Tag Archives: storytelling

The Fall of the Yentai Empire

They say that when the world was young, a race of people lived in what is now the Ozark Desert. These people were wise beyond words, stargazers without peer and masters of their domain. The forest which grew there was lush, warm and bountiful. Truly, there was nothing they went without.

Years passed and these people began to bend the fabric of the world to their will. Using an art of magic they termed lesthran, which means ‘cool-headed’, they learned how to calm their minds and manifest their will upon their local environment. Lifespans began to extend as comforts only dreamed of were made manifest.

With their growing knowledge of magic came a thirst for knowledge, a need to learn all about the world around them in order to better master it. The philosopher-magicians, or yentai as they called themselves, began to build greater and greater structures, reaching ever for the skies above them. The more they learned of the world, the more they wished to know of the stars.

It is possible that, had their downfall not brought their culture crashing down around them, they could have reached the stars and tamed even those celestial bodies. But all things come to an end, even civilisations as enlightened as theirs.

It began slowly at first, as these things do. Societal shifts and currents changing the direction of their learning, schools of thought which began prioritising one form of knowledge over another. No-one can say for certain when it happened, but we know with whom it started.

Xiteha, one of the most senior philosopher-magicians of the yentai, woke one day with a dream burning behind his eyes and a passion in his heart. No more would he strive for the stars, no more would he be content to examine the world within their trees. He would lead his people on a new course. The concept he struggled to understand had never before existed in his people’s language, so he invented a word to describe it: kon-oo-es, the coming-of-the-storm. It is from this word we get our own for Xiteha’s revolutionary concept: conquest.

Whilst his fellows in learning looked upwards, he began to walk among the people and telling them that the world beyond their borders was a place of wonder and they should explore it, bringing their civilisation to any cultures they met there. It took many years, but his ideas began to take root, grow and spread.

Fourteen years after his dream, Xiteha stood at the head of the first expedition, a heavily armed and armoured force of the yentai’s finest warrior-magicians, a new caste created for this very purpose. Their magic was one of destruction and relied on their ability to focus their rage into a weapon of great magical force. With a bow to his son, now the yentai’s leader, he strode into the forest.

The people of Starspire have their own records of what happened next, as, I suspect, do those who live at the southern end of our continent, but for the people who would become the desert-folk, centuries of slavery lay ahead.

Like a wildfire, the yentai expeditionary force spread, uncontrollable and all consuming. Any clan, tribe or people caught in its way was subsumed, becoming part of the growing yentai empire. This was the way of things for centuries: conquest, slavery, forever pushing the borders of the empire out from Omnis and into other lands.

But as with all works of artifice, time, and fortune, brought it crashing down.

Far away from the watching eyes of the Emerald Court, the seat of the yentai emperor, rebellion brewed. Officers of the Expeditionary Force of the Fang, an elite legion of yentai warriors, looked around themselves and saw that the Empire depended upon them. They asked each other what the Emperor had ever done for them and turned their eyes homeward.

Moving swiftly, and confidently, they marshalled their forces and struck.

Although a force to be reckoned with, their magic, tied inextricably to their rage, was not flexible enough to deal with the monsters, storms, illnesses and other, worse, things summoned, conjured or otherwise controlled by the philosopher-magicians and in one terrible week of civil war, the Expeditionary Force of the Fang was wiped out. Other branches of the Empire’s military soon followed as the people of the Emerald Court realised that they held very little actual power whilst the military still existed.

Three months after the rebellion, the yentai empire collapsed, its borders undefended and its jungle homeland a blasted wasteland, scourged by fire and magic.

Vowing to never again succumb to the rage and ambition which had fuelled the military, the yentai fell upon old routines, prioritising a calm mind over all and developing stronger and stronger magical abilities.

Generations passed and the yentai became a people of cold hearts. The records we have of slaves from this period tells us about a cult of snake worship expanding within the Court, the cold-blooded serpents epitomising the calm the yentai so desperately sought.

It was perhaps inevitable that the yentai would begin emulating the snakes they worshipped. Their magics became focused on transmutation and the conjuration of potent toxins as the people began undertaking rituals, powered by the blood of their slaves, designed to merge snake and yentai into one pure being.

It is at one of these rituals that it happened. Maybe the sorcerer leading the spell-casting chanted the wrong words, maybe a flash of inspiration struck an aspirant as they drew the final rune, but the yentai magicians made contact with a creature, a vast serpent from beyond the stars who promised them immortality and freedom from emotions and the pains of the world.

Decades were devoted to summoning this creature, whom they dubbed Osart and after whom they named the remnants of their empire, and finally reached their culmination with a ritual spanning the fragmented remains of the yentai empire. By this time, the wasteland surrounding their homeland had become a desert, the harsh sunlight allowing them to thrive in their new snake-like forms.

By constructing magic circles at strategic points within what domains they still controlled, a sizeable portion of Omnis by all accounts, the yentai began.

Days of thunder and ice followed as the cold between worlds was forced into ours. The sky tore asunder in ribbons of light. People screamed in the night as vision of hellscapes danced in their nightmares. The slaves from which we are descended struck as the ritual neared its peak, killing their masters and earning the freedom of all the desert-folk.

With no-one to control the magic summoned by the yentai and bound within the circles, it flared wildly and wrought terrible miracles. Beings no-one had ever seen before or has ever seen again were brought into the world, given life by the frustrated will of Osart.

One of these creatures, a massive winged serpent is said to live beneath the sands of the Ozark Desert still, its wrath and hunger manifesting in the ozarks which regularly scour these lands.

Golden Hope

They waited in the darkness of the abandoned house, holding hands as they stared out of their little pool of light at the dusty walls of the secret room. Far below them, they heard the sounds of their strange visitors as they made their way from the mansion, the solid metal clanking of the big half-orc’s armour almost drowned out the incessant chatter of the gnome’s incomprehensible words.

“I don’t want to go back down there.” Sigra said, her eyes wide, and her hand cold in Lothar’s grasp. “It’s not a good place.” He smiled reassuringly at her, tucking an errant strand of hair behind her scarred ear.

“I’ll go and check it out. If they’re telling the truth…” His voice drifted off as the possibilities of what that much money could get them filled his mind.

They were a long way from the muddy hovel they’d been living in in the Sprawl and they had thought that here, squatting in this abandoned manor, their luck had been changing. They’d been here for a few weeks now, scavenging food from the magically restocking cellar, washing their clothes in the stream running through the woods behind the house. To think that they’d spent that first night so close to a small fortune was even more of an indication.

For people like them, clearly descendants of elves from the north who had lain with humans, life was hard. The Sprawl was a dirty, poor place where half-breeds were shunned as signs of ill omen, harbingers of disaster. No-one knew why, but everyone knew to cross the street when they saw a half-elf, or to look the other way when nearing a half-orc. It was why they’d shaved their ears, cutting the points from them, and grown out their lice-ridden hair to cover the tell-tale scars. They were fortunate and favoured their human ancestry, and their quality of life had improved after the wounds had healed, but they still hadn’t felt like they belonged. With this money, if it existed, they could find somewhere they did belong, even if it was just a small house on the Bank.

“Please be safe.” She whispered, meeting his eyes. He nodded and smiled again.

“Of course.” He squeezed her hand, “I’m just going downstairs.” He leaned forwards and kissed her gently. “Wait here, my love.” She smiled slightly and drew the blanket on their bed around her narrow shoulders.

“I’ll always wait for you.” He rested a hand briefly on her cheek, his thumb rubbing the scar from where she had been attacked by a mob of drunken louts a few years previously. She closed her eyes and leaned into the gesture.

“I’ll be back soon.” He stood, his knees stiff from the cool loft air, and picked his jacket up from the chair it had been resting on. His lungs, scarred from the smoke he’d inhaled as a child when his parents’ house burned down, pulled tight in the cold winter air as he opened the secret door and stepped out in the dusty loft space of the mansion.

Towers of boxes and piles of fabrics filled the space, a dim illumination coming from a series of circular windows set into the eaves gave him enough light to see easily by. He followed their well-worn path through the assorted mass of forgotten possessions and lost memories, his feet carrying him unconsciously towards the stairs leading down to the servants’ quarters.

The book shelves in the common area showed signs of being searched, the few remaining volumes laying on their sides where they had fallen after being disturbed. He paused, straining to hear anything in the house, his eyes drifting over the rest of the scene. Chairs waited patiently under tables only now being covered by a thin layer of dust, and a small collection of well-used games waited in one corner next to a small box with a label he couldn’t read.

When he heard nothing, he headed downstairs, his feet echoing slightly on the worn stone steps at the back of the house. The kitchen was as it always was, save for a small pile of leaves next to the slightly open door. He frowned at them. They looked like the leaves from the maze at the back of the house and he glanced out a nearby window. A large hole had been forced through the outer wall of the maze and twigs dotted the lawn in a line leading to the kitchen door.

He shook his head, focussing on the task at hand. He descended once more, past the cupboards which magically filled with food every morning and into the cool darkness of the cellar proper. The stone slabs under the worn soles of his shoes sent a chill into his feet as he walked to the shelves he knew lead into the secret rooms under the house. He reached out a trembling hand and pushed the right bottle, watching as the door opened into a small stone-walled room bare of any decoration.

He crossed to the other wall, his stomach churning and pressed the stone he’d been told about by the cat-person. There was a muted click and a section of the wall swung outwards. He glanced at the floor where they’d spent their first night in the house, and then stepped through.

Runes hovered below the surface of the stone, glowing with a pure golden light. He pressed a seemingly random panel in the wall opposite, still following the cat-person’s instructions, and pushed against the wall next to it.

The room beyond this secret door was made of the same dressed stone as everywhere else, but the stones were blackened and scorched in places, as if struck by lightning. His eyes were caught by the two large chests at the far end of the room, past the empty stand surrounded by scorch marks and carved with runes in a strangely elegant script. Holding his breath, he approached the two finely carved boxes.

The clasps were cool to the touch as he threw them both open, his eyes drinking in the golden coins within. For the first time in a while, he had a hope that they could make the future they wanted, that their life could be theirs for the owning.

Now, all they had to do was figure out a way to carry that much money out.

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.

Enjoy!


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.”

By the Campfire

The road from their last camp had been tiring. The halfing hadn’t shut up the entire time, the two humans reminded her unpleasantly of her father’s enforcers and the half-elf… there was something about the half-elf that both attracted and repulsed her. She was glad, therefore, when they set up camp for the night and the halfling wandered off with their guide to find firewood, wittering away about the carrot soup his mother used to make and asking if any of the local herbs would be good in it.

“I’ll find some food.” The taller of the four women, Sonja, muttered, dropping her pack on the floor and stalking off into the night.

“So will I.” Muse turned as the half-elf crept away, reading a desire to be alone in every muscle of the young woman’s body.

“So that leaves us, I guess?” Muse said, a smile playing on her lips as she reached for her pipes. “How about I play a little tune to get you in the mood for cooking, Chef?”

Telari, a brusque human woman who, as far as Muse could tell, didn’t know how to smile had distinguished herself as a cook the first night they had made camp and hadn’t taken well to Muse’s nickname. She glared at the young tiefling and sat down, her legs crossed and loose robes arranged comfortably around her.

“I’d rather you didn’t.” Her voice was stern and uncompromising. “Meditation is easier when it is as silent outside, as it is inside.”

Muse shrugged, her tail flicking idly from side to side.

“Suit yourself.” She slid her pipes back into their pouch and drew a dagger from its sheath instead. The dark metal drank in the light of the setting sun and she started to sharpen it, rubbing the whetstone along the blade. She whistled quietly to herself as worked, a sea shanty she had heard once on the docks of Zazesspur.

She heard Lovefoot before she saw him, the halfling’s voice carrying easily on the still air.

“-and that’s how Mr. Crabapple lost his chickens.” Their guide grunted. “Anyway, I’m hungry. Let’s get this fire lit so I can cook something.”

Muse smiled widely as she saw Telari stiffen slightly. The monk opened her eyes and stared at the halfling in horror for a fraction of second before standing.

“I was thinking I’d make a stew tonight.” She said. Lovefoot thought for a second and then nodded.

“Okay. I’ll save Mrs. Halfthorn’s recipe for a rainy day.” Telari nodded and began laying the fire.

There was a quiet footstep behind Muse and the young tiefling flinched, turning to see Myca approaching, the edge of her tunic lifted to form a pocket of sorts. A few nuts fell from the pile of whatever was in there as she walked past.

She watched the half-elf move with an awkward grace, her profile striking in the rays of the setting sun, and then returned to her dagger, finishing it to her satisfaction before sheathing it with a flourish.

“Thirsty work, hunting.” A clear voice called out from the encroaching darkness as Sonja strode into the firelight, a brace of rabbits over her shoulder. “Where’s the wineskin?”

Muse reached into her pack and pulled it out.

“Catch, your Ladyship.” She said, throwing it to the statuesque woman.

Without breaking stride, Sonja caught the wineskin, pulled the stopper out with her teeth and downed a mouthful of wine before dropping the rabbits to the floor next to the intricate wooden structure Telari had built. Wisps of smoke began drifting in the air and the monk walked to her pack and pulled out some pots and small leather pouches which Muse knew contained her supply of herbs and salts.

They watched the fire grow swiftly as a light breeze picked up, and sparks began dancing on the air around the iron pot nestled in the flames. Muse volunteered to collect some water from a stream Sonja had noticed nearby and when she returned, Lovefoot and Telari were in a heated discussion about the correct amounts of basil and thyme to drop into the rabbit stew.

She noticed Myca was sitting slightly away from the rest of them, her brow furrowed and her teeth worrying at her lower lip.

“She’s not cut out for this.” Sonja said quietly, her usual ebullience missing from her voice. “She’s seen some horrors, but the open road and the desert? They aren’t in her blood. Not like they’re in yours and mine.” Muse looked at the red-haired woman, surprised by her insight. Sonja shrugged, the metal scales sewn into her clothes jingling slightly. “Mercenaries have to be able to know who they can trust in a fight. I look at you and I see the open road, a wanderlust that can’t be sated, and a darkness, a willingness to do what must be done. But her,” she gestured at Myca, “I see the forests and a desire to belong, for family. This isn’t the place for her.”

“Maybe not. But I think she’ll surprise us all. There’s a steel there, a resolve I haven’t seen in many people.” Muse smiled, her pointed teeth glimmering in the fire light. “Besides, the road has a way of dealing with the weak.” Sonja grunted and moved to sit by the fire as the argument began to die down.

“I believe it’s your turn, Muse.” Telari said absently as Lovefoot skipped away from the fire, whistling a nonsense tune to himself.

“Hmm?”

“To tell us why you’re here.”

“Oh. It’s not really an interesting story.”

“Nevertheless, we’ve shared our stories.” She said, gesturing to Sonja with a long-handled spoon. Muse sighed and pulled out her pipes.

“I’m doing this my way then.” Sonja laughed.

“I’d expect nothing else, tale-teller.”

Muse blew a few, eerie notes on her panpipes. A slow stream of smoke and cinders fell to the ground as the notes faded and three orbs of lavender light emerged as the smoke dissipated, floating to revolve slowly around Muse’s neck. Her skin took on a violet hue as their light combined with the fire illuminating her lavender skin.

“I don’t know my parents. I grew up on the streets of Zazesspur, far away on the coast to the north. A city of elves and men, one such as I was frowned up. Bearing the mark of a devil,” the orbs split up and drifted to float around her horns and balance on the tip of her tail, “and living on the streets, my opportunities were few and far between.”

The orbs moved slowly back to her throat and sank into the skin, forming a line of light from her clavicle to her jaw.

“So, I learned to sing and tell tales, to dance and to smile, to play and to charm. An honest urchin can live more consistently than a dishonest one. I was not rich, but nor was I poor.”

The balls of light pulled together in her throat and drifted outwards to become a humanoid shape, roughly as tall as an adult male.

“One evening, as winter drew in and the nights turned cold, Marvolo found me. The master of a travelling troupe, he needed a muse, an inspiration to bring cheer to his players once more. I became his Muse. I learned the ways of the road, the songs of many people, the magic of the stage.”

A tear fell from her quicksilver eyes.

“Until the day tragedy struck. Marvolo’s right-hand man, a man I trusted as a brother, betrayed me. I heard them arguing in the dead of night. He intended to sell me to a thief-lord, to be used as a pawn in some unknowable game.”

The orbs separated and turned a violent crimson, two floated to Muse’s eyes where they burned brightly and the third sank into the tip of her lashing tail.

“I am no-one’s pawn. I am not a toy to be used by others. I am my own person, now and forever more, until the Nine Hells freeze over and the Abyss swallows us all. So, I ran. I took everything I owned, and I ran.”

The lights faded as she blew another series of notes on her panpipes, the cloud of cinders and smoke dripped again in a caliginous mass from the ends of the pipes and wrapped itself around her throat. When she spoke again, her voice boomed in the still night air, her tone ominous.

“I ran to Seawell, I ran to my future.”