The Scales of War
The Sorcerer's Story
This will be where the writings of Stillgar the Sorcerer are kept.
~~Chapter 1~~~ Stillgar looked past the beggar child down a street of the mountain city of Overlook. He and his companion Peren had recently helped defend the city from the would-be invaders from the badlands beyond the mountains and now the city was finally settling back into its normal routines. Stillgar felt the need to see what this city had to offer besides siege walls and beggars, so he brushed past the boy and headed north. As he walked away from the cheap inn he had flopped in the night before, Stillgar’s eye was caught by a shop selling knives. The shop’s window contained a dazzling array of knives from the most basic straight blade to creations of fantastic shapes inlaid with precious metals and stones. It was the simple blades that held Stillgar’s attention but the foppish toys were a clear indication of the quality of blade that might be available inside. Just as he was entering the shop Peren cocked his head to the side and put his hand on Stillgar’s arm. Stillgar paused and waited. “Let’s go.” was all Peren said and they were jogging down the street ducking and dodging through stalls and shoppers. Peren slowed to a walk at the entrance to an ally. It smelled of death. As they walked further from the main street the noise of the city faded and was replaced by the moaning of a dwarf covered in blood and surrounded by bodies. Stillgar leaned lightly against his staff and adjusted his fur lined cloak. The cold wood of the staff was reassuring. He would have complained of the heat but this complaint was nothing new to Peren. Even though the city was a mild temperature that most found pleasant, Stillgar would have preferred frost lining his breath. From behind him came the sound of another entering the ally but he did not bother to investigate the new-comer. He had no reason to feel threatened with Peren behind him and he was absorbed by the carnage his friend had discovered. “The Raven Queen is busy today.” He commented to Peren, making a submissive gesture to the god of death. Near the dwarf lay a halfing with a roguish look about him. He had been cut to ribbons and a few additional bodies too mangled to distinguish lay beside him. All about them were bodies from the group that had assaulted the dwarf and his companions. Stillgar knelt beside the dwarf to see if he was yet meant for the land of the living or the dead. He was badly injured but certainly not beyond hope. The slashes covering his arms and body had sapped his strength and left him helpless, but fate had not claimed him yet. He moved on to the dwarf’s companions to see what he might discover. The hulk of a goliath loomed into Stillgar’s sight, making him give up his inspection of the bodies and finally address this new-comer. Hoisting himself up with his staff he turned towards the goliath and waited for him to introduce himself. “The name’s Aukan.” “I am Stillgar. This is my… friend Peren. Do you know what happened here?” “No. I couldn’t help but see the two of you dart down this ally and wondered what might have caught your attention. So here I am amongst two strangers and an assortment of corpses.” The dwarf’s head rolled to the side and he groaned again. “Well, two and a half strangers.” Aukan grinned. Peren beckoned to Stillgar and the two moved further down the ally around an abandoned horse-drawn cart. The elven bookkeeper leaned close to Stillgar and whispered; “I want you to travel with these two.” Stillgar nodded and headed back towards the goliath. Stillgar ignored the light burst from behind him. If the goliath noticed, it didn’t show. As he approached, a clergyman and two soldiers entered the ally. It would seem the bloodbath had not gone entirely unnoticed. “You there! Stop where you are.” Neither Stillgar nor Aukan had been moving, so they continued to stand where they were. Stillgar was sure his distaste for the soldier already showed in his face. His distinct scowl rarely failed to tell its target he found him to be an idiot. As if the soldiers weren’t there, Stillgar addressed the clergyman; “You have good timing sir. This dwarf appears lively enough to save.” “What happened here?” one of the soldiers demanded. After a moment of silence from Stillgar, Aukan answered. “We have only just arrived here. Neither of us saw what led to this bloodshed. We were just trying to discover what might have happened when you arrived.” “And how do we know it wasn’t you who killed these men?” This particularly annoyed Stillgar, as he had only recently helped defend this soldier’s city. He couldn’t keep his tongue. “If it had been me, the dwarf would be dead. I’d give him a clean kill instead of leaving him in this sorry state.” The guard became suddenly wary, having noticed Stillgar’s staff. At first glance, the staff would appear a mere walking implement, but the runes carved up and down it spoke of a different use. “You’re one of those sorcering types aren’t you. We should bring him back to the guard house for questioning. Ya can’t trust his type.” “So we’re going to stand around and throw insults and accusations while a dwarf aught to be in the care of a healer? Maybe you killed them off and then waited for the first person to walk down the ally so you could hurl your accusations.” “Would we really have stuck around if we’d killed all these people?” Aukan asked. The clergyman took to Aukan’s argument and placed himself between the guards and their potential prisoners. “They make a good point and we must do something for the dwarf.” As if on cue, the dwarf groaned yet again. Seeing that there wasn’t much else to be done, the guards left the three to tend to the dead and help the dwarf. “Now that the jury is out I suppose we might discover what happened here.” Aukan said as he moved closer to the bodies in the center. The dwarf was in bad shape, but he wasn’t getting any worse. It was quite clear by now the group in the center had been together and that they had been attacked by a gang dressed in all grey cloth. Although the dwarf and his companions had been overpowered they had managed to take quite a few with them. The brief story of this struggle was taking shape. Normally Stillgar might have walked away and considered himself lucky not to be implicated in business that was not his, but Peren’s unusual interest in his newfound companions inspired him to search harder for answers among the dead. He turned over the corpse of the halfling. Stillgar’s insides twisted at the site of his face. The laugh that had frozen on the halfling’s face was so lifelike it startled him. Normally death would not have bothered him, as it was the natural conclusion to life, but that which was dead should remain dead. His curse of surprise was quickly followed by a sign of warding against the undead. Having regained his composure, Stillgar checked the halfling’s pockets and discovered an intricate brass tube. He showed it to Aukan who looked it over and then moved on to checking the bodies of the gang. Aukan found a charred note on a wizard further down the ally. The note read showed a sketch of the same tube, although the only readable word on it was a signature “Modra”. Stillgar looked at Aukan and suggested “Perhaps we should keep this to ourselves.” “Such would seem wise.” rumbled the goliath. He handed the key back to Stillgar to store. The key looked small in the huge hand held out before him, but as Stillgar removed it with his own human sized hand he was surprised to rediscover how large it was. Eight inches long, the tube had plenty of space for the intricate scrollwork and notching along its length. He stored it in the inner pocket of his fir lined coat he usually reserved for coins of greater value than he normally carried. “I’d say we’ve discovered as much as we will here. Let’s get the dwarf to a healer.” Aukan said, bending down to grab hold of the dwarf’s shoulders. Stillgar unceremoniously grabbed the dwarf’s feet and did his best to keep them anywhere near the height Aukan had effortlessly lifted the top half of the dwarf to. They turned to the priest who had waited patiently and began their walk to his temple. Before they even left the ally Stillgar let go of the dwarf’s feet so Aukan could walk more freely.
The temple was not anything extraordinary. The wooden structure around him was simply, yet elegantly made. Priests shuffled about on their way to or from tasks that, by their rather serious faces, they found to be quite important. Stillgar did not hold a serious demeanor against anyone, but he could not help finding it unusual to be around a group of people as devoted to stern silence as himself. He had long grown accustomed to, if not particularly comfortable with, the rambunctious demeanor of many humanoids. One of the priests took note of him and paused long enough to look at his barren neckline and give him a funny little symbol that looked like it was meant to be worn as a necklace. He waited a moment for the man to move on and quietly placed the object on the nearest flat surface. Stillgar had never given much thought to the gods, temples, and myths of others. He had always followed the simple teachings of The Raven Queen, the god of death. Her teachings were quite simple; we are born, we live, we die. The acceptance of this natural progression was all she required. There was no malice in her teachings, but nor was there great kindness. She did not ask for sacrifices, frivolous tributes, or silly structures. One need only accept that fate would eventually lead you to her. Edthir coughed, bringing Stillgar back from his brief foray into religious thought. He looked at the diminutive fellow from the alley a little closer now that he was doing more than just groaning. Aukan had introduced them and was now in the process of relating what they saw in the alley. “I can’t believe they’re all dead.” The dwarf looked as much surprised as upset. The surprise began to fade and was replaced by an anger bordering on rage. “By Moradin, they shall pay!” After a respectful moment to let the dwarf brood, Aukan said “We found a key on one of your companions. We took it for safe keeping until you were revived. Do you know what it’s for?” Stillgar took out the key as a sign of good faith that they were not trying to keep it from the dwarf. Edthir, however, did not seem particularly interested in the key. “Oh, that? We picked that up off an orc in the tunnels beneath the mountain. None of us really knew what it was for.” “We found this letter on the body of one of your attackers. The wizard.” Aukan handed Edthir the letter. Crumpling the letter in his fist, Edthir declared; “By Moradin’s beard! This Modra shall die. And every one of his thugs.” “While I admit it’s an admirable goal, it would seem misdirected. It appears the fellows in grey were merely thugs for hire working on behalf of this Modra fellow. The priest told me they call themselves the Lost Ones. By the sounds of it, if you just start attacking them you’ll end up with a knife in your back in no time. Death may be inevitable, but there’s no sense rushing the matter.” Stillgar said. “I agree. You should direct your revenge at a more specific target. I say we track down this Modra and bring him to justice.” Aukan suggested. “Your council seems wise.” The dwarf admitted, though it was easy to see he was fighting the urge to take to the streets and find the first poor fool dressed in grey that he could find. “Why, might I ask, have you taken such interest in helping me?” The dwarf finally asked. Stillgar was glad to see Edthir had moved past his initial rage and was thinking sensibly. “Because you, sir, are a very interesting dwarf and I should very much like to see what fate has in store for you. It would seem the Raven Queen has decided you have some role yet to fill and I feel the need to help you in your quest to avenge your friends. This Modra character has no right to wave the wand of fate.” A nearby priest turned a concerned look in Stillgar’s direction. He noticed it was the same one who had handed him the pendant. Its new home on a shelf next to Stillgar did not escape the priest’s gaze. He ignored the priest’s worried look and directed his attention back to the conversation at hand. “I, too, cannot stand aside while this creature orders the wanton killing of travelers.” Aukan said. “Please let us join you as you seek vengeance.” The goliath looked more than a little eager to hunt down some loathsome quary. “Aye, now that we are wary of what the bowels of this city have to offer, perhaps we can last long enough to see what might be done about it.” Edthir looked resolved. He nodded his head and offered his hand to Aukan and then Stillgar. As Stillgar took the dwarf’s hand he couldn’t help wonder what he was even doing here. Well, he admitted to himself, he had set out this morning to see what the city had to offer. It would seem he was making good progress.
The red towel never stopped moving. It was actually quite impressive how far the thing traveled in the span of only a few minutes. The fray at its corner was a clear sign of its overworked condition, but its color appeared to be as vibrant as the day it was first dyed. This curious contradiction held Stillgar’s attention far better than the bilge that passed for conversation in the bar. With a final swish at the bar, the barkeeper stowed his towel back at his waist to take another order. Within moments, the cloth was back out, polishing a glass. All the cloth in Pig and Bucket was the same deep red which faded into the dark wood surfaces of the furnishings and floor of the bar. Earlier, Aukan had gone to the Ministry of War to inquire about their query and discovered Modra was the leader of the Lost Ones; a gang of thieves. They told Aukan he was a dark creeper hardly new to the city. The diminutive creature had clearly been a long-time nuisance they tried to keep in check, but had resigned themselves to accept as an evil beyond their reach. This was hardly surprising, as the one thing dark creepers were exceptional at was also their namesake; creeping. So here Stillgar was, trying to gain some notion of where to start searching for this purveyor of death and deceit. The barkeeper was friendly enough but wanted nothing to do with trading information about the insidious gang of thieves. He instead chose to redirect the conversation. “I hear stories of cults cropping up all over the countryside. Almost epidemic! If it’s trouble you’re looking for, you needn’t search too hard. But I personally would recommend against messing with those Lost Ones.” “Cults? What kind? I hadn’t heard of any on my way to the city.” “Word is, they’ve been popping up all over, ever since that nut-job at Castle Rivenroar out near Brindol tried to restart the Army of the Red Hand with a handful of hobgoblins.” “Cults are never a good sign. No word of necromancy, is there?” Stillgar didn’t bother trying to hide the disgust in his voice. He rarely did anyways, but he had a particular distaste for necromancy. If there was one thing that truly flouted dissent against the ruling of the queen of death, it was necromancy. “You never know with that lot.” The barkeeper was called for another drink and the towel was set back in motion from its brief reprieve. “So you are searching for Modra?” Stillgar gave a start as a blue creature moved closer to him. A faintly glowing face beneath a dark hood was all he could discern of the loosely clothed creature. “Are you?” “He interests me.” Stillgar had no idea what to make of this creature. It was clearly no species he had ever met before. Its movements were calculated. Its tone, flat. “Circumstance has led me to seek him. Why are you after Modra?” Stillgar asked. “He interests me.” The answer was frustrating, but Stillgar had to admit he had really said nothing more than the creature’s more concise answer. Regardless, he couldn’t help mistrusting its blue glowing face. “Very well. Perhaps we could be interested together. First, what manner of creature are you and what is your name? I’ve never met a blue creeper before.” If it seemed insulted by this epitaph, it didn’t show it. If anything it was puzzled by this new name. “I am called a shardmind by most humanoid races. The name you may use is YFIO.” The shardmind’s movements continued to flow in a graceful, yet calculated manner as he spoke. The shardmind’s face was now close enough for Stillgar to see that blue crystals defined the creature’s entire face. Upon closer examination, Stillgar saw the crystals were moving past each other in slow silent circulation, each glowing with its own faint blue light. Stillgar was disturbed by the sudden realization that glowing blue thing before him might be made entirely of these crystals. “What manner of beast are you?” “I have already told you. I am a shardmind. If you mean by your quarry to realize a more complete definition of what I am, you should think of me as pure thought coalesced in crystalline form. From previous experience with your species, further understanding would require lengthy, probably fruitless description.” Stillgar stared blankly at this strange new acquaintance. “Are you alive?” “Yes and no, depending on your perspective.” His mind could comprehend the intent of what the creature was saying, but refused to. Finally, he put to words what he truly needed to know from this thing. “Will you die?” “Yes.” “Good.” Stillgar relaxed. This was no undead creature. It was certainly nothing he would have ever imagined alive but he was not often given to fanciful imaginings, so he accepted it for the odd new creature it was. “You are very strange.” YFIO told him. “All human interaction is most curious, but you are definitely strange among your own.” “And you are strange among all. So what do you know of this Modra?” The two exchanged what little they each new of their mutual query and discovered they had little to learn from each other. Stillgar couldn’t help wonder what motivated this blue acquaintance. He still didn’t feel he could trust him. Though to be honest, he hadn’t exactly come clean with his own motivations, or even everything he knew about Modra. He had kept knowledge of the key to himself. He wasn’t keen on the idea of telling every creature he met on the street that he was in possession of an object that was worth killing for. “Let’s leave this place. There’s nothing of value besides the beer.” “In my experience those on the street are the most informed of what happens there.” “You may prove useful, blue creeper.”
Overlook’s narrow streets passed quickly beneath the great strides of Aukan. Street vendors and townsfolk passed beneath him at almost waist level. A goliath in a town full of dwarves, he stood out here even more than normal. Humans were small, but the citizens of Overlook looked like stout children. Edthir moved beside Aukan at something between a walk and a jog. The priest who had helped heal Edthir invited them to join the priests for lunch, so they had stayed. At least, Aukan and Edthir had. Stillgar had muttered something about needing fresh air. So now, two hours later, the two were off to the Pig and Bucket bar to meet up with him. Flowing past them, the town was both solid and graceful, as was befitting of any dwarven creation. Ornate woodwork and elegant stonework could be found on any building and there was no lack of smithswork. Over this proudly made foundation, however, a film of filth was beginning to accumulate. War had washed up a coat of flotsam that could not be easily overlooked. Beggars and shifty characters could be found on any street. The trash of uncaring travelers found its way into corners that were not big enough for street urchins. Surrounded by waste, Aukan began to wish for the wilds again. He looked up from the grime below him at the mountain peaks surrounding the city. They were so close, yet felt so distant. Aukan slowed when he felt a restraining hand at his forearm. Edthir pointed out Stillgar and a curious robed figure talking to a beggar boy near the Pig and Bucket. As they walked closer they saw the hooded figure drop a coin in the child’s cup. They walked forward without disturbing whatever transaction was taking place, hoping to overhear what this street urchin had to say. “He was in town three weeks ago.” He said in a high childish voice. “He usually goes around town with a squad of dark creepers, but this time he was keeping a low profile. I haven’t heard anything about him recently.” “Curious. A dark creeper who keeps a high profile.” Stillgar seemed to find this ironic. “No, I said he was keeping a low profile. Don’t you listen?” The boy asked petulantly. It was clear that he didn’t like being questioned. “What else do you know?” The hooded man asked in a strange voice. Another coin dropped into the child’s cup. “I don’t know anything else. I already told you that.” He whined, though he showed no interest in preventing payment for this lack of information. “I’m not convinced.” Stillgar made no move to strike the boy, but his tone did so anyway. With a wince the boy cowered back from his interrogators. “Really, I don’t know anything!” His tone had turned almost desperate. “I think you know more than this.” Said the hooded figure. “Tell us.” Stillgar appeared to have lost interest in the boy for he had begun looking around the street. Aukan took this opportunity to get his attention. It wasn’t a very challenging task. Stillgar gave him a nod of greeting and Aukan moved towards his companion. Whether it was something the hooded figure said or the sight of an eight foot tall goliath that terrified the boy into finally running Aukan didn’t know, but suddenly the boy darted down the street. Aukan was just thinking to go after the child when a sudden movement came from the man next to Stillgar. His hood fell back while his hand moved as if he were reaching out to pick something up. The boy was plucked up from the street and left hovering. Both the blue crystal complexion of this stranger and the fact that the boy dashing down the road was suddenly floating halted Aukan. Something about the stranger’s face reminded Aukan of the cold dispassionate curiosity of a cat playing with prey. Sympathy spurred the goliath to action. “Let the boy go. You heard him. He had nothing more to say.” People began to notice the floating child. Some gasped and pointed while others laughed. Aukan had to admit it was rather comedic to see this boy who was so comfortable on these streets become so uncomfortable just above them where everyone could see him. Nonetheless, it wouldn’t do to be running around torturing children in the streets. “There’s nothing more to be gained from the child.” Stillgar agreed. “Very well.” The child dropped and disappeared into the crowds before he even hit the ground. The four watched the space where the boy had been for a brief moment and then turned to each other. Aukan looked to Stillgar for introduction. “The blue creeper is YFIO. He says he’s a shardspawn.” “Shardmind.” He corrected in a distant tone. “He is also interested Modra.” He continued, ignoring the correction. “I didn’t see the harm in letting him help pin down some information.”