I'll Tell You a Story

Prologue

In a small tavern in a small place, nowhere important, nowhere anything exciting usually happens, people drank in mostly silence. This wasn’t a tavern where adventures began, where dark people spoke in hushed voices of dark deeds, or where mighty heroes came for respite between their great acts. This wasn’t anywhere so impressive, just a simple tavern in a simple town.

The silence was broken, battered really, when a man raised his voice aloud to decry the muted atmosphere. This wasn’t what he had come here for, he claimed, he wanted stories of daring and courage, of triumph and loss, of frankly bloody anything but the continuing sound of dull people slurping dull drinks. With no takers, the man launched into a tale himself, whisking his captain’s hat from the table and arranging it rakishly on his own head as he launched into it.

01 – Adders the Blood Red

02 – Adders the Charger

We came to our senses at the base of a long line of stairs, each of us battered by what must have been a terrific fall down their length. I found myself flat on my face, jaw aching something fierce, and as I reached up to touch it a flash of vision blasted in front of my eyes. I saw myself surrounded by enemies, lashing out at each with my bare teeth, tearing great chunks from flesh and muscle and leaving my foes vulnerable to my allies just behind them. The vision fled as quickly as it had come, and I shakily got to my feet, my head spinning and my legs uncertain.

Turning, I saw that each of my companions was in much the same condition, each with a hand just moving away from a particular part of their body and each pausing with a moment’s shock as if having seen something much akin to my own startling vision. Kelgar held his throat, Varis his chest, and Fernando was holding… well, frankly just what one would expect Fernando to be holding. A tough fall, I suppose his first thought was to check what was most important to him had survived intact.

Our weapons lay scattered about us, lying where they had obviously bounced down the steps alongside us, and I swiftly crouched to retrieve my blades. Sheathing them at my sides, I stood up and cautiously lead the way forward, our group moving without words as we each grappled with what we had just seen. I resisted rubbing my jaw further but kneaded each tooth carefully with my tongue, checking that each was where it should be and that none were half as sharp nor half as large as I had seen them.

I had to shake such thoughts from my mind as we found ourselves facing a mighty stone bridge, sturdy in construction but narrow, too, leading out into the blackness over a dreadful abyss. A thousand souls could cry forever in that darkness and never know they were not alone in their torment, and I swallowed hard to keep from staring at it too long.

Before us the bridge stretched, as I say, and Kelgar touched the head of one of Varis’s arrows, a simple white light emitting from the metal tip, and the elf fired it out high across the gorge, revealing simply the bridge going on and on until finally the arrow struck a wall and its light tumbled to the ground, showing a strong portcullis but no signs of life.

The bridge would take only one of us abreast, so cautiously tying a rope around my chest I headed out first. I strode clear and strong, hands stretched and ready for anything, knowing just how exposed I was on that narrow path, and just as I had feared, it was a trap. Two bolts, huge and black, burst suddenly from the darkness and rammed their weight into my chest, the force of the twin impacts throwing my backwards so that a third narrowly missed my feet, rebounding sharply from the stone bridge and spinning out into darkness, plummeting into that abyss as I desperately held my balance to avoid following it forever down.

Marshalling my courage, I roared a battle cry for my companions to follow, tore the bolts from my chest and hurled them aside as I ran, feet pounding, my swords rattling in their sheaths with every step, calling along with my own howl for revenge against my unseen attacker. Knowing that a second volley could not be far away, and with no one at the gates to challenge, I threw myself at the portcullis, gripping it firmly in both hands and hurling myself under it to assault the keep’s gates.

As I stepped forward, a huge wave of oil plunged down from a small hole above me, splattering everywhere, and seconds later the metal bars rang loud as Fernando crashed into them, having boldly joined my charge and found his traction gone from the oil. The portcullis suddenly rose of its own will, as the rest of my companions joined us at the gates. Varis paused to return fire against our attackers, but only had time to yell a warning before a pair of bolts threw him bodily backwards. Kelgar ran back to him, raising his shield to protect our friend, while Tauriel examined the gates ahead of us.

Nodding to herself, she clicked her fingers in some strange way, no doubt summoning up some of her obscure magic from within herself, and threw open the gates as if they had never been locked at all! But beyond, she found a plain stone wall, with tiny wheels at its base, and with horror we realised the truth. Fernando plugged the hole above us to prevent anything else being thrown onto the oil covering all three of us, but Tauriel explained how with the slick ground beneath us, if that wall pushed forwards suddenly we would all be thrown into the abyss. She shoved at it hopelessly, the wheeled trap not even moving, and I took a step back, mind reeling. If we ran and dived to the sides, we might avoid the trap, barely, but the hope was slim. I snarled in rage, and threw myself forwards once more at the door, feet scrambling against the oil-slicked stone beneath me as I desperately sought enough traction to force the wall back. Failure would mean death not only for me, but for my companions who had been brave enough to back up my charge. The boldest captain in the world is a dead man without a crew to back him up, and mine had come to join my assault without a second thought. I knew I couldn’t fail them, I simply could not!

From deep within me something snapped, as I threw back my head and roared with a visceral shout that echoed across that terrible chasm for minutes afterwards. Lunging forward one last time, I shunted the wall backwards and finally it toppled, collapsing over on its wheels and leaving me breathless on the other side, but knowing that I had saved us. By the absolute skin of my teeth, which felt strangely sore in my mouth as I came back to my senses, lifted from the fallen wall by my colleagues as we dusted ourselves off and counted ourselves fortunate. Whatever I had done seemed to have stopped all of the defences, and the place became eerily quiet.

When we had recovered ourselves, we ventured deeper into the keep, fighting past a weapon-hoarding gnoll and sealing away a minor demon, and Fernando found himself a prize which seemed cursed, for no sooner had he picked it up than great horns sprouted from his head like the vicious minotaurs daubed on the walls. Every surface contained images of foul spawn serving their masters, and I kept my own council as we searched through, still occasionally rubbing my jaw.

Finally, we reached a petrified wizard trapped in a pillar. We’d discovered some curative potion nearby for just such a condition, and were able to rouse him after we carefully freed him from the stone, so that he wasn’t crushed (obviously a mistake only a pack of complete imbeciles could make!). The wizard introduced himself as the lone survivor of that ill-fated adventuring party who had come before us, having been trapped in that dreadful place over 300 years since! If you can believe it, dear audience, he spoke of a world not covered by water, where a man could walk for weeks from one city to another, one country to another!

He lead us to the Well of Sorrows, a demon-filled pit plunging down into the earth, again filled with a darkness even our elf’s eyes could not penetrate. My own obviously-human eyes saw nothing within but despair, for the wizard told us that this well might have flooded the world, and that we must seal it or even those islands where we can now call port would be lost.

That task ahead was ominous, and as we made camp for the night, so be fully prepared for the battle on the morrow, I sang us a soulful tune, so that each of our company might make peace with his gods before what lay ahead of us.

In the darkness that night, I heard a whispering voice singing a terrifying lullaby to me, and I’m not ashamed to admit I spent much of that night wide awake, bolt upright in my quilt and slowly nursing my jaw. The next day would bring a battle for the very world, and even thereafter we would need to find a way to escape this terrible place.

03 Adders the Unbowed

That was… truly, the fiercest battle I have experienced. Whatever memories I have lost, they cannot contain anything so violent and so desperate as that, or I am sure I would not be standing here today, telling you all of this.

The worst part? Half of it is nothing to me, not even a haze or a blur but nothing at all, simple dark and blackness. Afterwards, in a moment of quiet sailing away on The Hand, I found the small book I had taken from that damned temple’s library, which had been blank every time I read it previously, now had words. It told me of the start of the battle, and everything up until I suddenly became aware of myself again. I could make nothing of this, but discussing it with Kelgar and Varis afterwards we came up with a theory. Using that book’s power had fed it my memories of the preceding few hours…

04 Adders the Wanker

05 Adders the Stormcaller

Having sailed free and clear from our pursuers, we made for the nearest large settlement, the better to spend our ill-gotten gains. I kept much to myself in the days of that particular trip, manning the ship’s wheel and concentrating on navigating from my latest hand-made map, which was if anything even cruder than my first attempt. I kept it from the others, but the lives I had taken during the heist had wounded me worse than the fireballs I had narrowly dodged. True, it had been by far and away the most impressive thing I had ever done, truly the story of my name would begin from that fine feat, but the deaths hurt me.

I knew it was pointless to fret over them, for the overwhelming majority had been of the ilk happy to watch people be burned alive by gelatinous cubes, plus they had booed me, the bastards. But still, some might have been brought along by accident or obligation, and of so many surely some didn’t deserve to die. These thoughts haunted me as we sailed towards a flotilla, eager to spend some of our loot.

For myself, the markets of the flotilla were a bitter disappointment, in all honesty. On our arrival the dockman had charged us an exorbitant fee, claiming storms were allowing people in but none out and thus trapping people in the city, so I was already troubled by the time we split up to spend some cash. When we met up again, the others had mostly found useful gear, Kelgar some new armour, Nyx a sword, and Varis had tracked down a tattooist to give him some rather-smart arrows down one arm for him to fire off with his new magic bow. I, on the other hand, had found nothing, my dreams of a fine hat of great purpose continuing to go unfulfilled. To quibble over it would be whining, of course, but I had had high hopes on seeing the size of the market.

Nevertheless, money spent the task became how did we leave the wretched place? To that end we sought out the source of the problem, and soon found ourselves facing a rope ladder down to an underwater home belonging to a gnome wizard who had blown himself up trying to summon the storm. What followed was a bizarre series of rooms, through which I bickered with some outspoken doors and accidentally set an elemental on myself from a strange gem, and we acquired a new deckhand for the ship in the form of a clockwork creature with a foul mouth and a worse temper. Exactly my sort of fellow, and incredibly helpful once we promised to take him with us when we left.

Hacking through a false wall, Fernando and I burst into a room, weapons drawn and ready for anything. Unfortunately our brisk entrance startled the terrified apprentices within into attacking us, and several failed attempts to calm them ensued before Nyx lost her temper and simply put them all to sleep with a single spell. We left the snoozing lads by the entrance as we made our way through, finally finding the source of the problem: a gem holding a storm elemental bound to the place. In vengeance the elemental was creating the storms sinking all ships attempting to leave port, and after much discussion my comrades suggested a bold plan. We would charge the magic restraining the elemental with our own magical abilities and some of the enchanted furniture from downstairs and re-trap the creature so that we could leave and claim a handsome reward on our way out.

While Fernando had nothing to give in terms of magic, Nyx and I each fuelled some spells into the circle, while Varis burnt his new tattoos painfully away and then burned his hands some more transferring the energy of the furniture. Between us we had the circle on the cusp of re-containing the elemental when its voice spoke to us, demanding we let it exact justice for its imprisonment.

We negotiated on behalf of the city, but as the creature laid out its case it became clear that these people were abusing it for their own gain and hiding from the true nature of the seas. Braving storm and faring winds is a sailor’s life, and these cowards were doing none of it, and harming this creature in return. A deal was struck,. we would release the elemental and destroy the bonds so that none could re-capture it, and in exchange it would allow us our freedom and grant us a boon to call upon its fury when we needed it. We’d done well with boons so far, from a dragon and a demon, so why not from an elemental too? We might be five mortals but at this rate we would have an army of nature’s finest at our backs, and what better elements for a grand tale?

Returning to the entrance, I shattered the smaller elemental-summoning crystal, which brought out dozens of the creatures at once. Scrambling up the escape ladder with the apprentices flung over our shoulders, we demanded an exit and hurried to freedom. Sadly the guards refused to listen to reason and charged down to deal with the problem, but I knew they would have no hope of survival and, while I was happy to doom this flotilla to the mercies of the storm elemental, I was less comfortable unleashing dozens of her kin upon the unsuspecting people. That, and the idiots should’ve listened to us. With a shrug, I hit the switch detaching the underwater house from the flotilla, plunging it to the depths. As we hurried to our ship, we each felt a warm wind grip us like a grateful embrace, and I grinned as we pulled off another daring trial and gained another helpful ally.

On that note, as ours was the only ship that was going to be allowed to leave, we did take three of the apprentices (not the bastard who hit me!) and a trio of sailors with us to bulk out our crew, then set the sails and headed for that next horizon. While our friendly wizard had some thoughts on the fate of the world, we opted to see where the winds would take us along the way, and I plotted a loose course vaguely in the right direction. If five wells, as the wizard told me, had taken 300 years to fill the world, and two of them at least were now sealed, then I felt the world could manage another couple of weeks while we sought the open waves. After fearing being trapped on that lifeless flotilla forever I was eager for the open ocean, the wind in my face and the spray at my shoulder.

What might we find next? Only the wind would know, though as an early favour we did have our friendly elemental send a nasty surprise back to that tosser Falkirk. A storm to sink his entire fleet and leave his precious new island stricken and black, sounded just the ticket for him!

06 Adders the Complete Fucking Idiot

He died as he lived… stupidly and for no real purpose…

I'll Tell You a Story

Aquilluis Dawns RuIndeed