GraniteSpire

Cut-Nose Adventure 4 Recap

Not long ago I considered the night a refuge. Surrounded my snoring hounds I was (mostly) safe from the petty insults and casual violence of the Queen’s Guard and the prettier or more highly placed serfs. Out here, the darkness brings death; Bandits, freezing rivers, bears, and wolves. We lost another companion last night. I dread what the next night might bring.

The morning after Tain’s death we woke to the sound of voices. A short distance away, in possibly the worst location two people could choose for a camp site, huddled around their failed attempt at a fire, we found two more nearly frozen refugees. They were armed, though, and well dressed for the cold. After a few tense moments we struck a bargain: My fire for their guidance to Black Oak. One of those men, Stave, would not live to see the next sunrise.

He seemed doomed from the start. First, despite their promise to guide us back to Black Oak, they clearly had no idea where they were. We wasted half the morning before I realized we were heading almost completely the wrong way. Then there was the snake. Sometime after noon Stave startled a huge venomous serpent and got bit for his bad manners. I’m fairly certain I was able to stop the poison, and the other man, Ablelower, proved incredibly skilled with a knife. We made a fine serpent stew for dinner that evening. One more day until black oak and I was starting to feel hopeful again. Then night arrived, and the wolves arrived with it. I was on the first watch with Stave when they attacked. The battle was fierce, bloody, and desperate. They kept trying to drag away the more vulnerable members of our party. When the final wolf was driven off, and all the rest were dead, we found Stave still at his watch. There was a dead wolf next to him, and blood all around him.

His friend took it hard. Friends are dangerous things in this ‘dwell, as I know too well. This last winter, when the snow was heavy on the ground, the Queen’s Guard found themselves in need of entertainment. They made old Lem prop his peg leg up on a stool while they hurled daggers at it. They were well pickled by then, and when one the daggers hit Lem in the chest they were all falling down laughing. There was murder in my heart then, but Lem wouldn’t have wanted that. I decided to take my long horded if miniscule wealth and take the first caravan out.

That hasn’t worked out so well for me. I’m still not out of the ‘dwell. Tomorrow, with a little luck, we should be able to make Black Oak. I don’t expect I, and my band of hungry penniless refugees, will find a warm welcome. I hope it’s not my night to die.

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Cut-Nose Adventure 3 Recap
Instinct

Once again I find myself scrawling my thoughts on this scavenged bark, though this time with less optimism. One of our companions continues his journey in the spirit world. Once today I was able to save him, when the white doe he had lain nearly returned the insult. Twice was beyond my skill. Tain was killed by the wrathful paw of an enraged bear. I hope that wherever he is now, he is at least warm and dry.

Instinct.
It is a powerful drive, and sits beside the core that connects us to the natural world, right next to the heart of my new found strength. In this desperate journey I never considered the cost of this new power.
Three years ago, while hunting for some escaped serfs, my hounds came across a black bear. They quickly circled, each hound in turn darting in and snapping at the huge best, then darting back as the bear turned. Enraged, the bear kept turning and swiping at the hounds. When the huntsmen finally arrived with their crossbows three of the hounds were dead. That night I asked Lem why they would attack a creature so much larger and more dangerous than themselves.

It’s instinct Nosey. A pack may fight were a lone hound would run. Their bond gives them courage, and they will risk even the claws of the mighty bear for the pack.

The last two days I have been building those bonds with my fellow refugees and struggling to understand my new gift. When I woke to find a bear in our camp I reacted without thought, charging at the beast to drive it away. Tain circled behind and attacked. It all seemed right to me. Yes, this is how the pack fights. It was not until pigeons light flared between myself and the bear that intelligent thought returned. Tain was dead. Pigeon and Jade were on the far side of the fire. The others had fled. I ducked a swipe from the bear and leaped across the fire. Then we ran for it. The bears cry of rage triggered an avalanche. Jade was struck by a rock that would surely have killed anyone else. We staggered out into the night before finding this briar.

I must find some balance between this connection to nature and instinct with my rational human thought. A slave to instinct is still a slave, and I mean to be free

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Pigeon's Adventure Eight Recap

I peeled my traveling shirt off and spread it out on the ground at my
knees. The rest of my companions were asleep. All except Luna that is,
who I got the distinct impression was trying to choose between two
tempting kills. She seemed to pick up on my suggestion not to decide
at all and express a dry amusement (if owls have senses of humor). I
smoothed the garment so I could cast my mending more easily. Although
my friends had seen my working of much more complex and obvious and
damning magics, some part of me felt it a courtesy to perform what I
could outside of their observation. A futile gift of deniability?
“Yes, magistrate, I witnessed the man called Pigeon summon lightning
from his fingers, but I never once saw him bend arcane currents to his
will for the purposes of mending a torn seam.” Foolish notion. But
then again, I do a lot of foolhardy things these days.

The long claw scars on my chest and arm were testament to that. Or the
acid burns on my opposite shoulder. Or the dozens of bites still
healing from last night’s misfortune. Too soon to welcome any detail
of that memory. Besides, I’m supposed to be watching the entry tunnel.
I challenged myself to keep my dancing lights aloft in the corridor
while mending the snag in my sleeve, suffered whilst dodging the
poison spray of whatever that carapaced horror was we killed this
afternoon. Done and done. I dyed the shirt green for good measure,
darkening the color to my satisfaction in the low light. Not that it
would last until I woke Aberlour up for his watch. On and on my lights
danced in the tunnel. Such a peaceful satisfaction from these arcane
crafts. I only wish everyone could experience it.

Of course, my friends have their own gifts. Looking at them now,
asleep, dreaming no doubt of the treasure we just found, etching in
stone our status as proper adventurers, it’s hard to imagine my life
before them. These past few weeks have burned so brightly as to cast
my previous life in shadow, though I recognize its familiar contours
there in the darkness.

Despite this success, I know we won’t be safe until we leave the
‘Dwell. But I believe we’re safer in each other’s company. Because we
trust each other. We share a bond of family, forged by battle, that
says “from you, my brothers and sisters, I will keep no secrets and do
to you no harm, for we— WE, are in this together.”

My eyes grew heavy and Luna had finished both her meals. It was time
to wake my new friend and trusted companion, Aberlour, up for his
watch.

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Pigeon's Adventure Seven Recap

A thousand tiny legs, skittering, wriggling through my clothes,
desperate to fill arachnid maws with my warm flesh. I thrashed awake
but it was too late. They were crawling on my face. One was trying to
burrow into my ear. The bites! I could feel the poison like hot syrup
in my veins, or maybe I imagined the temperature. I heard myself
scream. I seemed so far away.

My body’s dying anguish as it squirmed in the dirt, an afterthought.
Something else spoke to me. Well, it didn’t speak exactly. But it had
my attention and I knew I had its. It was such a terrible comfort in
the fleeing of my mortality that I finally understood what those
clergymen spent their lives chasing. But there was nothing divine
about this. It felt like the night of my arcane awakening, watching
Barnus die on the bank of that river. Something was watching me die.
And it wanted to help, but… couldn’t.

Then something else pulled at me. Mother! Her arms wrapped me up,
carrying me from… what? A carriage? I could hear the horses. I could
hear the screaming. No. Mother was gone. But I wasn’t. I was the one
screaming. Jade slumped me against a tree. I was in my body again.
Cut-nose was guiding nature to undo what it had just done to undo me.
How many times had they saved me? People often admit to losing count
of things as a sense of hyperbole, but I sincerely had.

Aberlour rolled on the ground in my place. My mind flashed with the
spell I needed. I instinctively moved my arm to fetch my rose pedals.
They were gone! Wait. No. My arm wasn’t moving. Shit.

RHHHUZZZ PLELLS!”

I knew from the look on her face that Jade thought I was speaking my
arcane tongue. Thankfully her mind is nearly as quick as her hands and
she discerned the difference between my drooling and the carefully
creased syllables of my art. She looked down at the component pouch I
somehow had managed to open. Hopefully she wasn’t going to be
sprinkling grasshopper legs in my lap. If she did, it’d be Aberlour
dying instead of me. But who knew, I might still die tonight.

Then it hit me again. That presence. Something urged me to be calm, to
focus, to save my friend. And I did.

Soon enough, Aberlour was unconscious alongside scores of dreaming
spiders… dreaming of my flesh, no doubt. They would take those dark
fantasies to their spidery hell.

As the others tended to what need be done, my gaze drifted upward.
Somehow, amidst the branches covered in sheets of webbing, there was
perched an owl. Stately, curious, looking right at me. I recognized
her and she recognized me. Her head cocked to the side, but her gaze
never wavered. The moon stabbed through the canopy of leaves above and
behind her. Luna.

Luna wanted me to leave. She knew I was weak, but I got the sense that
as dangerous as it might be to move, staying here was certain death. I
did my best to communicate this urgency to the others and, despite
their skepticism, somehow I convinced them to uproot camp. By the time
I looked back to that moonlit branch, the owl was gone.

I got the sense she didn’t go far.

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Pigeon's Adventure Six Recap

“IT SPITS ACID!!!!!”

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Pigeon's Adventure Five Recap

She was soaked, her long pretty hair matted to her face, her chestnut
eyes that looked at me like I was something sacred. I hated what they
had done to her voice. The one that sang me to sleep since before I
could remember, now sounded like she had a bat fluttering in her lungs
when she drew breath. What had they done to her? Our stone cell lacked
a window so I never guessed at the hour but I knew our time was short.

“William, my sweet boy.” She smiled even now, speaking tenderly
between fits of coughing, bouts of hacking up what I hoped was only
water. I moved to comfort her when all I wanted to do was break down
the door and hurt anyone who would dare hurt us. But I had only seen
five winters and such a feat would have proved… difficult.

“Listen to me and remember well for soon I may not be here to remind
you.” Her tone was soothing but hearing those words instantly wound a
tingling pressure behind my eyes. “The key to creation and undoing
resides in a name. Never give these men your true name, your father’s
true name. You were named for him, did you know that?” She must have
read the confusion on my face, swiftly giving way to curiosity as it
always did. “Oh, William is indeed your name, but only part of it. The
rest you will claim when you are strong enough to protect it.”

“But, Mama. I am strong.” I heard myself say it in a trembling voice.
She smiled hard, squeezing tears from her eyes, causing me to lose
what control I had. I clung to her weeping while she spoke a secret
language I liked to believe she made up just for me. Time seemed to
slither away. The next moment, I remember waking up, my rags damp from
laying on hers. I was certain I had slept but she continued speaking
as if no time had passed.

“I know how strong you are, my bright boy. Wherever you find yourself,
whatever may come to pass, know that I love you, that your father
loves you. Continue to grow strong and use that strength to protect
people, even those who are afraid, even those who would hurt you.”

“Why would they hurt me? Why are they hurting you?”

Her head cocked to the side, she heard something. “They return and I
fear I shall not.”

“No!” I cried, too loudly.

As she calmly shushed me, I could make out their ironshod boots
clattering in the stairwell. “Never forget your true name, William.
Never give it to anyone who could take it from you.” An iron key
jangled and creaked in the lock at our door. My heart leapt into my
throat but I held very still as my mother cupped her hand to my ear
and whispered the last words I ever heard her utter. My true name.

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Tain's Adventure Three Recap
The Death of Tain

The surprising part is the sound- two sounds actually: the concussion of the paw and the pop of my head hitting the soil. The left half of my face and neck are tingling and pulsing with my racing heart. I’m frozen, and can only see slow glimpses of the brown fur between me and the fire.


I awaken to the sound of my door’s opening- but was it from the dream or the real? I freeze, unbreathing, waiting. The creak of a floorboard. I quickly roll over in groggy terror to find the silhouette of my father.

“Tain. My only son,” he’s whispering through sobs. I sit up, consumed by worry: what could be wrong? “I’m so sorry, Tain.” I try to pull the rest of myself from the dream world and make sense of his words. “It’s not safe for me here anymore, Tain, and the mountains are no place for a boy of your years.” He’s squeezing me so hard. He must know he’s hurting me. “Dedrick has promised to look after you, to teach you a trade. You’re better off, Tain. You’re-” a distant door creaks open in the night. He turns his head and notes a lantern coming toward the servant house. “Stay until light spills over the eastern peaks, but not after the stars in the West sky melt to morning. Take a milk pail and walk toward the North pasture. Dedrick will meet you.” he looks again to the approaching light. “I’m so sorry, Tain.”


I’ve been dead since then. For the last 16 years I’ve been walking closer to this moment.

A bright light illuminates the outline of my killer. How could I have gotten so cold so quickly? My eyes are dry and stinging, but I can’t bring myself to blink. The sounds of my new friends’ dying seem to be coming from a distant cave- the sounds echoing in such a strange way. A quiet roar fills my mind: is it possible to see a sound? The world is dark now, and I can hear only a faded dull rumble, smell only blood and fur and smothered fire, taste the metal of my own blood. An eternity passes before I feel myself rocking back and forth: I presume I am the first of us to be eaten.

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Fang's Adventure Four Recap

I, Fang

The moon smiled on our hunt. Our prey had eluded our jaws (mostly) for
two dark-cycles, but this time would be different. This time we would
fatten our bellies on their tender flesh. Without the white freezefall
to crunch under paw, we prowled unnoticed into position. The burning
one seemed to catch our scent at the last moment, but it would not
matter. Nothing could stop it now.

Snarl and I fell upon their other scout as our packmates leapt from
the darkness into their heart. The screaming gave me courage as we
faced this foe. The scout drew forth an enormous shining tooth as I
tore at his flesh. He opened an impossible bite in my hide, my
instincts driving me backward as I left Snarl to finish the kill.

Surely the others would be having better luck in their hunt, preying
on the slumbering and defenseless. My own blood wetting my fur, I
swiftly found Lucky as he dragged away a particularly tender kill, one
that might be swollen with a flesh litter. I moved to assist when out
of nowhere their alpha female pounced downward, falling on Lucky like
a mighty stone, shattering his spine, splaying his legs outward like
that elk we chased over Bendy Point last flowerbloom. But wait, where
was the other female? The burning one seemed to replace her or maybe
he had before the alpha showed up? Perhaps the bite I took from the
scout was worse than I thought and I had drained too much blood onto
my paws.

I trotted over to Noblamo, where I heard him dragging off their gray
male. Noblamo always did have a weakness for the weak ones. Finally,
an attack seemed to be going well. Plus Snarl must have finished off
the scout I bloodied by now. I found Noblamo in a patch of moonlight
dragging away the gray male when I saw a glimmering tooth streak out
of the darkness and catch in his side. To witness the jolt and whimper
of even a lesser packmate like Noblamo filled me with the rage of an
alpha! I huffed at the dirt for scent of this toothspitter when I saw
something that will haunt my every pawfall should I live to bay at a
million moons.

One of the prey (a title I have since come to reconsider) flew like a
featherbeak and landed on Noblamo, then it summoned skyfire through
its paws, burning Noblamo to death from the inside. I was no stranger
to death, but when the flashes lit up the curl of the flying one’s
snout and I saw the skyfire in its eyes, I felt something I had never
felt before.

Fear.

I would have told my packmates I was merely marking our territory as I
made my escape. But that would have been a lie. And what was worse, I
had no more packmates. I, Fang, pissing myself in fear as I ran from
what should have been my prey, was now a lone wolf.

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Pigeon's Adventure Three Recap

I flew through the air twice today. Almost thrice.

The first time I found myself clearing a 25-foot span of surging
liquid death that some people call “river water.” The fact that I had
to run on a icy fallen log during my approach and focus arcane energy
into a magical propellant drew some curious (and disapproving in one
case) glances from my companions. But maybe they were just jealous I
didn’t get my feet wet. All that mattered to me was I didn’t drown.
Any day without drowning, completely or partially, is a good one in my
book. Not that I have a book or really much of anything to my name in
this life.

Again, my control of this power was augmented by my fear of impending
death. It is my hope to someday practice a more casual brand of
wizardry.

From there, Lady Jade helped Amara cross (though it may have been the
other way around) and that marked our entire party putting the river
between us and the wolves that dogged our steps since the bandit
attack. As further reassurance of our good luck, the more
superstitious members of our party recognized a stark white doe as a
blessing of good luck. Tain may have agreed with them in that he saw
such an adorable food source as a stroke of fortune. The man’s
stealthy approach was impressive, as was his killing strike on the
animal. Unfortunately for him, Lady Jade objected to his murderous
nourishment-providing intentions and attempted to foil the attack by
wrestling him to the ground. If I’m being honest, being wrestled to
the ground by Lady Jade is not an entirely undesirable prospect, but
I’d likely not trade it for a frantic hoofing to the heart. Tain’s
already failing health did him no favors in shrugging off the doe’s
death throes, and I feared we were going to lose him right there.

But under the skillful administrations of Cut-Nose, Tain survived and
we dragged the bloody doe carcass back to a makeshift camp. That doe
meat tasted more heavenly than any meal previous, helped in no small
part by the suspicion that it (like every other meal I’d had recently)
was likely to be my last. Speaking of which…

The second time I flew through the air today was immediately after
being batted by the enraged paw of a monstrous grizzly bear. The
sword-sharp claws attached to the end of said paw came but a hair’s
breadth on either side of slicing my right nipple clean off. I somehow
found the time to admire the slashes as the extended neatly from my
chest and onto my arm before slamming into a tree trunk that I would
not have previously considered nearby.

Yes, we were fighting a bear. This may have been my fault. Like our
more righteous companions (cough Ian Key) I had hoped the bear would
be frightened (or at the very least, disappointed) by my arcane
summoning of lightning. Best case scenario, it would have loped off
into the woods (perhaps along with Ian, where they could have
conspired to burn me at the stake, devising overly complex schemes to
expose my sorcery in the public eye, the complicated nature of which
was really just an expression of their own cowardice by delaying any
real action). I was not lucky enough to receive a “best case”
reaction.

The bear charged and the wisest members of the party ran away.
(Mis)guided by the noble sacrifice of Barnus, I chose to stay as long
as my companions stayed, even going so far as to put my hands on the
bear and shock it directly. This is the attack that earned me the
beast’s previously mentioned maiming, rendering my flesh forever
asymmetrical. There, I should have run. But I did not. Tain emerged
behind the auburn-furred behemoth, changing the octave of its roar
with a boar tusk jab to the genitals. Hope sprang up in me that it
might finally flee so we could do the same, but those hopes were
crushed along with Tain’s mortal frame as he was mauled before my
eyes. There again, I should have run. But somehow Cut-Nose was still
engaged with the animal! What was he doing? Covering our escape? I
couldn’t leave him without doing something. But what?

It was in that moment that I felt a familiarly sure grip about my
torso. The Lady Jade was dragging me away! Death again jolted up my
spine, but this time not my own. It arced vertically into my brain and
an idea formed. I screamed something at Lady Jade (perhaps too
harshly) but I needed to be free if I was going to give Cutty his
chance. Thankfully, she let me go (though I worried for the last time)
and I was able to expend the last of whatever energies I possessed to
conjure a bright flash of light. Cut-Nose seized the opportunity after
taking a savage strike from the grizzly and dove through the fire. He
was away! The beast roared a roar so terrifying that the mountainside
itself shuddered in fear.

Unfortunately, when snow-covered mountains tremble, avalanches are
born. While we fled this natural disaster, ice and boulders hurtling
toward our line of escape, I felt an unceremonious shove from behind.
I tumbled forward, knowing that it could only have come from Lady
Jade. I understood why should would be upset. My loyalty to my friends
had almost got me killed and she seemed to make it her business not to
let me die. Come to think of it, she wouldn’t let me be the last to
cross the river either. At the time, my mind was too focused on
actualizing a spell I had only read and certainly never seen. Or maybe
she blamed me for provoking the bear. Tain might have been more at
fault, for killing the lucky doe and dragging it back to camp with its
trail of fresh blood, but it’s even worse luck to speak ill of the
dead and I was the only one left alive to scold. Tumbling to the fresh
powder, I spun around, readying a number of defenses for my course of
action.

She was not where I expected. She was picking herself up off the
ground, blood matting her hair to the side of her face. I needed but
an instant to figure what happened. She pushed me out of the way and
took the hit herself.

Once again, I owed my life to the lady with the green green eyes. Damn it.

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Tain's Adventure Two Interlude
Tain's Last Night

Ian Key shuffls past the campfire and sits down beside the wheezing young man. In the crook of the root-arms of a mighty conifer, the two Karathians put tongue and teeth to flame-roasted boar meat. A spasm of coughing interrupts the quiet, and Ian glances over at his companion.

“You know, we may all die out here,” the old man says somberly. “But I’ll tell you this. Not in twenty years have I enjoyed such delectable fare of which I could eat my fill.”

The old man looks back to the fire, patiently waiting for the fit of coughing to pass.

“If Death does come,” Ian continues, “I’ll welcome him, for I’ve a full belly, fine companions, and freedom.” Ian turned his gray eyes back from the fire. “What say you, friend?”

“Aye: true. It’s better food and finer company than I’ve had ‘til now. But if I die tonight, or the next or any night before I taste bread that’s mine or work a job I choose, then the fates can spit. I think I’m right assuming we’ve all sacrificed getting out of the Dwell, and it wasn’t so we could die freezing in the wolf-ridden woods. There ain’t no going-” coughing cripples the man. It’s like knives of ice are caught in his throat. He goes until his lungs are completely empty- til he’s got nothing left. Cautiously, He pulls in another breath. “We can’t die here. The Gods don’t want it. I’ve spent my life hiding in the shadows and doing my best to become one myself. I’ve looked to the ground and cowered any time my will’s been questioned. Today we killed a boar, and last night we fought off a pack of wolves. I know now of the man I can be, and won’t lie down without the chance to be him.”

He looks to the others who seem to be asleep, and adds in a low voice, made raspy from this damned cough, “I don’t know what you’ve seen, but today I watched lightning leap from the hands of a man, and fire from the torch of another: these aren’t things men do without the help of the Gods. We’re getting out of these fucking woods and dying in beds we call our own with the ones we love.”

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