Monday, July 16, 2018

The Wolf and the Lion


A nearby fire crackles, the only disturbance of an otherwise quiet night.  Though it has been several days since the encounter with Carcerus and Zeb's ultimate retribution of Korvich, Zeb's sleep has been elusive, fitful when managed, and many late nights have been spent sitting, starting at the flame.

This night, arranged before Zeb are the grim trophies of the last few weeks.  Crude tokens, symbols of Malar carved from bone worn by the cultists Ignish and Tesk, made impure by Korvich's corruption of the faith.

Korvich's own fetish, this one decorated with the priest's trophies of notable kills, an assortment of teeth and talons.  Within the tangled mess is a beaten piece of metal, onto which is engraved the Claw of Malar, almost an afterthought to the other trophies.  Korvich clearly had a warped sense of priorities.

Next to the fetish is a shriveled, hard piece of dried flesh, which still reeks of the smoke and fire used to cure the meat.  Now unrecognizable, it nevertheless makes Zeb grin when he sees it--the tongue of Korvich, cut out by Zeb's own hand in retribution for the priest's foolish pride and false vorishnaad.

There is one last trophy, of a sort.  The carved, wooden symbol of Nobanion, the self-proclaimed "King of Beasts".  It's not really a trophy--Zeb didn't kill Maglarosh, after all, nor did he necessarily desire the man's death--but it has caused Zeb consternation since he first set his eyes upon it, and he didn't know what else to do with it.

The dislike between the two cults is long-established, distilled--at its simplest--to a difference in perspective, and perhaps in execution.  Both faiths venerate the beast, but it's Nobanion's naive notions of community, compassion, and dignity that highlight his weakness.  When missionaries of Nobanion brave the wastes in search of converts among the beast cults, they are confronted by the harsh realities of that cold, barren land, and of the singular mindset--survival at all costs--that it takes to avoid becoming prey.


A branch snaps in the woods behind Zeb, and in one, fluid motion, Zeb rolls to the side while drawing one of his knives, crouched and ready to pounce.  Zeb's helm and mantle--the skull of Carcerus--casts a frightful shadow, playing tricks with the firelight.  A pale, ghostly face, clearly terrified, confronts Zeb--Selben.  The young man stutters apologetically, stepping out of the shadow.  "S-s-sorry, Zeb.  I couldn't sleep, and saw the fire.  I f-figured it was yours.  Y-y-you...for a moment, you looked more like a wolf than a man.  Sorry to interrupt you."

Zeb stands, sheathing the knife, then returns to his place by the fire, gesturing for Selben to join him.  They had spent the last few days cloistered together in Ethelenda's workroom beneath the Tower of Carrock, and Zeb found that Selben's company--as well as the young man's eagerness to relearn his lost arcane talents--was comforting.

"What's that?" asks Selben, bending over to pick up the talisman to Nobanion.  Zeb loops the other trophies back onto his belt, then steps forward, taking the crude wooden symbol from Selben.  "This?" Zeb says, holding the token in his palm.  "Nothing.  Nothing important, in any case."  Zeb tosses it into the nearby fire, pauses for a moment to watch it ignite, then turns to look at Selben, seemingly satisfied.

"This, however," Zeb says, withdrawing something from one of his numerous pouches, "is for you.  I meant to give it to you earlier."  Zeb gestures for Selben to step forward, and Zeb hangs a leather thong around the young man's neck.  From it dangles an hourglass-shaped piece of bone, harvested from the tail of Carcerus' slain form.  Both men take seats near the fire.  "What's it for?" Selben asks.

"Protection, Selben," replies Zeb quietly.  Silence lingers for several heartbeats, only disturbed by the pop of the fire.  "For protection," he mutters again, more to himself than anyone else.  Selben seems satisfied by that, holding the bone between his thumb and forefinger, and the remainder of the night passes with the two men sitting together in silence.

11 comments:

  1. The irony of Zeb's rebuke of Nobanion's dogma in the story above isn't lost on me. Especially considering the steps taken to protect Carrock and its citizens from the threat of Carcerus and Korvich, there's definitely a crisis of conscience at play, whether he knows it or not.

    Whether that ever becomes enough for Zeb to question his faith in the Beastlord, I don't know. It will likely develop over time, as Zeb is still relatively new to the "civilized" lands outside the wastes.

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    1. Duly noted. This piece is sweet. Feel free to use comments here for moving the game forward. (Probably easiest to always default to using the latest post.)

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    2. Great post here. I like seeing the interaction between Zeb and Selben. I think I audibly gasped when Zeb threw Nobanion's symbol into the fire. I was not expecting that at all, but I do not think it is out of character at all.

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  2. Audric would like to take the opportunity during the down time to approach and speak to Bonie. He will approach her during some downtime, perhaps a meal to speak with her.

    "Hello," Audric says as he approaches. "We have spent time together tracking down cultists and fighting them, yet I know little about you. "Tell me about your self, and how you came to be a soldier in Westtower." Audric wishes to learn more about his potential traveling companions.

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    1. Zeb has also been keen on initiating a conversation with Bonie, so when he sees her with Audric, he'd make efforts to quietly join their conversation.

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    2. "I was under employ of another," the girl replies, "but the nature of my engagement changed when the outpost was attacked. I do desire to reconvene with this person, who happens to keep a residence in Mirabar... however, Larimo's health is of greater importance; he is an old family friend, and I value him dearly. He would do as much for me, in a heartbeat."

      After a brief silence, and also regarding Zeb, who now approaches, she asks, "And what of your company? For clearly there are pages to your story that I can only begin to understand."

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  3. Zeb will use the pause in Bonie's story to reassert his desire for her and Larimo to join them in their travels. While he tries not to be overbearing, he very much wants them to join their small band.

    "You are not the only one concerned for Larimo's health. It is my hope that you'll decide to travel with us--if only to Westtower--though Mirabar is likely our final destination."

    "As for us," Zeb explains, "Audric and I were in the employ of Erathmar, the trader, when Shadfeld was razed. The attack occurred while we were investigating a missing person, a druidess, and we returned to find only the results of Korvich's raiding party." That name leaves a sour taste in Zeb's mouth, and his hand wanders of its own accord towards the dried tongue hanging from his belt. "Before that, I attended my studies in mage-craft with various mentors in Mirabar, which is how I was introduced to Audric."

    "It is to seek some of those same mentors that is my purpose in returning that direction. Selben, the young man that currently stays in Erathmar's camp, has burgeoning powers of his own, and I lack the resources to formally instruct him. I have needs of my own in that regard, and Audric is counted among the faithful of Mystra. He has contacts in Mirabar that may be able to provide some guidance."

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    1. The young woman takes it all in. "Indeed, we have a common interest in our destination. When do you mean to depart?"

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    2. "I don't want to speak to hastily for Audric, but I believe we are in agreement--we are ready to leave at your convenience. Or, more precisely, at Larimo's. I've tried to watch his healing progress without skulking about, and I've not yet broached the matter with him thinking that he may rush on our behalf, assuming he wants to travel with us at all. We are not in a great hurry, though find ourselves with few remaining pursuits within Carrock."

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    3. Audric nods his head, "I agree on the timing. I would rather wait a few days to leave if that means you will accompany us. We would much appreciate your company along the journey. AS you well know, the only thing that helps to ensure safety is numbers."

      He steeples his fingers in thought. "At the moment, I seek members of my own clergy, for I have need of their wisdom and guidance."

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  4. The days pass slowly in Carrock, though not as slowly as the nights. Thus it is that Zeb finds himself wandering again under the moonlight, his feet moving almost of their own accord. He takes in the night, breathing deeply of the chill air, taking note of the sounds around him. The crunch of an errant leaf on the path behind him alerts him to his shadow...Selben, following him again, despite Zeb's reprimand last time he was caught.

    Zeb ignores the sounds, letting the boy...nay, the young man...do as he will. After all, what business does Zeb have out here in the night? Before long, his destination is reached, and as he has so many nights before, Zeb starts a small fire and sits, leaning back to rest upon the cold stone.

    Zeb takes a small bundle from his pack, an oil-wrapped stack of thin, wooden slats, shavings that one of the local woodworkers let him take from the scrap pile. He lays them out in a cross in front of him, the orange light from the flame revealing images on the wooden slats, carved and burned over the course of several nights. Staring up at Zeb are facsimiles of the cards shown him by Kezia--crude likenesses of the Missionary and Abjurer, eerily accurate depictions of the Beast, and several more in various states of progess. The set, at least those cards which which Zeb is familiar, is nearly complete.

    Another sound in the night, this time a snapped branch. "Approach, Selben." Zeb's voice is firm, but not admonishing. Selben steps out from the shadows, shivering. "Sorry, Zeb...couldn't sleep."

    Zeb doesn't address the excuse, knowing that Selben suffers from the same stir-craziness that afflicts him and Audric. "Have a seat. The air is chill, the fire comforting." He hands his skin over to Selben, mulled wine, and the young man drinks.

    They sit together in silence for several long minutes, Zeb working on one of his carved images, using sticks with glowing embers on the end to burn accents into the wood. Selben, obviously curious, nevertheless waits until Zeb is done.

    Zeb, seemingly unsatisfied, returns the sticks to the flame and holds up the results of his handiwork. "This was supposed to be you, Selben...but it keeps coming out wrong. Unfinished, somehow. I just can't seem to get it right. This is the third time I have tried...and still, the result is the same." He hands Selben the slat, and the young man smiles. "It looks like me!"

    Zeb smiles, but it does not cover up the underlying frown. "But what is that in my hand, Zeb? It almost looks like a rope...a noose."

    "I'm not sure. That's been the problem. It looked like that the first time I tried too, then it looked more like a shepherd's crook. It's supposed to be a knife...I was trying to draw you, standing over Ignish when he was caught, knife in hand...but it keeps coming out this way. Should I try again?"

    "No," Selben says quietly. "I like it. It fits." Zeb examines the card one last time, sure now more than before that it is indeed a noose, but struggles to find something more wholesome in the image. "Okay then...it's yours."

    "Put it with the others, please. You should keep them all together." That pleases Zeb for some reason, and he shuffles the slat back into the pile with the others, wrapping the bundle in cloth once again.

    "You think...you think we can save him?" Selben asks, looking past Zeb.

    Zeb sits and stares up, the flames casting ghastly shadows over the grim visage of Arkhen, entombed in stone due to the magic of Audric's ring. Moss covers Arkhen's outstretched arms, his body trapped in the pose of warding off something fearsome, harmful.

    Zeb shrugs. "I don't know, Selben. I just don't know. Let's head back...it's a long walk." Selben settles in quietly at Zeb's side, and together they walk back to Carrock in silence.

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