Campaign of the Month: April 2012
Complete character sheet is Here.
Go North young man! Far past where wild Wolfen roam,
Way up North past their Northern Wilderness home,
Keep going North, young man, across the Sea of Despair,
Even further North than Bizantine mariners dare,
Now that’s the real North! Where no tales are told,
Where the sea is frozen solid and the land is bitterly cold,
Then go North still, where no songs are sung,
Where frigid breath, on blue lips, is frozen in your lung,
North is where white is the only color you will know,
It’s where the seasons change and all you see is snow,
North is where this tale begins in the solitude of old,
Before Elves and Dwarves were born to fight and Men could be so bold,
Under the gelid chill of hoary stars the haruspex told it right,
Oneiromancy and Pyromancy would surely prove a sight,
A sign was seen, the bones were cast, entrails to portend,
In augury and prodigy an Omen they would send.
Far to the North there are uncharted territories that have been completely untouched and abandoned by civilized peoples since the Age of Chaos. Across the Sea of Despair lays a frozen glacier-continent resting upon the Northern Pole that once served as a tenebrous proving ground for experimentation and twisted creation. The Old Ones came together to create the world — they are credited with having done so — but they dared not risk their creation and the fruits of their exhaustive labors by populating the world carelessly. They agreed to use the polar cap, the harshest environment on the planet, as a sort of experimental petri dish. The fires of creation fueled by their darkest, innermost malignant desires gave rise to all manner of wicked beast and monstrous foul magics and horrific creatures. The Old Ones, progenitors, twisted these things even as they gave them life and breathed sentience into abominations. It was believed that they would cull the weak from the herd, glean the wheat from the chaff, and propagate the planet with only the chosen, superior inhabitants…those who survived the Northernmost desolation of Palladium.
What became of these creations? The same that becomes all living creatures. Survive, adapt, and evolve…or die. Those that died…well, they aren’t a part of this story any more than the dodo. Those who evolved? Now there’s a tale or two worth telling. Survival of the fittest. The tundra became a breeding ground that produced the harshest, toughest, and most powerful creatures to ever walk the face of Palladium. These creatures persisted through the Age of Chaos and eventually relocated (how they got off the frozen continent is a mystery), fruitfully multiplying and propagating to populate the rest of the world. They continued to survive, adapt, and evolve…or die. Most, however, hadn’t the fortitude to continue without the support of their creators. It seemed as though once they left the arctic petri dish they were unable to sustain themselves; these monstrous creations were magnificent and deadly but they could never develop the cooperation, division of labor, currency, law, and language that would civilize them and allow them to ascend into the next stage of evolution. They never developed agriculture or advanced mathematics and written communication. They could never attain an equilibrium with their surroundings. The Old Ones saw this and recognized inherent weakness.
They returned to the prospect of creation only, this time, they breathed life into the humanoid races and gifted them with more than merely predatory instincts and huge fucking claws. They allowed these new races to develop free will. This meant that the Old Ones would relinquish absolute control over their creations but this unfortunate eventuality was seen as a necessary evil. The newly developing races could be manipulated subversively instead of controlled absolutely; in the long run, the benefits far-outweighed the detriments and the die was cast!
Here we are, many thousands of years later, when these memories are ancient and no known being can claim to have them. Here, deep within the frozen wastes of the North and embedded within the vertebrae of the spine of the world, there lays a small, forgotten tribe of Northerners. They are nestled within the arctic bosom of glacial crevasses, mountainous peaks, and blizzard-filled valleys. Their existence is completely isolated and insulated and unknown to the rest of Palladium. Their entire lives are spent, exhausted, in an anonymous and constant fight for survival. The outside world is distant. The frozen expanse is too great a barrier. The harsh weather is a hated hindrance and a cool friend who jogs the memory. They will remain trapped there forever and with little hope for rescue…or change.
There are no trees from which to hew wood. There are no forests from which to extract sap and gum. Their implements are limited to rock, against which other rocks may be sharpened, and the ever-present ice and snow. The distance is too vast to swim and no one knows what lays on the other shore of those hellish waters. At the Southern tip of the arctic continent, where the waters are liquid once again, these tribes are reminded that their only fight is for survival and their only goal is to outlast the next storm. Persist…or perish. The basic instinct of life is nearly all that these people have. The seasons do little else but cement this basic tenet in the minds and hearts of every man, woman, and child.
The winter months are a time of little activity, hibernation, and preparation for the summer when the cold thaws just enough to support the hopeful promise of life. The spring is naught but anticipation and foreplay. The summer is an industrious time of frenetic activity to hunt and re-supply and prepare for another winter. The lives of the tribes-people are fraught with peril and the constant threat of extinction hangs over their heads and pervades their thoughts to darken even the best of moods. These are people who appreciate even the smallest creature comfort and the briefest surcease from the constant battle against mortality…against mother-nature. The Tristine Chronicles say that, “the Wolfen claimed that the Northlands would remain theirs and theirs alone.” Yet, even the Wolfen dared not venture this far North for their Dragon Longboats would not suffer the icy floes and bergs of the great northern glaciers. These people truly are alone. They are a motley ragtag mixture of races and peoples and they are unified in a commonality that is too rare on Palladium these days. Some notable inhabitants are Algor (Frost Giants), Jotan, Gigantes, Rahu-men, Titans, and the occasional Troll, or Ogre. There is even a small clan of Snow Nomes living in a network of subterranean ice tunnels called “Nome.” The monsters and animals who make meals out of these inhabitants are fearsome, ferocious, and bold enough to hunt the tribespeople as one of their primary food sources. Despite what we now think of the giant races and how formidable they are compared to elves, dwarves, humans, and even wolfen — they hold healthy respect borne on fear of fatality from the Dire Wolf, the Saber-tooth Liger, the Wal-Walrus, the Pneuma-Orca, PsionSea Lions, Magi-Seals, Palladium-Penguins, and all manner of arctic fish and birds that contribute to the eco-system.
Northerners have a very different perspective on religion that the rest of Palladium. They do not recognize the Pantheon of Light or the Pantheon of Darkness; their somewhat primitive religion is a reflection of their constant struggle for survival. What place would a god of Knowledge have in their prayers? What place would a god of Law and Order have in their prayers? These are a people on the verge of extinction whose prayers focus on basic necessities like food, shelter, and progeny. Theirs is a semi-civilized mixture of shamanism, mysticism, barbarism, and paganism. Gods who answer the prayers are rewarded with Faith. Gods who don’t are quickly discarded as being fickle or “moody.” After all, with what amounts to the possibility of death around every corner how long must one’s Faith be tested before it is rewarded? The Giants of the Northernmost reaches of Palladium have prayed to Kormath, Od, Epim, Algr, Aco, and even Agu.
“Abomination” they called it. “Punishment” they meant and whispered away from prying ears. What had she done? She had asked that of herself through a litany of fear.
“What have I done?” Ravenos grew tall and strong with the robust Northern physique; she could lift and carry more than any man in the tribe.
“What have I done?” Ravenos grew broad and hearty with the rugged Northern constitution; she had endured wounds that would fell any man in the tribe. She had survived the longest winters of famine and malnourishment that claimed the lives of nearly half of the tribe. She had recovered from mysterious ailments and plague that slew even the Medicine Man.
“What have I done?” Ravenos grew long, tireless legs that carried her swiftly with vigorous Northern speed; she could run farther and longer than any man in the tribe.
“What have I done?” Ravenos trained long and hard with the spear and hunted in the shadows with deadly Northern prowess; she had slain almost every type of monstrous predator in the Northern wastes and had provided the tribe with more food than any other hunter.
“What have I done?” Ravenos was kind, gentle, caring, and generous with the bond of Northern kinship. She gave of herself, her food, and her time freely and treated the tribespeople with honor and respect.
“What have I done?” Ravenos had declined one-too-many proposals to marry. She had declined the advances of Korgaah the Elder, First Hunter of Clan Draughrbane. His affections were motivated by a desire to produce strong heirs and sire powerful offspring; she had summarily rebuked and rebuffed him. Raven had become an object of intimidation and desire…to be coveted instead of befriended, loathed instead of loved, envied instead of appreciated. The last of the Sahmara bloodline was territory to be conquered and claimed…a trophy; the beautiful, young virgin and the most fearsome warrior in the tribe. She had forsaken tradition and betrayed the gods. In the eyes of her people she would get what she deserved.
Ravenos Sahmara, Rahu-Tribeswoman, had attracted the attentions of many would-be suitors and politely declined them all. She acknowledged the tradition of marriage but had never felt personally inclined toward it. Ravenos had no desire to raise children — even for the good of the tribe — procreate to persist, to survive. Matrons like the buxom Taobootha were better suited for such domestic duties — and born optimally proportioned for them. Women like Valeriya and Golraga reared the village young and warmed the hearths for the providers; young winter-wives like Svetlani warmed the beds of the Hunters. Ravenos was a provider, perhaps the best. Why become a wife? The Hunters all took wives for their clans and bloodlines. Why shouldn’t she take a wife? To the Abyss with tradition! She found herself drawn inexorably to the lithe, supple figure of Svetlani, admiring her from afar. Ravenos appreciated the rugged beauty of a young matron; she had caught herself smiling with familiarity at the long-haired winter-wife.
No! Ritual and repetition and tradition railed against her. Procreation is necessary for the good of the tribe. Marriage is a necessity — not a convenience. Women didn’t marry one and other. What could come of it? Ravenos would be content with her thoughts. Her hunger would not be satisfied by the flesh of a man and the pleasure of pregnancy. She could contribute far more to the good of the tribe if she were armed with a spear and hunting big, wild, dangerous game. She longed for a different life and took comfort in her usefulness. The Sahmara family name had long-since died out; taking a husband wouldn’t change that. There were only a few surnames left in the Northern wastes and those bloodlines were kept meticulously separate to prevent degradation and decline in the gene pool. The Medicine Men and Witch Doctors and Shaman and Elders fretted over such things; they kept busy with the administration and government of a fragmented people. Ravenos left them to their plotting and scheming.
Her parents, the last of the Sahmara name, gave birth to a girl which had doomed their bloodline – reputedly descendants of the “First” Rahu-race. Once, the Sahmara name carried the weight of honor and the strength of bygone deeds. It was an unbroken lineage back to their progenitors — to the strength of unity. But Ravenos’s only hope would be to marry into a family and bear them many boys. Such actions might not restore the Sahmara bloodline but it would give her value and redeem the unfortunate dishonor of her parents for letting the surname slip into eternity. Raven had watched while Bleys and Yshyne Sahmara, last of their line, disappeared into the yawing crevasse that had rent the entire glacier in twain. Many others had died that day. The earthquake provoking the crevasse’s glacier-shattering movement had shivered the very spine of the world and shaken the world to its core. Circumstance and dumb luck put a young Ravenos just out of reach of the gaping maw of the frigid underbelly. The fall, they told her, was long enough for her parents to proclaim their echoing love during a descent that would claim their lives in an icy, torturous hell.
Raven was raised as communal property, by the village, as any other orphan might be. She was put to work without ceremony or privilege. When she showed aptitude she was given responsibility. When she showed excellency she was given training. House Sahmara may perish in obscurity but Ravenos Sahmara, last daughter of a dead line, lived on and she would burn the brightest for a lasting memory.
What had she done? She had disobeyed; she had forsaken the tribe. Ravenos Sahmara had let her guard down for but a moment and that was all it took. A doe-eyed Svetlani, shy and hesitant, came to call at her hut on a fine summer’s day. A coy expression hung on the upturned corners of her pouty lips and Ravenos returned the look with a genuine smile. The sun shone brilliantly in the sky; it was a blazing orb that cast radiant heat down onto the frozen wasteland. Evidently it had parted the sun-softened sheets of permafrost and penetrated enough to encourage a rare, wild growth. Svetlani produced a delicate creation of the miracle and persistence of life from within the folds of her hide-cloak. It was the budding crystalline blossom of an arctic rose. Ravenos’s heart soared and welcomed the shy, young winter-wife into her humble dwelling. During the summer, the air warmed enough for the hearth-fires to roar with the available oxygen. Svetlani shucked her over-cloak and sat beside Ravenos, staring at her hands in her lap. The words, unspoken between them, didn’t require utterance for mutuality and understanding. Ravenos knew they could never be together. The young winter-wife was already promised to the prominent bloodlines for her favorable proportions and the early-onset of her maturation. Her optimal breeding cycle could be maximized at this young age and, as a winter-wife, she would be groomed for sharing between the Great Houses to propagate and fortify the elder bloodlines. The life of a winter-wife knew little else. Ravenos sat beside her, empathetic, sorrowful, and teeming with unrequited love that could never find reciprocity. Softly, she began to cry.
Svetlani gently laid her hand to rest upon Ravenos’s own in her lap, comforting her. “Raven, I have seen the way you look at me. I have see the way your eyes linger on me when you think no one is watching.”
“I know this.”
“Raven, it cannot be…between us.”
“I know this.”
“My body is the tribe’s, my duty is…all that matters.”
“Svetlani, I know this.”
“My heart is my own; I give it freely to the Sahmara clan.”
At hearing this Ravenos’s eyes blinked away tears and widened as her head turned to settle on the stoic features of the beautiful winter-wife. Ravenos enveloped the smaller Rahu with a four-armed embrace that cradled their entwined forms in a bear hug smitten with love. Svetlani craned her neck upward and let her lips graze Raven’s. The kiss was returned fiercely, passionately, and with desperate desire. The flames of the hearth roared as shadows fell and the day slowly faded into night.
She slept deeply and dreamed of a place that snow had never touched. She never heard them coming. Eight sets of hands locked around her arms and legs and pinned them to her sides. A dirty dishrag was stuffed into her mouth the instant she opened it to scream. She was aware of Svetlani’s smooth, naked body beside her, tense with the futility of struggle. Ravenos railed at the injustice. She roared around the dishrag and heaved with the might of ten men! Bodies crashed and firm grips were loosened. The light of the hearth glowed with few embers but she could see, above her, the shadowy features of guilty faces. The mob had been aroused by Korgaah the Elder. She could see the rictus of twisted pleasure screw up his twisted face as her legs were forcibly spread and she was held aloft before him like a prize. Raven squirmed and squealed and thrashed violently but still more hands replaced those that fell away. His giant four-armed form was even bigger than hers and he leaned down to whisper in her face while he entered her.
“Do you feel that Sahmara pup? That is the weight of duty. Your strength will be added to the House Draughrbane whether you like it or not.”
For Raven the world went black and those words would haunt the next nine months of her life. To the tribe she carried the mark of the scarred and wore the stigma of a social pariah. The other clans wouldn’t associate with her once she carried a Draughrbane child in her womb. The young woman was taken in and treated as a winter-wife — but not for anything she had done or earned. Every nicety and amenity at the clan’s disposal was afforded her the precious cargo she held within her. Ravenos Sahmara was still a second-class citizen but the baby in her belly was possibly a son of Korgaah the Elder Hunter and Patriarch of House Draughrbane.
Time seemed to blur before her eyes. The next nine months deepened her depression with the winter-darkened world. She suffered regular visits from the Shaman and Witch Doctor and Medicine Man. All care was taken and no expense spared. The womb was blessed and the child was blessed and the canal was blessed and herbs and potions and tinctures were imbibed and beads and totems and talisman were prayed upon and all the hullabaloo and ballyhoo surrounded this unborn baby. With her restricted activities and limited purview hampered by rotund mobility she had see Svetlani come and go. The young winter-wife, too, was heavy with child. Had it happened that same night? Who had fathered it? Svetlani had long since submitted to her station in the tribe — destined to have many sons and none. Raven suffered her marks of shame enough for them both in retribution for their actions that fateful night.
So it was that during a routine examination, checking for dilation, massaging the baby for positioning that a look of alarm came over the Medicine Man’s face. The four-armed unborn had grown to ungodly proportions within her; this was hardly new. Korgaah could hardly contain his pride as if fathering a giant-child had taken an inkling of energy or an iota of spirit on his part. The Elder Hunter had strutted like a peacock around the village and paraded poor Ravenos around like a bloated dire-havelina. Korgaah, now, stood at the foot of the bed and waved the Medicine Man away dismissively. This son (they now knew the sex) of his would grow to be the most powerful warrior and the most skilled hunter of the entire tribe. Nothing would persuade him otherwise. The Medicine Man pleaded with him insistently and Ravenos looked on like an innocent bystander as if this were someone else’s baby and they were talking about her only offhandedly like an inadvertent vessel.
“But, my lord, you don’t understand. There is something terrible wrong!”
“Perhaps it is you, healer, who fails to comprehend. The seed of the loins of Korgaah knows no bounds! The Sahmaran matron will bare me many more so you had better become accustomed to the size and grandeur of the newest additions to House Draughrbane.”
“Lord Korgaah, please, heed my words. The signs are all wrong. The spirits warn us away from the birth of this child. The gods have revoked their approval and something terrible transpires in the womb.”
“No! You will not take this away from me! Tell me, healer, is the child in the correct position to birth?”
“Well no, but the haruspex reads an ill omen.”
“An ill omen you say?”
“This woman will give birth in two days or less. There’s a bad moon on the rise.”
“Please, healer, you didn’t become our tribe’s most trusted medicine man by listening to every sign and warning.”
“Lord Korgaah, there are other signs. This Sahmaran woman speaks in her sleep. She dreams each and every night of a land where there is no snow.”
“No snow? Impossible. Such a place does not exist.”
“My lord! That isn’t the least of it. I have read her palms and her lifelines and bloodlines have shifted. This child is an abomination! The aberration within her has set her destiny off-kilter and grows like a cancer in her womb.”
“I am still not convinced!”
“The size of the child. Does it not concern you?”
“No Rahu-man in the history of our race has ever been born as large as her stomach foretells.”
“Would you willingly suffer the birth of a giant, imperfect, mutation and mar your family name with an abomination from the Elder Hunter’s loins? The House Draughrbane is strong but can it recover from that?”
“This cannot be.” Korgaah turned to face a miserable Ravenos, sweaty, achy, and laying beneath a bulbous orb that threatened at every moment to overturn and upend her. “You treacherous witch! What have you done? You have perverted my seed! You would seek revenge upon me for some imagined slight? I have given you a life and taken you into a strong house. This is how you repay my kindness?”
“Sire, in all fairness, the signs do not point to any aberration on the part of the vessel. The matron can be spared and perhaps allow your seed to once again take root and find fruitful the lands of milk and ho…”
“Never! She will pay for her insolence and treachery! Such an offense is unforgivable!”
“The baby should be removed from her as soon as possible. It is shifting and rearranging her innards and slowly tearing her apart from the inside. An emergency procedure will save her life. Sire, she is not at faul…”
Korgaah cut him off while still railing at Ravenos, “this child — your vengeance — it will kill you as it is born. THAT is your lot in life. You have two days to live.” He turned to the medicine man and spat, “healer don’t you dare wrest that babe from its mother’s womb! She has angered the gods and the spirits and the signs bespeak doom! The omen has spoken!”
The giant Rahu stormed from the room and in his wake the midwives, matrons, and supporting winter-wives followed leaving Ravenos by herself in agony. She would die in childbirth. The Sahmara bloodline would die by the twisted hand of fate. The omen had spoken. And, in the blue-light of a frost-tinted moon — the very moon that had sealed her abominable fate — she left. The former huntress prowled with a disadvantage but she had been an expert before her predicament and she took the care to remain well-hidden. Into the night…
She was pregnant with abomination and had been taken to pasture. The Medicine Man sensed the aberration growing in her womb and forbade her from birthing this creature; he at least had the decency to offer her amnesty and attempt to save her life. Beneath the sign of the blue moon there would be nothing but pain for the massive child — a lifetime of agony — sentenced by the selfish actions of his own mother. If it could even be called a child…at its current size no one quite knew what to expect when the contents of her guts were spilled onto the birthing table. And now, they would never know. Ravenos “Bleys” Sahmara fully intended to spill those contents out into the snow. She steeled herself with resolve, squatting in the powdery tundra blanket.
In this land of ice and snow our story begins anew, as it once did long ago, with the birth of an Omen. On a blustery winter’s eve when hoarfrost hung on the hint of breath and the sky shone brilliantly with a thousand scintillating voyeurs the long shadow crouched, squatting in a bed of deep snow and lowing like a harpooned sea cow. The last Sahmaran performed her own trans-abdominal excision and nursed her baby boy until she expired. Her lifeblood fled her body and littered the frozen ground. The cavity she opened served only to keep him warm for the hours until he was found.
“Omen, my son, it is better to have lived and loved…to have loved and lost…than to have never lived or loved at all.”
The stars stayed out even during the “day” during this time of year. Twilight was the “high noon” equivalent of a blaze of glory. On this particular evening, shrouded in darkness, a baby Rahu, anatomically normal and healthy and vibrant with curious energy cooed and giggled in the lifeless arms of his mother. Her final act of suicide saving the young life she would leave behind.
Udyr Sahmara was born under the sign of the mythical blue moon on a leap year evening during a northern lights Hailey’s comet zodiac anomaly. His is an enigma. His very presence is an astrological conundrum. The orphaned Rahu infant was raised by a pack of dire wolves after he strangled a stray omega to death, tore the beast’s belly open, and huddled within the still-warm carcass, bathing in entrails to keep from freezing to death in the arctic taiga and frozen tundra. His strength, courage, and fortitude were recognized by the alpha even as an infant and the pack took him in as one of their own. They hunted big game in the wild, northernmost reaches of the known world and had rare, fleeting contact with Wolfen arctic tribes on the outskirts of the northern wilderness.