Converging Forces: Interlude – The Tale of Samuel the Undying

Samuel was born in the Duchy of Mordant, under the iron rule of Duke Hope, the most single minded of the Dukes of the Border Lands, a man driven to forge himself and his duchy into a weapon to destroy the orcs, and any other threats to his power.

Samuel’s father was a high-born bureaucrat in the Duke’s vast court; a landed Baron, powerful and feared. His father, Albert de’Marcos, was responsible for the networks of informants necessary to keep the Duke informed on events that occurred within the duchy itself. It was on the strength of his facts and evidence that other citizens were accused of crimes and brought before the Duke for judgment. In many cases, the onus of discovering who was potentially guilty of a crime was also Albert’s responsibility. He therefore had a great deal of personal power in the form of favors owed to him by nobles and influential citizens alike.

Baron de’Marcos looked over his steepled fingers at the supplicant sitting across from his desk. “I see. Your son is responsible for the south Embarkland supply post, and there are signs that supplies from that post are turning up on the black market. Not to worry, my lord. I’m sure that the investigators will find that your sons’ assistant was involved in illicit trading, and tried to pin the blame on your son. Don’t worry about a thing, I’ll take care of the details to make sure the… true facts come to light. And please, have a nice day…. My Lord.”

Accordingly, Samuels’ early years were spent pleasantly in luxury among the rich and powerful, socializing in Mordant Keep among his fathers’ peers, training with the best armsmen and weapon masters available, and shown the fear his father’s power and influence commanded, far above the minor miseries and concerns of the common people.

When Samuel came of age, and was expected to choose the path he would follow, his father expected him to follow into duty to the Duke and his father in a managerial capactiy, but Samuel chose to join the Army. The path of the handsome, dashing cavalry commander, in particular, appealed to him. They seemed such romantic figures in their cloaks of Mordant black and scarlet, the white sunburst of Duke hope upon their breasts.

His fathers’ influence, deftly used behind the scenes, ensured that he had the best training available to a nobles’ son, accelerated beyond what he’d learned from his personal tutors. He swiftly acquired a post as a junior officer, and it was ensured that all doors and possibilities were open to him.

Surprisingly enough, he proved to have a natural ability at coordinating multiple actions at once, of guiding various activities to a single resolution at a set time, and of balancing multiple objectives to reach a single important goal. To Samuel, it was all like a vast game for his amusement, a game he delighted in playing, and he reveled at doing well.

Samuel was also not averse to using any trick to gain advantage over an enemy, having learned at his father’s knee how the game of influence and advantage that seemed so masterful in the conclusion was most often built on months of careful planning and hard work. Perhaps due to his awareness of his fathers’ maneuvers behind the scenes, he frequently showed an extremely sneaky and cunning tactical frame of thought. He also, despite his supercilious attitude and arrogance came to be respected by the men entrusted to him, because his careful plans not only resulted in victory, but also frequently saw his forces with the lowest rates of casualties among all those in their division.

For Samuel, it was all a part of the game, for he had seen that commanders who lost men were looked down upon as sloppy and careless, and he wanted to build his reputation at being the best. To get that reputation, he needed to keep his men alive, and so he planned towards that end most carefully.

His demonstrated abilities led him eventually to be invited to join the SDS, the “Silent Death Squad”, a small unit that served as scouts and occasional assassins for the Army High Command. Trained and experienced in scouting enemy lines, and tasked with performing assassination missions deep in enemy held territory, both that of the orcs and of fellow Duchies, the SDS were the ‘bad boys’ of Duke Hope’s war machine, and served the will of the High Command directly.

Samuels’ career and life both seemed destined to shine as he soared in skill and prestige, the fair-haired golden boy of the SDS. A sterling example of the best and the brightest, word frequently passed along the grapevine that he was on the fast track for a high posting, once he finally tired of playing in the woods with his face blackened, a knife between his teeth.

He had even been fortunate enough to fall in love with a beautiful young woman, Moira, the daughter of General Gavin de’Strom, and she had told him that she shared that love.

Everything was perfect in his life; he had adventure, danger, love and power, just as it should be.

And then, over the course of one searing Autumn, came the end of joy, the end of rank, and the end of his future dreams. With meteoric fury both his career and his life plummeted below the depths, never to return.

Samuels’ father, the Right Honorable Baron Albert de’Marcos, fell victim to the plans of a political rival, Lord Bruya Var in the games of power among the Duke’s High Council. Formally accused of corruption and of using his position for personal gain to the detriment of the duchy, Albert was condemned by his peers in High Court before the Duke, and sentenced to death.

In the ensuing chaos among the court, old alliances were shattered, and steps were taken by families on all sides to distance themsselves from the de’Marcos and to show that their loyalty and dedication to the Duke were unshakeable.

Part of the collateral damage that resulted, was that the entire acknowledged bloodline of de’Marcos was tarred with the same treasonous brush as the father, and steps were taken to remove them from being a threat to the duchy… and to Bruya Var.

Albert’s political rival, and the man responsible for choreographing the de’Marcos’ fall, Lord Bruya Var, was risen to Baron in Albert’s wake, and he made certain that no scion of the line of de’Marcos would ever return to gain revenge… in any way.

Samuels’ sister Margaret was accused of plotting against the Duke’s policies and against the ever constant preparations for war, in collusion with and as a member of the rumored Society for Appeasement. She was interrogated by Duke Hopes’ questioners, and died under torture while they tried to pry the names of her non-existent ‘co-conspirators’ from her lips

Samuels’ mother Juliana was found guilty of collusion in the crimes of her husband, and suffered the same fate as he… a short walk from her barren cell to the headsman’ block. 

And Samuel… for Samuel the pain was only just beginning.

Samuel was unaware of what had befallen his family when he was first brought before a formal court-martial, and accused of being responsible for the deaths of men under his command through gross negligence and dereliction of duty on his behalf.

Samuel had indeed commanded a team in which one of his men had died, but it had certainly not been due to negligence. It had been during action scouting the southern passes that led deeper into the mountains around Torr Baldwin to the east, the steep interlocking rock believed to be impregnable. The accident came when the man in question misjudged the rock he was climbing, and had not been roped properly to the rest of the team.

Regardless of his protestations, Samuel was swiftly condemned and thrown into the bowels of the vast cells beneath Mordant Keep, there to await the time of his sentenced execution. With Lord Bruya Var twisting the truth and applying his now expanded influence, the results of the court-martial were a foregone conclusion, obvious to everyone except the confused and outraged Samuel de’Marcos.

Samuels’ lady love, Moira, added the final straw when she coolly informed him by missive that she could never love a coward and a traitor’s son, and vowed to never look upon his worthless face again.

In prison, Samuels’ arrogance and certainty of his own importance and innocence led him into direct conflict with guards and inmates alike. Tortured systematically by the guards to teach him his new place in life, or lack thereof, and beaten and brutalized by the gang of inmates who had numbers and a fierce rage against the noble classes, it took an excruciatingly long time to counteract a lifetime of privilidge, but eventually he learned the lessons of his new reality… learned them to the bone.

The time for his execution drew ever nearer, with Lord Bruya Var desperate to see a close to the de’Marcos issue, but there was still time for Samuel to learn what had befallen his family, the story spilling from the lips of a sneering guard. Still time for the young man, no longer so arrogant, to realize that help was never going to come from his father, no petition made on his behalf before the court, no last minute rescue. All hope truly was lost. Hurt, confused, broken in body, bereaved for the family and life he had lost, Samuel began to fall into an abyss of despair.

Before the day of his execution came, however, an event elsewhere in the land brought about an unexpected reprieve.

The lands of Duke Hope once more came under attack, no small raid but a massive horde of highland orcs, former lowland clans united as tribes, and led by grey skinned orc highlanders never before seen in the west, who stormed down from the frozen and barren mountains into the rich valleys to take the crops and lands for themselves.

Duke Hope was not caught unawares. He had long expected and prepared for this encounter, or one like it, and for years had watched as events to the south of Mordant brought some kind of confrontation ever neared.

Duke Hope had planned and prepared and scouted the approaches from which danger may come, Duke Freidlaw of Madrigal, the duchy bordering Mordant to the south, had discovered a narrow pass of ancient construction that not only led deep up into the impassable mountains to the east, but broke through to the other side entirely.

Duke Friedlaw, ruler of a small duchy only recently tamed and recognised as more than a scattering of Caers had seen his chance at greater wealth and power.

The land of Felwaithe had always been cut off from the east by the impassable mountains that stretched from the nothernmost edge all the way to the southern seas, splitting the continent in two. All trade and communication between east and west came from long, dangerous sea voyages around the daggers of the south, or through the Straight of Tears to the north.

With a dependable, land based route available, one that only he would control, one whose trade he could freely tax, the fortune of his land would be made. The only concern would be to take it and hold it against the orcs that had been pushed by the human advances from the lowlands up into the mountains on both sides, the orcs who now held the highlands against all comers, and had nowhere else to go.

Duke Friedlaw had sent his forces up into the eastern pass at a measured pace, to work their way into the mountains, clearing out the orcs that had settled into villages along the way, and building fortified structures to mount a permanent support force along the entire length of the pass, each within support of reinforcing the ones to east and west. They also were under strict orders to never venture off the pass; to make it clear that the humans would go this far, but no further.

For over twenty five years, the forces of Madrigal had held and reinforced the pass, settling it, growing and cultivating the lands in vale and gulley, building their watchtowers and keeps. And during that time, they never ventured off the pass.

Duke Friedllaw knew the Orcs had their own trails and ways of getting around, in the mountains, and nobody knew what strength they yet had to draw on if they weren’t given a place to go when pushed. Duke Friedlaw had no intention of being the one to do the final pushing. As far as he was concerned, the orcs were welcome to the mountains and all within them. He wanted the pass, and the trade it represented, and he cared not for mountains that were of no use to farm and the orcs that lived in them. The orcs would raid in small groups, but the Duke felt that a small price to pay, and a benefit as well, for by rotating his forces in and out of garrison in the Madrigal Pass, he gave them chance to be blooded and learn without extreme risk or hardship, even when his land was not in contention with other duchies.

When Duke Friedlaw finally died, his only son, a young and impetuous boy named Gavely, rose to become the new Duke of Madrigal.

Shortly thereafter, the forces of Madrigal were marshalled to enter the pass.

It seemed that young Duke Gavely was not as prone to live and let live with the orcs as his father was, his stated and proclaimed intention to send the brave forces of Madrigal out into the narrow highland trails to seek out the villages and settlements of the orcs, and ‘cleanse’ them from the mountains, making the Madrigal Pass safe for all time.

Within months of the first highland village being burnt to the ground, the orcs poured forth into the Madrigal Pass, breaking out in coordinated raids all along it’s dozens of miles of winding broken trail, striking swift, killing and burning before vanishing back into the highland trails only they knew.

That was a sign of a new shift in the south. For over two years, the fighting in Madrigal Pass had escalated, and Duke Hope’s informants had reported carefully on all spotted banners and flags. Duke Hope knew that whatever else was happening in the lands of Madrigal, it wasn’t an isolated incident of a few clans seeking revenge, for the banners of at least three full Tribes, the standards of over a hundred different clans had been spotted, representing more forces than even Duke Hope had thought the southern range possessed.

Now orcs of the same clans that Duke Gavely had aroused into war were pouring down from hidden mountain passes into Mordant itself, near enough to Mordant Keep and Torr Baldwin to send the weaker nobles of the High Court scurrying to get their families out to the western farms.

As Duke Hope and his Generals rallied the forces of Mordant to shortstop the orc hordes, and pin them back to the valley mouths through which they streamed, Duke Hope realized that he had a pressing need for bodies to throw in the way of the orcs.

He had spent long years building up a strong, heavily structured and efficient army, supported by the only force of magicians to serve any Duke in open warfare in all the Border Duchies.

And now, rather than careful set piece battles of smart tactics and skillful maneuver, he was facing a wall of orc bodies streaming down a pass, and the lives of his carefully trained soldiers were being bled dry in stupid slaughter, undoing all of his hard planning, wasting his carefully built and previously thought unstoppable overwhelming forces.

What Duke Hope wanted was a wall of his own, a wall of flesh to stand against the orc horde and pin them down long enough to let the skilled, trained, valuable army get in their flanks and rear. He needed a force of no value, mere meat to throw at the orc wall to slow them down in slaughter, so he could stop losing valuable manpower and resources.

Looking for expendable shock troops, the vast prison cells were emptied, the prisoners turned out into the courtyard under armed watch, and all the prisoners were given a choice. Stay and die, or serve in a prisoner-only unit and fight orcs for your country.

The message was plain. They would be placed in the most dangerous battles, at the front of the line and in the face of the charge, and likely all die anyway. But, before they inevitably died, they would have the chance to kill. More than that, the thin thread of hope was dangled before them.

If they fought well and bravely, and they lived, then they might be considered for a pardon for their crimes.

Nearly all of the prisoners accepted. Samuel was made one of the few officers in command of these scum, a disgraced officer in command of a disgusting band, watched over at all times by the Dukes’ personal overseers.

Scarred, starved, fingers repeatedly broken and poorly healed from the endless abuse he had received in prison, flayed in body and desolate in spirit, Samuel found himself a senior officer in the newly formed Front Line Brigade.

They were quickly named the Ravens by the regular army instructors that put them through a brutal, fast training grinder; a slur on their stink, their filth, and the pathetic idea that honorless jailbird trash could ever fight as a unit. The Ravens were rammed through the most brutal forced combat training ever imagined. Their instructors literally did not give a damn if the former prisoners lived through the training or not, so it wasn’t surprising that barely one in four of the Ravens, mostly political prisoners or those thought to be weak in loyalty to Duke Hope, survived the Meatgrinder.

Those that made it were the hardest, toughest, meanest bastards imaginable, men and women both joined by only one common element; a hatred and need for killing so deep it could never be washed away by any amount of blood. Most of the Ravens were insane by any standard by the time the training was done, a combination of the suffering they had endured, the poor food and hygiene they lived with, and the brutal training that had as it’s point to forge the survivors into a group that would stand and charge anything, and psychology of forces be damned.

All had an absolute refusal to quit, or they could not have survived the training. Of those that did, so many suffered a bloodlust so deep, so all consuming, that they were almost impossible to control when not in the front lines. But Duke Hope got what he wanted. All were hardened survivors, callous and indifferent to their own pain… at least, those few who hadn’t come to like the pain, and the taste of their own blood. And they would certainly race forward and eagerly fight the orc front line.

Samuel remained mostly sane, for a given value of sanity in that time of war. The despair and loss in his heart was joined by a bitter hatred of Bruya Var, and a blazing fury at all that he was made to endure that sometimes spilled forth in a desire for blood and revenge, a fury so strong that he was unable to completely control it. At those times, he had to find a place apart from others, often in the seclusion of his tent, and grip himself until the shaking and madness finally left. It took all the strength he had just to pretend to be in control to the overseers, to avoid being purged for unreliability.

When the time for battle finally came for the Ravens, the regular army moved aside to let them through to the heavily contested war zone at the foothills where the orcs staged and made their advances, and the orcs found themselves facing something they never dreamed to see; human warriors driven insane with bloodlust, alive with the single-minded desire for slaughter, a force gripped in boundless pleasure at finally paying back some of the pain, hatred and fear they had endured for so long.

Ravens were thrown into the front line, joyously, singing as they killed and died, and Ravens died by the dozens, but the orcs were stopped in their tracks, and they died  as well. Sometimes, as word spread among the tribes, sometimes the orcs even broke and ran as the Ravens were unleashed into a battle, shivering as the humans screamed their hatred, or laughed in childish delight as they carved their way through the ranks. 

Always the orcs tried to drive through the lines of Mordant forces, and the Ravens at their front, to break through to the softer lowlands, and always the Ravens were there, in the forefront of the enemy, leaping forward to set free the fountains of blood and offal.

The war against the orcs that started in southern Madrigal two years before was to drag on for another year in the foothills of Mordant. As Madrigal fell and eventually was consumed, the lines shifted, and the southern border of Mordant had to be held against the orcs that now had all the Madrigal lowlands to roam and manuever.

In that time, the Ravens bled out their lives by the dozens, their ranks refilled with a fresh stream of convicts flowing through the Meatgrinder, most now coming from the politically unreliable, and from black marketers and deserters from the regular forces.

While Duke Hope’s regular army enjoyed the services of the most skilled battle surgeons in the Western Kingdoms, none were made available to the Ravens. They had to make do as best they could, or die. And often, the kindest cut was the one Samuel gave as he ended the misery of one of his men or women, screaming on a cot in the mud, no priest to watch their passing, no family to mourn their loss.

The new Ravens that joined what was still called a Brigade could not come close to replacing losses, and the unit steadily dwindled in size. But always Samuel remained; leader, eventual Commander, refusing to die until revenge was finally his. A secret revenge, a private hope, that someday he would have the man responsible for the fall of his family within the reach of his hands.

Ever growing in strength, in skill, in determination and in uncaring brutality of his own life, he continued to endure, and as all his compatriots died around him, the greater his legend grew from the amongst the normal forces, who knew of him, and of the truth behind his fall, and who passed on news of his living when each battle was done. 

When the war finally drew to a shuddering pause, the borders watched but stable to east and south, the orcs solidly in control of Madrigal, Duke Hope chose to consolidate his forces and fix his lines. He also decided to end the disturbing rumors of a Raven hero among the worthless convicts, and clean that mess up for good. The Ravens had served their purpose, but having a dark romantic figure rise to inspire thoughts of revenge or remind the commoners of occasional injustice had no part in his plans. 

Those few Ravens left alive were returned to prison, to once again await their justly sentenced executions.

All the Ravens were returned to prison, that is, except the four Raven officers that yet lived, chief among them Samuel de’Marcos.

Duke Hope knew better than to kill a hero and create a martyr that would long be remembered. Much better, in his experience, to have pension them off and leave them to their own devices, recognised and then forgotten, to eventually die in a drunken stupor in some back country brawl when fame ran it’s course.

It was  announced that the four officers had redeemed themselves in service to the duchy, and had earned pardons for their crimes before the Duke’s High Court.

This served to get Duke Hope and the High Court off the hook for anything that wuold follow.

Now that the civil authority found them innocent, however, all four were remanded into the care of the Military for dismissal… and each had also been found guilty of a formal court-martial, their sentences still to serve.

Still officially sentenced to death, the four officers were given a final choice by the High Command, that wanted nothing to do with any of these monsters amongst the regular forces; to die by the headsmans axe, or to fight each other in the Mordant arena, to the death, winner taking his life and his freedom.

All four had fought together, and bled together. But they were also the ultimate realists. They knew that they had a choice of fighting and killing each other, and maybe one would go free, or refusing to fight and being butchered and dying together. The four were allowed to meet together to decide, and they came up with a plan. They would all do their best to fight for victory, each for their own reasons, but before they did, they shared with each other their secret plans and dreams for revenge for the wrongs done to each. Whoever was to win, they each pledged to the others that the survivor would work to bring all their dreams of revenge to fruition.

During the war, Baron Bruya Var had solidified and consolidated his power in the courts, eliminating other possible rivals to his position, but now he found himself impossibly blocked in his attempts to deny Samuel his chance for freedom. Too many Generals, now favored war-heroes, some even in the High Command, remembered how Samuels’ court-martial was fabricated at Var’s direction. It was one thing to deny Samuel a place in the army’s regular forces, but they were nevertheless strong enough to ensure that Samuel had an honest chance at freedom in the arena.

Indeed, when the battle in the small arena of the Keep was over, no more than a brief side to the end of the war, no one present was surprised to see Samuel de’Marcos, the Undying, Raven One and Commander of the Front Line Brigade, walk out the gates of Mordant Keep alive… and free.

Indeed, Samuels’ incredible bravery and deeds on the field of battle had caused so many well known victories that he had become something of a darkly romantic hero to many people from afar, and that had been twisted by the rumormongers Duke Hope employed into a symbol of how, no matter the depths to which a man might have fallen, a loyal soldier of Mordant is still willing to commit himself to the defense of the people.

When Samuel finally had his freedom, he found that while his story and that of the Ravens was well known, when faced with the reality of his scars and haggard appearance, the first thing people were reminded of was not his heroism or bravery, but of the stigma of his court-martial, and his apparent willingness to kill his three fellow officers to earn his freedom. 

Samuel is free, and for now he travels on his own, moving from place to place, always staying within the borders of the duchy of Mordant, doing whatever small services he can to secure lodging and food.

Samuel knows, no matter what others might think, that the current lull in fighting, this brief pause in the war will end, all too soon. Few among the Western Kingdoms or the other Border Lords to the north and west knew the full scope of what Duke Friedlaw had begun in Madrigal, but Samuel knew full well the number of banners he had seen, and had learned the hard way what they meant. Whatever the reason the three united tribes had retreated back into the great mountains, they weren’t yet done. They would be back, and when they did, Samuel would be ready.

Ready to do whatever it took to reach close enough to Bruya Var to wrap his fingers around the old mans’ throat, and drink deep of the revenge he had dared to dream of.

Until that time, he has the tasks set to him by his three brothers to attend to. Brothers of blood and terror and pain, if not of birth. The only kind of brotherhood that still has any meaning for him.

And seeing those tasks to completion will keep him busy until his time has come.

PBeM: Lauchlin Chapter 3 Section 9

“This place is my place. The only will is my will. I am the one in control.”

Jessie stood in the clearing, and thought on what Gavin had said, and what it meant for her here.

“Aye, this clearing is only in my mind, and my will is the will that drives it. Mine and no one elses. What is it that would make me choose this open clearing for a fight, instead of my home in the keep, where I always felt defended?”

She looked around the clearing, the blade of the sword she held, unsheathed and at the ready, gleaming in the sourceless light.

“Ah, Fergus, I swear I wonder more every day if I’m still sane at all. Here I am, and it’s all become such a relentless joke, hasn’t it just? You always told me I should be more open to the world around me, and to have the learning of it, but did I listen? No, never. Knew it all, I did, and where did that land me? All I ever wanted was the feel of a blade in my hand, and the respect that would come with it, and I haven’t yet found a problem I could cut my damn way out of.”

Jessie felt a peaceful presence approach from behind her, a warm, comforting presence she knew so well. The scent of spiced ale and horse, the light half step of his curious mincing walk, the sound of his breath catching, rasping in his deep chest, always so loud when he wasn’t mindful of being silent.

Jessie looked over her shoulder, and gazed back into Fergus’ cold blue eyes.

He looked just as she liked to think of him, before he took ill, before he wasted away in a crude hut hidden deep in the woods. He looked strong and confident and clear eyed, his gray beard stained brown with tobacco and his skin darkened by endless days riding in rough weather.

He placed his hand heavily on her shoulder, and squeezed it gently in greeting, shaking her a little as he always did, meeting her as master to trusted student instead of guard to the lord’s daughter.

“Jessie, you know in your heart why you think this place as safe. When the time comes, when you’re ready, you’ll deal with it right enough.”

Jessie gazed back at him over her shoulder, and felt the calm his presence always brought her. “So now when I talk to myself, I’m after answering as well, is that it? Well, it’s all of a piece, but I’m still glad to see you here.”

He smiled at her, as he always did when he was going over the days lessons before a fight, for if there was one thing Fergus had always loved, it was teaching a willing student that paid close attention.

“Jessie, just hold on tight to what I taught you, and keep your wits about you. Remember your speed.”

“Orcs as a rule are stronger, tougher, they’ll always be after having the reach on you. Aye, they’re bigger and stronger, always have been, always will be. So when you’ve got to fight one face to face, without your mates beside you, use your size to your advantage, use your quickness, your speed. Don’t block up front, deflect to the side. Don’t stand toe to toe, direct around and away.”

“They’ve got power like a wild raging horse, all sudden explosions of motion and fury, but you don’t fight a power like that direct, you use it, you move it, and you send it where you want it to go. A wall of brick might not stop a charging horse, but a gentle push from the side can guide one around that wall… and into the pits beyond.”

“They think and fight and act like crazy brave heroes, looking to carve a name for themselves, to be remembered and sung in their sagas. They will give themselves willingly to their rage, the primal fire of bloodlust, losing planning and reason. They are terrible, fearsome foes when the berserker takes them.”

“And time and again a calm head, a fast blade, and a wise eye will be the victor. You have to stay calm, centered, keep your head, use your speed and flow from act to act.”

“When you fight the Orc, it’s your speed against their power. For most men, it’s a hard thing to beat into their heads. Most want to go into a fight smashing their way to victory, proving they’re man enough to overpower an orc.”

“But you, Jess, remember on what I’ve told you. You’re the quickest I’ve ever seen, a true daughter to the MacQuarrie with the blood of the Imperial Scout running free and true within you. You’ve got the balance, and you’re nimble like none I’ve seen or taught before.”

Use it. Use your speed. Ride the lightning into his guts, and don’t give ’em a chance to blink.”

Jessie turned to face forward once more, somehow knowing the direction her enemy would soon come. She placed her hand briefly over the memory of Fergus’ hand, and squeezed it back, gently.

“I miss you, too, old man” she whispered, feeling cold and suddenly alone.

She waited patiently, calm, repeating to herself as if a prayer, “Ride the lightning, Jessie. Ride the lightning.”

The false sky overhead darkened suddenly, the clearing lit only from within, each blade of grass and stand of tree glowing with an inner luminescence, as though she stood alone in a clearing that floated within a void.

With a startling rush, the sky erupted with light, a burning rainbow of blazing colors like chaotic fire streaming across the false heavens.

The violent madness of lights was accompanied by no sound at all, the scene in the clearing dancing with crazed fire in an eerie, unsettling silence.

Without pause, the lights in the sky blinked out in tune with a sudden feeling of power, foreign, unnatural, other. A power that had nothing to do with anything of Jessie. An intruder.


An awful sense of foreboding washed over her, that something was wrong, that what she felt was too much power, too soon. She thought she felt a sense of Gavin’s presence briefly around her, worried, no, terrified, and then that too was washed away in the looming presence that stepped from the treeline before her.

Snatches of thought ripped through her head as she looked at the gray skinned Orc that advanced upon her.

She felt herself, as though from far away, grow still within. The swirl of thoughts drained down and out of her, leaving her empty, cleansed.

All that was left to her was the voice of Fergus, as if from far away, saying, “Move fast, fast as lightning. Ride it in, and never stop” and then a last sigh from Gavin, whispering to her from far too far away, “You’re fast as fast can be, here. This is your place to rule, Jessie.”

Jessie had seen Raktar Single-Blow in the darkness of night, after death had taken him, but even as she cut his life from him she had never truly seen him face to face.

Somehow, she knew that never in life did Raktar look as he did now. He stood massive, much bigger than life, twice her height and more, his hair braided in pleats of jet down to his waist, knotted with victory ties of blood scarlet to their full length.

He held the axe itself, that axe she hated so much, and what was for her a clumsy weapon for both hands swung easily for him in his right alone, as though it were nothing more than a child’s toy.

The head of the axe was hard to make out clearly, seeming surrounded in and covered by shadows or darkness, no matter that the light of the clearing had no discernable source and showed all other features as clearly as day from all angles. Somehow, this felt to Jessie only right, that even the shadow of a weapon so foul should be hard to look on.

Raktar continued across the clearing towards her at a measured pace, his armor of brown leather creaking as he moved, every detail of his gray leathery skin clearly visible as the scarred flesh danced over his corded muscle.

In the emptiness of her waiting, the thought touched Jessie, briefly, that even in death Raktar thought of himself as scarred.

The huge warrior stopped, just out of reach of axe or sword, and stood there, looking her over with care.

This close, Jessie could feel the heat of him pounding against her. Somehow, she knew that it was wrong, unnatural, that he felt too powerful, too unrestrained. Even Gavin and the Katarese, beings that radiated strength and power, didn’t beat on her just by standing there.

She felt as though her skin were softening, weakening, as she sometimes did when standing too near an open furnace for a long time helping with the roasting, when her skin grew pink and sore.

Raktar just stood still in front of her, eyes narrowed, studying her closely from head to toe as if he had never seen a human close up before.

Or as if he wanted to study the human whose sword had finally killed him.

Whatever Raktar had been waiting for, the perfect moment to strike, for her will to crack before him, for any of a thousand things, it didn’t matter anymore, because deep within Jessie, in the silence at the heart of her, she felt the moment when it came.

The moment when waiting became acting.

The moment to go for a ride.

I’m not following my heart atm

Short mention here, as to where my heads’ been at when writing on the blog this last week.

I set a goal to, for a change, get some useful new Bear tanking posts up to help those who may suddenly find themselves looking to break into the world of tanking.

All things considered, I think that I’ve achieved what I wanted in the short term, and with the help of some great commenters I think the sidebar of Wrath posts provides some solid starting information for new Bear tanks without getting too technical.

Once that was done, though, my heart was set on writing the next installment of the Converging Forces story.

Every day for about a week and a half, I’ve been thinking of the next part, running things through my head, having internal dialogues between characters, visualizing the scenes, thinking and thinking and thinking.

As you can see…. no post.

Every day I sit down, and I have a choice about writing.

Write something I can break in and out of multiple times while getting continuously interrupted with critical issues, 10 minutes here, 5 minutes there, until I proofread it enough times it’s legible, and let it go forth. And then fix the typos and missed phrases and unwritten sentences that I always seem to have after you get them in your feedreader.


Sit down and write something that flows, from the heart, telling a story that has been years in the crafting, and where things are building to a point that excites the hell out of me. Something that requires absolute immersion in the flow.

Yeah, you’ve been getting the bit pieces.

It’s funny, really. I can write and write, and really be into it and it’s flowing…

But there is a big difference for ME between creative writing in a blog style about the game or life, and creative writing while developing a true story.

It’s just not the same.

It’s not that blog writing is throwaway words, and a story is somehow more valid. It’s nothing like that. They’re both something I truly enjoy and invest myself in equally.

It’s more how deeply I need to immerse myself in what I’m writing.

Like right now, for example. Just had an emergency that I had to take care of that took me away for a few minutes before I wrote this sentence. I came back, and had to see where I was, recapture my thoughts, and pick back up.

When I’m writing an actual story, it’s not just a ‘oh, that’s where I was’.

It’s far, far more jarring when the words are flowing like a river, and you get stopped every 5 or 10 minutes. Coming back and trying to get that flow going again is really damn hard.

So, I’ve been falling back on writing that I can do in snippets.

I just wanted you to know, this isn’t a resolution or anything. I am just at a place where I really, really want to be doing more creative writing. That’s what I’m working towards.

Every day, my goal for the day is to write Converging Forces.

Every day that doesn’t happen, is a day I haven’t followed my heart.

PBeM: Lauchlin Chapter 3 Section 8

Prepare for Battle

Jessie heard a voice, quickly identified as Gavin’s voice, harshly grind out “You’d best open your eyes now, Jessie.”

Jessie’s eyes popped open in shock.

“You promised me you wouldn’t interfere in the real world!”

She looked up at what appeared to be the blue sky of a warm spring day in the clearing Fergus had used to teach her, the same place she’d been the last time she’d seen Gavin and the Katarese.

Jessie noticed that, while her hands still gripped a weapon, it was now the familiar and welcome grip of her sword rather than the two handed haft of the axe.

Jessie was now, to all appearances, lying fully clothed in worn, soft leathers on the grass of the clearing, holding her sword. Of the elf, the knife, or the gold medallion there was no sign to be seen.

Jessie sprung up, her anger hot and fresh, driven by the terror of moments before.

“How dare you interfere when you swore you wouldn’t! And am I imagining all this? I think not! This is all your doing, your will deciding what I’ll see!”

Gavin was indeed standing before her, but of the Katarese, Jessie could see no sign, either. It was just the two of them.

Taking a second look at Gavin, Jessie felt herself momentarily taken aback.

Gavin was standing, wearing armor of a fashion Jessie had never heard of before, heavy steel covering him in overlapping plates from neck to boot, all lacquered in a solid sky blue, with actual gold metal banding on the edges of every plate and on the heads of each bolt.

In his hands, he clenched the haft of a massive blued steel and gold warhammer larger than anything Jessie had ever heard of, a weapon that would be so heavy in the real world that no man could lift it.

To her surprise, the first thought Jessie had, even through her rage, and the one that she blurted out loud, was “Compensating much?”

Gavin looked down at his warhammer with his pale blue eyes, and then back up at Jessie, and to her surprise, he grinned.

“Mayhap I am, just a little. I feel well and truly helpless now, and that’s not something I’m used to.”

“Look, Jessie, I promised you what I did, and I’m holding true.”

Jessie broke in, her anger still too hot to be contained. “To hell with that!  Tell me you didst not pull me here in some damned misguided idea to spare a frail, little girl some pain! I dare you!”

Gavin shook his head quickly from side to side, adding, “No, I’d not do that, but I don’t blame you for thinking so. In the world you know, women don’t fight in the front lines, but only in defense of the homestead or Caer. In mine, what you’ve got between your legs meant nothing, nothing at all compared to what damage you could do with your hands, and whether or not you could stand your ground in the face of hell. There’s no way you could know that, but there it is. And I’m not minding saying that I think it was a finer world than this, in all truth.”

Gavin swung the hammer in a grand sweeping motion, taking in all the sky overhead.

“Look about you, Jessie. Feel the sky lightening with your mood.”

“This place is how you made it yourself. When first you learned you could affect this realm within your soul, you crafted, all unknowing, a safe haven for yourself, a place where you instinctively feel safe and guarded. This glade is where, in the real world, you took your dreams and made them come true with your own hard work, and where, with the guidance of your friend Fergus, you came to trust in yourself.”

Suddenly, the sky overhead from horizon to horizon, where it could be seen through the trees, glowed and flashed with the flames of a fiery inferno. The blazing light was accompanied by a suddenly audible chanting, in a strange, darkly melodic language strangely familiar to Jessie.

as Jessie looked to the sky, watching intently for any sign of a foe to fight, the flames gradually faded back into the pattern of the blue sky, and the sounds of chanting faded with it.

Turning her attention back to Gavin, she asked, “What the hell was that?”

Gavin sighed, and pointed with his hammer towards the sky once more.

“That was your friend Bane, using her power to touch your soul with the first element of the spirits. Your flesh has already been carved, and the powders used. Now is come the weaving, and the sundering of the gold.”

“I didn’t bring you here to protect you, I brought you here within because you’re about to have the fight of your life on your hands, literally.”

“Now stand straight, get centered, and focus down. You’re in the training leathers that you feel most comfortable and safe in, but get your head wrapped around preparing yourself for combat.”

“Katarese is keeping your outward body still while the ritual goes on, but you’ve got to be on top of your form. Bane is skilled and strong, but she is guessing at it as she goes along. She told you that you’d likely have to fight the spirit of Raktar that is still bound to the axe, but she had some vague idea of a contest of wills.”

“I’m here to tell you, I can feel the axe through your hands, and the bindings upon it, and when the last of the work of the original ritual is unbound, Lord Raktar Single Blow, the orc you took the axe from, is coming straight for your soul, and it is here within you that the battle will be decided, winner take all.”

Jessie looked at Gavin, seeing the open anger on his face, and the frustration in his eyes. “You’re not going to be able to help me, are you?”

Gavin’s fingers twisted as he gripped the hammer handle… the imaginary hammer handle tighter. then he seemed to slump with a sigh.

“No, I’m not. Katerese is taking care of your body during the ritual, but when the last of the bonds are broken, Bane is going to start weaving them around, and into, your soul.”

“She’s good, but she’s not nearly sensitive enough to get it right. We know, we were the ones that had to piece you together after she drug you and the rest of the fragments of souls back from the Dreamtime. It’s mostly due to her inexperience that the tear in reality is still open in your heart.”

‘What she’s going to try to do, It’ll be like trying to smooth out a piece of thin gold foil over an egg, nice and even, using nothing but a heavy hammer at arms length.”

Jessie gave a short, sharp bark of laughter. “I can see why they called you Gavin the Hammer. But what can you do to help Bane? That’s what you’re talking about, isn’t it?”

“Yes, you’re right. I’m going to be doing what I can to keep her from pushing too hard, or in the wrong way. My soul is going to be the anvil against her hammer, supporting your fragile eggshell from within.”

“When what is left of Raktar is freed from the bindings, he is going to flow into you. With the door to the dreamtime cracked open within you, you’re wide open to possession. You have no natural defenses at all anymore.”

The sky chose that moment to plunge the glade into darkness, a shade the color of deepest indigo, pulsing with traces of green and yellow. The colors soothed, despite their wholly unnatural caste in the sky. The sound of chanting grew even louder, and while the words were still in an unknown yet strangely familiar tongue, the voice was clearly that of Bane.

“That’s it, Jessie. Only a few more bindings left to break before the weaving begins in earnest. We’ve each got our part to play in this, and yours is here. Remember where you are, Jessie. Remember where you stand. You were full of fear and anger when I pulled you into the dreaming, and it’s taken a great deal of my strength to hold things firm while you calmed yourself down. When I go to take my place, this place will be guided, directed, and ultimately controlled by nothing and no one but you. Try and keep that thought ever in your mind.”

Gavin smiled once, sadly, and then raised the hammer in seeming farewell.

“And Jessie? The blessing of Tyr be on you. Good hunting to you.”

With that, Gavin faded away as though he’d never been any more than mist of a summer morning, leaving Jessie to look around, nervous, wondering from where the attack would come.

PBeM: Lauchlin Section 3 Chapter 7

A Cold, Hard Look

Jessie stood up, and looked around the small camp. “All right, let’s do it. Do we strike camp first? If something goes wrong, or the Orcs come sooner than you expect, we may need to move fast.”

Bane stood up smoothly in one graceful movement, and looked around the camp with a smile. “I’ll see to the camp, you’d find things more confusing to take apart and pack than you might expect. You just see to settling your things into that pack you had.”

As Jessie turned towards the tent she had been sleeping in, Bane called after her, “And roll up that sleeping sack you’ve been using and strap it to your pack. If we get separated, you might find you’ll be needing it. Don’t let the warmth of this clearing fool you, while you’ve been away, the valley has settled past fall, and the first hard snows are days away.”

Jessie stopped in mid-step and looked out over the heavily forested valley, that lay far below. Now that Bane had mentioned it, the trees had changed leaves and lost them already, all in the span of what still felt like a day’s sleep. What Jessie had felt was an unseasonal morning chill, was really an unseasonally warm day. Damn.

“You know, I hate winter. I always have.”

Bane laughed. “Well, young master Lauchlin MacQuarrie, if all goes well I hope to be traveling with you and well on our way to Caer Doneghal before ever the snows hit this valley. And if we aren’t, I daresay the snow will be the least of our concerns.”

Jessie couldn’t keep from chuckling as she ducked down and crawled into her tent.

The night before, she’d been too tired to do much more than pull her boots off before crawling into the sack, so things were still mostly in the neatly stacked pile that Bane had made, same as she’d found them when waking up for the first time, just the day before. It was the work of only a moment to place things in her pack, and tie them up.

Somewhere along the way, the clothes shed been wearing when… when she’d fallen to the tree had vanished, along with all of the food and preserved herbs she’d intended to use as poultices at need. She still had some clothes, including a few that would serve to help if worn in layers, but nothing really suited for the cold of an early winter in the mountains.

She sat back on her haunches and thought for a moment, timing where they were against how far they had to travel.

“If we don’t start moving soon, or find suitable shelter, this is going to be tricky. The Orcs track well and move fast in deep snow. And I’m just not prepared.”

Looking around the tent one last time, Jessie made sure that everything aside from the sleeping sack was lashed down securely in or on her pack. Fluffing out the sack, she began to fold and roll it up. Surprisingly, for something so soft and warm on the inside, it compressed very well, much better than goose down or wadded wool. She had feared it would be bulky and hard to carry, but in the end, tightly rolled and tied with leather thongs it was barely a hand’s width around, and easily fit in the top of her pack.

Stepping out of the tent, she straightened up and looked around to see what Bane was doing.

Bane was, just at that moment, finishing rolling up the second of the three tents, and strapping it into a tight rolled up cylinder around what must have been the support poles.

Bane looked up as Jessie came out of her tent, and said, “If you’re all set and ready to go, leave your pack over against that brush covered cliff face, and move down the trail a little ways. Take whatever weapon you’d like, but see if you can get an idea of how close the Orc party is to where we’re at.”

Jessie looked around, and identified the bushes in question. Moving over towards them, she peeked behind and saw that, sure enough, the bushes concealed a smooth edged opening, clearly worked with tools, that was just the size for one person to walk further into the mountain, if they were crouched over and didn’t mind close spaces. Or the dark.

She set her pack against the white stone of the cliff wall, and pulled her sword and scabbard free of her pack. Strapping it on, she did a last check of the area, and saw Bane already at work on the third and last tent.

“How long should I be gone, then, Bane?”

Bane looked up for a moment, her blond hair hanging limp in the still air, the hood bunched up around her neck. “Just for a few moments, long enough to see if they’re moving fast or taking their time. They hadn’t been in much of a hurry when I saw them this morning, but the sound of steel against stone can carry far and far this high up. If they’ve heard us striking camp and decided to come on the run, I’d sooner know about it before I’ve taken to cutting into you.”

“As you say. I’ll be right back.”

Jessie stopped at a sudden thought, and drew her sword from the scabbard. Looking along the length of the blade, she checked it, looking carefully for signs of neglect, or worse yet, rust. To her relief, the steel of her sword looked well cared for, and carried a faint sheen of fresh oil.

Bane’s voice carried softly to where she stood, and Jessie turned once more to look at her. “I cared for your gear as best I could, Jessie. All humor aside, I felt it was a point of faith that you would once again be returned to the lands of the whole and hearty. I wanted to be sure you’d find your belongings well cared for when you awoke.”

Jessie felt strangely touched, and nodding her head once, quickly turned away and moved down the trail, so that Bane wouldn’t see the quick tears that sprang to her eyes at such a simple show of consideration.

Moving down the trail, Jessie worked at staying low, following the cliff wall, moving quietly, and taking her time.

She stopped advancing down the trail when she was about 45 yards from the small camp, and eased to the edge, careful not to frame herself in silhouette against the sky. She paused for a long moment, listening for the hint of any sound that indicated travelers.

Hearing nothing, she moved closer to some hardy scrub brush growing on the very edge of the trail, and worked her head carefully into it, just until she could peek down through the branches and spokes and see over the lip of the trail edge.

From the look of the cliff face beneath her, the trail switched back and forth several times, working its way down and, gradually, south along the face, deeper towards the closed southern end of the valley, and far from where Jessie had intended to begin her climb.

Jessie remembered her earlier idea, so long ago now, to try to climb up this side of Torr Baldwin to make her way around and out of the valley, carrying the dead weight of the elf as she went. She remembered vividly how sheer the cliff wall looked, how impenetrable and smooth. And yet, looking down, it was clear to see the lengths of the trail in all it’s winding, switching glory, barely wide enough for one to walk along it, but never quite so narrow to require tools or special caution.

Jessie knew nothing of different types of stone, and less about climbing mountains, but she did know a great deal about how often paths and trails among the mountain heights changed each season. Every year the water ran down the face of the mountains and cliffs, settling into cracks and channels, and every winter the freeze came, and with it the water shifted and moved as it froze, turning small cracks into deep crevices. Sometimes, in the deepest of winter, water so deep that it had never before felt chill froze, and mighty rocks tumbled and fell, removing all traces of trails that had existed for decades, as if they’d never been.

She thought of this, and wondered at the story Bane had told her. This trail was supposed to have been here like this, just like this, and lasted since before Empire fell?

She looked down, paying attention to the white stone. It looked, to her eyes, the same as any other stone. It wasn’t unnaturally smooth, or pretty, or shiny, or in any way out of the ordinary. It was just plain, white stone, with different shades of gray or black or silver speckled here or there.

“So,” she thought, “This is supposed to be the mountain fortress of some great old wizard from long ago? Does that mean this is all hollowed out from within? And if it is. If it is…”

Jessie continued to look down at the cliff wall, the trail, and across the valley of her birth. From here, if she squinted, she could make out, poking from above the dense trees in the distance, the very tips of the tops of the stone towers of Caer MacQuarrie, hazy in the distance.

“What if it’s true? What if Torr Baldwin really is as Bane says, a great mountain fortress? She also said that she believed the bulk of the fortress itself had been closed off, so the Orcs wouldn’t explore further.”

“If that were true, then maybe a careful exploration, knowing there are passages, might discover some trace of a way in.”

“Ah, Dad, how grand it would be to retake this valley from the Orcs with the strength of a fortress of mighty magic and mystery behind me. To be able to fight from a secure, well defended position. And how easy it would be to entice aid from the lowlander Border Lords, when whispers of this mystery reaches their bored ears. With the prospect of a grand adventure such as rediscovering such a wonder lying before them, I’d be fighting off volunteers with a stick!”

After what felt a long time of laying there, her head in a bush, thinking about the future and listening to the sounds of the present, gradually she came used to the background noises of the gentle wind, the birds, the rustling of the branches and her won breathing.

As she did, she heard a faint sound as of boots scuffing and kicking gravel on stone, coming from far down below.

Turning her attention to the southern end of the trail far below, she finally spied the Orc party, and such it did seem to be.

The group was very far below, and traveling slowly in single file along the trail. Frm the look of the thing, they’d started their journey up at first light, and were making no particular haste to travel.

Jessie looked for a long time, trying to make out details, but from her vantage point she was simply too high up and the figures were too tightly bundled to do little more than count heads and confirm they were all Orcs. Indeed, from the pace they set, it looked as though they were intentionally traveling slower than needed up the trail.

She let minutes drift by while she watched, and finally decided that they were traveling slowly not out of fear, but out of some form of respect. There were, every now and again, faint wisps of smoke or vapor coming from metal pots that hung from chains that the slighter of the Orcs carried.

Jessie finally decided that what she saw were aspiring Orc Shaman carrying braziers or censors filled with incense or some other scented smoke, accompanied by the taller, bulkier Orc warrior heroes. If she’d been the kind to wager, she’d have bet there’d be some chanting or such going on too, but too far away for her to hear.

Gently she eased herself back out of the bush, until it was safe to stand up without being seen from below, and made her way back up the trail.

Jessie rounded the trail to find the clearing empty, and Bane standing near the bushes that concealed the mouth of the tunnel.

Bane looked up at her approach with a quizzical glance, and Jessie said, “The Orcs are indeed coming, but they’re still far down the trail. I’d be surprised if they made it here by afternoon tomorrow, at the pace they’re setting.”

Bane nodded, looking relieved. “Good, in truth I was worried. Once we begin, we really cannot afford to be distracted by anything, anything at all.”

Jessie looked around, and noticed how even the firepit looked years neglected and unused. Bane had cleaned up the camp, but it annoyed her she didn’t get to see how the trick was done.

“Well, I don’t mean to distract you, but I thought you’d like to know that from my count, there’s about forty Orcs coming up this trail, and most of them have the look of warriors about them.”

Bane nodded her head, the blond hair moving in a jerky twist, and said, “I expected that, they usually send the new shaman and warriors up from the most dominant Clan in the first trip, and only after they return do the other six Clans send their heroes up as a group.”

Jessie felt herself immensely surprised with how she felt at the news.

“So, it’s true. There is a point beyond which you can’t feel shocked by bad news anymore. How nice.”

Smiling sweetly at Bane, Jessie said, in an admirably calm voice, “Bane, every one of them has already been prepared, yes? So Each and every one of these heroes and would be shaman will be able to pass at will through these wards you’ve spoken of?”

Bane nodded her head up and down cautiously, and looked wary at the tone of voice Jessie was using.

“Can you tell me this much, then. Can you tell me that, when they all get up here tomorrow, you do have a plan for us getting back out of here alive?”

Bane opened her mouth to speak, and Jessie held up a hand, palm out. “Tut! No, please, don’t spoil the surprise by telling me more. Just nod your head, if you will.”

Bane nodded her head quickly up and down once again, and Jessie broke out into a big smile.

“Well then, let’s just leave that bit of joy for later, as a touch of dessert, shall we? In the meantime, I think you were meaning to carve me up like a feast day pheasant, yes? Let’s get on about it before I just jump off the cliff and save the world the effort it’s making.”

Bane smiled a bit uncertain, clearly unused to Jessie’s style of humor. Seeing as how Jessie learned it at her father’s knee, and from all the guards she’d known, Bane’s surprise threw her for a moment, until she remembered that the only humor Bane had seen for three long years had been whatever rough humor the Orcs enjoyed.

Shaking her head at the unfamiliar thought of trying to imagine what an Orc would find amusing, Jessie followed Bane through the bushes, and into the tunnel beyond.

Jessie saw no sign of the packs at first, but Bane clearly knew where she was going, so Jessie followed her swiftly up the gently rising tunnel.

The tunnel itself did not change in shape or direction, continuing on into the mountain straight and true. After only a few moment, however, the tunnel opened up into a small chamber just large enough to house three or four horses, if they could be made to fit down the passage. There was but one exit from this room other than the one they had come in by, and it was in the opposite wall.

The packs were set against the chamber wall next to the opposite tunnel entrance, and the wards themselves were easy to make out in the darkness, for the very air of the passage was possessed of a gentle golden glow, as if a million fireflies had taken up residence within.

The stone floor of the chamber was worked smooth much as the walls were, and all of the same white stone. Lying in the very center of the chamber were a knife, several small fired clay bowls filled with looked like powders of differing colors, and a small stone bowl barely a handspan across filled with some of the burning coals from the fire they’d had outside.

Jessie stepped forward, fascinated, and stared down at the strange knife Bane had set out, clearly visible in the golden glow.

The knife handle was of simple brown wood, unadorned but worn smooth and dark, and the blade was barely as long as the first joint of her middle finger, which was precisely the finger she felt like raising while looking at the knife.

Bane, seeing the direction of her gaze, filled the silence by saying, “Um, that’s my detail knife. It’s a bit long, but it should work well enough.”

Jessie looked back up at Bane, and was gratified to see Bane look embarrassed.

Jessie was delighted to find it easy to keep her voice steady. “A detail knife.”

“Well, yes. I, well, I like to whittle. That’s one of the knives I use for detail work.”

Jessie just stared at Bane, not trusting herself to speak for a long time.

After a very long, uncomfortable silence, Bane said, “Yes, well, it relaxes me. We’d best get started. If you’d remove your shirt and lie down there near the bowls, I’ll fetch your axe.”

Jessie unbuckled her sword and scabbard, focusing on the act of using her hands. She pulled it off and set it against the chamber wall next to her pack, and began removing her shirt.

After a moment, she said, “The axe.”

“What?” asked Bane.

“The axe. It’s the axe. You called it my axe. It’s not. It’s a damned evil thing, and I’ll have no part of it, except to see to it the thing is destroyed.”

Bane stood by the bowls, and nodded in agreement. “I’ll remember that, Jessie. If something were to happen, I’ll see to it. You have my word.”


Jessie hated herself for a moment, for the shortness of her words and tone, but she couldn’t help herself. Knowing now what the axe was, and what it was meant to do, the very idea of touching it filled her with loathing. It was taking everything she had to drive her thoughts anywhere except towards what she was about to do. Thinking about the axe certainly gave her something to get good and mad at, and for that she felt grateful.

She finished removing her shirt, feeling very cold in the still air of the high mountain chamber, and lay down on the still, icy stone. She quickly felt the warmth begin to leech out of her into the stone beneath her shoulder blades.

Bane picked up the ax, and placed it into her waiting palms.

“Remember, hold it with both hands at all times, flat against the stone above your head. Try to keep your stomach muscles tense, and I’ll do my best to make this as quick as possible.”

Bane reached down into a large leather sack, and lifted out the great gold medallion, setting it down beside her.

Reaching again into the sack, she drew out a thick piece of leather, the size of a strong branch.

Holding it out towards Jessie, she asked, “Do you want this? You can bite down on it to help focus on something other than what’s going on.”

Jessie gave it some serious thought for a few moments, then shook her head no. “I’d rather trust in myself for this. It’s a thing that, once begun, you can be sure I’ll have cause not to be wanting to start over again.”

“As you wish.”

Bane knelt down next to Jessie, and settled her hood over her head, tucking the long blond hair within. With the hood up, it was as Jessie had thought, long ago. The only thing visible amidst the black were the golden elven eyes, shining strangely in the golden glow of the wards.

Bane picked up the small detail knife, and said, “Then let’s begin.”

Jessie braced herself, eyes squeezed shut, tensed and shaking, amazed at the fear that threatened to overwhelm her. She felt a sick, hollow ache in her gut, composed of bile and fear.

She felt the first touch of the knife, cold, so cold, and remembered to hold the axe, hold her stomach taut, hold, hold…

Raid for the Cure updates and Writers' Month thingie

For the next couple of weeks, until the Raid for the Cure is completed, I will be making regular updates concerning donations made by folks for prizes in the raffle, and also of course to remind folks that the Raid for the Cure is coming.

I also still intend to continue to write WoW and Feral Druid related posts, but they might be a bit scarce.

See, there is one other, teensy weensy little thing I’m going to try and do too, and I wanted to give you a little warning in advance.

This month is supposed to be this whole, big “write a 50,000 word novel in one month” thing going on. It has some weird acronym or catchphrase or something, I dunno. Rajoeblomedowno or something.

Now, I’ve never done it before, because in my heart I feel it kinda sets a call for quantity, not quality. Some of the most intense stories I’ve ever read would come in well under the 50k word count, and I dislike feeling like I’m following a quantity bandwagon.

But I know that’s not what it’s about. I know that it’s supposed to be a challenge you set for yourself, to spur you on to write for what should be a small, easily managed period, just one month. You can write each day, telling yourself, “It’s just for a month, I can do it.” And at the end of the month, if you hang in there, you will have (against your will, kicking and screaming) developed some of the habits that will help you, as a writer, keep on writing consistently onwards into the future. 

Sadly, I don’t think anyone would be all that surprised if I churned out a bearwall of story day after day after day. Kinda hard to impress people when you’ve already got a reputation for being, umm… long winded.

Hopefully, I can surprise people with the quality of the story, instead.

That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to take this opportunity as an excuse to seize my Converging Forces PBeM story that is up to date and posted on the sidebar, and I’m going to tear into it. Manny and James are onboard with guiding me on their character actions, and know that if I don’t hear from them, I’m going forward regardless. The story WILL advance. And we’ll just see, on the last day of November, if I hit 50,000 words when the dust settles.

The story is already in progress, and I am sure it won’t be over when the end of November nears, so it doesn’t count as “a novel”. But it’s a creative writing project that I’ve enjoyed for years now, and I think Manny and James will be happy to see some new life breathed into it.

So, yeah. This is your advance warning. There will be massive Converging Forces updates flooding the blog. If you have meant to read what is already live and haven’t done so, you might want to get caught up now. 

If you tried reading it, and hated it, or you just don’t want to bother reading it, never forget that my website theme allows you to minimize posts using the little plus and minus buttons in the upper right hand corner of the post box. Honestly, I don’t want to alienate anyone. I’m sure most folks are going to pass on reading them, and that’s fine with me. Non-WoW bearwalls of fantasy writing are NOT going to be for everyone.

For those of you that have already read what was there, and despaired of ever getting a new chapter… hold on to your hats, ’cause this is going to be a wild ride.

Converging Forces (PBeM) Story Index

A collection of links to all the currently published chapters of the Converging Forces (PBeM) story, written by John Patricelli, as shared on the Big Bear Butt Blogger website.

Creative Commons License
Converging Forces by John Patricelli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

This index will be updated as new chapters are added.

Converging Forces


Section 1: Vengeance Born

Section 2: Focused Discipline

Section 3: Dreamchild

Section 4: Strange Companions

Section 5: Dreamchild (Continued)

Section 6: Interlude – Tales of times past

Section 7: Strange Companions (continued)

  • Chapter 2 – Called to the Hunt
  • Chapter 3 – Choosing the Right Tool
  • Chapter 4 – Details and Distractions
  • Chapter 5 – Taking care of Loose Ends
  • Chapter 6 – Interview with a Retriever
  • Chapter 7 – Blinded by the Light (new as of April 14th, 2011)
  • Chapter 8 – Searching for Answers (new as of May 2nd, 2011)

To be continued…


Main Character Descriptions

My thanks, as always, to the two driving forces behind our main characters, Manny Marshall and James Henriksen. Without your efforts, this story would not exist in it’s current format. Thank you!