Rise of the Runelords

Dwarven Defensive Training
An Uplifting Primer

5kingsFIVE KINGS INSTITUTE FOR DWARVEN STUDIES5kings
and your friend BUCKY THE OTTER present:

Fighting Giants with “The DoCTToR”:
The Five Kings Method for Battling the Big-Boned Menace

Bucky

“Hello! So you’ve been wondering, ‘what if giants attack my holdfast?’ A good question! Giants are a constant menace. Though slow-witted, feral, bad-smelling, and incapable for sensible stonemasonry, giants are fierce beasts that can pose a threat to even the heartiest clan holding. That is, unless you follow these five sensible steps to preparing for battle against these grizzly sub-human abominations!

Trust “the DoCTToR”s orders and you’ve got a prescription for success!"

“D” is for Dodge
Giants are big and stupid, and their blows are slow and clumsy. If a giant is attacking you, dodge quickly to the left and right to confuse its aim!
Dodge
“C” is for Crazy Ivan
Giants are stinky and ignorant, and unable to grasp complex tactics. Legendary dwarven general ‘Crazy’ Ivan Stonebreaker innovated the anti-giant tactic of feigning complex tactical repositioning to throw giants into confusion. When under assault, pretend to execute a complex maneuver to disrupt the giant’s targeting!
Ivan
“T” is for Three-Point
Giants may be murderous non-people, but they are very tall. When a giant attacks, adopt a three-point stance to maximize your innate dwarven center of gravity and turn the giant’s exceptional reach against him!
Threepoint
“T” is for Topsy-Turvy
Giants are slow and lazy, but dwarves are diligent and industrious. Use your superior athleticism to tumble to and fro, and the giant will soon tire in its attempts to strike!
Topsy
“R” is for Roll
Giants have poor senses, a result of their hideous deformities (deformities that bear witness to their unnatural essence and sub-beastial natures). Famous dwarven siegesmith Baran Boulderbearer pioneered a study of dwarves in motion. He discovered that a dwarf in motion must invariably come to rest; a giant’s slow senses can seldom perceive where. When faced with a giant, roll from west to east whenever able in order to confound the giant’s accuracy!
Roll

“Now you’re ready to face down even the deadliest giant the FIVE KINGS way! And tell ’em your old pal BUCKY THE OTTER sent you!”
5kings

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A Man, A Plan, A Mushfen
An Authentic Freemountain Oral History Account

Image"Now’s been on seven year’n so since I been down through Wartle way, but there’n is good mudders’n fine fen folk what don’t pay two neverminds t’y’neither way s’long as y’mind yer own business and stick t’yer own carryings on. Men after m’own heart they were, but Wartle ain’t much’a a place t’be settlin’ on, an ain’t much’n th’way’a small business opportunity there. But, me bein’ m’self I come on a way t’set m’self up real long-term; a real venture’s what I was on ta’.

See, them swampers’ make most’a their coin up outta th’swamp gamein’ and pete-boggin’ an’ what have ya’. An’ it come t’my attention they had themselfs a flooded out trail down t’deep swamp what was outta’ commission on toward three’r four year. So what’s a dwarf to do? I tell ya’, I decided t’build me a bridge.

Th’Freemountain Freefen Bridge she was! Portion’s Toll th’sign read, and by Folgrit’s hairy nip she was a beauty of a thing! All rope ‘n vine an wood I dredged up on th’cheap. So I set m’self up on th’Wartleward end, and prepared t’rake in th’reward’s of a hard few hours bridge-buildin’. Now after a few week’s a’bridge-keepin’ I’d had me two or three southward bound customers, but no takers on the return. As y’know this cut profits ‘bout in half. But I counted m’self lucky one night when a big damn band a travelers come trapsin’ up outta’ th’south, lookin’ half drown’t half dead and half lost.

Shipwrecked they said they was, comin’ up outta Chellyaxe, an’ lost in th’swamp, an’ beset by trolls! Th’tale they told! Now, trolls ain’t t’be joked on, but me I always come prepared in them swamps with ample barrels’a stank t’throw’em off scent and lure ‘em outta’ harms way. These here Chelly-achers (HA!!) was beggin’ fer relief, an’ so I set to provide. I struck ‘em up a fine camp, an’ fed ‘em rashers round, an’ even patched and bundled a wound ‘er three, and by Droskar’s itchin’ fingers I was makin’ me a killin’!

The problem come when I was tendin’ t’some’a th’half-eaten up halflings what was with ‘em. See, most’a th’band was made uppa’ halflin’s; a fair folk usually, but these ‘uns was mostly starved and afraid’a their own fuzzy feet seemed. Now, I’m a free man born of a free folk from a free land fulla’ freedom ‘an sensible self determinism as y’know me t’be. So it never come on me the truth’a th’matter ‘til one’a them tiny halflin’s looked me in th’eye and says t’me, he says, “please set us free,” he says.

By the gods! They was slaves! Half a score’a halflin’ slaves washed up off’a black bellied barge fulla’ halflin’ slaves! An’ th’Chellyaxers with ‘em was their slavers they was. Now. Now, I don’t ken no slavers. None of that! I won’t stand by on it while another man’s freedom is took out from him: its call’t th’Freemountain for a reason, lads, that’s ‘cause we come out from under the tyranny a’wicked men to raise it up! An’these devil-blooded bastard’s had tricked me, BRIBED me into offerin’ ‘em aid. Oh no. Y’know me better’n ’at by now, lads.

Now, there was too many fer me t’take at their part. So I waited ‘til th’night was on us, an’ I cracked me open th’old barrel a’th’Old Father’s stout. I passed ‘er round, an’ them Chellyaxers got nice an’ toasty. An’ while they gargled out somethin’ what must pass fer music t’slaver types, I rolled m’store’a stank over th’bridge, and wait for th’stout-sleep t’take ‘em. Then I cracked th’casque, gave ‘em the full dose, and set off cross th’ bridge with them poor halflin’ folk in tow. Now, just as expected, ‘bout half way cross’t th’bridge th’watchers they’d posted started hootin’ alarm, but it didn’t make no matter since they was all on the south’a th’bridge. An’ it made less matter when the shakin’ and roarin’ and stompin’ a’trolls started echoin’ up through the southfens. See, a stank’a that proportion only occurs naturally when y’got yerselfs a matin’ crush goin’ on. An’ them big ‘uns from the deep swamp hate t’miss ‘em a matin’ crush.

So them drunk slaver sods was tryin’ t’rally, an’ me an’ the halflin’s kept truckin’, and we made it clear t’th’other side. But damned them devil-worshipin’ fools they was rushin’ half drunk cross m’damn bridge. That’s when I done it. Strike th’torch, smile the smile an’ let ‘er rip. They said I was daft t’bind th’planks all t’gether with pitch. Daft they said! But as she went up like a pyre th’joke was on th’nay-sayers it was!

Men was screamin’, halflin’s was cheering, bridges was burnin’, an’ from cross th’river I seen th’trolls was arrivin’ so me an’ m’new freedmen friends we beat us a hasty. An’ that, lads, is how a Freemountain deals with slavers! I do miss me that damn bridge sometimes. Least th’Wartlemen never did catch on who lit th’pete fire’a ‘97. I made m’way north just the same, HA!" -M.Fmt.

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Giving The Misgivings A Miss, or, The Fall of Foxglove Manor
An Authentic Freemountain Oral History Account

Image"Now here’s what happened, th’whole story’a that damn’t hell-house and what we done t’undo all th’mess it done. Y’see, what it was was an evil wizard—an’ that’s how most terrible tales start don’t I know it. See, this here wizard, he went and ate up a whole lotta’—whatcha’ call ‘em— fairy-tale monsters a’some sort’er another. A snake lady s’one . . . I remember that ‘un fer th’teats on ‘er! HA! So he went and eat up alla’ th’monsters t’make himself more or less immortal, but y’see it went south when his lady wife got herself in’a twist over th’lord husband eatin’ up all’a them monsters and becomin’ undead an’ what-not. So she shattered his whatcha’-call-it box, what had his soul in there or some such, an’ all hell broke loose.

Long story short, th’evil wizard instead’a gettin’ himself some sorta’ immortal zombie body got himself trapped in th’house. So, y’see, it weren’t precisely a haunted house s’much as a evil lich-house. Anywho, he spent his years carryin’ on all sorts a murder’n mayhem in there, what ‘til we come along. See, we was investigatin’ a buncha’ ghoul attacks perpetrated by th’latest in’a long line’a seriously messed up Foxgloves. Me an’ Wil an’ Greel an’ Aggie an’ Hyacyinth . . . well, Askirgie . . . well, at th’time it was Hyacynth—hell, I can’t keep it straight no more’n she can sort her lady parts from her man parts! HA!

Anywho, we busted in there right bold, I saved m’baby even though it wasn’t m’baby, and there was some fireballs and creepy music and what-not. A scarf tried t’off Hyacynth, that was a high-light. So we was investigatin’ when all’a sudden, outta’ nowhere’s, Wil takes up a dagger and give himself th’ol’Freemountain smile! Terrible it was! Blood everywhere’s! An’ the healin’ magic ain’t workin’, an’ he ain’t breathin’, an’ sure as anything he’s dead but just as fast up he sits an’ all’s well.

Or so we thought. Y’see, all won’t well. Sure but we high-tailed outta’ there t’regroup back at Sandpoint. But over th’course’a th’next few days one thing was clear: whatever Wil was, Wil won’t Wil: somethin’ wicked n’wrong was goin’ on in’im. We figured th’only way what t’set it right was t’bust back in that hell-house and settle th’score. In we went, an’ when we did all manner’a bad broke loose.

Seems up on in’th’attic Foxglove’s dead wife was hangin’ around in an awful temper, n’Greel saw fit t’unleash her on th’world, hopin’ she’s bolt fer her hubby. Sure she did, an’ led us down t’th’bowels a’th’whole operation—all but Wil who won’t havin’ none’a th’chase (proof enough it won’t Wil fer me, that boy he’d chase his tail if’n he’d sprout one). Anywho, we run down t’th’basement an’ there was ol’Foxglove turn’t into some kinda’ ghast ‘er ghoul, ’er ghoul-ghast, ’er what have ya’. An’ then th’throes a’battle was on us! Like’a war ragin’ down there in them tunnels: Hyacynth had ‘er face bit off, which won’t too bad since Foxy had himself a mask made outta’ her face-parts already (which, if yer askin’ me, is how he incriminated her in all’a them murders, sure enough). Things was grim, an’ I was all paralyzed with dark magics, but Greel he stepped up an’ saved m’life he did! Saved th’day, truly! A hero, that ’un!

Once th’battle royale was spent, Wil come traipsin’ down stairs, an’ one thing leads to another, turns out th’rotten old bones a’th’original evil wizard was down in th’basement, along with his soul-box-or-whatever with the crack in it from when th’missus threw a fit. Now, Greel’s all investigatin’ while I’m meantime pickin’ over th’bodies, when outta’ no-wheres Wil grabs Greel an’ electrifies him with some sorta’ super-magic!

Now our boy Wil, he ain’t much fer magic. Truth be told I think it might give ‘im a nosebleed even t’try it. So now we know fer sure it ain’t Wil, an’ Greel—too clever by half—reckons its th’evil wizard himself what was possessin’ th’house has possessed Wil instead! Now, I don’t know much about evil liches. I’ll tell ya’ that true. But Greel seemed t’think burnin’ th’bones and smashin’ the little box would do it. So he set t’burnin’ while I had t’face down Wil. Now, he come at me all steel an’ lightenin’ lookin’ t’murder me straight—but I couldn’t dish him th’same courtesy: see, I won’t about t’maim m’boy Wil—th’lad was innocent a’what his meat-suit was doin’ while th’dark wizard was in’t, y’see. But he kept comin’, an’ Greel was desperate t’smash th’little box what Wil had pilfered, so me I had m’self an idea. Y’see, th’priest’a Sarenrae he’d sold’t me a potion what he said would protect ya’ against evil such-an-suches. So me I took up that potion, lunged m’self through th’hellstorm’a steel and lightenin’ what was Wil, and crammed that potion down th’lad’s gullet!

Down he fell, smash went th’box, an’ up in flames went th’bones, an’sure as Deadeye’s shootin’ th’deed was done! Seems th’house was on toppa’ some sort’a Urgythoan graveyard or some such thing. So we done away with them altars, t’boot, an’just like that th’Misgivin’s was purged a’evil an’ we was able to bring Wil back from th’dead right proper. Hyacynth, too, but she come back as a devil monster instead. Can’t say’m surprised. Oh, an’ Aggie’s moltin’ after! Fit t’ride, soon, I warrant. Lich-killin’ puts th’vinegar in ya’. An’ that’s th’true story a’how The Retainers saved th’day. Again." -M.Fmt.

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The Lake of Mortal Reflections
A Hyacinth Withers

What was left of the man known as Aldern Foxglove paused, the spittle of his accusation hanging from his lips. Then he twisted and lifted up a strange and hideous thing from beside him. He lowered the carved mask over his own face, its right eye bulging and sagging, its left side draped in scarlet cloth. The face over his raised and looked at me. Then the whole construction melted.

The fool took the face I wore. He thought it mine and so he used his mask to mimic it before he lunged at me, intent on the kill. His talons tore into my chest in a burst of excruciation and I fell back. My eyes found focus on features that even now weren’t wholly familiar to me and I slipped the mask taken from the Spire over their reflection. The wood was dented and scarred with battle and its use as my shield, but its familiarity was comforting.

My violet eyes shone out from behind the holes carved for them and I met my own eyes as Foxglove lunged again. Before the pain, before I could feel my bones grow numb and stiff from the ghoul’s necromancy, I stepped away from that body and retreated back into the mists behind the world. As they closed over me, I saw the flesh fall to the earth.

Silver fog began to flash past as I lifted myself higher through the drifting ether. I briefly watched the green and gold glow which always enveloped my spirit here reflect off the plane around me and enjoyed the idea that the patterns of light held no meaning for me in this place. Swiftly, I came to the flowing river. Souls belonging to hundreds more races than lived on Golarion were pulled through the Ethereal, drawn together by a force I doubt even Pharasma truly comprehends. An angel suddenly passed, the beat of its white wings taking it along the river’s course as it shepherded the stream. The reborn looked at me, my glow intriguing it, but it was assured I meant the souls no harm and did not hesitate.

I stepped/drifted/imagined into the path of the dead. Immediately my perspective shifted and I saw that the river wound its way high above the Boneyard, spiraling around the Lady’s palace and overlooking each of the eight courts. I have seen them all before. Those around me could no more direct their movements than could a drop of water in the creek, and they would be guided to those destinations that their lives had already determined. But I have always been apart here. A fish beneath the descending skull-faced moon.

Neither the gates of the committed, nor the graves of the deniers, nor the audience chambers of the debated were my place. Slipping again from the flow I set foot upon the dust of the Graveyard of Souls. Some of those atheists lay quiet, but others whispered in their beds. Fortunately none near were walking. Where I go cannot be found by those who seek. I closed my eyes and ignored the scattered voices, focusing within until I felt the world around me change and grass again tickle my bare feet.

Here forever dwell the content, but it is not my place. Still I centered myself and a chill at last grew around me. Not the biting cold of winter or death, but the cool of a spring night by the water. Only then did I open my eyes to look across the Lake.

Nothing but the still water can be seen there. Fog rises from its surface and cloaks the land and those few who find its shores. I have once seen another approach the still mirror of its depths and look at it as I do, but they seemed to lack my fear of what lies behind the mist and turned from what they found. The thought again brings awareness of the sound behind me. Something heavy dragging behind the veil around me, always in directions away from the Lake. I have never been able to walk away. I have never tried, but would fear what I might find should I double back from here.

My feet begin the descent down the gentle slope of dewy grass until they find the strangely comforting chill of water and I again wade out. The water rises over my breasts before the hands emerge.

In pairs they break the surface without a ripple, reaching toward me, toward the light that glows around me in the water but never illuminates it. Each pair is different, but those I see are irrelevant, although I recognize the hands of Hyacinth nearby. A different pair, one I cannot see, grasps my waist. All this has happened before and will happen again, so I am not afraid as they drag me to the Brightness below.

I awake on a beach
Beneath a low cliff.
The sun
Is low on the horizon.

My hands are new,
The world the same,
And I feel
The dust I was.

The pattern is
Not yet
Complete.

I need a name.

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Reasoning
Standing in the Lumber Mill

Folly.

I have thought myself a spider
Sitting atop the weave
Unentangled

I have been
Blind
To the strands ensnaring me

Dragonwasp
Descent from the North
Birds
Ashes
Hyacinth-
flowers
Foxglove

Lust
Wrath
Wil -
– and Shaeliss
Chopper’s Alley
Greed
Strange corpses
Thorn
Pride
Flesh and ink

Everything leading here
And where?

Stone
Twin
Serpents
Mating
and
Devouring

qe’Ra’si’Ja
?

Haunted by memory

I cannot see
The pattern as I used

Am I not just an observer
In this?

I must recall more

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Wil's Journal: Entry 3
A Hero's Rest

Today was confusing. Last night, everyone went out without me, and got very drunk. Now everyone else seems to have gotten in to trouble, but they did it without me. Only now Greel and the others seem cross with me for not helping or being a part of it? Something. Only Muireadhach isn’t angry, as usual. He seems just pleased as could be with me – gave me advice on how to talk to Mr. Vinder after he came ‘round being cross at me for seeing Shayliss again. He had given me a punch right on the jaw, too! Only he must be a lot older than he looks, because I barely felt it! I better not let him know, though – better let him think he taught me a lesson. Always better to let a man speak his peace like that, even if part of the speakin’ is with his fists – especially if it doesn’t hurt anyone. So anyway, I went around later and told him that he may not like it, but Shayliss likes me and I like her and we can make our own choices and he has to accept that, but to have a good day. I think that’s good thinking. Muireadhach’s got the right idea – Shayliss seemed worried, though. I think she just doesn’t want to upset her father, and thinks he won’t calm down. But he needs to see I can stand up and take care of her.

Oh, I almost forgot the most important part – Shayliss is staying with me now. I think that’s really nice, because she’s very pretty and very nice to me, and we get along very well. I hope she likes it as much as I do.


Morning sketch
She always looks so worried since I talked to her father. I hope she’s happy.

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Everything Rotten in Fogscar
An Authentic Freemountain Oral History Account

Image"Y’know, me’n th’gobberlin’s we weren’t always at war, y’know. A’course, dwarfs’a dwarf an’ s’a proud tradition’a gobberlin’-bashin’, but we Freemountains always had bigger nasties t’harp on. No, them gobberlin’s done me wrong, and I done ‘em back, and they got what they got comin’, I tell ya’. I learnt m’lesson good on not t’underestimate them little nasties—beasts as vicious as th’bowels’a hell, I say, an’ glass’n old man Kai-jit-see ain’t th’least I seen’a their evil!

I tell ya’, ‘twas near on two year back now, I was comin’ down outta’ th’Churlwood with some degree’a due haste, y’see. So, it bein’ less’n wise t’cut through th’wood, I cut down south through th’Fogscar—now that’s them same mountains these here tribes’s comin’ down outta’: I tell ya’ I seen ‘em there, thick as nettles, an’ it’ain’t no lie. Me, I didn’t have me at th’time the nessecaries a’baubles n’scraps n’garbage n’what t’pay m’way through—n’even if’n I did, them Fogscar gobberlins ain’t afear’d like yer used ta’ seein’, their numbers is so. So, me I took t’goin’ off-road, underbrush real backwoods-like. Suited me, but th’trouble was it was a hard winter a’couple years back, an th’Fogscar ain’t to place t’be come winter. All due haste n’what, I hadn’t much otherwise t’be done.

Few weeks passed a’hard trekkin’ when th’storm come up. Drifts ten, fifteen feet deep! Blowin’ n’thuderin’ like th’gods themselfs was pitchin’ a fit! I swore them moutaintops drifted n’swooped so; they was either stone giants older’n th’blood’a’th’mountain caught’n a brawl or th’storm was a’blowin’ so hard s’might’a knocked th’tops clean off’a them peaks, but I’s weather-blind n’can’t say for certain which certain peril was upon me! I dug in, deep, an waitin’. Near on a week went by, that storm still blowin’ in an’ blowin’ out days on end. Them Fogscar valleys s’mixin’ bowls a’weather, I tells ya. Finally it come down to it: it was t’starve or it was t’brave th’storm. So, I packed in the camp, camoflauged it good I did, an’left m’everythin’ there: an’ I tell ya it was the last time I ever left m’pack behind, I tell ya’! Starvation n’weather, I scarce could’a hefted it out, though. I waited for a break, n’I set out a scroungin’.

I come back, it was scarce an hour ‘er two. An’ I seen it. Goblin-sign. The camp all dug up, ramshackled and ransacked! An’ she was gone. Th’last thing what a gobberlin’ could sink its fanged mouth inta’ in th’whole camp. M’baby girl was gone: they’d taken th’wee baby Aggie!

Now, I tell ya’, weak n’weatherblown s’one thing, but a pappy what whose baby’s took is another, n’then n’there I knew why me forefathers n’mothers had a hate what burned like pyres for them little green devils. An’that rage she poured up in me and made me strong! An’I set out on ‘em, trackin’ ‘em through the storm n’through th’snow! An’ I come on ‘em, two three days I followed ’em, but I come on ’em. There in a clearin’, durin’ a break’n th’weather they was. Dozens, dozens on dozens a’th’feinds swarmin’ and singin’ their damned songs and dancin’ round a great fire twenty, thirty feet across’t! An’ on top’a that fire sat a great iron skillet, bigger’n a man! Them gobberlin’s rode on one another’n shoulders, dumpin’ herbs n’spices, n’cookin’ oils down in that skillet, boilin’ it up to a sizzle—little white hats markin’ their cheifs no doubt. An’ over th’toppa’ that skillet hung three cages—three! There in the middle there hung my precious baby; them gobberlin’s was gonna eat m’baby! T’Aggie’s left there hung a dog, bound n’gagged, a collie-dog she was, misery all’n her eyes. An’t’th’right—t’th’right hung a sight what for a moment stalled m’rage: th’prettiest girl I ever seen in all m’days, I tell’s ya . . . a vision. Sittin’ in her cage, little fuzzy feet buckin’ n’kickin’, her great grand mouth brayin’ all manner’a infidelities to th’high heavens! Th’mouth on ‘at girl’d turn a sailor’s gut t’churl it would! Like heaven! An’ not a moment passed b’fore m’rage, it was up higher’n before! Them vicious savages won’t gonna’ make no meal’a my Aggie nor’a that poor girl’n her wee dog neither! So, I was on ’em!

Ax up, beard high I charged! An’we fought, an’ we clattered, an’ we rumbled, an’ we danced th’dance! Th’little feinds was armed to th’teeth with cookpots n’cuttlery, an’ I got cut up but good. As many as felled, more rose up, an’ I was out-done fer sure, but t’find a high ground. Now, th’only ground high’n th’clearin’ was that great grizzly skillet sizzlin’ n’poppin’, so I jumped up t’grab th’handle and hoist m’self up—but th’gobberin’s cook pots ain’t made’a no ballast or for no count, an’ the skillet she flipped up! Now me, I’s under th’handle, but that gobberlin’ horde barrin’ down on me was runnin’ headlong at th’ hot holy hella’ boilin’ oil what was now flyin’ up through th’air. I doused them beasties good! Screamin’ and wailin’ they was! Turn’t them green-skins pink I did; what with their own secret sauce!

Th’gobberlins in’a panic, I cut down them hostages, an’ we made a break for it—me, n’Aggie, th’collie dog, n’th’halflin’ lass—an’ she barked back all manner a curses an’ mockeries at them gobbers, she did! T’beat th’band she did! We holed us up in’a cave after we run a mile’er so out. Irlana she said ‘er name was. Irlana Goldfoot. Prettiest girl’d ever seen. But proud. An’loud! A woman’s woman, right. Her doggie was Coleen, and she’s fer ridin’. Th’pair was treasure huntin’ in th’mountains when they was took—underground caves she said, old wealth, she said. Won’t long but we heard th’warband a’comin’, th’yappin’ a’there gobberlin’-dogs, th’chantin’ and clatterin’ a’their songsters. We was off again, Irlana, she made for th’nearest entrance she knew of to th’underground. We figured we’d lose ‘em there, an’ make our way outta’ them mountains real covert-like, spelunkers true. But Coleen, her paw was maimed, an’ me I was on foot, so them gobberlin’s was gainin’ fast. Them gobberlins bore down on us, an’ were sure t’ride us down but we come on a great rope bridge what overhung a chasm, deeper’n eyes could delve it was. We took to th’bridge, an’ there a hunderd feet downward me, I spied it, a great cave gapin’ on th’opposite cliffside.

I tell ya’, I been on my share’a adventures, an’ I done many a feat a’note, I ain’t ashamed t’say—but then an’ there, a horde a screamin’ green meanies not a moment at our heels I seen Irlana do the damnedest fool brave thing I ever seen t’this day—an’ that includes you, Wil. Out come her knife, an she cut them ropes what held that bridge faster’n I could tell her no ‘notherwise an’ when she done it, when she done it she let cry a whoop! A whoop a’clean joy at th’thrill’ve it all! Down we went! Me, n’Aggie, n’Coleen an’gods bless her brave fooled heart Irlana too! An’we rode that bridge down through th’nothin’ a’that chasm, gobberlin’s an their dogs spillin’ off th’cliffside behind us, fallin’ down t’their dooms! That bridge she slammed into th’cliffside, an’ there we was, not ten feet across’t from that cave mouth. Bless that woman. Bless that woman, by my beard bless’er!

We hit that underground an’ true we was down under them mountains two, three weeks on a’month we was. Slayin’ and scroungin’, livin’ by th’breadth a’one another’s blade we was. I tell ya’. I tell ya’, them was some’a th’steamin’est moments a’ my life it was—nothin’ improper! Nothin’ improper! But you tell me how ‘tis when a foul-mouthed halflin’ not three inches from her nose gives a grin as she cuts y’down from a Darkmantle’s grip. Then off we’d be again, at one another ‘bout some bickerin’ an’ fair splits a’rewards! Steamin’, I says! That woman! That no-good, pretty-mouthed, copper-countin’ woman!

We made it outta’ them mountains, and she an’ wee Coleen headed for Galduria, fer th’Academy. She had a score t’settle on th’feller what sent her ill prepared into them mountains. But we parted friends, me’n Irlana. I ain’t seen th’last’a her, if’n I have m’own way. Me, I headed south—an’ I expect I was followed by them gobberlins, truth be told.

They hold grudges! They got theirs, an’ they got what they had comin’ fer tryin’ t’eat m’baby, n’that sweet lass’n her dog. But they don’t see it that’a way. I expect it was gobberlin’s what sacked my camp a month’er so back . . . what sent me t’Sandpoint t’supply t’start with. Gobberlin’s or some dread beasty. Both maybe. Maybe both.

An’ that, lads n’lasses, is why y’don’t see me payin’ no count t’no gobberlins, an’ why they ain’t to be taken lightly. Th’old ways is th’best ways: kill ‘em on sight for they do worse’n that t’you an’ your’n!" -M.Fmt

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Thistletop
Denial

“…Are you there?”

YOU WERE LOST TO ME.

“We’ve been in the ruins of a massive Thassilonian statue, a day’s walk up the coast from Sandpoint. Most of it has been submerged, but it looks to be of the Runelord of Greed.”

THE MAGICS THAT BIND ME ARE ALSO PART OF THAT TOWER. IT IS ONLY BY CHANCE THE MAGIC HAS DEGRADED HERE ENOUGH TO ALLOW OUTSIDE CONTACT. IT IS NOT THE SAME FOR THE ONE YOU WERE IN.

“So the towers are the same, then?”

BOTH ARE WATCHTOWERS AGAINST THE LORD OF WRATH. WHAT DID YOU FIND?

“It had been converted into a base for a cultist of Lamashtu. She was serving the town up as an offering.”

I ASK WHAT YOU FIND, AND YOU TELL ME OF CHILDREN PLAYING KING IN A CASTLE. WHAT DID YOU FIND?

“Sorry. We’ve found a medallion, magical, of the Sihedron. A few common elements, but something I can’t piece together yet. A ring I’ve yet to identify at all, and a strange demon that guarded it. Like a mix between a bear, a goblin, and a wolf.”

A BARGHEST. A TRIFLE, I ASSUME.

“Actually, it was quite powerful. It required several spells to bring down.”

THEN YOU HAVE NOT REALIZED YOUR POTENTIAL. BUT THIS WILL CHANGE.

“On that topic, once we get to town we should have more than enough gold to launch an expedition and retrieve the book.”

NO.

“But I thought-”

YOU WILL WAIT IN SANDPOINT. WATCH WHO RETURNS TO INVESTIGATE THIS TOWER. ACT IF IT IS CALLED FOR.

“Act on what, general? Is there something here that we missed? There was a message of the Runelord of Greed, on repeat. It was degraded, but he spoke of some great work they were involved with. Do you know what that was?”

HOLD YOUR CURIOSITY, GREEL. YOU WILL DO THIS BECAUSE I REQUIRE IT. THAT IS ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW.

“…”

IF YOU CANNOT, I WILL FIND ANOTHER. YOU WERE NOT THE FIRST.

“No… No, I will go back to Sandpoint. I’ve got a few other things to do anyway.”

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Morning Meditation
Hyacinth prepares her spells

Waves echo in this small cavern
Carved by man. Light reflects
Across the stone,
Dancing in bolts of red-gold lightning. A storm of wrath and greed
And darkness between and below, shadowing
The forms beneath save for the briefest of glimpses.

Five remain,
Seven points,
One star.

Ebb

and

surge,

ebb

and

surge.

The bunyip swims. The crab draws fishes
Darting beneath the waves.
North and west a boat skims the waves beneath the tower.
All this I see in the ebb and surge,
Surge and ebb.

The crab made fewer mistakes
Than I have,
But then,
I have lived far longer.
I should not have told the dwarf;
He brays all.
He stood pantsless?
Paranoia and insecurity.
Nearly three millenia.

Can I trust
Them or is it
Another mistake?

The import of this venture demands I persist.
History lives here
Now.
These three are important, but cannot survive
Without me.

Without
My help.

Foolishness
Mistrust
Brashness

Withdrawn?

It may not be enough to study and observe,
As it was not when the Tyrant stirred.
I cannot withdraw.
Have I been afraid since the herald’s fall?

Memory returns,
An eagle soaring.
Will the crab become my kin?

Questions
__
Answers

Light and
Flames banish shadows.
The three are not yet ready to perish
to be reborn.
The blade must remain whole.

Five remain.
We will require healing.
We will need to grow stronger.

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The Whistledown Incident
An Authentic Freemountain Oral History Account

Image"Say ‘twas ’bout a year down outta’ th’Freemountain, I come down by ol’ Whistledown say. Now, at th’time I had me some disposable, so I decided t’invest sound in a small business venture what was sure t’pay dividend. Now by ol’Whistledown now y’see they’re lake side t’Syrantula, what outlets to th’Yondabarki. So me, I set me up’a bait-and-tackle and got me a charter vessel and quick as y’like ’Freemountain’s Worms-n-Such’ was up fer business.

Now, business was slow t’start. And th’guards and what from dockside give me nothin’ but grief. On about permits and what not—but I told ‘em, I told ’em my shop was at th’end’a th’dock out over th’water an’their damned town won’t rightly no lake was it? S’how do I need me a permit t’build out over a lake, eh? Yeah. But what I didn’t know—what I should’a known, was them guards an’ that town . . . they was hidin’ somethin’. Somethin’ sinister. An’sure as y’like it, I tell you them guards was tryin’ t’run me off’a m’own claim, they was tryin’ to keep me findin’ out that secret. But I run ‘em off, trespassin’! But business kept slow.

That was all until th’gnome show’d his wee ugly face. Benjiltink Glimerguld, he was. Local big-game hunter. Th’sprat come into m’shop an’ said t’me, he said he wanted t’charter m’boat an include me on an adventure what would get th’guards off m’back once’n fer all with riches and glory t’boot. Needless I was interested. But I had no idea what it was I was in fer. Y’see, Bejiltink was on th’trail of a great Beast. Slzzik! The Deep Beast’a th’Yondabarki! Dwellin’ there at th’bottom’a Syrantula! A sea serpent, big as! An’ as long as a! An’ ate boats whole, swallowed down t’ruin and blackness!

Me’n Benjil, we packed up m’boat: th’F.M.S. Orka she was! Gods but a beautiful peice’a work she was! An we set sail that very night.

Three days. Three days we was on th’water. Darkness all around. Th’quiet. We passed th’time just listenin’ . . . to th’night . . . to th’water slappin’ against th’Orka’s side. Thwap. Thwap. Listenin’ to our own hears poundin’ . . . Thump. Thump. Knowin’ that beneath us th’Beast lay, and that from beneath ya’ . . . from beneath ya’ it devours.

It was ‘round about midnight th’third night when it happened. Th’strange gnome-song’a Whistledown waverin’ out over the lake . . . all’uv’a sudden, th’line went taunt, th’reel spun out and it was hooked! Slzzik was hooked an’ there we was, Benjil an’ me, grapplin’ and pullin’an’ fightin’ on that line when we seen it crestin’. Up outta’ th’water like a snake from a pot it come, breechin’ up an out’n down down down it run, an arc’a back must’a been a hundred yards long! M’line held, but m’anchor she give way and th’Beast took t’towin’ us across th’lake. Faster n’faster we spun outta’ control—I put Benjil on th’rudder, th’blamed fool! And he’s th’one what damned us and th’whole enterprise! Th’Beast pulled us ‘round that lake on half an hour, me holdin’ it fast, ridin’ it down—wild on glory n’fear’a th’thing! But Benjil, half-sprat he was, broke off th’rudder and we couldn’t fight th’Beastie’s whim. So sure as it knew—an’ it knew what it did—it was possessed a’that dread deep intellect of all thing’s what’s unnantural—it knew where th’dockside was, an’ it heard the singin’ a’th’gnome-song. An’ it was into dockside it drug that boat, full on ramming speed, faster’n she was meant to sail!

We plow’d through Worms-n-Such! We tore through th’docks! Yet the Beast roared forward, jest a shadow beneath th’waves! Th’villagers set t’screamin’ when they seen us comin’ and scream they should! That Beast it flung that line, jack-knife’d that boat up’n th’air and set us screamin’ and wailing right into th’center’a town: boat n’line an’me and Benjil an’ all!

Th’boat, bless ‘er, crashed down market street, took out th’green grocer, an’ I swear, seein’ as th’whole instant was suspended in’a kinda’ metaphorical slow-motion, I seen no fewer’n three citizens wet themselves in pure abject terror!

Miracle a’miracles me an’ Benji, we was unhurt—but th’same could not be said fer market street or what all was there. Now, we was actin’ outta’ the nobility a’our hearts t’rid th’town’a its dark sub-aquatic devil beastie. But we figured th’town’d be less excited t’see its heroes unhurt than they would be upset t’see its green grocer all a’flame. They was already a bit lynchy down by th’way there. So we bid us a hasty retreat. An d’you know that slimey half-scamp cheat’d not reimburse me a copper’a th’cost of losin’ m’boat?! Enemy fer life that’n. Benjiltink Glimerguld. Remember th’name, s’th’name’a a scoundrel, a cheat, n’a gnome I’ll out-hunt any day’a th’week!

So we parted ways, gave th’town th’don’t-look-back. But, t’this day, Slzzik: The Deep Beast, he resides still at th’bottom’a that lake. Th’beast what set the town a’ruin! What swallers ships whole! An’ there it lurks, an’it remembers—that deep intellect, it remembers—there’s but one dwarf ever hooked it. An’ sure’s vengeance burns in m’heart, it burns an inferno in th’belly’a th’Beast!" -M. Fmt

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