Thousand Dying Suns

A tall ship and a star to sail her by
Arden, Khiron, Thorne, Gabriel

Passing through Everywhere—or was it No-where, I can’t quite grasp it—the second time was quite a different experience. The first time the Entity held sway over our minds in the hopes of torturing us, although Thorne was able to quickly pull us away to the ‘safety’ of hir’s mind. The second time was disturbingly quiet, peaceful, even pleasant… until the ship returned to normal space. Then the pit of one’s stomach fell out and it took a moment to quell the nausea.

The ship felt more like a cathedral in space than it felt like a vehicle, and the sensation was of the world having shifted about you as you stood still. The image of the dark, dirty planet was gone, and in it’s place was a huge metal cross hanging in space above a blue and green marble. Thorne commented about how it must merely resemble a religious icon rather than purposely having been built as such, but there was a divine quality to it. Gathering our wits, it became clear that the ship had plans of it’s own and that we had better get a hold as best we could.

The lone survivor of the ship, the chief scientist, seemed as befuddled as the rest of us as to what had happened, but we at least had arrived in one piece—although Thorne insisted that some person named Mr. Dwight had disappeared, but Thorne has been taken with strange notions many times before. Arden confirmed that we had not moved through space but had cross through some portal between worlds.

Arden, Khiron, Thorne, and the lone survivor were able to determine some things about the new world below. It appeared to mostly be wilderness with isolated cities, and some evidence of technology and even ‘atomic power’ in places. There was some communication taking place in a particular location that the company focused the ship’s equipment on. Somehow the party was transported to the surface unexpectedly by the ship, putting them into the action in the middle of a skirmish between soliders and some beastmen rather than merely observing it from far above.

Thorne had sensed a magic object in the area, so the company quickly moved down toward the source. After some excavation, we discovered a case bearing a symbol that was uncannily like the Solarin Church, and the remains for four people. Thorne found one of the spirits trapped, and was able to glean that they were bearing a magical “key” which was mean to be transported to “Crucifix Station” but never made it. After a short battle with some beastmen-like creatures, the party moved away from the battle and to the safety of a quiet corner of the collapsing dome-covered forest.

New World
Recordings of Olis, Damaina

Um… right, this is Olis. I only know a few letters but Khiron has shown me this recording thing. It remembers what I say and reads it back to me. So even if I don’t know my letters, I can note things down. Which is good, because my memory is fuzzy.

One minute I was standing on a patrol boat in the river Iowa or Idaho or one of those ‘I’ places. The next, I’m in a forest clearing. The trees are wrong, the colors are wrong, the smells are all wrong. On top of which Dwight is missing, there’s a new guy named Carter, Ser Marcel is still Arden, and they are all wearing these ridiculous silver clothing and helmets. Thorne, being his usual self, just winks at me and tells me not to worry. I stifle the urge to choke him.

From what I gather, we found a ship, a ship that sails between the worlds. Which is good as it might bring us back to where we started. However, the ship had a problem so Thorne ‘fixed’ it by putting the mind of his mistress ELIS into the ship. And, surprise, that’s how we ended up here.

Where is here? Here is another world. There are men and there are beastmen which are called Kooj. There is also a tree thing, like a wood golem but alive. There was talking on the radio so we went towards where the men were under attack by the Kooj. We turned the tide of battle and the Kooj fled. This Carter fellow seems to now his way around a fight but reminds me too much of the idiot nobles back home. Best to keep an eye on him. The wary but grateful men invited us back to their citadel called Oathfire Keep.

This is what I learned there. This world is called Damaina. The sun is called Hamadryad. It was part of a greater empire, the Empire of the Phoenix throne. There was a rebellion and this world took sides with the rebels, or were the rebels, I’m not too sure about that. The rebellion ended in the Rain of Fire when this world was cut off from the empire. That was centuries ago. Somewhere up above Damaina is our ship. Carter says it’s called the HMS Venture. Up there is also a cross shaped gate that is locked. We need to unlock the gate to be able to travel between the stars. But if the gate is hanging in the heavens, why can’t we just go around it? I’m not sure, I’m missing something. Anyway, through the gate is a sun called Caliban. I don’t understand why we need to travel between the stars instead of traveling between worlds like we did when we arrived, but the others seem to think that is the best way out of here. So we are searching for the key, which we might already have. But the twist is, just having the key is not enough. We need to know how to use the key.

Thorne and Carter seems to think knowledge lies with the Basilica of Saint Timon. It’s a week’s travel to that place. Our ship cannot come down. It is building something to come down to get us but it will take a week. So we might as well start hoofing it. Well, that is the plan but who knows with Thorne around.

The people here follow the Church of the Celestial Sun. Gabriel’s miracles have certainly impressed the people. Thorne calls it space Thesme and raves about saintly apparitions he can see. Well, what did he think Gabriel was doing when he was invoking his miracles? I don’t get it. Not my problem.

There is also a test that their priests did. I was wary but it did not hurt. They were joyous when they learned the outcome. I did not really understand about this ‘genetic compatibility test’ but it became clear when a lady came to by bed chambers last night. Her name was Tamara, dark of hair and tan of skin. She wished me to sire her a child. I told her I did not want to stay but she assured me that she only wanted the child. Well then, it has been a long time so… I kind of embarrassed myself the first time. I made up for it with the second. On the third, she bit me on the shoulder to keep herself from crying out too loud. I could have kept on but she begged off. I guess I might have shown my disappointment. She left and returned with another girl. Her name was Lizbeth and she was fairer than Tamara and had lips like strawberries. Tamara said her cycle might be close enough, whatever that meant. So twice more me and the little sergeant soldiered on. We all fell asleep in the warmth of each other’s company. Oh, and something a little strange. I could have sworn the Spear was brighter last night. The green glow was noticeable even through the sheath.

So that’s how it went. It’s now dawn. The women are still asleep. My bones ache and my muscles ache but today is a good day.

Are these guys rubbish? They might be rubbish.
All mimsy were the borogoves...

We are not sure what to think about this world, Damaina. It is devoid of magic, almost devoid. The spirits are quiet. It is unnatural.

The rain of fire was almost certainly an atomic bomb. They have a test that everyone must undertake in order to be cleared for mating. They have a fascinating approach to sex. Very direct and almost clinical? We are starting to see how this might have developed. The bombs fell, mutation was rampant, they retained some vestiges of their technological past. Enough to test for healthy DNA. Their population would have been devastated, so breeding for pleasure or love was passed over in place of matching healthy genetic pairs. I much prefer their approach to a chaste, religious, only after marriage one, but they could make it a bit sexier. Maybe it’s sexier in the bedroom? Everyone else seemed to have enjoyed their night.

We are not allowed to breed because our mutable gender detects as unstable DNA. It’s possible that if we concentrate on fixing our sex during the test that we could pass it. It is amusing to be the only one not indulging for a change. Perhaps we’ll ask loads of embarrassing questions about the sex everyone else is having. Really technical questions about the anatomy of Damaina women compared to Aldameri and Earthlings. :)

So we’re making our way to the Basilica of Saint Timon. It’s meant to be their repository of “old information.” The hope is that some records of the time before the rain of fire have survived. Our primary goal is to ascertain what caused the Phoenix Empire to drop the bombs. Are these people deserving of being cut off from everything? Is their odd, religious zealousness a result of the apocalypse they survived, or the cause of it? Is the phoenix empire full of god botherers as well? If it is, do we even want to meet them? I’m sure Gabriel does. They were once in charge of this space empire, according to them. There was a coup by the “Mirathi.” Some twat called Ninos the undying. The Hawkwoods attempted to take power back and boom, rain of fire. So again, who do we like in this, and what needs fixing?

There have been 3 ages – 1st republic, 2nd republic, and the Age of Empire, which was started by the Hawkwoods. So they went from democracy to dictatorship, because of the Hawkwoods. Not great guys, not great. Sounds like the Hawkwoods might be rubbish.

Aliens: Tao, Eldar. Eldar helped humans, we think. Tao were the bad guys? We’re curious to see actual “aliens.” Hopefully they’re still around.

Non faith-based magic is evil, blah blah blah. Demons might get us.

Further Objectives:

  • Determine the cognitive abilities of the Ents or Woozles or whatever.
  • What’s a Bandersnatch? Ramona says it’s from Jabberwocky. Apparently it’s very frumious. Something about vorpal swords. Snicker-snack…


Unplanned Jumping or (lol, I was right about the Universe)
The ship decided things for us...

We found a survivor of the ship’s previous “jump.” Sort of. Carter Hamilton Smythe, a.k.a. Captain Brittain was the “chief science officer” aboard a version of the ship – which he calls the Venture. However “his” quarters were labeled Caitlyn Hamilton Smythe, which was apparently the name of his dead sister. We found him rifling through her undergarments, confused as to why all of his kit had been replaced with ladies things.

So theory time: Caitlyn was aboard this instance of the ship, Carter the other. During the jump, the two realities overlapped and they got swapped. Or possibly, Caitlyn also remained here and was one of the casualties. Either way, Carter isn’t from this when or where. He’s from a place called “Rue Brittainia.” Also, he’s at least partially dead. He was stuck in an out of phase state during the demon incident – a 60 year incident. So “out of phase” in this context means sort of trapped between dimensions or realities or whatever. It’s possible that in one of those realities he actually did die, or almost died, before being shunted? This simultaneous death/non-death may be what has contributed to his strange phase state, so he is both dead and alive at once, both part of and apart from this instance of reality.

It’s interesting how this condition possibly parallels some aspects of our own. We have speculated that both of us died in concurrent versions of the summoning incident. Dissonance is largely avoided because mentally, both of us exist in both states conceptually so that each state balances or cancels the other out. The sum totality of two alternate versions of our reality, or as we have been given reason to speculate, all Thornes in all realities. This doesn’t seem to be the case with the Smythe entity. The particulars of this new dissonant state demands further study.

So, we recalled the lander from Earth and discovered that “Lander 2” was out of commission on Titan – a moon of a planet called Jupiter. There’s was a fair amount of thought being devoted to gaining full access to the functions of the ship when a message was displayed stating that a jump would be initiated in 20 seconds. Brilliant! Things driving forward, regardless of our intentions. Fearing another entropic collision, we scrambled to “install” ELIS onto the ship’s computer. The bit that was in our head, at least. Then the jump happened. Apparently, we did not have another no-place incident. We arrived in orbit around a planet that was distinctly not Earth and not Aldamere, at least not the Aldamere we know. It had a great crucifix orbiting it in space.

We used our scanners and sensors and whatever other instruments the ship has got to peer down at the surface of the planet and we learned a few things. First, that there is evidence of atomic activity. Second, that it’s isolated to particular areas. Third, that there is a powerful magical signature on the surface of the planet and that it is some kind of key. Fourth, that it was located inside some kind of broken glass and metal dome. And Fifth, that some sort of battle was taking place in and around the dome.

Smythe and everyone tried to sort out how to go about ensuring that the ship wasn’t going to jump again and then how to go about going down to the surface. He fucked something up and we were all accidentally beamed down to the surface near the dome. We naturally decided to investigate. We were able to tune in to their radio channel and found that there was a contingent of humans being led by two personages called “Hawkwood.” Very posh. They were in pitched battle with something called the “Cooj” or “beasties.” Beastmen. Echoes.

Gabriel scouted and we snuck along after him, managing to circumvent both factions. The magical signature was coming from below so we started making our way down. Inside the dome were various tiers that only encompassed part of it’s circumference. The dome itself was cracked and broken in places and trees were growing in miniature forests atop the tiers. This was somehow reminiscent of both Aldamere and fucked and bombed out Earth. The further down we went the more the plant life became a hindrance until finally we reached the level of the key.

The center of the chamber was choked with dirt and vines and tree roots. I tried to use my lightsaber to majestically cut through the debris, but reality did not share my sense of dramatic flair. Luckily Khiron used his telekinesis to shift the lot and uncovered a very curious scene. 4 skeletons, clad in mouldering clothes, were crouched together conspiratorially. One held a rectangular metal box from whence the magical signature emanated. It was emblazoned with a Sun motif quite similar to our own Solarian (Thesme bullshit, fucking space Thesme, fucking idiotic, hateful, petty religion) church. Despite the tainted mark, I opened it. Inside was a cylinder glowing with it’s own golden luminescence. Arden did his timey wimey thing (Brilliant!) and we got to share a vision. Not quite sure what any of it meant yet? There’s a jump-gate in “crucifix station” that is opened by the key. The men carrying it intended to get it there but never made it. Something about templars coming after them or to rescue them? I think that’s when the bomb dropped and buried them in the basement of the dome. Also, Arden’s powers? Much cooler than Marcel’s, which were being obstinate, not knowing how to read, stealing everyone’s money without trying and practicing shite religion. Still hope he’s OK out there hanging out with that well fit female Gabriel. Gabriella? Gabby?

So we have the means to open a gate from here to who knows where? Having discovered this mere hours after arriving on this planet, one wonders what comes next. If my premise of the universe bringing us here for a reason is true, then what is wrong and how do we fix it? Do the people of these world need the path to their stars opened? Are they worthy of our help. We’ll have to have a chat, wont we? I’m not keen on their possible religiosity.

Ashes of the Phoenix Empire
There seems to be a minor... malfunction.

The first voyage of the Venture testing the Skip drive was a resounding success! Well, in that the drive worked to specifications. Unfortunately there were other variables which were not accounted for resulting in two problems; the vessel did not remain within our home dimension, and we picked up a… thing.

Long Story short, everyone died or evacuated and I ended up taking a 60-year nap in a bulkhead. I really have no idea how such a thing is possible but now I am evidently a superhero with matter phasing and manipulation abilities. It would make for a lovely BBC program honestly.

Nonetheless. I was eventually rescued not by Her Majesties Marines, but rather a rag-tag group of multi-dimensional travelers. And just as we got our hands on things the bloody ship hopped universes again.

Right. So I then went about reversing the fact that I had erased my access as per standard boarding protocols when the bloody ship Skipped us to the surface of… I have no clue.

We spent a bit of time faffing about in the woods tracking down some magical falafel and whatnot when a bloody flagless wog tried to brain me with an axe. Superior firepower carried that day. More faffing about until a tree nearly stepped on some of the fellows, then off we went to rescue sir Ambleton Hawkwood (I believe, I need check the spelling Jeeves has provided here) and his company from a wog hoard.

Explosions, superior firepower and grit carried the day!

One interesting bit, the new fellow by the name of Gabriel manifested his deity, while Thorne did a credible impression of a Dark Lord of Morgoroth. The local ladies were duly impressed, but Thorne failed their genetic tests and so no wenches for him.

Right. Before that we walked(!) to their Medieval outpost. Where they also have a metal printer and atomic forge but no idea how to create new plans. It was there we found out they were former members of the Phoenix Empire of Man, thousands of years from our time – who destroyed them with orbital bombardment for their rebellion and shut down their jump gate (which we may now have the magical key. My interest is piqued).

So this just because a cautionary tale. I’ll make certain to record it all. I assume my 200 TB buffer should handle it.

We met Lord Hawkwood and his hearth and forge priests, had our genes tested and then had a roll in the hay. Because they are desperately short of genetic diversity. I’d mention CRISPERing some new unique sequences using MedLab on the Venture but I’m afraid they’d find that offensive somehow.

We later determined that Bastion Citadel has a better collection of information (other than genealogy of Sir Hawkwood) so I proposed we make for that location (on bloody foot again!) while the Venture prints up a new shuttle. Especially since the Skip peer to peer system is behaving… erratically (I’d really rather not be responsible for any of my companions getting spliced or splinched. That would just be awkward).

Star Hearth and Home
Arden, Carter, Gabriel, Khiron, Olis, Thorne

It seems my role has the primary chronicler of our journey has faded somewhat as we have left Broken Earth behind. Thorne has always been jotting down notes like a mad… person… but this new fellow, Carter, can’t seem to stop speaking to himself and even Olis is in the on the act. Things change, and that is not always for ill. Arden, however, seems to be a man of as few words as Ser Marcel, so at least some things remain steadfast.

After retrieving the magical “key” and retreating to a place of relative safety, the party was initially unsure what to do. Carter was able to establish communication with the Venture, and could at least call a retrieval when needed. On the ship, however, it’s very difficult to learn much of the world below. So the question became should we parlay with the locals or not? Circumstances on the ground, however, decided for us when Arden overheard a call for help.

Carter scouted ahead as the rest of the party came behind, hindered by the terrain and undergrowth. Arriving upon the scene, some of the humans were being ambushed by a large group of beastfolks, so the company weighed in to rebalance the scales. In the aftermath of the battle, Gabriel and Thorne were able to help with wounded which in addition to our aid in the battle set us in good stead with Sir Athelstan Hawkwood.

We were lead back to their home beyond the dome, which was an impressive keep around an even more impressive cathedral—we later learned it was called Oathfire Keep. Within was the ‘star hearth’, one of those ‘atomic power’ sources the ship spotted from above. It was maintained by the priesthood, and venerated as a blessing of Thesme. It provided the locals with high-quality metal utensils, weapons, and armor as well as an endless source of heat.

The priesthood was also the keeper of another technology: something the science folk in the company refer to as ‘gene sequencing’. The population was small, and they were desperate for any infusion of ‘new blood’. Being complete strangers to their world, they were keen on securing our “contribution”—everyone except Thorne whose nature confounded their tests. Thorne was a bit put out, but the others were generally game. Gabriel thought of demurring, but it was clear that it was both a duty and a courtesy, and the woman Adriana was clearly not going to take no for an answer.

After some debate over the next week, it was decided to travel to the Basilica of Saint Timon in the company of Sir Athelstan, Adriana, Sister Bernice, and Sergeant Pi. The terrain and lack of roads meant that the trip was on foot, with the aid of what the locals call a ‘Woose’—a creature that bore an uncomfortable resemblance with a wood golem. Unfortunately, the local fauna had a particular taste for the local flora and our trip become entirely earthbound somewhat quickly.

Many days of travel through rough terrain lead to the village of Swingford. Upon arriving, we encountered a number of gruesome displays of murder most foul. It seemed a local girl on the village, Emerald—now referred to as ‘the forest witch’—was setting about a terrible revenge for the death of her mother in childbirth. As the local sheriff had not arrived, the village elders looked to Sir Athelstan to bring justice upon the girl. The company agreed to aid in the matter, hoping to bring some more measured response and thorough investigation that might be done otherwise.

Alas, it turned out that Emerald’s mother, Deliah, suffered the fate of many in this dying, isolated world. Emerald’s grandmother failed to stand up for Deliah’s health and the duty to bear children fell upon her too harshly and too often. Each man in the village who may have sired the final child was her target, and the grandmother was already dead at Emerald’s hand. With Sir Athelstan’s influence and the help of Sister Bernice knowledge, the company was able to find the next likely target and—to put it bluntly—use him as bait.

To be fair, the man did not take the threat of a 15 year old girl seriously which he ended up regretting as he fell to her trap. Through Thorne’s weird magic, Olis’ might of arms, and Gabriel’s momentary loss of focus the girl was captured. Carter was even able to undo the mortal wound from the trap through some method so strange even Throne was at a loss for words.

We had hoped that there was possibly some external influence, curse, spirit, or demon at work through the child but it was for naught. She merely had the means and a perhaps even justified rage that could not be quenched. Her woodscraft was impressive for one so young, but justice demanded her life and Sir Athelstan’s blade took it.

On the road again
walking, walking, walking and murder!

a video playback begins

Alright Lawrence. Safari it is, replete with jokes about pith helmets and whatnot.

My name is Leftenant-Commander Carter Hamilton-Smythe of HMS Venture. This will be my vblog of events as I travel this strange new universe. It appears that our vessel is over 60 years past due to an accident with the Skip drive. According to one of my new companions, Thorne – whom somehow ended up on the Venture, I am partially dead. Or exist in between realities. Or something along those lines. An interesting proposition if nothing else. Further we are in an alternate universe – one in which the galactic Empire of Man is on the wane.

Since that discovery and the events that lead to my 60 year… hibernation? I have been experimenting with my newly discovered superhero abilities. It appears I can do two things – phase out of reality at opportune moments and… fudge probability. In the experiments I’ve conducted I can alter the local reality of objects within their overall meta context. In short, I can reshape things to lower probability items – a stick into a metal stick. Even more interestingly, If I focus long enough there are also transformative effects; a stick into a rubber ball. These processes simply take far more time. The first manifestation of this ability was when I changed the door to main engineering into a bulkhead. As far as I can tell, it is less of a ‘transformation’ and more of an expression of a lower probability reality that I… evoke?

In any event, I still need to work on these newfound abilities. I must say though that the phasing has been most useful this far (the reflex phase on explosion is one I’m going to have to get used to. Not to mention being able to… rearrange an objects covalent bonds with explosive results!).

Enough Introspection. We find ourselves on the ruined world of Damaina which orbits the sun Hamadryad (this name sounds familiar to me. I really should have paid attention during astronomy class). As I previously discussed, the Ventures Skip drive is not operating correctly and deposited us on this world with no warning. I will do a full diagnostic of the system when we get back, after I also take it completely offline. We still have the emergency wormhole generator which can take us 5ly hops, and then there are these stargates – which we are currently traveling to understand more about.

I was incorrect in my last entry as we are travelling to the Basilica of Saint Timon (more religion. Joyous). At first I thought the Venture could replace the missing lander, but her most recent updates clearly indicate that is not an option. So I am hoping this Basilica will have some clues about a suborbital craft we can find somewhere on this planet – or someway to start Crucifix Station and have it send us a lander.

On to the events! While on the road we found a village in the midst of a radioactive fog (so much for my hope that the planetary bombardment, which the locals called the Rain of Fire, was limited to kinetic impactors). The final mile to the village was made remarkable by 4 crucified individuals, whom Thorn was able to speak due to his connection with the afterlife. These specters revealed that they had been killed by the ‘Forest Witch’. This witch was angry because her mother had been forced, or convinced to continue to have children in spite of health problem. And as such she died during the birth of her ninth child.
Evidently this place is under a mandate to repopulate the planet with anyone who is healthy. I am very glad there are no women in this group. Who knows what the locals would resort to given their ideological reproductive slavery nightmare.

The man we are traveling with, a Lord Hawkwood was compelled to resolve this murder issue by his vassals of the village (true medievalism! How horrifying!). Luckily Lord Hawkwood was intelligent enough to realize he had no idea how to approach this issue and listened to our suggestions on how to approach this issue. This led to a bit of armature forensics and questioning of the last few men who had sired children with the witches’ mother.

This lead us to a logger, who was determined to head out into the woods heedless of the danger. As such, Gabriel and I kept an eye on him throughout his endeavors. It turns out that the Witch is a master ranger, and set up a trap for him on the way back to the village, impaling him with multiple spikes. There was a fight in which the 15-year-old girl was captured, and a bit of an argument over how best to save the logger. Thorne is a trained surgeon, but I was able to convince the group to let me try to change…. Reality around his wounds. It worked, and now the logger has never been injured, but I’m concerned that Thorn felt…. eclipsed? Unnecessary? It was an experiment worth conducting, however the process was very taxing. I think I’ll refrain from taking on such tasks in emergency situations in the future.

Regardless. SAS teenager was put to death. Understandable I guess, but does seem a waste. Especially given in injustice that drove her to her extreme ideas of justice. It is too bad the locals don’t have a Marines to send her off to join.

Impressions of each member of the Group

A multi-dimensional traveler who uses science to manipulate space-time. I need to speak which him extensively. Several college bull-sessions seem in order.

A master of ‘Aetheric Science’ which appears to be a medley of scientism and magic. It works so who am I to argue? He seems a highly competent engineer, always a must on any expedition. Just remind me to not let him go to nuts on the ship. I’m concerned what Aethericism would do to some of the… more finely tuned components of the vessel.

Solid. You could put him amongst any collection of Master Sergeants and he’d be at home. It is always good to have a dependable rock on any expedition.

Our resident spiritualist and field medic. An out in out Tolkeinesque Gandalf. Speaks with the dead, uses ghosts to perform tasks, sets fire to things and highly excitable.

Some sort of Holy Huntsman, who can call upon saintly powers. I. What? How is this even possible? I’ll have to speak with him further to try to understand just what is going on here. Regardless. He is an expert scout. Although I could do without the bloody singing.

Failing Emerald
Maybe a little less mating?

So lets dig in to these Hawkwoods for a moment. In every sense, they are Medieval liege-lords akin to our own Aldameri lords. Up to and including being completely unprepared for the types of situations they might have to resolve amongst the peasantry. Having been exposed to democracy, even fractured, half-assed, misguided notions thereof, feudalism appalls. Combine ridiculously small gene pools (to be fair, we don’t know that this is true of the Hawkwoods, maybe they fuck everyone, just like their vassals? But then how do they determine that one is or isn’t a Hawkwood? These people seem to have no concept of marriage. Interesting, we’ll have to ask Athelstan) with inadequate training in topics necessary for legal disputes and conflict resolution and you arrive at the situation we found ourselves in upon our arrival at Swingford village.

To be fair to Athelstan, he was happy to take advice. Which is good when you’re greeted by flayed, hanged, dead men before ever entering town. So the first mostly flayed man we found was called Edward. He did a fair bit of screaming. Once he stopped he kept going on about how “she” cut of his “ghoulies” and popped them in his mouth. So flayed, hung up, gelded, killed, by a young woman called “the Forest Witch.” Always a witch, innit? So as we make our way to the village we keep seeing more of these poor souls. The last was an old woman.

Questioning them a picture starts to form: Emerald, daughter of Delia, is filled up with wrath about the death of her mum. Turns out mum was exceptionally fertile. The most fertile of the village ladies. So she’s turned into a baby factory from the day she’s eligible for mating (what age is that anyway? Another question for Athelstan). Loads of babies happen, 8 we believe, although probably many more – 8 is the number that survived. After that, she’s poorly. Her health isn’t what it once was because she’s been fucked like a bitch in heat her whole life. We feel awful for ever making light of the “mating” program here. Thank goodness for this fucking bracelet. Also we are very masculine, so goddamn manly. Anyway, clearly she’s made enough people.

So as it happens, it falls to a person’s mother to determine whether or not they are healthy enough to continue to breed. Delia’s mother probably should have taken her out of rotation, at least temporarily, but she didn’t. Emerald is aware of all of this. So Delia gets fucked again, gets pregnant again, and the pregnancy killed her. Emerald is very cross. She decided it’s all those who mated with Delia’s fault, also Delia’s mum, her grandmother. So she goes to live in the woods and starts murdering those who she blames for Delia’s death. Flaying them and hanging them up as a warning to the rest of the townfolk. We can’t say for certain what her message was, but if it were us, we’d be saying “Hey, here’s what happens when you ignore life threatening baby-making related illness and fuck a woman literally to death.” Maybe?

So, of course, Athelstan has got to deal with all of this. But as we said, he’s got no idea how. Thankfully he’s more than happy to listen to good advice. So we questioned the townfolk and figure out that there’s only one of Delia’s “lovers” left alive. A salty old fuck of a woodsman, Heinrich. We advise him to stay out of the woods for the time being, but he’s not about to shy away from his vocation just because some girly is out murdering people of his description. He’s much fucking manlier than all of those cunts. Asshole. We were about to try and convince him to stay in town when Arden brought up using him as bait, which was as good a plan as any. Arden put a tracking device on him and sent him on his way.

So we follow the brave and manly woodsman into a damned impressive trap. A springy branch fitted with sharpened stakes flew out and pierced him through his guts. We caught up quick with the clever application of a wormhole right behind Emerald. Turns out she’s got no magic to speak of, she’s just a hell of a ranger, with woodcraft to rival Gabriel’s. Olis started off by cracking her a good one and we were able to mostly keep her from attacking, apart from a failed attempt at throwing a knife into Heinrich. She changed her mind though, and fought like a demon until we subdued her.

As we went to turn our attention to the wounded Heinrich, a curious thing happened. Carter stepped in with some weirdness about probabilities and “making it so the wound never happened.” We lost our temper a bit, because he seemed uncertain of what he was about, but in the end we stepped aside to let him practice his “art.” To our surprise, we was as good as his word, and somehow wished the wound out of existence. There was a strange, disquieting sensation right before it happened – almost as if the wounded Heinrich was replaced with another, unwounded one. If he deals in dimensional probabilities, could that not be what actually happened? Just swapping one outcome for another and making the wounded man some other group’s problem? Hopefully not.

Oh, and despite our suggestion that she be gainfully employed as the best scout he’d ever want to hire. Lord Athelstan beheaded Emerald. Yeah, she’s dead. And yes, we know she’s a murderer. Yes, she shouldn’t have tortured and killed those villagers. But she was also a hurt and confused young woman with real talent who could have gone on to be something amazing, with the right help. Also, what was done to her mother was wrong and deserving of some form of justice. Not what she meted out, surely, but something. Reducing a person to a baby factory, even in the aftermath of catastrophe, is a terrible evil. It doesn’t seem like that’s how it was done in <name>. Maybe things are a bit more dire in the country, or maybe this town just takes things too far? We can’t help but feel we should have somehow prevented her death.

We attempted to assuage our guilt by freeing the spirits of the flayed. We were successful as they were all very relieved that the forest witch had been dealt with. In the spirit realm, at least, we did our best.

The Forest Witch
Recordings of Olis, Emerald

I feel sick to my stomach. I just watched a young girl executed for crimes of murder. Yet… her anger… no her rage at the injustice suffered by her mother was not without cause. I’m told the folks of this world, Damaina, do not sire children well. I’m not certain how many are unable to or should not have children. But those who can are not treated like people but like cattle at best, at worst, something else

We started our travels to the Basilica of St Timon in the company of Sir Hawkwood and his entourage: Adriana, Sister Bernice, and Sergeant Pi. We had to content with a malaise fog that could greatly harm us. As we came closer to the village of Swingford, we saw a man who had been crucified, flayed, and gelded, and not necessarily in that order. Thorne was able to speak with the screaming spirit. Apparently the man was killed by the Forest Witch. We saw two other men on the road in similar ways of death, and one older woman whose throat had been slit wide open. In the village, it is clear that Sir Hawkwood is welcome but we are not. By we, I mean those of us not from this world. The village petitioned Sir Hawkwood to do something about the murders. The man is a little simple, or ignorant, or both. However he does know how to listen so I grant you he’s not a complete idiot. He heeded our advice and tasked us with making it so.

The so-called Forest Witch is a young girl named Emerald. Her mother Deliah died in childbirth. She blamed her death upon the midwife and those who might have been the father of the child. Deliah had mated with several men to beget her last child at the urging of the midwife despite not being hale. Oh, and the midwife was Emerald’s grandmother. Talk about a family feud. And so anyone who might have been involved with the pregnancy was the target of Emerald’s wrath.

We visited Deliah’s home. There were eight children running around the place. Emerald had visited them since the first murder. She was watching over her siblings. She clearly loves and cares for her siblings. Poor girl.

We asked who else might have lain with Deliah. We found Heinrich the Carpenter. For a man under fog of death, he seems remarkably uncaring. He was going into the forest to fell trees, you know, where the Forest Witch hunts. We followed him, discretely. Gabriel and Carter moved closer to watch him unobserved. The rest of us stayed a ways away. It took some time but Heinrich felled a tree. We thought the attack might not happen today but we were wrong. Our scouts indicated trouble so we rushed forward through a portal that Thorne created. Heinrich had been impaled upon a spring spear trap. Carter was trying to help the man. And a girl was holding a knife to Gabriel’s throat. Remarkable that she got the drop on Gabriel. I was able to surprise her and get her off of him. She was mighty quick, springing abound like a wild animal. I told her to stand down but she would not. In the end, we had to subdue her. And taking her back to the village was a death sentence. Sir Hawkwood summary executed her. She could have been so much more.

What else could we have done? I don’t’ know, but this is not right. What was done to Deliah was not right. What Emerald did was not right. This village, this world, this way of thinking is not right. I think about Tamara and Lizbeth. Is this their future? Endless breeding until death? Will their children, my children become like Deliah, subservient and choiceless? Or will they become like Emerald, a threat to their society, someone to be eliminated? Is there another way? Is there a third path? There must be. There must be.

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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