"Come now my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest..." - Kenneth Patchen, "Even So."

THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT STORIES AND STORYTELLING; some are true, some are false, and some are a matter of perspective. Herein the brave traveller shall find dark musings on horror, explorations of the occult, and wild flights of fantasy.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019


Chapter Five:
There is Always Another Way

The Story thus far…

In Book One: Six Seasons in Sartar, four young protagonists come of age in the Sartarite mountain community of the Black Stag.  In the year before their adulthood initiation rites, they learn what it is to be Orlanthi.  Yet a shadow falls over the community when the four become entangled in the plans of Kallyr Starbrow, a rebel queen dedicated to liberating their country from the grip of the Lunar Empire, which conquered them a generation before.  In helping Starbrow complete the first stage of a her quest, they bring the wrath of the Empire upon them.  The mountain valley is attacked by Lunar forces and defeated; the men are condemned to feed the monstrous horror known as the Crimson Bat, and the women and children are sold into slavery in the neighboring wastelands of Prax…

In Book Two: The River of Cradles, two of the youths join Kallyr’s rebel underground, the Sons of Orlanth, and two escape from Lunar captivity.  After the Sons of Orlanth rescue the Black Stag clansmen being sent south to feed the Bat, the four youths reunite.  They decide to go east, into Prax, to locate the women and children of their clan and rescue them from slavery.  At the slave markets of Pimper’s Block, with the aid of an Issaries merchant from a rival clan, they locate many of their clanspeople scattered across Prax.  In the camp itself they find some young women and boys sold into a brothel.  In a rescue that sets fire to the temple granaries and eventually burns half of Pimper’s Block down, the heroes spirit the children out and arrange for them to flee back to Sartar.  Now hunted by the Lunars, the four agree to aid a Praxian High Llama tribesman rescue his own family from the Morokanth, and uncover a shadowy conspiracy meant to set the Praxian tribes warring against each other…

Setting: The Paps, Prax. Starting from Clay Day, Movement Week, Dark Season 1620 ST.      

Theme:  Ernalda’s principle that “there is always another way.”  With the Morokanth seemingly gone rogue and taking human slaves to convert into Herd Men, the solution here is actually to help them rather than fight them.  

Synopsis:  The party is being led to Pavis by a nomad guide they helped in the last chapter…or so they believe.  In fact, the guide is an agent of a secret society sent to test them.  At the Paps, they will enter the depths of the earth and leave the Inner World to confront a threat to the paces and stability of the region…

Dramatis Personae

The Protagonists

Kalliva Nomother of Twnstone: a Vingan warrior marked by a Dragonewt Rune burned into her palm.  In the last episode, a botched sacrifice caused her goddess to withdraw from her, and in the interim the Dragonewt Rune has been itching and swelling, and her dreams have been troubled by dragons…

Kalf Lightfoot: a Heortling herdsman and shepherd who has left his young bride behind in his quest to rescue his enslaved clanspeople.  He is accompanied by Nightclaw, a shadowcat he bonded with while in Lunar captivity.

Leika Faransdottr: a strong-willed albino spirit-talker and member of the Kolat spirit society.  She carries with her several bound wind spirits, and travels accompanied by Three Bears—a young Telmori she has begun a relationship with—and his wolf brother Azul.

Beralor Three-Fathers: a young Orlanthi initiate raised by the smith Harvarr and his Nandan husband Affar.  His true father is the Eurmali trickster Kheladon Blue-Eye.  Recently Beralor has been sent dreams of the White Bull, and encountered a Praxian secret society dedicated to that being.  They have urged him to head for the city of Pavis…

Other Companions

“Orin” (Orininus (or-i-NIGH-nus) Prathvi Yuthaldrex): The former slave of a  wealthy Lunar magistrate assigned to Pavis, he was lost in a dicing match and purchased by Issaries merchant Teolrian Soudatch. Liberated by the protagonists after his master’s death, Orin accompanies them on their quest to free other slaves.   

Harjaani Finds-Water: A High Llama Rider scout of the Blue Stone Bearers), Harjaani is also an initiate of the White Bull spirit society, sent by them to seek out the Protagonists, test them, and to bring them to Argrath in Pavis…

BEGINNING:  AFTER THREE WEEKS recovering among the High Llama people, the protagonists have set out across Caravan Alley towards the Paps, led by their guide, Harjaani Finds-Water.  The chaparral slowly gives way to scrub and then grass as the land slowly rises and becomes more fertile.  True to his word, Harjaani keeps them out of the way of Lunar patrols, but they increasingly spot more and more tribesmen grazing their herds as the approach the Sacred Ground.

Harjaani’s bond with his mount, Ukunda, becomes more obvious to them.  As he rides, to pass the hours his sings and the animal almost seems to whinny and snort in time with him, singing along.


INCITING INCIDENT:  By sunset of the third day, they reach a settlement high on the slopes of these sacred mountains.  A cluster of small buildings, made of sun-baked bricks and grass, nestles around an entrance into the ancient subterranean Paps themselves.  Like the Riddle back in their own village, this is a perfectly square doorway leading to a tunnel system under the earth, a relic, they say, of the Green Age.  Two crude statues stand on either side of the door, both of bare-breasted women.  One has the head of an Impala, the other, a Bison.  There are several Earth Priestesses around, Praxian natives but whose dress and appearance differs slightly from any of the tribes they have seen.  Instead of animal hides they are in cottons and linens, richly dyed in greens and earth tones.  They are marked with the Runes of Beast and Fertility, Earth and Spirit.

When they first arrive the eldest priestess is blessing a herd of ostriches, their riders watching nearby.  She wears a feathered ostrich mask and sings to the beasts in such a way that they birds sway and almost dance.  When she finishes, she pulls off her mask, gives the protagonists a stern and apprising look, and then speaks to Harjaani.  The characters are led into one of the huts to wait.

SECOND THOUGHTS:  Much to their surprise, the priestess returns with Harjaani and tells them that she will reluctantly assent to their “quest.”  The White Bull has proven himself a friend to the people, she says, and a true defender of the Earth.  Because of this she will allow them to profane the sacred Paps to fulfill their mission.  

Harjaani is characteristically tight-lipped, but confesses to them that the White Bull Society has asked him to lead the four here.  Beneath the Paps, he tells them, the goddess Eiritha sleeps, and in doing so is responsible for the rebirth of the herds and the life of the land.  She is surrounded by her daughters, one for each of the great herds; Impala Woman, Bison Woman, High Llama Woman, etc.  Each of these is tasked with the health and the well being of one breed of herd animal.

Yet also present here is the Herd Man Mother, and the White Bull Society has come to suspect it is here that the Sunset Society have struck.  By penetrating the sacred ground and finding her resting place, they have bound or poisoned the Herd Man Mother, causing the Morokanth’s herds to whither.  This has forced the Morokanth to begin taking slaves and prisoners, an escalating situation that could lead to war between the tribes.  They are to investigate and to repair the damage, if possible, thus preventing a war.

ACT ONE CLIMAX: They agree to the task, and spend the evening in preparation.  Before dawn, however, they are attacked by Lunar scouts sent to assassinate them.  If victorious, Orin can read their orders.  They have been tracking the four—possibly by magic—at the orders of the Jakaleel Witch Ashaghara.  This is disconcerting because they killed her outside Pimper’s Block…


 OBSTACLE 1: Worn-stone steps lead down deeper and deeper into the lightless earth, the tunnels narrow and close.  They come to several intersections.  At each, bas-reliefs of Eiritha’s daughters are craved on either side of the doors.  The trick is to always turn down a passage where one of the figures is human-headed…towards the Herd Man Mother.  Any other way will get them lost and force them to reorient themselves.

OBSTACLE 2: It becomes clear to them that the deeper they head into the Paps the further they stray from the Inner World and begin to enter the Hero Plane.  Things begin to take on a surreal and dreamlike quality.  Everything becomes prophetic and filled with meaning.

After an endless series of turnings they come at last to a vaulted chamber with a pool at its heart.  The air here is particularly charged; they feel a dizziness and sense of timelessness.  They must draw upon what they learned in their initiations or be lost.

In the pool are a series of visions; Kalf sees his wife, Esrala, holding their child on a hilltop and staring off into the distance as if watching for him.  Leika sees a massive wooden boat on a wide river—inside is a sparrow in a cage.  Kalliva sees only scales under the surface, the writing coils of a great dragon.  And Beralor sees his father, Affar, with a white Heortling bull standing in front of him…

Orin urges them to move on, and either they listen or become lost into the timeless dreams and visions of the pool.  

PLOT TWIST: Beyond the pool room, the tunnel seems to widen…the torchlight cannot reach the walls at all.  In fact there may no longer even be walls as they continue through the lightless depths of the Otherside.  The animals with them (Nightclaw and Azul) become restless and afeared.  

Suddenly, in the dark before them, they spot a little boy with his back to them, no more than ten or eleven.  He is Sartarite, by dress, and auburn-haired.  He is crying, speaking to someone they can’t see.

"I don’t understand.  Why can’t he be my brother?  Why does he have to go with the women?  He is my closest friend!”

When Beralor catches a look at the boys face there is an unmistakable resemblance to his father, Affar.  Is this boy talking about him?  Before any questions are answered, the boy fades away and the room begins to brighten.  They are in another chamber with towering statues astride doorways leading out.  Each seems to be dedicated towards a specific daughter of Ernalda.  They pass through the one leading to the temple of the Herd Man Mother…

OBSTACLE 3 (Combined with DISASTER/CRISIS):  They are assaulted, immediately, by powerful spirits.  These are Lunes, the Moon elementals, and powerful.  They will have to defeat them to go any further.

Questioning these spirits (if Leika can bind one) reveals that they were sent by Ashaghara, who seems less and less dead by the minute.  Worse, the Sunset Society has bound the Herd Man Mother at the Seven Mothers Temple’s request.  By keeping the tribes at each other’s throats, the Lunars think they can strengthen their hold over Pavis and the River of Cradles and weaken any local resistance. 

CLIMAX OF ACT TWO: This is the Big Fight.  Beyond the Lunes the protagonists discover the shrine of the Herd Man Mother, an oval chamber with a towering large-breasted and wide-hipped woman figure (think Venus of Willendorf).  She is surrounded by a dozen chanting shamans…the Sunset Society…and Ashaghara.  The magicians are guarded by six Broo, and will not fight immediately because of the necessity of maintaining their spell. Leika can hear that the air is filled with wailing spirits crying to be born but prevented from doing so.  The player characters go head to head with the Broo in an  Extended Contest, facing each Shaman is a Simple Contest.


CLIMAX OF ACT THREE:  If they win, Ashaghara’s secret will be revealed.  Under the black robes there is nothing…she animates these forms like a puppet via the Runestones they discovered when first “killing” her.  She is sending her spirit forth, wrapped in these robes, from some other location. 

DENOUMENT and END: The curse on the Herd Men is lifted and the party heads on to Pavis across the Long Dry.  Two weeks later, having entered the city, Harjaani will take them to meet Argrath White Bull in the Rubble.

There is no mistaking it.  He was the boy they saw on the Otherside, and his resemblance to Affar is strong.  They must be related…


A LOT OF THE DRAMA this time was personal and of a visionary nature.  

At the start of the tale, cut off from Vinga, Kalliva’s Dragonewt Rune began to ache, itch, and later to swell.  She was plagued by dreams of Dragons.  Later, before heading into the Paps, she went to a hilltop and prayed, hoping to reconnect with her goddess.  She did, but the vision was a confusing one.  She saw Vinga in the frozen snowy fields outside Orlanth’s stead, but when the goddess turned to her she had a star in her brow like Kallyr.  It seems to Rune branded on her hand still ties her to the Starbrow’s plans somehow.  She is also warned by Starbrow/Vinga “don’t look behind you.”

Kalf is wrestling with being away from his wife, a sensation that becomes exasperated after killing one of the Lunar scouts sent after them and discovering a locket on the man with the face of his own life and daughter painted inside.  

Leika’s shamanic powers continue to grow and she feels a strange affinity for Prax.  Spirit-talkers are more revered here than in her own culture, and her albinism is seen as some kind of sacred marking (connected to the legends, perhaps, of the White Bull and/or the White Calf).

Beralor, as he draws closer to Affar in Pavis, discovers more and more of his father’s past and realizes how little he knows of his origins.  Harvarr, his other father, was Black Stag, but where did Affar come from?  How did they meet?  A possible connection between Argrath and Affar begins to explain the White Bull’s interest in him…