Chapter 3 Games
Updated: Feb 17, 2019
The Pugnome arena stood seven stories tall and stretched for two city blocks in all directions. Overshadowing the surrounding shop fronts, it cast the lively square before the megalithic building into blissful shade. Brackets clung to the clean white stone, holding bright flags that caught in the morning breeze and fluttered cheerily at passers-by. Strings festooned with vibrant strips of torn linen hung between every available surface, waving merrily around the square.
Although summer was officially ending the sun shone oppressively hot on the endless plains around Tameeka-Tor. The official name for the miles of wheat stretching from Tensor-Tor in the East, all the way to Elsbeth-Tor on the westernmost shore was Slo’detheskel. Wilder remembered his mother teaching him the word. It meant ‘Sea of Sun and Grass’ in a tongue older than anyone could remember and Wilder had always thought it suited the landscape perfectly, especially the ‘sun’ part.
The DM of this campaign had some reoccurring themes with language that I really appreciated.
Unfortunately, not a lot of the finer points made it into my journal of events, but I remember feeling that I HAD to include Slo'detheskel - I thought it was the coolest thing since Betty White.
The green and white pennant of Sir Greenfeather was lacking from the walls, and Wilder could see knots of fans with little green flags arguing throughout the crowd. Wilder usually arrived to the games in a carriage with his brother and sister, and had never experienced the bustle of the square firsthand. As two laughing children waving crested flags pushed their way between his legs, chasing each other and shrieking in wild delight he wondered if it was too late to find space on a coach.
Glancing over his shoulder, Wilder saw that he had lost his tail of hired investigators to the thick aromas of cooking food and sweet desserts. Almost a hundred different vendors had crammed carts and stalls into the square for the event. Adding shouts of advertisement to the already overwhelming sound of the packed streets each merchant offered every imaginable comfort for the tournament. There were fans and umbrellas for shade, lewdly dressed companions for warmth, and a myriad of food and drink from every city on Teria-Min.
Stopping to wait for his entourage, Wilder leaned on the grand statue in the center of the chaos, looking up at the giant stone depiction of the third founder, Deirdre Pugnome. The famous gladiator had created this stadium to practice her gladiatorial arts. The other founders, his mother Tameeka Jones, and the infamous assassin Keiyanna Stonepaw each had similar establishments, but this building was by far the public’s favourite.
The statue showed a gnomish woman standing forty feet tall with a broad smile on her face and one hand outstretched and frozen in a friendly wave. Her open expression was made more intimidating by the long tube encasing her forearm tipped with a crescent blade. Wilder allowed himself a smile as he remembered watching the ferocious little woman fight with those deadly scizores. The smile broadened at the recollection that she had also used them to cut the roast boar at her last mid-winter feast. Gnomes live a respectably long life, and Wilder was pleased that he was able to meet the bouncy little woman more than a century after she helped found the city. His smile faded as he remembered her final battle, and the accidental slip from her opponent that ended Deirdre’s life.
All of the city founders were characters from a previous campaign, set 100 years prior to this one.
Deirdre was played by one of the bubbliest and blood-thirsty people we knew at the time and it was always a mystery what they'd do next. Incidentally, that player was running Peirce in this campaign.
A rustle at his hip distracted Wilder from his oncoming melancholy. A small sable weasel was nosing and scratching at his elbow impatiently, too hot in the holster bag that Wilder had been keeping him in since the fire.
“Sorry John, come get some air,” Wilder mumbled to the ferret, gently lifting him onto the plinth of the statue. The weasel sniffed experimentally and stretched his cramped muscles, yawning deeply as he took in his new surroundings with intelligent eyes. Wilder had named his smallest companion John, after his deceased father, and the animal was not simply a pet, but a familiar; a conduit of the forces unknown that spoke to Wilder through the tiny beast, lending him a fraction of their power. Despite his otherworldly intelligence, the ferret still smelt irrevocably of musk no matter how much Wilder bathed him.
The witch rubbed a finger under John’s chin and he felt a shiver of gratitude in return. Noting that his hired help was still nowhere in sight, Wilder leaned beside John to consider what he had deemed ‘The Greenfeather Debacle.’
He had no idea what fate had befallen Isaac, and he sincerely hoped the knight was safe. Sir Greenfeather had been the first person Wilder had spoken too when his witch powers had manifested, when the voices began to show him how to manipulate the world. Wilder had been frightened at first, terrified, and he had practiced in secret to hone his skills. One day the voices had gone beyond simple instructions and had tried to force his hand to complete a spell. It was the first he’d felt them and he ran immediately to the door to his mother’s suite, still locked tight, and cried there. He had called for his mother until his throat was rough, and that’s how Sir Greenfeather had found him.
Together, they researched his abilities and discovered that he held the powers of a witch. Isaac was not afraid as others were when they found out. He always believed that Wilder could control the voices and the shadows. That he could prevail. Sir Greenfeather had been the father Wilder had never known and his throat tightened and his eyes burned as he imagined the knight’s strong face staring from a gutter through dead, glassy eyes. Wilder shuddered and looked ahead, trying to will answers to come faster.
Sir Greenfeather’s disappearance had not been officially reported. The knight lived on Lord Burske’s estates most of the year, but it was not unusual for him to take his squire for long trips into the plains. Jerome, Isaac’s squire, was under the care of the local clerics in the city’s cathedral, and to Wilder’s knowledge, the news of his injuries had not spread. Wilder’s stomach twisted as he thought of the boy’s mother.
She was a kindly, doting woman who had lost her husband years earlier and had no other children. Wilder had not managed the courage to visit her yet, and he doubted that she had heard from any other sources of the disheveled and blinded young man who had barreled unknown into the refugee camp. He imagined her climbing into one of the Burske family carriages, adjusting her wide gown to fit through the narrow doorway and smiling, looking forward to seeing her son at the tournament. Wilder bit the inside of his lip as he contemplated how she would feel when neither Isaac nor her son appeared for the events.
It was the morning after their adventure in Shadows and Wilder found himself stifling yawns and rubbing his eyes more than was proper. There had been no time to shop or pack, and he traveled in the same outfit from the day of the fire, still smelling lightly of smoke despite the best efforts of the local washerwomen. The only possessions he carried besides the clothes on his back were a small bag of gold coins, his signet ring that would allow him to borrow against his families accounts, and John’s holster bag. He considered wading back into the rush of people to find a stall that might sell suitable clothes but his train of thought was cut short as his new employees made their reappearance.
The press of people in front of him parted to reveal Pierce leading the others towards him, new blue ribbons lacing through the teifling’s hair. He wore his long black locks wrapped around his horns, hiding them. This change and a new pair of long, bell-bottomed, trousers made of colourful patchwork hid the outward signs of his heritage. The changes would fool anyone without a well trained eye, allowing the teifling to pass as an eccentric and not a blasphemy. Peirce wore a grin that stretched ear to ear and had infected the other members of the crew, who were laughing and joking as they followed their bobbing leader.
“Pretty ribbon, I’m sure all the other women will be jealous, and where did you get those pants? They’re ghastly,” Wilder teased, smirking as the group reached the statue and disengaged themselves from the ebb and flow of people.
“I know, aren’t they great?” Pierce gushed, spinning in a quick pirouette. “Aangle just bought me the ribbon with some of his insurance money, and I made the pants. I figured there was enough extra fabric around.” At the last he gestured gaily to the hundreds of flags festooning the area and Rogar laughed deeply at Pierce’s ‘redecorating’. Jinju had heard also and shook his head, but Wilder could see amusement behind the stern expression of the law-abiding dwarf.
I'll admit, when the character idea for Peirce was first told to me, I was skeptical. A gender-fluid teifling with gang ties and a love of fashion just didn't fit with the relatively serious party that was being formed by the other players. Throughout the game however, he quickly became my favourite character.
“I’m glad you’re all having fun,” Wilder said, turning more serious “but can we get down to business? The games start this afternoon and once they start, Lord Dray won’t be available until after they’ve ended.”
The group nodded collectively and they re-joined the tide of people as one, wading towards the grand bronze doors of the coliseum. They were already thrown open for the early goers of the crowd, people wanting something better than standing room. Wilder had always sat in the booths with the nobility, where every person not only had a seat, but a cushion and beverage as well. He would look out at the sea of people, pressed together like hay in a bail, and scoff at their sweaty ranks, wondering how they could be so lazy as to not have improved their situations. The last few months had shown him how blind he had been, and he looked at the ground as he walked, burning with shame and hoping that no one from the opulent Views district recognized him today.
The ocean of people became a trickle as they climbed the polished marble steps and entered the vaulted entrance chamber. Four sets of double doors faced them throughout the room, the rich oak inviting visitors to the different levels of seating and competitors to the changing rooms. A table stood beside each door with stern officials waiting to give direction to guests or fill out paperwork for last minute entries. Guards stood silently sweating by each set of doors in polished breastplate adorned with the Pugnome family colours, green and gold. They watched the few small groups of loiterers in conversational huddles throughout the hall with eagle eyes.
Wilder had never used this entrance before but strode confidently to the table marked ‘Contestant Inquiries and Registration’. He rapped his knuckles on the table to grab the attention of the beige-uniformed official, hunching over some paperwork under a knot of black hair. The official did not look up from his scribbling and Wilder rapped again, louder this time, and crossed his arms, tapping his foot for added effect. The man behind the table sighed heavily and looked up, lip curled in distaste. He looked at Wilder for several moments before rolling his squint-eyes and speaking sharply.
Wilder was speechless momentarily, sure that the clerk would have recognized him, but recovered when Pierce nudged him with a raised eyebrow. Wilder regained himself and replied in the most noble voice he could summon.
“I need to speak with Lord Urkest Dray, I understand that he is participating in the events today but it is quite urgent. You can tell him it’s Wilder Jones that’s asking.” He made sure to put extra emphasis into his name, usually enough to cow people who could not recognize him by sight. The official leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers together, scanning Wilder and his entourage from head to foot. Wilder stood firm but could sense at least one of his partners shuffling uneasily under the scrutiny. He knew they did not exactly look like a noble party, covered in dust from resting in the refugee camp, dressed in patchwork clothes and full plate armour, and his own nobles garb beginning to fray after two days and three nights of continuous wear. He hoped that the Jones name would be enough. Wilder’s impatience grew and he repeated the clerks earlier frustration.
“Well?” The games official released a long breath through his nose before speaking.
“Look, Master Jones, I would simply love to help you and your friends but my hands are tied in this issue.” The clerk’s eyes showed sincerity but gave way to a smug smile. “Only contestants and their retinues are allowed in the staging area, I am not authorized to deliver any such message. The doorway is enchanted and I would simply be rebuffed. Even if I were allowed, the Lord Dray, and Sir Greenfeather are the only two regular contestants not to have checked in yet for the tournament. Indeed our reigning champion has a habit of arriving only hours before the games start to make the most of the crowd.
"It is unusual for Sir Greenfeather to be this late, but he is getting older, perhaps he’s choosing this year to retire.” Wilder fought not to let his shoulder’s slump under the setback, and felt Pierce’s hand on his elbow as the teifling stepped forward to address the pinch-faced official.
“In that case we’ll just have to wait for Lord Dray. You wouldn’t happen to have some spare chairs available would you? We could be here for hours. No? Pity. We’ll just have to wait on the steps.” Turning away from the table Pierce led the others back outside onto the marble steps and leaned against an ornamental pillar. Wilder followed, dragging his feet.
“What’s the matter? Ye heard the clerk, Dray’ll be along soon and then we can rescue yer friend and clear up this retirement rumour.” Jinju asked looking at the downcast half-elf as the group settled onto the stairs.
“You don’t know Lord Dray like I do. The Summer’s End games are all Urkest ever talks about. He’s been the jousting champion six of the last ten years, the only person to beat him in the last decade was Sir Greenfeather.” Wilder paced along one stair, stepping over Jinju’s outstretched feet on every pass. “I would have thought that he’d already have been here for days setting up, that he’d have a moment. If he’s not here yet we probably won’t get a chance to speak with him until after the games, a full week from now.” Jinju opened his mouth to respond, but his words were lost to Wilder’s keen hearing as the square suddenly erupted in a wave of cheering shouts.
At the south entry to the square a troupe of soldiers mounted on prancing horses trotted in. Flying banners of black and yellow they rode in a loose circle and created a bubble of space for a single central rider. The figure rode a massive bay destrier covered in beautifully crafted black and yellow barding of chainmail links flowing over its flanks in clinking waves. The rider wore blinding silver full plate with blue tones that steamed under his tabard of black and yellow. Unlike the flags, and his soldiers, this central figure wore the symbol of a black eagle on the split field of his standard.
The crowd began a rippling cheer that overwhelmed the senses, making Wilder put his fingers in his ears to avoid the stinging volume. Calls for the Ebony Eagle rang from half the square, hundreds of fans waving little yellow and black flags, some wearing those colours painted on their chests and faces. Wilder recognized the Dray standard and watched as Urkest removed his black plumed helm, waving to the populace. Hopeful women shoved at one another for the chance to be seen while children climbed Deirdre Layhand’s memorial to see above the crowd.
With a full head of graying chestnut hair Dray was not unhandsome for his forty years. He sat straight in his saddle, smiling, but the set of his shoulders was relaxed. Wilder knew that he would have those same mocking grey eyes that had sparkled with scorn every time they turned upon the founder’s youngest son.
My goodness did we hate Dray by the end of this campaign, but none more than Wilder.
That player takes single-minded vengeance to an extreme that would make even Lord Voldemort blush.
As Wilder watched the waving figure parade around the central statue of the square, always surrounded by guards, he wondered at his popularity. It appalled Wilder that Urkest Dray possessed enough fluid charm to disguise his arrogant wickedness to those not directly exposed to it. Certainly when Urkest’s father, the previous Lord Dray, had been arrested for plotting treason his son had managed to convince the mayor to allow the title and lands to stay within the family. Wilder had found the lord cold and disrespectful on the few occasions he had stumbled unwittingly into his company. Urkest was always quick to point out that Wilder was not himself a lord, or a knight like his brother. He delighted in rubbing his own title and lands in Wilder’s face while keeping an appearance of innocent ignorance to onlookers.
The procession dismounted at the bottom of the steps, handing their reigns to waiting arena attendants, and climbing to the bronze doors. Dray’s guards formed a wall of meat and metal between Wilder’s group and Urkest and Wilder moved to block their way, calling to Dray over the cheering.
“Urkest! Urkest Dray! I must speak with you urgently!” He could barely hear himself over the living thunder of the crowd. The lead guard, a hard man with a brutal scar slicing his chin to one side, shoved him aside, toppling him. Wilder scrambled to his feet, and raced to keep up with the march of guards, using his height to try to get Urkest’s attention over the heads of his entourage, shouting and waving.
He could see Pierce and the others doing the same on the opposite side, and as the procession continued into the entry hall the noise died considerably and Wilder could hear himself think.
“Lord Dray,” he tried again, “my associates and I need to speak with you immediately. I’m afraid it cannot wait until after the games. It’s me, Wilder Jones.” Able to hear him at last, Urkest barely spared him a bored glance, not slowing his marching stride.
“Mister Jones,” he said, and Wilder tried not to grimace at the digging tone. “I am dreadfully sorry but I have a joust to win and there is no space in the itinerary for you, another time perhaps.” He disregarded Wilder as the leading soldier opened the door to the bowels of the arena. As Urkest crossed the threshold Wilder felt a desperate helplessness rise in his throat.
All of the frustration and anger that had been slowly building over months of perceived injustice boiled over in that moment. Grabbing the rear guard by the arm Wilder channeled this furious energy through his familiar, safely nestled in his bag, and into the guard. The spell took a matter of seconds, a glowing red mist swirling from the point of contact and probing the guard’s armour. Finding a joint between the metal plates the mist slipped between them, disappearing into the man’s personal cage.
The retinue stopped and turned as the unfortunate guard cried out and doubled over, scratching at his face and neck, trying unsuccessfully to unbuckle the many leather straps holding his breastplate in place. Hands flew to weapons on both sides and Wilder stepped back into the relative safety of his group. He stared momentarily at his hand, aghast at his own brash actions.
Urkest stepped forward to the struggling man and pulled him upright, revealing a face covered in bright red pustules and pink lines from scratching fingers. Face tight and red Urkest rounded on Wilder, paying no heed to Rogar and Aangle who stood on either side with mace and vials drawn. They moved as if about to attack but hesitated when the lord did not raise his spiked flail. Urkest brought his face within inches of the taller half-elf’s and began to yell, the cords of his neck standing out.
“What is wrong with you witch? I refuse to speak with you so you assault one of my men? Have your manners stooped so low?”
Wilder had to resist the urge to wipe spittle off of his face and felt himself flushing pink as the truth of the words stung him. Beside him, Aangle and Rogar shifted uncomfortably, like children, looking at their feet.
“It’s not like that my lord. It’s an emergency; if you go through that door before speaking with us it could mean the death of a good man.” Wilder said earnestly, staring straight into Urkest’s eyes. There was a flicker of something, worry? Recognition? It only ghosted across the lord’s face for a moment before his glowering scowl returned. The pox covered man groaned again and Urkest gestured towards him.
“Stop whatever you’ve done to him before I report you to the mayor for magical battery,” Urkest shouted, attracting an audience from around the hall.
“It only lasts for a few minutes, I-I can’t undo it but I swear on my honour that it will do no long term damage. The blisters will just fall off any minute,” Wilder replied with his hands raised, a poor defense against the lord’s wrath.
“What honour? Attacking a man while his back is turned is not the act of someone with honour.” Urkest made a gesture and his remaining guards sheathed their weapons and guided their scratching comrade through the double doors, disappearing into a plushly carpeted corridor. “No Wilder. Greenfeather can starve for all I care and it will be on you.” Without pausing, Urkest swivelled on his heel and marched double time through the doors, slamming them as he left.
Wilder’s heart fell into his stomach and his eyes stung with restrained tears as he stepped forward and placed a hand against the oak door. I’ve failed. Again. He thought, unable to bring himself to face his entourage. He felt a heavy hand on his back and, turning, saw that it belonged to Jinju, the sympathy on his face exaggerated by his tattooed tears.
Swallowing a few times and pulling himself together as best he could, Wilder returned to the others. Denterra was scolding the small crowd of curious bystanders who had gathered to watch the spectacle and they slowly dispersed under the tiny woman’s stern words. Rogar faced towards the onlookers with his mace still in hand, adding his bulk to Denterra’s intimidation as she rained scorn from his back. Aangle was busily restoring his vials to their rightful places on his bandoleer. Pierce simply stood watching Wilder with his hands on his hips, wearing a smirk that reached from ear to ear.
“What?” Wilder snapped, causing the others to look around and settle their attentions on the smiling teifling.
“I think he knows where your friend is.” Pierce said still smiling.
“What? He didn’t know what we were talking about.” Wilder replied, frustrated, but a glimmer of hope crept into his eyes.
“Didn’t you hear him?” Peirce’s eyes were laughing. “Did you mention who we were looking for? No, and yet he made that assumption, which lines up with what we learned from the Salamanders. I’m willing to bet that he knows exactly where your friend is and that his biggest worry right now is starvation.” Pierce practically glowed with self-satisfaction at having picked up on the unusual wording and his smile was quickly becoming contagious.
“Okay, that’s great,” Denterra said, immune to mirth, “but we still don’t know where he is, and unless Lord Jackass tells us we’re unlikely to simply stumble upon Sir Greenfeather. So we need to get in there.”
“Fine then.” Wilder turned to stare at the little beige-robed man behind the registration desk. “If only contestants are allowed back there than that’s what we’ll be.”
I squirm to read this now. It's amazing how hard it is to see your own writing mistakes when they're fresh!
Talk about being ham-fisted with a 'revelation.'