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Campaign Journal VIII February MMIII - The Gathering


Top level Gæa Campaign Notes


GÆA
Notes from Tony's Campaign. A story introducing the characters and how they came to be together.

The Gathering



Fand rose early with the midsummer sun. Her sleep had been plagued by dreams of her sister, Ethnea, being in great peril. They had promised to meet each other at the beginning of summer, but circumstances necessitating the paying of a wergild had delayed Fand. Now she rushed daily to their meeting place, her nights tormented by dreams of her wounded sister lying unconscious in a small wood, away from what passed for a main road on Valornes.

While considering her most recent dream, in which a night black horse lead her to her dying sister, she was startled into the present by the appearance of a wild horse in the distance. An overwhelming sense of omen faustum flowed through her as the horse neared. It was night black, just like the one in her dream. Its path took it away from the road to a copse of trees, which it circled thrice before heading back whence it came. Mouthing a prayer to the warrior goddess Sned, she hastened to the copse.

As had happened in the dream, Fand found her beloved sister lying on the ground. Ethnea was near death, she had been cut and beaten all over. Although she had obviously been robbed, the shield maiden had given a good account of herself, her hand still grasped the hilt of her sword and her clothing and armour, while damaged, remained on her. Fand did what she could, casting a spell she had obtained from a priest of Sned to cure Ethnea’s worst wound. By bathing and binding the rest of her wounds, Fand nursed her sister back to continuousness. It would be a while before Ethnea could travel though.

That night, as they slept, both sisters experienced the same vivid dream. First a unicorn came to them and lightly touched its horn upon Ethnea’s wounds, healing them to leave no trace of the damage that had been wrought to the woman’s flesh. Moonlight radiated from behind the unicorn. It grew brighter and a tall woman appeared, her naked beauty bathed in the cold light. She stroked the unicorn affectionately before addressing the sisters: “Go from this place and travel across the sea to Gaia. Seek the plateaux which lies far to the north of Dalatia. There seek out the man who is at once great and yet less than a man, hailed as a hero by some and reviled as a coward by others.”

On waking the following morning, the sisters realised that they had experienced more than a dream. The goddess Sned had visited them and charged them with a sacred geas. Ethneas wounds were healed as if they had never existed. They were soon heading for the coast, where they could hire a boat to take them to Dalatia.

*****

Annais Alliana was starting to doubt her wisdom of coming to Dalatia. By far the most civilised land on Gaia, it too had suffered in the great war. Now fourteen years since the Red Bitch’s demise, the once shining cities of Dalatia had turned inwards. The country more resembled its neighbour Sylmar – a loose confederation of city states – than a bastion of civilisation. Having found little of interest in Dranskor she had headed north, towards Dun Athol, reasoning that although the library in that far off walled city may yield another wild goose chase, the trip would take her past Python Peak. A fabled wizard had once resided in Python Peak and it was very possible that his tomes of arcane lore still remained there.

The road on which she travelled had long become overgrown to the extent that she was sure that she had left it long behind, her horse merely wandering across the grassy, treeless hills that made up this part of the countryside. For sure she had not come across a village or farm for a few days. Worse, the sky was fast blackening and there was no cover in site.

The storm came on fast. Within minutes day had become night as the black clouds whisked away the sun. Wind driven rain began to pelt down, drenching her within seconds. Lightning began to strike as the storm intensified. With no higher ground about, Annais knew that the ligntning would seek her out. In desperation she cast about for some place to take cover. Spurring her horse into a gallop, she headed north and after what seemed an eternity, with lightning striking so close her hair stood on end, she beheld a vale. The lightning was thick, striking around the edges of the natural saucer between the hills yet not one bolt struck within the vale.
Within moments they were within the vale. Thunder still crashed around but the rain seemed slightly less, the wind blew a little softer. The flashes of lightning around the edge cast sufficient light for her to see a dolmen right at the bottom, she headed towards it, hoping for some cover from the elements.

*****

The storm which had driven Horsa the smith to the dolmen in the vale was fiercer than any he had encountered in his thirty years of existence. Once again he questioned the wisdom of his actions which had led him to this forsaken place. Horsa had lived on Valornes his entire life and would still be there had a quirky twist of fate landed him with an unpayable wergild. With his smithy long gone and no family to care for, he had decided (rashly in retrospect) that breaking a wergild oath and heading to Dalatia was a good idea.

So far he had been disappointed. The keep of Baron Julian, of which he had heard wondrous tales, turned out to be a cold, unwelcoming place, with little to offer. He had taken the stone road south to Borador, but on a whim and the advice of what he through to be a wise old man (whom he later found to be a lunatic), had turned east at a crossroad towards Darnskor. A foolish mistake, the road was at first in good repair, boasting the odd roadside inn, but after a few days travel, had become overgrown - sometimes so much so that if it were not for the occasional marker, it would not be distinguishable from the fields it traversed. The old lunatic had worked on his nerves and another spur of the moment decision had taken Horsa north, towards Dun Athol.

Now this damnable storm had arrived. Fortunately he had found the dolmen, the only cover available in these parts. Another plus was the old lunatic had kept on, to Dranskor. He was suddenly startled from his thoughts by the arrival of another shelter seeker, a woman leading a horse.

*****

Rochavel had been campaigning in the northern wilderness since spring. While no claim had been made to this land by Dalatia or any of the Sylmarian city states it had now come under contention from various lordlings and unlanded, yet wealthy veterans who sought to cut out their own kingdom. Sufficiently far from the Northice mountains and protected from the icy polar winds by an escarmpment which lead to a high plateaux, the wilderness, sometimes referred to as monster vale, was a lush land, ideal for raising herds of fat cattle or breeding horses. Both were a lucrative trade, always in demand by the warring lands to the south.

Of course the land grabbers needed their own armies to defend their claims. Rochavels shadow legion had done well. Hiring their swords to the highest bidder, they had lined their purses with sufficient gold to enjoy a comfortable winter further south before returning in spring. This was their third year in the north, yet it was the first time that Rochavel had come so close to the escarpment. No one knew what was up there, the few primitive locals would not speak of it and the newcomers were disinclined to bother with the hard trek to the desolate windswept moorland which was surely on top.

Still, it would give the legion a good vantage point. The legion had set up camp not too far from the base of the escarpment and sentries had been posted. His curiosity peaked, Roachvel called to the standard bearer to accompany him and they set off. Soon enough they found a rubble strewn slope up which they could lead their horses and two hours later, they stood atop the cliff looking down at their comrades. Gazing east, Rochavel became aware that something was desperately wrong. A dust cloud was fast approaching, driving a lone horseman before it. Looking back to his camp, he saw two of his sentries arriving and moments later hasty movement as the shadow legion hastily broke camp.

It was too late to make it back. The dust cloud was close enough for his to make out what it was, an advance party of a goblyn migration. The main band was further back but would skirt the bottom of the escarpment long before he and his standard bearer could get down. They would have to wait it out, goblyn migrations had been known to take up to two days to pass by a point. The horseman drew nearer, slowed and dismounted. He had found the same slope Rochavel had ascended and now began to lead his horse up it too.

*****

Quazi cursed to himself again. Cut off from the rest of his shock troops by the goblyn migration all he could do was to get far enough ahead to make it up the escarpment before the advance party arrived. If only he had spent less time stalking and killing those shadow legion sentries. Killing the second one had almost been his undoing, he had been able to mount his horse and escape the goblyn advance party with mere seconds to spare.

Goblyn migrations were not uncommon in these parts, but the creatures usually travelled by night. By day they were scared and in a hurry to get out of the sun which they so hated. People caught in their way were fortunate if they were merely slain by the advance parties. There were always the horror tales of being captured for use as a slave, or getting trampled to death by the main horde in their haste to reach their destination.

The climb was tiresome, sweat ran heavily under his heavy armour, the last thing Quazi expected upon reaching the top was to be confronted by two shadow legionnaires. Although the shock troops for which Quazi fought were also mercenaries, they usually fought on opposite sides to the shadow legion. Pushing back his steel face mask to reveal his ruin of a face, he held his had aloft, palm outwards in a sign of truce. Another shock awaited him. “By Ygg, its Quazi, you old dog, I thought you had been stoned to death for being so ugly years back!”
“Rochavel?” Quazi sat down on the scrubby grass, the exhaustion of his efforts catching up with him. “Enough surprises for one day. What in the name of Ooshnas nine wives are you doing atop this desolate plateaux?”
“Same as you, goblyn migration,” was Rochavel’s reply. “So you too are making fortune from the fools who seek to claim this land?”
“Aye, the pay is good. Sorry I have had to kill so many of your comrades.”
“No bother, we all know the risk in this game. Come, I have some wine, let’s catch up on old times.”

*****

Annais and Horsa had become friendly with each other. Horsa was much grateful for the magical fire Annais conjured, while Annais was grateful for the company. The storm raged about them until well into the night, when their fitful attempts at sleep were interrupted by the earth suddenly shaking. Something huge and heavy had perched itself atop the dolmen. After some time, it spoke: “I know you are there, Horsa Oath-breaker and Annais Sorceress. The rain has stopped, you may as well come out that I may address you directly.

The words were soft, but powerful, heard party with ears and partly within their skulls. Reluctantly Annais and Horsa moved from under the dolmen and looked up. The night was very dark, no stars shone, yet they could make out the vast bulk of the dragon.

Again the sibilant voice spake: “I have been watching each of thine lives for some time. I know the both of thee, better than thou ken thineselves. It is not random chance that thou are both in this part of the world, or that yonder violent storm should cause thee to converge at thins ancient shrine.”
The dragon paused to let the words sink in before continuing: “Thine lives have been guided. Each of thee has a destiny to fulfil. Alas events are moving too swiftly, hence mine intervention.”

“Who are you, why do you seek us out?” queried Annais once she had mustered sufficient courage. A mistake for sure. The dragon lifted its head and bellowed its displeasure at being interrupted to the heavens, accompanying its roar with a gout of crimson flame.

“Heed my words humans. Interrupt me not for I shall but speak once. I lay this geas upon thee: Go hence to the high moor land which lies many days travel to the north. Seek thee the once great man, who is now but half a man, he who at one time stood against the red tide. Do this and seize your destiny!” With that the dragons immense wings pounded the air and it took flight.

Horsa and Annais were shaken. Dragons were rare, neither had seen one in their short lifetimes. Dragons were more so known to be fierce predators, not likely to waste time in conversation and leave the prey alone. Annais had studied many ancient texts in her time. She was convinced that they had been visited by no other than Raznook, the ancient great dragon. She may be wrong, but from her sparce knowledge on the subject, only Raznook would have done such a thing. Neither of them bothered to debate the subject, silence was a consent that they would heed the dragons geas, for having a dragon lay a geas on you is tantamount to having a god appear in person to do the same.

The rain slowed to a drizzle. They slept fitfully, dreaming of vast battles, where men, orcs and beasts clad ins steel slew one another until the ground was covered in mangled corpses for leagues in every direction. At the centre of the carnage stood a dolmen, much like the one they slumbered under. The following day they departed, heading north. Some weeks later, they reached an escarpment and found a pass leading up to the high moor.

*****

Ethnea and Fand had purchased a pair of ponies. They had made a swift passage to the mainland from Valornes. The people they encountered in Dalatia were mostly friendly simple village folk. Being so far north, villages were sparse, towns more so. The language of the Dalatians was similar to that spoken by the folk of the small civilised kingdom which lay to the south east of Valornes, making it easy enough to get by with. Within weeks they had found their way to a rugged country of low hills and grassy plains. They beheld the escarpment before them and came across another pair of travellers while looking for a way up.

The travellers were a horse-riding woman wrapped against the cold, even though it was summer and a burly man, leading a lama. It was Fand who spoke first: “Horsa, what are you doing here? We thought you were dead!”

Horsa had known Fand briefly, They had travelled with some others on Valornes. He was with her when a wergild was placed on their heads. He had to do some swift explaining, but soon enough the two groups were aquatinted and more so, had discovered they had very similar goal. They joined together and found a way up to the moor.

*****

Quazi and Rochavel had enjoyed a few cups of ale when the standard bearer returned. “There are structures to the north,” she stated.
“You cannot be serious,” joked Rochavel.
“Aye, ‘tis wilderness up here, who would build anything in this desolate land?” agreed Quazi.
“See for yourselves if you do not believe me.”

The did go and see. In the far distance stood what appeared to be the ruins of a vast city. A days ride brought them close enough to make out come crumbling towers, low walls and other structures. Having nothing better to do, the decided to investigate further. The city was indeed vast, another days ride had them with still a distance to cover, yet close enough to discern a wisp of smoke.

Once within the ruins, the approached the source of the smoke cautiously. The ruins themselves were remarkable, it was clear that once a very grand city had existed here. What was odd however is that many of the structures were sunk into the ground, so that low appearing structures were indeed much bigger once one entered. Even the outer walls were not that high, nothing like the castles in Dalatia.

A group of fifteen figures crouched around a meagre fire. They wore cloaks, held tight against the brisk wind which blew across the moor and through the ruined city. Rochavel and Quazi were debating what to do when a patrolling sentry rounded a building and spotted them. It was an orc, he swiftly called out to his fellows. The two warriors (they had left the standard bearer with the horses at the edge of the city) braced for a fight which never came. More orcs swiftly joined the sentry with drawn swords, but made no move to enter combat. The huddled figures had risen and were fast approaching, many were orcs but there were a few humans, one whom the warriors recognised – Tiberius.

*****

Tiberius was a soldier from far off Illium Cromia. He had travelled to Gaia as a young man, recently out of the legion. Many adventures had brought him fame and fortune, but it was in the war against the horde of the Red Bitch whence Rochavel and Quazi had met him. The horde had ravaged the southern lands before splitting its forces, attacking Sylmar and Dalatia concurrently. Tiberius had rallied the fearful city-states of Sylmar and made a stand. His charismatic manner and fame had allowed him to settle old grudges and raise an army strong enough to stop the as yet unconquered horde.

Unheard of alliances had been made, some too strange for the powerful to stomach. Gor-Uk the legendary orc generalisimo, had brought an army of veteran Northice Mountain orcs o fight beside Tiberius. It was all too much for the city fathers. The battle was fought and won, but Tiberius disappeared. His name was swiftly besmirched, his promised position of Pooh-Bah of the united Sylmarian armies usurped by a greedy rival in his absence. Many believed him dead, but there was no trace of a corpse.

Ten years passed, his pregnant wife had birthed a son. Even she had begun to believe that e had perished. Then one day he appeared, walking into his skally as if nothing was amiss. He was still covered with the scars of battle, his armour dented and his body weary. To him, but a day had passed. A very bizarre day, in which the Red Bitch had bedded him! It took much convincing for him to realise that ten years had passed. His wife and friends had aged, yet he had not. His reputation had been befouled by his enemies. He spent over a year trying to clear his name, to regain the power which had once been his, but it was in vain.

Worse news was to follow. The Red Bitch had been beaten, her armies destroyed, yet she had escaped. Rumours began to spread. She had borne a son, who was to fulfil the destiny she had begun. He would rise and subjugate the Gæa under his heel. Tiberius’ detractors of whom there were now, for various reasons, many) feared him and petitioned the Pooh-Bah to place a price on his head. When the rumours began to spread, his earlier words of having shared a bed with the Red Witch were remembered. His wife and him had grown too far apart, the rumours were too much. With no support in the great cities of Sylmar, reviled by the knightly orders which had sprung up in Dalatia and a wife who no longer loved or trusted him, he left. Travelling first to Aquatinia, then Drakor.

Tiberius was a warrior though. His spirit was bruised, but not beaten. From Drakor, he appeared to have once again disappeared, until now.





 

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