Thousand Dying Suns

The Vat of Zombies and the Curse of Unintended Consequences
objects not appearing whatsoever may eat your face

Short of the long, we found a secret door within the Canonesses’ chambers because of ‘Magic’. This is becoming a recurring theme; we cast about, looking for clues and then Thorn points and unobservable woojum frolicking in the woodwork that only he can see which “Unlocks The Answer”! I swear I am putting him in the portable fMRI unit in med bay when we get back to the ship with instructions to magic like a madman, until we can discern the fundamental underlying principles such that some of the rest of us will have a chance with all of this. The fact that only Thorne can see some of these things will bite us in the arse.

I’ll come back to that in a bit.

Back to the open door. We climbed up and about, into an attic studio apartment – bed, shower and knick-knacks included. Thorne apparently saved us from some sort of magical curse then the group started tossing the place for clues while I BLOODY WELL SHOWERED!

Ah brief bliss, free of grime and nits and gnats and everything else one would imagine from a planet of permanent medieval camping trips. Suffice it to say the others found the magic kindle of we can’t open, a collapsible camelback, a towel (probably not peril resistant), some reading spectacles, and a carving knife.

And buttons on the bed.

Which revealed another ladder leading down.

So down we went! Only to discover that zombies lived somewhere within the structure. Here begins a lovely slow motion chase scene involving us climbing for our lives away from the undead, punctuated but horrible noises and odors from below.

We made It to a hangar deck somewhere above Basicilla Hamlet which held a shuttlecraft, which proved workable – although it needed fuel and many good thoughts and wishes. Kiron and I went about putting the ship in order as the rest of the group engaged in climbing zombie murder Olympics. We added fuel, read through the pictures in what looked to be the ubiquitous flight manual written in hieroglyphics – the usual panicked procedure.

The flight went without a hitch once the Murder Olympics came to a lull. After a short debate we flew the craft down to the hamlet instead of the Venture (this turned out to be a wise decision, again revisiting Things Only Thorne Can See in the future) where the natives Oohed and Awwed over the holy chariot of St. Timmons. Whatever strikes their fancy.

From there we made short work of the rest of the zombies, sealed the entrance and rested. Causing nightmares because evidently there is some sort of summoning circle tied to the deck of the shuttle leading to a black hangry pit of unpleasantness (what lovely dreams THAT caused). This was only revealed because Thorne used is special vision on the ship. Which he neglected to do before we flew to the ground. It was also determined that had we taken the vessel out of atmo it would have triggered the circle to summon and unspeakable bloody tentacle thing to eat our (or in this case my) faces.

I am very grateful I didn’t give in to impulse to kip off to the Venture to pick up supplies. I imagine a scenario of leaping through the shuttles walls and hoping to land on the Venture while phased. Seems like a fun adventure to read about – not to experience. Which brings me back to the need to figure out HOW TO SEE AND MEASURE THIS MAGIC CRAP. I’m putting Thorne in the fMRI scanner on the ship once we get back for a month if I must! Because this ‘almost dying to things you know nothing about and have no way to observe’ is becoming… tiresome.

Enough kvetching. After a not so sound rest we explored the rest of the tunnel network where we found the one time zombie filled fuel tank designed to unleash death upon anyone who opened the studio.

To sum up; one upon a time an old gaffer who liked to carve in wood lived in a studio apartment behind a magic door in the middle of Medieval Theme Park Land. He had some magical widgets and he may have been responsible for carving the Woodcuts which would excite some future travelers from Aldemere. Someone else, who may have killed said gaffer, decided to booby-trap the shuttle and the rest of the hidden bits with zombie traps and curses. And there is an actual dwarf in what appears to be a cyrostasis pod in the vestibule of the church below all of this.

I am forced to conclude that someone REALLY doesn’t want travelers to crucifix station and was willing to go to excessive lengths to prevent said visits.

Let’s go there. It’ll be a holiday complete with amusement rides and carnies! I love this plan!

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The Basilica of St Timon
Arden, Carter, Gabriel, Khiron, Olis, Thorne

Leaving the events and outcomes of Swingford behind, the company set off for the final leg of the journey to the Basilica of St Timon. Lord Hawkwood and his companions were all eager to compete the journey as it was a pilgrimage among their people. The site was in the keeping of the Order of St. Sylvester, devout archivists which we hoped would provide more insight into the world of Damaina and the strange connections to the world of Aldamere.

After a week’s travel by foot, and many discussions around the campfire with Lord Hawkwood and his cadre, the company arrived at the Basilica. It was an enormous structure which provided shelter to a small community catering to the modest needs of pilgrims. It was clear that the outer artifice of the Basilica was some artifact of a bygone age, which appeared to the technologically inclined to be the intact wreck of a space ship.

Within were a number of wooden buildings housing the priests, the tomb of St. Timon himself, and a number of wooden carvings portraying the Saint. Below was a crypt with the ashes of many of the Hawkwood family. We were greeted by Deacon Ramon, and viewed the displays with due awe and reverence at least from the Hawkwood contingent. Thorne was fascinated with everything, and the images proved quite unsettling for Gabriel. Within the tomb was purported to be the remains of the Saint, but to Aldameri eyes the Saint was not a Man but a Dwarf. The religious images appeared to be straight out of Aldamere history or at least Themse Apocrypha. The locals all insisted it was stories of Saint Timon, but it was clearly images of Saint Latimer. Where they saw Lady Elinor Hawkwook, it was really Thesme (in her mortal guise). Even the dread Lich King of Aldamere made an appearance. Thorne and Khiron were able to see that a few of these images were magically hiding further information.

The company was keen to see the archives as well. Our request was granted on the condition we took part in a Mass of Cleansing and Blessing. Thorne was resigned, Gabriel was keen, and Carter was appalled at what he termed “a blatant disregard for nuclear safety protocol!” as the ritual involves being bathed in the light of the Star Hearth. The archives proved to be a collection of ‘post-rain’ tomes, a couple of “thin-client tablets”, and a few ancient “newsreel” recordings which Khiron was able with some effort to get to partially replay. Studying the tomes took some time and perseverance, telling stories of the Knights of White Fire, stories of the Knights of White Flame, a Damiana bestiary, and the Life of the Saint of Damiana.

After some rest, the company was invited to dine with Canoness Wineford. In the discussion, Thorne relayed the many interesting hints of secrets within the Basilica, and the company beseeched the Canoness for permission to explore them further. After much discussion, it was agreed as long as we shared the learnings and took pains to protect the integrity of the artifacts.

The first stop was the crypts and a strange wooden statue of Lady Elinor Hawkwook. Within one of the eyes was a “puzzlebox” which Khiron was able to open to retrieve some small device. It’s use was unclear, but was clearly of some import. The next stop was investigating the magically concealed images, beginning with the carving in the Canoness’ dining room. After some study, Thorne depressed a series of specific places on the image, and was rewarded with the opening of a secret door revealing a ladder leading up…

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Wooden Pornography and hidden crevices (Thorne's Journal)
Things are going quite well!

We started with the Archives. We learned a good scattering of things, not entirely sure what is relevant to our goals presently. We’ll make a list:

  • They make books out of wood, including the pages. This makes for very short, very heavy books. Important books are many volumes.
  • St. Timon was once father Osar. He, eventually became Canon Timon.
  • Pictures of Canon Timon look like coffin man, not Tapestry man. We’re beginning to think that the “Latimer” version of him has less to do with the Saint and more the artist. The Cannoness confirmed that all the woodcuts depicting Timon in this style were done by the same artist.
  • Terrible storms plagued the planet post ROF. Timon lead them to safety at the “basilica.” Still fairly convinced it was his ship, or at least he had prior knowledge of it.
  • There were some individuals called the Knights of White Fire, founded by one Marissa Baines, who fought something called the Emissaries of the Unhallowed. They were quite squidgy, with tentacles and that. Something about them erupting into a cloud and cursing the people.
  • They defeated these Unhallowed. Afterwards they got into politics, which was their undoing.
  • Early on, there was an alliance with the Cooj. They battled zombies and the Zombie King together. Zombie King!
  • Wooz Wrack: Woozes murdering everyone. Longing for freedom?
  • Alanis Hawkwood founded the order of the White Flame. Sworn foes of the spider folk of the black wood.
  • Alanis also made loads of Catwoman porn.
  • He also “defeated the Dragon Wrackbreath” with a sword called Caliber at a place called Angelfire.

There was also a headset that showed movies stored on cubes. We had to rig something to power it. Nothing impressive has been viewed yet. We also found tablets containing info about the ship that became the basilica. Its called “Castille.”

We then had dinner with the Canoness wherein we laid out our plans for discovering the mysteries of the church. She was a bit resistant, but ultimately agreed to facilitate our investigation because, how could you not, it’s pretty exciting stuff. We began our prodding at a previously unseen woodcut in her study. It depicted St. Latimer/Timon “dancing at the edge of the universe in joyful exultation.” Or, to our eyes, conducting some sort of ritual. He was surrounded by portals. When scanned magically, even more portals appeared, and each was of a slightly different brilliance. We recorded the order of brightness, thinking it might be a key to something else. The arrangement of the portals appeared to be the same as in the holy symbol the faithful wear here. But, then, it occurred to us that it might just be simpler than that. We touched the symbols in descending order, from brightest to dimmest, and the woodcut swung open, revealing a hidden passageway leading up into the ship.

More soon.

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Talking and Reading
Olis reordings, book smart things

We had dinner with the Canoness Winifred. I guess we had decided to go with honesty. We pretty much told her almost everything that we found out. She does seem eager to find out more from these records that they themselves cannot gain knowledge from.

My companions were planning on going through the purification ritual so they can go into the archive. Well, I don’t know my letters so I declined to participate. I can’t imagine they will need me for anything while doing their book smart things. Carter was agitated and insisted that everyone take his medicine before the ritual. He almost did not go through the ritual himself, but it seems the others convinced him to do so. And so they went up.
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It’s not a bad day. I think I’ll go wander the village.

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That's no moon!
Carter and the pile of straw intermixed star empires

We finally trudged our way to the latest entry in Medieval World Theme Park; The Basilica of Saint Timon. Of course the ‘Basilica’ is a tiny little village, wood construction, no sanitary conditions to speak of replete with straw mattresses and everything else you would expect from medieval land.

Except, of course, the Basilica itself is the wreck of an interstellar freighter of some sort.

So let us unpack that for a moment. An orbital vessel survived a prow impact with the planet. And there it sits, bow in, standing upright into the sky. Further the vessel is of such magnitude that it creates its own weather effects, much like one would expect from an arcology or mega-scraper. Not only did it survive impact, it has sat there for a millennium allowing the survivors of said wreck to build their hovels in its hold.

This doesn’t even touch on the fact that the thing makes the Strike Carrier Majestic look like a bloody courier boat in comparison.

This is me hoping we are in a completely different universe from home, as the implications are… awkward otherwise.

So for the rest of this narrative, imagine me restraining myself with every bit of fortitude I can muster from refraining from taking samples from everything. What material is this thing made from to survive the impact? What is its power distribution system? Electronics? Processing system? Power plant? Propulsion system? I managed to sate myself by attempting a 3 dimensional mapping of the hull, before I find a maintenance shaft and crawl the 3000 meters (at least!) to the engineering spaces above us.


several video inserts here


Topping off the weirdness lorry! All of the venerated wood carvings have the Aldermeri in a tizzy. The captions are wrong according to them, and depict their local saints from their home planet.

No clue what to make of that.

Other tidbits; the statue in the basement is a puzzle box and the ‘coffin’ of Mr. Whomeverheis is clearly some sort of cyrostatic suspension unit – inhabited by a Dwarf, straight out of fiction no less.

Now the party is debating sneaking about to find out more bits or telling the natives straight up what we’re looking for. Hell. At this point I think we should tell them straight up and see if we can turn on the bloody thing. Who knows what we could uncover.

Follow up:
There was some sort of data drive in the head of the statue. No idea what its purpose is as of yet.

The Cannoness was interested rather than ‘frightened’ by my PDA. She finally slotted it into her head as a magic ‘scribe’ I believe.

The utter lack of sanitation has me horrified. Still boiling all of the water with my ready-Pak. No cholera or dysentry for me thankyouverymuch. I’m going to shower for a month once we get back to the Venture.

Oh! And aparently those with magical sight were able to see a luminosity pattern to the stars within the woodcutting within the Canonesses living quarters. Thorne pushed them opening a gantry access ladder which leads toward the stern. (the bow would be useless really. I don’t care how significant the ship is, there can’t be much of use left down there).

On the magical sight bit; I need to work with Thorne, Aldren and Kiron to try to understand what electromagnetic principals use ‘magic’ so that we aren’t reliant only on Thorne to see these… oddities.

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Restraint! (Thorne's Journal)
How we didn't fuck things up, at all!

Heinrich was murdered by something? Something smushed him repeatedly with a log. He was stood by the tree as the Wooz did it’s work, and didn’t see what brought it about to kill him. He was certain it was not the Wooz. Worth investigating, but we haven’t got the time. Sorry Heinrich.

Our Goal: Determine if the Damainians are worth saving.
In the interest of this, we asked Athelstan a few questions:

1. How does one become a hawkwood if there is not marriage?

Marriage and sex are completely uncoupled here. One is expected to breed with whomever is eligible as your parent/sex overlord dictates. You can get married to someone independently of that and breed with them also. But regardless, when that breeding involves a Hawkwood, that’s another Hawkwood. We have to admit, apart from the compulsory breeding with partners that might not be worthwhile, the extremely open approach to sex is appealing.

2. How often does one have to breed if one is determined eligible to do so?

It depends. On your station in society, on the proclivities of your sex overlord, on the community in which you live, etc. Sounds mostly alright? The class component irks, but isn’t surprising or a reason not to save these people. If anything. Taking them beyond this world might end some of these breeding practices.

So we arrived at the Basilica. Which, Ramona tells us, is shaped like an American football. It’s staggeringly huge, and is quite clearly a crashed space ship, covered in vegetation. A cargo ship, according to Smythe. At ground level, a huge bay opens and inside it, they’ve built a church and a crypt. There’s a town built around as well. The vaulted space of the church is so big it’s got it’s own weather inside.

The Crypt: lots of glowy techno-whatsit surrounding the “coffin” itself. Inside the coffin is the preserved body of St. Timon himself. Perfectly preserved, like might-not-be-dead preserved. Also, he’s clearly an Aldameri Dwarf. In addition to the technology clearly present, there were wards placed upon the coffin. Preservative magic, but also an inwardly focused ward – the type of thing generally used to trap malevolent entities such as demons and evil spirits. Big time evil prevention. And we walked away from this astoundingly interesting situation – fuck, fuck, fuck – because we were being taken on a tour of the facility by father Romahn. A decent fellow, seemingly.

But was this crazy rocket-church done taunting us? Oh no, no it was not. We demand credit for the unbelievable restraint we showed in here. Chezza was climbing the walls with scientific curiosity, Erasmus wanted to interrogate every fucking body. But we didn’t, because discretion! The Nave was bedecked in the most astounding Woodcuts. Holy shit these things. Here, listing them:

1. The raising of Eleanor Hawkwood – A guy, who is supposedly St. Timon, is seen standing over a female warrior/priest type. She’s supposedly Eleanor Hawkwood – the “I survived the rain of fire” hawkwood. She’s like their savior. Except! Timon is clearly St. Latimer(who looks nothing like the guy in the coffin), and Eleanor is fucking Thesme. Adventuring party, ass-kicking Thesme.

2. The taming of the Giant Wooz – Again, St. Latimer. He’s depicted squaring off with what is clearly a depiction of the Lich King wearing a metal crown. They think it’s a giant Wooz.

3. They think this one depicts Timon hugging a king or something. What it actually depicts is Latimer – in full-blown Gandalf mode – wearing a broken half of the crown of the Lich king standing over the body of a fallen enemy.

4. Timon opening a star gate or something? Again, Latimer, this time with no crown. He’s opening a glowing, stylized door in the stars. The stars in the depiction seem very detailed. Maybe an actual star chart.

In a few of these images are hidden secret symbols that we think are some sort of code to be deciphered. The Wooz picture and the gate picture are being masked by illusion magic, so something is hidden within them! But again, restraint. We didn’t dispel or try to circumvent the illusion in any way.

So after the rain of fire, “Timon” brought the survivors to the Basilica, and it became the first seat of the Hawkwoods post rain of fire (PRF). It is unclear whether he was amongst the survivors or if he arrived post PRF. For all we know he was an offworlder who arrived to take charge. Why? From where? Apparently, he’s appeared multiple times over the intervening years – need more information about this, does he take different forms each time? Is he reincarnated as different people or is he always the same? Reincarnation would explain the present individual in the coffin. In the cellar, they have the crypts of these early Hawkwoods, including Eleanor, although the bodies have long since been burned. So, we check that and there’s a hidden… something inside the wooden bust of Eleanor/Thesme – behind her eye. It’s a puzzle, um, head. Again, we do not attempt to open it, although we most certainly could. Restraint!

Then there’s the records that are apparently upstairs. They’re in a format that they no longer know how to read/access, whatever. They’re willing to let us examine those records to see if we have a way to unravel them. This is incredibly important because it might tell us all kinds of useful stuff – what was going on pre rain of fire, who actually bombed the planet, what the Basilica ship actually was, any number of other useful things.

So now, the conundrum, still. Are they worth saving, or are they religious fuckbags who breed women to death? We had dinner with the Canon, and she seemed groovy. She seemed remarkably tolerant for a high-up in a church. So did father Romahn, so does Athelstan. In fact, everyone who we’ve met that’s been in power here seems very approachable and adaptable to new information. Even when it comes to their religion.

So now, we’re faced with a choice. After we have a look at the archives, we’re going to need to decide what to do about all the amazingly fascinating mysteries contained in the Basilica. We have two choices, essentially.

1. Sneak into the church at night and subdue/befuddle any priests or guards we encounter, and get at all the good shit. Drawback are lying and sneaking around could lead to us getting caught and burning our bridges with the only society sympathetic to us on this world. Arguably the people who need our help. Also, we’re not certain we can crack all the mysteries in one night.

2. Tell Athelstan and the church folk that their Basilica is full of amazing mysteries and we want to solve them. To do this, we’d probably need to hint at our ability to free them from their planet-locked condition. Obvious drawbacks are that if they’re not onboard, we cannot un-ring that bell. So we might never get to unravel the mysteries of the Church or would have to do so covertly.

We think we want option one. Be honest and forthright with these people who are treating us as honored guests. How’s that for a change? But prudently, we should see the archives first.

We look forward to everything yet to be discovered.

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That's no Saint Timon
Recording of Olis, Basilica of St Timon

This is Olis. Things got a little hazy. I think I might have been out of phase again. I rejoined the group just as we arrived at the Basilica of St Timon. The thing is, the basilica is impossibly huge and leaning. We can even see clouds near the top… on the inside. Carter says that it is a crashed cargo ship. I may be a landlubber but I’ve seen ships before and this is no ship.

We are greeted by Deacon Ramon. As we are in the company of Sir Hawkwood, we are well received and given a tour. The Saint is perfectly preserved and by my eyes is no man but a dwarf. I don’t understand. I look over at Gabriel and Thorne and they too recognize the dwarf.

We are shown several pictures. I say pictures because they call it tapestries but it looks like woodcuts to me. And these pictures make no sense. I think the first one was called The Restoration of Eleanor Hawkwood. It looks like Thesme to me. The second one was called The Taming of the Giant Woose. That is no tree creature. That was the Lich King himself, with crown and all. Gabriel and Thorne see what I see. They are whispering to each other in obvious excitement. The third one was called The Saintly Blessing of House Hawkwood. The one giving the blessing? Yeah, that’s Saint Latimer. The fourth one was The Saint at the Gate. Yup, Latimer again opening a star gate. The picture is really detailed.

None of these pictures depict what they say they depict. It’s like they see but choose not to see, I mean the Saint Timon people. What is going on here? Why are there pictures from Aladamere on this world? The people of Damaina came from elsewhere in their Phoenix Empire. So was that somewhere Aldamere? How could that be?
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Devana, Blessed of Podaga

Delia’s children have been fostered out to families around the village – the kinship lines in this village are deep and tangled. Delia’s own line was rather “weedy”, she is survived by a single sister. Delia’s last child was fostered to a particularly prolific family of woodsfolk. The steading is a ramshackle affair, added to over generations it dominates a small valley and creeps up the side of the valley walls to weave among the leafy boles of the surrounding forest. In Hamadryad’s pre-dawn light it takes on a dark green cast. Work has already begun. Smoke curls out from the chimney of what is probably the main hearth – it brings with it the scent of breakfast: baked tubers, frying meats, and other less recognizable aromas. The things folk eat on Damaina are strange to the palate – ranging from slightly familiar to wholly unrecognizable. None of it has killed anyone in the party yet – but everyone’s system acclimates differently and often unpredictably; sometimes unpleasantly. Men are busy in the axe-yard – trimming and shaping trees by hand. As you approach you can make out a familiar figure leaving the steading, leading a large gnarled wose bearing a harness – it is Heinrick. He seems surprised to see you, but inclined to be about his tasks rather than stopping to chat unless pressed. He waves you toward the main doors of the steading with a laugh.

“Breakfast on the table, you are welcome.”

Despite his gruff manner, he seems generally pleased to see you.

Olis and Thorne enter Heinrick’s steading. It would be readily evident that Heinrick isn’t the only male in residence, isn’t in charge, and isn’t the eldest. Holding court at a massive wooden table in the main hall is an enormous woman that looks to have been hewn out of gnarled brown wood — she almost looks more wose than human, complete with a tangled crown of steel-grey hair bedecked with braids and interwoven with oddments that clack when she shifts. She is surrounded by four men ranging in age from late thirties to early 60’s. They could be brothers. They could be her sons. All are eating breakfast. The smells that had drifted on the smoky breeze permeate the hall. Other members of the “clan” scurry about with serving platters and bowls and wooden mugs of something spicy, hot, and aromatic.

The old woman eyes you as you enter, “Strangers come to breakfast at Malog’stead. We have heard tales of yur doing in the village and the savin’ of our boy Heinrick. For that you have our gratitude. What need you with Malogs’kin?”

I’m assuming at this point you explain your vision — even if you don’t and just state you want to see the babe before you depart — she (and those assembled) are fine with this.
They won’t leave Olis alone with the baby though — when that becomes evident you give the blessing of Padoga.

Olis cradles the baby in one hand and speaks, faintly glowing spear in his other hand, Thorne at his side.
“Little one, listen to me. I bring you the Blessing of Podaga. Your name, your true name is Devana. You are the moon. You are the huntress. You are the virgin. You are the first to be blessed on this world, but you will not be the last. You are the storm that is to come. Be brave, and know that you are the Blessed of Podaga.”

Upon placing the blessing upon the babe — her eyes seem to glow with a green flame. Neither of you recall what color her eyes were before…but they are a brilliant emerald green now. The glow of the spear fades, the green fire dims like a dying candle, and is snuffed out.

They seem pleased. And ask more about this spirit that now watches over the babe. The baby was called, Nifta, but calling it Devana seems a small thing to them. They ask what the name means. Malogs’kin really want to know more about what this all means.

Thorne speaks.
“We hail from a distant world, alike this one in many ways, but different too. On Aldamere, in many towns and villages such as these, the people would be protected by a spirit of the hearth. Podaga was such a spirit, grown strong and proud in the centuries of caring for her people. However, a great calamity eventually befell the village of Podaga, an army of demon worshiping fiends fell upon them and laid the village to waste. And though Podaga couldn’t save the village, she made the diabolists pay dearly, cursing them. She did one more thing, too. She left behind a great artifact, her spear. Olis has carried that spear through many miles and years in remembrance of what befell the villagers, in the hopes that someday, Podaga’s blessing might be passed on to a deserving folk.
I think that day has come. Devanna is the spring, she is renewal, she heralds a new chapter for your town and this world.”

Olis speaks.
“I leave this spear in your care, for one day there may come a day where you will need it to defend Devana. Or she may have need to defend herself. Or she may choose to wield it for her people.”

Malogs’kin appears pleased. To them Damaina is a rough and often unforgiving place — the blessing of any spirit is welcome.

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Discussion in the middle of the night
Best laid plans of Olis and Podaga...

Olis:
Thorne, listen, I need your help. I must do something but I can’t do it alone without causing a lot of trouble.
Well, I need to speak with Emerald’s siblings.
Yes, right now, with all of them.
Yes, including the baby girl. You see my problem?
No, I haven’t gone mad. Podaga spoke to me.
Don’t look at me like that.
I had a vision and I saw Podaga and the spear.
I don’t know why. I just need to do it.
Well, three things. I’m sure their guardians aren’t going to cooperate. Actually, I don’t want them to know at all. So you do your mind thing and they won’t remember, right?
So we get the baby first, then the kids, and we have a chat. You watch my back for weird things. I mean, it’s Podaga so who knows.
What’s that? Oh, the third thing. Well, you can help me convince the kids to listen to me.
You’ll be fine. You’ll be the Prophet. Speak some wise words or something.
Oh, after? We return them, the villagers none the wiser.
Well, are you going to help me or not?

- – -
Thorne scowls at Olis, rubbing sleep from their eyes. “You want us to help you kidnap babies? Why? We’re not adopting them Olis. So your plan is for me to slag the brain of their minders while you have a silent conversation with 8 kids in the middle of the night? You know that’s how people get hanged, right?”

“Listen, I’m not one to deny the will of Podaga, but if you’re going to do it, we need to try and do one at a time. Speaking to them all at once would be worse than herding cats. It could get the whole village going, and every one you talk to is going to have to feel great after or that’ll be the end. What do you want from these kids, Olis? What could we possibly do for them?”
- – -

Olis rubs his chin. He had always been good with small children. They would flock to him and climb all over him. They would laugh and giggle while he tossed them about. He would find strange presents in his pockets, acorns, beetles, pebbles, that the kids would leave him. Once the kids started to grow, then they began to fear him. Maybe it was his size and bulk, maybe it was his warrior’s stance, but something let the older kids know he was dangerous. Thinking back to his last interaction with kids, in that small mountain village on the way to the silo, brought a frown to his face. The adults sure didn’t like him talking to the kids but how were the kids with him? Was Thorne right?

“Thorne, I don’t know. Maybe you’re right. Maybe we should speak with them one at a time. But that’s going to take too long… I think. Podaga saw Emerald. Podaga knew Emerald. You know how we came into possession of this spear. That fury, that vengeance, is the same that was in Emerald. Now she is dead but her line need not die out. Podaga has given me a name, a gift for the baby. It will be her real name. The name is Devana. She is the moon. She is the huntress. She is the virgin. She is the change, or has the potential to be the change. I’m not sure, but I think that’s what Podaga is implying. The other kids must know the true name, one that they will know her by but keep secret from others. It will bond them together, protect them, and perhaps bring about change to this world. That is what Podaga is offering. I don’t know if I can tell it right, but I must try.”

Thorne looks at Olis’ determined face and sighs. “All right, I understand, but there is a problem. I overheard that the kids were being split up now that the ‘Forest Witch Problem’ has been resolved. They are now all over the village. I’m good, but I’m not that good. We can’t possibly gather them in one place without the villagers noticing.”

“Damn it, damn it, damn it!” Olis grits his teeth. What was most important to Podaga? What did she actually want? What should he do? “The baby. We get to the baby and giver her the name. The villagers, they follow space Thesme, so they might not like it but screw them. We need someone other than the baby to know. We’ll go in the morning. Go back to sleep. And, thank you.”

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Dreams and portents
Podaga's vision

Olis was a soldier. He had seem many deaths before. He had seen men die. He had seen women die. He had seen children die. He had seen senseless deaths. He had seen needless deaths. He himself had caused many deaths. There always were and there always will be deaths, unfortunate and unavoidable deaths.

Yet something about Emerald’s death bothered him tremendously. She was no innocent. Rage had filled her. She had killed and maimed men. She had slit her own grandmother’s throat. Still, she didn’t deserve this. Trussed up, unconscious, they deemed her guilty and lopped her head off. He didn’t blame Hawkwood, but it was not right.

Seeing the blade descending, hearing the sickening sound of bone parting before metal, that was not what had gotten to him. It was the wailing of the children, Emerald’s siblings. Olis had gripped his spear so tight he felt he would crush the haft or his own hand.

Olis had asked after the children. The nanny would barely tolerate his presence, muttering “off-worlder” under her breath. The children recognized him from earlier in the day. The older ones looked upon him with suspicion. They had come, they had asked about their sister, their sister was captured, their sister was dead. Even a child could follow that cold logic.

Olis had knelt down to speak to them. He hadn’t known what exactly to say to them, but the words came out. “Your sister was brave. You must be brave. You must look out for each other. She would have wanted that.” He felt like an idiot but that was the best he could do.

The party was in a somber mood. They all went to sleep early. Olis slept in the common room.

Olis dreamed.

A buck runs through the woods, antlers full grown. It scrapes and rubs, marking his territory. The rut is upon him. The buck finds a doe and approaches. She runs, he runs, the chase is upon them. She is pleased, she slows, allows him to catch her. He mounts her, time and time again. He stays with her, fending off younger bucks who would dare approach. Time passes. The doe is alone. She walks through snow, nibbling away at greens, belly swollen. Time passes. The doe is ready. She walks through green meadows to returns to her place with the large rock. The doe drops her first, then her second fawn. She is licking them, helping them stand, when her belly stirs again. The third one drops after a long struggle. It has taken too long. There are growls. The wolves are upon them. But the third fawn stands, and in doing so, changes. Flesh and bone stretch and contract, transforming the fawn into something far more. It bellows a challenge and the first wolf charging in is impaled upon its sharp antlers. The second wolf snapping at its legs is grabbed by an enormous hand around its throat, followed by the dull sound of its neck breaking. The third wolf turns to flee, much too late, as a green spearhead is driven through its chest. Podaga bellows.

Olis bolted upright. His hands shook. His heart pounded as if he had just fought a battle. He looked over at the spear. It glowed. It pulsed. It beckoned him. Olis stood, then making up his mind, he went to wake Thorne.

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