Handful of Dust: One Day and Twenty Years Later

The following is an in character session report delivered by my barbarian, Baptiste. The game he is from is a West Marches style game and so this probably won’t be a frequent feature on this site, but I hope it is at least mildly interesting.

Whilst I kept most of his way of speaking out of the text to improve accessibility, Baptiste has a Cajun accent if you’d care to read it thus.


The Fool’s Respite, four walls of hopes and dreams held together through a unique mix of stubbornness and despair, was the only place he could go when he returned to the Fort that evening. The wind, bitingly cold and threatening to topple him at every step, pushed him towards the battered wooden door and the sanctuary inside.

A few of the regulars, soldiers and other freelancers like him that he knew by sight, glanced up as he entered. Some looked back into their drinks immediately, their curiosity outweighed by their apprehension. The rest, their eyes wide and their mouths open, followed his swaggering progress towards the polished log that served as a bar. He still wore the cerise silk jacket, its brocade as pristine as the day it was sewn on, and he still carried the longsword with its ornate hilt, but apart from these obvious signs of wealth and foppery, they couldn’t believe it was him.

His hair, once a rich, golden brown was now sandy and greying at the temples. His face when he had left a few days before had been soft, his features still slightly blurred by youth, but now it was hard, a square jaw and sharp cheekbones covered in pale skin marred by a slight cut to the cheek and a dusting of stubble.

“My gods, Baptiste, what happened?” Elisa, the only barmaid who had been willing to look past his cocksure arrogance and get to know him, poured him a pint from the barrel behind the bar and pushed it towards his hand. As one, the chairs in the tavern creaked slightly as their occupants leaned closer. Baptiste raised the tankard, turned to face the crowd and downed a mouthful of the dark, bitter liquid. A barely suppressed grimace flashed over his face.

“Y’all want to know?” An easy smile drifted lazily onto his lips and a few of the nearby patrons looked away, intent on their own drinks. Most of the regulars, bored of being trapped inside by the biting wind, merely nodded. “Fine. I’ll tell ya.” He took another mouthful and pulled himself onto a stool at the bar. Elisa moved down the length of the log so she could watch his face better.

“As y’all know, I was in here a few days ago, helping Marek celebrate.” A knowing nod spread among the regulars. “I was due to head out beyond the fort the next day, so I shouldn’t have had has much to drink as I did, but a man’s got a right to drink his fill.” A murmur of assent flashed among those closest to him. “Reckon you’ll know the people I travelled with.” He paused and closed his eyes, his lips moving slightly as he recalled the names. “Fianna, Argavistus, Gwendolyn and Alister.” The names met with a mixed reaction and he waited for the crowd to fall quiet again.

“We headed out into the wilds, plannin’ on clearin’ the mines out so the Fort can start workin’ metal again, an’ sign postin’ the way for others. We found our way easy enough, followed a path Argavistus knew down a shallow valley towards the mines.” He paused, sipping the beer, “That’s where we found Baptiste’s Boulders. Two perfectly round boulders just layin’ in the middle of the path and it’s an adventurer’s right to name weird things they come across.

“So, we walked past the boulders and found the mine. Fianna knew the mine wouldn’t reach the other side of the hill, somethin’ ‘bout the air not movin’. While she was working that out, Agarvistus was poking around some faeces. He spent so long doin’ that I got bored and went in, figurin’ we’d either find the thing that made them or it’d find us. It was almost evening by this time so no-one was surprised when we found an empty bear den. It’d be huntin’, you see?

“We kept movin’, pushin’ deeper into the mine where we found something that seemed to eat the iron in the walls, and after we dealt with that, we found a dead dwarf, crushed by fallin’ rocks. I assume it was a dwarf, it had a map covered in ancient dwarven runes sewn into its clothes. Course, Fianna, a dwarf herself, wanted to lay it to rest so we set up camp and I went to sleep.” His knuckles whitened on the handle of his tankard and his eyes dropped to the floor.

“’magine my surprise when the mine got cold, wakin’ me up in time to see a gnome’s ghost walkin’ towards Alister. That’s how this happened.” He gestured to his hair and face. “Reckon I lost twenty years to the Shrieking Cold.” He fell silent and emptied the tankard in one long pull before slamming it onto the bar. “Didn’t sleep well after that, and I was happy when my watch came around.

“Breakfast, when we had it, was roast bear. I heard it returning during my watch and we tried to sneak up on it but,” He paused, looking around him, “dwarves in heavy armour with a lame leg aren’t the quietist travelling companions.” A laugh rippled through the bar. “But we managed to bring it down.” His left hand slid into his pocket, pulled out a bear claw and began toying with it. “It’s not the nicest bear I ever ate, that was in Albert’s in Rocquevin, but it filled us and gave us the strength we’d need to follow the dead dwarf’s map.

“From what we could make out, we knew we were lookin’ for a waterfall, probably stained red by the iron in the earth accordin’ to both Fianna and Alister. So, we retraced our steps, walking back towards the mountains where we found such a thing, a waterfall of red water falling in front of a fake wall. Fianna pushed, and the wall opened, revealin’ some sort of temple.” He met the eyes of those looking at him. “I pray you’ll never have to hear the wailing of the trapped souls we found in there, their essence holding an undead creature of great power at bay.” He shuddered.

“The thing almost took the life of Valor, one of the Fort’s guards, when he joined us earlier that day, but I managed to drag him out of danger in time. Thanks to the two clerics of smith gods we had with us, Fianna and Argavistus, my sword and Fianna’s hammer managed to wound the creature enough to undo whatever magic held it together and we sent it back where it came from, laying the trapped souls to rest and freeing an elemental thar was also being used to jail it.” Absently, he took the full tankard Elisa passed him. “If you go beyond the walls, you’ll find a new river rising.

“The frontier isn’t what I thought it’d be.” He said, raising the drink high. “So, here’s to us, the fools at the edge of the world, and to Gwendolyn Maple, a warmer heart you’d struggle to find.”

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