Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Legacy of the Golden Horseshoe: Session 9

August 14, 1720
After returning to the trading post and getting a good night’s rest, Tess pulled out Bokken’s map and broached the important question to the others: “Do we trust this guy?” They had plenty of meat, and a promise of food for the winter, but that did nothing for their need to shelter 50-plus people against the elements. Did they trust Bokken enough to trek another 50-miles west on his word that it would be a good place to make a home?

The discussion ensued. Rhodri pointed out that, even if they did pack up the wagon and their people, they had practically no tools, just a pair of axes, and none of the emancipated persons had any experience with winter or snow. They might know how to build huts, but not ones that would be sufficiently insulated. Nor were any of the rest of them particularly skilled or equipped to be pioneers.

Zibbler mentioned that two axes and a lot of man-power would be sufficient to construct a log cabin or three, given the plentifulness of trees in the area. But that did nothing for the trust issues. Siclare countered that Bokken, if he truly valued his privacy as much as he said, had every reason to be forthcoming with them, since they could easily tell their host where he lived.

Tess, re-reading Bokken’s hastily jotted map key, pointed out that the things he noted as reasons for building in that spot — farmland, open spaces to build, etc. — were actually not relevant to surviving the winter. They couldn’t plant this late in the season, and they needed protection from the wind and elements, not open terrain. They’d be better off in a small valley or cave than open farmland, she argued. Laying on the charm, Tess turned to their host and asked how he would feel about them building a small village in and around his fort for mutual protection.

“Vell,” Oleg said, “you’ve been a help so far. You drove off sat Mad Bear, your folk helped plant my fields, and we’re smoking more jerky zan I could sell in a year. I know you’ve got problems back in ze colony, but I came out here to get away from ze same sheeit. Sure…”

That settled, the problem of how to construct homes for fifty people before winter came back up. Tess, mad scientist that she is, queried as to whether Rhodri could simply raise and shape the stone from the ground into some kind of structure — perhaps dugouts like Bokken lived in. Rhodri explained that he could only displace a relatively small volume of rock per day, and not nearly enough to carve large living spaces.

Siclare spoke up and suggested something more like a stone tent. If Rhodri could cause the stone to life itself out of the ground to form walls, then they could create a much larger sized shelter while still displacing the same small volume of rock. Tess jumped in and suggest as A-frame design, basically stone lean-tos. Siclare suggested something domed more like the wigwams her people lived in. Zibbler pointed out that if Rhodri could force a conical shape up from the ground, it could be grown over several days, just by adding more material to the bottom of the structure. Rhodri agreed to try, and he and ZIbbler put their heads together to start working out how such a structure might best be made.

Given that it would take Rhodri days of shaping stone to construct even a prototype, the others left the gnome and the mage to it, and turned to other matters.

Tess pointed out that Bokken, isolationist though he was, had said he would make some medicine for them if they could collect certain berries that were known to grow along the route to the place he had marked out for their colony. She suggested that while the construction was going on, a small group of them might trek to where the berries grew and collect what Bokken needed, both for the medicine and also as a kind of good-will act for having barged in on his life.

Leaving Rhodri and the others to their work, Siclare, Tess, borrowing Siclare’s horse, and Thond, borrowing Vicious to keep up, set out in search of the berries. Consulting the map, Tess suggested that they should skirt north around Hawksbill Peak, then due west to either cross, or closely skirt the nest ridge they could see — that way staying well clear of the Indian encampments and giant angry boars marked on the map.

With Siclare running ahead of them picking out the trail westward they made good time. They followed the swift run down out of the mountains to where it emptied into the Shenandoah’s southern fork. The river here was wide, but shallow, barely waist deep on Tess and Siclare. They waded across, then continued due west towards the high ridge of Potato Field Mountains (or "Massanutten as Siclare called it). By nightfall they had reached the foothills of the towering syncline, where they pitched camp.

During the second watch, a tired Tess wandered out of camp to relieve herself. Stubbing her toe on a rock she tripped. Cursing exasperatedly, she looked down to see that a pair of tough leather riding gloves and one of Dr. Leibowitz’s patent-pending foldable sacks, which she had forgotten that she even had, had fallen out of her pocket.

She picked herself up and finished her business. As she was pulling up her trousers, she caught a whiff of something on the wind, like the smell of wet dog fur. She rushed back to camp and woke up Siclare, who quickly dispatched Zerda to investigate. Only moments after being sent out, the small fox came rushing back, terrifiedly yipping about hungry wolf spirits.

Still thankfully downwind, Tess woke Thond and the two of them slipped into the shadows of the undergrowth. Siclare settled herself down by the fire and waited.

Soon a tall, lean humanoid figure stepped warily into the camp. Judging by the pallor of his skin he was from one of the northern tribes, but was covered from his toes, to his tail, to his lupine head with short, gray fur, and nothing else. He looked around as if expecting to see more than just the fox-headed girl, then growled something unintelligible and began circling the fire.

Siclare offered him some bison-jerky and bade him sit with her. While he clearly did not understand her words, either in English or her southern dialect, the offer of food was clear enough. As he tore into the jerky, she, by gestures and crude drawings in the dirt, asked where he was going. He responded by quickly sketching a wolf-shape chasing a herd of elk shapes in the dirt with a stick. To which she responded by drawing a fox-like shape running alongside the wolf.

While she had intended this last to ask if he wanted help in his hunting, the werewolf (for so he was), clearly, judging by his perked ears and growing erection, took it to mean that she wanted him for her mate or her pack. He raised his tail suggestively and inched closer to her around the fire. Siclare quickly called to the others. When Tess moved in first, Siclare grabbed her and pulled her close, trying to indicate to the wolf that she already had a mate — and hoping that his was one of those tribes that consider such pairings acceptable.

Of course, the wolf merely took this for a challenge and lunged at Tess, biting her and knocking her to the ground. Tess grabbed a brand from the fire and swung it awkwardly at the wolf-man before rolling away. As Siclare tried to think of something appropriately wolfy to do to distract the thing, Thond rushed in and thumped it with his hammer, only to get bitten and knocked aside in his own right.

Moving again downwind of the wolf, Tess dropped a cloud of darkness over his head, blinding him. Thond used the darkness to stand and move away, as the wolf began pacing around the fire, looking for an enemy. When the wolf completed its circuit, Thond charged in again, hitting it squarely but not leaving so much as a bruise.

The situation soon became a standoff. The wolf could not see his prey, nor could he see anything else past the very near periphery of the flames, but neither could Thond or Tess harm the wolf. Tess, Thond, and Siclare all took turns throwing extra bits of jerky at the wolf’s feet, hoping to distract him ans assuage his hunger. Of course, hunger was no longer his motivation.

Finally, wanting to break the stalemate, Siclare rushed into the darkness, and, groping about hit him with a, gentle, touch of fatigue. She then exited the darkness upwind of him and “tried to smell sexy”, which, in wolf terms, means only one thing. She peed.

The tired, blind, and confused wolf-man’s ears immediately perked back up and he rushed in Siclare’s direction and, spinning a surprisingly graceful pirouette, smacked her in the face with his tail. Thinking she was under attack, Tess and Thond both rushed in, swinging with hammer and flaming brand alike, but both missing. Siclare, committed to her course, grabbed the wolf-man by the wrist and ran off into the woods at top speed, heedless of the fact that neither of them could see with the globe of darkness clinging to his head.

Fox and wolf ran together, full tilt into the trees. Then the wolf ran full-tilt, head-first into a tree. A silver maple in fact. While running face-first into a tree was no more effective at actually damaging the wolf than Thond’s hammer had been, the force was still enough to knock the wind out of him and knock him prone.

Leaving him, still fatigued, still blinded, and dazed from the blow, Siclare circled back. The three quickly broke camp, throwing their gear haphazardly over the backs of their steeds, and ran off into the night as fast as they could.

To be continued…

Friday, March 17, 2017

Legacy of the Golden Horseshoe: Session 8

August 13 1720

Waking up early the next day, Rhodri suggested that they try again to find the old hermit their host had told them about. Tess, Liadan, Siclare, and Sara agreed to accompany him — the men being total wimps as usual. Then Tess reminded them that they had seriously pissed off a large group of natives the night before, so Zibbler and the musketeers were included, and thus five became twelve.

Then Liadan pointed out that the man they were seeking was a hermit by choice, and that he might not be pleased by a dozen armed people walking into his home. With typical fey logic, Rhodri decided that the best solution would be to take him a pie.

“Hey, what’s this guy’s favorite food?” Rhodri asked their host.

“How should I know?”

“Well, what does he eat when he comes here?”

“Vell, he eats the raddish stew my vife makes…”

raddish-pie.jpgRhodri promptly borrowed some surplus radishes from Siclare, took over Svetlana’s kitchen, and baked up a radish pie. Despite his utter lack of cooking skills, and the protestations of everyone present that a radish pie would be completely disgusting, he persisted.

After a few hours of impromptu baking, they finally got underway. Based on the directions their host had given them, Siclare suggested that they follow the well-worn bison-bath along the southern ridge, as it seemed the best track by which one might bring in a cart laden with vegetables.

Liadan pointed out that, if he was selling vegetables, he would need ready access to water. Siclare suggested that there were three rivers along their current path which could serve and which would all be roughly half-a-day’s travel by mule-cart (though only a few hours on foot) — the Roach River on the east side of the mountains, the Hawksbill on the west, and Ivy Creek almost due south. Lacking any more detailed information, they decided to make for the Ivy.

Making good time with the trail, they reached the headwaters of the Ivy a little after noon. The river was small, here, narrow enough for even Rhodri to step across but still flowing in spite of the hot, dry weather, bubbling up out of a spring in the hillside. The area around the small stream was still quite lush, with a thick growth of ferns along the bank.

Rhodri stooped down and took a drink from the river, then gagged. The water burned his throat and tasted of sulfur. Pausing, Siclare heard a faint ringing sound in the distance, like metal on stone.

Following the sound, in case their quarry might also be a miner or smith, they found, just a bit further east and uphill, a large exposed rocky face of the hillside. A large cleft rent the rock — perhaps five-feet wide, twenty-feet deep, and tapering towards the end, as if a gargantuan axe had stuck the hillside. Water flowed freely out of the cleft, smelling strongly of sulfur, then bubbled into a depression just a few yards beyond the opening and disappeared, likely to reemerge as the river further down the slope.

The sound was quite louder here, and clearly coming from the depths of the cleft. Rhodri waded into the ankle-deep water, ignoring the distinct tingly sensation on his wet feet, and headed in. At the very back of the wedge-shaped cleft, he found a cleanly cut rectangular opening, two feet wide and four feet high, running at least another sixty feet back into the mountainside. The passage was squared, and judging by the lack of channels carved by the stream still running over the limestone floor, had to have been made in the last year or two. Funky fairy that he is, Rhodri did what faeries do and asked the wall about who had carved it.

“You,” it replied simply.

Some further interrogation led to the conclusion that it was in fact, a number of short, wrinkled fey who had carved the shaft. Judging by the clearly visible yellow-green and purple chloroargyrite crystals in the wall, and the high sulfur content of the stream, Rhodri guessed that the creatures were there to mine silver, coal, or perhaps both (as both were definitely present).

Interesting as this was, Rhodri could not convince his friends to go wading through the acidic stream into the mine, nor did he have any interest in tangling with the miners. They made a mental note of the mines location, and set back out in search of “Old Bokken”.

Heading back to the north-west, they crossed over the ridge at Simmons Gap and down towards the headwaters of Hawksbill Creek. They descended into a gently sloped valley, with numerous hollows branching off, carved by the runoff of the many small streams and rills feeding the Hawksbill. The creek itself was mostly dry, with only a thin muddy trickle running through the wide bed under the late-summer heat.

A cardinal sat on a near-by tree branch whistling some Hendrix. Liadan struck up a conversation and learned that an old and very hairy human lived within the bounds of the cardinal’s small territory, and had lived there for all of the birds life apparently, and also grew lots of delicious grains. The discussion made the bird hungry, and it promptly flew off in search of some of the aforementioned grain.

Following the bird, they came over a rise into a deep holler. The floor of the holler was laid out in rows of neatly plowed fields, the the slopes on either side had been terraced into vineyards, orchards, and even what appeared to be a rice paddy. At the far end of the holler was what appeared to be a simple dugout — a rough-cut wooden door set into the hillside, flanked by a pair of wood-shuttered windows.

092611.pngNumerous animals were also seen about — chickens, turkeys, hogs, donkeys, two horses, and several dogs. In one of the fields, a stout old mule was pulling a plough, followed by a rail-thin old man with a wild, dark beard reaching down to his waist. He wore a battered, old leather hat, and his black-gray hair stuck out in untended dreadlocks, clearly the result of years of unwashed neglect and nothing intentional, from beneath it.

Rhodri yelled and waved at the man, who began cursing and tugging on the mule’s reigns. After a few minutes he finally got the beast to stop, though not before it had dug a very crooked ten-yard furrow, and unhooked from the plough. Finally, after shooing the animal off to go graze, he turned and raised a hand as if to wave back. The wave quickly turned into a raised middle finger and an entreatment to “Get the fuck off my land!”

After a brief shouted exchange, during which Rhodri grew ever more angered at his comparison to a small wrinkled dog and the man’s refusal of the proffered pie, Rhodri began to walk down the hill, intent on talking to the man face to face. The old man, seeing Rhodri coming closer, turned and bolted for the dugout, running at full speed. He raced inside, slammed the door, and soon a breach-loading rifle was sticking out one of the window shutters, pointed at Rhodri.

When Rhodri did not desist, a warning bullet whizzed over his shoulder. The others cautiously joined him, making a variety of diplomatic overtures towards the man. At this, the man burst out of the house, tearing off his shirt and danced around brandishing a pair of knives and letting forth piteous, sighing wails. Sara pointed out that the man’s eyes betrayed his sanity, and that this was clearly just another show to attempt to scare them off.

Finally Rhodri, quite sick of racist old men pointing guns at him, announced that he had brought nearly fifty settlers over the mountains with him, and threatened to settle in this very same valley if the man did not let them in and talk to them. Finally the man relented, lowered the gun, opened the door, and invited them in.

The inside of the dugout was a simple one-roomed affair, its walls and ceiling of bare dirt, save for a single curtained alcove. It had a single pot-bellied iron stove, the smoke billowing out the top to rest among the wooden beams holding up the roof, venting out only through a small hole above the door. For furnishings there was a single bed, spread with a thick, bright quilt, and, in the alcove a wooden bookcase packed with several neatly arranged volumes. Beyond that there was nothing, not a single table or chair. The old man sat down on the bed, propping the rifle against the headboard, and waved at the bare floor as if inviting his “visitors” to sit.

They conversed for some time. The man continued to harangue them with insults and encouragements to leave. Liadan, Siclare, Sara, and Rhodri tried to explain to the man their situation, trying to find a place to settle fifty-odd people, away from the reach of the empire, and also looking for assistance against Mad Bear and his raiding band of Hemp Wearers.

Eventually, Liadan was able to get the point across that they were seeking to establish a colony and settlement for the Unseelie Court of the Fey, and not the Empire. Unwilling to anger an official emissary from the courts (though he clearly had no problem insulting Rhodri only moments before), the man accepted a bite of Rhodri’s radish pie and offered them a jug of moonshine by way of establishing the protection of a guest pact. When the threat of them settling near-by was settled, he agreed to draw up a Map of any “threats to be avoided” (by which it was clearly meant anyone able to speak).

As dusk drew near, he, now more congenially, urged them to leave, offering that, “If you go away and promise not to tell any of your folks where I live, I’ll make sure your little passel of settlers doesn’t die of starvation in the coming winter…”

To be continued…

Monday, March 13, 2017

Blitzball Class Creation: First Draft

Here is the first pass on the proposed Blitzball Player Class from my last post. The class is intended to be compatible with the Pathfinder role-playing game. This version has not yet undergone any play-testing. Feedback is appreciated as always...