|Heart of the Hound|
|1.||Heart of the Hound|
|The Tavern of Lost Souls|
|2.||The Tavern of Lost Souls|
|Escape from Guk|
|The Flight of the Mudskipper|
|The Worst Cook in Grobb|
|A Storm of Sorrow|
|Of New Friends and Troublesome Enemies|
|On the Plains of Karana|
|By the Wings of Dragons|
By the pen of Eylee Zephyrswell, This is the account of our leader, a plainsman by the name of Bayle. He had trouble speaking about his past, but it was necessary for us to understand the whole background of what we were dealing with. Further details came with time, as the conflict we all became a part of drew us closer together. As far as I can tell, he still does not believe he has atoned. Despite all of his great acts of heroics, he still believes his folly outweighs them. It is a shame that such a great man should bear such a burden, but we all must feel as we must, and the past cannot be forgotten, only forgiven in time.
In the cold light of the early morning, a young man plunged into the chilly currents of the sea. Bayle had passed just to the point at which the coastline had begun to blur when he caught sight of a collection of shadowed shapes far down beneath the cresting waves. Though the depth of it was intimidating, he had been marveling others with his ability to hold his breath for many minutes at a time ever since he was a young lad, and Bayle knew he might just have enough in him to reach and explore it.
The water parted with storms of small bubbles as his strokes carried him downward. As he went, the shadows began to thin, his vision of what lay before him growing clearer. He would have gasped had he not had enough sense to know the foolishness of it, as he took in the site of a ruined city strewn along the ocean floor .The stonework had been worn almost smooth by the currents, but they still held the unmistakable shape of buildings, crumbled as they might be. Sea plants had snaked their way through every available crack and crevice, giving the walls a textured look. Toppled pillars marked what might once have been the entry way of the city, and around them were the remains of buildings. He veered to his right and ventured into the first building he could find that was marginally intact. Its ceiling had collapsed and lay in scattered piles of rubble across the checkered pattern of the floor stones. Crushed pieces of white and green and blue coral mixed within the stones, and in one corner he found a giant head of brain coral intact and shaped to the distinct look of a sofa. Above it, he noted a wall carving of what vaguely resembled a man; only he knew it for no man. It was crowned with a spine and its body was thin and spindly. Behind its ears were the distinct shape of gills and its eyes and lips were large and distended. Around it, what looked like words were carved in an alien script.
What had he found? He pondered the question only a moment before a stab of pain in his chest reminded him it was time to resurface. Retreating upward, he watched the algae-coated spires disappear behind him. His chest was just beginning to tighten as he broke through the surface and let out a "whoop" into the empty sky. Bayle spent only a few moments restoring air to his lungs before diving back down for another look.
His successive trips down revealed more of the same -- ruined buildings, images featuring the odd fishmen; nothing, however, that he could really take with him. Though he was able to find pockets of air in some of the buildings, his lengthened stays did little to fill his hands. Bayle made it his occupation to hunt treasures, and though it would seem he had found a gold mine, everything portable appeared to have been smashed or long since swept away to distant locales. Finally, however, he found a building at the center of the city that stood higher than the rest. It was characterized by high domes topped in coral spires, and as he passed through the arched entryway, he noticed that at its center were the remains of what might have once been an altar and below it; something glinted in a shaft of light that forced its way down through one of the toppled domes.
He swam quickly, energized by the find, and dug among the stone and plants below the altar. As he cleared away the detritus, Bayle gradually revealed the long, golden shaft of a staff. It was untarnished and covered in curious arcane markings. Bayle would no doubt have paused to marvel had two things not happened. Firstly, he had been running low on air when he entered the temple, and by this point, his chest had tightened considerably and his veins had begun to burn. Secondly, the moment his hands clasped around the shaft of the staff, his surroundings began to shake violently.
Bayle shot up through the water, trying to dodge falling stone as he made for one of the ruined domes. He emerged just in time, watching the temple collapse into a heap around him. Throughout the city, ancient structures fell one by one, and the water filled with a storm of dirt and plant matter, billowing up from the ground in clouds as crumbling mortar landed in a chorus of thumps. Bayle pumped as fast as his legs and arms would go, carrying him to the surface with his loot. Finally, taking in a great breath of air, he emerged, and in his hands, the staff glittered in the sunlight.
Back on shore, Bayle pulled his leather boots back on over his soaked britches, constantly glancing at where the staff lay wrapped in his cloak beside him. Piece by piece he reassembled himself from the pile of gear he had left hidden within a fallen log on the shore. His last act was to strap the wrapped up staff to his back and then bind his ivory-handled claymore overtop it so that they balanced in an X shape. Pulling the strap tight, he began the journey back to his village with a spring in his step. The boy Bayle was proving himself a man. --
It seemed as if every two steps it had taken him to reach the seashore now only took one, as he crossed the plains of Karana in record time. His eagerness to show the village elders what he had found spurred him. No longer would the young Bayle be called foolhardy and crippled by his dreams of glory. He had found something real, something they could all see and touch and would finally show them that his ambitions were well placed.
It was well into night when he reached the village of Oceangreen some days later, and only the central fire still burned, low and little more than embers. As Bayle approached it, his heart leapt to see a friendly face. The aged hunter Graycat sat on one of the carved wooden benches that surrounded the fire pit. He was hunched over, his long, thin gray hair forming a curtain around his face. As Bayle approached, the hunter eased up to a sitting position, and the younger man noted that the old hunter's milky white eye darted toward him almost before the still seeing hazel eye reached him. Even half-blinded, Graycat was more alert than most men could ever claim to be. Smiling, Graycat rose to meet him, arms spread for an embrace. Though Bayle stood at six and a half feet tall, Graycat had him beaten by at least an inch. Age would have bent a lesser man's back, but Graycat had been a warrior and chieftan before a voice asked him why he was so eager to shed the blood of his kinsmen, and when Graycat could find no good answer, he had joined the emigration out of the peaks of Everfrost and to the southern plains.
Though most who came to the village of Oceangreen, and many other similar settlements spread throughout Karana, claimed to have heard a similar voice, Bayle had followed nothing of the sort. Instead, the voice of a beautiful woman had invited him to seek his fortune, and he had followed, venturing to the south, where he knew the riches he dreamed of would be found. He had lived among the plainsmen for 10 years, but he had never found any of the treasures the woman promised -- until now. The villagers had thought his ambitions foolish, and only after they threatened to make him leave had he picked up a trade as a tailor. His stitches were only passable, but it was enough to keep him in town and dreaming of a different tomorrow. Only Graycat had ever believed in him, and it made him happy to know the old hunter would be the first to see his prize.
"It's good to have you home," said Graycat, brushing away a piece of grass that clung to Bayle's shirt. "The Kiersey mare had twins, and the Kiersey woman had triplets. Truly, we have been blessed in your absence." "I'm sure many would say those two go hand in hand," said Bayle with a grin. Graycat chuckled. "I am sure there are. So, how fared your journey, lad?" Graycat settled back down on a bench and invited Bayle to join him with a wave of a hand. "Fruitful, I think," said Bayle, taking a seat on the edge of the bench. He itched to show Graycat his prize. "You think?" asked Graycat, squinting at him. "How is that?"
Bayle removed his claymore from his back, placing it below the fire so that the light from the flames danced off of the ivory handle, a trophy of his first kill. With that, he drew the staff in his lap and began to unwind the cloak from around it, slowly, almost reverently. Graycat's face was emotionless as Bayle, almost giddy, showed him what he had found. The old man took the staff and examined it slowly. Bayle's exhilaration faded as Graycat showed no sign of the same excitement Bayle had been feeling.
"Where did you find it?" asked Graycat, finally. Bayle launched into the story of his swim, and the sunken city, and of the strange images and writing he had seen on its walls. He finished with the description of the temple and what happened when he picked up the staff. No flickers of recognition passed over his old friend's face as Bayle described the unfamiliar civilization, and though he had hoped Graycat would know something about his prize, the possibility that the aged hunter was ignorant to it meant it might be all that much more precious and powerful. "...And so I plan to show it to the elders in the morning," said Bayle. "Perhaps they will know something about the city that I found."
Graycat stared at him, studying him intently and grinding his teeth as he did. "Bayle," said Graycat. "Tell me truly, is it really the advice of the elders you are looking for? Or their praise?"
Bayle bristled at the insinuation that his pride was what drove him, though deep down he couldn't deny that he had dreamed of this day for years. Standing before the elders, all would fall prostrate in humility before his heroism and his good fortune. Still, he wanted to refute what Graycat had said, but try as he might, he couldn't think of something good to say.
Sensing his young friend's reticence, Graycat continued. "If it's answers you're really looking for, I would bring this to the elves, and not our humble village men. They won't be able to tell you anything more than I, and if I'm speaking plainly, there is something about it that makes me uneasy." He paused and leaned closer to the young man. "If you care for the people of this village, I would advise you to leave with it, soon." As he finished, his words hung heavily in the air, and his eye searched those of his young companion.
Bayle averted his gaze, and leapt to his feet, fuming. "I can't believe it, Graycat," said the young man. "I came here looking to share my discovery with someone who would appreciate it, and this is what you have for me? You've always played the friend, giving me advice and encouragement. And now that I've found something, you turn on me. You never really wanted me to find anything, did you? There's only room for one hero in this town, isn't there? Well, I am telling you, when the elders see what I've found, there will be two, and you had best accept that." He ripped the staff from Graycat's hands and threw the cloak around it. The old hunter barely reacted, but in the firelight, he looked tired and worn. "Good night, Graycat."
"Good night to you, Bayle. And best of fortunes." Turning, Bayle made for his cottage in a haze of anger and pain. Behind him, Graycat sat still at the fire, watching him go without another word.
By the pen of Eylee Zephyrswell, This is the account of our leader, a plainsman by the name of Bayle. He had trouble speaking about his past, but it was necessary for us to understand the whole background of what we were dealing with. Further details came with time, as the conflict we all became a part of drew us closer together.
As far as I can tell, he still does not believe he has atoned. Despite all of his great acts of heroics, he still believes his folly outweighs them. It is a shame that such a great man should bear such a burden, but we all must feel as we must, and the past cannot be forgotten, only forgiven in time.
He was awoken by the fingers of light on his forehead that signaled the coming of a new day. Hot breath fell rhythmically on his cheek, and he rolled beneath the blankets to gaze at the face of Danaria. Wheat blonde hair fell over her eyes and played on her cheek. He brushed the hair aside and touched his fingers to her cheekbone for just a moment before slipping from her arms deftly, landing on the balls of his feet as he left the bed. He wasn't sure how she had known he'd returned, but sometime just before sleep had taken him fully, he'd awoken to feel her fall onto the bed beside him, whispering, "Welcome home." She was young, just a bit foolish, and he sometimes thought she had only ever taken up with him because her father had forbidden it, but here she was just the same, and Bayle, who was otherwise alone, wasn't about to turn her out.
Bayle shimmied into his trousers and then pulled on a cotton shirt. He was just fastening his leather jerkin when her eyes opened drowsily. "Leaving so soon?" she asked in a teasing voice. He concentrated on the fastenings of his jerkin, knowing if she cooed just a little bit softer he might be right back in that bed, but he needed to be on to the hall to present the staff to the town elders. "I found something when I was gone," he said, "and I need to show it to the elders as soon as I can." She rolled over onto her back, yawning and stretching like a cat. He briefly reconsidered having left the bed, but as he turned toward where the staff was bundled in the corner of the room, he felt a surge of anticipation at delivering it to the elders. Steps brisk, he traveled over and scooped it up into his arms.
"Well," she said, voice laden with disappointment, "at least come by for some breakfast. I believe father's making sweetbread today." Bayle imagined waltzing into the baker's shop and seeing the look of disappointment cross the old man's face as he realized his daughter's consort had neither died nor gone missing on his most recent venture; but had instead returned with something beyond anything the village had ever seen. It was a tempting scenario. "Maybe I will," he said, smiling. He stepped over to the bed and kissed her. She bit into his lip, threatening to hold him there, but he lifted his head sharply. "Good-bye Danaria." He could feel her eyes follow him all the way out the door, but already, his mind had drifted to his prize, and the anticipation of presenting it for all to see.
The morning passed as Bayle sat outside the village meeting hall. The staff lay wrapped up in his lap, and he compulsively tapped his feet against the ground as he waited to be called in. Around him, the village's morning movements had begun. It played home to a few dozen homes and tradesman's shops, and the denizens of all were up and on the move. Thin trails of smoke disappeared into the sky above cook fires, and children carried pails of water up from the river for washing. Some plainsmen set off to farm fields while others worked at stretching pelts to dry or working at other trades. The hammering of the blacksmith echoed in a series of clangs from a nearby building, and a carpenter sat outside of her home shaving the edges of a long plank of wood smooth.
Finally, he was called in. On piles of furs, a group of men sat and appraised him. They had all once been chieftains of their respective clans, but here they worked together to establish a new kind of community. All had left behind their clan names and adopted new monikers. Bayle himself had once been known as Bayle Shiverfist, but he had left behind his surname in the mountains. Though the plainsmen might have made for a different life in Karana, even going so far as to call themselves by a new name, human, there were still echoes of their barbarian past to be found in the hall. Though the men might have spoken of peace and cooperation within the building, its walls were decorated with the weapons of war and trophies of the hunt. Bayle himself stood beneath the head of a snarling wolverine. The axe that removed the head from its trunk was mounted nearby. The man who had claimed it, Urth, once of the Iceaxe clan, spoke first.
"Young Bayle, I understand you have something you wish to show us," said Urth. The man was of middle years and carried a full red beard. His curly copper colored hair was cropped close to his head, a fashion one would rarely find in the mountains but it was becoming more popular within the plains for men and women alike to cut down their locks. On some men, it looked foolish, but Urth was the sort who carried everything with dignity. He was not dressed as a warrior but in the simple cloth of a farmer, though his clothes were of a richer cut than most. Bayle cleared his throat and stepped forward. He slid the cloak from off of the staff and held it up, saying, "Off the shore some miles south I found the ruins of an ancient civilization. From the images I found engraved throughout, I would guess it at one time was home to fishlike men. This was all I found that seemed salvageable, but I think you'll agree it was quite the prize."
As he lifted the cloak, eyebrows lifted throughout the room and men immediately began to whisper back and forth. Bayle deliberately avoided looking at Graycat, who sat near the back, though he could feel the old man's unflinching gaze upon him. "It was deep beneath the ocean's surface. So deep that I doubt any man but I could hold his breath long enough to explore it. It was a strain even for me, and I had to be alert all the time for falling debris. Just around the same moment that I found the staff, the whole thing began to collapse around me. It was all I could do to swim out of the way of stones bigger than I to escape. But I escaped, and I stand before you. You said I couldn't do it, but I have. I have brought our village a great, ancient treasure, to the glory of us all."
Satisfied, Bayle crossed his arms over his chest and evaluated the room. The men all eyed him, and the hushed speaking continued. The young man couldn't help but note that all had marveled when he had drawn the staff out, but their gazes were much more critical now. Finally, Urth spoke again. "You say you have brought us a treasure," he said, "and looking at it, I will not deny it is made of gold, and doubtless very precious. But I can't help but wonder what use you believe we would have for such an item."
Bayle's heart fell as the old man's word struck him, and his mouth flapped open, wordless, before he could say, "What? What do you mean?" "What does it do, exactly?" asked Urth, spreading his hands to either side. "Can it make our crops grow? Can it tame our horses?" "Can it lift new roofs?" chimed in another elder. "Or raise children?" asked another. "We may have warred over trinkets in the past," continued Urth. "But we have no use for them anymore. So I ask you again, what can it do for us?" Bayle's hands shook as he turned the staff over, inspecting it carefully. "Well, it has these markings," said Bayle. "They must indicate... something." He turned it over and over in his hands, rubbing at the markings as if that might make their meanings clear. As his examination became more desperate, and the harsh remarks of the elders rang in his ears, Bayle rubbed harder. Suddenly, in a flash of light, the staff sprang from his hand.
The room quieted immediately. All eyes were glued to the staff as it began to turn in the air like a wheel, at first slowly and then more furiously until it was a blur. The men in the room scattered, Bayle included, getting out of its path. Then, with a sound like a snap in the air, it stopped and clattered to the ground, but where it had been there remained a hole in the air, though there was no wall or any other surface for it have broken. The air seemed to crack around the hole, as it bristled with energy. No one knew quite what to do, so they all stood and watched it, paralyzed and anticipating what might happen next. Finally, Bayle stepped forward to peer through it, but before he could reach it, he was swept to the side as he was slapped with a large arm that resembled a lobster claw.
Dazed, he struggled to make sense of what was going on from where he had landed on the ground. A beast massive in size and terrible to look at was clawing its way through the crowd of men. It let out a series of high pitched wails that rang in his head furiously, and it regarded the crowd with what must have been close to a dozen, red eyes. It gouged the ground beneath it with tri-clawed feet as it cut a bloody swathe out into the village. Bayle stumbled to his feet and through the bodies as he followed the panicked screaming into the streets. He was shocked to find that the sky had darkened and that the plains played host to swirling clouds of energy. Men, women and children ran desperately in all directions as the beast tore at them. He choked as he noticed the broken body of a little boy being cradled by a screaming woman, and all around him, the sights were similarly horrific. He made for the center of the panic, and as he rounded a building, he came to a halt as the beast was before him. Its attention was not on him, however. Instead, it battled a large man bearing a battered axe. Graycat had the beast locked in combat. Though others stood around with spears and forks in hand, only the old man seemed to have the courage to face it. He was battered, however, as one of his legs seeped blood and a similarly wicked gash crossed his chest.
"Graycat! Be careful!" shouted Bayle. The old man glanced at him, and in that moment, the beast pushed forward, shoving one of his claws deep into Graycat's chest. Almost simultaneously, Graycat buried the axe into the creature's throat. The two fell into a heap with cries of anguish. For a moment, no one reacted, and then Bayle ran forward. The moment he touched the beast to roll it off of Graycat, however, it vanished -- only a choking black fog staying in its place for a moment before dissipating. Where it had been, only Graycat lay now, his chest wound gaping. Bayle knelt down and picked up the old man, trying to think in a panic where he might take him for help! "Stop!" said Graycat, his voice coming out with a splatter of blood. "Stop, please, boy. There's no use." "There is a use," insisted Bayle. "You need help."
"Ahh, now," said Graycat, his breathing labored. "I'm done in. No sense denying it. But, I'm ready." Around them, a crowd had gathered, but their words were distant and indistinct. Bayle focused on Graycat, cradling his head in his hands. "Please," he said, "just try."
Graycat grew still and looked up at him. With a shaking hand, the hunter drew the young man in close. "It's time for me to leave this world," Graycat said. "My time is done, but yours is just beginning." He grimaced in pain and hacked. Bayle gripped him more tightly, as if that might prevent what was happening. Graycat waved him forward again, so that none but the two of them heard what he was to say next. In words punctuated by the low gurgle of death, and the blood that stained the old man's lips, Graycat said to him, "Nations will know your name." And with that, the old hunter passed. --
By sundown, Bayle had packed everything he could onto his back and left the village of Oceangreen. All told, six people had died, and scores were injured; among the dead was a child, the young boy he had seen when he first emerged from the meeting hall, and that was more than Bayle thought he could bear. Five had been killed by the beast, while the sixth was battered to death by the odd arcane storms that appeared suddenly, disappearing when the monster vanished. When the confusion had died down, and it was clear the tear in the world was gone, the elders had come to him and thrown the staff at his feet.
"This is all your exploits have brought us," said Urth. His voice was calm but beneath the surface, it simmered in anger. "Death and sorrow. Take it and get out of here. Carry your bad luck somewhere else."
Head hanging low, Bayle had muttered his apologies, though he knew they would never truly atone for what had occurred. Everyone watched him with heavy gazes as he walked slowly from the town, leaving, for the second time in his life, his home behind. Danaria had called for him, and he'd glanced back at her, but her father held her firmly. She squirmed in the man's grip, but when Bayle had mouthed, "I'm sorry" and turned away, she had stopped. He glanced back once more to see her eyes wide with shock at his abandonment, but he couldn't think of it now. What was happening here was more important than the emotions of one young woman. She'd find a better husband than he could have been anyway; a man too full of lofty dreams would only find love a weighty anchor. His bag hung heavy against his shoulder, but the staff hung the heaviest. Part of him was tempted to throw it as far as he could into a ravine or back into the ocean or some place else that no one would ever find it again, but another part of him knew he couldn't, and that somehow it was now bound up in his fate, for good or ill.
Nations will know your name. Graycat's final words haunted him. If the old man's words rang true, did it mean he would be known as a hero? Or would he be known as a horror? The thought of it chilled him. Bayle stopped, turned, and gazed at the distant sight of the village. Despite the distance, he could see stones being piled for cairns. The village would lay their dead within the stones and bury with those bodies the grief that deadened their souls, but the events of this day were unlike any usual slaughter. The cries of the beast and the screams of their loved ones would echo in their hearts for long to come. Had he any say in it, he would see to it that no village ever again would know the horrors Qeynos had known.
"I swear it," he whispered.
With that, he continued on his path through the green stretches of the plains of Karana. Where he ventured, he wasn't certain, but he did so with a new purpose: destroy the staff, and anything associated with it. It was in that moment that the Shadow Odyssey truly began, and the destiny of those bound to it called for collection.