Friday, September 26, 2014

Celtris Tales: Small Packages Chapter 3 Scars

Small Packages: Scars

Luca hated fire. Fire had killed his parents and as a winter gnome, fire was especially painful to him. As Marius charged past him drawing his blade, acting without caution or forethought Luca was reminded of how like fire his brother could be.

There was little choice; Luca whistled the loose command to the pack of three wolves that served the brother’s as companions. There would be other orcs with torches, followed by more orcs with bucket. Luca recognized the implications immediately, this was a burn brigade keeping the grounds of the fort clear of cover. It was a standard tactic when expecting an attack.

The chance to reason and calm Marius passed in a blink, when something offends a paladin’s convictions it was best to get out of the way. Luca followed his brother in a guarded trot and called the eldritch cold to blast any foes.

The orc spotted Marius and called out for reinforcements. The orc was no slouch, he dropped his torch a couple feet ahead of himself drew his spear and braced it off his rear foot angled low and further supported with his shield. The moves were practiced and near mechanical in their precision. This was a soldier that had drilled until such movements were second nature, and he would be joined by at least two others before Marius closed the distance into melee. Luca sent a dart of freezing energy over that orc’s shield.

Luca had once skimmed an orc tactical manual and could hazard that this was likely a foot patrol unit. There would be eight legionaries with tower shields, longspears, a brace of pilums, and the deadly legion issue orcish gladius. They would try to form up ranks which made them more deadly as each man was trained to guard the man to his left with his shield. They’d form two lines with 4 spears in the back making attacks between the gaps while those out front stabbed and slashed with their deadly blades from closer quarters.

Allowing the orcs to form up into even a partial defensive formation would mean death for the gnomes and their wolves. It would take the orcs less than a minute to gather and form so every second counted. Luca had a magical bond with Calia and Seline, the two female wolves who he ordered into either side of the tall grasses to flank, the tactic would at least hopefully stall the orcs.

Closing more distance, Luca dreaded doing what he knew he must, as he dismissed Iz after launching another eldritch dart at the same orc he had already wounded. A flood of weakness and pain brought tears to the Winter gnome’s eyes but he needed his summons. Three of the orcs were set for Marius when Calia leapt from the grasses and scored a deep calf bite on Luca’s wounded orc dragging him down. He foolishly tried to regain his feet rather than a short blade exposing the back of his neck, Calia didn’t miss the opportunity.

Maruis adjusted the angle of his charge and caught a second orc patrolman who had drawn his sword rather than spear. This orc was perhaps a green horn as he lacked the skill and grace of his dead companion; he chopped a sloppy overhand strike that Marius easily evaded as he charged into his foe. The blade was that of an orcish longsword that had about half a foot cut from the base the handle, modified to serve as a bastard sword for a gnome. Marius drove the blade will all his charging momentum through the weak point of the footman’s breastplate, the sides where the armor is strapped. The green horn footman was dead before he hit the ground.

Seline and Kane occupied the third orc who had both his spear and his short sword out. He was using the spear tucked under arm and braced across his back to ward off Seline, while his sword stood in a defensive posture for Kane. The wolves had him flanked and would circle and strike.

In the chaos of melee, Marius had not yet noticed the other five orcs from the patrol who formed up with two in the rear pilums in hand and three up front with their shields covering one another and short-blades at the ready. The marched steadily holding their tentative formation.

Luca called a small elemental of earth to flank and harry the orcs from below. With a spell he called a hawk to dive and attack from the skies. His brother drew a pillum from the fallen and lazily chucked it at the wolf flanked orc with his off hand. The orc easily dodged but was put off balance enough for the wolves to strike him down rapidly, finishing him brutally in front of his marching companions. They responded with a pilum volley the wolves easily dodged, but held.

Luca was nearly to his brother’s side when he called the power of the cloak and turned into a winter wolf. The pack jumped into the tall grasses for soft cover and stealth. They’d circle round the rear and try to break the formation, Marius and Luca just had to hold up for a few moments.

Luca blasted the front with his new form’s breath weapon. Formations were bad at dodging. Marius drew and a specially carved bit of chitin and spoke a word of command in a passable draconic. Webs quickly formed and held the formation in a sticky mess.

Luca dropped wolf form and called out to Iz. There was no point in watching what came next. Held fast Marius would use either the remaining fallen’s pilums or long spears to finish the patrol and avoid the mess. Trading at the Fort was now a pyrite errand.

It was Luca’s sincere hope that the Fort didn’t spare a wizard from Black Spire College to investigate.  The last thing they needed was to get on the empire’s wanted list. Every orc would be a potential enemy, not to mention the bounty hunters.

Fire made scars on the land and in the hearts of two orphan gnomes, the burn squad that cleared the Fort’s killing fields would pay for being careless with their fire today. Marius was easy to underestimate, he was usually so kind and warm, like a crackling hearth on a cold day.  Though like that same hearth, if things got out of control he was capable of as much destruction and violence as any raging fire.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Celtris Tales: Small Packages Chapter 2 Marius

Small Packages: Marius

Marius didn’t like the idea of stopping over to trade at Fort Furthest. Most orcs found the sight of Luca bonded to Iz unsettling and while both brothers had a charming manner, a nervous orcs on the edge of a warzone could mean trouble. A low whine from Kane his riding wolf echoed the sentiment.

“They don’t like short folk in that Fort Luca,” Marius argued again.

“We don’t look like Halflings, Marius and I want to know what they know of the road ahead,” Luca replied again.

Marius thought about it again. Luca was wearing Iz at the moment and Iz made him about the size of a muscular human, excepting for the fact that Iz also had razor sharp claws, gills, and a crocodilian head. Iz was also translucent so Luca wore his large winter wolf pelt covering most of his body despite the heat. Luca chose Winter so he radiated a low degree of cold and his hair was a shocking mix of snow white, ice blue and hints of a deep purple. The clothing he wore under Iz was all about hiding the shape of his thin sickly body under folds of fabric.

Marius in contrast to his brother had orange hair as wild and bright as a fire. He was short but clearly muscular with wide shoulders and a nice tan. He wore heavy mail and an array of weapon handles jutted from various angles from his back and his belt.

One had to look carefully at the gnome brothers’ faces to see the resemblance. While Luca rarely smiled, when he did those who knew Marius would recognize it. Marius was always smiling. They both had dominant noses that anchored the face and ensured their potency to gnomish women. They shared sharp cheekbones and solidly proportioned chins. Marius chose to allow mutton chops while Luca remained more conservative and cleaned shaven.

On his chest, Marius wore a tabard with the canine face that was the symbol of loyalty, clasped hands echoed that sentiment as a symbol around his neck, and his sword arm had an armband with a rose symbol for beauty. Like all paladins he was open about his convictions and shared them publically, being an example.

Luca took care of Marius growing up when they were orphaned by a fire. Later Marius had to take Luca to different healers when the wasting sickness started robbing his brother of vitality. Luca was fierce and enriched his mind, with Marius’ aid he searched library after library seeking answers on his disease, and the type of magics that could cure it.

There was nothing Marius would not do for Luca. No challenge he would not overcome, short of betraying the Summer court. Keeping loyal to both was not easy, but convictions weren’t meant to be. Being a Paladin wasn’t meant to be easy either. Luca was frequently bitter and difficult, he resented needing Marius, and at times the feeling was mutual. Marius believed that the core of love was loyalty, of staying with someone through the hard times and being there even when they push you away. That within everyone there was beauty.

To Marius, his brother Luca had a beautiful mind. His brother had such a will that he made a better body for himself on sheer will and an innate talent for magic. He read dozens of languages and absorbed facts like a thirsty man drinks.

It was hard for others to understand why a paladin consorted with someone who used warlock magic and who called on an otherworldly Eidolon. Or why a summer gnome served and protected a winter gnome. Marius usually answered such inquiries with a smile and said: “when I was a child and I cried for my dead mother, Luca always read me my favorite story no matter how sick of it he got.”

In his reverie, Marius almost bumped into Luca who had stopped. His hand had reflexively landed on the handle of his re-hilted legion blade, as Marius looked for the threat. There was an acrid burnt smell that hung in the air.

“What, brother?” Marius inquired.

Luca pointed ahead, the orcs had burned a swath around their fort a half mile wide. The tall grasses that had straddled either side of the road abruptly ended and the earth was blackened with ash. The smell was that of a drowned fire, it was purposeful.

A hot fire of anger burned inside of Marius at the thought. The fort was a menacing mound of stone surrounded by a scar burned into the grassland. It spoke of something ugly about those that resided within those walls and offended the appreciation of beauty that ran deep to Marius’ core.

Marius was running with his weapon drawn before he realized he had spotted an orc with a torch.

With an act of will his own fire sprouted from the blade.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Celtris Tales: Small Packages Chapter 1 Luca

Small Packages: Luca

Luca awoke with a familiar sickening panic. His eyes scanned the area for Marius on reflex to see if the fool had fallen asleep on watch again. Sometimes his eyes would meet his dutiful brother’s and Luca would feel a pang of fleeting remorse, then the routine would take over.This time his eyes found Marius' back which was just as well. Luca kept to his rituals and ran a mental inventory, confirming that he could still feel and move all his extremities.  The wasting sickness stalked him like a thief, halted but never cured. If it returned he’d typically lose grip first, then his limbs, his ability to eat, to speak, and ultimately to breathe. His mind would remain sharp as his body became an inert prison. It was a terrifying sickness.

On an intellectual level Luca knew his brother would never fall asleep on watch again, it simply was not in Marius’ character to be so careless. The paladin had not tried dwarven spirits before that night and he only had a normal tankard full. Not only had Marius apologized, he had sworn off drinking all together. Luca just couldn’t help resenting his dependence on Marius.

The healer's amulet had halted the wasting sickness seven years ago, Luca’s slow appointment with invalidity and death had been forestalled, but his brother knew as well as he did that without more potent magic, Luca was living on borrowed time. The disease was still inside of him and could be triggered by any number of environmental factors.

A magic belt lent Luca the strength to move without assistance, though not without pain, and he was clumsy. Another magic trinket reduced Luca’s need to sleep and entirely removed the need to eat. It meant that once he merged with his Eidolon, he need not dismiss it to take a meal, or take a trip to the jakes. It meant that the amount of time a child could overpower him was reduced to two hours and a little over a minute every day.

A silent act of will and a single murmur of Iz’s name, would summon the otherworldly being that Luca wore like armor. When joined with Iz’s body his mind was no longer locked into a prison of weakness, ruin, and pain. Despite its fragile appearing translucence, Iz’s body moved with speed and power. It was almost enough.

Luca didn’t like to think about women, or more specifically one woman. There was no point in pursuing something that is so far out of reach, and she had married a few years ago. Nothing is more haunting than a kiss. Even one given out of pity.

Luca banished that line of thinking and focused on the body he had shaped with the force of his will and the bond with an otherworldly presence. When he was one with Iz he could feel the faint glimmer of a mind that was somehow distant yet content to be joined. To be whole was joy for both.

Luca rose, “get some rest Marius, tomorrow we leave this easy road for a war zone.”

Marius hunkered down with the wolves. Barely articulating a “thanks brother” before falling into a deep slumber. Like many traits Marius took for granted, Luca envied him for his ability to simply carelessly sleep. Luca’s mind was usually too loud and it took a good half hour to quietly sort his thoughts. He loved his brother, needed his brother, envied his brother, and hated his brother all at once. Cold reason battered away a deadly urge. It would be so easy.

Luca fled that line of thinking and got moving to check his trap lines. Luca left little to chance and set an elaborate series of warning and snare traps. The snares usually caught small game and served a secondary function in that they could trip up a stealthy approach if they went unnoticed. Then there were the dagger rakes, step on one of them and a dagger rose rapidly to stab the victim in the leg, they were outlaid in a secondary circle. Marius learned the pattern the hard way after a couple incidents.

On an intellectual level Luca knew that his brother was actually of about the average intelligence level, but he could not help finding fault in his brother’s mental abilities. Both brothers had their mother’s charm and looks, but Luca seemed to inherit all of his father’s magus wit while Marius just had his physical grace.

Luca avoided the subject of their parent’s death. Marius remembered the fire if not the cause. The failed rebellion of Lesh didn’t have a right side and telling Marius what happened would just repurpose him from useful to a creature of vengeance.

The snares yielded four rabbits, Luca would skin and cook one for Marius before dawn, he casually tossed the wolves one each raw. Less time wasted that way.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Tales from the Back Room: Into the Breach the Cavalier

The next offering of TFPC is nearly complete, Into the Breach: the Cavalier.  Stay tuned to the TFPC blog for things like discussions and sneak previews of the upcoming book.