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.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Lux Tenebris: Ilok's Junction - Pt 2

Lamplight cast a warm glow over the common room of the Junction Inn.  Malora sat at a table, the remains of a good meal in front of her. Across the table, sat her hostess, Mistress Redflower. The pale dwarf woman was shuffling a deck of cards. A pipe was clenched between her teeth and a halo of pale gray smoke circled her head.  In the dim room, she looked more like an amiable ghost than the flesh-and-blood creature she was.
Malora let her gaze drift across the common room. It seemed as if the whole of Ilok's Junction had drifted through the Junction Inn's common room this evening. She thought they might have been curious about her, but now she suspected the building served as the heart of this community.
The common room was mostly empty now. Besides Malora and Mistress Redflower, the only other occupants were the half-elf woman who had introduced herself as Nora, and the burly gnome whose fingers were covered in jeweled rings.  They were sitting close to the fire, talking quietly among themselves.
Malora sighed, contentedly.
"You have a nice place here," she said.
Mistress Redflower smiled and began to deal the cards. Her movements were practiced and easy.
"Thank you. I try."
"Do you get much traffic through here?"
"Oh yes," said Mistress Redflower. "The New Road is popular with the caravans carrying perishables and the messenger services, but the tolls are ridiculous. A lot of folk still use the Old Road for that reason alone."
"No tolls?"
"None," said Mistress Redflower. She puffed on her pipe and dealt the last card.
Malora picked up her hand. All peasants and priests. Not a noble in the lot. She tossed a copper on the table. Her host raised the bet, sliding a silver across the wooden surface.
"How does the road get maintained?"
Malora discarded her peasants and got three new cards from the deck. Two priests and a paladin. She added two silver to the pot.
"The bits around the holdings are taken care of by the folk," said Mistress Redflower.
She frowned at her hand and discarded a single card. Then, she added two silver of her own to the pot.
"And the other parts?"
"Kept up by prayers, I suppose," said Mistress Redflower. "Call?"
"Raise," said Malora, tossing three silver onto the table.
"I call," said the dwarf. "What have you got?"
Malora spread out her hand. Four priests and a paladin.
"Not bad." Mistress Redflower revealed her own hand. Five nobles. "A court beats a crusade."
"Demon's teeth," muttered Malora.
Mistress Redflower chuckled. "Another hand?"
"No, but I'll take a bottle of wine if you've got one."
"Always," said the dwarf. "Where are you heading?"
"That's a ways to go. What takes you there?"
"A business proposition."
"It'll take you a while, going by the Old Road."
"I know."
The pale dwarf  fetched a bottle of wine from behind the bar. "I suppose you know what you're doing. The Old Road'll get you there without too much trouble."
"I was going to ask about that," said Malora. "Should I expect trouble along the way?"
"No," said Mistress Redflower. "Well, not too much. There's a couple places I'd avoid, further down the way. But most of the bandits that are left prey on the New Road. Richer pickings."
"If you've any advice to give, I'd be happy to hear it."
Mistress Redflower laughed and opened the wine. "Never ask a dwarf for advice. You'll always get more than you wanted."
She poured the wine into two fine wooden cups. Malora raised hers in a toast.
"Well, then, here's to too much good advice."
"Beats the hell out of too little," said Mistress Redflower, and drained her cup in one draught.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Lux Tenebris: Ilok's Junction NPCs

WALFORA REDFLOWER, Female Mountain Dwarf
STR 12 (+1) - DEX16 (+3) - CON 14 (+2) - INT 16 (+3) - WIS 14 (+2) - CHA 17 (+3)
HP 66 - AC 14 (Leather Armor)
Traits: Darkvision, Dwarven Resilience, Dwarven Combat Training, Tool Proficiency, Stonecunning, Dwarven Armor Training
Languages: Common, Dwarven
Defense: Leather Armor, AC 11 + Dex
Offense: Club, Melee Weapon; +7 to hit; deals 1d6 +3 bludgeoning
Tools: Mason's Tools +4, Thieves Tools +4, Cards +4
Skills: Deception +7, Stealth +7
Background: Walfora Redflower is the owner and operator of the Junction Inn. She came to Ilok's Junction 80 years ago, as 'a wee slip of a gel.'  She is an albino, who avoids other dwarves when possible. In her own words, "Dwarves like albinos about as much as elves like drow."  Walfora doesn't speak about her past, and can become quite irritated if pushed on the subject. She knows all the caravan masters who pass through Ilok's Junction, and a surprising number of people beyond the city.
Secret Info: Walfora fled Fallen Baramir years ago. Observant PCs might note the faded gang tattoos on the dwarf woman's hands and wrists. Walfora fled Fallen Baramir to escape a life of crime. She still worries that her old compatriots might be out for revenge and so is very cautious about whom she trusts with her background.

STR 15 (+2) - DEX 17 (+3) - CON 09 (-1) - INT 10 (+0) - WIS 15 (+2) - CHA 13 (+1)
HP 39 - AC 13 (Unarmored)
Traits: Darkvision, Gnome Cunning, Artificer's Lore, Tinker
Languages: Common, Dwarvish, Gnomish
Defense: None
Offense: Light Hammer; Melee Weapon; +7 to hit; deals 1d4 +3 bludgeoning; Light, Thrown (20/60)
Tools: Smith's tools +4
Skills: History +4, Insight +6
Background: Looking at Omir Moonrhyme, one would never expect that he is a blacksmith. The small blue-haired gnome dresses like a dandy. His fingers are adorned in glittering rings. Nevertheless, he is a skilled smith and his reputation is well known among the caravans that stop over in Ilok's Junction. To be honest, Moonrhyme spends a lot of his time these days supervising his three apprentices and tinkering on personal projects, but he's more than willing to put aside his fancy silks and satins and work at the anvil if needs demand.
Secret Info: Moonrhyme doesn't talk about it much, but he was an orphan who was taken in by a dwarven smith in Orvald. He learned his craft at the old dwarf's knee, but had to flee Orvald when the Guild of Smiths learned what the old smith had done. He still sends money to his old master, using friends and contacts among the caravans that pass through Ilok's Junction. Moonrhyme knows its risky. If the Guild of Smiths ever learns his whereabouts, they'd probably send someone to break his hands. He persists though, out of love for his old master.

STR 18 (+4) - DEX 18 (+4) - CON 16 (+3) - INT 11 (+0) - WIS 14 (+2) - CHA 12 (+1)
HP 99 - AC 14 (Unarmored)
Languages: Auran, Common, Dwarvish, Giant
Defense: None
Offense: None
Tools: Vehicles (Land)
Skills: Insight +6, Persuasion +5
Background: Vana Neverene is from the Scrimshore Coast, which is in the distant northwest section of Nur.  A small, rawboned woman with short, cropped blue-black hair and almond-shaped grey eyes, her age is unknown. She's lived in Ilok's Junction for almost fourteen years, establishing her businesses, Neverene's Goods, with a loan from Walfora Redflower. She has two daughters who assist her in the shop. A shrewd businesswoman, she loves to barter with the caravan masters who come to Ilok's Junction. Many of them think she could make a real killing if she relocated to a larger community, but Vana seems content with her place in Ilok's Junction, where she is a big fish in a small pond.
Secret Info: Vana's daughters, Taa and Vey, are of noble blood. Their father was a powerful warlord who took Vana as his concubine. She poisoned him when their children were still infants and fled as far away as she could get. She wound up in Ilok's Junction, where she has built a new life for herself, but Vana is always wary whenever anyone with a Northern accent shows up in town. She insists that her daughters keep a bag packed and be ready to run at a moment's notice, but refuses to tell them why. This has led to some clandestine speculation among the Junction's youth that Vana Neverene is a wanted criminal.

NORA HELTANE, Female Half-Elf
STR 18 (+4) - DEX 18 (+4) - CON 10 (+0) - INT 10 (+0) - WIS 15 (+2) - CHA 12 (+1)
HP 43 - AC 17 (Chain Shirt & Shield)
Traits: Darkvision, Fey Ancestry
Languages: Common, Draconic, Elvish
Defense: Chain Shirt (AC 13 +Dex Mod; Max 2); Shield (AC +2)
Offense: Longsword; Melee Weapon; +7 to hit; deals 1d8 +4 slashing; Versatile (1d10)
Tools: Dice +3
Skills: Intimidation +3, History +3, Persuasion +3, Religion +3
Background: Nora Heltane is the closest thing that Ilok's Junction has to a sheriff. She arrived in the Junction about twelve years ago, carrying nothing more than a suit of broken armor and a longsword of elvish make.  She claimed to be an adventurer, wanting to retire somewhere quiet. The folk in the Junction suspect there's more to Nora's story but they don't pry. During her time in the Junction, she's become a respected and valued member of the community, organizing the Junction's defense when threats appear. Walfora Redflower has offered her a room in the Inn, free of charge, but Nora has declined.  She prefers to live on her own, in a spartan log cabin.
Secret Info: Nora Heltane is actually Dame Nora Heltane. She was squire to an elvish knight from Goldsun. When he was struck down on the battlefield, his last act was to knight his squire and pass on to her his ancestral longsword. Nora, however, doesn't think she deserves to be a knight, as she was unable to prevent her lord's death. Nevertheless, her knighthood was witnessed and has been recorded in Goldsun.

STR 17 (+3) - DEX 16 (+3) - CON 14 (+2) - INT 11 (+0) - WIS 10 (+0) - CHA (+0)
HP 73 - AC 15 (Shield)
Traits: Darkvision, Fey Ancestry, Trance, Elf Weapon Training
Languages: Common, Dwarvish, Elvish
Defense: Shield (AC +2)
Offense: Shortsword, Melee weapon, +3 to hit, deals 1d6 +3 piercing, Finesse, Light
Tools: Dice +4
Skills: Athletics +7, Intimidation +4, Perception +4
Spells: Light (Cantrip, At-Will)
Background: Ilderion Bentaur came to Ilok's Junction twenty years ago as a caravan guard and never left.  Tall and wiry, with shoulder-length silver-white hair and golden-brown eyes, he radiates a palpable aura of confidence. Most people don't notice the faint scar running across his nose, or the missing little finger on his left hand, at first glance. Those who ask about them are liable to get the sharp edge of Bentaur's tongue if they're lucky. If they're not, they're likely to wind up bloodied and bruised in the dust outside the Junction Inn.
Secret Info:  Originally from the Elvish city of Moonhome, Bentaur accrued a large gambling debt. To pay it off, he became an underground pit-fighter.  After paying off his debt, Bentaur tried to leave the pit-fighting ring, but his 'manager' refused to let him go. Things got heated. Blood was shed. Bentaur fled and, after many years, wound up in Ilok's Junction. His old manager is long dead, but there's still a bounty on Bentaur's head keeping him from ever returning to Moonhome.

ARLO LYKITH, Male Half-Orc
STR 12 (+1) - DEX 17 (+3) - CON 12 (+1) - INT 13 (+1) - WIS 15 (+2) - CHA 10 (+0)
HP 54 - AC
Traits: Darkvision, Relentless Endurance, Savage Attacks
Languages: Celestial, Common, Infernal, Orc
Defense: None
Offense: Unarmed Strike, Melee attack, +5 to hit, deals 1d4 +1 bludgeoning.
Tools: None
Skills: Insight +6, Intimidation +4, Religion +5
Background: Arlo Lykith is a half-orc priest, serving the Goddess of Wisdom, Ariel. He came to Ilok's Junction eight years ago and immediately began to restore and refurbish the small hamlet's long-neglected temple. Although his initial reception was somewhat chilly, the locals have gradually warmed to Lykith. For his part, the priest lives quietly, tending to his temple, but more than willing to help his neighbors when necessary.
Secret Info: Arlo Lykith is guarding one of the Junction's biggest secrets, something that could transform the sleepy hamlet into something quite different. Concealed beneath his temple is an  arcane gate.  If triggered, the gate opens in the heart of the Abyss.  Arlo has received explicit instructions from his superiors that knowledge of the gate must never be revealed. The half-orc priest has been empowered to do whatever is necessary to keep the gate's existence a secret, up to and including murder.

VOLKA TREEMASK, Male Forest Gnome
STR 10 (+0) - DEX 17 (+3) - CON 13 (+1) - INT 12 (+1) - WIS 15 (+2) - CHA 14 (+2)
HP 33 - AC 14 (Leather armor)
Traits: Darkvision, Gnome Cunning, Speak with Small Animals
Languages: Common, Gnomish, Sylvan
Defense: Leather armor (AC 11 + Dex)
Offense: Hand Axe, Melee, +3 to hit, deals 1d6 slashing, Light, Thrown (20/60 ft)
Tools: Flute +3
Skills: Athletics +3, Survival +5
Spells: Minor Illusion (Cantrip, At-Will, DC 14)
Background: Volka Treemask is a forest gnome who's been wandering in and out of Ilok's Junction for the past twenty years.  About two years ago, he claimed one of the abandoned log cabins and set about making it liveable. He lives off the land, doesn't eat meat and dislikes Yarren Lusko intensely.  He's also barred from the Junction Inn, except for special events, because of an incident with a badger, a bear and a pot of honey that's become the stuff of local legend.
Secret Info: Volka Treemask used to be a member of the Company of the Lady, but he got himself exiled from the Everwood about two years ago for causing mischief. The Lady said he could come back in about ten years, so Volka is waiting out his exile in the Junction.  Recently, he has become quite smitten with Vana Neverene and has begun to leave her little anonymous presents.

STR 15 (+2) - DEX 18 (+4) - CON 14 (+2) - INT 12 (+1) - WIS 14 (+2) - CHA 10 (+0)
HP 53 - AC 13 (Leather Armor)
Languages: Common, Dwarvish, Elvish, Infernal
Defense: Leather armor (AC 11 + Dex)
Offense: Longbow, Ranged(150/600), +7 to hit, deals 1d8 +4 piercing, Ammo, Heavy, 2-Handed.
Tools: Leatherworker's tools +3
Skills: Nature +4, Insight +5
Background: Yarren Lusko is a human hunter whose family has lived in Ilok's Junction for generations. He lives on the outskirts of town, with his tiefling wife and their four children. He supplements his income by tanning hides for sale in Neverene's Goods, and is often the first person to spot travelers approaching from the west.
Secret Info:  Yarren Lusko knows a lot about Ilok's Junction and its inhabitants. He knows about the arcane gate beneath the temple and that Walfora Redflower used to run with a bad crowd in Fallen Baramir. Ilderion Bentaur confessed to him once, in a drunken stupor, about his past and Lusko knows that Volka Treemask is sweet on Vana Neverene. It would probably take some kind of magical compulsion, however, to get him to reveal any of his neighbors' secrets.

STR 16 (+3) - DEX 11 (+0) - CON 10 (+0) - INT 13 (+1) - WIS 13 (+1) - CHA 15 (+2)
HP 44 - AC 11 (Leather Armor)
Traits: Darkvision, Fey Ancestry, Trance, Elf Weapon Training
Defense: Leather Armor (AC 11 + Dex)
Offense: Shortsword, Melee, +7 to hit, deals 1d6 +3 piercing, Finesse, Light
Tools: Cards +4, Thieves tools +4
Skills: Deception +6, Investigation +5, Perception +5
Spells: Prestidigitation (Cantrip, At-Will, Spell DC 13)
Background: Fellor Ilsha came to Ilok's Junction seven years ago. Initially, the handsome elf rented a room in the Junction Inn, but eventually he built himself a small home.  He doesn't hunt or farm, but claims to be supported by a number of financial investments. He receives letters from Goldsun, Swordhold, Mountgate and even Darkwater concerning his business dealings, and is fairly knowledgeable about current events in Nur. Most nights he can be found in the Junction Inn, playing cards with Walfora Redflower or dicing with Ilderion Bentaur and Nora Heltane.
Secret Info: Fellor Ilsha was a freelance intelligence operative working in Darkwater when an operation he was involved in went terribly wrong. The rest of his team died at the hands of the Marked Men, but Fellor managed to flee the city. He decided to go into hiding until things calmed down and chose Ilok's Junction on a whim. Seven years later, he's pretty much settled into the small community. He's used his intelligence-gathering skills to make a comfortable profit, sharing information gleaned from the trade caravans to various merchant houses in Swordhold, Mountgate and Darkwater.

Fantasy Quest!

A little over a month ago, I sold my house and moved to a new part of town.  As part of getting to know my new neighborhood, I sought out the nearest local library. You can tell a lot about a neighborhood by how nice their local library is, how many actual books they have in relation to cheapjack desktop computers, and how much of their inventory is media.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover my local library has a generous amount of books AND media and only a very small section of desktop computers. Most of the visitors who wanted to use the internet seemed to have brought their own computers with them and were using the local wifi.
So, after wandering around, I decided to pick up some books. But what to read? I haven't had any real desire to read anything, which is probably why I've had problems trying to write. The word-tanks are empty and must be refilled regularly. I have been neglecting that.
So, I decided that I would start in the A's of the fiction section and work my way through all the Fantasy authors until I reach Z.
So far, it's been an interesting experience. I've discovered some good books and some real stinkers. Here's a brief breakdown of what I've read so far.

Half a King by Joe Abercrombie.  A sort of Viking-themed fantasy setting.  Excellent book. Highly recommend it.

Magicians Impossible by Brad Abraham. Initially, I was concerned this would turn into a Harry Potter-style book but it avoided that particular pitfall. A good book. Not great. But pretty damn good.

Blood Song by Cat Adams. The first stinker I encountered. Urban fantasy bullshit with a female protagonist who, it's revelaed, is even more special than she first appeared. *eyeroll* Overall, it was an okay book, but the protagonist just left a bad taste in my mouth, the literary equivalent of tequila vomit aftertaste. 

Edge of Dawn by Lara Adrian. Eleventh is a series, which I didn't realize when I picked it up, or I wouldn't have bothered. A 'Vampires existence has been revealed' fantasy book set in the near future. The main character, Mira, is just unpleasant and fucking stupid to boot. A shit book that I resent waisting my time on.

The Horns of Ruin by Tim Akers. This is awkward, but I read this book ages ago and completely forgot about it until I was two chapters into this copy. It's not a bad book. It's well-written and I didn't want to choke the shit out of the main character, Eva Forge. It bills itself as steampunk sword-n-sorcery. Eva's a paladin and how she channels her paladin abilities is cool. Read it yourself to see how. Not a bad book, but not great either. Kind of 'meh.'  Still a billion times better than Edge of Fucking Dawn.

The Dark Side of the Road by Simon Green. This is sort of an Honorable Mention as its the first book I checked out of my new library before I started on my Fantasy Quest. It sort of inspired me because I love Simon Green and was totally unaware that he had written another fantasy series. This book, though, was pretty much shit. It's an urban fantasy/mystery and a real slog to get through. Totally fucking boring. Very disappointing when compared to the Nightside books or even his Shaman Bond series. 

And that's where I'm at so far. What fresh horrors/wonders will I uncover on my next trip to the library? Who knows? But I'll let y'all know after the fact, and possibly spare some of you some time-wasting, cringe-worthy books.  

Monday, April 30, 2018

Lux Tenebris: Ilok's Junction

She had left the mountains behind and having them at her back was a welcome relief. True, the mountain folk were a taciturn, self-reliant lot, but they could also be hidebound and mistrustful of outsiders.  The dwarves of Orvald, in particular, were fine examples of such folk. Malora had skirted the dwarven city, traveling by night, even though it meant having to walk her horse rather than ride. The further west she traveled from Fallen Baramir the more the road deteriorated. Riding a horse at night was an invitation to disaster.
Now, the Greytooth Mountains were at her back, as were the watchful eyes of the Everwood. She had never managed to spot her observers, but she had known they were there, shadowing her along the road.
She was past the border of the wood, now, traveling along the Old Road at a decent pace. Her maps from the Adamantine Archive were current and fairly accurate. The road beyond the mountains seemed a bit better maintained and, ahead of her, lay a community that the Chief Archivist had assured her would be welcoming.
According to her maps, Ilok's Junction would be her last chance to swing south and take the New Road west. If she continued west, she would be committed to taking the Old Road and there were no guarantees regarding its safety or condition.
Still, a less traveled route was preferable to her in this country. A solitary drow, traveling alone, would attract enough attention and distrust. A drow woman, traveling alone, would invite a broader range of threats and a greater chance of violence.
Best to take her time on the Old Road, trust to the notes the Chief Archivist had given her, and avoid knives in the dark. Or worse.
The countryside was pleasant. The road passed through gently rolling hills. The forests alongside were neither dark nor menacing. At least, not any more so than any forest was. She did not sense eyes on her, watching her every move, making her itch to fling a dagger into the leafy shadows.  That was a good thing.
The road skirted the edge of a dense wood to the South when Malora spotted plumes of wispy smoke rising ahead of her. Telltale signs of civilization, or what would pass for it. Out of reflex, she took inventory of her weapons, made sure she could draw her rapier with no difficulty, then took a breath and continued.
Her first impression of Ilok's Junction was not favorable. She rounded a bend in the road and came upon a dilapidated log house, long abandoned and given back to nature. The roof had collapsed and the forest seemed to be doing its best to devour the structure in vines and mold. She passed it, warily, wondering if the Chief Archivist's notes were out-of-date. Perhaps Ilok's Junction was abandoned now, or become a haven for bandits.
Scowling, Malora pushed such thoughts away. If Ilok's Junction wasn't what she had been told to expect, she would adjust accordingly. She always had and she always would.
The road continued, a wide dirt track flanked by sparse woodland on either side. Smoke continued to rise ahead of her and, when the wind shifted, she caught the stink of hides being tanned.
So, she thought. Someone lives here yet and probably not bandits.
Nevertheless, her gloved hand slid to the hilt of her blade.
A little further along, Malora spotted the cabin. It was made of hewn logs with wooden shingles. There was a single story and, at a glance, Malora knew its interior was a single room. She spotted an outhouse behind the structure.
Standing in front of the structure was a man. He was human, with a weatherbeaten complexion and a shaved scalp. He wore buckskin trousers and leather boots. His naked torso was the color of teak, crisscrossed with fine scars and adorned with tattoos. A necklace of teeth and stones hung about his neck.
As Malora approached, the man was in the process of scraping a large deer hide which he had stretched across a sturdy wooden frame. He glanced up at Malora's approach, but never stopped his work. The air was filled with the sound of the blade scraping the taut skin.
"Well met, stranger."
Malora inclined her head. "Well met. Is this Ilok's Junction?"
"The outskirts of it," said the man. He jerked his head toward the west. "Keep following the road. You'll run into the Junction proper."
"Thank you."
The man grunted, "Safe travels," and kept on working.
Gently, Malora nudged her horse forward.
Well, she thought. Perhaps the Chief Archivist's notes aren't out of date after all.

The man's words were dagger-true.  She ambled into Ilok's Junction as the sun was hanging low on the western horizon. 
It wasn't a town, she realized, or even a village. It was a hamlet. She saw the peaked roofs of other log cabins. Most seemed small and cozy. There was also a wooden palisade, its fifteen-foot high walls sheltering what appeared to be an inn.  The palisade gates hung open and, as Malora guided her horse toward them, she spotted a scowling elf-man standing by them.
He stood with arms crossed, watching her with poisonous eyes. She held his gaze until he turned his head and spat on the ground.  Malora ignored him and studied the building in front of her.
It was bigger than she had expected, a sprawling two-story affair made of stout logs and mortared stone. Two chimneys rose from the slanted roof, spewing white smoke into the late afternoon sky. Bright golden flowers grew in abundance around the base of the structure, and the front doors were painted a brilliant shade of red.
As Malora slid off her horse, that bright red door swung open. A small matronly figure, swaddled in a light cloak despite the heat, emerged from the interior. She walked, leaning heavily on a gnarled wooden cane.
"Well met, traveler. Welcome to the Junction Inn. Would you be needing a room?"
"Aye, mistress," said Malora. "If you've got one."
"You've caught us between trade caravans," said the woman. "You'll have the place to yourself. Mostly." She lifted a hand, white as milk, and crooked a finger.  "Come inside. Let's get you settled. I'm Walfora Redflower, the mistress of this establishment. Welcome to Ilok's Junction."

Ilok's Junction is a hamlet of about nine families approximately fifty-two miles west of the dwarven city of Orvald. The Greytooth Mountains and the Everwood Forest are east of the Junction, while the Nemular Forest begins to the west.  The Old Road skirts the southern edge of this woodland while the New Road diverges from it at Ilok's Junction, heading south and west.
The largest structure in Ilok's Junction is the Junction Inn(1). It is also the best defended, situated behind a fifteen-foot high wooden palisade. During times of danger, the entire town can, and has, taken shelter in the Inn.
Other prominent structure in Ilok's Junction are the Temple of Ariel(3), Omir Moonrhyme's forge(4) and Neverene's Goods(5).
Most of the remaining buildings are residential dwellings (2, 6, 8, 11, 12).  Some properties have been abandoned (7, 9, 10, 13, 14) and have fallen into disrepair.  Whatever could be scavenged from these abandoned homes has been by the remaining residents.
Ilok's Junction is the last chance travelers have to leave the Old Road for the New Road. There isn't another opportunity to do so for almost two hundred miles.
During the warmer months, and into late autumn, trade caravans from Orvald and more isolated communities pass through Ilok's Junction. Many overnight at the Junction Inn, have damaged vehicles repaired at Moonrhyme's forge and purchase supplies at Neverene's. 
Remarkably, Ilok's Junction owes allegiance to no local lord or city-state. It is an independent community, handling their own affairs and meting out their own justice.  Occasionally some local lordling attempts to annex the Junction but its relative isolation, and the fierce tempers of the local residents, usually ends such schemes.