This is another snapshot in the story of Klemgathed Shalecott, known as the Dawn Arrow. The events of this tale take place approximately six months after the events of “The Flight of the Dawn Arrow”.
Yes, all this stuff “really” happened and my mate Ben actually did everything that you find in these tales. I told him I would be posting this section of the story and he shuddered. I guess I put the fear of the gods into him and that makes me smile.
After discovering that the former-paladin, Dreadcircle, was in fact a minion of the necromancer, Okotarg-of-the-Void, he set out in pursuit of knowledge that would help him exact revenge for his murdered teacher and classmates.
A few weeks slogging through the rolling maze of the Emerald Hills found Klem back in his ancestral homelands, the hill dwarven lands known as Tanagrak. His people were under siege by forces of Dreadcircle, and it was during this time that Klem was slain by treachery.
Instead of finding himself in the afterlife, he awoke in the cloistered tower of the mage, Tohloth Wayfinder, in the capitol of Gemseed, the city of New Sybar. Tohloth told him the true story of who Dreadcircle was and why he had abandoned his order and joined with the enemy. Unbeknownst to Klem, Tohloth was being hunted by agents of the Emperor of Rega, who ostensibly ruled these lands from afar. Tohloth also said that he raised him from the dead so that Klemgathed could fulfill his destiny. Seems legit.
Klem himself was now being hunted. He fled the city and headed south. This is where our tale opens. This is part one of two.
Klemgathed Shalecott was on the run. He had no choice, really, ever since he had met the renegade mage, Tohloth Wayfinder his life had turned upside-down. It was the first of Shrouds, the season of Shadow, and he was about to swim across the River Po and enter the Skelking Moors, once called The Dead Swamp. Alone. Not his finest moment, but the rest of the continent was closed to him, and he needed to get out of Gemseed quickly. The only port that he could think of where the Regan government wouldn’t be looking for him was the lonely hamlet of Stricken, some 400 kilometres from where he stood at the riverbank in west Gemseed.
The first of Shrouds. There would be nothing but gloom for the next month, and the month after that, nothing but darkness. He had to move quickly.
Its not easy to swim with one arm. Klem had no choice. The water was cold and swift. He struggled to keep his gear and himself afloat. He had a few meager possessions in an oiled cloth, wrapped in burlap and tied to his waist. He had no armor and did not need any. Monks disdained such clumsy trappings.
The only thing of value he did have was an ancient katana strapped to his back. It’s name was Shonang, the Fate Blade, and it was the home of the spirit of a truly ancient being, the Cluian monk Akou-Taie, who had been imprisoned within the blade centuries ago and now only had one purpose – to destroy the demon rakshasha, Shao-Ti, and escape his prison.
After 30 minutes spent in freezing cold water, the dwarven monk finally hauled himself up onto the far bank and lay there for a few minutes, catching his breath. As he rested, he reviewed what he knew about The Skelking Moors.
Once, the Upper Eastern half of Gemseed was a fertile land of rolling hills, small patches of forest, and productive farmland. It was cut off from the Wilds of Aka-Na to the south by the Llanelli River, and was once home to thousands who provided the bulk of food to Gemseed’s cities. What was not eaten was exported the rest to the Middle Kingdoms, and had proved a bulwark against famine in ages past.
During the Age of Darkness the continent was besieged by the Chaos Wars, and the land was beset by tens of thousands of dark elves, known as Drow to their enemies. They boiled up from the Underdark and the Underdeep through many gorges, caverns and sinkholes. They had one aim – to destroy the surface dwellers and take revenge for being banished millenia ago.
Their leader, the Drow queen, Xanthaniax Dru’ell Dru’ess, nearly won the war. Without the help of the paladin army of Akbar, the Shining City of Ashaaria, Gemseed would have certainly been lost to the forces of darkness.
After nearly 2,000 years of war, Queen Dru’ell Dru’ess was defeated and her daughter, the Witch Rakasha, tried to lead a new revolt, enslaving thousands and building a massive fortress in the northern reaches of Eastern Gemseed while the combined armies of Light disbanded, believing the threat passed.
Eventually, she was also defeated, but she did not go quietly, as her mother before her. Her rage enabled her to live on as a banshee. On the day of her death she rose as a restless spirit, and her death wails slew all whom she had enslaved and all who served her. The day of her death also began the death knell for Eastern Gemseed.
Rakasha cursed the land, and a spate of foul water gushed from the walls of her once-mighty fortress.
It flooded the surrounding lands, and over the centuries, had stagnated and destroyed the fertile land, creeping outwards every year, slowly devouring the land.
Now called the Dead Swamp, it was broken into four sections – to the north-west were The Bogs of Sorrow, where Rakasha’s castle still stood; The Blackbog Pits, in the north-east, was where the village of Stricken now fought a losing battle against the ever-widening swamp; to the south-east were The Festering Fens, where the Mistmire Clans now battled against the rampant breeding of foul monsters; and in the south-west was The Stinking Quagmire, where Klem now found himself, pinned against the shoreline.
Rakasha’s dread will could be felt even this far south of her citadel. It was said that she saw and heard all that transpired in her domain, and that all who died here served her malice.
Klemgathed got to his feet, checked again that the Fate Blade would not answer his requests (Akou-Taie had gone silent ever since Klem had his beliefs shaken to the point where he didn’t know what he believed anymore, and the blade would not come free from the scabbard), and set off towards the remnants of an ancient road, now half-sunken in the greasy-grey waters.
It took Klem nearly a month to transverse the swamp. He had been attacked by vapor rats on a daily basis, strange half-magical vermin who could turn to smoke at will, and defied his attempts at driving them away. He had sheltered in the destroyed remains of an ancient logging camp when the foul-smelling fogs that gave this section of the swamp its name nearly choked him to death. He had seen Catoblepas grazing in the distance, great hulking creatures with long necks whose very gaze could turn the unwary to stone. He had seen Vampiric Mists, blood-red from recent feedings, wafting on the sulfurous winds. He was out of food, weakened from his travails and beginning to lose hope that he would ever reach the distant village, when a group of Mistmire appeared out of the fogs in his darkest hours.
The swamp-folk known as the Mistmire were the last souls he expected to see. They were generally rumored to be a xenophobic group, too used to Rakasha’s tricks and nightmare-sendings to trust strangers, but this group had a psionic hidden among them, and Klem could feel the pyschic tendrils of questing probes touch his mind again and again, looking for lies and weakness. Whatever tests they posed his weary intellect, he must have passed, as the group of nearly three-dozen of them took him into their camp, gave him food, water and rest, and, after he told his story, agreed to escort him to Stricken.
The village was pathetic. A mishmash of clapboard shacks and removable sections of wooden walls, necessitated by the constant need to keep moving away from the encroaching waters, it was home to several hundred of the poorest folk the monk had ever seen. Everyone looked hungry and sick, and they all had the same haunted look in their eyes. He was beginning to think that this excruciating journey was a mistake, when he was approached by Elder Estiss Gra, a thin, sickly, elderly man, with raggedy grey hair who offered what meager comforts the village could provide to the newest arrival.
In a ramshackle room, with the gusts of the season of Shadows pouring through the ill-fitted boards, the greasy, foul-smelling oil lamps threw crazy silhouettes upon the walls and Klem felt as if he might be still on the shores of the Stinking Quags, raving in a fever dream, and all this was just some horrible nightmare.
The elder said, “If its a ship you are needing, you might be in for a wait. Very few pass these shorelines, and certainly none move during the dark season. You seem to be a dwarf of the Emerald Hills, if my old eyes have not failed me?”
Klem nodded yes, and sipped the sour mushroom brew that had been slowly going warm in the wooden tankard in his hands.
The elder continued, “Ah! I thought so! Once your people and ours were strong allies, before the curse took these lands, and the saga-singers tell of a great battle fought against the forces of darkness where our people and yours shared blood and sorrow.”
Klemgathed said nothing, he cared little for history and even less for the exploits of his kinsmen. Indeed, his loathing for the pursuits of glory and gold were what drove him away from his ancestral homelands to begin with, and he merely nodded and tried to stay awake.
Elder Gra continued, “If I may be so bold, there is a matter of great importance that I would like to discuss with you. It concerns the Witch.”
Klem sipped his now-warm ale and nodded for the old man to continue. Let him ramble all he wants, thought the monk, as long as I can keep him in good spirits, perhaps I can shelter here until the season of Shadows ends and I can find a ship out of this gods-forsaken place.
The elder motioned to one of his servants, who opened an ill-hanging door and the gyrating light picked out the trappings of a paladin of Akbar. The man, well out of his youth, was like a jewel in a dung heap. His armor and weapons shone, and he carried himself as only those from the Shining City could, not with arrogance, but with the certainty of superiority and grace.
Elder Gra saw Klemgathed’s face and laughed, a bubbly, wheezing sound, and said “Didn’t expect to see one of the Silversword warriors in this shithole did you? Let me introduce T’agan Kamsare, of the Holy Order of the Cleansing Light, lately detached from his duties and come to our humble village to help us dispose of the witch, Rakasha, once and for all.”
Klem nearly choked and dropped the ale tankard from his hands, the tepid suds leaking through the many gaps in the warped floorboards, and he finally found his voice, “You plan on destroying Rakasha? Are you mad or drunk?”
The elder’s teenage guards bristled, and one moved to strike the monk, when Elder Gra barked, “Enough! Our guest is not to be touched! Besides, I have the feeling you would end up nursing a broken arm if you tried, Pilba.”
The boy ground his teeth and stepped back, glaring daggers at Klem.
Elder Gra smiled and said, “I am perhaps a bit drunk, and most certainly mad, I’d have to be to stay in this deadly place, but godsdammit, this is our home! I won’t give up without a fight!”
Klem nodded, impressed by the old man’s restraint and said, quietly, “There must have been others, yes? I can’t be the first you’ve approached.”
Elder Gra said, “There have been hundreds. All have failed. None have returned. Even with the temptation of a sizable reward, none have been able to do this. I was born in Stricken. I watched my grandfather torn apart by a darktentacles, watched my father gasp for breath when the Drowned attacked. I have lost four sons to vapor rats. None who live here have known peace. All have lost those they loved. But we are the children of Gemseed, and no Drow witch is going to drive us away!”
The elder broke down in coughing, a wet, diseased sound, and his guards rushed to his aid, wiping the spittle from his lips and offering a cup of warm ale to ease his gasps.
Klem shook his head. This is folly.
The paladin finally spoke. “I can see you think that this is a foolhardy idea. Perhaps. I came here after begging my commander to let me go. We of the Order are sworn to destroy all forms of perverted death. Rakasha’s reign of terror has gone on too long. It must end. The Sacred Kaands speak of a time when the witch is defeated and the gates to the lower planes sealed. I believe that time is now. Will you not join me?”
Klem barked a sound that had no business masquerading as a laugh. “I have my own troubles, and have no wish to join the other hundreds of fools who have met their end in this cursed place. I just want a ship and to see the shores of this land fading into the horizon.”
The paladin bristled, and he said, “You wish to run. I don’t know what you are running from and I do not care. But you owe the people of Stricken for pulling your sorry carcass from the bogs. We would not be going alone. There are four Mistmire warriors who would join us. They are a formidable people and know these lands better than anyone alive. If I must, I will make it my sole purpose to ensure you never make it onto the next ship.”
Now Klem bristled and he stood, and said “Are you threatening me?”
T’agan Kamsare smiled and said, “A paladin never threatens. He has no need.”
Klemgathed smiled, and then sighed, and laughed. He knew when he was defeated. Fighting this man would serve no purpose.“Your people and mine have much in common. Warrior of light, I accept your proposal. On one condition.”
T’agan inclined his head and gestured for the monk to continue.
“If we do this thing. If we truly destroy Rakasha, then you will let me have access to the records stored in the Shining City. I want to see the rolls-of-admission to The Forge.”
T’agan raised one eyebrow and said, in wonder, “What you ask, is no easy thing. I cannot guara—”
Klem interrupted, “Then I am not coming. Access to the records or we will see just how formidable your skills really are in keeping me here.”
T’agan paused for a minute. He chewed his lip in thought and said, “There is a way. If we win, I will take you to my friend in Akbar, and he can give you access.”
Klem smiled and turned to Elder Gra, who was now breathing easy once again. “Ale, if you please, Elder Gra! We have a banshee to destroy!”
The elder laughed and cups were handed round.
Klem held his crooked tankard up and said, “To suicide!”