Montresor 28 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

This collar tries to murder me if I attempt to take it off.  That makes sense.  Simple enough.  If I undo the thing the magic happens.  But it also tries to murder me if I ask someone else how to get it off.  This is where things get weird.  How does it know?  And what is “it” in this context?  I’ve never heard anyone make the claim that magic is an entity of some kind capable of thought and decision making.  I’ve never even really heard anyone claim that there’s a God that’s in charge of it.  So how does it work?  How?  You summon fire and you burn someone alive, I get that, that’s pretty straightforward.  But once magic has conditions what are we talking about anymore?  If you curse someone to have donkey lips and a monkey tail until they make a princess fall in love with them who’s keeping track of that?  Who or what decides when someone is in love?  Or who’s a princess?  Is the magic fully versed in geology?  No one has any clue how these things work.  Why does this not bother anyone else?

“Ela you’ve talked about this many times, give it a rest.”

I will not.  There has to be an explanation for this.  If I sit down for lunch I’m not technically “making progress” towards the North, but the collar doesn’t murder me.  Does it know that I need food to keep going so eating counts as progress?  If I have a long lunch will it strangle me a little to get me going?  Is there a time limit for lunch?  If I head due east or west will it kill me?  If I take one single solitary step to the south does it kill me?  How does “it” even know what south is?  That’s just something we made up.  Magic is supposed to be an elemental force of nature – animals don’t know directions, mountains don’t know directions, gravity doesn’t know directions, but somehow magic does?  How can it “know” anything?!  What is it?!  What?!I can’t let this go because as rare and “wonderful” as magic is it’s more a part of the Kingdom than I ever realized.  A mule farmer up in the Beregon Valley might not think that magic effects his life but it does.  Look at Chenmost, those people probably never thought about magic, didn’t make them any less dead when the place fucking blew up as a result of magic shenanigans.  Magic is an integral part of our lives, even if we don’t know it, and yet somehow no one seems to know anything about it or how it works.  

What are wizards doing out there and why are we as a people allowing them to do it?  I’m the last one to call for government intervention in just about anything, but shouldn’t we be keeping an eye on these people who are meddling with the fundamental building blocks of the universe?  Some of the really remote county oafs would gladly kill all the magic people in the world on account of their backwards and violent ways.  I could almost get on board with that if not for the fact that magic can make life so much more comfortable.  And bring me booze.  

Anyway, enough about magic.  We set out on the road to Three Rivers by way of Gevudan seeing as the area to the north is under enemy control.  Last I heard Gevudan had been captured by the enemy as well but no one seemed to be concerned about that.  The northern road was full of people.  People heading in both directions, which is a good indication that no one knows what’s going on.  The people whose villages had been wrecked along the Compass River were fleeing to Graltontown – the people in Graltowntown were fleeing north to get away from the front lines.  I’ve often wondered if someone was fleeing and they see someone else fleeing the other way if they would continue fleeing in the same direction or reverse course.  Looks like most people are content to trust their own judgement.   There was no one else on the south road.  At all. 

The “we” in this case was myself and four Ducal guards sent along as my shepherds.  Just in case the magic murder collar didn’t make enough of an impression.  The Duke’s personal guard is in theory a highly elite military force fanatical in their loyalty to the Eaglevane family.  The reality is that these days the guard is a largely ceremonial force that varies widely in quality.  The captain of the Ducal Guard for instance I don’t think has ever trained for battle, let alone been in one, he was give his position because one time he loaned one of the King’s friends his horse.  There are couple real hardcases in the Ducal Guard but they’re generally there because they made poor life decisions.

The Ducal Guard was formed in secret by Duke Anton Eaglevane in 812 from forces loyal to him in the neighboring county.  This is what is known as “treason” but given all the other treason that was about to happen people tend to forget about that.  Four regiments of the Ducal Guard were raised and based on this show of force Duke Anton gained the loyalty of several Eaglevane fighting forces as well as negotiating a contract with the infamous mercenary lord Eustace Lobar the Wolf Monk.   Anton declared himself Archduke, launching a civil war against his brother (the current Duke’s grandfather) Morton.  The fighting prowess of the Ducal Guard was so renowned that it became common to drunken louts in the taverns to debate if they would a match for the King’s Own – which is of course a highly elite military force fanatical in their loyalty to the Crown.  Seventy-six years later the Ducal Guards mostly stand around and sometimes fetch things like stools.  I have my doubts about their current efficacy as a military force in the field but they look damn good in a parade.  

I don’t know how many guards the Duke has now, but it must be a lot less than four regiments because I know two of the ones sent to escort me.  Cottom Finchley is what people generally think of when they conjure up the image of a dashing cavalryman – long, athletic, rangy, handsome in that foppish way some women like.  I prefer men who spend less time on their hair than I do personally but to each their own.  Finchely has one of them faces that are so striking that people often overlook the eyes – those cold snake eyes tell the real story.  The man is a monster.  At court he loved to play a little game with people where he’d have them arrested on false charges and then come in to “save” them only to have them be captured again when he betrayed them.  The Duke’s court has its fair share of utter shitheads and he’s one of the top ones.  For some reason he always smells like honey.  

The other fellow I know, Bolbec Forthwind, is much less striking but on the other hand he’s not a piece of human waste either so it balances out somewhat.  If he wasn’t short and closing on fifty he’d be a decent looking fellow.  Although you can’t do much about that round peasant face of his.  I told him once he would look better if he stopped painting his hair with that awful dye he uses but it doesn’t look like he listened to me – his head still glistens like an oil slick.   Finchley is younger, bigger, quicker, and meaner but if they ever came to blows I would wager that Bolbec would beat his balls off.  Some people are just fighters you know?  You can tell.

Around the time we reached Narhold we noticed vast plumes of smoke to the north.  I speculated that it was Three Rivers, you may remember that as the city we’re heading for, being burned to the ground but Finchley laughed at this idea.  Although he offered no alternative opinion on what else could be causing enough smoke that there was an early sunset.  I’ve never been to Narhold before, the only thing I know about is it that Martialla killed one of the men who killed her niece here.  His name was Bass or Flounder or some stupid fish name.  What I’ve heard about Narhold is that this is good fertile land but on account of being right next to an enemy nation no one wants to live here.  Rumor has it that it was founded by Vieland criminals who fled across the border to avoid justice in their homeland.  Consequently it’s populated mostly by outcast and criminals of various sorts, willing to make a hard life among the dangers of the region.  It’s also whispered that Nahold regularly bribes officials in Vieland with food, gold, and slaves – which is treason you know.

Once we were firmly installed in one of the rat-infested hostels in this crap border town that Bolbec Forthwind told me that he was going to set me free. 

Excerpt from Ishavar’s Histories Volume 12

Moreavan 30th in the year 887 by the New Imperial calendar (Wodemōnap 77th in the year 753 by the old calendar) was an usually cool morning in the area of the city Renwick in the Mauska region of northwestern Cymrile county.  Mist rolled in from the Upper Scale River but quickly disappeared before sunrise.  The sunrise itself was largely obscured by heavy cloud cover, dark flat clouds that promised rain that never fell.   The sunlight also struggled to penetrate the persistent smoky haze that clung to the city, there were no active fires anymore but a untiring oily kind of “air grease” that hung low to the ground.  This would later be attributed to the wide use of nerium fir trees in the construction of buildings in Renwick which burned during the fighting. 

The river around the city was littered with the blackened husks of dozens of boats of various sizes creating a significant hazard to navigation through the area.  Most of the charred bodies had already floated downstream, but there were still dozens pinned up against the docks or trapped amongst the wreckage.  The western third of the city, called Ford Village by some at the time, was devastated – with nearly every building destroyed, even those made of stone.  It was said that the stone was shattered by the intense heat of dragonfire.  There was a stark line where the old city wall had prevented the fires from spreading to the rest of the districts.  Even so in the other two thirds of the city there were several small clusters of burned buildings with one larger instance in the middle of the government district were a dozen buildings had been badly damaged. 

There were signs of fighting in and around Renwick.  Impromptu fortifications had been set between buildings on the west and north sides and there were bodies strewn throughout the streets – mostly concentrated along the outer wall of the blackened Ford Village – including the bodies of non-humans, mostly goblins, but a handful of trolls as well.  Civil authority had been abandoned in Renwick with roving gangs of angry citizens traveling the streets while the few remaining soldiers and guardsmen attempted to mount a defense.  Rumors were that the only ranking officer left was a third lieutenant and the defense effort was ad hoc and disorganized.  

Before the sun was fully over the horizon an army appeared outside the city, although the term is applied loosely in regards to this incident.  It was in truth a union of outlaws from the Faith Woods.  Notable among them was the so called Bandit-King Nidus, whose band was reputed to be number more than a hundred, Sobolov the half-Kostelos renegade who led his band of outlaws with the help of his sister, a priestess of the Burning God, the rebel wizard Gemlin, Felara the turncoat road warden, and the goblin tribes of the Fellmar.  Their exact numbers are unknown.  Some scholars say there were more than two thousand brigands, others claim there were as few as four hundred – generally it’s assumed that there could have been no more than seven to eight hundred operating out of the Faith Wood at that time.  This is still a staggering number of active bandits in one district.

This band was forged and held together solely by the personal power of Urra Bakor, the One with No Remorse, called also the Doom Wing.  True name Ethotarthonhestimm in the Dragontongue, Urra Bako was at least two centuries old at this point, believed to be sired by Ethlore the Flying Flame and laid by Bias Iwan the Boiling Queen, somewhere in the mountains of the Northlands.  Prior to this incident Urra Bakor is known to have destroyed the mountain fastness of Bysmar in 799 NIC over a perceived slight by the lord of Bysmar – it is from this episode that he earned the moniker the One With No Remorse.  Anecdotal tales suggest that even for a fire dragon he was extraordinarily prideful and cruel.  The one other fact known about Urra Bakor is that he sired, by unknown means, a great number of half-dragon offspring who were initially deployed as minions but were later abandoned.  This reason for this is unclear, but there is no known instance of contact between Urra Bakor and one of these progeny later than 850 NIC. 

Shortly after the outlaw army had assembled outside of Renwick Urra Bakor appeared and settled among them – legend says that in doing so he crushed several of his own men, but this was not confirmed by any eye witness to this event.  A few minutes after the appearance of Urra Bakor a lone woman walked out of the city and towards the deadly dragon and the mob of cutthroats.  The identity of this woman is hotly debated. 

Many claim that she was Rouwen Arbequina, the grand-daughter of Sibbin Greenblade the known dragonslayer.  Advocates of this theory insist that Urra Bakor was on a quest for revenge, already having killed Sibbin and all his known decedents other than Rouwen.  Several contemporary accounts confirm that the city guard did look for a woman matching the description of Rouwen Arbequina but these same sources contend that she was sent out of the city under cover of night on a smuggling ship.  The official position of the Renwick city government is that the woman could not have been Rouwen Arbequina. 

Some scurrilous rumors suggest that Rouwen did not flee the city but that she could also not have been the women who appeared at the city outskirts because at the time of the appearance she was passed out drunk in a high class (in as much as the term applies) establishment that offers sex for pay.  There does seem to be some legitimate information that indicates that a woman of Rouwen’s description was in the city and was observed to be heavily intoxicated in the late hours of the previous night.  

There is a stubborn minority that promulgates the rumor that the woman who appeared outside of Renwick to confront Urra Bakor was the cousin of the Baroness Cisarovna Helandra Juost (nee Castrovel).  They can give no name this this alleged cousin because she does not exist.  Records show that the Baroness had no cousins who survived to adulthood as has been repeatedly confirmed by the Baroness herself.  The reason why this type of pernicious rumor is so hard to stamp out as are other forms of peasant superstition will be explored in an upcoming work of mine. 

There are a few records of a con artist who pretended to be the cousin of Baroness Juost during this time period but all indications are that she operated farther to the south and in any case what possible motivation could there be for an individual of such low character to confront Urra Bakor?    

What is known is that after the woman appeared before Urra Bakor and his army the great red wyrm spent several minutes in self-aggrandizing speech – declaring that he was invincible and threatening a variety of deaths on any who dared oppose him.  Certainly to those in in Renwick it seemed like these statements were simple fact and not boastfulness of any kind. 

The details of what happened next are unclear.  The dragon stopped his speech and became agitated.  Some eyewitness accounts claim this is because of something the woman did, some say it was become of something she said, others claim that the woman attacked the dragon – this last item can be dismissed out of hand as implausible.  What is known is that the dragon’s ire was raised and it quickly moved to deploy its deadly fire breath on the woman. 

Her reaction is also unclear.  Some say that she cast a spell.  Others say that she disappeared.  A few foolish accounts even state that she dove into the dragon’s gaping maw.  The story that seems to be most likely true is that as the dragon drew in its breath to release fire the woman threw something into its mouth/throat.  Certain scholars whose names are not worthy of mentioning maintain that whatever the woman threw in the mouth of the dragon blocked its throat and caused a fatal blockage of the rheem – the flammable vapor that allows the dragons to enact this devastating maneuver.  And while they correctly surmise that the dragon’s fire is biological and not magical as many believe, this notion is laughable naive.  The force at which the rheem travels is far more than enough to expel any item small enough to block the passageway in the throat.

Even more ridiculously some claim that the item thrown was a Necklace of Fireballs.  Why this tactic would not be effective against a fire dragon is patently obvious.  Few know that there is a similar item called by some the Necklace of Crystals which is a similar item that creates magical cold based attacks.  If you could deploy it in such a manner this would be an effective manner of harming a fire dragon of course.  This is not to mention that any number of magic items would be instantly destroyed by dragonfire and could potentially explode releasing all of their magical energy.  The green dragon called Eunnurth the Mammoth, was killed in just this manner by Forjada Derro utilizing a magic staff of great power, which cost the brave warrior his own life as well.  This however is the only confirmed instance of this phenomenon.

Regardless there is no confirmation that the woman threw anything so speculation on what might have been thrown is pointless.  While her actions are unknown the effects are not.  Urra Bakor was slain instantly by a detonation that was either internal or at extremely close range.

(Editor’s note, this assertion has since been proven untrue by Grgish Vicso – although Urra Bakor was badly wounded by whatever happened at this event he was not killed and is known to have escaped at least initially to the Faith Wood.  Since he was never spotted again after this it is assumed he later died from these wounds or while weakened was attacked and killed subsequently by parties unknown.)

The woman was not seen again and no remains were found – it’s highly probably that the massive devastation of the explosion itself combined with the releasing plume of dragonfire disintegrated her completely.  After an initial moment of shock the warriors of Renwick surged out of the city to counter-attack the men that had besieged them in the prior days.  After a token resistance most of them threw down their weapons in surrender – the goblins were slain of course, and the trolls were able to flee the battlefield but most of the human outlaws were taken into custody.  Their fate is covered in detail in the works of Neth Averdale regarding justice in the 9th century.  

Behind the curtain – I wasn’t sure how I wanted to write this bit so I changed up the format.  Interesting?  Writing cheat?  Both?  You be the judge!  Or you know don’t, I’m not the boss of you.