Over the last year or more, I’ve been running a Dungeons & Dragons 5e campaign with four of my friends in a homebrewed world. To help archive what has been going on and to practice my own writing, I plan on recording the sessions in prose. We’re more than thirty sessions in, so most of these posts will be based on recall until I’m all caught up. These posts are proofread for spelling and grammar, not for continuity or finesse. That will come later. Much later.
Amongst the clamour of crates being dropped to the floor, supervisors shouting orders, and the general din of a finely tuned warehouse, three employees of the Four Corners Trading Company – strangers to one another, stand out of everyone’s way.
Juke, a white-feathered aarakocra whose resemblance is shockingly that of a rooster (unlike the typical bird-of-prey features of his people), studied the work in front of him. He scribbled a note in a book and placed it inside a satchel slung over his shoulders. Once settled, it disappeared between the layers of plumage.
Harman Nailo watched from under the brim of his wide, round hat. Violet eyes set into a chiselled pale face softened by a tangle of black hair. Unlike the golden eyed high elves of Hiraeth, his features were rarely seen; Eladrin, a lost and all but forgotten subspecies of elves had travelled into the West centuries ago. He wore a fur collared black cloak. A crystal beaded cord wrapped around his hand. He rolled one of these beads between his fingers.
Moise Pim wondered why he was ordered to a staging area. It’s been years since he’d worked hard labour. The goliath stood more than two metres tall but lacked the girth and strength of his brethren. A hood lay about his frilled collar atop simple leather armour. Ornate tattoos denoting his clan decorated his cheeks.
The latest shipment from the eastern prefect Baldarthis, had been unpacked and workers began to take inventory. Silhouetted by the bright sunlight outside the gate’s door, a small army of workers in an unfamiliar uniform of black and purple, inspected the empty carriages.
Brief gusts of wind blew wisps of sand into the warehouse. A goliath woman, much broader than Moise nudged his shoulder walking towards an office behind them.
“Move over Mouse” she said, referring to his nickname ‘Mousey’ with a bit more venom than necessary.
“Whoa, are you going to let her say that to you Moise?” asked Harman, quietly enough to avoid drawing the aggressor back.
“Uh yeah. Yeah, I am going to let her do that me,” Moise let out a nervous laugh. “I don’t like confrontation.”
Harman hoped Juke would at least talk some sense into Moise. He gave Juke an urging stare. Juke let out a sigh.
“If you want to be successful in this line of work, you don’t go picking fights with people who can break you in half,” Juke said. “How about we just get to wherever we’re supposed to go?”
The goliath reached for a long cord beside the open gate, now coated with sand and dust. She pulled the cord attached to a tin bell.
“Everyone get inside and shut the gates. The storm is about here. Let’s get the rest of the wagons inside. Please, hurry up!” the goliath woman called. About her, the workers doubled their pace to haul the remaining boxes through the gate.
Wind whistled through the shelves and cracks in the warehouse. Dark clouds peaked above the treetops outside the gate. “Not another storm,” a worker murmured to another as they piled a crate onto a shelf.
“They’re coming more and more often. Some say they come from Torundi,” the worker’s partner replied.
The two heavy gate doors of wood and iron slowly slid shut, screeching against worn metal and sand collected in their tracks. Wind screamed and stones pounded against the closed doors as the storm raged on in earnest.
“You three, follow me”, the strong goliath called after Harman, Juke, and Moise who still stood apart from the bustling warehouse workers. In step behind the goliath, they entered a small office barely large enough to seat all four of them. The walls were bare but for a map of Hiraeth covering most of a wall. Ledgers, orders, and other documents were piled neatly on the small wooden desk. A brass nameplate bore the name YILA PEAKBACK.
Moise swallowed hard. Hadn’t the Peakbacks fled the mountains years ago? He thought. Of what he remembered of home, his was at war with the Bonecleavers since the Peakbacks gave up their ground.
“Gilijoril, the three you requested,” Yila the goliath said to an elderly elf, cloaked in rich blue robes. The insignia of the family Phy’Yrl was embroidered on the robe’s shoulder: a sparrow clutching a sheaf of wheat emblazoned with gold thread. Gilijoril stood tall and straight despite the fissures of severe age marking his face.
“My name is Gilijoril Phy’Yrl. I am the owner of the Four Corners Trading Company. It’s a pleasure to meet each of you,” he spoke with the timbre of a morning dove, pleasant but foreboding of things left unsaid. He extended a hand to each of them.
Harman took a half step forward and captured Gilijoril’s hand. “The pleasure is mine to meet the man who started all of this. Say, did you have anything to do with my recruitment?”
Gilijoril’s gold eyes typical of a pure high elven lineage shone back in Harman’s violet eyes, a quality rarely seen in elves. “Yes,” he said, not elaborating. “It’s been quite some time since I’ve met one of your kind. The Eladrin have rarely been seen this far east in the last two centuries, have they not?”
Harman’s smile reached his eyes. “It’s true, my people haven’t left the West in many years. But I’m glad roads have led me here. Four Corners has been good to me since the war.”
Gilijoril greeted Moise and finally Juke. Juke’s feathered hands quickly pulled from Gilijoril’s hand and stuck a thumb in the direction of the warehouse.
“It’s been a pleasure, but we do have a situation here. There’s too much inventory for the afternoon shift to handle without extra hands. On top of that, there’s a raging storm outside,” Juke began to turn around before meeting Yila’s gaze. She sat behind the desk, statuesque, threatening Juke silently.
Gilijoril ignored Juke and proffered the now empty seat to him. “Please take a seat. We have much to discuss.” Juke held a sharp rebuttal on his tongue before Moise nudged past him towards the seat.
“Thank you,” Moise grinned broadly from the lone chair in the office. Harman moved beside Moise and placed a hand on the chair’s backing, running his fingernail between a joint. The roar of wind behind the shut gate, echoed throughout the warehouse and into the office. Gilijoril, unphased by the force outside, moved to the large map on the wall.
He placed his index finger on a large dark circle labelled OXTEN. East of Oxten was another circle of the same size labelled BALDARTHIS. To its south, equidistant from Oxten was RYLIK. To Rylik’s west, equidistant from Baldarthis, was CINDARR. Due north of Cindarr, a traveller would return to Oxten. Central to them all, was TORUNDI. However, the dark circle denoting its location was marred with charcoal as if someone had tried to cover it.
Each of these circles represented a mesa: one kilometre tall and two hundred kilometres broad. Each mesa was a prefect of the formerly unified Hiraeth – both the continent and government in name. However, thirty-three years ago, the central prefect lost the cruel war it waged on the other prefects. Fueled by an unnatural strength and endurance, Torundi battled for supremacy for decades. Through the combined might of Cindarr’s war machines and Baldarthis’s mages, Torundi lost. Its mesa was torn asunder by a cataclysm referred to many as “The Desiccation”.
An ominous violet haze leaked from the mesa’s fissures. Abominations grew from its wounded populace, eventually leaving a wasteland of horrors. Broad, well-travelled roads which connected the prefects became dangerous and deserted.
South of the four prefects was Hiraeth’s only true ocean. Its uncharted horizons and hunger for adventurous sailors earned its moniker LAKE ENDLESS and reputation as a cursed place.
“It’s been thirty-three years since the Desiccation. Since then, many of our rival companies have dissolved for fear of bandits, creatures, and other dangers along the road. Since then,” Gilijoril’s gaze turned to Harman and Juke, “magic and strange abilities have become more common.”
In the corner of the room, a shadow fell over Gilijoril’s face. Harman held a shudder as he noticed a faint purple glow along Gilijoril’s jaw. For a moment, his skin was thin, stretched tightly over bone, muscle, sinew. Teeth pressed hard against the mask. Leaning into the light and facing the others once again, Gilijoril’s face returned to its pleasant beauty.
“My company – Our company on the other hand has been willing to risk these roads and delve into ruins to plunder lost orders. That is how we stayed alive. Until recently.”
Moise shifted uncomfortable. He was accustomed to selling bad news concealed with the pleasant aroma of favour and complements.
Gilijoril continued, meeting the eye of his three employees. “Orders have all but run dry. Trade within Oxten is good but Cindarr and Rylik have ceased communication. We have one more order from Baldarthis leaving in a fortnight.”
Juke steeled himself. He was not prepared to be fired. Especially after all he’d done for Oxten and Four Corners.
“Fortunately, we have a new charge. Lady Osgoth has commissioned us to escort her to Torundi for a research expedition. The Lady wishes to learn more about the winds which accost us and possibly more about the abominations which plague Torundi’s ruins.”
Moise let out of breath of relief before sucking it back in at the mention of Torundi.
“Tomorrow, you will escort Lady Osgoth and her company to an encampment at the base of Torundi. Once there, she will take her leave and you will return. A simple journey.” Gilijoril concluded.
“Pardon me sir,” Moise shifted once again in his seat. “Are we being compensated as per our usual rates or,” he let the question hang in the air.
“Of course, each of you will be paid according to the charge. A rate far higher than your current roles would be compensated. Those accounts will be settled upon your return,” Gilijoril explained the terms of their charge, payment, and other details over the next hour. Yila proudly accepted a supervisory role along the journey before the meeting was dismissed. Gilijoril left the warehouse, conjuring hushed conversation from curious workers. Yila told Harman, Juke, and Moise to meet at this office tomorrow morning after breakfast. She hesitated in the doorway and considered telling them to act professionally and do their jobs. She thought better of it and left.
Harman leaned a degree outside the door to watch Yila’s back disappear around the corner. He set his shoulders and began rifling through the documents on her desk.
“What are you doing?” Moise shouted but stopped himself and returned in a whisper. “This is your new boss’s desk!”
“You’re not curious about who Lady Osgoth is and what else she might be up to?” Harman spoke from beneath the brim of his hat.
“Sure, but I’m not going to stand here and risk being caught. Sorry, I’m going,” Moise bolted from his seat and toward the door.
Harman risked a glance at Juke whose hands were anchored on his hips and staring hard at Harman. Juke berated the room as if continuing a conversation he’d been having in his head.
“Look all this is dangerous. Everything this company does is dangerous. There’s no sense of social or professional accountability and I’m not going to risk getting fire for looking around in my boss’s desk. Frankly, the entire continent would be better off without their meddling –”
Moise cut Juke off with a laugh. “See I’m not the only one who’s chicken.”
Juke’s words turned to stone in his throat and turned slowly towards Moise. “What did you call me?”
Sweat rolled down Moise’s face. He looked to Harman who paused long enough to see Juke’s clenched fists and Moise’s white knuckle grip on the door jam.
“I’ll be in the Wings getting a drink,” Moise fled.
“Harman,” Juke inhaled slowly. “You don’t ever say that to somebody.”
Laughter roared from a table of workers as they finished a chant followed by draining their flagons. Two goblins wearing coloured head bands wrestled in a dusty fighting pit when a third jumped into the fray. A goblin wearing a jute tunic and a yellow head band let out a war cry. He stood on top of the two other goblins after the dust had settled. They stood up shaking their heads and clapped one another on the back. Coin purses were exchanged between them and several spectators.
Juke leaned against the bar crowded with workers at their end of their shifts. A dark-skinned half-elf served thirsty patrons before noticing Juke beaming at her in the dim orange glow of tallow candles.
“Saffine!” Juke waved her over. Saffine limped toward Juke with a flagon of ale ready. It hit the bar hard, spilling foam over its edge. Her blank face searched Juke’s. He braced himself, wondering what he did wrong. She broke into laughter and Juke startled. Her smile wrinkling her eyes, lifting a birthmark just above her right eye.
“Relax Juke, I’m just messing with you. It’s been a long day.” Saffine said, wiping away tears from laughter. Juke stammered something about meeting the boss and the danger of storms. Harman squeezed between Juke and another patron. Saffine smiled and pulled another draught of ale for Harman.
The three spoke briefly about the charge from Gilijoril. Juke complained half-heartedly about the company falling apart, putting its people in harm’s way, forcing new supervisors on them without rapport. He paused, terrified, as Yila came from behind them to grab a flagon he didn’t see Saffine extending. Yila looked to Juke then back to Saffine, seemingly letting forth a torrent of insults that Juke couldn’t hear. Saffine let out another fit of laughter.
They continued about the dangers of the world since the Desiccation. Saffine emphasized a story about dealing with a troll by lifting her prosthetic leg high enough for Juke and Harman to see.
A sudden silence chilled the air around the Wings. Four men wearing chainmail armour cloaked in black and purple, stood up from their table at attention. A half-elf woman commanded them “at-ease” from the doorway to the Wings’ communal chambers. She stood shorter than most but held herself stiffly and with her chin high. Black hair shimmered around her pale face. Eyes the colour of whiskey scanned the room. A pseudodragon with lilac-coloured scales, rested about her neck. She wore black-dyed leather armour with a dagger sheathed on her belt.
She whispered to one of her guards, which carried through the silence of the room. “If you can’t find a better bed for me, I’ll burn this place to the ground.” The guard stood and fled the room without hesitation.
“Say, can you help me find a better bed for me too? These kind of suck,” Moise asked from within the communal bunk room, behind the half-elf. Harman and Juke exchanged worried glances.
Louder and hungry for another victim of her ire, Lady Tinnigan Osgoth turned to face the meek goliath who sat in his bunk. “Are you an Osgoth?”
Moise stood, slicking his hair back with the sweat gathered in the musty, humid room. “I failed to introduce myself. My name is Moise.” He had a gleam in his eye and stood trying to appear suave.
Lady Osgoth turned without acknowledging the introduction and stalked toward the bar. Patrons leapt from their stools and cleared the way as if running from a hurricane. Saffine said farewell to Juke and Harman to serve Lady Osgoth.
Islands of laughter erupted from patrons calling Moise a cad or a lunatic in equal measure. The remaining guards glowered at him from their table. Harman offered a fresh flagon to Moise, who promptly drained it. The rest of the night, they spoke about their roles in Four Corners and their lives before it. The yellow-head banded goblin convinced Moise to a scrap in the fighting pit to wear off some of his embarrassment.
Fuelled by ale, second-hand embarrassment, and revenge for being called a chicken, Juke jumped in the pit with Moise. Juke threw wide drunken blows. Moise dodged and drew him into a hug, apologizing for the misunderstanding. A drunk left hook later, Juke was on the ground staring at his vomit.
Moise and Harman cleaned Juke off as he mumbled about the tyranny of the elite and tucked him into his bunk.
Hours into their rest, Moise stared at the bottom of the bunk above him. He rolled onto his side and saw Harman pointing ahead of him at the end of the room. The stifling room had eight bunks in two rows, leaving enough room to walk between them toward a door for a private room in the back.
An Osgoth guard slumped over in his chair by the door and let out a heavy snore. Harman pointed to his ears then back at the door.
“Listen,” he whispered. Moise closed his eyes and strained against the creaking floors and snoring. A faint muffled voice spoke from the private room.
Harman crept towards the door and its sleeping guard – it was the same one who sought Lady Osgoth’s better accommodations. Judging by his presence, he failed. Harman pressed his ear against the door and listened to Lady Osgoth’s voice.
“It’s me Tinnigan. It took you. Please come back.”
A whisper replied. “You know where she is Tinnigan. Just come looking.” Harman shuddered. The whisper was soft yet something in his heart sank. He gestured urgently for Moise to join him.
The goliath loomed over Harman and the slumbering guard. The door creaked on rusty hinges. Lady Osgoth shifted in her sleep. A nearly spent candle burning the last of its wick, cast harsh shadows across the room. Harman quickly peered behind the door for the source of the other voice he heard. No one.
Harman and Moise crept to either side of Lady Osgoth’s bed, prepared to encounter whatever fel force was tormenting their new charge.
“Mother, please. I –” Tinnigan opened her eyes to the two men above her bed and let out a scream.