The Blessed Witch of Cantalspier was indeed none of those things. Alicestasia was an actress and orator of such caliber that a mundane phrase rolled up and spun out of her mouth carried as much power of charm and transformation as an ancient ephemeral secret uttered by the most ruthless of warlocks. Her self-styled narrative asserts that she had been plucked from a field in the farming county of Pran by a troupe of performers. She claims they gave her father five coins so closely shaved that the King looked more a Prince for want of beard and crown.
This group of rowdy musicians and raconteurs was laying siege to all the Keeps and Market towns across the land. The troupe made a living by prying coins from the merchant farmers with a smile before the taxmen could steal it away with their whips. At first Alicstasia fetched water and collected the coins, but the fates did not have thread that short for her. Before she even came of age she could petrify the wagon trains of commerce with the glamour of her bawdy songs. Once she had held every person in the radius of her voice she would climb atop the murmur’s wagon to address the crowd state of eagle’s splendor. Then she would string words together into a stories of hope and grief. Tears pulled more coins from the hopeful farmers than smiles.
With Alicstasia inevitably in command, that murmur’s wagon proved to be siege engine enough to carry her across the walls of every Keep in the river counties. In the Keeps and the towns she found the theater and the beds of rich men.
A low-born actress would never be more than a novelty to the fine folks with five or six names. Alicstasia knew this. She saved the favors, avoided the feuds with snotty wives or petty courtly mistress, and made her self a type of rich. With fame and coin she surprised everyone by traveling to Cantalspier and there she opened a hostel for the orphans and lost children of those wicked streets.
She became the symbol of Cantalspier within six months and within a year she was the patron saint. She brokered peace between feuding families. She reunited children with lost siblings. She cared for the sick, and gave everyone in Cantalspier a since of pride when she passed them. The saying became that three things will kill you in Cantalspier; the water, a full purse and an unkind world about the Blessed Witch.
Her alliance with Luc-Paiser de Vulasier's and Dr. Krimswoffel occurred naturally and at first proved rewarding. The boys needed money, and she had that. The boys needed safe quiet spaces to study the great spells and store their arcane tools; Alicstasia’s house was the biggest home of common ownership in all of Cantalspier. The boys had spells and incantations that could set bones and clear lungs, and that huge home was filled with broken coughing children. She offered everything material that high-minded wizards like Luc-Paiser de Vulasier's and Dr. Krimswoffel like to pretend they never need.
But what did Alicestasia need? Some say she needed an audience, and that Cantalspier was just an opportunity to mix the applause with a respect and adoration the noble born would never give her. Some say she was making amends for the bastard children she had abandoned in order to pursue her own vanity. Whatever the case it would become clear too late that she grew to need de Vulasier.
Luc-Paiser de Vulasier was not a natural lover. But he took to the embraces of Alicestasisa like a candle dropped in haystack. His joy was infectious. Rather than growing distracted from his arcane studies, he became inspired. Alicestasia was his muse. His incantations became more daring and more complex. The threads of reality became strings on a lute to him. How could they not be? What strength did the laws of Gods or nature have to a young man in love? Luc-Paiser de Vulasier became a force to be admired and perhaps feared.
Dr. Krimswoffel was outwardly generous and sincerely enjoyed in the new directions de Vulasier's was taking their works. But a darkness was growing in him. Everyone could see it, except for de Vulasier's. He had grown unable to see darkness even in his sleep; when his dream-self continued to worship his love.
We should not judge Alicestasia's and Dr. Krimswoffel's actions unsympathetically. Alicestasia had grown callous to love over the years. In order to live as she did she had dug moat upon moat, and built wall upon wall to keep out the vile humors of love. She saw how so many young women had been destroyed by love. It is no wonder that she was terrified and lashed out in self-defense. Krimswoffel was a man in love as well. Though his love was not as clear. Perhaps he loved the magic, but saw his partner going to new heights of power that he could not reach? Perhaps he loved Alicestasia in the way an old man loves youth and hope? Or perhaps he had seen more than a student in de Vulasier, and to this old man de Vulasier was the muse? Whatever the reason the Alicestasia and Krimswoffel acted against de Vulasier; without speaking and without preconception they went to bed together. The love had passion, but it was not passion for each other.
That night, because they would not have done it on a lesser night, de Vulasier and Krimswoffel were going to finish their greatest spell: a spell to change the destiny of the wind.
Don’t under estimate the power of the wind’s destiny. The wind carries change, and words. The wind moves clouds to hide the sun and knocks down trees. The winds destiny is a land’s destiny.
When de Vulasier and Krimswoffel were making the final circle of the spell and were taking a moment to catch their breath while their threads of magic tighten. Krimswoffel looked grimly at his protégé. “Luc, I am afraid Alicestasia and I had a bit of a go at each other in the bed today. I hope you don’t mind son, really meant nothing, you know how women like that are.”
Those words were the cruelest act Krimswoffel had ever performed. He saw de Vulasier’s soul break behind his eyes. But the spell must go on or at least so Luc-Paiser de Vulasier and Dr. Krimswoffel had always said when some event attempted to interrupt their ritual casting. They returned to their positions in the circle of power and began the final incantations.
Ritual magic has a rhythm to it, a pacing and all this is based on trust. Trust in your coven and trust in yourself. When prompted for reply by Krimswoffel’s chanting de Vulasier paused. The air around the two of them became pregnant with untamed threads of power. Krimswoffel began to fear not for himself, but for his friend and for the whole city around them. But there was nothing he could do. He dare not trip on the strings of power circling about them.
Then de Vulasier looked at Krimswoffel. It was same expression that Krimswoffel had seen when he found the boy stabbed and dying in the street. The lad had looked lost and shocked but not scared or panicked. Krimswoffel had always been impressed by how de Vulasier had approached death and pain; with a detached curiosity. Is that how de Vulasier was dealing with heartbreak and betrayal? Krimswoffel never found out. The wizard de Vulasier hurled himself out of the circle of power and disappeared in a gust of wind. The threads of magic, that been woven so tightly around the circle, and de Vulasier were gone.
Alicestasia tried to take her own life early the next morning as well. She walked to the center of Cantalspier and threw herself from a bridge into the slow moving sewer that had been bestowed a riverhood by the royal cartographers. Drunk with grief and shame she had not planned her death well. The bridge was only a horse head high and the river was only a few feet deep. Her many admirers among the citizens rushed to her aid. She was returned to her house unclean but unscathed.
Krimswoffel and Alicestasia still live in that great house together. Still care for the children. But they are not lovers and they are not friends. They are inmates sharing a prison of regret, and a secret religion of hope that de Vulasier will return someday. Aside from the ever-invading legion of suffering children, the only new visitors they ever seem to have are a flock of cawing white ravens.Go to Comment
Shadow-Ox of Pao-Du Mountain
"The Shadow-Ox looms above all but the Mountain itself." --Hagaanite saying.
Entry 473, chapter titled, "The Endless Plateau, and the queer red mountains", wherein we see with our own eyes the world's largest bovine, and Mhug-Altla'r manages to evade Barbo's grasp yet again.
Thrice the size of a common ox and more, this sedate creature appeared both fearsome and majestic, as we approached it at last, having arrived in Hagaan-beside-the-Mountain.
Weighing eight tons if a pound and standing thirty five feet at the shoulder, one could only but imagine an antediluvian race of mega-giants who once bred these creatures eons ago. Alas, but the one survives to this day, and the people of Hagaan and Pao-Du Mountain have named it the Shadow-Ox for the great shadow that its massive form casts, whenever the Sun shines upon it.
We studied the sedate behemoth as best we could for several days. Well, I did, Barbo mostly drank the local spirits and complained.
The Shadow-Ox, or the over-grown Yak as I began to think of it after a few days, moved little, if at all. It spent most of its time grazing on the vast fields of red and green lichen, carpeting the stony lands.
No doubt the reader is waiting to read about some amazing quality or anecdote involving the Shadow-Ox. There is none of interest to share. Giant and somewhat useless it is. You may presume that the Hagaanites of Pao-Du Mountain shear the beast for wool, but no, they do not molest the sloth-like bovine in any way. They simply leave it alone to eat its lichen. During summer, as the sun scorches the plateau, the Hagaanites rest and idle in the shade the beast creates. In coldest winter, they have been known to warm themselves beneath and between the many matted and braided folds of fur, which hang down from the Shadow-Ox's belly like vines.
The Hagaanites do however consider the creature a treasured symbol of luck and good fortune. Mistreating the behemoth in any way will invite immediate wrath and rebuke.
We inquired as to the age of this creature, and we're told it has grazed in this valley for ten thousand years and twenty. This I did not believe.
It is a common theme in my notes I am afraid, that once dear Barbo and I stumble upon some legendary, fantastic beast of legend, ascribed great powers or wondrous ecology, more often than not, the creature in question turns out to be somewhat mundane.
Alas, such is life.
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We continue from the base of Pao-Du Mountian on the morrow, heading further north to investigate and document, hopefully amicably, the Riders of Lesser Oq, and their ferocious Thorn-Elk mounts. This should prove to be a more exhilarating experience than our encounter with the ennui-inducing Shadow-Ox.
Carcass Thrice-Worm of Reng
Entry 552, chapter titled, "A disturbing encounter while traversing the inhospitable deserts of Reng" wherein we learn of a horrifying creature, an esoteric order, and how Barbo came so close to confronting the Mhug-Atla'r, only to have it evade him at the last, crucial moment.
We braved the wastes of Reng as we did all challenging terrain. Methodically and ably. Barbo needed less water than a camel, and I for my part, was not without certain ascetic training. One foot in front of the other.
Before long, we found ourselves sharing water and conversation with a small group of caravan traders beneath an olive moon. It was here that we first heard the dreaded name of the nightmarish Carcass Thrice-Worm. At least that was the literal translation I gathered from the dervish.
Weeks later we encountered several monks belonging to an unusual order, who not only shared knowledge of the Carcass Thrice-Worm, but showed us the creatures during a particularly gory display!
The monks had come out to the wastes in order to enact a ritual, upon one of their own. Apparently, one of the monks was deemed ready and volunteered to have his "three worms" removed to show his utter devotion to the order's tenets and codes. This involved a gruesome surgery, performed upon him by his fellow monks, that even made Barbo look away.
Now I must add that according to these monks the three worms live inside us all. The Upper Worm, resides somewhere inside the throat area, and governs the emotion of gluttony. The Middle Worm resides somewhere within the large intestine, and governs greed and envy. The Lower Worm resides somewhere inside the groin and governs lust and lasciviousness. This I learned and more. Whenever someone dies, according to these same monks, the Thrice-Worm escapes the carcass, and take on a swollen form. While inside the living host they are nigh invisible to the eye, but when they crawl forth from a corpse they swell to resemble fattened earthworm/cicada hybrids, mauve, indigo, and ebon-black respectively. They crawl off and bury themselves deep inside the earth, and nothing more is known of them, even by the monks.
We half-watched somewhat revolted by the sights and sounds of the surgery. Three operating monks gathered about their prone fellow, and went to work on him, each monk using cruel looking metallic implements to delve deep inside their brother's flesh. The sounds of his screams that day, stayed with us long after we left the wastes of Reng behind.
At the ultimate moment, the monks gestured for us to look, and look we did, and could see to our horror, that three finger-sized disgusting creatures described above, crawled forth from the monk's flesh (who was passed out by now), and wriggled away, squirming beneath hot sun, and leaving wet stains in their wake upon the sands.
The monks then insisted that their de-wormed brother would recover in time, and rise reborn, incapable of surrendering to the baser and uglier emotions.
The monks then asked if Barbo or I would care to have our Thrice-Worms removed. They had the gall to smile as they did so.
Barbo and I looked at one another, then politely declined the honor, thanked the brothers for their time, and quickly went on our way.
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Needless to say we had no appetites for days after, and spoke little, each one of us disturbed now of course by the sensation of feeling Carcass Thrice-Worms wriggling inside of us.
Thorn-Elk Riders of Lesser Oq
Entry 494, chapter titled, "On why Lesser Oq is larger than Greater Oq, and on our encounter with the Thorn-Elk Riders." wherein we learn to fear impalement while studying an incredible animal, and how no traces of Mhug-Atla'r presented themselves in these parts to Barbo.
Lesser Oq, that great expanse of forest and tundra, which lies just south of Greater Oq, the endless wasteland of ice, held many curiosities we longed to investigate, among others, were the Thorn-Elk Riders, a strange tribe which had managed to tame and even breed a truly dreadful creature.
We were not disappointed. Barbo smelled them miles before their approach, and we both marveled at their primeval appearance, as they neared. The elks were huge, ashen gray and speckled black, with twisted and towering crowns of antlers. Their unique features were two-fold we soon learned. Firstly, they were covered head to hoof with bony, sharpened spikes, or thorns, which erupted from their stinking, saggy hides. Their backs, upon which their riders sat in saddles, were the only area of their bodies not sprouting vicious, wicked spikes and razor-sharp protrusions, some only inches long, some extending several feet from their bodies, like horns, oily to the touch. Their loose leathery skin seemed to grow around these many thorns, hinting to me at least, that these creatures were natural and not arcane in origin. The points of all these spikes and thorns were wickedly sharp.
Secondly, the Thorn-Elks possessed carnivorous teeth, which were sharp as fangs. This proved disconcerting. Not even dear Barbo, so fond of random, spirited skirmishes, wanted any part of facing one of these elks in battle. No doubt that even the fiercest of cave-bears or snow lions, avoided these demonic ungulates. Attacking one physically would in fact prove suicidal, and any predator with a sense of self-preservation, would not come close. The creature could spear you with its mighty antlers, impale you upon its many spines, and sink its wolf-like jaws into your flesh. Quite the trifecta.
This begged my next question, as to the natural enemies of the elks. The Riders laughed and told us that the thorn-elks had no natural enemies, for all creatures feared them. When I asked as to the Thorn-Elk's diet, the Riders laughed even harder, but did not answer the question. Barbo then asked slyly, why the Riders had not yet taken over the world with such dreadful mounts as these, and they took his question literally and seriously, explaining the breeding cycles of the elks, which basically boiled down to only one or two elks being born every so many years, even with Riders' skills at husbandry, the Thorn-Elk (thankfully!) were not prolific beasts.
The riders themselves proved to be a rather aloof if ordinary folk, subsisting on the tundra's few blessings, hunting the terrain astride their fearsome and gruesome elks.
I learned, while questioning the folk over bronze cups of butter tea, inside one of their magnificent yurts, that drinking the boiled urine of a thorn-elk bestowed upon the drinker extraordinary powers of sexual prowess and eternal erections. Having heard this same song in a hundred other lands, I was dubious. Barbo snorted, insisting he didn't need to drink "porcupine deer-piss" to slow him down. Harsh words were exchanged, and only barely did I manage to extend our stay, and keep our heads, with quick and loose diplomacy.
The next day Barbo asked our hosts if he could ride one of the Thorn-Elks, and was refused. With that, we left the Riders of Lesser Oq behind.
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Though in our travels we often find that creatures rarely turn out as impressive as they sound through talk and tales, but the Thorn-Elks left upon us a lasting impression. Truly incredible beasts, though for all appearances, demonic entities from some nether realm of iniquity.
Golden Toad of Pagh-Ti Temple
Entry 614, chapter titled "Across the Sea in exotic Wu-Saban" wherein we learn of queer local customs, visit a temple, meet a peculiar toad, and where Barbo thinks he has finally caught up to the Mhug-Atla'r, only to realize that it has eluded him still.
We had to reach Wu-Saban by ship, and so Barbo spent the voyage hacking his bile into the sea. The dwarf was not fond of water travel.
Once disembarked, our first stop along Wu-Saban's Onyx Road was the quaint town of Pagh-Ti. Here we were warmly greeted by the local populace and offered the finest of hospitalities.
On the second day, we were taken to their temple and shown a huge golden toad, which ignored us.
Barbo looked unimpressed and even I was not sure of what to say, but then their priest informed us that the toad vomits gold. Needless to say I was dubious, Barbo just laughed, but the high priest petted the golden amphibian, scratching its head as if it was some loyal dog, and lo and behold, the toad opened its maw and spat out gold chunks!
I know what you may be thinking happened next. Barbo took his trusty axe to the necks of the locals, while I grabbed the grotesque yellow miracle, and together we high-tailed it out of Pagh-Ti, dreaming of riches...
No, we did no such thing. Instead I inquired as to this weird creature's nature. The priest spoke riddles back to me, mentioning something called the Sea of Dirt, bait in the form of gold coins on a string, a mighty general of ages past, and other esoterica I could barely follow.
Then Barbo, bless his bluntness, asked the high priest why no one as of yet, had stolen this fantastic gold-making frog from the temple and the people of Pagh-Ti. And why he further inquired, were not the Pagh-Ti people, the richest in all the lands?
The high priest demurred, but later an inn-keeper explained this weird creature to us further. Apparently the golden toad inside the temple was a fake, its gifts of gold a parlor trick, and that the real Golden Toad, he insisted, resides safe and secure, hidden from all, in some cave nearby, and only used sparingly by the villagers whenever gold was actually needed. Not too much gold at any one time, he added, but just enough, he winked. The people of Pagh-Ti had no intention of attracting the attention of the Wu-Saban Imperium and its avaricious eunuchs, with their gold-gifting miracle toad.
This still made little sense to me.
Barbo meanwhile, kept asking everyone he encountered, as to where he might be able to find the real Golden Toad. Just to have a look, and maybe a quick pet.
This tale becomes more political and philosophical rather than biological and ecological if I continued it, so I will stop writing of this mysterious beast instead.
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Barbo and I left Pagh-Ti none the wiser, and still confused. A toad made of gold, which ate gold, and regurgitated gold back twice-fold. Or so we were told. I hesitated in adding this entry to my journal. On the other hand, the people of Pagh-Ti all looked quite happy, and we're constantly smiling. Who knows.
Alright, how about this: of course the skin-pants hold great power ... if they're properly cured, with the necessary rituals to bind the magic properly to them, and keep undesirable properties leaking out.
Gezel didn't, obviously, have time to finish those preparations. Without the binding rituals, the raw force of the Infinite poured into Hamrog's stolid, ill-educated soul. Part of the spirit of Barkok is in him, now, and part of the malice and cruelty that belonged to his demon assassin also. What is left of Hamrog's mind and soul are just tatters, and he is certainly not in control of the result ... or of anything else, either.
The resulting entity -- insane if anyone ever was -- wanders the world, the slaughtered corpses of his comrades forgotten as he left the tower. The skin-pants, uncontrolled and uncontrollable, manifest the magical equivalent of Tourette's: at random points (but never more than an hour or so apart), a random spell that Barkok knew fires, at an eligible target within the standard range for such spells. Sometimes the spells are trivial, sometimes not harmful ... a "Shape Metal" spell cast on a tree will have no effect, obviously, and the "Housekeeping" spell Barkok used to keep his sanctum tidy won't do a tavern harm.
But some of the spells are the most horribly destructive the sorcerer knew, and the "Laughing One" is a feared terror throughout the land. For if he is attacked ... then the skin-pants have been known to fire a salvo of ALL the spells Barkok commanded. Seldom has anyone survived the resulting holocaust.Go to Comment