In the Shadow of the Tyrant

Teppac's Story

Teppac-Karn gazed solemnly at the stonework before him. Rivulets of magma flowed slowly through canals embedded in the rock, bathing the reception chamber in warm red light. He could feel the eyes of the guards on him, and his hands twisted nervously, clasped behind his back in a military posture.

“Teppac-Karn! You may enter the presence of King Agamemnon.”

The booming voice cut through Teppac’s reverie. He strode forward with all the confidence he could muster, past the guards with their burning eyes, and into the expansive throne room. Agamemnon sat slently, the massive, ever-burning fireball behind his throne casting dark shadows across the king’s features.

Garnon-Hast, of course, was already there.

His eyes glimmering with contempt, the other Giant barked a laugh. “So the traitor finally shows his face! Ha!”

Before Teppac-Karn could respond, Agamemnon waved one ponderous arm, and the court fell into silence. The many guards lined against the platform’s edges snapped to attention, and the Fire Nymphs ceased their frolicking in the pools of lava that surrounded the throne.

“Teppac-Karn,” his thunderous voice echoed through the chasm, “Garnon-Hast.”

The two Fire Giants dropped to one knee with a sudden clang of metal.

“The time has come for us to reclaim this land.”

A murmur ran through the Nymphs at that, cut off by a sharp wave of Agamemnon’s gauntlet.

“A path has opened to the Open Spaces. Teppac-Karn, on the basis of your past failings, you shall be the one to scout the world outside, and determine whether the Nemesis still rules.”

Teppac-Karn could not see his companion’s face, but he knew that Garnon-Hast was grinning.

“Garnon-Hast, you shall accompany him.”

There was a sharp retort of metal on stone as Garnon’s hand slammed to the ground in surprise.

“My Lord, you cannot mean to-”

Agamemnon’s fiery beard flared with sudden fury.

“My word is final, Garnon-Hast. Do not think that your petty bickering has gone unnoticed. Consider this a chance to avoid my fury.”

Garnon’s figure sagged in resignation.

“Yes, my lord.”

“Your mission is to attack a Human settlement. Kill as many as you are able. See if you draw the Nemesis’ ire. If you do not return, then we shall know that our time has not yet come.” the corners of the Flame King’s mouth twitched into a small smile, “You leave immediately.”

“Yes, my lord!” the two Fire Giants barked in unison.


The sun shone down upon Teppac-Karn, a single dot of fire in an otherwise disturbingly open sky. Their passage was accompanied by a constant clanking, as the Ettins they had captured rattled and beat at their chains. Brutal, stupid beasts. Power, but no control. Was this what Giantkind had come to in the Open Spaces?

“So, how far d’you think before we run into some Humans?” Teppac asked, glancing over at his silent companion. They had been following this road for days now, and Garnon-Hast’s mood had not improved.

“You will not speak to me, traitor,” the other Giant spat back, “It’s because of you I’m in this mess.”

Teppac-Karn raised his hands in placation, “Whoa, whoa. I didn’t mean no harm. So you don’t want to talk. Got it. Got it.”

They walked in silence for several minutes before Teppac spoke again.

“What do you think about this whole ‘sky’ thi-”

“Teppac-Karn!” the other shouted, “You test my patience. Another word from you, and, regulations be damned, I will cut out your tongue.”

Teppac opened his mouth again, thought better of it, and shut it. The two trudged onward in silence, followed by the shambling Ettins.

As they crested the next hill, the lowlands stretching below them, Teppac-Karn spied a group of smaller figures traveling along the road in the opposite direction and rapidly approaching. He raised a gauntleted fist and pointed.

“I see them, Teppac-Karn,” Garnon-Hast said through gritted teeth, “You talk to them, find out where a nearby settlement is. This isn’t worth my time.”

Teppac shrugged and started onward again, and soon the two groups were standing across from each other, each eying the others warily. They seemed to be all humans, as far as Teppac-Karn could tell. One of them looked like a tree, but trees don’t walk around or carry weapons, so that must be a Human too.

After a brief discussion in a language neither of the Giants understood, one of them stepped forward. A shorter Human, wearing blue cloth and with skin baked to a deep ground. Or maybe made of dirt. If Humans could be trees, why not dirt?

Garnon-Hast nudged him, and Teppac-Karn snapped out of his reverie. He waved his arms expansively, in as dramatic a gesture as he could muster, and boomed:

“Bow, Humans, before the heralds of King Agamemnon the Hewer!”

This failed to have the desired effect. The dark-skinned Human merely watched him curiously, then spoke to his companion, a muscular man with radiant skin and golden hair. Teppac-Karn held the pose awkwardly, waiting for them to finish.

The dark-skinned man turned back to him, addressing Teppac in accented Giant.

“Who is King Agamemnon?”

“King of the Fire Giants! Trapped within his molten palace for centuries, he now sends us, his advance guard, to reclaim the lands that were once ours!” Teppac-Karn thought he could hear Garnon-Hast sigh wearily next to him, as he finished with another expansive gesture.

“Ahurm! Can you all hear me all right?”

Teppac looked around with a start. The voice had seemingly sounded from within his own skull. It was a rough, jovial voice, and reminded him somehow of his father. He prepared a response, but was interrupted again by the person talking in his head.

“Well, seems ta me like only Kham here speaks Giant, so I’ll do some translating. Just act like I wasn’t here, eh?”

“Reclaim your lands? These lands belong to Freystadt and its people.” This was from Kham’s muscular companion, who spoke with a low, melodic voice. Teppac-Karn winced as the more boisterous voice translated the words inside his head.

“People? Hah! You consider Humans people?” Garnon-Hast spat the words, the first he had spoken since encountering the others.

“Hahah! Humans! People! As if!” Teppac-Karn chuckled and nudged his fellow in the ribs, but Garnon was obviously not amused.

There was some more discussion from the other group, which the invisible voice chose not to translate, then Kham turned back to them.

“I think we’re going to defeat you now,” he said, casually.

Garnon smiled humorlessly and hefted his axe, as Teppac-Karn broke the chains binding the Ettins. He couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable at the murder in his companion’s eyes. Just as Teppac readied his own axe, however, Kham lifted a hand.

“One more question,” he said, calmly.

Teppac hesitated. “Okay,” he replied, “Last one.”

“Weren’t all the true Giants wiped out by Nemesis?”

Teppac nodded, “All those on the surface, indeed. We have spent ages below ground, building our strength to defeat Nemesis!”

“Nemesis has been dead for thousands of years.”

Teppac paused. Could it be true? It was hard to keep the relief from his face. He turned to Garnon-Hast, just as the other roared a battle challenge and charged.

No sooner had Garnon initiated combat, than Kham waved his hands and muttered an incantation. Suddenly, a piercing rain of frozen hail erupted around them. The finger-sized shards of jagged ice stung and steamed as they ripped at his flesh. A rushing, slashing sound echoed from his left, and Teppac-Karn was vaguely aware of Garnon falling to the ground with a mighty thud, unmoving.

Teppac flailed with his axe, only to have it torn from his grasp as a smaller, dark-haired Human maneuvered a thin sword through his grasp. He turned, hail tearing at his face and shoulders, to face Kham’s companion, the golden-haired man stepping forward, raising his greatsword for a mighty swing.

“Parlay!” Teppac-Karn shouted, throwing his hands up, “Parlay!”

The blonde man faltered, overbalancing himself in an attempt to stop his swing. With a wave of his hand, the hail vanished, and Kham stepped through.

“Don’t make any more moves against us,” he said.

“Okay! Okay!” Teppac hesitated, as the clanking of chains and sounds of heavy breathing carried past him, “I, uh. I can’t stop the Ettins.”

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Lost in Time and Space: Chapter 1
Written by thealgaehydra

A high-pitched buzzing filled Kohler’s ears. For what could have been a couple of minutes or a couple of years a bright stream of every color imaginable and unimaginable both had streaked past her like a rainbow tunnel with too many layers. Despite all the brightness the blackness she knew lay beyond seemed oppressively wide and endless; an agoraphobic’s nightmare.

All manner of sounds had drifted in and out of Kohler’s ears for the past seconds or centuries so at first the high-pitched buzzing went unnoticed. Instead she thought. She’d been doing a lot of that lately, and despite the indeterminate length of ‘lately,’ she’d gotten a lot of thinking in. Not many of the thoughts were terribly profound – she wondered how Alena was doing and she thought about how the Blightmoor wasn’t as bad as people say. She weighed the pros and cons of getting Obsidian shaved for the summer. A few of the thoughts, though, seemed heavy like lead in her sidhe-sized mind, and when she thought them the tunnel of colorful lights seemed to stop passing by so quickly and the blackness of the beyond peeked through. She thought about Binyamin. She thought about Lieutenant Hannah Kohler the elf. She wondered if she would ever get that sleepover.

That damn, incessant buzzing still hadn’t gone away. Now a sound like hissing paper filled her ears in place of the buzzing, and then far away came a gruff voice. This having been the first voice she’d heard in the past week or millenia, Kohler perked up. “Hello?” she called into the colorful blackness. Her voice seemed smaller than usual here. “Is someone there?”

“Miss Kohler!”

The voice was much louder that time, distinct but still distorted by electrified lute strings strung over the back of a wet cat. A pair of sharp, staccato beeps preceded absolute, perfect silence, and a gruff, jovial voice came to her as clear as her own thoughts.

“Miss Kohler! Can you hear me? It’s Milton!”

“Milton?” she called back, still shouting aloud. “What the heck are you doing here? Where are you? I can’t see you.”

“I’m still with the others. Where the heck are you?”

“I dunno. Boy, am I glad to hear a friendly voice. It’s been crazy out here, just flying through colors and hearing all this space. What happened? Is everyone okay? Am I okay?”

There was a short pause on the other end of the connection, then Milton’s voice returned, slightly distorted. “You turned into a gem. Kham said somethin’ about a bad draw on the Harrow deck.”

“Oh.” Kohler thought for a moment. “Is it at least a pretty gem?”

“Loveliest red I ever saw.”

Kohler wondered if she was satisfied with that, but only long enough to forget and ask another question. “Where the heck am I?”

“Lost in time and space, I reckon,” Milton replied, “Took me a darn sight to track you down. They don’t make trans-dimensional telepathic transceivers like they used to; I’ve been tellin’ ol’ Kham to invest in one of those new-fangled crystal balls but I guess Cap’n Riwen says it isn’t in the budget.”

“You lost me,” Kohler said flatly.

“No, we’ve still got you. You’re in Kham’s pocket.”

“Whoa,” Kohler breathed. Her connection with Milton started to fade, covered up by soft, warm tones of fuzzy blankets and fat, friendly dogs that slobber too much. A whole new expanse opened up before her, the tunnel of blackness and color coalescing into something that, if she squinted, started to take the shape of the entire universe. Or at least, an entire universe. It all seemed so big despite how small it appeared beneath her, surrounded by and taking shape within all the colors of creation. Then the expanse of that universe yawned open and swallowed her up, and for one terrible second she was hurtling through what passed for the edge of reality. She became aware of the need for oxygen the same way a blind man becomes aware of an oncoming train, and just as suddenly she was staring some of the weirdest-looking people she’d ever seen in her life directly in the face.

Too startled to say anything, a badger-faced boy and his pretty, fox-tailed friend stared at Kohler, agape. Undeterred, Kohler flitted up to them, arms wide, grinning, and started to speak. She’d just noticed how nice it felt to have the warm sun shining down on her lilac skin when it went away. The badger-faced boy and his friend were gone. The universe was gone. The colors was gone. Even the blackness was gone. Nothing isn’t black, Kohler thought. I always imagined it as black.

“Miss Kohler?” Milton’s voice was distant again, but audible. “I’m getting a better fix on you. Stand by.”

She did her best to stand by despite her feet not touching anything. She wasn’t sure she even had feet or that the concept of feet meant much in her current predicament. She certainly wasn’t going to be doing any standing, regardless. “I was somewhere far away,” she said. Milton grunted back, distracted. “There was a pretty girl with a big fluffy fox tail like Obsidian’s, but a different color. She looked cool. I wonder what her name was? I bet we’d have been good friends. They were on an island, with a mountain. It smelled different than any place I’ve ever been.”

“Ah — gee, Miss Kohler, I’d love to talk, but Kham’s friends are getting put to sleep by Moor Hags and throwing their things around. I’ve gotta go help ’em out.” Milton sounded a little exhasperated.

“Oh… okay.” Kohler sulked a little. Moor hags! While she was lost in time and space! The other guys always got to have all the fun…

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Timeworn Missive
My Lord Tyrant,

I am well aware that you observed the entirety of the events leading up to the rescue staged by those ‘heroes’ of Freystadt. However, as you have instructed me, I hereby create a written record of the battles with them. Does this serve a greater purpose, or is it merely for your amusement?

The beginning of our plan was executed flawlessly. With the artifacts of your design, we were easily able to divert the younger members of the squad – those ones that interest you – to the designated ambush point, while the two more powerful were sent far to the South. Despite the rather… ‘intensive’ training we granted them, however, the two lumberjacks used to assault them failed to kill a single member of their team.

Elowyn, the newest addition to their little band, proved to be more of a threat than anticipated. She held the one called Beck in single combat, while the rest of them killed Jack, the stronger of the two. As expected, the other lumberjack goons, whom the twins insisted would be able to hold their own in combat, were entirely useless when the fighting began. One of them spent the entire conflict entangled in a Wizard’s spell, before being knocked off the platform by a rolling log. Pitiful.

Regardless, this outcome was within our expectations, and served well to gauge their current capabilities. Beck, the more skilled of the two twins, was recovered, and I am sure we can make good use of his brother’s body. Such a brute loses little by becoming a mindless thrall.

After defeating the lumberjack twins, the ‘heroes’ proceeded west into Blightmoor. As you commanded, we ensured that they were unmolested by any denizens thereof until their arrival at Tyrant’s Redoubt. Though it did have a certain theatrical flare, I question the wisdom of simply allowing them inside the castle. Not that I mean to doubt you, lord Tyrant. You could smite them at any time, yet we spend so much time on elaborate preparations.

But I digress. Their ‘friend’, whom Andronikos had captured before, was positioned within, complete with the ‘enhancements’ that were granted to him. His squad of combat-trained Wight soldiers should have been a match for their team, but it seems yet again I have underestimated them. The Elf who bears your sword, Rirosorchalwen, holds great power. Crushing a skilled Wight Defender in a single blow is no small accomplishment.

As you are aware, emotions do not come easily to me after my ascension. However, even I felt a spark of amusement at watching their ally El-Mofty roughly choke Elowyn and repeatedly pummel her. Their ‘commander’ exacerbated the problem by placing an Aqueous Orb on the two. I question the judgment of Freystadt’s leadership – placing a Sidhe in charge of anything seems a foolish proposition. The team’s Wizard, however, is another who may prove dangerous given time. His Black Tentacles spell removed even El-Mofty from his grapple and incapacitated the two Wight Archers. The interrogators tell me the Elf was called ‘clever wrestler’ in his youth. How foolish.

Their defeat of the Wights, while impressive, was not unexpected. Andronikos had requested a personal battle with them, should they succeed. I believe that even after his own ascension, he clings to that petty concept of ‘honor’. Regardless, granting him a battle would in no way hinder our plans, though I took the liberty of adding two of your Shades to the conflict, in order to confound their spellcasters.

As the Knight requested, their battle was held on an island created specifically for the purpose, suspended magically over the endless storm that circles Tyrant’s Redoubt. This battle should have been a simple victory for Andronikos, but none of us anticipated the sheer power that their Paladin displayed. One from Freystadt does not simply come across a sword of that caliber, and I regret not detecting it before the battle. I sense the influence of that one in the East, only he would have access to such a weapon.

I digress again. The clarity of death does little to keep my thoughts from wandering. Elowyn displayed surprising skill again by disarming Andronikos’ prized greatsword. The Knight retrieved it in an overly-dramatic fashion, I believe. At the same time, it seems their archer, the ‘tree’ was able to dispatch the Shades with some help from the other melee fighters. At some point in the confusion, their commander simply disintegrated. This was none of my doing. Was she really such a threat that you felt it necessary to step in?

After Andronikos returned, he initiated a one-on-one battle with the other team’s champion, the Human named Nyrik. It was a close battle but, astonishingly, the Knight was defeated. The joy he must have felt to die in combat once again. It sickens me.

As you directed, we shifted the castle after the fight, leaving them to crash to the ground on a now rapidly descending rock. I doubt that this finished them, however. They prove to be quite tenacious. El-Mofty’s body was left behind. After all these years, you still insist on rewarding your enemies. Do you hope that, perhaps, they will become powerful enough to challenge you? Such a thing is impossible, I need not remind you. But, who am I to question the will of the Tyrant?

This loathsome task is done. Let it thusly be recorded.

By the Tyrant’s will,
Hannibal Woden
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The Sending of Heroes

Champions of Freystadt!

You are hereby tasked with a mission of the utmost import. You are to infiltrate Tyrant’s Redoubt at its suspected location in Blightmoor, extract Major Benyamin El-Mofty, and return with as few casualties as possible. The use of excessive force is permitted by order of the Lord General himself.

Knight of the First Vault Markus Hofmeister will be in command for this venture, assisted by Dame Karin Armbruster. Should these two be indisposed, command will fall to Major Hannah Köhler, and subsequently to Captain Rirosorchalwen.

The Blightmoor is full of peril, and Tyrant’s Redoubt doubly so. This will be the most difficult mission you have yet attempted. But fear not! The hopes and prayers of the citizens of Freystadt go with you. Rescue our fallen soldier, and return triumphant!

Abadar go with you.

Signed,
High Priestess Renate Konstantin

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Tales of Grunewald - Albion's Trials Six

Entering Grunewald five heroes did walk, following a road, all cobbled from rock. A wondrous map, from an old man’s hand, guided their steps in this mystical land. But before them appeared an unexpected sight, a tree and a fork, which way was right? Then out from the forest, a figure did appear. A soldier bedraggled, blood in a smear.

Though tempers did flare, their row did not last. The lord of the forest, Albion, came past.

“Thou have been released, young one, from that torturous hell. Live your life with these comrades, and live it well.”

Upon which the hero named Kham did stand, he kneeled and presented the toad in his hand. Milton’s skin was red, his pores leaking smoke. His voice was hoarse, no more than a croak.

“Your toad’s condition we quickly may fix. But first thou must pass my trials six.”

With a rustle of leaves and a breath of air, the forest disappeared, and only darkness was there. The hero called Gilbert, her branches spread wide, watched as into the clearing, four Treants did stride.

“You sideth with humans!” they bellowed at her, “While they cut down our comrades, both thistle and fir!”

“These are my allies!” Gilbert didst cry, “Though they are human, attack them and die!”

The Treant strode forward, and lifted an arm, but through sword and spell only he came to harm. Out from the darkness, Albion did appear. An apple he gave Gilbert, and spake for all to hear:

“Thou have passed my first trial, and I am impressed. Keep ahold of that apple, and thou shall be blessed.”

The next trial was Nyrik’s and to his surprise, his daughter and a commoner did show before his eyes.

Albion gestured, his eyes hard and gray, “Choose one to die, or both I shall slay.”

For a time and a half Nyrik did consider, his pure blue eyes flicking hither and thither. Eventually he nodded in his decision, stood before the two and took up position.

“By my own honor, neither shall die. If you must kill them then first fight I.”

Albion grinned and gave Nyrik some bark, turned a sword in his hands, iron gleaming and stark.

The next to be tried was Riwen, and with Albion’s word, she appeared on a battlefield, blood all on her sword. Cowering before her were children three, terror on their faces for all to see.

“Kill them quickly,” a dark figure said, “They deserve not to live, they should be dead!”

Riwen strode forward with a shake of her head. “Why must they die?” she cautiously pled.

“They are inferior,” the boy in black jeered, “Slay them now, and shed not a tear.”

Riwen stood fast, and lightning did sear. “They will not die,” her voice lacking all fear.

But Albion was sated, “Thou has done well. Come back to me now, from that wartorn hell.”

Upon Riwen’s shoulder her reward did appear. The shape of a tree, etched proud and clear.

The newcomer Elowyn, whose trial was next, saw soldiers before her, and rightfully was vexed. Blood and gristle filled her vision, her squad splayed out, their bodies stained crimson.

“You were their leader,” a voice said in her ear, “Why should they die whilst you remain here?”

The horror was not over, and her father was there, the word “Betrayer” in blood over his sightless glare.

“Can you condone all the things that you’ve done? You have caused so much pain, and helped no-one.”

“My actions were just!” Elowyn replied, “Thou cannot judge me, I still have my pride!”

Behind her loomed the spectre of Death, with rusty scythe and rattling breath. Through her soul pure fear did fly, she must have courage, or else she shall die. But even in the darkness she did not despair, her strength of heart banished Death from his lair.

For Elowyn’s trial was a beautiful cape, its form cast around her in a natural shape.

" Now Major Köhler! " Albion cried, “Your memories we shall see, from before you had died.”

With a grinding noise and a horrible scrape, from the ground five pillars did quake. Upon them were scrawled symbols five. Sun, moon and spark. Bell and beehive. ’Twas Gilbert who finally solved the riddle. “Five elements!” she said, as quick as a fiddle.

Five elements indeed, and with each stone that fell, a vision came to Kohler, her past it did tell. Her times with Benyamin, both happy and grim, then he over her grave, form sodden and thin. A deck was Kholer’s reward, though she was at a loss.

“Use it wisely,” said Albion, “Else I shall be cross.”

Kham’s trial was last, a test from his college. His family looked on, begrudging his knowledge. Though the questions were hard and without any quip, Kham’s wits pulled through, he was smart as a whip. As he turned in his test, through the darkness did shine, the glowing of the sun, over a clearing fine.

A branch Albion gave Kham, it took shape in his hands, becoming a staff of much power, no item of chance. And lo behind Albion, a tree did loom, it’s fruit hanging low, and its flowers in bloom. One of these fruits the lord gave to poor Milton, his skin cooled to normal, no longer its crimson. From the toad’s back two wings did sprout, his tail ’came long, but not so his snout. With a joyous squeal, flame shot forth, as Milton took off, fast as a horse. Kham was in joy, his friend had been rescued. Albion sent them back, with the treasures they accrued.

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Excerpts from Ludolf's Novella - Chapters 2-3

Chapter 2 – Unmasking the Thief

So there we were, Köhler‘s squad and I, the body of Starling laid out on the table in front of us. Everyone else in the inn, even the owners, had left in a hurry. Can’t say I blame them. I had just took a long drag on my cigarette and opened my mouth to speak, when another man burst through the door. Blonde-haired, muscular, and devilishly handsome – I could tell he was going to be trouble. Warrant Officer Nyrik, he said he was; another member of Köhler’s squad. I still had my doubts, but it never hurts to have more hands, and the lad looked like he’d be good in a scrap.

We talked up the topic of what to do with the body for hours, it seemed. Finally decided that the only thing to do was to pay up and have some local religious type raise him from the dead. One of the dames mentioned that I could use my Golden Fist connections to come up with the money. That made me chuckle. I guess I can at that.

I’d take care of the messy business of getting him back up and conscious the next day. In the meantime, one of my contacts was going on about the thief being seen leaving Kaiten’s Timepiece each night. It was probably a false herring, but it bore investigating. I’d send Köhler with her men, broads, and vegetation to investigate while I did the thing with Starling.


I got the report from the tiny Major later the next day. She was blasted excitable, and went on every tangent that presented itself, but I managed to piece together what happened. You don’t get as far as I have in this business without learning a thing or two about putting information together.

They’d made it to the clock tower early that afternoon, and the monkey unlocked the chains over the door. I tried not to think too hard about that bit. She said the first floor was filled with philosophers, and I can only assume she meant statues. Not surprising for a tower dedicated to Kaiten. They were mechanical, probably guards, but the monkey disabled the activating device. Damn useful monkey, that.

The second floor had a statue something she called a “Trickeratops”. Can’t say I’ve ever seen anything like that, but it must have been pretty monstrous, judging from how the bird described it. Seems like the Elven broad, Rirosorchalwen, mostly took care of that, with a bit of help from the tree. What caught my interest is when she mentioned the monkey finding a white creature, emaciated and with holes for eyes. That matched up with what Starling, or Stanislav as I ought to call him, had told me.

The journal they found confirmed what I had suspected, and what De Ven had told me. Those things were following him, and they were likely working for the other " Starling ". We finally had enough information to act on, and, according to his letter, the thief’s next target was the Winther manor. A perfect place to catch a murderer.

Chapter 3 – Killing a Monster

The clocks struck midnight, and I took a long drag on my cigarette. Down in the foyer below, the butler was dusting by candlelight, watched carefully by the tree. Judging by the last few attacks, it wouldn’t be long before Starling made his appearance.

Sure enough, minutes later a shadow spread across the room. Kham, in the corner, visibly shivered, and I could tell that it had gotten to Köhler too. Even the Elven broad, usually a stalwart sort, looked a bit shaken. With the sudden crash of broken glass, the room went pitch black.

I slowly drew a knife, trying to adjust to the darkness, but I couldn’t even see the lit end of my cigarette. As soon as it had come, though, the shadows vanished, and Warrant Officer Nyrik stood in a halo of light, brandishing a glowing stone that rotated slowly around his hand. There was no broken glass, and no Starling. I breathed out.

As I slid the knife back into my bandolier, the other skylight suddenly burst, and Starling fell to the ground in a billow of black cloth, claws raking for the butler. I cursed under my breath, and drew the knife again, but Nyrik was already in action. He drew that enormous sword that he keeps on his back, and charged the thief, cutting a long gash across Starling’s chest. The masked thing didn’t like that. It let out a horrible scream, and white fire blazed from the wound. I knew that Nyrik was trouble, and for the first time I years, I felt I was out of my depth.

Before anyone else could act, Starling raised his cloak, and I knew what was coming. Stanislav had used the same trick to teleport away from Köhler’s squad before, and I cursed and fumbled with my knives in a hurry. Just as it seemed the murderer would escape, Nyrik was there again, swinging his sword on the downswing, and with a flash of light, Starling hit the ground and lay still.


The aftermath was a messy business. It always is. Things got political when it turned out the fake Starling was a fey, and we had to wait a few days while the delegate from Grunewald took her sweet time getting to the city.

I had De Ven sent to the Catacombs. He wasn’t a bad lad, and didn’t deserve it, but I don’t make the laws, and that’s what passes for justice in this city. When that Suspiria broad finally showed up, I breathed a sigh of relief that was a long time coming. Starling’s corpse was handed over to her, and she took Köhler’s squad with as well, something about a sick toad. I didn’t mind, I wouldn’t need them again for a while.

With one last glance at the departing crowd, I put on my duster, lit a cigarette, and hit the streets. There were more crimes that needed solving, and the city relied on me to take care of them. I wouldn’t let it down.

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Excerpts from Ludolf's Novella - Chapter 1

The Deep Imbroglio
A Novella by Ludolf Forest

Chapter 1 – Clipping the Starling’s Wings

The dame came to me late on a summer night. I was smoking, legs up on my desk, the ice in a glass of brandy settling slowly beside me when she walked into the room. She was short, and not much of a looker, but that’s the way it is with these government types. She said that I had to catch a phantom thief having his way with the city’s nobility; that it was an order from the Lord General himself.

I slowly exhaled a puff of purple smoke. I don’t like being given orders, but it doesn’t pay to upset men like Sigismund. I said I’d take the case. This didn’t seem to satisfy the dame, and she started going on like they do, but my mind was already on the mystery at hand. Phantom thieves are always trouble, and if years of prowling this city has taught me anything, I wouldn’t be able to handle this one alone.

A piece of paper drew my eye on the desk, under the glass of brandy. A letter from my own bird. She’d been writing a lot lately, excited about going out west and this new elite squad she was working with. I don’t like the idea of leaving Freystadt, but an elite squad sounded like just what I needed for this case.

The dame was still droning on. I fished out a piece of paper from my desk and began to write. Being a member of this town’s so-called elite had its benefits, and the message would reach Karin by nightfall. Until then, I’d case this phantom thief’s recent hits, and see what I could learn.

I swung my legs off the table and grabbed my overcoat. The dame seemed angry now, still ranting about something, but all that mattered now was the case. My office door slammed shut with a crack behind me, muffling the last words of her endless lecture.


Pemberton’s report was on time, as it always is. You don’t get very far as a detective in this town without getting a few contacts among the suits, and Aalekzander was the best of the best. I unfolded the message as his man scurried away; they’re always nervous around my type.

Reading the report told me what I had already suspected. This elite squad my bird kept talking about lived up to their reputation. On their way back they’d killed an adult hydra, survived an attack by will o’ wisps, saw through a trio of annis hags, and assassinated a dragon. An impressive record, but I decided to wait until I saw them function in the city before making any judgments.


It was early in the morning, outside the gate of the Paternoster estate, when I met my “elite squad” for the first time. Years of working the shadier parts of this city had taught me not to give anything away, but it wasn’t easy keeping the shock off my face. I asked for detectives and they send me a bunch of broads and a bug. The only man among them was the one they call Tsenkyo, and he worried me. From what I’d read in Pemberton’s reports, the man was a magnet for trouble. I didn’t ask whether the monkey was with them – I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the answer.

I took a long drag on my cigarette. If this is what they sent me, I’d just have to work with it. We walked into the estate while I gave them the rundown. A lot of it, they already knew, and that spoke well for their abilities, but it started to wear on me when they wouldn’t stop asking about the Paternosters’ blasted golden elephant.

I was showing them the very elephant when the owner of the estate made his first appearance. Eustachius Paternoster was a weasel of a man, the very image of a stuck-up noble. Can’t say I liked it, but years of experience told me to just give this type what they wanted so they didn’t stick their aristocratic noses too far into the investigation.

Paternoster demanded that we post a pair of guards in his sleeping chamber. Starling hadn’t murdered anyone yet, but a twinge in my gut told me that he was right to be worried. I decided to stake out his quarters myself, along with Captain Barkwin. She may have been a tree, but there was no denying she seemed the most reliable of the lot. The rest of Major Kohler’s squad would take care of guarding the elephant.


I couldn’t do anything but watch as Starling punched through Paternoster’s chest and pulled out, hand dripping with blood and holding the noble’s heart. After an eternity, I loosed a throwing knife from my coat and threw it at the thief. With a jolt and a spray of blood, the weapon flew back to me. That was reassuring. Starling could bleed.

Reaching out to me, with a thousand screaming voices, the thing shot something out that froze to my very soul. You don’t police this city for as long as I have without dealing with worse than this, though, and I shrugged off whatever it did to me. The cigarette left my mouth, and I drew another knife, but Starling was already gone.

I checked Paternoster first. Sure enough, he was dead. Even a noble can’t survive with a hole in his chest that big. There was some commotion going on outside, and the Major said the monkey had picked up the thief’s trail. Trying not to think too hard about that, I followed the rest of the squad.

There, lying on a flight of stone steps in a back alley, was the body of Starling. His black cape was still, he wasn’t breathing. Starling was dead, and things just got complicated.

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A Formal Complaint

To whom it may concern,

I am writing today to formally complain regarding the actions of the officer squad under command of Major Hannah Köhler. At noon on the previous day, Lieutenant Hasek and I were socializing within my private quarters, whenCaptain Rirosorchalwen knocked on the door and brashly demanded entry. Lieutenant Hasek, being off-duty, had been indulging in a bottle of wine, and convinced me to allow the Captain into my room, despite my better judgment.

Accompanying Captain Rirosorchalwen was Major Köhler herself, Lieutenant Fannalfannalrin (who promptly departed), and what I can only presume to be the Captain’s pet monkey. As I was distracted, attempting to deal with the interruption, said monkey began to, for want of a more dignified description, monkey around in my room. The primate began ripping through the important paperwork upon my desk, and destroying the results of my arduous magical calculations performed the previous night.

In retaliation, I afflicted the monkey with a harmless spell, after which it vanished. Major Köhler, rather than disciplining Captain Rirosorchalwen for such uncouth behavior, simply stood by. The Captain herself seemed to find the situation hilarious, adding insult to the damage the monkey had caused.

Before I had a chance to voice my displeasure to the Major, the primate appeared again, this time tampering with the bowl of fruit I had brought to my quarters as a snack. Once again, I scared him away with a harmless spell, barely maintaining my dignity before the laughing officers who had invaded my quarters.

This incidents repeated themselves several times, until I was finally able to forcefully evict the monkey from the premises. Finally relaxing, I took a bite of a piece of fruit from the bowl, only to lose consciousness a moment later. Several hours afterward, I awoke, alone in my quarters, with my prized spellbook and coinpurse missing. I can only assume that Major Köhler and Captain Rirosorchalwen used the monkey as a distraction to drug me and steal my possessions.

Aside from the obvious criminal intent, these actions reflect poorly on the Freystadt military as a whole, and are unacceptable, particularly for officers of their rank. I trust that correct disciplinary action will be taken against the parties in question.

Respectfully,
Lieutenant Sibyllia Kaspersen

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The Battle of Fort Mϋllrose

High Priority Message to Lord General Sigismund Dreher
Regarding: Combat Report

My Lord,

I am pleased to inform you that the battle went exactly as planned. The forces of Blightmoor broke against our mighty walls, and were sent scattering back into the forests. It was an overwhelming victory for Freystadt.

Intelligence had indicated prior to the battle that the enemy intended to break through our defenses with a vanguard of giants, but they were not the only elite forces to have been dispatched from the Blightmoor. We have confirmed at least three other elite units. One giant, much larger than the others, confirmed by our resident priests to be a resurrected Zombie, one heavily armed and armored warrior, believed to be their commander, and one large black dragon, likely a fully-grown adult, were also present on the battlefield.

We commenced the battle with our two elite squads, hand picked by your Golden Fist, meeting Blightmoor’s Hill Giant forces in the center of the battlefield. Though each squad suffered minor injuries, thanks to their valiant efforts, only a single giant actually reached the walls, and only managed to collapse a small section of our defenses before the troops there responded, slew the giant, and established a defensive perimeter to plug the breach.

According to the official confirmed count, Major El-Mofty’s squad brought down a total of six fully-armed Hill Giants in the first battle, while Captain Köhler’s team killed only five. The Captain’s squad is, however, also responsible for killing the Zombie Giant, which attacked them in the midst of the other combat. Despite Major El-Mofty’s insistence that it “still only counts as one”, this is quite a feat.

At the appearance of the heavily armored knight and the dragon, Dame Armbruster and myself detached from our respective squads and intercepted the wyrm. Though powerful, our combined prowess was enough to keep it at bay and away from the fort. Shortly thereafter, however, the enemy commander joined the battle, and engaged Dame Armburster in a one-on-one battle. Due to my extensive defensive training, I was able to lock down the dragon, but was dismayed to see Lady Karin struggling with her own enemy.

To our great relief, by this time both Captain Köhler and Major El-Mofty had finished eliminating their respective targets, and rushed to our aid. Having been slightly faster in defeating their enemies, the Captain’s squad arrived first and showed remarkable courage and skill in surrounding and harrying the dragon. Lieutenant Barkwin was especially enthusiastic in this fight. In a display of impressive magical prowess, Captain Köhler herself dealt the finishing blow, striking the dragon’s head through with a bolt of lightning and crashing it, headless, to the ground.

After this, both squads rushed to the assistance of Dame Armbruster, who had been bloodied in her fight with the enemy commander. After being surrounded on all sides, however, the armored man produced a black sphere and apparently used its magic to teleport away. Lieutenant Rirosorchalwen landed a direct hit as he activated it, but I regret to inform you that the enemy successfully escaped.

As a summary, Major El-Mofty’s squad performed just as expected, but Captain Kohler and her men went above and beyond their duties, and even saved my life. Each of them shall be receiving a promotion on the morrow, and I give them full recommendation for any further duties the upcoming conflict with Blightmoor may bring.

For the Glory of Freystadt,
Commander Boris Siegward
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Benyamin's Journal (Entry 3)

Well it’s been ‘bout a month since that Alena woman sent me away over in Freystadt. I ’aven’t been doing much with this here journal since then, so I’ll try to catch up a bit on events.

First off, I was pretty pissed off at bein’ dismissed all casual like that, ‘specially since that blasted Gnome had me thinking that I was on my way to getting a promotion. I stormed about the city for a few days, but, without any other orders and nothin’ else to do there, wasn’t anything for me but to head back to the ol’ Horstmar garrison. Didn’t run into nearly as much trouble on the way back, neither. I tell you, that old squad is a magnet for trouble.

Well wasn’t even a day after I got back that some “urgent missive” came for me, straight from Fort Mϋllrose itself. Seems like something big was shapin’ up out in the West and down in Blightmoor, and they wanted a Captain of my experience to show up and beat some sense into the newer recruits. ‘Bout time I got some recognition, and from Boris Siegward himself, no less. Let’s see the fairy beat… no, wait, her orders were from ‘im weren’t they? Damnit all.

Anyway, I trekked on down to Fort Mϋllrose, took me a week or so nappin’ in the back of a hay wagon heading that way, and reported straight to the Commander. To my delight, and I don’t often use that word, he promoted me right there on the spot. Major El-Mofty. Got a nice ring to it, don’t it?


Now I ain’t one for complaining, but why do they always saddle me with the misfit squads? Boris kept calling them elites, but the two women always look shifty, the halfling‘s got some sort of complex, and one of them’s a giant bug for cryin’ out loud! It was bad enough when they sent me a tree, and now a bloody bug? Heck, this red-haired fellow, Rifnanhannel or somethin’, he’s the most normal of the lot, and he’ll run away soon as you shake a stick at ’im. Going to have to do something about that.

I will admit they’ve got some potential though. Neither the young lady with the bandages nor the big bug fellow seem to use any weapons, but heaven knows they don’t need them. She’s got hands quick as a snake, and ain’t afraid to use them in ways that make even me cringe, and he’s got four bloody arms. That blasted ant-thing can shoot out punches faster than I can follow. Let me tell you, I’ve seen some great brawls in my time, and nothin’ measures up to that.

Rifnanhannel’s got a good arm on ‘im, and doesn’t have any trouble hefting that big sword of his. Lad could really do some damage if he could buck up and fight for a bit. Commander Siegward said somethin’ about “pushing him ’till he snaps” – not sure what he means by that, but we’ll start with some verbal abuse next time we’re in training and see where we go after that.

That just leaves that halfling snot – he’s good with a bow, though I dunno how he manages to keep his balance with an ‘ead that big – and the wizard of the team. Now she’s good at magic, don’t get me wrong, but that personality of hers damn well rubs me the wrong way. She’s always questionin’ my orders and lordin’ over me and lookin’ down her nose – it’s bloody infuriating. Seems like the rest of the crew hates her as much as I do though, only one she gets along with is the other dame, with the dark hair. Well, they can keep each other, as long as they stay out of my hair and pull their weight when battle comes.


I was pretty bloody surprised when Boris told me his strategy for the next battle, though can’t say I disagree with it. Seems like that other squad of misfits I headed is on their way ‘ere, and they and I are going to have some sort of competition. According to the intelligence the Commander’s managed to collect, them Blightmoor bastards are relyin’ on getting some giants up to the walls of the fort, to make an entrance for the other mooks. Not a bad strategy, way better than you’d be expectin’ from the brutes that live out there.

Turns out Siegward’s counter to this is us. My new squad – which I’ve taken to callin’ Mofty’s Marauders, good name eh? – and the other team, led by “Captain” Köhler. We’re gonna head out and take down those giants before they can get to the walls. The Commander’s gone and taken it a step further, he’s gonna hand out promotions to the team that kills the most giants! Hell, this is my chance to finally get the rank I deserve. Lieutenant Colonel El-Mofty, hah!

Now my old squad knows how to handle themselves, but they’ve got nothing on the Marauders. Murderers, swindlers, and all around dangerous folk, these new guys are. I should ’ave this competition in the bag. A nice shiny new rank ought to more than make up for how troublesome these guys are to train.


Köhler’s squad showed up yesterday, and the Commander says we’ve got about two days to go ‘fore the Blightmoor bastards march on the fort. I could ’ardly keep my bearing when that fairy heard Siegward introduce me as “Major El-Mofty”. Hah! It’ll be some day when a bloody sidhe gets one-up on ol’ Benyamin.

‘Course, it’s not like it wasn’t good to see them all again. I jus’ got back from visiting with the Captain. Told her to watch out for ‘erself and all that. Bah, I never was any good with this soppy stuff. ’Course, now I just got back and heard that Marina was off causin’ trouble with the other squad. Something about stealin’ some Wizard’s spellbook. Now that they mention it, they did have two new humans hanging around with them when they got here. Well, two human fellows shouldn’t be nearly ‘nough to tip the scales in their favor. I’ve still got this one in the bag.

Now I’ve got to fill out this “incident report”. That Marina gal will be getting an earful from me later, no mistake. Bloody paperwork…

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