Friday, October 10, 2014

Celtris Tales: Small Packages Chapter 5 Slaver's Galley

Small Packages: Slaver’s Galley

Having activated Defiance’s larger form Valen managed to whirl the double mace like a bo staff to simultaneously block a coordinated number two (high left) strike and number ten (low right) strike, and side step the follow up number 8 (deep lunge) but not the rapid roundhouse kick follow up Jared loaded a cold punching snowball spell strike that rocked him back on his heels. The old man was serious today. Valen recovered his wits in time to see Jared complete a spell that created a half dozen illusionary doubles of the famed hero.

“You fight well my son, but you seem to think that matters. Your enemies will not wait to see if you’re ready to fight, they will simply look for the most expedient way to kill you.”

Valen spun Defiance again like a bo-staff and launched into a spinning assault that would offer him many strikes at the price of true momentum, it cleared all but one of the illusions solidly connecting with his father’s  shoulder with perhaps too hard a clip. Jared vanished in that moment to reappear with the tip of his rapier two inches deep under Valen’s floating rib.

Unapologetically, Jared withdrew his blade and flicked of his foster son’s blood. “Take a healing potion and fetch one for me while you’re at it. You need to stop relying on your eyes so much my son, or some clever spire mage will kill you one day.”

The words were a gentle but serious rebuke. Valen realized two things in that moment, it was the first time he had ever hit his adoptive father in a sparring match, and that his father had was pushing him harder today with a purpose.

“Something is wrong?” Valen had never been a man of many words, words came awkwardly to his lips. He preferred silent action, monks in his order rarely spoke.

Jared nodded. Before he could explain a messenger burst into the practice courtyard.

“General Ambassador, pardon my interruption but there’s a slaver ship on its way to the harbor.”

Jared’s face darkened, with deadly swift grace that Valen had heard tales of but never witnessed from his father, the half elf half goblin sheathed his blade into his walking cane, made a number of practiced arcane somatic motions and ran out toward the harbor casting spells as he moved.

Valen had seen his father shirtless enough times to know the brutal lash marks on his back, the brand on his ribs, and the deadly serious glint in his father’s eyes when the subject of slavery was broached. Jared had been a slave early in his life and few things infuriated him more thoroughly.

The bards told tales of Jared freeing himself from the southern slavers. His full elf wife was a former slave the hero had freed. Many of his men were once slave troops or caravan guards effectively stuck in a cycle of debt akin to slavery. He had fled north and begged sanctuary in Briar Hills for the price slaver’s had put on his head. Jared was worth six figures to those men, it would end up being the low bid compared to what the Imperium was willing to pay.

Jared became Briar Hill’s greatest hero. He was the high general of their armies and chief ambassador. At one point a mercenary company form the southern cities came to collect the reward on Jared’s head and their ships were burned in the harbor of Briar Hills. Since then no slave ship had dared enter halfling territory.

Valen raced after his father. No slaver would dare try to dock in the harbor, Jared was famous for what he did to slavers as he was for anything else. Valen fished a potion out of the pack he carried, it would lend him speed. He would likely have to fight his own father in more earnest if he was to prevent a terrible mistake. There was only one reason a slaver ship would harbor in Briar Hills, that reason being it wasn’t piloted by slavers.

Valen watched his adoptive father’s mental decline with silent distress. In the moment the man was deadly and sharp and with a little coaxing he could match wits with any foe, but his short term memory was declining and sometimes he acted rashly to cover for his deficiencies. Today that could mean the death of innocents, Valen buckled down and ran faster.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Celtris Tales: Small Packages Chapter 4 Stones and Bones

Small Packages: Stones and Bones

Jared’s left knee thudded with a dull ache that usually indicated an approaching storm. The throbbing pain of that knee would act as a baseline, a lifetime of battles had made his body a symphony of aches and pains when the weather was about to turn. Each note was a reminder of a battle won, some by a minute detail and a little luck. The pains served as reminders of the best and worst moments in his heroic life.

Jared’s star-stone rapier was now sheathed in a cane, serving double duty, weapon and support. His boot still housed to his returning dagger won off a gnoll assassin, he could summon it to hand as an act of will. Defiance, his signature mace, was slung across the belt of his squire, along with his pack and most of his wands and potions.

The boy was a mixed blood, human and halfling, and the lad and had all of his father’s strength, but little to no cunning. What Jared found troubling was that he had trouble remembering the boy’s name. No the lad was half human and a genius next to his true father, Jared admonished himself for getting forgetful.

Briar Hills had spared no expense in keeping their most famous hero propped up. Jared wore a belt that enhanced all of his physical attributes and a circlet for his mind. He had a magical hat that could make him look however he pleased, and several magical protective items. What they couldn’t do for Jared was restore the arrogant confidence of his youth or bring back the brave men he once led.

The Starstone mercenary company lived on and had grown to two hundred irregulars and fifty auxiliaries. Jared had seen to each recruitment and subsequent training. Each was trained in precision striking and had a weapon made from the meteor. They were an elite force but their true mettle had never been tested these past thirty years.

Jared would trade the lot of them for the heroic bakers dozen spearmen he once led. Those men were the kind of warriors that would challenge hell with a smile and come out better for it.  But they were gone, just like their sergeant, Sergan Daine.

Orcs began training at age seven and one in three of them never lived to adulthood and military service which was mandatory for five years on reaching their majority. They then policed a population that largely despised and occasionally tried to murder them. They had conquered all but three far flung corners of the northern continent, and they held those three nations to the stalemate of a long siege.

If the orcs training was all there was to them, Jared Swift was confident he’d have ended their empire thirty years ago. For the second time in twenty years the orc empire sent a true invasion force to conquer Briar Hills, using Red Keel across the bay as a staging point. Jared beat them in the air by using a rusting grasp spell channeled through bird familiars to rust open their bomb bays early and bolts of magical lightning to ignite the sky ships’ alchemical payloads. They then tried landing forces onto the famous black sand beaches. Jared had spent the previous evening mixing tar into those sands, the screams of the landing parties still haunted his dreams at times.

The battles while costly to the orcs were not the true campaign though. Jared had sown the seeds of a hundred revolutions with spies, instigating bards, hidden weapon and supply caches, and a variety of safe havens all networked with a secret mail service. Every attempt to keep their invasion forces supplied was either robbed or destroyed. The wild fire plan predicted the orcs would remain stubborn and start rationing their empire’s citizenry to keep their invasion on. Such an action would have set in motion a series of revolts, riots, protests, and assassination attempts. The orcs would have had to scramble troops everywhere and their entire house of cards would have crashed. In the end they backed out the invasion force and actually started increasing social aid programs.

An entire human generation has grown up as a permanent merchant class, well fed, educated, and with steady work. Jared suspected the orcs could invade now without risking anything, the embers of revolution had all but died out to cold ash. Only the humans had the population numbers to challenge orc rule, and they were a complacent bunch at best.

The boy’s name came back to Jared in that moment, along with a terrifying realization. The boy was named Valen after Jared’s older brother who died a slave. He was a bastard boy from one of the men he dismissed from the mercenary company on the grounds that he was too stupid to follow orders. Jared adopted the boy and he was the third  he had adopted. The boy wasn’t exactly a genius but wise beyond his years and a fair monk.

Forgetting his adoptive son was troubling indeed, if he were to lose his mind then Briar Hills was about to be without it’s general. If Jared was right about the reports he was reading, Briar Hills was going to need a general again and soon. More importantly Briar Hills was in desperate need of more allies that only the southern continent could provide.

Jared began his stretching routine. He’d put Valen through his paces today, pain or no. The very thought made Jared smile a smile his enemies had grown to fear, it was a smile he only wore when he was properly motivated to fight.