Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Lux Tenebris: The Monks of Threadwood Abbey - Part 3


Elkedren listened to Malora's tale.  It was hard for her to read his mood. The man's face betrayed nothing to her, but cool focus.  When she had finished her tale, Elkedren asked her a few questions about herself and her business.  Thinking it might expedite matters, she told him of the message she was carrying for the Chief Archivist of the Adamantine Archive. Hearing this, Elkedren's brow furrowed and something sparked in his eyes.
"Well," he said, standing. "That puts this in a different light. Come with me, please."
She followed him out of the room, somewhat uneasy. Elkedren strode down the corridor, into the dimly lit entry chamber.  He told the watchman, still bent over his ledger, "If anyone comes looking for me, I'm at the High House."
Before Malora could ask what High House was, Elkedren was striding out the door and into Treeport. She hurried after him, frowning now at the man's back.  She hurried to catch up with him.
"Where are we going?"
"High House," said the Sheriff. "I'm going to talk with Lord Terret about your monks."
"And I am going with you because?"
Elkedren glanced at her. "I know his lordship. He won't give me permission to raid the monks without talking to you first."
"If the monks have been as troublesome as they appear, why haven't you moved against them before now?"
"Honestly? Because outside of stealing a few goats and chickens, they haven't broken any of Lord Terret's laws. I haven't had cause. But drugging and robbing a courier for the Adamantine Archive? That . . . ."
"Puts things in a different light," said Malora. "Gives you a reason to go after them."
"Yes," said Elkedren. He smiled a grim little smile. "At last."
"You don't like them."
"When you go after them, I would like to join you," said Malora.
"Can you fight?"
"Then you're welcome to join us."

High House was aptly named.  It resided at the top of the giant tree, accessible by a dedicated counterweight-elevator. Like the Temple of Elleru that Malora had seen earlier, High House had been shaped from the living wood of the giant tree.  Armed and armored sentries stood on watch outside its entrance. They nodded at Elkedren and stared at Malora with undisguised suspicion, but no one made any attempt to prevent her from entering Lord Terret's home.
Malora found herself standing in a large wooden entry hall. Light poured in from circular openings in the tree-wall. The room smelt pleasantly of green growing things. Tapestries depicting the history of the Terrets hung from the walls.
Elkedren spoke with a servant who told them to wait, then hurried away to notify Lord Terret of their presence. Malora took the time to study the tapestries. She noted telltale glimmers of enchantment in the stitching.
"Does your lord employ wizards?"
"He is a wizard," said Elkedren. "Why?"
Malora nodded at the tapestries. The sheriff grunted.
"You've got good eyes."
"I'd say she has exceptional eyes," said a woman's voice.
Malora turned, watched a slight young woman approaching them from an open door. She wore a fine, white summer gown beneath a tattered cloak made of scraps. A disreputable looking cap was jammed on her head, trying and failing to contain the woman's mane of curly black hair.  Her face was round and pleasant, sun-bronzed, with a fine nose and full lips. Her eyes were a startling shade of blue-gray that Malora had never seen before.
"Well met, stranger," the newcomer said, grinning at Malora. She turned that grin to Elkedren. "Introduce me, sheriff."
Elkedren released a long-suffering sigh and gestured at the woman. "Lady Malora, allow me to present Mistress Fericille Icefire."
"Charmed," said Mistress Fericille. "What brings such a lovely visitor to our fair tree?"
"The Black Monks robbed her," said Elkedren.
"Oh! You poor thing!" Fericille was immediately solicitous. She took Malora's hand between her own and peered into her face. "Are you all right?"
"I am fine," said Malora, gently extracting her hand. "Thank you for your concern, Madame Fericille."
"Just Fericille will do," said the woman. "I don't care much for formality." She turned to Elkedren. "So you're here to get Eamor to issue a warrant for their arrest."
"Good! Why are you standing out here? Why aren't you talking with him?"
"We're waitiing. . . ."
"Oh pish," said Fericille. "Come with me."
With that, she gathered up the hem of her white gown and strode toward the twisting stairway at the end of the hall. Malora glanced at Elkedren, who managed to look both vexed and amused.
"We should follow her," he said. "At the very least to be there when she barges in on his lordship."
"Who is she?" Malora asked, lowering her voice, as they hurried to catch up with the woman.
"She's his lordship's mistress."
"I thought she might have been his wife," said Malora.
"Oh no," said Elkedren. "Lady Terret is quite different."
"Hurry up, you two!" Fericille called.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Lux Tenebris: Elkedren

ELKEDREN, L7 Human Ranger

Note: Elkedren is built with the Variant Human Traits

STR     13 (+1)
DEX    16 (+3)
CON   14 (+2)
INT     12 (+1)
WIS     14 (+2)           
CHA   12 (+1)
HP       60
AC      14 (Leather Armor)

Languages: Common, Elvish, Gnomish, Halfling

Proficiencies: +3
Armor: Light, Medium, Shields
Weapons: Simple, Martial
Tools: None
Saves: Strength, Dexterity
Skills: Athletics, Insight, Investigation, Nature, Perception, Survival

Watcher's Eye
* * *
Favored Enemy
Natural Explorer
Fighting Style: Dueling
Ranger Archetype: Hunter
- Horde Breaker
- Escape the Horde
Primeval Awareness
Extra Attack

Spells Known: 05
Spell DC: 13
Atk Mod: +5
L1(4): Cure Wounds, Hunter's Mark, Speak with Animals
L2(3): Darkvision, Pass without Trace

Shortsword. Melee. +6 to hit; 1d6 +3 piercing; Finesse, Light.
Dagger(2). Melee. +6 to hit; 1d4 +3 piercing; Finesse, Light, Thrown (20/60 ft.).
Handaxe. Melee. +6 to hit; 1d6 +3 slashing; Light, Thrown (20/60 ft.).
Leather Armor. AC 11 + Dex.
An Explorer's Pack, a set of common clothes, an empty glass vial that smells of perfume when opened, a potion of healing, a pouch with 30gp.

Elkedren is the Sheriff of Treeport. He is responsible for enforcing law outside the town and reports directly to Lord Terret.
Elkedren is the son of a human mother and a half-elf father. His father left when Elkedren was young, and Elkedren has never forgiven him for abandoning his family.  Because his ancestry is predominantly human, Elkedren possesses none of the Elven racial traits. He thinks of himself as entirely human, and his demeanor becomes quite brisk with persons who point out his mixed heritage.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Lux Tenebris: The Monks of Threadwood Abbey - Part 2


After she'd finished emptying her stomach, Malora took a proper inventory. She had her cloak and the knife in her belt, but not her blades. They'd missed the knife, concealed in her left boot, but had taken everything else. As she searched the campsite, she found a half-full waterskin leaning against a tree. An oversight on their part, or perhaps a version of mercy. Malora didn't know and didn't care. She was too angry.
There was no evidence of where the monks had gone. She was no tracker, but she knew concealing the trail heavily-laden pack animals and her own horse would have left behind was no easy feet. Whoever they were, the monks knew their woodcraft.
Swearing, she grabbed the wineskin and headed down the road. In the distance, she could see a thin column of smoke rising above the trees. A farm, perhaps. Or some woodsman's hut. Hopefully, a source of help.
* * * * *
The farmer, who had begrudgingly given his name as Essen, watched Malora like a hawk as she recounted her tale.  He stood in the doorway of the little farmhouse, a pitchfork in one calloused hand, his gimlet eyes boring into her. Behind Farmer Essen his wife stood, a poe-faced woman in a dirty apron, clutching a pair of meat cleavers.  From the way she held the cleavers, Malora thought the woman was probably more dangerous than the man.
"You got robbed by the Black Monks," said Farmer Essen, when Malora had finished her tale.
"So you know them."
"We know of them," said the farmer's wife.
"They don't bother folk about here too much," said Farmer Essen. "Nothing worth stealing."
"You should go to Treeport," said the farmer's wife. "Talk with Lord Terret."
"Will he help?" asked Malora.
"More than we will," said the farmer, bluntly.
Malora took a deep breath and held it for a three-count before exhaling.
"How far is Treeport?"
"Straight down the road," said Farmer Essen. "Half a day's walk."
"You can't miss it," said the wife.
Malora nodded, turned and left without another word.
* * * * *
The farmer's wife was right. Treeport was impossible to miss.
On the west coast of Nur, Malora knew there were trees so large that it would take twenty grown men with linked hands to encircle the trunks. The tree that rose before her would have taken two hundred men to circle its base.
It was colossal, the obvious product of divine grace or arcane magic.  The sheer scale of the tree was enough to make her doubt her senses. It was visible some distance away, but the landscape here played curious tricks with the eyes so that the size of the tree was difficult to grasp until you drew closer.
The town of Treeport sprawled around the base of the tree, languishing in perpetual shade. As she drew nearer, however, Malora saw that the town was not restricted to the ground. It had spread into the branches of the tree itself, a meandering collection of small structures. They perched on the branches of the tree, connected to the ground by a series of cunning counterweight-like elevators, and to other branches by gently swaying rope walkways and ladders.
As she approached the town, she noted that there was no wall surrounding the ground-based settlement. Instead, a ring of orchards seemed to delinate the borders of Treeport, with a single wide road leading to and from the community.
There was, she noted, a guardhouse set up beside the road, and a boom gate to block access if necessary. As she approached the gate, she spotted a watchman lounging on a wooden bench, in the shadow of the guardhouse.  He heaved himself up as she approached.
"Well met, traveler," he grunted. "Welcome to Treeport."
If he was discomfited by her drow nature, the guard gave no sign. She wasted no time with pleasantries.
"I need to report a crime," said Malora.
The guard frowned. "What sort of crime?"
"I was robbed on the road, half a days journey from here, by a band of thieves."
"Can you describe them?"
"Human," said Malora. "Dressed like monks, all in black. I understand the locals call them the Black Monks."
The watchman's expression soured. He turned and spat into the dusty road.
"We know of them," he said. "You'll want to talk to the sheriff. He'll want to hear your story."
"Where do I find him?"
"Probably in his office at the Lawhouse. Go straight until you come to the square. The Lawhouse is on the left side. Ask for Elkedren."
Her heart sank a little at the Elvish name. Most elves liked drow about as much as humans liked tieflings. Nevertheless, she pushed on.
As she followed the road into town, dusty dirt gave way to cobblestones. The buildings around her seemed primarily mercantile, although she could smell a tannery and what she assumed must be a smithy somewhere nearby.
There was a surprising number of people about, more than she would have expected for a town of Treeport's size. Most were human, but she spotted others as well. Wood elves in buckskin and feathers haggled with a knot of leather-clad rock gnomes. A sour-faced dwarf carried a heavy iron chest on his back, swearing with every step he took. A trio of human women, Priestesses of Elleru, strode down the street in their dark green gowns, trailed by a gang of curious children. A halfling man sat on a stool, outside a jeweler's shop, nodding pleasantly at passers-by and inviting some to enter the store and sample his wares.
She came to the square, although plaza might have been a better word. It was large, dominated by a large stone fountain carved in the likeness of a tree. The water tumbling from its stone branches served as leaves.
To the left was the Lawhouse, as the watchman had described. However, directly ahead of her, past the fountain, was the trunk of the huge tree. Its dark wooden surface had been shaped and altered to house a Temple of Elleru, which might explain the tree's odd size. And to her right was an all-too familiar sight, a Temple of Abasha, festooned with banners of gold and red and sky blue, the doors adorned with the goddess's golden blade.
Malora turned her back on the temples and hurried across the square's gray stone tiles toward the Lawhouse.
Compared to its neighbors it was an ugly, utilitarian building. Three stories tall, apparently made of undressed gray stone, it sported narrow windows and a pair of stout iron doors, dwarven-made if she were any judge.
Stepping through those doors, Malora found herself in a dim chamber. Meager light slipped through the arrow-narrow windows, but did little to dispell the gloom.  There was a gray stone counter in front of her. Seated behind it, his head bent over a ledger, was a man in a watchman's uniform.
"I'm looking for Elkedren."
The watchman glanced up from his book. His brows rose in surprise. He nodded to her left.
"Through that door. His office is at the end of the corridor. Knock hard. He's probably asleep."
"Thank you."
She turned and pushed through the door that she hadn't noticed. A steady white light illuminated the corridor, radiating from a wooden chandeleir hanging from the ceiling. There were a number of unmarked doors along the corridor. At the end of the hallway, Malora found a door with the words, Sheriff's Office, painted in neat white letters on its surface. She balled up her fist and pounded on the door.
"It's open!" shouted a man. "Come in!"
Malora pushed the door open. The room on the other side was small, but neat as a pin. There was a pot-bellied metal stove in one corner. A pair of stout wooden chairs were arranged near it. Wooden shelves lined one wall, containing a collection of wooden boxes and woven baskets. A threadbare rug covered the floor. A single candle burned in a wall sconce.
Seated in one of the chairs was a man. He was tall, even sitting, and lanky. His hair was pale blonde, receding from his forehead in a widow's peak. The man's face was lean, with prominant cheekbones and a sharp chin. A golden ring gleamed in the lobe of his left ear, and he wore buckskin trousers and a linen shirt. He regarded Malora with watery blue eyes.
"You're the sheriff?" asked Malora.
He nodded, a clipped dip of his head. "I'm Elkedren. What do you want?"

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Lux Tenebris: The Monks of Threadwood Abbey

And then there were the bandits.
In Malora's experience, encountering bandits on the road was just one of those things that happened when you traveled overland. Like flea-benighted straw mattresses and food poisoning. It could be avoided if you knew what to look for, but eventually something would slip past you and you'd spend most of the night vomiting.
So far, her travels along the Old Road had been fairly serene. She'd gotten some odd looks in some of the hamlets she rode through, and occasionally simpletons would flee at her approach. But she couldn't say, definitively, if the last was because she was drow. It might have just been honest pragmatism. Malora could respect that.
Still, she was anticipating trouble at some point in her journey. She hadn't expected to encounter it from a bunch of monks.
She was a week past Honey Hill, and a week away from the Graymist Way, by her reckoning, when she encountered the priests. They were traveling ahead of her: a small group of black robed figures, leading pack mules. 
Malora thought about hanging back, but she was tired and priests, in her experience, could usually be counted on to look past a person's appearance. So she made no attempt to conceal her presence as she led her horse up the road toward the party.
They spotted her immediately and slowed to a crawl.
As she drew nearer, she studied their garb. They wore simple black cassocks and wooden sandals. Some of them walked with staves. The saddlebags of their mules were heavy with supplies.
Malora nodded her head. "Well met."
"Well met, lady," responded one of the priests.
At first, she thought he might have been a dwarf, but she quickly realized he was a rather short human. The man threw back the hood of his cloak, revealed the tonsured head of a monk. He had a wide, open face and a neatly trimmed ginger beard.
"You're traveling to Treeport?"
Malora frowned. "West," she said. "What's Treeport?"
The priest smiled. "Lord Terret's great experiment. You haven't heard of it?"
"No," said Malora. "What is it?"
"I could not do it justice," said the priest. He inclined his head. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Brother Varre of Threadwood Abbey. These are my associates."
He waved at his companions, who nodded in silent greeting.
"My name is Malora."
"Well met, Lady Malora. You've traveled far?"
The group began to move forward again, at a leisurely pace.
"From Fallen Baramir," said Malora.
Brother Varre's ginger eyebrows rose. "That's far. How was the road to the east?"
She told him. Occasionally, Brother Varre was ask a question or two, but he seemed content to let her speak. The day drug on, the sun sinking toward the western horizon.
"We should find a place to camp," said Brother Varre. "Would you care to share our fire?"
"Yes. Thank you."
Brother Varre nodded. The group of monks moved off the road, among a copse of slim trees. With practiced efficiency they set up their camp. Malora's offers of assistance were kindly, but firmly, refused.
By the time the sun had vanished beneath the horizon, the monks had started a modest fire. One of them, a halfling youth, prepared a simple meal while the others retreated into the woods to perform their "necessaries" as Brother Varre called them.
They returned and a savory stew was passed around in simple wooden bowls. Malora savored hers, complimenting the halfling on his cooking.  When she'd finished eating, Brother Varre relieved her of her bowl and passed it to one of the other monks, who began to clean them.
The night was warm and clear. A soft breeze stirred the leaves overhead, and the stars gleamed against the night-black sky. Malora yawned, warm and full.
She leaned back on her elbows and yawned again. Her eyes felt so heavy. Around her the monks spoke softly to one another. 
Malora blinked.
She woke to the feel of warm sunlight on her face and a dull ache in her head. Glancing around, she was surprised to see that she was alone. The monks were gone, only the charred remnants of the campfire evidence that they had ever been there.
And gone with them were Malora's possessions.
"Demon's Teeth!" she swore.
Then her guts twisted and she rolled onto her side and vomited.
It was going to be that kind of day.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Lux Tenebris: Grimmgate

Malora rode west, putting the Greytooth Mountains and Ilok's Junction behind her. As the days and miles passed and she continued on her journey, she passed isolated farmsteads and lumber camps.  Many looked abandoned or in such a state of disrepair that they might as well have been.
As she traveled west, the terrain changed. The Old Road wound through deep valleys of quite greenness and over gentle hills crowned with verdant forests. Occasionally, she passed simple wooden signs, pointing the way to local hamlets and villages, but as Malora rode further west, these signs became few and far between.
She did encounter caravans, making their slow way toward the west. They were laden with iron ore, grain and lumber. A sense of discretion and pragmatic self-interest convinced her it was better to slip into the forest when she spotted caravans. Caravan guards were notoriously twitchy, when it came to meeting drow. Or, at least, that had always been Malora's experience.
After roughly two weeks on the road, Malora saw a wooden signpost, freshly painted and well-maintained by someone.  It proudly proclaimed that she was approaching the communities of Hesra Dron, Grimmgate and Honey Hill.
After studying the sign for a moment, Malora touched her heels to the flanks of her horse and continued on her way.

Population: 78
Demographics: Gnomes (74%), Humans (18%), Elves (05%), Other Races (03%)
Hesra Dron is a small community about sixty miles east of Grimmgate. Hesra Dron is Gnomish for 'Shady Veil' and the majority of the community consists of rock gnomes. Humans comprise the next largest ethnic group in Hesra Dron. There are a small number of wood elves who reside in the community and a smattering of other races.
An agrarian community, Hesra Dron supplements its income by providing services to the trade caravans that use the Old West Road. They charge no fees for caravans that wish to overnight in the town, a tactic that had led to friction with Grimmgate. The Keers, the family that rules Grimmgate and the surrounding area, has made repeated overtures to Hesra Dron to join them, but the tiny village has steadfastly refused.  The locals take a sort of prickly pride in the fact that they have stood their ground against Grimmgate, and this has strengthened community relations at the expense of souring relationships with Grimmgate and its protected communities.
Prominent members of Hesra Dron's community include:
Dhalia Freehold (L9 Half-Elf Entertainer), the owner of the Honey Trap, a tavern/bordello on the outskirts of Hesra Dron.
Yoren Gel (L11 Rock Gnome Courtesan), the current Mayor of Hesra Dron.
Allifir "Alli" Felar (L7 High Elf Criminal), owner of the Sweet Dream Inn, she works with smugglers moving contraband goods along the road and through the local communities.
Zida Ornazi (L5 Hermit), an elderly rock gnome woman who serves as the moral heart of Hesra Dron.
Enlo Thornhand (L13 Rock Gnome Outlander), a huntsman who occasionally tracks down criminals for Mayor Gel.

Population: 1463
Demographics: Humans (37%), Gnomes (32%), Halflings (27%), Other Races (04%)
Initially, Grimmgate was established as a frontier fortress. A community evolved around the fort, which, over time, gradually changed.  It became a regional commercial center along the Old West Road, and, over time, the influence of its military was supplanted by the Church of Rovelek.
Today, Grimmgate remains the commercial and cultural heart of the area. The town and surrounding communities are ruled by Lady Othila Keer (L9 Human Noble).  The Keers reside inside the ancient stone tower of Grimmgate, behind stout walls and sharpened blades.
Other prominent citizens of Grimmgate include:
Mother Tara Redyard (L6 Dwarf Cleric), the leader of the Church of Rovelek in Grimmgate;
Haloren Burr (L13 Halfling Merchant), the Master of Grimmgate's Market;
Bertram Nyman (L8 Human Soldier), the captain of Grimmgate's Town Watch;
Brenna Herman (L11 Human Entertainer), the owner of the Laughing Fox Tavern.
Grimmgate became known in the region for the presence of the Church of Rovelek. Individuals died on the road, far from home and loved ones. Caravans were unable or unwilling to transport corpses and so Grimmgate became a depository for the inconvenient dead. Over time, the Church of Rovelek had to establish a large necropolis beyond the town. By order of the Keers, the burial ground had to be beyond sight of the town and the road. They did not want Grimmgate becoming a necropolis. The Church complied, establishing a burial ground twenty miles south of Grimmgate. The dead are interred according to the wishes of the deceased, if known, and there has been little undead activity within the precinct.  Occasionally, bodies are left with the Church until the deceased's family can make arrangements for their transport. This is fairly rare. More often the dead are interred and the family makes a pilgrimage to ensure that their loves ones have been properly taken care of.

Population: 243
Demographics: Halfling (68%), Human (31%), Other Races (01%)
Owlhearth is a village about twenty miles east of Grimmgate. It falls under the authority of Grimmgate, and the residents are generally contented. Owlhearth's industries are agriculture and lumber. The village has a temple that doubles as a school, a tavern and a general goods store. Owlhearth got its name from the large owls that roost in the forest north of the village.
Prominent members of Owlhearth's community include:
Helnec Cello (L9 Halfling Courtesan), the Reave of Owlhearth, appointed by Lady Keer of Grimmgate, he is responsible for collecting taxes and enforcing the written law.
Anna Vegrel (L9 Halfling Merchant), owns the largest farm in the area, employing a number of locals.
Ordan Butterbeard (L9 Dwarf Merchant) owns the local tavern, Butterbeard's.

Population: 755
Demographics: Halflings (63%), Gnomes (19%), Dwarves (11%), Other Races (07%).
Honey Hill is a predominantly halfling community located on a gentle hill, overlooking beautiful Lake Mead. Honey Hill is famous for its honey and bee-related products. Apiary industries are prominent in the town, but do not exist alone. Agriculture, lumber and trade are also important contributors to Honey Hill's success.
Honey Hill falls under the authority of Lady Keer of Grimmgate, but many residents think that it is time for them to declare their independence from Grimmgate. So far this is not an opinion shared by the majority, but if it ever is, things could become unpleasant in the area. It is doubtful Lady Keer would accept Honey Hill's independence with good grace.
Prominent members of the Honey Hill community include:
Aberal Groin (L10 Halfling Courtesan), is the Mayor of Honey Hill. He finds himself walking a fine line, politically, with his constituents and the Keers and may not seek reelection next term.
Lorvellion Greenrose (L11 Wood Elf Entertainer) is an elderly elf who spends most of his time in Merchant's Square telling stories to children. He isn't a beggar and no one knows where he goes at night, but it's rumored that he has a fantastic treasure horde hidden somewhere near the town.
Tarrod Fetter (L8 Hill Dwarf Crafter) is the head of the Mason's Guild in Honey Hill. Short-tempered, even by dwarf standards, Fetter is a powerful member of the local business community. Nothing new gets built in the town without his approval, and he's known to wield his influence with all the subtlety of a bull in a china shop.
Derron Tegret (L5 Halfling Cleric of Anola, Goddess of Healing) leads the followers of Anola in service to their community. Although soft-spoken and kind, when Tegret makes up his mind, he can be incredibly stubborn.