Thursday, June 22, 2017

Whither Goes the Wind--Part 2

It was the begining of creation, and all was fresh and new.  The sun rose over the horizon for the first time, as the morning's first dew, as the air smelled with a cleanliness that it would never have again, something very few things in it noticed.

One of those very few, the Sylph Lulea was enjoying it as she flew over the lands.  She had been tasked by her creator with doing a survey of all this new wonder, a job she was greatly enjoying.  Indeed, as she flapped her wings, she noted how much more enjoyable these places that had up and down were compared to those that did not.  At that was when she heard a strange sound.

Now, Lulea was old and wise by the standards of Sylphs, but these were rather easy standards to reach, and so she was quickly baffled by what she heard.  "I will go investigate," she decided at last.  "For that will earn me the praise of the Great Maker."  And so she dove down to the source, determined to find out what it was.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Whither Goes the Wind--Part 1

The child huddled beneath its sheets as the wind blew in the trees outside the window.  She tried to tune out the sound but it continued to howl, even when she put her hands over her ears.  A whimper escaped her lips.  As she heard the door creak open, she realized it was a louder whimper than she had thought.

"Child," came the voice of her grandmother.  "What is wrong?"

"Nothing," she whispered back to the older woman.  "I'm fine."  She forced what she hoped was a smile to her face.

"You do not look fine," said her grandmother, sitting on the bed.  The child opened her eyes, to see the older woman looking at her, filled with worry.

"It's the wind, grandmother," said the child at last.  "It frightens me.  It's so loud."

"Is that all?" said the older woman.  She let her head back and laughed.  "Why, child, you mustn't fear the wind.  At least, not in this house which is safe and secure.  Why, if you knew the truth you'd pity the wind, for it is such a sad and a lonely thing..."

The child blinked and stared.  This sounded... intriguing.  "What do you mean, grandmother?"

"Oh, it is a sad tale, of long ago days, when the world was young," said the older woman. "I would love to tell it to you." She looked around and began to rise.  "Still it is late, and you are doubtless tired, so..."

"I... I think I could listen to it, grandmother," said the child.

"Very well," said the grandmother, sitting down once more.  "Where to begin.... Oh, yes.  'Once upon a time'..."

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Pages from the Cthonique Library: Silver Boot of Kylan

Ancient ornamental boot held to be the work of the Goblin smith, Kylan Cloudtrimmer, who made it as a gift for his beloved, Emyrs Brighthammer.  Alas, Emrys died before its completion.  Kylan left it on his tomb and then, by most accounts, wandered off to die.  The boot was taken from the tomb by looters and through a lengthy chain of owners, came to the collection.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Pages from the Cthonique Library: Glass Bell of Abbe Oglian

Relic formerly in the possession of the Abbey of Pesien, gained by the Dark Lord Shaddad during his sacking of the same.  A fine glass bell used by the Abbe Oglian to announce his arrivals during his travels.  Finely wrought, it has numerous miracles credited to it, though Shaddad never had much faith in them, and was considering selling it during the Retreat.  Thankfully, he did not get a chance to.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Pages from the Cthonique Library: Malevolent Hat of Vral Vrases

Allegedly cursed hat of notorious rogue witch Vral Vrases, who engaged in a great feud with the early Dark Lords of the Castle Terribel.  Considered by some a completely unremarkable hat, with a story invented by a later Cthonique simply to amuse themselves by hoaxing the collection.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Pages from the Cthonique Library: Preserved Head of Nechtan

Head of Lord of the Crossing Nechtan Mongrane, slain in battle against Lleu Cthonique, heir of the Dark Lord Marhat, who was slain later in battle with Nechtan's son.  Both sides took grisly trophies from each other.  Negotiations to return Nechtan's head in return for Lleu's hands are ongoing.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Pages from the Cthonique Library: The Black Mark

Tales of a secret society of criminals and their various plots and schemes.  Loosely connected into a rough plot, the book is widely seen as a bad influence on youth and frequently suppressed.  Despite this, it is exceedingly popular, often with those same youth.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Pages from the Cthonique Library: Stone from the Yellow Wall

Piece of the legendary Yellow Wall of the Dream Palace of Prince Druan Maganza, heir to the Shadow Woods, who was slain by his own brother Huon in a matter involving the latter's wife.  While most of the palace fell apart in the years following Druan's death, the Yellow Wall, so named for its gleaming painted surface, was so cunningly wrought it remained standing for centuries after.  In time it developed into the holy site of a quiet cult dedicated to Druan as an exemplar of personal excellence, which a later Erl King of Goblins worked to suppress, destroying the wall.  Stones were seized by collectors and believers--one eventually found its way into the collection.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Pages from the Cthonique Library: Apeiron Sphere

Mystical sphere created by the sorcerer and sage Matsya meant to gather apeiron, the mystical substance from which the universe is made.

As it has never been proven that apeiron actually exists, the sphere,  like others of its sort, is presently a curiosity though it has been used, with some success, to hold cold drinks.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Pages from the Cthonique Library: A Treatsie on Air

Elementalist philosophic work by the author Egoi that posits the world is itself a speck of dust on the great column of wind that is the universe, amongst other things.  On a more practical note includes numerous ideas on the creation of flying vehicles using observations on such things as birds and witches' flight, largely believed to inspire the Consortium's work with airships in the modern day.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Pages from the Cthonique Library: Feather of the Phoenix

Brilliant red-golden feather, purportedly from the Great Beast known as the Phoenix, which achieves immortality through its own death.  Like all of the Great Beasts, the Phoenix keeps its distance from the rest of the Mother's creation, instead following its own endless cycle of rebirth for its own unknowable purposes.  The feather's provenance remains uncertain--it may very well be a fraud.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Pages from the Cthonique Library: Notebooks of Weylan One-hand

Various diagrams and plans created by a former craftsman employed by the Cthoniques starting with the reign of Kambyses.  Many of the plans are for things that were never built--others for instruments that were in that chaotic and troubling time for the house.  Large portions of the Castle were designed by him.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Pages from the Cthonique Library: Grains from the Mountain

A lengthy course of spiritual exercises meant to wear down the practitioner's pride and attachment to worldly accomplishments.  Authored by the legendary Master of the Hidden Mountain, who also wrote a work on espionage and warfare, being an individual of varied interests.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Pages from the Cthonique Library: The Hundred Curses of the Sage Sarastro

List of curses traditionally unleashed by philosopher and magician Sarastro against his enemies and persecutors.  A certain repetitiveness marks the list, with many of the curses being simple variations of earlier ones (such as "boils" and "sores" being treated as separate curses).  Despite this, a popular book for people looking for ideas on revenge.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Pages from the Cthonique Library: Account of the Leviathan

Anonymous account by an Albraccan sailor describing an encounter with a massive beast that is supposedly the Demon Leviathan, the Beast of Oceans.  Considered highly dubious in many circles, though many details have convinced some demonologists that is a true tale.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Pages from the Cthonique Library: The Maul of Ubba

Supposed weapon of Ogre chieftain Ubba the Short, this massive hammer is nearly as tall as a man, and built of stone and steel, making it forbiddingly heavy for many to lift.

Ubba, after all, was short for an Ogre.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Pages from the Cthonique Library: The Great Way of Peace

Meditations of the Abbe Blaise of the Black Roof Abbey, on the achieving oneness with the Lady through meditation and the ending of conscious thought.  Popular with both serious students of theology and dilettantes. 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Pages from the Cthonique Library: Iron Mask of Lord Pharos

Mask worn by famous Dark Lord of the Blasted Heath Pharos, who briefly conquered the Weeping Waste and southern portions of the Plains of Dread.  Scarred in battle, Pharos wore a variety of masks to  hide these deformities, of this is one.  He perished on an expedition into the Weeping Waste, along with most of his army.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Pages from the Cthonique Library: Apparently Unopenable Box

Large metal box, exquisitely made, that apparently cannot be opened.  Discovered during the reign of Apsu Cthonique.  Rattles when shook.  Attempts to break it open have also failed, and while some techniques would likely work, they risk destroying whatever it is holding.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Pages from the Cthonique Library: Idol of the Red Mountain

Large gold and silver statue depicting a many-armed woman found on the Red Mountain by Ushas Cthonique, which she gave to her brother, the Dark Lord Lugbanda.  The woman holds multiple weapons in her hands, among them a bow, a sword, a whip, and a mace.  Some believe it is a representation of the Darksome Lady--others say it is a local demon of the mountain.  The truth remains unknown.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Pages from the Cthonique Library: Stone of Owls

Large sapphire gemstone capable of summoning numerous owls, of various types. 

Summoning, but not controlling.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Pages from the Cthonique Library: The Bells of Fortress Impassable

Warning bells that hung in the tower of the fortress of a minor Dark Lord, defeated in war by the Cthoniques centuries ago.  Reportedly, they would ring whenever the fortress was in danger.  The Dark Lord Lamek took the citadel by utter surprise, and ordered the bells preserved out of a great sense of amusement.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Pages from the Cthonique Library: Journey Across the River

Popular Mikhelite story involving a group of pilgrims who journey into the Lands of Light to acquire lost Mikhelite holy texts, while beset by demons and enemies as well as various astounding and marvelous encounters.  Based on a true story, though the actual pilgrimage encountered considerably fewer demons. 

They also did not encounter anything along the lines as the baby tree, or many other such marvels.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Pages from the Cthonique Library: Cthonique Funeral Dirges

Collection of dirges for use at Cthonique family funerals, written by various artists over centuries.  The Dark Lord Asshur is among those to write them, including some for relatives he himself had killed during the War of the Tulips.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Pages from the Cthonique Library: The Rattle Of Clodden

A simple rattle, possession of the great wizard Clodden, who could reportedly produce astonishing effects with it, including lightning and thunder.  As no later possessor has been able to duplicate them, many suspect Clodden used other methods for such actions.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Pages from the Cthonique Library: Mysterious Glass Eye

A massive glass "eye" with a metal surface surrounding much of it.  Rumored to belong to one of the Elder Worlds, its purpose is a mystery, though some tales suggest it served as some strange variety of lantern.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Pages from the Cthonique Library: Sword of Lightning Giant

Purported weapon of a "Lightning Giant" claimed to have been killed by the chivalrous warrior Zoma the Hare in an epic battle fought in the clouds, which raged for many days.

Zoma waa notorious liar, however, so one should take tales of his deeds with a grain of salt.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Pages from the Cthonique Library: Preserved Insect of Immense Size

A large insectoid creature of unknown origin, which entered the collection during the reign of Eregal, purchased as a curio.  Possibly from the far south, or the distant isles, though this remains unconfirmed.  One possibility that has been suggested that it is a hoax, though this likewise has never been proven.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Pages from the Cthonique Library: Nightmare of Things to Come, by Snorri Utteson

Lengthy prophetic poem based on the dreams of the famous Troll skald, which speaks of a future time of great strife and hardship.  Many Trolls believe it to be a true foretelling--others argue that the poem is so vague that its champions are being willfully deluded into seeing things that aren't there.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Pages from the Cthonique Library: List of Names.

A scroll filled with innumerable signatures.  Most of the names are unknown--the purpose and origin of the scroll are completely mysterious.  It has been part of the collection for centuries, and is kept at least partially because so many Cthoniques have found it strangely fascinating.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Pages from the Cthonique Library: Plans for Spiderweb Tower

A proposed addition to the Castle, designed by Ariadne Cthonique, sister of the Dark Lord Marhat.  Never begun, the plans remain a fascinating glimpse into the mind of this now little-remembered Cthonique, in her lifetime, considered one of the most important women of the Plains of Dread.  That stated, the extra-large execution grounds remain... alarming.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Pages from the Cthonique Library: Account of the Plague of the Alts.

History of a two year plague outbreak in the Shadow Woods during the reign of Ganelon the Second and its results by an anonymous author.  Famed for its vivid style, and the controversy of its authorship, with many believing that rather then being the work of a near contemporary, it was written decades after the events.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 72

The Goblin he'd spoken to earlier--it'd seemed so long ago now--was nervously darting about when Sacripant entered.

"--Can't blame me," she muttered. "I need this job!  You people with the luxury of making choices tend to be unduly hard on those of us less fortunate."

"Don't care," said a familiar voice.  "You messed up."

Sacripant gulped, and did his best to keep the smile appearing on his face from looking unduly goofy.  "Hey, Quiet."

His fiancee turned to him.  "Hey. I was just explaining to this... jerk that she messed up."  The Ghoul turned back to the Goblin and glared.

Sacripant stepped between the pair.  "Now, let's all calm down.  It's been a crazy few weeks on my end, overthrowing the Ancients, and..."

Quiet blinked.  "So that really happened?"  She shook her head.  "I tell you, I had a hard time believing the stories that had you storming the Council..."

"It was pretty easy to storm," said Sacripant.  "Really, all you had to do was walk towards it and be intimidating."

"Ahh, well, that clarifies things," said Quiet.  "I was almost impressed when I first heard it."  She coughed.  "Anyway... it's been busy back at the Castle.  We're at war."

"Yes, I know," said Sacripant.

"No, not the war against Leonais... We at war with the Shadow Wood," explained Quiet. 

Sacripant stared for a moment. "You know what, I figure there's a big story behind all that, so how about this--you come with me, we get a couple bowls of noodles and you explain it all to me."

Quiet considered things. "Are they good noodles?"

"They're amazing," answered Sacripant.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 71

"Wut-wut?" said the silly looking puppet.  "I say, wut wut?  I am the Metropolitan, and you all must obey me!  How dare you speak words I don't want to hear?"  The puppet was rapidly struck by a stick to the applause of the children.

Sacripant chuckled, and continued on his way.  He had to admit, Talossa seemed... cheerier now.  Not normal, mind you, nor quite at ease, but much happier than the nervous city he'd arrived at.  But then, that might have just been him.  He'd come here a stranger, and he was now... well, familiar with it.  He realized he would probably leave soon, and a part of him hoped to come back, some day.

But that was the future.  He had business before of him.  A shadow passed overhead.  Looking up, he saw an Emporium airship--the first in weeks.  He chuckled and nodded to himself.  Things were continuing to look up.  He broke into a jog as he headed towards the Emporium shop.  He  had good news to deliver, and mostly likely good news to hear.

After all, what else could it be?

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 70

The various lesser Guildsmen were still squabbling in the courtyard before the Hall of Ancients, which had become the de facto meeting place for the new government of Talossa that was forming even now.  Nathan had to shake his head.  Listening to them yell and shout, one had to wonder if it had been worth it all.

Of course, then one remembered everything else that had happened, and one decided 'yes'.  But still, one wondered.

In the end, the remainder of the Ancients had surrendered easily enough, aided by the fact that most were nursing sprains (with a few in such bad shape as to have broken bones).  They also had all cheerfully spilled their secrets, insisting they themselves were but the victims of their fellows.

It was increasingly looking as if even if the Ancients were all released from their present imprisonment, they would still be utterly incapable of reforming the council, not in the least because all now hated each other.

Nathan sighed and shook his head.  Whatever happened it was going to be a rather chaotic time for Talossa in the future.  "No charter any more," he muttered.

"Well, I strongly recommend you avoid all the dressing up in the future," said a familiar voice.  Nathan turned to see Sacripant Fenswater standing nearby.  "I think the masks made it easy for your Thing to start thinking of themselves as something other than the rest of you."

"That's your guide to good government, eh?" muttered Nathan with a smile.

"For a start," replied the Erl.  "Anyway, I've got to head out.  Hopefully, this means the Emporium are going to let me get messages through to my bosses, who..."  He shook his head.  "Well, this is going to be interesting to them."

Nathan smiled as the Nightlander walked away.  "Take care, Sacripant," he said.

"You know how good I am at that," replied the Guardsman with a smile.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 69

Sacripant stared out at the crowd and realized suddenly that he was going to have to talk to all of them.  He briefly considered declaring that a giant human-eating thing was right behind them all, but decided against it.  Time to give it his all.  "Right, I'm Sacripant Fenswater, of the Cthonique Guard.  I haven't been in your city that long, but... long enough to come to love this place."  He coughed.  "I mean... it's not perfect, but... no place is.  And you folks definitely try..."  He glanced at the Metropolitan.  "For the most part... to make it run as well as it can.  And so I warn you all--there have been bad and wicked things done by your Council of Ancients, twisting your institutions to their own ends."

"Stuff and nonsense!" declared the Metropolitan.

"Then why are you here now, and not the man who proceeded you?  The man who was murdered?" said Sacripant.

One of the Knife-Grinders stood up.  "It is true!  The late Grand Master sent men to kill Ancients who disagreed with freeing the Metropolitan!  They used the ritual of the bean, but with fraud, to remove those they targetted!"

Sacripant had no idea what that  meant, but decided to just nod in agreement.  "Is this what you want for your city, people?  Murder and lies in the places of power?"

"It is not murder to kill what needs to be killed," declared the Metropolitan loftily.  "And it is no lie to shelter the populace from truths it needs not concern itself with."

Sacripant stared at him for a moment.  "So... that's your answer to all this.  That's it.  That is... the best you can do."

The Metropolitan blinked.  "What do you mean?"

"Well," answered the Erl with a shrug.  "I was largely viewing you as a well-meaning asshole before this.  But now I view you as just an asshole, who mistakenly thinks he is well-meaning.  So, really, I have no sympathy for you in what's going to come next."

"What are you ta--" began the Metropolitan, only for a group of beggars to seize him and shove him into a sack.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 68

The Metropolitan frowned as he saw the crowd there, almost festive in its attitude.  Indeed, he even saw a few Lemonaders walking among those gathered with tanks on their back.  It brought to mind Processions of the Holy Dead the Metropolitan had attended with his father as a lad.  For a moment, he was back in them, hearing the murmur of the crowd, and trying to get closer to see the bier of Great Talos, making his way through the legs of the adults.

He shook his head.  He had not been a child for a long time.  He was a man, and had a man's duties to the gods.  "What has brought you here?" he declared grandly, in the voice he used to deliver sermons.  "Why do you disturb the sacred authority of the Ancients?"

A voice came from the crowd.  "I see a man in the robe of the Master of the Yellow.  But I hear the voice of the Metropolitan--who should be in prison, let alone being a member of the Ancients against custom and law."

The Metropolitan looked over the people, hoping to make out who had spoken.  "And is it in custom and law to imprison your Metropolitan, he who gives you spiritual guidance?"

"You are not the first," came a voice. 

The Metropolitan frowned.  He wasn't sure if this was the same voice that had spoken earlier.  "That error has been made in the past..."

"Down with the false! Up with the true!" came what was definitely another voice from the crowd.  "Talossa, free!  Now and forever!"  There was an appreciative cry from the people.

"Do you truly believe that?" shouted the Metropolitan.  "Can you not look at all this, all that has been done and not see how far this city has fallen?  We have forsaken Leonais!  We have allied with a Dark Lord!  The folk of Night walk this city, unafraid!  Was it like this in your father's day?  Would you have it like this in your son's?" That seemed to wrong foot the crowd--the Metropolitan heard nervous murmurs where he'd earlier heard them calling for his head.  "Go home, people!  Go home and trust in the Ancients to lead you in righteousness!"

"Will the Ancients answer some questions?" came a new voice.  The speaker strode out of the crowd--a tall man, the Metropolitan saw.  And then he noticed the slight oddness in the gait. 

"Nightfolk!" spat out the Metropolitan.  "You dare interfere with our ways!  Leave this place!  By the Holy Light, retreat back to the Darkness."

The Erl stood there, impassive.  "And now that you've said that, I am going to speak."  A slight smile came to his grey face.  "Hopefully you won't find it too distressing.  It's only to be the truth, or... near enough as I figure it."

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 67

"I must dispute your understanding of your position," said Lamorac, as he sipped the lemonade he had purchased from one of the Lemonaders who had joined the growing throng in the courtyard before the Ancients' hall.  "No new Grand Master can be chosen until a grand assembly is gathered, at which all Masters and Journeymen of good standing must vote.  Your title is thus a nullity."

The young Acting Grand Master, busily sharpening a knife on the heel of his shoe, shrugged at this comment.  "Traditionally, someone must lead between a Grand Master's death and the selection of the new one."

"Yes, the Master of the Hall of Masters," stated Lamorac.  "If he is not present, then it is for the Master of the Hall of Journeymen, and if he is not present, the task falls to the Master of the Hall of Apprentices."

"All three of whom are dead," noted the Acting Grand Master flatly.  "The last of whom I killed myself, on the Grand Master's orders."  He stuck his knife in the ground.  "You see our difficulty."

Lamorac thought it over, then nodded.  "It is a difficulty."

"Naturally, I will of course bring the matter to a vote as soon as these present difficulties are past us," said the Acting Grand Master.  "As well as filling all these other positions you have mentioned.  We Knife-Grinders have been sadly depleted at the top in these recent months."  He looked at Lamorac.  "We need dedicated members with a strong sense of history, such as yourself."

Lamorac gave a sniffle.  "I am honored by your words, sir."  Camber coughed so severely he nearly choked on the mouthful sausage he was eating.  Lamorac glanced at his partner.  "Are you all right?"

"Just... nearly went down the wrong pipe," muttered Camber, who began looking around for another Lemonader.

Lamorac turned back to the Acting Grand Master.  "My apologies if I've offended.  It's clear that you have only acted as is necessary during this existential crisis for our ancient and worthy brotherhood."  He glanced towards the Hall of the Ancients.  "Oooh!  Look!  I think an Ancient is coming to talk to us."

"Which one?" asked another Knife-Grinder.

"Don't know," said Lamorac.  "He's got yellow robes."

Camber frowned.  "That really doesn't narrow it down much."

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 66

The Metropolitan glared as the crowd marched down the Marble Path.  He had long considered himself possessed of a certain mental equilibrium that had seen him through life.  Where other men panicked and made things worse for themselves, he stayed calm, trusting in the Seven and tradition to see him through.  And so far they had, through a Church career that had taken him to the upper echelons of the faithful, and even his recent imprisonment. 

Staring at the crowd making its way to the Hall of the Ancients, it was hard to avoid feeling that this lifelong tendency had failed.

The Metropolitan stiffened.  No.  He could not give way to despair.  To do that would be to show the same folly as the men who'd engineered his imprisonment, or the fools now groaning in the garden below, after their panicked attempt to re-enter the Hall had caused the overloaded balcony they were on to collapse.  Those men had failed to stay true to the Seven, mistaken their own lack of faith for realism, and been punished for it.  He was going to remain true. 

"If the Holy Light be with us, who can be against us?" he muttered under his breath.  He turned from the window, and made his way down the hallway.  His hand went to that foolish mask the Ancients had made him wear to be counted among their number, and tore it off.

He would face his opponents unmasked, in the guise his Gods saw. 

And he would finish them.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 65

The Ceremonial Guard stood at the Gate of Truth, continuing their head counts of the crowd that was gathering there.  While each was coming up with a different number, all had no disagreement that said numbers were very, very large.  Rather worryingly so in fact.  And this was leading the Ceremonial Guard to ask themselves many questions, such as could their ceremonial armor protect them from a knife blow, or, just as hypothetically, a very large rock. 

Many suspected the answer to both questions was 'no', which only added to that growing sense of unease.

And then there were the Guard's weapons, some very long pikes.  This sounded excellent and deadly, but unfortunately said pikes were both very heavy, and rather old, with blunt, dull heads.  Further, no member of the guards had in fact ever practiced fighting with said pikes--on top of that, most members had little practical combat experience, the Ceremonial Guard being something of a sinecure.  After all, it was widely agreed that the citizens of Talossa would never raise their hands against the Council of the Ancients. 

And yet here they stood.  And so the outnumbered Guard faced their potential foes with weapons they didn't know how to use, and that they rather doubted the usefulness of if they did have such knowledge.  They were increasingly aware of how angry the people looked.  And how cold it was.  And how nice a drink would be now.

A Lamplighter stepped forward from the crowd.  "We come to petition the Ancients, for we bring news of dire happenings, and demand they explain what has transpired, as is custom."

The members of the Guard shifted nervously. As uncomfortable as all this sounded, it also sounded like a way to get out of this without having one's head split open, something most of the Guard was hoping for rather eagerly. After a moment, Serjeant Alberico stepped forward, having decided he was probably the most senior member of the Guard, or close enough.

"How grave are these matters?" asked Alberico, in what he hoped was a suitably grave voice.

"Very grave," answered the Lamplighter.

Alberico considered for a moment--or appeared to--then nodded and stepped out of the way.  "Very well.  Petition the Ancients."  The rest of the Ceremonial Guard followed his example.

So ended what would later be called the Defense of the Gate of Truth.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 64

The gradual trickle of Ancients to the balcony had become by degrees first a steady stream and then a flood, to the present point where there were more men on the balcony then were in the hall. Indeed, initially there were worries that it would be unable to hold them all, but then the Walker of the Flowery Path recalled the time that it had had an entire orchestra on it.  That had settled things, though most were still keeping their ears open for a creak that might suggest it was giving way and calculating their distance to the exists in such an eventuality.

"I never really thought of it before," said the Keeper of Three Ways, "but there really needs to be a reform in the way the Council does its business. Too much foolishness has been added over the years, and it has to end."

For the first time in its history, the Council members assembled nodded in agreement rather than pointing out the importance of tradition.  "Really," said the Wearer of the Mask with Green Eyes, "it's gotten worse because we skip most of it, but leave it on the books.  In the future we must trim, and trim mercilessly."

There was another general murmur of agreement.

"What about the Metropolitan?" whispered one.

"We'll... we'll bring him around," said the Keeper of the Three Ways.  This resulted in another round of muttering and agreement, albeit one that was a great deal less assured.

"My goodness," said the Master of the Five Knotted Cords.  "There are quite a few people gathering out there."  He pointed beyond the Gate of Truth, at a large, scruffy-looking crowd that was growing larger and scruffier-looking by the minute.

The others began to mutter amongst themselves.  "Perhaps we should send someone to check?"

"The guards will keep us safe," said another.

"First the fire going out, and then this," said yet another.

On the whole most of the Council was coming around to the idea that these truly were grim times.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 63

Nina yawned as she clambered out to the street.  She'd slept less well than she'd hoped to--it'd been a chilly night, and the common room she'd rested in had been cramped and ill-smelling.  Still, an honest to goodness beggar didn't really have the right to choose in these matters.  You went with what was available, and hoped that it wasn't too bad.  She did a few stretches to get the kinks out, and then prepared to go to this day's spot.  Which wasn't as good as yesterday's, but then, that was the point.  "Nina," said a familiar voice, one she hadn't expected to hear today.

"Nathan," she said turning.  "I'm..."

"Surprised to see me," said the Lamplighter.  "Thanks for sending me the news..."

"Don't mention it," replied the musician.  "I was pretty much doing what the guilds wanted me to.  How...?"

"Things have been resolved," said Nathan.  "Listen--I need you to spread word amongst the Beggars.  Something big is happening, and I'd like your people to be part of it."

Nina raised an eyebrow. "How big are we talking?"

"The Lamplighters and the Knife-Grinders are going to be leading the charge on this," said Nathan.

"That sounds... intriguing," she said, noting to herself that this sounded suspiciously like what seemed to have been the case over the last few weeks.

"And we're heading to the Council of Ancients," he continued.

Nina stared for a moment.  "And you want... I'm sorry, but why do want the Beggars to join you for... this?  Nobody cares about us.  With you and the Knife-Grinders, it's pretty much the collection of poor as shit Guilds..."

"That's the point," said Nathan.  He looked around the street.  "You know it's funny.  For years, I served this city.  I never thought to ask why.  And I never wondered what would happen if the Lamplighters didn't do their job..."

"And so... you're quitting?" she asked, puzzled.

"Oh, no," he said. "I've just realized what my job really is.  That's all."

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 62

The Knife-Grinders glanced at the Grand Master.  "So," whispered one, "should we go in?"

"The first man who goes in will probably die," said the Grand Master.  "You remember what the Erl can do."  The group shuffled about, hands feeling bruises and aches from their last beating.  The Grand Master gave a satisfied nod.  "So we wait here.  The Erl maybe good, but even he knows the danger of taking on so many at once, when we're ready for him."

The Knife-Grinders all shifted nervously.  They all had their doubts about this, but given the Grand Master's tendency to have people who debated with killed, it didn't seem wise to mention them.

"Oy!" came a cry from across the street.  Morrell exited from the Lamplighter Guildhall, and made his way across the street.  He waved at the Knife-Grinders.  "I've been sent to discuss terms."

The Grand Master glared at him.  "How'd you recognize us?"

"You're all wearing the same outfit," answered the Lamplighter.  "You do it all the time.  Everyone in Talossa knows it.  We just don't talk about it, because... well, it's best not to offend you."

"Ahh," said the Grand Master, looking piqued.  "So... terms.  Go on.  Name them."

Morrell coughed.  "Yyy-es... the terms were of your surrender." 

"Has the Erl and his cronies gone mad?" shouted the Grand Master.  "We hold every advantage.  We have Nathan's wife and children."

"No, we had them," said Morrell.  "That ended rather recently.  Nathan's probably brought them back home right now..."

"And we have numbers," said the Grand Master.

"Didn't help you much last time," said Morrell.

The Grand Master snarled.  "Listen, you pathetic Lamplighter, we will not sur--"  And then he gasped and slumped over.  The Knife-Grinder who'd stabbed him watched him expire with a rather satisified air.

"Tell them we are intrigued by their deal, and wish to discuss it further," he said.

"Hey," said another.  "Why are you speaking for us?  You were a prentice yesterday."

"And now I'm an Acting Grand Master, a remarkable and meteoric rise that demonstrates my competence," he replied, readying his knife.  "Do any of you wish to debate this with me?"

"No, no," said the man who'd spoken out, wincing.  "On further examination, you have a strong case."

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 61

Camber regarded Old Reliable.  "So... they just have you... serving drinks?"

The old Lamplighter nodded.  "Correct."

Camber leaned over the counter, urgently.  "And that's it?  You aren't stamping about, still lighting lamps?"

"Retired with dignity," said the old man.

Camber nodded.  "Well, that's civil, that's fine," he declared.  "Whatever my problem with the Lamplighters at the moment, let me state they are a model to emulate on the treatment of the wounded and disabled within a guild."  He sniffled.  "I tell you, it touches me, seeing a man in o--your condition treated with respect, and given a life of dignity, instead of being forced to trudge about dark streets at night, performing difficult tasks, never certain if the next set of stairs will be the end of you..."

"The Knife-Grinders did get you that peg-leg," noted Lamorac.

"Yes, and made me pay them back for it, the swine!" shouted Camber.  "I tell you all those years of service, to be treated so..."  He gave a sob.

Old Reliable poured him a drink.  "It isn't always easy for me either.  Times it hurts being seen as old and useless.  But you know, you just... keep on going.  The city's worth all the trouble, for all the pain it can cause."

Lamorac nodded. "That is profound.  I wish we had a wise old man like you in the Knife-Grinders."

"With one leg, perhaps," said Camber as he nursed his drink.

"You're not old," said Lamorac.  "Also, I'm a little dubious about the wisdom.  You did stay loyal to them when they were going to kill me, despite the fact that on closer examination, they would likely target you as well."

Sacripant leaned into the small bar.  "Would you two consider ending this doubtless fascinating discussion soon?  Your fellows are on their way."

Lamorac stood up.  "Right, right..."

"Let me finish my drink," said Camber.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 60

The Ancients had called for another fire to be lit in the Hall--however, as the wood pile was low, the Furnace Tenders had been sent to get more wood from the Wood Cutters.  Unfortunately for them, the Charcoal Burners were there as well, and so what was supposed to have been a simple job had... become quite different.

"Listen, we are on a mission from the Ancients," said Peredur.  "An important one."

"You got your share of wood early today," snapped the head Charcoal Burner.  "Now wait your turn.  We need charcoal.  And charcoal needs wood."

"Oh, how much charcoal does Talossa need?" snapped Simon.

"A great deal," said another Burner.

"Charcoal keeps the Smiths working," noted a third.  "The Smiths are some of the most powerful guilds, with Masters serving on the Ancients.  We do not think they would appreciate your causing trouble for their fellows."

One of the Wood Cutters coughed.  "Perhaps you gentlemen could reach some sort of accord?  We do need to sell our wood."

Simon gave a wave.  "We'll come up with something soon, sir.  Don't worry."  He turned to the Burners.  "Perhaps we could... flip a coin for it?"

The Burners crossed their arms.  "We are taking this wood."

Peredur was about to say something when the sound of a crowd of men stomping down the street caught his attention.  He turned to see them, all clad in great cloaks and wide-brimmed hats as they walked in unison.  "What is that?"

Simon shrugged.  "Looks like a bunch of Knife-Grinders, heading out to kill someone."  He turned to the Burners again.  "How about 'Odds and Evens', mmm?"

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 59

Lamorac grinned at Camber.  "Well, isn't this fantastic?  Us working together like this again?"

Camber grunted, as he peered at the door across the way.  "Yes.  Yes.  It's wonderful.  Does that look open to you?"

"No," said Lamorac, shaking his head.  "It's clearly closed."  He nodded to himself.  "But, yes, I'm glad you appreciate our close working bond, which has endured our brief bout as enemies to reemerge, stronger than ever."

"Mmm-hmm," muttered Camber.  "Still closed?"

"Yes," replied Lamorac.  "I don't know why you think it would be different after only a few seconds."

"Well, it's bound to change some time," stated Camber.

Lamorac narrowed his eyes.  "I'm starting to think that this is a ploy to avoid my discussion of our deep working relationship."

Camber frowned.  "That is a baseless accusation," he stated, pointing at Lamorac.  "I am gravely insulted.  It is clear one of us does not value our working relationship despite his statements to the contrary, and that this person is not me."

"I'm sorry," said Lamorac, bowing his head.  "You're right.  I was being petty and hypocritical.  Your willingness to point that out is precisely what I value about you as a person."  He slapped Camber companionably on the shoulder.  "You truly are a good friend."

Camber stared at the hand with some awkwardness for a moment.  "Ahh, yes, thank... you.  Is..."  The door flew open, a panicked man rushing out into the street.  "Nevermind," said Camber, as he and Lamorac began to walk across the street to get to work.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 58

Nathan set down his glass, and rose unsteadily from his chair. 

"You ready then?" asked Grunewald. 

"In a little while, a little while," muttered Nathan as he walked towards the window.  He opened it, and took a deep breath.  After a moment, he turned to his old friend.  "I... I'm honestly surprised you didn't just track them down if you knew where I was..."

"Well, first of all, we didn't," answered Grunewald with a shrug.  "We cast a wide net.  You've a lot of friends in odd places, Nathan.  We sent the word out to them to find you."  He spread his hands wide.  "And it worked, even if it took a while.  And secondly... well, you're a clever man.  We all know that.  Even if we could find you--briefly--you could probably go to ground again and hide the Erl and Knife-Grinders elsewhere."  He smiled at Nathan.  "You're a man to be respected, Nathan."

"This is an odd way to show it," snapped Nathan, turning away from the window.

"Well, you forced our hand in this matter," said Grunewald.  "We never wanted it to come to this, Nathan.  You have to believe that."

Nathan glared at the man. "Do I? Really?  Because if that were the case, it would seem to me the obvious thing to do would be to do your duty as Lamplighters to keep Talossa safe from harm.  Not kidnap the family of a member of good standing to make him betray everything he believes in..."

"For the good of Talossa, Nathan!" shouted Grunewald.  "What would you have us do?  Turn on the Ancients?  Destroy the foundations that this very city rests on?"

"The foundations of this city are its people, and the fellowships they make," said Nathan quietly.  "The Ancients' duty is to advise them."

Grunewald sighed.  "Nathan, now is not the time for discussion of... theories of government."

"No," agreed Nathan.  "No it isn't.  I believe you want me to lead you to the Erl now..."  There was a crash as Fenwater leapt through the open window and landed on the floor before Grunewald.  Nathan shrugged.  "See?  Bargain fulfilled."

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 57

It seemed that half of the Ancients had fallen asleep during the meeting.  The Speaker had been at a loss on what to do in such an occurrence, and had been forced to turn to the Charter, which proclaimed the Keeper of the Horn was to wake them, by the blowing of the Great Horn of the Ancients.

Unfortunately, the Keeper was also asleep, and after spending a long time awakening him, they discovered he did not have the Horn with him, nor did he even remember where it was.  It had taken hours to find it, and by that time, more of the Ancients were asleep.  Further, the Great Horn proved to have a rather underwhelming sound when blown that failed to wake any of them.  The Speaker and the Metropolitan had gone off to examine the Charter again, hoping for a solution.

The One in White Robes, and the Bearer of the Red-Laquered Mask had gone out to the great balcony for some air.  They'd stood there in silence for a long time, when the One In White Robes spoke.  "It... isn't quite what I expected," he said.

The Bearer gave grunt.  "I know.  I... I rather expected the Metropolitan would have... more of a plan.  Still... I suppose it isn't a real surprise.  You know how he always was about tradition.  Probably doesn't want the motion to be defeated by being irregular."

The One in White Robes nodded.  Left unsaid was the fact that the Metropolitan was traditionally barred from serving as an Ancient, something that was specifically mentioned in the Charter.  It was, after all, one of the many things one didn't talk about in these times.   He glanced up at the sky.  "So... lovely day."

"A bit cold," noted the Bearer.

"Well, yes, but... so sunny," said the One in White Robes.  "A great improvement over earlier."

The Bearer nodded slowly.  "I suppose," he said at length.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 56

Ulrich and Morrell stood at attention, before the gate to the hall's inner sanctum, staffs at ready.  Ulrich's gaze kept going to the door, then to Morrell.  "Do... do you think he'll be reasonable?"

"I don't know," said Morrell.  "Probably.  We have his wife and children."

Ulrich grimaced.  "Well, yes, that sounds good, but first we could trust him not to get too attached to the Erl, because he was a good Lamplighter, and see how that went."

"It's new ground, Ulrich," answered Morrell flatly.  "We'll have to see as we go along."

"We're doing too much of that, these days," muttered Ulrich.  "And what about the Ancients?  They kept telling us they had their reasons, but they still can't seem to move forward."

"It's the Ancients, Ulrich," said Morrell.  "They take their time on these matters."

Ulrich stomped his feet.  "This isn't a trade pact, Morrell.  We do not have time.  By the Holy Light if this gets out..."

"It hasn't so far," noted Morrell.  "Besides, are you saying that people would be offended to learn we have returned to the bosom of the Holy Synod?"

"If it means having the Eremites or... Uriel help us, the Stylites on our streets, then yes, they would be," said Ulrich quietly.  "Do you remember what we went through getting them out, Morrell?  No one wants to go through that again."

"And it won't," said Morrell.  "It will be different this time.  They've learned their lesson."

The door opened. Grunewald stood there.  "Go fetch a bottle of brandy," he said.

"So, he's agreed to take us to the Erl?" said Morrell.

"He's... leaning that way," replied Grunewald, turning back to the inner sanctum.  "Hence the brandy."

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 55

Grunewald stared awkwardly at the man seated before him across the table.  "So..."  He coughed.  "How are you?"

Nathan glared at him.  "Poorly.  My wife and children have been kidnapped."

"I am sorry that it came to that," said the older Lamplighter, glancing away.  "But you see, you didn't give us much choice."

Nathan frowned. "And I shall light the lamp so bright, that all may see it, to count on the protection of the light of truth, and the glow of fellowship.  This I do swear."

"You don't have to repeat the vow," snapped Grunewald.  "I know it as well as you."

"Are you sure about that?" asked Nathan flatly.

Grunewald looked away.  "I don't want to fight now, Nathan.  It's been a bad time for us all.  The others have left this talk to me in part because of the... emotions involved..."

"And because they need someone to guard my wife and children," said Nathan.

Grunewald frowned, fingers tapping on the table. "Do you have to keep making this difficult?"

"It's the first time I've dealt with my family being kidnapped," answered Nathan.  "I'm feeling my way through it."

"There's a simple way to get it to end," said Grunewald.  "You simply have to bring me the Erl and the Knife-Sharpeners..."

Nathan blinked.  "They're part of the bargain now too?"

"Their master wants to make an example," answered Grunewald with a shrug.  "This affair is straining everyone."

"Imagine that," muttered Nathan.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 54

The man walked towards the Lamplighter Hall with a determined step.  His cloak was bound up tightly around his shoulders, to ward off the cold wind, his hood pulled up over his head.  He moved through the crowds swiftly and heedlessly--they parted for him, sometimes seeming to react on almost instinctive level to his sense of purpose.  He reached the door and knocked.

Grunewald opened it.  "Nathan.  Good to see you."

"You're a bastard, Grunewald," said his fellow.  "Do you realize that?"

"I've entertained the possibility, yes," said the Lamplighter as he let his fellow into the Hall.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 53

It was cold morning in Talossa.  A thin crust of frost clung to the windows and the walls of buildings, while in the streets, puddles lay frozen.  Men and women went about their business, heavy cloaks drawn around them, breaths coming out in puffs, faces kept on the street before them.  People did not look at each other, this morning--they avoided each others eyes, looking instead at buildings, their shoes, anything to avoid seeing someone else.  Because to look at someone else meant that someone else could look at you, and somehow, somehow no one could bear that right now. This was not the first time Talossans had felt like this.  They'd felt like this when the Eremites had taken over the city, marching through it in the name of Prince Amfortas. But clearly, this had nothing to do with the present circumstances.

Nothing at all.  There were no Eremites walking about the streets, after all.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 52

The knock on the door was strangely light.   Lily cracked the door open.  "Listen, the girls are..." She stopped suddenly, realizing she was speaking to a young child, of rather indeterminate gender.  "Umm, hello," she said, pulling her robe tighter around her. 

The child remained quiet and passed her a note.  "Ahh, thank you," said the Seamstress, "but... I don't read..." 

The child gestured to the top of the note, on which was drawn a lantern symbol.  Lily coughed. "Ahh, yes, I... you must be mistaken, as..."

The child crossed its arms, and stared at the Seamstress with the  most astonishingly cynical expression imaginable.  Lily bowed her head.  "I'll give it to him."

The child smiled, as the Seamstress shut the door, and hurried back inside.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Pages From the Cthonique Library: The Falcon's Hood

Popular tale of a freedom-fighting bandit during the Tulip Wars era and his adventures against the cruel overseer of the White Tulip forces.  Of relatively recent authorship, it is believed to be a parable of the acts of... a certain late Dark Lord of the Plains, whose rule was likewise relatively recent.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Pages From the Cthonique Library: The Book of Health

A purported medical guide that after listing a few simple nostrums, goes into lengthy mystical formulas and descriptions of a supposed secret realm hidden in the center of the world.  Despite its extraordinary oddness, has its followers, many of whom have spent a great deal of time looking for the secret realm.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Pages from the Cthonique Library: The Forges of the Fangs

A famed novel about a family of Ogre smiths in the Fangs and their sufferings in the constant warfare between the Iron and Stonefang kingdoms, which sees the family torn apart and pits brother against brother, and father against son as it continues.  Frequently banned and suppressed in the Fang kingdoms, but still quite popular there.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Pages From the Cthonique Library: Eye of Viy

A sizable gem, reported to be the left eye of the legendary giant Viy, though it is of rather dubious provenance. Acquired by the Cthoniques from the Ashuranas, it has been part of the collection for the last three centuries, despite efforts by the Ashuranas to regain it, including several theft attempts.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Pages From the Cthonique Library: A Thousand Bottles of Wine

A book describing the wines of the Lands of Night, through the form of a tour of numerous vineyards.  The anonymous author appears to have been a Hardfoot monk, though his (or her) writing obscures most personal details.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Pages From the Cthonique Library: Account of the Great Flood of the Year of the Auk.

Historical account of a terrible flood of the Murkenmere by an anonymous chronicler, often called the Monk of the Flood for his believed profession.  Famed for its descriptions of the extensive destruction and upheavals caused by the flood, as well as its effects on the lowly as well as the high.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Pages From the Cthonique Library: Death Mask of Dahaut

Death mask of the Lady Dahaut, a Nibelung princess held to be the most beautiful woman in the world during her lifetime.  She died tragically young, though accounts vary as to the cause--in some she was murdered, in others she committed suicide.  The mask became part of the collection during the reign of the Dark Lord Grendel--a figure destined to a tragically short life himself.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Pages From the Cthonique Library: Keel of Skadh Riverboat

The keel of a riverboat, one of a fleet, used in the Dark Lord Bernlad's invasion of the Shadow Woods.  A notorious failure, the invasion set into motion Bernlad's own removal as Dark Lord and the War of the Tulips.  Afterwards, Lord Assur had this keel brought to the Cthonique collection to serve as a reminder of what began this violent and uneasy time.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Pages From the Cthonique Library: Lord Assur Requiem

Music composed by Lord Assur Cthonique for his own funeral.  Reportedly it took twenty men to carry his coffin.  The requiem is well-respected, and widely viewed as his finest work of music, though some favor his variations on peasant dances.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Pages from the Cthonique Library: Comb of Lady Inarra

A comb, belonging to the Dark Lord Grendel's consort, the Lady Inarra.  Made of ivory, it is inlaid with gold and precious stones, and includes a scene of the marriage of Lord Pwyll and Lady Rhiannon.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Pages From the Cthonique Library: Staff of Bel

Property of one of the great Nightfolk mystics, Bel's staff is one of the largest relics in the Cthonique collection, the personal property of the Dark Lord Ashareus, who became very desperate to discover such items as he believed they would aid his recovery from the mysterious wasting disease he suffered from.

He would have done better to make certain his nephew Sargon was not at hand.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Pages From the Cthonique Library: Feather of a Roc

The massive feather of a roc bird, said to be the largest bird in the world, which preys upon elephants, in the mysterious Isles of Pearls. 

Of course, as none have visited the isles in centuries, this is largely speculation.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 51

Nina played her lute, in the square as the crowd passed by, occasionally tossing her coins.  "Oh, Lamkin was a good mason, as ever laid a stone, but when laid the lord's castle, payment he got none.  He builded up the castle, without and within, but he left a passage, for himself to sneak in..."

A boy came to her and whispered to her ears.  For a moment, she seemed discomfited.  But then she started to sing again.  "Oh, we shall prick, we shall pinch him, we shall stab him with a pin.  And as he does cry out, the lady will come to him..."

She finished singing shortly after that, having left out half the verses.  Nina couldn't help but feel a little offended that no one seemed to notice.  She had her pride, after all.

Not much, but some.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 50

Grunewald sipped his drink.  "We have to do this, right?"

Ulrich gave a fervent nod.  "No choice.  Orders from the Ancients.  Can't be ignored."  He gulped down a drink, and then signaled for another one.  Old Reliable quickly poured it.  Ulrich glanced at him.  "You know what we mean, right?"

The older man looked at him.  "I understand the idea, certainly."

Grunewald frowned.  "That didn't sound like a yes."

Old Reliable frowned back at him.  "Lamplighters should not turn on their brothers without a righteous cause.  Lamplighters should not turn on their guests, and those who look to them for aid.  Doing this is a violation of the Oath."

"And is not the word of the Ancients a righteous cause?" snapped Ulrich.

Old Reliable stared for a moment, then turned away.  "To my mind, that would depend.  But then, what do I know.  I'm an old man.  My day is done.  Now's the long dusk, before the night truly sets in..."

"You served well, in your day," said Grunewald.  "Any Lamplighter should be proud of such service."

The older man gave a smile.  "I thank you for your kindness."

There was a noise from the doorway.  Morell entered, somewhat unsteady.  "Orders from the Ancients have come.  We need..."  He glanced at the group.  "You're still drinking?"

"We feel circumstances warrant it," replied Grunewald.

Morell considered for a moment, then sat down at the bar.  "A drink then. Actually... make it two."

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 49

Lily regarded the Erl before her, eyes narrowed.  "So... what's your fiancee like?"

"Nice," said Sacripant.  "In a tough sort of way."  He shrugged.  "She's also in the Guard.  If you're wondering."

The Seamstress blinked.  "You have women in your... Guard?"

Sacripant considered that.  "Some," he said at last.  "More than you might think...  Though Quiet's... well, hiding out.  Sort of."  He smiled at her.  "She's a princes.  Kind of."

Lily considered things.  "She seems like a woman with a lot of qualifications."

"Oh, yes," agreed Sacripant.  "And she can skin a man alive, if she has to."  He glanced at the Lamplighter slumbering in a chair nearby.  "So, if we're swapping stories, what is this about a favor...?"

Lily laughed.  "Oh, Nathan's an old friend.  When a Seamstress is out late for... reasons, he lets her walk with him.  To keep safe.  Not all Lamplighters do that.  And he's done a few other services for girls who work for me.  Always told him he had a friend in me.  Always knew I'd pay up eventually, just... never thought it be like this."  She shook her head nervously.  "Bad things are happening, aren't they?"

"Yup," said Sacripant leaning back in his chair.  "I'm hoping I can stop them, but... it'll be tough."  He shook his head.  "I think what's happened here is... your city just got used to running this way for so long that sometime ago, it became impossible to keep track of it all.  And now the people at the top are moving to betray you all.  I don't think they see it that way, mind you, but that's the fact of it."

Lily looked away.  "I... it was horrible when the Eremites were here.  I wouldn't want them back."

"From what I hear, they wouldn't be back," said the Erl.  "It'd be someone worse.  These are terrifying times, really.  Amfortas may down, but the places he's got left... well, they aren't going to turn against him soon.  It's a long fight ahead, and... that makes people get nervous.  Especially with everything else that's going on..."  He waved his hand.  "Ahh, well.  Just going to do my job, try and come out the other end of it.  Really that's all you can do."

The Seamstress nodded in agreement.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 48

The boy sat at the doorway, apparently asleep.  This made people ignore him, which made it easier to keep an eye on the goings on at the Lamplighter's Hall.

They were interesting today.  A woman, and two children had been escorted into this building, where women did not go, and children seldom did.  Apparently, there was some controversy about this--angry words were being exchanged, words that he could hear, even if he couldn't understand them.  The boy glanced at the shadows.  About an hour had passed.  It was time to go. He rather doubted the woman and the children would be coming out anytime soon.

And so much was happening that was interesting where the Ancients met.  The Beggars kept track of these things.  The other Guilds didn't like them, after all.  So they had to be made to understand that they needed them.

Sometimes, quite forcibly.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 47

Monica smiled brightly at the men in her kitchen, as she kneaded the dough before her.  "Well, I'm surprised to see you all here again."  She coughed.  "Especially so soon."

Grunewald smiled back at her, Ulrich and Morell standing behind him.  "Well, you know, we were just wondering if you knew where Nathan is?"

"Out doing his duties, no doubt," she said quietly.  Her eyes focused on the dough before her, as if the task took every ounce of concentration she possessed.

"If that were the case, we would know where he is," snapped Ulrich.

"Nonsense," said Monica.  "It's a large city, after all.  And this isn't the first time you've been confused on the matter."

Grunewald stepped towards her.  "You know, Monica, how the responsibilities of our order stand.  We must all look out for each other, for our own good, and the good of our guild.  Indeed, the good of Talossa."

Monica bit her lip.  "I keep hearing the word good a great deal of late.  Somehow... somehow it doesn't reassure me very much."

Morrell coughed.  "We just want to help Nathan.  That's all.  We worry about him.  Think that he might have lost track of what's important.  And we might need your help to remind him."

"Well, I'll be sure to tell him the next time I see him," replied Monica, a harshness in her tone that belied her words.

Ulrich looked around the kitchen.  "How are the children?"

Monica froze for a moment, and then went back to her work.  "They are fine.  And they will remain fine."

Grunewald smiled.  "Of course they will, Monica.  Of course they will.  That's what we all hope."

"Of course," said Monica acidly.  "You are making it so clear."

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 46

Nathan knocked on the door.  "Now, be polite," he said quietly. "I'm only trying this because I'm owed a favor. The Seamtresses don't like company during their off-hours."

Lamorac looked up at the sky.  "Hey, you don't have to tell a Knife-Grinder about the honor of Seamtresses.  Respecting it is a matter of pride among us."

"Like following procedure for disciplining members?" asked Sacripant.

"Yes!" snapped Lamorac. "Damn it that is what has me so angry about all of this!  There are rules!  There are things that must be done!  Or we wind up killing members in back alleys on a whim!  And when that happens--well, why bother being a Knife-Grinder at all?  You might as well be a random hoodlum.  The fees are less, after all."

The Erl glanced at Camber.  "How long did you have to deal...?" he began.

"Too long," said the one-legged man.  "Even if I agree with him now..."

Lamorac nodded.  "Yes, we need to have a formal meeting about the Grand Master.  I don't care if this was a Council-mandated mission, lines have been crossed!  Dangerous lines!"

A bleary-eyed woman opened the door.  "Listen," she said, "I don't care how horny you are, we are closed now, so that means you can go..."  She blinked.  "Nathan?"

"Hello, Lily," said the Lamplighter.  He gave an awkward cough.  "That favor I thought I was never going to have to call?  Calling it now?"  He gestured to the men behind him.  "We need shelter."

"Hmmm, I might be able to swing this," muttered Lily, "but I'll need assurances you'll all be on your best behavior.  Especially the Erl."

"Happily engaged," said Sacripant.

"We're both Knife-Grinders," said Lamorac, taking Camber by the arm.

"Well, we were," muttered Camber, pulling away.

"We still are!" said Lamorac grandly.  "It's the Guild that's gone off."

Lily glanced at Nathan. "There's an interesting story behind all this, isn't there?"

"You could say that," he replied, looking away.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 45

The Grand Master rubbed his aching skull.  "So... we have lost the Erl, we have lost the Lamplighter, we have lost Lamorac, and we have lost Camber, correct?"

The Knife-Grinders nodded in unison.  The Grand Master frowned at them.  "So, this is an utter failure, then?"

One of the Knife-Grinders glanced at him.  "Well, sir, whose fault is that?  We did all this under your direction."

The Grand Master turned to the prentice.  "Your examination for Journeyman is now."  He gestured to the man who'd spoken.  "Kill him."

"What?" said the man.  "You can't do this!  I have rights!  I'm a Journeyman in good standing!"  He looked at the others.  "By the Holy Light, we don't run this way.  Tell him that!"  They glanced awkwardly at their feet.  "What?  This is... You... he'll come for you ne--"

He pitched forward, the prentice's knife in his back.  "Well done, journeyman," said the Grand Master.  "We'll celebrate later.  For now, pitch the body back away.  No need to offend anyone.  Then we'll go notify the Council."

"Sir, do you think... they'll... understand?" muttered one man, staring at the corpse.

"If you mean will they not lose their tempers, they most surely will," replied the Grand Master.  "But they need us.  So we will be fine."

"They need us," muttered the former prentice.  "Just like the Grand Master needed him."

"That's a bit rich, considering..." began one.

"Didn't see any of you moving to stop me," he noted.  "Just as I don't hear any of you disagreeing with me now."  He grabbed the body by its shirt.  "Now come on.  He had a point there, and I don't want to do this by myself."  Two others followed, taking the body by the feet.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 44

"...And then Talos declared that the figs were the tastiest he had tasted, and that being so, he would settle his house here," the Reciter repeated.  "And this being so, there was great rejoicing, and great celebration, and great eating of smoked meats...."

The Ancients grumbled among themselves.  At length one of them raised his hand.  "Couldn't we skip this bit?" he asked.

Several other members nodded enthusiastically.  "We always used to," one noted.  "Just declared 'remember the deeds of great Talos' and moved on." 

The enthusiastic nods were joined by favorable murmurs.

The new Master of the Yellow coughed and stood to his feet.  "I know I have not been long a member here, and thus humbly beg apologies if I presume," he declared in confident tones that presumed a great deal, "but would this  not be an example of exactly what was wrong with the Council of Ancients in the past?  We all of us, from the Outer Hall to the Inner Circle, forgot and passed over the grand traditions of our forebears, and in so doing, forgot the gods to whom we owe all.  And this has made so much ill possible."  He turned to the Reciter.  "And so I say, for myself, read the deeds of Great Talos in full!  Leave out not one jot, not one tittle.  Read them all, so we revel in the glory and the holy word."  He sat back down.  "Well, go on," he said to the Reciter, who stood there looking puzzled.  "Read."

The Reciter nodded and began anew.  "...And pickled fruits, and yea, fine wine and good olives. And the men and women danced and made merry, and their clothes were of silk, and gold, and fine linen, and..."

The Ancients groaned among themselves.  One glanced at his fellow.  "I miss the old Master of the Yellow.  He wouldn't have put up with this."

The other Ancient hushed him, and then turned back to feign attention to the lengthy description of the people's footwear that the Reciter was beginning.

"Well, he wouldn't have," muttered the disappointed Ancient.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 43

Camber stared at the door before him, and took a deep breath.  He placed his hand on the handle and pushed it open swiftly. 

The room was empty.  Taking a relieved breath, he turned back and trudged his way back up the stairs, weighing on the one hand the fact that he was still alive, on the other this would doubtless make the Grand Master angry.  And that was the bad thing.  Arguably bad enough to outweigh still being alive.

When he reached the top of the stairs and looked across the street, he saw something rather interesting.  His fellows had found the Erl, who was presently fighting the whole lot of them and doing rather well.  As Camber watched, the mouthy prentice dived for the Erl, only to be knocked aside and left sprawling on the ground.

The Grand Master saw his subordinates fall with increasingly panicked eyes.  "I warn you, Nightfolk," he said, drawing his knife, "you may think that the Knife-Grinders are nothing to fear, but our power lies in our reach, and our..."

A club struck him on the back of the head.  The Lamplighter regarded the man's slumped over form in dull surprise.  "I thought he'd be tougher than that."

"Most people don't react well to a heavy blow to the skull," said the Erl.  "No matter what the title is."

"But he's a master assassin!" said the Lamplighter.

"Well, sure, but what sort?" asked the Erl with a shrug.  "So far as I can tell, these guys more or less sneak up on people and knife them in the back, or jump in alleys.  That stuff doesn't take a lot of skill, it just takes license from on high."  He poked the Grand Master.  "Damn.  He's out cold."

"I thought that was the idea," said the Lamplighter.

"Well, yeah, but not this cold," replied the Erl.  "I wanted to ask him questions.  Especially as I don't think we'd get a lot of time..."

The Lamplighter looked across the street.  "We could always get Peg leg over there."

Camber gulped and turned to run. 

Unfortunately for him, the stairs remained as treacherous as ever.