and he felt an emotion being sent. Kalista seemed to be feeling something too. Thanks.

They left the barrow and met with Herath, Don and Aenir. Kellor was still unconscious and his face bloody.

“We have it so let’s set camp and so we can rest and read it,” Fel said.

“At least let us scout the are before we start that.” The shepherd boy said.

Herath nodded and they went together through the deep snow. They had gone perhaps 300 yards when to the south Don’ heard the rattle of armor. They stalked towards the sound and dropped behind a snow drift. Figures were probing the ice of a small lake. Six of them, four lean dark hobgoblins out front in light armor, and two hefty stout orks, Tharkhor, behind in sooty-grey half-plate.

“That’s not good,” Herath said.

They slinked back and ran to the others.

“Orks. Pack your things, we are leaving!” Herath said loudly.

Felghanis and Kalista bit back their fear. Both were spent of their magical energy and desperately needed to recoup before they could face orks. There was chaos as everyone ran about gathering their gear.

“Leave them for the orks,” Aenir said bitterly.

“No. We take them,” Kalista was emphatic. “I’ll not have their deaths at the hands of orks or Garren on my conscience.”

She knelt by Kellor. There was a scrap of mana left and she fuelled a healing spell with that last piece of soul-fire. He stirred but did not wake. The doughty dwarf’s skull was covered again on the left side but the ear was gone and it left a mass of scar-tissue.

Felghanis sighed but he had a plan. He touched the two prisoners, Goran the rapier wielder, and Frellan the ordained scour, dispelling the blindness curse he had laid on them.

“I can see. Please don’t leave us to die,” Goran pleaded.

“Why were you sent to the Barrow?” Fel demanded.

“To retrieve a book.” Goran’s answer was clearly sincere and on further questioning by Fel it was obvious he knew nothing of the nature of the book.

Fel’s heart softened at Goran’s naiveté. “Carry your wounded,” Felghanis ordered and he removed the bonds from their legs.

It was hard going in the snow, carrying unconscious bodies. Aenir had Kellor across his shoulders like a lumberjack had a log. Frellan and Felghanis carried the Thiridea. Whilst Goran lugged Willem, their hardy guisarme guard, in the same fashion as Aenir. Herath scouted ahead and picked a direction. His keen senses used to the wintery scape. Don’ covered their tracks away from the barrow. It was not worth the time to cover the battle but at least it would be harder for the orks to track them past the barrow.

They had gone quite a distance, perhaps a mile, when bellows and the clash of steel reached their ears. Everyone stopped and took heaving breaths. They felt safer knowing the orks had encountered something.

“It must be Garren on the warpath for revenge.” Donallhan’s voice had a creeping fear in its tone.

“Then let us put more distance between,” Herath called back.

So they did. Pushing their march, Herath led them back towards the coast. One less direction the Garren could approach from. However, the wind was bitter and icy so they kept within the tree line.

The camp was set and the fire kept as small as they dared. Herath and Don’ built up snow walls about their campsite. It would reflect a bit of heat and hopefully reduce the distance the fire could be seen from. Kellor, Thiridea and Willem were all still unconscious. Felghanis called everyone out of the camp.

“We bury them up their necks…” he began.

“No. I’m not doing that,” Kalista cut him off.

“At least we slay the werebear. I don’t want to fight her again,” Aenir was stern. “She can blink or teleport or whatever it’s called. As soon as she awakes she’ll be free whenever she chooses.”

“I had forgotten this,” Kalista murmured looking at her feet.

“We give them weapons and leave them to their fate, then. Right now,” Aenir went on. “By the time they’re all free we’ll be long gone.”

“Maybe,” Don’ said. “The priest, Frellan, he seemed more amiable than the others.”

“Yes, why don’t we bring him here and talk to him?” Kalista beamed.

Frellan stood in his bonds glancing about. He was a handsome man with a powerful natural presence. Everyone’s eyes kept falling on him and they didn’t even realise.

“Perhaps I can suggest something?” Frellan tested the waters after the party back-and-forth came to no resolution.

They looked on, listening.

“You leave us with one day of food each and leave right now. Thiridea will almost certainly want to pursue but with little food we’ll have to go back and retrieve our packs or starve. That should give you at least a two day head-start.”

“Still say we should cut her throat before she wakes up,” Aenir grumbled but he couldn’t meet Frellan’s eyes.

“Don’t kill her, please. You’ll have her superior, Jonas, come looking for you. He’s far more powerful. I can see you’re good folk. You don’t deserve the fate that Jonas would put on you if you killed Thiridea.

“Jonas, is he a werebear too?” Fel asked, a sneer creeping on to his face.

“They are from the chapter of Inquisition Exarcanum, called Ursa Bellor, the bears of war.”

Felghanis nodded. He had suspected as much but he didn’t know for sure until now.

“What are the duties of the Ursa Bellor?”

“They wage war on the foes of the Inquisition Exarcanum. Demons, necromancers, witches. Those who  use magic to corrupt or counter the Saint’s works, or threaten the faithful.”

It made sense to Fel that werebears were used in this chapter. Unwaveringly good and very powerful they would be great soldiers for the cause of the Inquisition. It seemed to him that they were afflicted with their type of lycanthropy as part of joining the chapter. He said as much.

Frellan countered, “It is a great honor to be asked into the Ursa Bellor. Few ever are approached.”

“What about you? What section are you from?”

“I am from the Inquisition Exarcanum. My dedication to the destruction of the wakeful dead gained my invitation. I loathe the undead and will destroy them wherever they may be.”

They talked more at length about the structure of the church. How the Inquisition Exarcanum answers only to the Inquisitor and the Living Saint directly. Frellan was sincere and listened well. Felghanis and Kalista shared the party’s story. When they brought up the Prelate of Dwarf Town and his apparent trucking with demon stone ships Frellan was suddenly stern.

“How could you make up something like that? It’s too absurd to think that is a lie you expect me to believe. I have to believe it is the truth and I will lead the Inquisition there to investigate. The Prelate will not get away with such acts.”

“We’ll leave you with two days food each,” Kalista said. “And you’ll recommend that Thiridea return you all to your packs.”

“One day. Two days is enough that she might think she can force-march us to catch up with you. Willem will still be too wounded for that. I want to make sure we can live and get back to Vrim.”

They shared looks, Fel, Kalista, Don’ and Aenir. Vrim was where they planned to head.

“One day, then, and you’ll have some weapons so you’re not helpless.”

“I suggest you do this now,” Frellan urged. “Thiridea recovers quickly and she may be regain consciousness in the next few hours.”

“Well, I for one don’t want to fight her again and face the possibility of being hunted down by a bigger and badder were-bear,” Aenir said in a hiss.

It was decided and the party left the Scours to the fate that Frellan had suggested. Don’ led the party into the Greywynd Woods. Heading south-east to throw off the idea of pursuit. But they circled around after a mile or so and headed northwards of where the Scours were left. Setting camp was done again and they settled into their watches – tired but resolute.

Soft snow had been falling all night. Occasional gusts swirled it like mist and Felghanis had kept the book in his pack – which he insisted on wearing, or keeping beside him, all night. Now he was on watch with Herath. It was the coldest part of the dark night, just before the sun would rise and he felt bolstered with the recovery of magical energy he had.

As they kept watch, Herath and Fel would walk about the camp, close in on the fire while the other was on the edge. Herath was watching Fel head to the fire. The fire that wasn’t crackling or hissing with the recently added wood. A sudden sinking fear hit his guts as Herath realised he could not hear a thing.

That was when an arm, clad in chain, seized him around the neck from behind. Herath struggled but whomever it was had him tight and the pressure suddenly surged on his neck. The hunter lost consciousness.

Felghanis rubbed his hands together and caught movement out at the snow walls. A heavily built man in chain was dropping the limp form of Herath to the snow. For all Fel knew Herath might be dead. Then he recognised the hard face of Fenris. The traitor, tomb-robber, stalked towards the slim necromancer. He tried to speak, held out his hands to placate the advancing soldier, but he was within the effect of a Silence spell. That was when Fenris jumped on him. Gods he was fast and strong. Fel couldn’t resist. Try as he might Fenris just seemed to wrap him up like a snake might coil about a rat. In desperation Fleghanis seized Fenris’ arm and hit him with negative energy; his Charnel Touch. The soldier’s body jumped at the sensation and then his arms squeezed on Fel’s neck. To the young necromancer it felt like the world rushed away.

Barking awoke the others. Fionnghal was causing a ruckus. Don’s adrenaline surged and he leapt to his feet with a spear ready. A figure was trapped in the flailing roots of Fionnghal’s Entangle. Don’ hurled the spear but his depth perception hadn’t adjusted and it went wide. Aenir was up and moving towards Fel & Herath. The hunter was choking on his own tongue and the dwarf quickly pulled it free with his dagger’s scabbard. Kalista rolled out of her bedroll and also leapt to the aid of those on guard. She healed Felghanis and his eyes fluttered open.

“Fenris,” he rasped, his voice raw from the crushing choke that had knocked him out.

It was too late, though, Fenris had broken out of the dog’s spell and had fled into the cold darkness. They quickly assembled and used potions on Herath. Kellor was awake, too, and Aenir barely had time to grasp forearms with his battle-brother before Don’ and Herath declared Fenris untrackable.

“The snow was not even disturbed,” Don’ said a little awe-struck.

“The man is a ghost in the ice,” Herath said. “He must have magic.”

Kalista brewed on this thought. She had been ruminating on the formula for Traceless Passing, but that covered scent, too. “The dog,” she cried triumphantly. She quickly held up the piece of bear fur and cast the spell Speak with Animals.

“Can you track the man, Fionnghal?”

The dog was excited, “The hunt is on. We track and chase. But not close. Dangerous man. Bit the hunter, and he fell. Then bit the dark man, and he fell, too. Scent fresh. We chase!”

They broke camp as fast as they could. The pursuit of Fenris hot on their hearts. In less than an hour it was a grey winter’s day.

Light was about them, as much as it could be, and Don’ exclaimed, “I see him!”

They doubled their pace and it became apparent that so had Fenris. Soon Fionnghal was arcing to the east and west, as if Fenris knew they were tracking him and then they came upon their own tracks.

“Careful,” Aneir warned. “He might be leading us into an ambush.”

“He’s only one man,” Don’ said. “We have nothing to fear with all of us together.”

“I hope you’re right.” Fel countered. “You saw what he summoned out of the depths. What if he summoned that?”

There was no way to argue against the necromancer’s point, so they pushed on. Fatigue grew in their limbs and they were all tired.

“There,” Don’ suddenly pointed.

After crossing a hundred yards of snowy forest they saw it. A sack tied to a branch about seven feet from the ground. It held a rectangular shape. To Fel’s eyes it looked about right to be their hard-won book of Fimbulwinter.

“No,” Felghanis said in disbelief and amusement.

He led them to the sack and gingerly untied it. Opening the hessian away from his body he was relieved nothing issued forth. Inside he found the book and carefully he began to check its condition. There was little wrong with the volume. It was obviously read and the pages a little worn at the edges as if someone had rapidly thumbed through the thing. In the fly page a hastily scrawled note read in charcoal:

“I needed to read it. I have no qualms with you but if you pursue me I will kill you.”

It was signed with a glyph of a wolf’s paw.

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Kiltayre Session 13

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Clash at the Barrow of Kentos

When the party asked if they could take the book, again, a voice rolled out of the sarcophagus, “Until my tomb is safe you cannot touch the book.” They ran to the sounds of battle to protect Kentos’ tomb.

Two martial scours and a turn-specialist, who managed to destroy two wraiths, were leading the attack on the Barrow of Kentos.

Felghanis used his Blindness spell to devastating effect on the attacking Scours. He took a hit from an oversized crossbow bolt from a sniper. After the first of them was downed the other two ran but the sniper kept on. One of the Scours fell to his knee in surrender claiming a rich cousin, a Cardinal no less, when it appeared this “Thiredea” they kept calling to for help was not forthcoming.

The leader of the Scours, and sniper, closed on the party as they took the three other Scours prisoner. She tried to imperiously take charge of the situation expecting her authority would be enough out here in the wilderness to make the party do as she said. They quickly blocked Thiredea and met her words with harsher ones. It was straight after this that battle began again. Aenir and Kellor quickly flanked her and landed two hard blows. She erupted into the form of a werebear and began raining heavy damage about her with a poleaxe in one hand/paw.

Herath was downed, as was Felghanis, and Kellor looked like the side of his head was smashed in, by the time they brought Thiredea down. Kellor’s wound turned out to be a nasty but non-life-threatening one. His ear was ripped off with bits of his helmet and scalp. The party were grateful.

GM’s notes:
It was a long session primarily focused on the battle – which was split in two chapters. Thiridea turned out to be a capable enemy but ultimately out-numbered and with her massive strength quite damaged by Ray of Enfeeblement, she succumbed. It went down pretty much how I had hoped except I expected the martial scours and the turn-specialist to get inside the barrow. All the plot information will be put together next session.

Kallista’s player was quick to spend a Fate Point to save Kellor when I put the option on the table. It was almost a race between Don’s player, too, for the privilege. I thought that was great. Players invested in their party and their NPC companions helps keep the energy of the game in good shape.

Chris’ journal is here and goes into more detail:
http://www.buygameshobbies.com/stories/journals/winters-end-session-013-kallistas-journal/

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Kiltayre: session 1 summary

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In the village of Felk Bay the seer-woman, grandmother of the Alderman, made a prophesy. The young unmarried folk were expected to step forward to save the village and its children. That’s where the players stepped in.

Line-up:

Alassiel – creepy little girl with psion powers and a horror-build of a psi-crystal.

Dom’ – has a much longer name but this shepherd boy is a doughty specimen with a secret pact to a fey witch.

Felghanis – a budding dread necromancer that wants to turn the dark-arts to help people; mainly by preventing his uncle & mentor from achieving nefarious goals.

Kallista – animist mage with a large pool of power that can boost spells. She studied with Felghanis’ other uncle affectionately called the Codger.

 

There was a large celebration for the four heroes-to-be. Drinking and plenty was had even though times were harsh. Next morning they said goodbye to their families. Food was gifted to them all and spare quilted woollen blankets. The Alderman gifted each with an amethyst on silver chain – a phylactery. And advice to go to Iron Foot City as someone there might know what 5 fingers of stone refers to.

 

They set off the next morn and travelled in poor weather heading up into the mountains towards Iron Foot City – or what might remain of it.

 

 

Next morning they came across a limping hungry bear. The psi-crystal destroyed the creature with impunity. Reaching Iron Foot city the next day they found a recluse who was happy to talk to them – that day. He told them the five fingers of stone were in the range far to the north.

“What dangers are there?” Dom asked.

“Some say there’s Garren in the woods.”

“The wood-wraiths slay all who enter their realms. Other races are toxic to them so they do it to protect their children. We must avoid them.” Felghanis and Kallista say.

 

Most of Iron Foot City was in ruins, since many buildings were little more than tents when it was abandoned. One building was still strong – the offices of administration for the mines. Once run by the church and the feudal magnates. They made camp inside a smallish office, with the pony, and spend a night sheltered from the blizzard outside. Felghanis found a map of the whole island amongst claim notices and records.

 

They went back to the recluse who was not happy to see them but traded preserved goods for fresh ones that they carried. Then the party headed north to find the mountain ranges on the map that the Five Fingers of Stone were meant to be within.

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More Fiction for Khara Thel

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A close friend, and best man at my wedding, has been writing up a storm of steam-fantasy novels. When he’s not doing those he’s found time to write a swathe of fantasy stories that are inspired by Khara Thel and RPG’s in general. When they’ve been typed up and edited I hope to get them on this site in the shop as well as in the upcoming store on Lulu.com.

It’s very good to have another writer in Khara Thel and one who writes with a different tone to me. His novels are much more light-hearted and friendlier yet still capture the magic of the world in the way I love. I’d have to say that his style is like the first half of the Fellowship of the Ring movie, and my style is more like the second half. I think they’re complimentary.

On top of all this Bounty for the Taking book two is shaping up nicely. Sea-captains, cursed earrings, bandit wars, and the beginning of a conqueror are all to be revealed on its completion.

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Second Khara Thel Novel Completed

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A Tale of Rum Town, is completed. This will likely not be a free download as it is many times better a tale than “Bounty for the Taking”. And in celebration a change of theme. Something nice and green but still slightly old style.

Don’t despair, though, for I will give the first chapter away.

A TALE OF RUM TOWN

CHAPTER ONE

Crottle stepped quietly through the shadows of Mastview Alley. Once upon a time, he supposed, you could see the masts on the wharves of Ferris. Now the buildings were all at least three stories high and so close together many parts of Rum Town were in permanent shadow. If only he was like Patchwork and could traverse Rum Town from end to end without touching the ground – leaping from rooftop to wall to rooftop. That would be the way to travel. No risk from gangs, beggars, cutpurses and footpads. If he could do that he could operate at any other time except the dead of night where he was now.

Parkey said that Patchwork never goes to the surface except for a contract. Patchwork even sleeps in a place that you can’t get to unless you jump from a six-storey tenement. Anyway, what does Parkey know except the bottom of a jug of rum. This night Parkey was probably slumped in an alley full of rubbish so drunk he’d filled his pants with his own nightsoil. Rats would be nibbling off what was left of his ears.

No, Parkey was not to be worried about. Crottle’s days of having to pay Parkey with coin or booze just to learn about Rum Town, without having his pocket picked or his throat slit, would be over after this. When he completed this job for Harkett he would be out of Rum Town and down to East Freeport where he’d finally see daylight anytime he wanted. That and he’d work for The Cartel. Harkett had made him a good offer and Harkett was the collector for the leader of The Cartel – Medesca. That was a man to respect and fear. Crottle hadn’t seen him but he’d heard a lot about him – oh yes. A genius at plotting and getting away with all kinds of heists, burglaries, thefts and contraband sales. In Crottle’s mind Medesca was going to take over all the underworld of Ferris.

Slick black cobblestone led into the blind alley. It was narrow enough that he could touch both walls by just bending his arms at the elbows. Two people would touch if they tried to pass. It was at this point that Crottle started to climb. He pressed his back against one side, toes of his supple boots against the other, and then lifted and braced his way upwards.

In a few dozen accelerating heartbeats he reached the shutter and braced in position to fix a stiff guard on his wrist. He would have to brace across the narrow alley with one hand to open the shutters. Crottle had trained for four weeks to build his endurance but his wrist wasn’t strong enough. He still fell on the mats and rags until the idea of a wrist brace occurred to Crottle. He built one out of old boots and an archer’s vambrace and that made the difference. With the brace he could maintain the position long enough to get open the shutters with one hand.

Now he carefully slid out his tools. Long and of steel the probes and hooks were in a buckram roll with each tool in its own firm pocket. All Crottle needed was one of those tools now. With all the practice he was surprised that the latch of the shutters came open so easily. A small tin flask of oil with a pointed nozzle was the next device to deliver lubricant to the hinges. They opened with very little sound.

This was going well, Crottle thought.

Meeze, the street rat, had kept an eye on Murchison’s house for a a week. All Crottle had to do was feed Meeze, and give her the lure of a shilling at the end of it all. That shilling was costly but Crottle thought it worth so. Meeze was only about nine or ten years old but a tough little rat of a street urchin. She was also very smart. Crottle thought of her as like his niece. If this went well he would offer her a place to live and run errands for him once he was out in East Freeport. Murchison had left today with travelling bags and Meeze was quick to report. It was too good an opportunity to let go.

Crottle braced again and sorted his gear. He worked the oil-paper window with his probes then oiled the hinges just like with the shutters. With great care Crottle eased into the window, gripping the top of its frame with a steely grip.

It was so dark he could see nothing of use. Just blocky shadows amongst pitch-black. Closing the window and the shutters he set about lighting his tiny shuttered hand-lantern. Outside he heard voices.

‘Thought I saw ‘im go in here. I’m sure it was Crottle – stinking rat-turd thief,’ a nasal whining voice said.

‘Could have been a rat,’ said the other, deeper voice.

‘It weren’t no rat, hare-brain,’ said the first.

Crottle’s neck grew cold and he quickly hid against the wall of the room that faced the alley then shuttered his lantern.

‘Where are we?’ asked the deeper voice.

‘I think we’re near that money-lender – Murchison’s house,’ said the nasal voice.

Who were these two? Crottle asked himself. He heard their feet scuff through the detritus of old shingles, potsherds, and smashed tiles. They stopped almost right under the window.

‘I smell’im,’ said the nasal voice.

A deep laughter came out, ‘You can’t smell anything since Harkett broke your nose. You said so yourself!’ mocked the deeper voice.

Now Crottle knew who it was. Jenk Sonner the smuggler and his bodyguard, Hurmgaal – the half-ogre. Even though he was up in Murchison’s house and there was no way either of them would climb up he felt afraid. Ever since Crottle had scouted Jenk’s stash of grapeleaf-nectar, and stole it for Harkett, Jenk had been after him for revenge. It didn’t matter that Harkett kicked Hurmgaal in the groin then broke Jenk’s nose they still wanted to catch him – perhaps moreso, now that he was looked out for by Harkett.

‘He ain’t here,’ Hurmgaal said, plainly indicating he though they were wasting their own time.

‘Well not now but he was. I swear,’ Jenk was begrudgingly ready to go.

‘Sure. Let’s go where we’s meant to be,’ Hurmgaal said.

The two in the alley made their way back out. Scuffing as they went completely careless of how much noise they made.

Crottle slowly relaxed and unshuttered his lantern. The room was quite sparse. A trunk and a chest of drawers near a bed-frame. It looked like it hadn’t been used in years and Crottle could plainly see that he was leaving tracks in the dust. He silently cursed and decided he’d have to clean the whole room since he couldn’t put the dust back where it was meant to be.

Creeping through the dark house interior Crottle finally found a locked door. After deftly bypassing the lock and the pathetic needle trap he found a small room that contained an large iron bounded trunk. Using his probes and listening carefully he picked his way over the floor to the trunk. The lantern guttered as it ran out of oil and started to fade. The pointy bottle of oil was used to top it off with little risk of a fire and light was safely had again.

The trunk posed a problem. Crottle had to get out most of his tools and carefully apply pressure in three ways to pop the lock and not the dart-trap. If he ever lost his legs he’d make better traps for chests. As the lid swung open Crottle saw small buckram sacks that looked to be filled with coin – and they were. A small fortune in shillings and florins. He started stuffing his chestpack and kidney-bag then slowed down. Time was his. Murchison wouldn’t be back at least until tomorrow. Crottle picked the bags by their silver content and when he was laden left the rest. If he felt up to it he could come back. No, he wouldn’t, on second thoughts. Crottle locked the chest and then the small room before dusting off the floor where he entered Murchison’s house. With difficulty bracing on one arm he managed to latch the window and shutters then descend to the narrow alley.

The sun was just beginning to light the east into a grey line when he returned to his back-lot tenement bolt hole. Some bread he’d left behind from his evening meal was eaten and a nearly sour goblet of wine washed it down. Within minutes of shedding his loot and hiding it behind the wall panel he was asleep.

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