Private Tales Fellowship of Chance

A private roleplay only for those invited by the first writer

Charlemagne

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The biting wind seemed keen on breaking through every gap in his clothing that it could. The storm had come seemingly from nowhere, the once blue skies giving way to violent thunderclouds and the gray of overcast. Snow and a slurry of freezing rain fell upon the duo in thin sheets, killing the vegetation beneath their feet and threatening to chill their very bones.

Charlemagne pressed on through the growing drifts with dogged determination. The Spine had ever been his home, and her random bouts of fury were something he'd grown accustomed to in his youth. That being said, experience did not make him immune to the elements, and he knew that if they remained out in this storm for much longer it would sap the strength from their bones and claim their souls as it had so many others.

He cast a wary look over his shoulder at his companion. Singar had accompanied him from the Blighted Lands to the outskirts of the floating city to the west where they'd dropped off the witch-girl. He was still uncertain about the whole affair. It wasn't in his nature to offer his assistance free of charge, nor was it to keep a companion for this long. Indeed, he wasn't entirely sure why he'd opted to show Singar mercy back on the blighted plain. Nonetheless, the Orc had sword to keep his company in exchange for his life.

They'd exchanged few words since then. Charlemagne hadn't agreed to his accompaniment for his companionship, but rather his skills in battle. In that vein, Singar had proven quite useful on their journey to the southern Spine.

"I don't think this storm is natural!" He shouted over the howling wind. they strode along the ridge-peaks of the north, the long-trodden hiking trail slowly becoming obscured by the snowfall. The Spine often snowed year-round, but storms such as this were rare in the summer. The roaring gusts slammed into him once again, momentarily staying his feet and throwing back his hood.

"Don't you Orcs have shamanic magic or some shit like that!?" He added as he held a hand above his face to shield his eyes from the snow-rain.


Singar
 

Singar

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This was a land alien to Singar. His people had no words for the mountains that grew clear into the realm of the sky spirits. If there was anyone left back west for him to return to, they would have scarcely believed his tales.

The snow drifts seemed to dog his every step with mortal malice. The wind spirits of this land must recognize him as an outsider. Storms were never friends of Singar. He'd experienced once the typhoon season in coastal Falwood, and the sandstorms of the great desert. Those great, hot southern gales paled in comparison to the ice winds of the mountains. In the Spine, the wind seemed irreverent to natural laws as it whipped them from every direction.

When Charlemagne expressed his concern, Singar nodded in concurrence. Singar did not know this land, but he knew nature.

"Yes, but I do not think Orcs of this land are all that similar to me!" Singar roared over the wind back to his new companion.

Singar had known two shamans in his life time. One in the stronghold he had been born in, the other in the tribe he had left his kin for. As far as he knew both had died when the Orcs of his homeland began to fight. Shamans were a regular trophy kill. They were magic-men, of course, but their powers were limited by superstitious fears. They were meant to speak with nature, not command it. As far as he knew any shaman attempting such a spell to cause a storm like this would be killed without hesitation.

"Surely there are caves we can seek for shelter!" They may well still be cold and wet in hiding, but it beat a continued onslaught from the elements.

Charlemagne
 
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Charlemagne

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Were it not for the snow. Charlemagne might have well recognized the path they now tread. As things were, landmarks were coated in several feet of white, and the darkened skies seemed keen on making sure the duo were left as blind as one could be mid-day.

The mercenary lofted a brow at Singar's words. Truth be told, he knew woefully little of the Orc, though he'd surmised Singar to be a bit of a black sheep. There weren't many green-skinned Orcs in the far north of the Spine, and the company he'd kept prior to their meeting certainly didn't seem like his people. Charlemagne had surmised his strange companion was a wanderer, much the same as himself.

"Wishful thinking has a way of jinxing itself in the Spine!" He shouted back, the howling wind swallowing up his words as they slowly trudged deeper in the heart of the mountain range. It seemed as if the storm only grew angrier, the violent gale now crashing into Charlemagne as if it were a physical wall. He was forced to lean into it to keep from being toppled over - a certain death sentence in this cold.

They drew nearer to the apex of this part of the range. The path they'd been following was well buried in the snow, but Charlemagne's instincts were sharp and he was well familiar with this route. Ahead a few hundred meters, poking out from the darkness, was the pointed edifice of a cliff that hung over a section of the mountain pass. It was no cave, but the plateau stretched out a few meters over the path, blocking the worst of the rain and snow and likely forming a natural shield against the screeching wind.

"That'll do," he grumbled to himself as he fought to draw his cowl back over his face. His fingers, numb from the cold, found little purchase, and he consigned himself to silent suffering until they found themselves beneath the jutting cliff.

There were no trees at this height, but the many twisted brambles that nursed beneath the protection of the cliff would do well enough for firewood, assuming they could even get a fire started in this gale.

"Not a cave, but it's better than staying out there," Charlemagne mumbled, the thin stretching of cavern walls that jutted beneath the cliff blocking the wind enough that he didn't need to shout to be heard. The mercenary wasted little time in clearing a patch of snow, though with how much had gathered the task was not an easy one.

"Cut some of those brambles Singar. They won't make much of a fire, but something is better than nothing."

Beyond the half-hazard shelter, the wind roared on.
 

Singar

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Singar silently rejoiced at the sight of shelter as he pulled his bearhide cloak tighter around him. Its fur was only slight protection against the abominable wind, but it was better than nothing.

Once underneath the cliff, they set to work. Singar loosed his axe from his side and gripped it with frozen white knuckles close to the head. He knelt down by the cliff wall to observe the strange brambles. They were thick and dark, like the cracks in the stone from which they somehow grew. He questioned not how they came to survive in this place, for nature was full of miracles as much as it was dangers.

His axe met little resistance chopping up the plants, but when it was all said and done Singar knew they had a far cry from the materials they needed. They need luck more than skill. If the wind changed its course again they would be even less lucky.

With his free hand the Orc clutched the pile of brambles and dropped it into the spot Charlemagne had cleared.

Singar slipped the axe back under his cloak, then rummaged blindly in the satchel that hung at his side underneath the dense fur. From it he pulled a log of dry, unknown meat, which he then sliced in two. Each half measured the length of his middle finger.

"We may lack for warmth up here, but we may yet fuel the fires inside of us." he offered one half of the dried meat to his companion. Now that they had a moments rest, they needed to energize. It was the last of Singar's rations, but with the weather and no food in his stomach every moment threatened to be his last...

Charlemagne
 
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Charlemagne

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"I didn't take you for a poet," Charlemagne grunted, though he took the offered food all the same. He had the remains of a rabbit that he'd been lucky enough to snare before they'd begun the climb up to the peaks, but other than that game was scarce. The recent raids by the Blighted Orcs in the north, and the fueling of the gathering hordes to the south combined with the terrible weather for a potent concoction of famine. Where once it had not been uncommon to come across dozens of deer and legions of small game, now the Spine was naught but silent.

He wasted little time in whittling one of the firmer bramble bits between some of the nearby rocks. He chewed thoughtfully on the dried meat as tiny sparks began to light from the friction of stone on plant material, and he took great care to make sure it set the rest of the gathered brambles alight.

A tiny flame birthed from the gathering. It wasn't much - dreadfully little really, but the heat warmed his frozen flesh and brought some measure of feeling back to his fingers.

"I don't think it's wise to head back out into the storm. The more violent ones tend to break unevenly against the mountains. It's only a matter of time before we have a dry moment to press on," partly wishful thinking, partly experience. Truth be told he just didn't want to go out into that frozen shitshow again.

The mercenary finished what Singar had offered him as he pressed further brambles onto the flame, birthing a small inferno from the once tiny spark. so long as the wind continued to batter against the back of the mountain, their fire was safe.

Boredom swiftly overtook the biting cold as Charlemagne lingered over the flame. He was not one for many words, but the howling wind and the echoes of it upon the cliff stirred his often-vacant mind. "I've not asked you before," he began, setting his greatsword across his knees and grinding along its edge with his whetstone. "You're a greenskin. Not like those gray ones that tried to kill us up north. Did they take you as a slave or something?" Truthfully what he knew of the Orcs was only how they waged war. He'd not even known there were any Orcs aside from the greenskins until stepping foot in the blighted lands.
 

Singar

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Singar simply grunted at the man's poet remark. He could not dignify a response, but it was welcome to see Charlemagne was not quite the cynic Singar had imagined.

For now, Singar put his faith in his new companion. That man had thus far helped him out of the blightlands and could have tried to kill him sooner if that was his plan. Given what Singar had done, killing that half-man... amongst Orcs there should have been an honour killing already.

Singar eagerly approached the small flame. He had no qualms with staying here.

"I don't think it's wise to head back out into the storm. The more violent ones tend to break unevenly against the mountains. It's only a matter of time before we have a dry moment to press on,"

"This is a strange land, but you seem to know it well enough."

"I've not asked you before," he began, setting his greatsword across his knees and grinding along its edge with his whetstone. "You're a greenskin. Not like those gray ones that tried to kill us up north. Did they take you as a slave or something?"

"They didn't chain me," the Orc started slow, still chewing on his tough jerky. "but they didn't offer me much choice. There wasn't much left in the place they call The Reach, after they raided it. I could've fought and died, or I could've gone with them and put my arms to use. Circumstances not too far from our own, y'know?"

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Charlemagne

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A strange land indeed. Charlemagne cast his gaze out toward the jagged peaks beyond their haphazard shelter. The majority of them were shrouded by the storm, but he could still make out the sharp points of their summit’s and the occasionally crag poking through the gray din. It was strangely comforting, even amidst the storm. His forays into the ‘modern world’, what some had termed to be civilization, were confusing and up to this point all together unpleasant. Up in the peaks, where the earth brushed up against the heavens and nature ruled the day, he understood things. There was great violence here, true, but with it came the boons of natural beauty and instinct. One did not need to stop to think about what they were doing in the spine.

They just did.

His mind prickled as he returned his gaze to his green skinned companion. Normally he would have held his tongue, but he asked of Singar first and to not return the courtesy was unbecoming of a man of the mountains.
“The Spine is my home. I was born amidst its peaks, and up until very recently it is all that I have known.” A momentary hesitation, “I have been working as a sellsword since I was five in one way or another. Served my father until his time came. Went my own way after that. Money and war interchange hands easily enough here in the peaks. Never had any reason to head toward the valleys.”

Until he’d come across Singar.

He fell silent then, listening to the Orc’s brief summation. “It seems your fate is not wholly your own then.” The mercenary mused, “When we reach the southern peaks I will release you from your debt to me. Then you will be your own master, as I am my own.” He knew little of Singar, and understood far less as to why the Orc had chosen to accompany him beyond the vague idea of a debt being repaid in exchange for Pip’s life. That Charlemagne had seen a fragment of himself in the Orc, and thus his choosing to have mercy on the warrior, was something he would keep to himself.

He carefully removed his gauntlets, setting them aside in the snow and splayed his palms out over the fire, momentarily forgetting his greatsword. “Tell me of the Reach.”

Singar
 

Singar

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“When we reach the southern peaks I will release you from your debt to me. Then you will be your own master, as I am my own.”

"I can agree to that."

Singar's suspicions had been confirmed, that the human was native to this place. He was a wanderer certainly, but every man carried a piece of their home with them. Singar saw in Charlemagne the strength needed to live and thrive in a hellscape such as this. As Charlemagne had pointed out, it was the green skin that marked Singar as an orc of Liadain.

Singar was surprised by his companion's conversation, but he obliged. He saw the similarities in both of them. Men of similar paths, perhaps similar worldviews. And given their situation, there was nothing else to do but share the tales of their journeys.


"The Reach is a place I think I would like to be in different times. Soft woods, rolling hills. Calm I would think. But by the time I had reached it most villages had been burned to the ground by the same horde those blighters you found me with had been a part of."

The reach had largely been a disappointment to him. Not because of the Orcish horde, for his curiosity of them had brought him there, but for the potential he saw in that freshly scorched land.

"But you Humans are ceaseless. I'm sure the villages of the Reach will build back. Unless those greyskins, as you call them, come back."

Until Singar's travels with Marushk's band, he hadn't know Grey Orcs to exist. He'd heard tell of Blue Orcs in the desert. Yet in all his western travels, he'd only seen Orcs of green.

"You have some kind of history with the Orcs of these mountains, no?"

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Charlemagne

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The tales told of the gray Orcs had seemed exaggerated as they'd been passed around the fires of mercenary camps, and yet it seemed they might well have been true. Charlemagne had only come close enough to gaze upon the walls of Molthal, but he'd seen well enough of their brutality on the paths leading to it. Singar's brief retelling seemed well in character.

"It is an unfortunate reality of this world that those who settle in soft places are often crushed by those that do not." The charred remains of dozens of villages dotted about the back of the Spine were a testament, and even then, those had been hardy realms all their own. "What a travesty it must be to be born in love and splendor, only to have the cruel reality of the world rip it all away at the whims of a warlord looking for a bit of plunder." He mused, his gaze drifting off into the flickering orange of the fire.

"The people will return in time. If not the survivors, then others looking for opportunity. If they have learned their lesson, perhaps they'll even flourish in those rolling hills. If not, history will repeat itself as it tends to do when nature is law." A dismal point of view perhaps, but an honest one. "Those unwilling to do what is required to carve out their niche will inevitably have one carved out of themselves."

He was waxing philosophic now. It was an old an uncomely habit that had seen him estranged from most. Few had the heart or mind to look upon the grim face of the world and accept for what it was.

He waited a few moments to answer Singar's final question, simply watching the flickering of the flames. "An extensive one, yes," he finally responded. "The Spine is home to more non-humans than my kin. There are innumerable Orcish tribes that call it home, each with their own morals and code of ethics, though a primal spiritualism and some level of connection to the elements tend to bind them together. Their savagery is akin to those grayskins, but it is more about survival than cruelty. An Orc tribesman might kill you for trespassing on his hunting ground, but he'll do it with an arrow through the back of the head while you've sat for a drink rather than screaming his head off and disemboweling you with an axe. He'll use your remains for the rest of the tribe, maybe feed you to his wolves, use your bones to make arrows - he won't stick your head on a pike or use your skin to make a cape He might even spare your life and take you in as one of his own."

Charlemagne pointed a fat finger at Singar. "You don't seem akin to either group. The grays are like animals with a cruel cunning, they have no wit or philosophy. The mountain tribesman have honor and reverence about them, but they wholly reject civilization." The mercenary huffed with amusement. "The way you speak, the way you dress - you're in the middle."

The storm howled on.
 

Singar

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"I was in the middle. I am outside of my people now." a depleted scorn shone through his stoic voice.

He was not apt to tell his story to others. It made him worthless to other Orcs, and it was too bizarre for most humans to believe or understand. Sitting before him was perhaps the person most interested in Orcs he'd ever met, someone who might just get it. Sin was not as elegant with the human tongue as the native Charlemagne Yet, it was far better than the average orc that could never imagine the need to speak to a human. It would do well enough to convey his tale.

"Since you've told me of your home, it's only fair that I should tell you about mine. I was born in a stronghold. They are like human villages, but we put walls around them. Much safer. We grew plants for food, just like you humans. Humans started to respect us, not fear us. I have spoken human language since I was a boy, since we traded a lot with them, and we became a regular stop on the road." his laconic description was choked, the wounds of the past keeping him from wanting to explain.

"There are orcs in the wild just like here, though they are not such bastards. The Orcs of the plains just disagree with the ways of stronghold orcs. They prefer nature, and they showed me its ways. There are plenty of animals whose bones make good tools, and they dont keep any dogs to feed. You make Orcs of The Spine sound like Gnolls."

Singar was wholly unsure if Charlemagne even knew what a Gnoll was. Most Humans had the pleasure of ignorance towards the dogmen.
 
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Charlemagne

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Ah, and there it was. The worm that wriggled in Singar's soul; that brief look in the greenskin's eyes that had urged Charlemagne to stay his blade that day in the Blightlands. It was a source of curiosity for the mercenary. Few creatures beyond the walls of the great cities pondered the higher meanings of life; that wondering shone through Singar so clearly he may as well have been transparent.

The touchiness of the subject was obvious given Singar's dour expression and his hesitant manner of speech. Charlemagne, ever the sort to leave one to their own problems, would have to be careful not to coax too much from the Orc. The worm was there, and it could be tugged upon should need arise.

"I have heard tales of the civilized Orc though you are the first of their kind that I have met. I know there are great cities - strongholds as you say like Bhaithark. You won't find much of that here in the mountains," he gestured up toward the roof off the cliff. "The Spine reduces most to subsistence and savagery. Humans and Dwarves succumb to it just as much as the Orcs do, the Orcs are just better at it. If a city fails here, one's only hope of survival is to think and hunt as a beast does, or to leave. Anything less makes you prey, and prey does not last long here."

Indeed, Charlemagne had no true prejudices against any race of the world aside from the Elves. He'd never met one of their kind that did not engage in some form of hedonism, misplaced arrogance, wanton cruelty, or a mix of the three. He was simply a realist and was unafraid of being honest about his observations.

"Humanity would fare far better if it prioritized walls over crops I believe," the mercenary mused, "Why are you outside now? Did the Orcs of the land contend with those of the strongholds, and your middling saw you untrusted by both? Or did you commit some heinous sin?" Out went his carefulness in lieu of curiosity. While he appreciated Singar's skills for what they were, the Orc had still slain Pip in cold blood. Perhaps in knowing what had forged Singar, he might better understand why Pip had to die.
 

Singar

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As Singar had rightly guess, Charlemagne understood.

"The first of those two, though I suppose that was heinous enough. Orcs care about two things: protecting themselves, so they can protect their kin. I became friends with a tribe on the plains. They first raided my stronghold, but I learned they were not bad, only different. Their way of life clashed with the stronghold. They fought here and there, but mostly kept apart. Until I brought them together. I betrayed my blood with sword in hand all because the barbarians had made me kin. My mixed up loyalties killed many, but not as many as were killed when the humans arrived. They thought our violence was the forming of a horde, so they came with arms against us. Their misunderstanding was not unjust. Our conflict was getting out of hand, all along the highways humans travelled on daily. Every orc, civilized or savage, was put down with fire and steel if they fought. Some that deferred were allowed to live as serfs or slaves. I escaped deeper into the savannah, but even with those who followed me into exile we did not have enough people to band against the Gnolls and Were-Lions of the deep plains. Eventually I left Aberresai behind."

Charlemagne
 
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Charlemagne

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The mercenary remained silence as Singar recounted his tale. It seemed there was much more blood on the Orc's hands than Charlemagne had realized, but then he had no place to judge. How many strangers had he slain in his time? Dozens? More likely hundreds. He'd taken the coin and swung his sword without a care so long as those he fought wore their own weapons, and that had never been out of honor.

There was no sport in killing an unarmed man, and slaying women or children turned his stomach. He supposed that such a reaction meant he still a carried a kernel of compassion. Did Singar?

"One cannot live when caught between two worlds. It will inevitably tear us apart, and too often those dragging us which way or another as well. I'd say you've learned that lesson better than anyone."

The fire crackled, little ember sparks floating up toward the rocky cliff-ceiling. "And too often do all the peoples of Arethil lean on the wisdom of prejudice." A hint of melancholy laced its way into his otherwise toneless voice. There was a private sadness there, a deep woe for the world as it was. One might have called it pity, another disdain.

"That is why you ended up with the grayskins then? In search of a people?" He was beginning to understand Singar now. To wander eternally was to be rootless, and to be rootless was to be dead. He too was a dead thing pretending to live.
 

Singar

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"Aye, I suppose. Until now I had not sat and thought of it." he spoke with remorse in his voice. The blighted orcs were brutal, and they had led him to brutality as well.

Now that he had a moment to register, he fell silent in pondering. Savagery demanded much from a man. It demanded a cunning, virility, and tenacity that civilized men had traded for security and complacency. But it also demanded nothing. It asked a man to stoop to his most base feelings, to survive tooth and nail against the first and greatest emotion: fear.

There had been fear in the Halfling's eyes when Singar's arrow had struck him down. The Orc was too far to see it, but he knew. He knew because once upon a time he too had been the tame youth, fearful of the greater world and its dangers. The difference was that Singar had, by some divine mercy he supposed, been allowed to survive his trials so far.

"These words might weigh like feathers, but I am sorry about your friend. These times it is easier to strike someone down, harder to stay a hand. You do not seem like a man who has people either." Singar put bluntly,

"Did you travel with the small man for long?"

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Charlemagne

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The air seemed to grow heavier between the two as Singar voiced his musings. That much, Charlemagne understood all too well. The mantra his father had passed down to him served well in times of chaos and despair long after the old man's passing. You simply needed to keep swinging your sword until you could no longer think about it anymore. It was a moving meditation of sorts. One could block out the higher questions with blood and instinct their entire life and never know sorrow.

The mercenary's life had revolved around that conundrum, and yet the quiet moments still came. The thoughts always returned.

"My father was a terrible example of a man and he long suffered for it. He told me that the way to combat the nihilism that often pervades our thoughts when we look up beyond our circumstance, one only needs to swing his sword until his mind is no longer capable of thought. It makes for a bestial man, but it runs well as a counter to the mortal condition." Flawed perhaps, but then Charlemagne had never enjoyed the opportunity to explore other veins of thought.

The mercenary stoked the fire once again, his voice dropping from its typical apathetic tenor to something a bit more empathetic. "It sounds like you've been doing a lot of swinging."

Singar's apology followed, and it stilled Charlemagne's tongue. His gaze darted from the crackling flame to meet the Orcs, and for a moment that yoke of comradery gave way to a predator's stare, unblinking, nearly wide eyed, lips pressed into a thin line with bits of redness about them from the force of keeping his mouth closed and his jaw locked.

A second passed. Then another. Charlemagne's shoulders slumped and so did his gaze. "Folk have a tendency of bringing trouble with them," was his brief answer to Singar's implication. "Pip did not. He was a good kid, sixteenth summer. No family to call home, rejected from just about every bard's college on the continent. He clung to adventure and threw himself into mindless danger because it kept his mind quiet too."


The mercenary breathed a quiet sigh, a small white puff expelling with his breath. "I would have never let him come with me, but I thought I might've been able to protect him. He was keen on exploring the Spine and without any kind of weapons no less. He thought he could sing his way through life, and he would've died without me. He did die even with me."


He did well to keep the emotion from bleeding into his voice. He recounted the Halfling as he might an old piece of history or battle statistics. Matter-of-factly. That didn't keep it from stinging though.

"If not you, someone else would have done it. Like I said, you either become one with the beast here in the Spine, or the beasts will consume you. Strength is the only thing this world respects. The folk who hide themselves behind city walls and pursue the false mysteries only do so at the mercy of their lords, who would sooner see them as slaves than equals. They hide away and run from any sort of conflict, and so they never grow. They are content to live their life as sentient vermin. Pip came from them but he wasn't that. He contended when the odds for him were hopeless. He was someone to aspire to be."


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Singar

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The silence between them suddenly grew tenser than it had been at any point in the time they had travelled together. Singar knew his sorries were no consolation. The two men were warriors, fiercely independent ones at that. If the Skyfather had not forced them together, their instinct would be to kill one another. Any longer without the storm interrupting their travels and it may well have come to that. Singar could see that much in the quiet fury of Charlemagne's eyes. Singar's muscles rippled as they tensed under the locked gaze. After the brief moment, his heart rate was up. Though they reached a détente, Singar's mind had flashed the image of the two men jumping for one another. He was glad it did not become so.

As both men's adrenaline calmed, Charlemagne indulged him with the story of the boy whose life Singar had taken. It was so rare, he thought, to be forced to think of the men he'd killed. Few in the same style of life ever were pensive of their actions. Though it was hard to get the words out after hearing of Pip's tale, he knew it would be good for him to shed light on the life of a wildman.

"Many folk come from that feudal life. I did. But that life is so different from the way out here. When I was little I quenched blades for my father's smithy. First knives, then swords as I grew to be able to lift them. I would watch in passing the learned men of Elbion who came to document the good orcs. Old wizards as dusty as their books, and their nubile apprentices who'd never left the safety of their school. The journey wasn't far, and the highway was never without fellow travellers. But oh, how they complained of the perils they faced on the road. Your friend embraced this life, and died without cowardice, and certainly with more honour than most."

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Charlemagne

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The intermingling emotions were anathema to Charlemagne's peace, and yet he welcomed them in a half-sense. His private rage simmered to the point of control, assuaged by the Orc's affirmation of Pip's choices. In the end, the little halfling had died as any man of the blade might have wanted to.

The mercenary exhaled a quiet sigh, envisioning his anger leaving his body with the breath. All that lingered in him now was a silent calm and the biting cold of the winds.

"I hope his spirit went somewhere accommodating," he muttered. He didn't believe in any of the gods of Arethil. Most seemed to be mortal spirits engorged on unnatural power; they called themselves gods in their hubris, but they were not the creators of this world. Charlemagne was certain that true progenitor had yet to reveal itself, and if it had, then it had died long ago.

"I don't know what happens after we die. Many claim to know, but I have found their wisdom lacking." He added. His lips parted to speak further, but a great crash from just beyond the outcropping's walls halted his speech. It carried across the peaks, echoing throughout the land as great drifts of snow cascaded down the side of the ridge into the abyss below.

Charlemagne sprung to his feet on instinct, leaving his gauntlets in the snow as his fingers wrapped about the pommel of his sword.

The howling of the storm grew with the crash, so loud that it might have been deafening beyond the outcropping. The snow and freezing rain fell horizontally now, drenching the duo's fire and the two of them in cold.

From beyond the outcropping, a silhouette stirred. It stood three heads taller than a man. Its limbs were lined with fur and taut muscle, though they were out of proportion and gangly on its thin torso. Two glowing yellow eyes like that of a goat's peered at the duo from the darkness, the pale light of the setting sun just barely illuminating its form through the torrent. As it drew nearer, the blade-sharp horns sprouting from its head became apparent.

"What in the fuck?"

"The revelations say that when the sun dies, a red lake will appear to the west of the city with a name both new and old. It is proof that the first angel will alight. The angel is the Black Hawk. The master of the sinful black sheep, the king of the blind white sheep. The one who shall call upon the world an age of darkness." The goat-thing uttered in a guttural voice that caused the outcropping's walls to vibrate with its baritone.

A terror unlike anything Charlemagne had ever experienced froze his limbs far more assuredly than the cold ever had.

"You wish to know what becomes of mortal souls after death?" The goat-thing asked as it crept beneath the outcropping. Its yellow gaze drifted from the man to the Orc. "To know God? I am his messenger, your proctor. First of many. Last born of the kiln."

"W-what are you?" The human asked, his greatsword feeling impossibly small in his hands.

"I am the test little chicks.."


Singar
 
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Singar

Of The Land
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Singar had never thought deeply about death. It was a part of life, and though one could certainly think about life, it stood to be far better when one simply lived it. He saw death every day, every time he brought down his next meal, every time his arrows pierced weaker men. The corpse of a man is no different from the corpse of a tree. Both are given back to the land, to become the fuel that fires the cycle of nature. Singar hoped whenever he fell, he might land at the feet of the bosom of mother nature.

But death was not always so nice, and as the angle of the winds changed, he realized this. As if the Skyfather had peered down and focused just on the two men, the wild weather seemed to close in like shrinking walls.

When he saw the thing, his blood turned to ice. No furs, no fire, no fitness, could stop the cold from penetrating straight to the marrow of his bones. Like the devil-spawn of a goat and a man, and taller than any he'd ever seen, it lumbered towards them.

Though the storm roared like a beast itself, the thing's heavy hooves echoed straight into his mind as they slowly clacked along the stone. It voice was ethereally clear, as if carried on the dark wind instead of hindered by it.

It's words were nonsensical to Singar, though a deeper, darker part of his mind was touched. It understood what Singar's waking mind could not. Though he held his bow now with a white-knuckle grip, he could not yet bring himself to raise it at the thing.

He had seen the wrath of the Skyfather before. Monsoons off the Falwood coast carrying away villages into the sea, tornados and wildfires scarring the lands. Now he had seen these nasty frozen peaks and their relentless bitter winds. But he had never seen this... abomination.

This was indeed the test. He had waited for it. The Skyfather was a distant and inconsiderate lord, but he had finally heard. What then was the test, to slay the horror? To survive it? Something that welled from deep within him told Singar that everything he knew was the key to success, and the price of failure was untimely demise...

Charlemagne
 
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Charlemagne

Hedgehog's Dilemma
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Carrion hooves clattered loudly against the stone, carrying over even the shrill screams of the gail outside. It drew nearer with a loping gait, slow enough to give the two enough room to negotiate, but forward nonetheless. Its gangly limbs looked strong enough to lift its entire form with ease; it likely could have just killed them then and there if it wanted to.

Yellow eyes affixed the mortals. "Ic was promised the bones some time ago before thine progenation. Birthed in the kiln for thy benefit. To look upon the uncrowned before Ic kin. To judge the worth of the blood." It prattled on in its esoteric strangeness. Its voice never lost that unnatural quality, indeed seeming to ring through the mind as much as it echoed through the air.

Charlemagne steeled himself as much as any mortal man could, fighting against the mortal terror that gripped his limbs and screamed at him to run. He wouldn't make it far in the snowstorm - it'd likely freeze him to death midstep, and that was discounting the beast. Turning his back on it would be a death sentence.

His gaze flashed to meet Singar's own for a brief moment, the fear present, but silent affirmation too. They didn't have any choice other than to stand their ground.

"I don't have any idea what you're talking about." He stammered, the threat he felt shaking his otherwise taciturn voice noticeably.

The goat-thing wheezed a laugh that resembled a donkey's hawing.

"Expect thy to Ic did not not. Nay, thine earthern brother knows pieces. Fragments of the truth. Thy knoweth however that a crown only befits one head, of which you are two." The goat-thing lowered down onto all fours, its head tilting forward as if preparing the charge the duo.

"Doth thou think thine lives are matters of simple circumstance? Bound are we by the threads of fate and causality. Thine birth was chosen within the kiln in ages long past. Blood purposefully intermingling with blood, circumstances cultivated across the ages for thine coming. Three babes of different tribes, three chicks, three fledgling hawks. But of thine hawks, which is black of feather? Causality cannot be divined so perfectly. It is Ic place to determine thine plumage."

Charlemagne, mind already reeling from the wrongness of the beast's presence, could scarce make sense of what it was saying. Indeed, the only thing that made sense to him was the lowering of the goat-man's horns, and the charge that followed.

Rock, dust, and snow kicked up in a blinding whirlwind behind the beast as it charged far faster than its size gave it any right to. It was all the mercenary could do to flatted his blade horizontally in front of him, the pointed horns crashing into the metal with a deafening clang. Charlemagne was sent sailing off his feet, hitting the ground in a rolling crash several meters away. He barely managed to hold onto his sword as hardened ice and jutting stone punched into his body.

Flecks of blood poured from his mouth as he righted himself. He stabbed his blade into the earth, using it to force himself back to his feet just as the goat-thing was whirling for another charge, shedding it's half-man nature as it screamed as if it were being slaughtered.

He hadn't seen what had become of Singar. Couldn't look around now: just hope his friend had survived the first charge.
 

Singar

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The thing spoke with words beyond Singar's comprehension. It's tongue was human, but densely packed with syllables. He imagined it was almost as a human lord might speak, haughty and poetic... entirely unbecoming of it's caprine likeness. The Orc's laconic understanding of the common tongue left him out of the loop. It spoke to Charlemagne as if the human was to know what it spoke of, but a frightful glance to the swordsman told Singar he likely did not.

What struck Singar the strangest was not the way it talked, but why it talked. There was little worth saying to man when one intended, and had the power, to strike him down. And that the beast did, as it charged towards the swordsman.

Singar took a wide sidestep, his deepest animal instincts choosing flight whilst his waking mind froze. The beast expectedly barrelled through Charlemagne with ease. The orc archer pulled an arrow from its quiver, and drew back hard his bow, with shallow frozen breath. As the arrow released and sailed towards the thing, Singar was certain it would strike true at it's head.

Without turning it's sight or its frame towards him, the beast's arm shot up with incredible speed, catching the arrow. Its long gnarled fingers promptly clenched, shattering the arrow's shaft into a million pieces.

Never before had Singar seen such magic. It had to be magic, or the work of some demon, if that was at all different.

It's hellish scream that followed was filled with unnatural pain, a sound no man could describe, for no man that heard it survived. It's bloody holler pierced Singar's ears like swords, and the grip around his bow went slack, letting the oakwood clatter to the stone as Singar clutched the sides of his head in protection.

To die with no name, no money, nor fame did not bother the wayward Orc, but to have his death tainted by such a profane creature left a deep knot in the pit of his stomach. Its stench was carried on a wind that otherwise had no smell, making him sick as it stood over Charlemagne and yelled into the void.

He tried to steel himself for what he believed he was about to see, but he knew nothing would, or could, prepare him for this encounter with the devil...

Charlemagne