Sapphire Islands – Dungeon World Mini-campaign – Session 4

After three days of travel food and rations of water on the small ship begin to run perilously low, Strike attempts to fish but is used more to ice-fishing that catching his food on the open river, more successful is the elven Druid Demanor who transforms herself into a dolphin and swims alongside catching fish and throwing them (still squirming) up onto the deck. A thick fog has drifted in and the group, intent entirely on the task of catching enough food to survive, are taken by surprise when a large galleon looms out of the mist, Korra recognises the green sails as belonging to House Folder, oone of the merchantile houses of the Sapphire Islands, hoping that her family ties (via a distant cousin) might stand her in good stead the bard hails the ship. The hail is answered by Mikhail Folder, captain of the vessel, a rugged looking man in a long green wax jacket who is happy to see a fellow islander and invites them all aboard to have dinner on his vessel.
During their discussions in the galley they are fussed over by a the chubby red-haired ships cook, a man called James, who seems delighted to have some more discerning palettes to provide food for, he shoots Captain Folder an exasperated glance when he asks for just his normal bland bowl of porridge. As they all tuck into their food, Strike tells them about the two armies of dark elves and of the northlander dead that are slowly heading up the mainline towards Royal City, as he talks Strike begins to feel a little light headed and too late he identifies the sweet taste on the meat he had been served, oil of tagit, a sophorific, glancing around he sees that Demanor and Korra appear to have already succumbed to the poison and he attempts to stand but it is too late and he falls into a deep sleep.
Unaware that Demanor does not need to eat and had only sampled the barest mouthful of the food (and is only feigning unconsciousness) the Captain leaves to fetch his men, instructing James to keep an eye on their slumbering guests. As James returns to the kitchen, Demanor risks opening her eyes and, turning into a rat, bites Strike on the nose, waking him from slumber, after a brief discussion she makes a loud noise like she had just started to wake up and Strike hides behind the door; when the chef re-enters Strike swiftly knocks him out and enters the kitchen, he finds only a young kitchen boy who he also renders unconscious. 
Meanwhile Korra slumbers peacefully, through a drugged haze she dreams of an ancient elven tale that tells of the Tree of Life, from where all life is descended.
Hiding the bodies of the kitchen staff, Strike and Demanor hear the Captain returning with his men, realising that they are outnumbered, they return to their seats and pretend to be asleep, allowing the Captain’s men to take them to a prepared cabin; the Captain laments having to drug them saying that he simply couldn’t allow them to ask questions about the cargo, but that they are still guests and all due care should be taken of them.
Once they are left alone, Demanor returns to her rat form and sneaks out of the cabin past the two sailors on guard, eventually finding her way to the cargo hold where a squat, thick set figure stands unmoving, secured with numerous chains and girded in stone armour; being one with the spirits of natural things Demanor attempts to communicate with what she assumes to be a statue, but is unable to make contact with the spirit of the thing. She returns to the cabin and bites Korra, waking her, Strike’s commanding voice cutting through her drug-induced haze, “We need your intelligence.”
Listening to Demanor’s description of the strange statue-like being, Korra remembers an ancient legend that talked of the mythical stoneborn, the creatures who built the oldest section of the wall that now surrounds the Kingdom; deciding that enough is enough Strike confront the Captain, who explains that he was concerned that they were Kingdom customs officials, but given that they know about the cargo and haven’t attempted to raise any alarm that is clearly not the case. Mikhail apologises for drugging them and takes them down to the hold where the strange statue creature rests, remembering that (in Korra’s tale) the Stoneborn had dealings with the ancient elves, Demanor tries a number of phrases in ancient elvish; none of them have any affect until she says “The wall is in danger”, the stone creature reacts to this by taking hold of her arm, although it moves slowly and remains silent.
One of the sailors tells them that the statue had a hammer when bought on board and, following instructions from Strike he runs to fetch it, the hammer is presented to the Stoneborn at which point it releases Demanor’s arm and holds the hammer aloft, jagged lightning flashed through the porthole striking the weapon and, in a strangely echoing voice the Stoneborn says “The wall is threatened.”
Captain Mikhail explains that they were paid a kings ransom by the Emperor of the Sapphire Islands to illegally smuggle one of the statues (one of thousands discovered below the Great Peaks by a recent Kingdom dig) out of the Kingdom, Strike wonders whether this is connected with the news of a recent ban on quarrying in the Great Peaks that had reached his ears, apparently order by royal decree of King John V. Distracted, Captain Folder fails to notice when Strike pockets the small container of Oil of Tagit, the northlander tells the Captain to move the Stoneborn to his boat and then he can legitimately tell the Emperor that the northlanders took it and hopefully escape any reprisals from the leader of his homeland; nervous of the creature in his hold the Captain agrees.
An hour later the two ships part company, the Stoneborn standing on the deck of Strike’s vessel, as they near shore, with a low grinding sound it steps overboard and disappears like a stone weight below the water, seemingly unconcerned it walks up the beach as our heroes disembark and begins to walk in a methodical fashion in the direction of Royal City.
Days later as they reach the outskirts of Royal City the Stoneborn continues to walk forward pushing through the assembled city guards that gather around it, barely seeming to notice them, Korra hears one of the guards say “It’s heading to the wall, just like the others.”
Theorising that the Stoneborn have become active now the wall is threatened, Strike says that they should head to the palace and warn the King of the many dangers his kingdom now faces, the Stoneborn may help, but that depends on whether they prove to be allies or not.

Sapphire Islands – Dungeon World Mini-campaign – Session 3

As Demanor reflected on the departure of her people (well, most of them) from the world of men she felt a lingering disappointment that they had so easily abandoned the world that had been their home for so many years; Strike was a good deal less introspective in his opinions, mocking the cowardice of the elves for “running away” from their responsibilities and leaving their “mess behind them.” Korra for her part was quiet, no doubt her head was still whirling with the thought of all the stories that she had collected from the elves prior to their departure, stories which were now entirely unique.
Zephandius (one of the younger, zealous elves who had chosen to remain behind) was talking to his fellows saying that they must guide the humans and show them the error of their ways, Demanor listened by counselled caution lest the humans see the elves as another enemy, Korra advised them to visit smaller settlements first and give the humans time to adjust to the idea of accepted elven aid in current affairs.
Troubled by her vision of the pulsating, dark tree Demanor wanted to set off in search of the strange dark elven figures that the vision had revealed to her and, joined by her two friends, headed into the western jungle; as they continued westwards the feelings of anger that seemed to bubble below the surface of the natural world and that were reflected in the elven druid herself seemed to grow stronger and it was only Korra’s soothing singing that allowed the elf to maintain a grip on her temper. A shout from Will caused them to stop as he pulled back the foliage revealing the greying flesh of a dead man, clad in the furs and humidity rusting armour of a northerner, an axe lay near the man’s hand, a strange, thick reddish substance coating the blade; not wanting to see one of his kinsmen go to Valhalla without a weapon in his hand Strike picked up the and placed it on the dead northlanders chest. Without warning the ribcage of the corpse collapsed causing Will to fall forwards and his hand to sink into the stick red substance, immediately Strike started to feel a little queasy and suspected that it must be poison of some kind, luckily he was able to wipe the rest off before any further damage was done to him (although he still felt slightly weakened).
Trying to hide his momentary weakness from his companions, Strike began to analyse the poison using his years of experience attempting to identify it, however, it was like nothing he had seen before, it had the consistency of tree sap but was like nothing natural he had come across; Korra was reminded of an old tale where a man attempted to poison his wife but was tricked into drinking the poison himself, when he died his spirit was not allowed entry into the afterlife and wandered the land, corrupting it until the spirit killed the wife and the land returned to normal.
Without warning the dead body suddenly jerked upright, cadaverous hands grabbing Demanor’s leg, Strike spun round and with a slice of his blade beheaded the creature, the skull rolled to rest against a tree, a piercing shriek emanating from it as the foliage and roots around them began to move and disgorge more of the rotten half-dead, orcs, farmers and northlanders all stumbled forward, hands grapsing and eyes blank. Korra finished off the still moving body of the original creature, meanwhile Demanor concentrated and, leaping up into the nearby trees, she assumed the form of a great jungle ape, brutally dispatching one of the shambling creatures with a blow from her mighty simian arms. A few moments later the group had destroyed the creatures, they stood panting from their extertions and several injuries Korra began to sing her songs of healing whilst Demanor applies some herbal poultices to the bard.
Demanor had been examining the trees, they all seemed tainted with the poisonous sap, she suggested burning them and purifying the area with fire but, as Strike pointed out, the wood was entirely too wet to burn; a ragged voice from the many shattered and destoryed skulls littering the clearing shouted out the word “Coward, the gates of Valhalla are closed to such as you!” Although he didn’t recognise the voice, Strike looked thoughtful, he had an idea who might be responsible.
Deciding that she must risk being overwhelmed by the feelings of anger in order to find out more about their current situation Demanor merged herself with the natural forces running through the area, her eyes rolled back in her head as her spirit travelled elsewhere, in her trance she found herself standing before a huge shadowy figure that vaguely resembled a northlander in outline, twin points of red light serving as eyes. The shadow lashed out with a huge axe and, as she dived backwards, abruptly ending her trance a shallow wound opened on her chest where the tip of the axe had grazed her flesh. Once again the ragged voice echoes through the clearing, “The bloody left hand awaits.”
Seeing Korra and Demanor looking puzzled, Strike explained that in northlander culture when several tribes elected a warleader they dyed his left hand permanently red as a sign of his leadership and he was known as the bloody left hand, they were interrupted by a crashing growing closer through the trees, Demanor transformed herself into a jungle grass snake whilst he two companions dived behind trees. A bedraggled looking elf burst into the clearing, seeing this the party revealed themselves, the elf told them that, after they had left the elven city in came under attack from strange creatures who swamped the elves, it was a massacre; Zephandius ordered a couple of his fatest men to flee to try and warn nearby settlements, thanking the elf for his news they suggested that he continue to warn the human settlements. The elf nodded and, after accepting some healing poultices from the druid, he left them to continue on his mission of warning.
Strike mused that the fate of the jungle was clearly somehow linked to his own people, he suggested that they head for Axeholme, the only northlander settlement on the mainland, nodding numbly after news of the potential massacre of her remaining people Demanor agreed. Days later they arrived at Axeholme, however, the once bustling village had been reduced to little more than a smouldering ruin, all except one building, the central long-house. Walking in they saw that the room was mainly taken up by a huge stone eagle, lashed to it was a battered but alive figure that Strike recognised as his uncle, the once chief of his tribe; gasping the bloodied but proud northlander coughed as Strike cut the ropes fastening his to the eagle and said “Ragnor has returned, with an army of the dead, he has killed me… but do not let me die without a weapon in my hand.”
Nodding Strike passed his uncle a weapon and dropped into a fighting pose, he parried the clumsy tired blow that the tortured, older man aimed at him and then, seizing his moment, he stepped in under the older northlander’s weapon and stabbed his sword deeply into his uncle’s side; the old man nodded, a faint flicker of a smile on his lips as his last breath left his body and he crumbled to the floor.
A few minutes later a boat transformed into a blazing funeral pyre left the shore, carrying the deceased chief, heading in the opposite direction a second boat containing our heroes began to sail towards Royal City, Demanor and Korra listening with rapt attention as Will told them that Ragnor was the previous chief of the northlanders and that he himself had been banished for poisoning the old chief after he had laid hands on his sister.

Dungeon World – Sapphire Island mini-campaign – Player write-up session 3

Watching the last White Ship sailing away was the most heart wrenching thing I have ever done. I forced myself not to look away, if I could not look my Elders in the eye as they departed I would not give them the satisfaction of turning away now. Bile boiled in my stomach with anger at their desertion of both my people and the younger races who’s needed us now more than ever. Part of me expecting them to return and face the chaos the Elders had let happen but as the river fog began to close over the swans head Silanthus stood and held up his arm, bent at the elbow that was tucked into his side as a final farewell gesture I knew this was the last time I would ever see any of them.
“Remember, there may be long-term effects of your vision, past present or future. Fair well.” His voice was as clear as if he was standing by my side.
I forced myself not to turn to the sound of his voice and watched as the last Great White Ship was enveloped by the mist.
“That was a bit dramatic, what kind of parent can they call themselves running away like that.” Strike said in an attempt to lift my mood and breaking the silence.
Korra said nothing, she was in total awe of witnessing, first-hand the one of the most important parts of Elven history.
Turning away, looking towards the Ziggurat I could see the fifty that had remained behind; watching them mill around like lost children the emotions on their faces clearly showing they shared my feelings of disbelief, regret, anger, and also wanting it all to be a bad dream. If Silanthus waving goodbye was not proof of the reality of the situation, then watching the ship disappear like the sun sink below the horizon certainly was. Korra managed to find her voice and leaned over to me.
“Is there some sort of celebration?” She whispered.
‘For saying goodbye to everything you have ever known and believed and knowing that there is no way of ever claiming it back?’ I thought bitterly, but I just said “Not really, no.”
“So what do we do now?” she asked, I had a feeling this was going to go in her song too.
“Carry on as normal,” I said with a shrug.
Turning to walk away from the river’s edge I heard Zephandius’ voice, “They have abandoned us brothers and sisters…”
I could not help but smile, the last of our race had not even been gone for a few heart beats and already this mini tyrant had to rub salt into the wound; my gut told me that if there was to be a war he would be one of those to start it then be safely at the back.
“…Those committed to staying behind, now is the time to be known to the younger races. Do not hide like our leaders. I call on you, all of you, brave of heart to be brave one last time and present ourselves to the Emperor as aid to his people. The fire of our race has not burned out! Let us fight one last time!” je shouted passionately.
Strike, a fly in anyone’s ointment if he chose to be raised his hand and Zephandius turned, “Yes my friend?” He may have thought he was being welcoming but where Strike came from that was the words spoken right before the first punch was thrown.
“I have a question, as a member of one of the younger races.”
Zephandius nodded for him to continue.
“What happens when they don’t listen?” He asked with the air of someone willing to bet money on what will happen.
“I will ask to speak with them. As some chose not to stay I would not fight them to listen.”
“But they may see you to be a threat, Dark Elves attacking Humans after all.”
“I do not know of these Dark Elves of which you speak but I would seek an audience with the Emperor…”
“Why not instead of going to the Emperor, speak with local village rulers to get followers?” Strike suggested with a smirk.
“I would speak with the Emperor about…” Zephandius tried to speak again but was interrupted this time by Korra.
“If you approach at the bottom, by the time you reach the City your argument may be more persuasive.”
“You have a very good point, but with the very little time that we do have we need to act. Humans may not feel the corruption of the Lands but Elven kind can,” he stopped and thought for a moment before continuing “I will meditate on what you have said and talk with the others in the morning.” Zephandius disappeared into the Ziggurat.
Realising the show was over for now Korra stopped scribbling down her notes and looked at me, “What do you want to do?” The Elves, also realising that the meeting had come to an end began to empty out of the courtyard.
“We need to know more about the Dark Elves,” I said, staring at nothing.
“Where is it, the tree I mean?” Strike asked the question I could not answer.
“All I know is that it is in the forests but I have told you all I saw.”
“The forests west of here, in Human legends anyway, are dark woods, full of bones and swampy jungle.” Korra volunteered.
“Ah, yeah but some legends of dark and haunted forests are only to the west because Northlanders killed a few people who entered the trees and never returned. Oooooo don’t go in there, such and such went in there and was never seen again,” he said waiving his hands in the air as he would telling a child a ghost story.”
“It’s still a good a place as any to start,” I said resisting the urge to stick my tongue out at him.
* * *
It was fairly easy traveling across the river, south of Three Rivers there was very little traffic, it was understandable humans were being attacked in their own villages, they would not feel safe enough to travel far; we were undisturbed as we crossed the bridge and headed west into the jungle, by force of habit I felt the mood of the land. Somehow the anger in the land had grown stronger, had I not been expecting it, it would have been almost too strong for me to control, I swallowed hard, trying to somehow swallow down the hatred. I knew I had to tell the others but at the same time not lash out at them.
“You know. You know how the Elves have been…” I began through gritted teeth.
“Running away?” Strike cut in. Usually this would have made me laugh not now I felt the wrath of the lands rise up and before I could stop myself I retaliated.
“Look if you don’t want to f**king listen” I snapped
“Is it important?” He said in with a smile on his face. Something that generally would have defused the situation but it riled me even more.
“If you don’t want to f**king listen, then fine!” I shouted, trying to suppress the rage.
“Well, what is it?” Strike said with the same smirk. Oh how I wanted to wipe the smile off his face.
“Fuck off then! Fine, don’t listen then!” I screamed at the rage and at Strike
“I do” Korra said meekly
“This rage in the land is somehow stronger than ever before, I don’t know if I will be able to contain it.” I said calming down enough to speak in full sentences.
“How bad is it?” She asked quietly.
“Bad enough that I may need to be restrained at some point.” I admitted. I felt better for being able to tell them.
Without another word Korra picked up her flute and began to play the songs she had learned inside the Ziggurat, hearing the words of my childhood sung in Korra’s soft hypnotic tones seemed to quell the resentment I held and seeing the endless melodies irritate Strike chased away any lingering animosity.
Now that my mind was not clouded I found myself thinking if I could feel the effects of whatever it was and it was powerful enough for me to tear into close friends then how would the land lash out? Curious how the influence may be infecting the land I gazed around the jungle, although the trees were upright and growing they looked as if they were rotting. Dark, slime coloured leaves grew from the higher branches and the solid wooden trunks looked spongy and frail; as we continued our journey the trees became worse, until the trunks and leaves took on a grey colour I had only ever seen on a leprous corpse.
“Humour me here, are you seeing the same as me?” I asked my companions
“It is a wood,” Strike said pointing out the obvious.
“You are not helping,” I tried to warn him.
“I come from the Northlands, all we see is snow, that and giant white bears. It’s a wood. I don’t know what they’re supposed to look like.”
“Yes, I do,” said Korra, trying to stop the argument before it begun.
“Then are trees supposed to be the same colour of putrid corpses?” I snapped back. Realising that I was about to start fighting with the only people I trusted I walked a little way off to try to quieten the rage inside.
While I was pulling myself together Strike, noticed something half hidden in the rotting undergrowth; from where I stood I saw him bend down and after rummaging around produced a battle axe, the blade was pitted and rusty, presumably from where it had been lying on the wet grass and from the look of the decaying metal it had been there for some time. My eyes travelled down the weapon to the wooden haft, what I saw did not make sense, I took a step closer to get a better look and realised my eyes were not deceiving me, the hollows in the wood where the rot had eaten into the shaft were oozing a thick deep red sap like substance making the handle look as if it was bleeding.
Sensing that something was not right I began walking over to Strike my mouth open forming the words to warn him; before I could speak an almost comical look of revulsion spread across his face as he felt the slime between his fingers, he bent forward carefully and after a few heartbeats and the sound of rustling grass and a strange soft sigh Strike stood up again and began to wipe his hand on all and anything around him. When it could not be scraped off he tried flicking it off only to find the abnormal substance had adhered to his hand he took a leather water bag and began to wash his hands, he must have stood up too quickly as he suddenly became very pale and clammy, almost as if he had caught a chill.
“That is poison,” he said, making his actions a lot clearer.
Looking behind him I could now explain the soft sigh, lying behind Strike was the decaying body of a Northlander; animals, bugs and decay had eaten away too much of his flesh for the body to be identified any clearer than of his homeland and if to answer honestly it was more his clothing that gave away that secret. His chest had caved, possibly from the axe placed there and the reason for the detached sigh and why Strike was busy trying to scrape the blood red gloop from his hand.
While Korra busied herself with not seeing breakfast again I looked helplessly at Strike.
“I am a shape shifter not a healer, I know nothing of poisons or cures,” I apologised.
“I’ll be fine,” He shrugged.
“Let me know if I can be of any help,” I offered. I really didn’t want my emotional ties with the land to come between us.
Feeling a little braver Korra stood up, “Could it be ingested or skin contact?” All three of us looked at the surrounding jungle.
“Try not to touch the forest,” Strike ordered then realised how hard that would actually be. Looking for the path of least resistance forced us to study the vegetation, not something that most spend their time on unless gathering ingredients for rites or rituals which is why none of noticed that the trees were also bleeding from knots and holes in the trunks.
“I’m going to stab a tree,” Strike announced. I looked at him, questioning whether the poison was working faster than first thought.
“What?” he asked, seeing my confusion.
“And if a branch comes crashing down through the canopy and catapults you to the Gods knows where, what then?”
“Then we have found Oak Heart.”
Lunging forward he successfully stabbed a trunk, the blade of his rapier sinking further than expected. Pulling the sword out the same blood like sap began to trickle down the sickly coloured bark.
“Ta da! We have found poison,” he said with a flourish. Strike crouched down and watched the thick liquid crawl down the timber, “The poison appears to be the sap of the tree but not of the tree.” His voice sounded strange, the poison was defiantly affecting him.
“Is that some form of Human Higher Seer sort of a thing?”
“No,” he snapped before trying to explain again, “It is in the tree but it is not part of the tree.”
“Something’s poisoning the land then?” Korra suggested.
“Yes I imagine so as it feeds off the land,” Strike replied.
“No, there is no evidence of the earth being poisoned, only the plants and trees are effected,” Korra pointed out.
Strike suddenly had a look of grim realisation, “This reminds me of a story from home. A man trapped in an unhappy marriage attempts to poison his wife. Not an honourable act, the word for poison in the Northlands means woman’s revenge. And the reason I was banished. Anyway, this wife was a very intelligent woman and tricks him to drink from the poisoned cup. This is a very cowardly act, we believe that if you die from poison and not battle when you get to the Gates of Valhalla those gates would be closed. Forcing your spirit to wander the worlds for all eternally. So, he wandered the land of the dead and eventually found himself back in the lands of the living. Because his spirit is corrupted when he returns from the grave he corrupts the land he walks on. After a time of searching he finds and kills his wife. In the story the land returned to healed itself when he had avenged his cowardly death and could return to rest.”
Hearing this legend made us all speechless, “So we know what is wrong but was mulchy guy a bystander or involved?”  Korra spoke slowly, trying to form the words that for the moment escaped all of us.
“I’d say no, he was just infected.”
Silence enveloped us for a second time.
“Would you be welcome home?” An uncomfortable silence followed Korra’s question to Strike and he laughed nervously.
“Well, you might be alright…” he pointed at Korra “They have never seen an Elf before so you’re ok…” he directed at me. “But me? Well maybe all will be forgiven,” he finished sarcastically, “But if we must,” He said with a deep sigh.
I turned to face him to try to give him some comfort but coming over Strike’s shoulder was the puss filled, putrefying disintegrating body lumbering towards us with his hand, dripping in flesh and slime stretched out, revealing the sharp tips of finger bones that looked very much like claws; I felt the rake of dead man’s fingers slash down my side and with a squeal that changed to a squawk I shape shifted into a macaw and flew upwards to the safety of the tree above. Out the corner of my eye I could see blue and red feathers fluttered down as I fought for height, where the claws had slashed at my side as I shifted, instead of the burning warning feeling of an unclean injury I felt coldness that almost burned before turning numb.
Korra, not used to holding a weapon, waved an unsteady blade towards the walking corpse trying to attract its attention, seeing the bard the shambling figure staggered towards her, arms outstretched trying to grab her; using this distraction to his advantage Strike stalked the creature and managing to get right up behind him, drawing the blade of his rapier across the back of it’s neck, severing the head from the body. This did not seem to affect the animated corpse the way we had hoped, instead of the body dropping to the floor it stumbled before righting itself and continued to claw at Korra. Expecting it to turn on Strike he quickly backed off before finding another vantage point and waiting for his pray to edge closer. The head had tumbled to the ground and rolled to a stop at the trunk of a tree, on hitting the bark the jaw snapped open and an ear piercing shriek tore through the forest. The screech was answered by the sound of splintering rotten wood, the sound flung me back to my vision of the Dark Elf tree roots and feeling sick from what could be making the sound I found myself staring at the roots of the surrounding trees; they slid over each other like snakes in a sack before the remains of a hand burst through and began pulling whatever it was attached to out of an unmarked grave.
What emerged had once been an Orc but time and the corruption that had poisoned everything it came in contact with had only left a few grisly hints of who it had once been; “WATCH YOUR FEET!” I squawked. An icy grip was trying to crawl through my body leaving me feeling weakened and unwell. From my vantage point in the tree I could see several places where the roots seemed to be alive before four more corrupted souls heaved out of the earth; there was the Orc, a Human Northlander (with his enormous build and two short axes, the weapons of choice for a Northlander barbarian he could not be mistaken for anything else), a Human settler (from the threadbare remains of his clothing) and an elf.
Ignoring the newcomers or too busy to notice them advancing Korra slashed wildly at the first walking corpse and with luck on her side one of the blows caught the creature down its shoulder and through the collapsed chest cutting it in two, as it fell there was a tearing sound as its bone claws scraped down her leather armour, leaving little protection against the four abominations still standing. Realising that my current form was not ideal for fighting I changed back and still crouching on the branch that I had flown onto I loaded the Orc short bow Strike had given me back on the shoreline after the first Orc attack. I knew it was only down to shear dumb luck if I managed to hit my target, I was not used to weapons of any sort that were not already attached to me, but I took a deep breath to steady myself and, on the point where inhale turned back to exhale, I loosed my arrow at the poor creature that was once an Elf. Either the creature moved too quickly or I was unlucky, either way my bolt missed the target, pink slurry sprayed up and outwards as the arrow skimmed the side of the Elf’s skull, well I got its attention at least.
It took very little time for the dead Elf to cross the ground, a strange sort of bestial scuttle that used both arms and legs to run, and before I could blink it was at the base of the tree digging its exposed finger and toe bones into the soggy trunk, I hurriedly loaded again and with no time to aim shot at the Elf again; I watched the arrow fly past the creature, this seemed to spur the walking dead Elf on and with great strength it leapt onto the end of the branch I was standing on.  The Elf dropped on all fours, like an animal ready to strike and lunged at me, claws extended; ice cold pain that took my breath away surged through my shoulder as the walking dead creature burrowed its sharp finger bones deep into my flesh, it is strange how, when you feel you are about to die, how sharply things come into focus. Although I was not watching Strike or Korra fight, when the corruption of the abomination began to flow through me I looked down and saw Korra, driven by terror hack and slash at the advancing Human Settler sending pieces of flesh, skin and clothing flying into the air, her attack having no effect on the creature and her look of horror as its clawed hand raked across her face.
Strike, not far from Korra had successfully hacked the Orc to pieces, the scraps twitched, still animated by the poison coursing through the bodies but unable to do anything, an arm spasmed, grabbing at thin air and I am sure that an eye, still encased in a shard of skull rolled in its socket trying to look around; the shock of seeing this brought me back to my attacker and drawing strength from my terror I shape shifted into a mountain gorilla. I forced my hand into its mouth and grabbed the Elf’s face but the poison from my wounds had drained my strength and instead of ripping his jawbone from his head the Elf’s jaw clamped down on my hand; my only hope now lay in destroying the creature as fast as possible. I looked down to see where Strike and Korra were, Korra was still in a blind panic and weakening fast, slashing madly at her attacker while Strike slipped behind the human settler and buried the blade of his rapier deep in the small of the creatures back pulling up and splitting the abomination in half.
Seeing they were both out of danger I pulled at the last of my strength, using the fear and rage of the land to spurn me on I pushed off out into the air, the Elf continued to chew on my arm as I twisted round, forcing him underneath me and using the bulk of my form slammed the creature into the ground liquefying the corrupted Elf. Hearing the sound of me hitting the ground the dead Northlander turned and lumbered towards me, wearily I pulled myself up, ready for his attack when out of nowhere Strike appeared behind him and cut him down in a frenzied attack, hacking and slashing until there was nothing left to get back up.
Korra, barely able to stand in her weakened state, still found the strength to completely heal me, once satisfied I was healthy she urged us to keep moving, “I know of the urgency you feel but if you let me treat your wounds it will only take a few hours rather than days,” I explained, pulling poultices, bandages and herbal pastes out of my bag not waiting for her to answer. She nodded, too weak to answer, I began to treat the worst of her injuries when I noticed that the jungle was quiet, not like after a fight where all senses are heightened, this was the sound of the grave. There was us, the unnatural twitching limbs of the dissected walking dead, all making noise but there were no forest sounds, no birds, insects, animals, the normal music of the jungle.
I glanced around, still busy applying herbal pastes to bandages and dressing Korra’s wounds the trees still looked like they were rotting where they stood but did not seem to be getting any worse.
“This mystery tree in the nameless place, how are we supposed to destroy it?” Strike asked, picking at his boot.
“I say we burn it, everything can be cleansed with enough fire,” I mused bandaging the wound on Korra’s leg.
“Hmm,” Strike tilted his head to one side, it was easy to tell he liked the idea, “Too wet though,” he concluded.
“Can we not slaughter a few animals?” Korra murmered, still clearly weak from the attack. Strike and I looked at her, confused. “To get the tallow?” She explained hurriedly.
“There is nothing here, can you not hear it?” I began packing up what was left of my healing bag. ‘When I find some heathy vegetation I must gather all I can carry’ I thought to myself.
“Not really… human,” she said, referred to my contact with the lands, I shook my head.
“Can you hear the silence?” I gasped, amazed that they didn’t notice it before.
They strained to hear anything then from out of nowhere a boom like thunder, rasping, voice with a tone of that a high born lady would pick up something the cat brought in with a pair of tongs rumbled around us, “COWARD!”
We all looked around, expecting another form of attack at any moment, satisfied of no immediate danger we looked at each other, both Korra and I shared a look of bewilderment while Strikes shoulders sagged at some sort of recollection.
“THE GATES OF VALHALLA ARE CLOSED TO SUCH AS YOU!” The disembodied voiced hissed.
“As they are to you,” Strike replied mockingly.
“So you recognise it then?” Korra enquired.
“No, but I have an idea,” Strike said sighing.
Sitting down I emptied my head and took a deep breath, exhaling slowly, I placed my hands out to my sides and down on the ground, I let my eyes rolled back as I freed myself from my worldly chains and melded with the land. I retched, I felt my body trying to rid itself of the poison in the land, every fibre of my being screamed at me that this was wrong, but behind it was some form of intelligence, willing it along.
Natural disasters were bad, this cannot be disputed but they are random acts that crash together to form chaos, this was controlled, it had poisoned the land so strongly that I found myself being smothered, I began fighting for breath, it felt as if I was drowning in the corruption. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end, someone or something was standing directly behind me, I clenched my fists to gain some self-control and forced myself to turn around slowly.
A shadow three times as tall as Strike loomed over me, loathing pouring off the shadow so thickly that it was terrifying; there were no features to this being, much like there are no features to your own shadow but two large horns sat on its head, possibly part of the creature or maybe just some form of trophy or armour, the outline of its clothing looked to be thick furs of some kind and where its eyes should have been were two red glowing points of light. Looking down I could see its arms were huge and muscular. In its right hand was an axe almost as big as me and its left hand was dripping in blood, before I could speak the entity twisted the axe in its hand and swung at me; fear gripped me but I managed to move just in time, the blade sliced across my chest, it had meant to be a killer blow; my body decided to take control and dodged as my brain was hiding in a corner somewhere.
I slammed back into my body in time to see a thin red line open up where the sharp edge had caught my chest, the shock of the confrontation hit me and I fell back onto the dank grass; seeing me wounded Korra staggered over and tried to heal me with one of her ballads, unfortunately her own injuries distracted her too much and for once, she was unsuccessful. Her melody was drowned out by the voice from Strike’s past, “THE BLOODY HAND AWAITS!”
Sure that there was nothing more to add I explained to Strike and Korra what I witnessed while I tried to dress my wound with what I had left over in my bag, Strike began pacing up and down, he looked livid.
“The bloody left hand is a how we elect a new chief. All those who wish to rule enter the fight and last one standing wins. The corruption may be the result of me poisoning him.”
“So we have to kill you?” I said brightly.
“No, I have to face him.”
Korra opened her mouth but before she could speak there was a crashing through the undergrowth from something that sounded very big, unable to see any decent cover I shape-shifted into a grass snake and slid into the underbrush. Korra and Strike were about to hide when an elf, badly wounded fell through the vegetation, the top half of his body was a network of wounds and he held onto one arm, as he came closer we could see that it was almost completely hacked off. Relief swept over him when he saw my companions, seeing no danger I transformed back to my Elven form, he looked even more thankful on seeing myself.
“Thank goodness! I sensed an Elf here and hoped I would find someone,” he nodded his thanks to Korra as she tied a tourniquet around his arm, while she worked she sang an Elven healing song and, in time managed to heal him almost entirely.
“I did not know if anyone had survived. It was a massacre. They took us by surprise, we had no chance!”
“What happened?” Strike said slowly, trying to coax some sense out of the petrified Elf.
“Zephandius was rousing some followers to visit a few of the settlements to rally the Humans when the Ziggurat was attacked by dark shadows,” Zephandius told some of us to flee and carry a warning to nearby settlements.
“We need to find the Human settlements, we need to warn people, that is if any still live,” Korra added bitterly.
“No, there is no point wasting time telling people about it when we can stop it at the source.”
“Send him to warn the settlements,” Korra nodded towards the messenger.
“Yeah,” I agreed
“By the Elders! What happened here?” the elf asked, looking around for the first time.
“The dead are restless and rising. Watch for zombies.” It was important enough for all of us to speak at once, the elf swallowed hard and nodded.
“I must get to the surviving settlements and warn them,” he whispered
“I suggest a white flag, human settlements have been under attack. They may be hostile,” Korra said handing him a square of cloth I had stored for bandages.
“Yes, I agree,” he replied taking the cloth.
“Remember, there may be no survivors,” Strike said grimly.
The messenger nodded solemnly, saying “Good journey,” before walking away.
“Good journey,” we replied.
Somehow I think we were going to need all the blessings we could get.
* * *
We headed to the very edge of the jungle where the decaying trees began to thin out and give way to the icy snow covered mountains and barren rocky wilderness of the Northlands, compared to the hot, humid, warm, damp climate of the jungle with a unique, organic smell of vegetation both decaying and living side by side the air was cold, arid and crisp which tried to freeze your throat if inhaled deeply enough with a strange hint of tin which I was informed was the scent of snow. Our journey continued through this new terrain and I found myself excited at all the new discoveries, I had travelled over this type of land before but quickly and not with someone born and raised, knowing the lands as I knew the jungle. Breathing in the new aromas of this foreign land I found a trace of scent that once smelt was never forgotten, the heavy, pungent, spicy smell of smoke.
Leaving the tree line behind us we climbed over the ridge of a hill and were met with a scene devastation, the village of Axehome, a once proud and strong home to Northlanders was now nothing but smouldering ruins; no-one had been spared, men, women and children cut down like animals, the stench of rotting corpses and roasting flesh mixed with the acrid smoke created a smell that seemed to fill my whole world, I would never forget that stench for as long as I lived. Rats and beetles scuttled and scampered over the human and animal remains littered the pathways and the vacant stares of the dead watched us as we picked our way through the ransacked village. Strike led us to the stone longhouse with a charred, smouldering thatch roof at the centre of the settlement which seemed at first glance to be relatively unscathed.
“Is there a white flag?” Korra asked hesitantly
“We have no word for surrender,” Strike answered.
Whatever happened they had been worthy fighters, the charred scraps that remained were thicker here, they had defended this place with their last breath and were butchered for it; the towering, thick wooden doors that once protected the longhouse hung awkwardly, flapping weakly in a breeze that made the dying embers glow in the darkness of the building. Strike edged to the door and pushed it gently, with a thud that shook the foundations the door fell inwards, sending up a cloud of dust of cinders and ash.
Strike yelled out a greeting in his native tongue into the darkness, he was answered with a groan; drawing his sword Strike stepped into the gloom, with us following him. Inside was dark and the air caught in my throat making it hard to breathe, the torches that were usually held onto the wall with heavy metal brackets littered the floor. Shafts of light cut through the shadows from holes in the thatch, once used to let the smoke from the stone circled fire pit, now made much larger from the arrows, huge chunks of stone that had been used as bludgeoning projectiles and finally the fire that had raged as a final insult to the tribe. Picking our way through the wreckage Strike lead us to the back of the longhouse, in the centre of the back wall was a stone carving, a large bird of prey with its wings outstretched and claws extended, frozen in an eternal moment of striking its unseen prey.
Across the wingspan was a blood-spattered body lashed face down with its arms left hanging free over the statue, what I thought was a shadow falling over one hand was actually the hand dyed dark red; aggravated at the low light I shape-shifted to a spectacled owl and perched on one of the remaining joists, watching the shadows for any danger.  Strike approached the sacrificial figure and carefully cut him down, falling awkwardly Strike knelt down and caught him before he hit the floor and gently rolled him onto his back. A heavy set man, handsome but well weathered once honed muscle now plump with good food and not as much exercise dressed in the traditional Northlander furs and leather, his fiery red hair, flecked here and there with snow white patches matched his beard, both platted and tied with leather cord.
Even in the low light I could see the pallor fall from his face as he recognised what I can only presume to be a loved one, the northlander language although lost on me the anguish in his words was not; the intended sacrifice reached out towards strike and stroked his cheek tenderly, almost as if he was scared that he would vanish like a dream.
“Is that really you?”
“Yes uncle.”
“The old King returned, bringing with him an army. I came here to negotiate, the Northlands were being blamed for the raids on the Kingdom. The old king returned with an army of slaughtered warriors. For ever one that fell. Two took his place.”
“An army of dead?”
“Yes, an army of the damned; I was to be left as a message, my men who fell joined his army and lashed me here.”
Strike looked confused, was he not understanding what was being said or was it that the Chief was in so much pain that he just was not making sense? They stopped speaking when Korra moved closer, as far as I knew she did not know the language either but she could see that he was in a great amount of pain. Her hypnotic, soothing song for all the magic it could do could not heal the once great Chieftain but his grimace of pain slackened into a more peaceful expression.
“And my family?” Strike looked anxious with this question.
“I hope I saved your sister. I sent her away with my best men on one of my ships. I made them swear they would not tell me where they were taking her. I did not want to compromise her position should I be caught. I believe in my heart she is still alive.”
Although to me the conversation was nothing more than a succession of grunts, I did not want to pry into such a compassionate reunion and so the discussion was left a mystery. Speaking now in a language we all understood the Chief continued.
“This poison is unknown to us, we fight steal and bone not with trickery and poison. Ragnor is a host on the mainland, no doubt causing unimaginable chaos.” The chief stopped to catch his breath which was becoming more laboured. Although he would never admit it there was deep sadness in Strikes eyes.
“Do you wish a warrior’s death uncle?” Strike spoke in the universal language of traders.
“Let me die as it is intended, with a sword in my hand, not as a feeble old man,” a spark of defiance burned in his sea blue eyes before the weight of his injuries pulled him back.
Korra handed Strikes uncle a sword who nodded to her, shaking off any help he dug the tip of his blade into the earth as he pushed himself up onto his feet, once ready he nodded to strike and held the double handed broadsword in a defensive position. Strike nodded back and the blade of his rapier slid from its scabbard, Strike ran at him with his weapon upheld going in with a foreswing and followed it with a backswing, his uncle dogged the first and met the second with his blade but only just, his beliefs said he must die in battle to reach Valhalla but no one said how quickly the fight had to last. With his arms up in defence his belly was exposed and Strike sliced deeply, making for a quick death; his uncle fell to his knees and grabbed Strikes leg, with a grateful look fell forward, finally at peace.
Wanting his uncle to receive a true warrior’s burial we whiled away the hours building a pyre aboard one of the surviving longboats securing torches into the soft wet earth to see by when the sun finally set; the sorrowful melodies of Korra’s flute drifted out over the water as Strike pushed his uncles boat off the shore line, waited until the current took it and with great reverence placed a single arrow into the flickering torch, waited for the strip of cloth wrapped around it to catch and fired it high into the air. A gust of wind caught the arrow and for a moment it looked as if it would be blown off course, someone watching the farewell had other ideas and the still flaming arrow landed directly in the middle of the pyre.
Slowly, timidly the flames crept over the boat until it exploded with confidence and engulfed the long ship.
When his spirit had been accepted to the afterlife and the fires were no longer visible we readied the one remaining sea worthy ship and set off to the Royal City, still, as far as we were aware untouched by the avenging spirit of Ragnor.

Dungeon World – Sapphire Island mini-campaign – Player write-up session 2

This is a write-up by one of the players (Kelly Grimshaw) of our second Sapphire Island Dungeon World session, Kelly plays the elven druid Demanor in the campaign.
Stepping back on board Strike shifted his weight on his forward foot, he stepped to the left and the right then behind him, after his attack on invisible cockroaches he lay full length on the deck with one eye closed.  Running one hand in front of his vision he then squatted down and using a dagger he levered up a board that looked exactly the same as the others, revealing a hidden smugglers compartment; prising the deck plank loose and setting it to one side he leaned down and pulled out a bulging leather pouch. Inside the bag was more sapphires than I had ever seen before, on the Sapphire Islands these things were used as marbles in children’s games but outside of the Islands these little stones that shone blue in the light like the sun glinting off the ocean were much rarer.
“The boat looks not as bad as I first thought, with the Orc arrow and spear holes? Two to three days’ work at most.” Strike said casually making the leather purse magically disappear into his pocket.
The attack from the Orcs had left us all wounded but Strike most of all, his proud heritage would not allow him to show any weakness and he set about moving the boat closer to shore as possible while I kept a lookout for driftwood, Korra went into the Captain’s cabin for any information she could use in her ballads. Whilst I was healing the wounds inflicted by the Orc’s spears she emerged with a Ships log written in quill and ink. 
“Most of it is usual reports. Weather, wind direction, discipline of crew, that sort of thing but here in the margins are some strange shapes. Look, they’re all over the place, there doesn’t seem to be any sort of order but the same symbols appear again and again.” 
Korra showed the ink drawings to us but neither of us recognised what they were. 
“Very interesting but we have more important things to do. We need driftwood for a start.” Strike said throwing the anchor over the side with a splash.
A jaunty tune travelled through the air as we were collecting anything we could use, closely followed by a middle-aged man pulling an empty wooden handcart behind him. 
“HALLO THERE!” He yelled waving one hand over his head. 
“Hello.” Strike returned his greeting. 
“How are you this fine morning?” He enquired before looking us up and down and adding, “You look like you’ve been in the wars.”
“Bloody” Strike replied flatly. 
“It seems that strange things are happening even on well-travelled paths such as this,” the man said almost to himself. 
“Oh, how?” Strike asked. 
“All the local villages, Three Rivers included are all hysterical, they say the woods are coming to life, mythical creatures are being spotted, Orcs are attacking settlements. It’s all getting a bit crazy at Three Rivers; as a merchant I can recognise a powder keg when I see one. And I says to myself it’s time to move on, a stone mason can make a fortune there.” He explained shaking a substantial oiled leather pouch which gave a rich heavy chink of coins.
Powder Keg? There aren’t many who know what one is outside the Sapphire Islands, I thought but stayed quiet, this man liked to talk.
“They’re paying for stone hand over fist there. It’s needed for all the settlements being turned into villages. I’m on the way to the village of Crossmount in the shadow of the Great Peaks, there I am going to pick up another concession of stone and sell it on for a profit; when I’ve finished I’m off to Gate town and spend some money. Money talks there if you know what I mean?” he said with a wink.
Strike took one look at the pouch and for a moment his eyes widened at the thought of such wealth, you would have to watch him closely and know him well to spot the involuntary reaction of the thief but it was still there.
Pausing for breath the merchant looked us up and down again, “What is it that you do?” 
“Tell you what, help me repair the ship and I’ll sail you up as close to Crossmount as the river will allow,” Strike said expertly avoiding the question. 
“I’m not a ship builder, but unskilled labour for a ride, yeah sure. You have a deal my friend.”
Nodding his agreement Strike then turned to us, “We need dry wood for repairing the ship and wet wood for tar.”
“When you say wet do you mean green wood or wood out of the ocean?” Korra asked. 
“Green, we need sappy wood to make the tar,” Strike used his slow for children and the hard of understanding voice again.
To while the time away Korra offered to pay for the merchant’s life story.
“Well I’m honoured, but it’s not very exciting. My name is Tibbs, I grew up in the Sapphire Islands and when I could work I went into the family business; I moved over here to quarry the stone and sold it on and moved to Three Rivers and found any amount of crazy people all telling me these stories of walking trees, Orcs attacking people and the creatures returning to the forests so I moved back down here, saw your ship and well here I am.”
While Tibbs regaled Korra with his life story I felt the need to check the way of the land, his voice faded to a background whisper as I felt my spirit merge with the ground; nature was still out of balance but this time I was ready for the wave of aggression and managed to control it as it washed over me. The voices of the people around me got louder as I returned still feeling a little on edge, like the feeling you get when you’re expecting something horrible to happen but never does.
Trying to explain these emotions I began listening to the wildlife chartering around me as I continued on with my work hoping they would be able to help. All their hoots, squawks, squeaks and clicks as clear to me as my own language, but no matter what the animal they all said the same thing. 
“ELFMEET! ELFMEET!” the many voices of the forest shouted excitedly. That was strange, my kind did not meet often, only when a decision would affect all of us or perhaps a celebration or mourning. I put down my tools and walked over to the tree line, hunkering down I tried to attract a rather more intelligent animal and was rewarded with a magnificent red and blue macaw landed nearby on a branch at shoulder height. 
“ELFMEET! ELFMEET!” he broadcast to the world. 
“Where is the meeting?” I asked in Elven. 
“ELF CITY. IN JUNGLE!” he screeched. 
“What in the ruins?”
“What about?”
“Are all elves expected to attend?”
“What about those who have not heard the message? I did not know until now?”
“They have asked you to tell us?”
Now a macaw is considered an intelligent animal but it is still only an animal, and from his answers I realised that was all he could tell me, I found some fruit and gave it to the bird for his trouble, thanked him and walked back to the ship.
Strike watched me carefully as I climbed back on board, as far as he could see an Elven Druidess was talking to a parrot which was shrieking incomprehensibly at her; silently Strike handed me an Orc short bow and a number of crude arrows, nothing more than a pointed stick with black feathers attached with twine. 
“Keep the rest of the tar, we’ll need it for repairs, weapons, stuff like that.” He said to Korra who walked past with Tibbs as if nothing had happened. 
“It’s looking a lot better” he said to me, patting the ship also carefully ignoring what just happened. 
“It will get us to the edge,” Strike replied, forgetting himself for a moment. 
“What do you mean the edge? Don’t tell me you believe those old wives tails about dropping off the world?”
“The edge is what I call home,” Strike explained. 
“Oh? And where is that?” Tibbs enquired
“Northlands” Strike said simply. Tibbs suddenly looked a little uncomfortable as all the tales of his childhood flashed though his mind. 
“Oh! Well it’s not often you meet a Northlander who is not trying to rip your throat out, sorry, no offence meant,” he added quickly, as if that would make an insult suddenly a compliment. “I mean, back home your kind are a sort of boogeyman to scare children into doing what their told. The Sapphire Islands don’t usually deal with Northlanders; well not until recently anyway.”
“What do you mean by that?” Strike questioned a little guarded. 
“Some of the Sapphire Islands have fallen to the Northlanders, it was a brutal and bloody attack, and I have no idea how to be honest. Refugees are flooding in to all the coastal villages, that’s how I heard about it. I’m a bit worried about my family on Mercia to be honest, well not close family, second cousin really, but the Emperor is there so it’s well guarded, that’s some comfort I suppose. I wouldn’t want to wish a Northlander on anyone, not even my worst enemy, no offence meant,”  he added again with his hands up submissively.
Strike ignored his comment and shoved the boat, with a little more force than necessary out into shallow waters; using the moment that Tibbs chose to remain silent I told Strike and Korra about the message the macaw had given me. 
“Do you know when the meeting is?” Korra asked. 
“The bird did not say but if it is all over the forest then it must be soon” I replied. 
“I will drop you off at Three rivers, then take Tibbs with me to Crossmount where I’ll make the boat seaworthy then come back for you, yes?” Strike offered. I was a little wary of leaving a Northlander thief alone with a merchant but I had other more pressing concerns at that moment. 
“Will you come back?” Korra asked. It wasn’t the coming back that worried me more the coming back alone with a heavier purse.
This train of thought was suddenly pushed to one side as we rounded a bend in the river and saw a village, much like the wooden settlements of the humans in other parts of the rain forest. The residents were pushing wooden hand carts but instead of the usual loads of stone, food or wood these were piled high with corpses, these poor people had not died of natural causes as the black crude arrows still bristled in the pale bruised flesh sometimes accompanied by the deep slash marks of spears.
Lining the way were grief stricken friends and family members wailing and sobbing for their losses; following the cart pushers down the bank to where the bodies were heaped into pyres we saw priests of River Morton saying prayers to their gods, when they had finished a torch was put to the kindling stacked around the deceased and burned. Once the flames had turned the piles to ashes, grim faced men with shovels filled deep pits and finally the humans were returned to the earth.  
“Northlanders use burning boats for the worthy, there is a complete lack of spirituality here,” Strike muttered. 
“And for the unworthy?” Korra snapped. 
“Icebergs” He replied. 
“And do the poor get the same?” Korra spoke sharply. It seemed to annoy her that he was criticising their way of life.
“We build a boat when needed. If there are a lot, like after battle then we build a big ship,” he replied simply, ignoring her bait. 
“Elves bury their dead,” I interrupted, no one had asked me but maybe if they heard another species death rites then maybe they would stop arguing. “We bury them to give them back to the earth, eventually everything returns to the soil.” I did not add that it seemed a little barbaric to cook them to a cinder first, that and burying them so close to the river must cause some sort of sickness.
My attention wandered back to the corpses on the carts, the arrows making the bodies look like porcupines; they looked a lot like the Orc’s crude arrows but not quite like the ones that made a low buzzing noise past my face like an angry bee earlier, they were sleek black shards of death. I drew my friend’s attention to this and we slowed the pace of the boat to get a better look.
“If the tales are true, then this sort of arrow has not been made for many, many years.” Korra began. 
“The dark wooden shafts and black raven feathers suggest Northlands. Orc arrows are crude, not much more than a stick with a pointy end and feathers at the other, these arrows are very skilfully made, almost paper thin but as strong as steel,” Strike added.
“In tales of Edwin the Great of the last great battle when the world was young where Man and Elves joined together, light against the dark it is said these arrows helped win the war.”
“They look Elven crafted” I said, this worried me, “Why would Elves be making war arrows?”
“Maybe we will know more after the meeting.” Korra suggested. 
“Maybe, I have no idea why a meeting has been called so yeah maybe” I replied.
A woman saw our ship while we were discussing the finer points of Orc and Elven weaponry and waived to get our attention. 
“What happened here?” Korra shouted over to her. 
“They were killed! We are only simple village people we stood no chance against the Orc raiders or the other Evils that lurk in the forests! Oh my poor Ted leaving me with two kids to feed and care for…” Her words were drowned out by the heart wrenching sobs that shook her whole body. An older man took pity on her and placing an arm around her patted her shoulder. 
“There, there, we’ll manage somehow. We’ll get by. It will all be alright.”
“If you’re staying on the river be careful, some fishermen were taken not too far from here. BE CAREFUL!” The woman shouted before grief overtook her once more.
Korra silently took up her flute and began playing a sonnet that reached right into the souls of the grieving people and somehow comforted them for as we rounded the next bend some smiled at the memories of the departed and sang along, yelling their thanks until we were out of sight.
* * *
Three or four days later we arrived at the bay of Three Rivers, it was a large town, bustling with people all going about their daily lives, buildings were being erected around the shanty village, showing that in the eight months that Korra had been away it had doubled in size and was still growing. Piles of stone and wood were being carted to wherever was needed while work crews shouted out instructions to one another trying to meet the demands of the growing population.
As we approached the dock one of the local foremen shouted over to us. 
“Ho there! Are you traders?”
“No, well he is.” I said pointing to Tibbs. 
“Eh? Well I don’t know if I have anything they need at the moment,” Tibbs panicked. 
“No, we’re traveling to the Elf meeting” I tried. 
“Sorry? What? What meeting?” He clearly had not heard the messages through the forests. 
“No we are collecting supplies,” Strike cut in. 
“Well if you find any granite or other workable stone then think of me. My name’s Roberts,” he sounded a little disappointed before turning to shout orders at his work crew.
It took just over a day’s walk through the rainforest, it usually only took me about half a day but with Korra not used to the overgrown trails and hidden shortcuts that lead down to the hidden valley; from the hill path overlooking my homeland you could see a towering ziggurat rising from the centre of the city. It looked lost and forgotten in the way that vines, plants, leaves and on occasion small thriving trees covered the masonry but looking with Elven eyes the vegetation embraced the stonework making the many parts one and the same. 
The outskirts of the city were being taken back by nature but that was only because the five thousand or so left of my kind that once inhabited the island had now dwindled down to roughly one thousand. Usually there were only two hundred and fifty to five hundred who stayed in the walls at one time, mainly the wiser elders the teachers, the children brought from all over the known world to learn of our customs and choose their life calling and the mothers if they were between the ages of new-borns and seven summers old. The ones eight summers and older lived in the school houses where they learned life lessons, hunting, fighting, herbalism, music until they chose their strongest subject then focused on that, mine was Druidism.
Walking through the open gates, as tall as the trees around us I could see that all thousand were in the square gathered around the sacred building, all with their backs to us, looking towards the loan figure of an elf, the wisest of our kind, rich in years, white hair hanging long past his shoulders, smooth pail features looking both old and young in the same glance and clad in brown and green robes, echoing the colours and textures of the rainforest, my old friend and mentor Silanthus.
Korra leaned in and whispered “Can I record this, will they be insulted?”
“If you can understand it then yes, if they do not wish you to tell sagas of this day then you will not understand what is being said.”
She knew already from her time with me that if she tried to speak our language and participate as much as she could in our customs then it would not offend but welcomed and encouraged. All thousand were enthralled with the words being spoken by the wise elderly elf with their right hand held at shoulder height palm facing up. In the centre of their palm was a flame as green as the forest around a symbol of honesty and sincerity of their thoughts and emotions. 
“…this being the first meeting in hundreds of years. I thank you all. You know what we have to do and why. The world is no longer ours, it is now the time of the younger races, we must step back and release our grip on nature and let the younger races assume responsibility for the land. I will now hear the arguments for and against.”
“I have seen the corruption in nature from man. I have seen an Ent’s rage against humans, influenced by some form of blood magic. How can we leave them to care for the lands if they are using nature against each other? Orcs are reportedly attacking human settlements for no other reason than they are there. How can we leave them to fend for themselves against something they have no idea about other than they are monsters of the forest?” I spoke before anyone else had a chance too, it seemed important to share what had been witnessed in our ruins. 
“That is not our concern. They will have to fend for themselves eventually. Our time here is almost over, we cannot stay to cluck over them, for all time like an over protective hen” Another voice shouted from the crowd. 
“But we need to protect the younger races, we would not abandon our children the way some of you wish to abandon the humans, we need to protect and teach them how to be independent before we depart.” I argued.
“I agree with Demanor! How would you prefer them to remember us; as parental types that did not abandon them in their hour of need or the type who turns their back on those when they need it most.” Another voice called out across the square. 
The argument lasted long enough for the sun to sink low in the sky, neither side would back down then one anonymous voice attacked from a different angle. 
“…Besides, if we do leave this world what of our own infants, who would tutor them in our ways?”
“Pfft! There has not been a birth in fifty years and what happened then?”
“Now you can’t believe in superstitions?” An elf scoffed. 
“Did it not crumble into ruins as he came of age?”
Every Elf knew of the ruins, they had been where the humans had asked to settle, before the Ent decimated the settlement, the story of how they became ruins was not so well known.
“Now, no one knows what happened.”
“It caught fire on his coming of age day. He must have perished with the others who lived there, you all know there were no survivors.”
“Now, now my friends, we are losing sight of why we gathered here.” Silanthus said, before words turned to actions. 
“Nature is no longer our friend, it is showing us that our time here is almost over. It has become clear that we must board the Great White boats and travel to the Lands of the Young. Demanor, as one of our more powerful Druids, what is your decision?”  Silanthus suddenly directed the discussion to me. 
“I will stay and defend the corrupted.” 
There were murmurs from the crowd, some surprised at my decision, some not. 
“Then we are divided but still one, No one will be forced to stay or to go. Those who wish to leave will take the last of the White Boats and travel across the waters to the loved ones who have already crossed over. We will be saddened for the loss of those who choose to stay but the new generations will be enriched for it. The boats will leave in five days and there will be no going back on your decisions. For those who are undecided I will be in my chambers for council.” The wise old Elf nodded and carefully curled each finger over his open palm until he had made a fist. The light in our hands faded as he stepped down and vanished into the ziggurat. And with his departure the crowd began to break off into groups, discussing what should be done while all the time being recorded by Korra.
Unbeknown to Korra or me, Strike had fallen back into his old ways, after leaving us at the dock he had taken two days of Tibbs affliction of having his brain directly wired to his voice making him say every thought that passed through his mind. Being with him only for a short time I can say from experience that it was like being constantly under fire from words, you did not get an opportunity to voice your own opinion as he would speak for you, leaving you weary from his barrage of words.  If, and this happened very rarely, if he had run out of things to talk at you about he would fall back on whistling a tune through his nose that if hummed properly would be pleasant. But accompanied by the nasal orchestra and teeth aching hum would even make the most holy of men toy with the idea of murder.
Leaving this man with a heavy purse with a Northlander thief was probably not one of my better notions, when Three Rivers was far behind them and Tibbs was busying himself with gathering ropes from the side of the ship, Strike silently crept behind him with his dagger poised in his hand and without any warning slid the finely honed blade across the merchants throat. Tibbs coughed, and clawed at his throat fighting for the breath that would not come, deep crimson droplets seeped quickly through his fingers before the pressure behind his fingers forced out the final surge of blood that sprayed across the river. Acting quickly Strike grabbed the body by his waist, cut the strings that attached his purse to his belt and in one fluid motion guided it into the river, reducing the splash into nothing. 
Strike watched the slow flowing water close over the bloodless corpse, making sure that it sank before continuing his journey to meet us back at the water front.
* * *
Two days after we arrived in the Elven City the debate still raged on as to stay or leave on the final voyage on the Great White Boats, both sides produced very compelling arguments but there was no swaying either side; Korra busied herself by talking to as many Elves as possible, young, old, wise and average, no one including Silanthus escaped her request for their memoirs. Many rejected her request, the first being Silanthus, he was happy for her to talk to anyone willing to share their story with her but as the greatest decision ever made for my kind hung in the balance he polity but firmly refused.
After speaking with a number of Elves Korra learned that now almost three quarters of my extended family wanted to leave, it left a knot in my stomach to learn this but at the same time I understood why. 
Another day passed, leaving only two more before the mass exodus. Although I knew Silanthus would be preoccupied I requested an audience with the Eldest and Wisest Elf before he left, thankfully he granted my wish, winding our way through the vast corridors of the ziggurat Korra and I finally managed to find the passageway that lead to Silanthus’ chambers. The wooden walls were intricately calved showing pictures of Elven legends, great elven thinkers, fighters and healers all framed in leaves, vines flowers and trees of the Rainforests.
The heavy wooden door was closed, indicating that he was already in council, we began to make ourselves comfortable when the door burst open so violently that it bounced back off the wall and nearly hit the emerging elf in the face, he caught it in one hand and channeling his anger slammed it back into the door frame and strode down the corridor. I thought about going after the elf, but I did not recognise him nor even guess as to what had vexed him so, he may have not wanted a stranger prying into his affairs. In addition to which I had to inform the head of the Elven Council what I had been experiencing with the moods of the lands and the abnormal craftsmanship of the Orc arrows. I hesitated before knocking, a flash of uncertainty crossed my mind of what sharing this information would actually achieve when three quarters of the Elven population wished to travel into the mists.
I took a deep breath to steady my nerves and out of politeness knocked and waited.
“Come in.”
Entering the cool stone room was refreshing and a welcome change from the sticky humid air of the living, breathing forest, like the hallways connecting the chambers throughout the Ziggurat vine, flowers and trees had been painstakingly engraved to echo the rainforest landscape, while some living creepers had crept in, and spread all over the room, another reminder that our time here was growing short. In the centre of the hall trees had been trained to take the shape of chairs, encircling a large wooden table covered in books, scrolls and ledgers. Surrounded by these documents and maps Silanthus sat, with a pensive look on his weathered face, his chin resting on steepled fingers.
“Please be seated,” he spoke in Elven, I looked over to Korra, expecting at any moment for a confused look and a request for translation, none of this happened and she said her thanks in Human and sat down on the smooth trunk of one of the chairs. Slightly taken aback I sat beside her.
“I thank you for seeing us at such short notice,” I spoke in Elvish, it seemed that Korra had been hiding talents from me.
“It is no intrusion, I said to everyone present that I would be here for advice. Now what can I help you with.”
“Sorry to disturb you at such an important time, but we are looking for information,” Korra spoke in Human.
“And what information is it that you seek?” Silanthus answered in elven; that was when I realised that some sort of charm must have been cast over the city for the gathering.
“Silanthus, I have seen and felt many things over the past few days that are deeply troubling to me. I have seen an Ent wake from it’s slumber and carry out unprovoked attacks on the humans and their settlements, on its back was a symbol drawn in blood with a dismembered hand nailed to the centre of the markings. We found a severed hand, fingers ragged and bloody from where it has been dragged across stone to make similar markings. We have been attacked by Orcs for no other reason than being in the wrong place at the wrong time, we have seen villages ravaged by Orc attacks, again apparently unprovoked and in the bodies of some of the victims arrows, seemingly Elven crafted but with Orcish influences. I feel the hate, the anger and the pain that something is inflicting on the Lands. I do not think the Humans are ready for our departure, I feel a war is coming and we need to stand and aid the younger races.” 
Before I entered the room I had no idea how to explain my concerns but sitting in front of the wise old Elf the words seemed to form of their own accord in my mouth.
“This is indeed troubling, I had heard Oak Heart had awoken and has shown his displeasure towards the Humans by destroying one of their settlements.”
“Did you know which one?” I enquired, his lack of compassion intrigued me.
“We were aware, the humans requested to utilize the ruins as a settlement while they gathered what they needed form the forest, after the fire we had no use for them, it showed us that nature was taking her power back from us,” he explained with no remorse for those who had lost their lives.
In a way I understood his dismissive manner, things, whether they be people, animals or plant were born, grew and matured and then died, it was nature’s way and as distressing as it was for those left behind everything had its time, no more no less; but standing by and watching it happen, watching infants upset the balance of light and dark when we had the opportunity to educate them to maintain the equilibrium  did not sit well and waves of nausea washed over me as any hope of convincing the Elves to stay and help began slipping away with each response.
Choosing this time to change the subject somewhat Korra produced the ledger found on the abandoned ship, “This is the diary of the ship we found, most of it I can understand but there are strange symbols drawn in the margins. They are scattered throughout, can you read them and are they important?”
Welcoming the change Silanthus took the journal taking time in studying the pages. He shut it with a snap and handed it back to her, “Hmmm. The code is showing stone traded for blue gems. It looks as if they did not want the authorities to know. Zephandius will know more.”
From his tone it was clear that the discussion was now over, as I opened the door to leave he called me back, “Demanor, have you made your decision?”
My hand stayed on the door handle, I did not want my old mentor to see my face. I was beginning to lose respect for what I was considering cowardice, “Yes I have.”
“May I ask what it is?”
“I will stay and defend the Humans. I will try to guide them on the right path.”
“I respect your choice but in five days we will be leaving and there will be no reconsidering your decision.”
“I understand that and it also saddens me that I will never see you or my people again. But if circumstances change I will be there with you.” Even as I said those words I knew I would not be going.
* * * 
Far to the north, Strike arrived in the river bay of Crossmount and with a little inquiry and exchanging of coins he quickly found a pot-bellied, ginger bearded stonemason named Erik; after a great deal of haggling, even when his newly acquired wealth was at no cost to himself Strike still fought tooth and nail to keep it in his own pocket, Strike loaded up the stone and began his southward journey to Three Rivers where he knew he already had a buyer.
* * * 
Outside in the courtyard of the Ziggurat a crowd had gathered around the Elf that had not so long ago stormed out of Silanthus’ chambers, he was young and full of the tales of old when the Elves and Humans banded together and fought against the darkness; his passion had infected others longing to write their own names in history and as he spoke more and more gathered round.
“…the recent decay in nature and our bond with it is a sure sign that the old ways of putting off what needed to be done and letting the rot of darkness sit and fester rather than take action and halting the decay has resulted in nature hereself forsaking us in the same way as we have forsaken it! Some of us more in tune with the lands than others have felt the rejection and confusion in its spirit. The stories of the old races returning is a sign brothers and sisters, a sign! A sign that nature’s creatures are showing their disapproval through anger! I say that as an older, more experienced race than the humans, brothers and sisters we must be teachers to the younger races, who are as children to us, brothers and sisters. And, as tutors, we must exercise a firm hand and chastise their behaviour…”
I let his words wash over me as I reached out to the land, though more in tune with its moods now I could still feel the animosity and resentment growing stronger and stronger.
I observed the onlookers, many were deep in thought or nodding their agreement, as Zephandius continued.
“…nature is showing her displeasure at the newer races coming of age, the whole settlement; snuffed out!  The neglect and failure of the elders must be rectified we, brothers and sisters must stay and shepherd the younger people. How would you like them to remember us brothers and sisters? Those who left us to pick up the pieces and clear up the mess from bad judgements? Do not be one of them, I beg you, stay and make a difference.”
The sun, high in the sky when we arrived was beginning to set, an indication of the length of the young Elf’s rally, I stood in awe at the power of his words, I could not argue with his line of reasoning but his tone suggested some sort of revolution. Korra did not seem to detect the undercurrent, maybe there was not one to be found but then she could be so preoccupied with recording the departure of most of the Elven population she may not have noticed.
Two more days passed. I spent the time listening to the crowd, trying to understand their mood better. The general consensus was that the Elders knew what was best for all concerned and who were we to interfere with the High Council? Yes occasionally the darkness came but the darkness tried to snuff out the light with every generation. Our battle had been won and it was time for us to make way for humans, whether they overcame the darkness or not was their concern, not ours. A few of the younger Elves believed that, yes of course they would misbehave, they are children compared to us, and that is what children do, not on purpose but because they were children. They needed teaching, that was the favoured saying, we needed to teach them, but we were elves and teaching Humans the ways of elves did not seem acceptable.
I said my goodbyes to friends old and new and with Korra still scribbling down hurried verses and humming snatches of tune I walked away, from the Ziggurat worried about Zephandius’ influence over others. I could see that his heart was in the right place, to id and support the Humans until they could govern themselves, but the way he spoke suggested of subduing them into compliance with force if necessary rather than suggestion and guidance. As one proud race to another I could see that Humans would rather die standing than live on their knees.
* * * 
The ship was deserted when we arrived at the riverfront, we had not waited long before Strike sauntered around a wall of crates waiting to be transported onto a cargo ship, his face, as usual gave nothing away.
“We need to have a talk on board ship,” I said before he managed to greet us, I knew that spies form all over the known world would be around, not necessarily sent to watch over us but any little tidbit of information could be dangerous. Boarding Strike’s unnamed ship I immediately noticed that it was unusually quiet, as welcome as the break from Tibbs constant need for making himself known, it was unnerving not to hear it when anticipating the noise onslaught.
There was a body on the deck, lying face down, as though it had been unceremoniously dumped until he became useful. I will admit I had a sinking feeling and a though of well, that explains the silence, when I looked at it again. Whoever it was it wasn’t Tibbs.
The shirt had a number of clean tears between his shoulder blades one which still held the Elven influenced black arrow, I looked at Strike, my thoughts must have been clearly shown on my face as he held his hands up in defence.
“It’s not Tibbs, it’s a fisherman I found on the way here.”
I continued to hold his gaze.
“He decided to stay at that place we went too, after he left I was traveling along the river to meet you and I came across a small fishing boat, floating, looking unmanned until I saw this man, dying on the floor. He said that his boat was set upon by elves and they were attacking Human settlements, he was trying to get to the capital to warn the king. His dying wish was that I passed the message on.” 
“Elves?!” I yelled a bit louder than I should have done in surprise, shoving the questionable whereabouts of Tibbs firmly out of my mind.
“That’s what the man said,” Strike answered.
“Oh and there are rumours that King John V is planning to make mining stone in the Great Peaks illegal but no one knows why. So that’ll be why stone is so prized at the moment.”
“I will have to give the message to the King,” Korra said.
Strike and I looked at each other.
“A Northlander will not be welcome in Rhomer.”
“Fair point, and it won’t seem believable from and Elf.”
Korra pulled the arrow from the corpse and placed it in her bag.
“Elves?” I queried again, I had just returned from the elven city, from my recollection all my kind had been at the meeting, how could it be elves?
“First I need to talk to Silanthus, we don’t have much time.”
 * * *
The sun was setting when we arrived back at the elf city, the Ziggurat was disserted and so was the court yard, eventually we found my people gathered on the riverbank, flaming torches enhanced the muted light of sunset giving everything an eldritch glow. Tendrils of mist snaked through our feet, merging with others from out on the water blanketing everything at ankle height in a rolling white haze.
Enormous long white ships with swans heads carved into the prows with the stern echoing the shape of a swans feathers held high protecting chicks on its back with a tall backed seat sculpted into the plumage for an elder to guide her on her voyage were already leaving shore, heavy with the Elves who had decided to leave.
I sought the crowd of faces for Silanthus, praying that he had not left yet.
“SILANTHUS!” I yelled, after a fruitless search.
“SILANTHUS!” I shouted desperately.
I saw a figure about to board turn, he saw me and I breathed a silently thank you to whoever was listening to my prayers; directing another elder to take his place on the ship Silanthus pushed his way through the crowd towards us.
“Demanor, whatever troubles you?”
“Silanthus, my friend has a message for the king. A message that tells of elves attacking human settlements…” I began but had to stop to catch my breath.
“We are all here, how can that happen?” he said waving his hand behind him in a gesture to show how many where there.
“I know, I thought that too,” now I actually came to tell my old mentor about it, it did seem rather unlikely.
“Humans may have been mistaken. We are leaving tonight.” He turned to leave.
“We have an arrow of which we spoke,” I said quietly he would have to believe us and stay now.
“May I see it?” he asked.
Korra nodded and pulled out the evil looking implements of death, Silanthus took it from her and studied it for a moment before handing it back, neither impressed, intimidated nor surprised at the sleek, parchment thin arrow.
“Very disturbing, it is not Elven, we have not worked war arrows for hundreds of years,” he said shrugging slightly then handed it back to Strike.
“Someone is and is dragging your name down with them,” Strike pushed.
A slow condescending smile creptover the old Elf’s face, in the same way he would humour a child, “Names do not matter, we are leaving tonight.”
“Running away,” Strike egged on.
A chuckle accompanied the patronising smile, “Our time is at an end, we are stepping aside to let them make their mark on the world, as we hope you do. We intend to depart at midnight, if I can help within that time…”
“Tell us where the arrows came from,” Strike interrupted.
“If it will help. I can cast a divination spell but my powers are waning…”
“I will do it,” I snapped impatiently, I was beginning to realise he was only doing it to humour us, no intention on seeing it though, Silanthus nodded and silently guided us to his chambers; along the way he collected a number of herbs, leaves, berries and once in his private room he began to pound them into a paste in a polished wooden pestle and mortar.
Once satisfied with the mixture he uttered an incantation which I repeated back, gripping the bowl in both hands he held up the pungent concoction, ”Take the arrow in both hands and close your eyes. I will anoint your eyelids and if successful you will see. Demanor, you are young, the effect of this ritual can be profound, even those as powerful as I can still be emotionally effected, do you wish to proceed?” He warned.
I closed my eyes, took in a slow breath, nodded and exhaled.
“Then do as I say.”
Holding the arrow out in front of me I flinched as I felt the cold paste being smeared across my eyes.
It all went dark and I felt myself falling.
* * *
For a moment everything is silent, then the darkness melts and I am no longer in the Ziggurat. I am floating in a white, weightless, world, transparent, peaceful and silent, I am free and I am safe.
Then, like a trap door beneath the gallows, I feel a sudden jerk, then a drop and I am plummeting through the open sky, falling, falling like a stone towards the ground. Before I hit the ground I feel a tug and like a swallow darting after an insect on a summer evening I am swooping though the forests. In moments I am miles away from the Mainland and in front of a huge, blackwood, half rotten, warped tree.
Nothing but death surrounds this twisted apparition, bones and skulls litter the ground around it and seem to be entwined in the bark, what light that does fall here turns syrupy and black as its shadows falls onto the pulsing, writhing white roots.
I look to the branches of the tree, they looked as dead as the rest of the tree but there was something there, on the leafless limbs was some form of fruit, lumpy, glistening grey, diseased looking as it was it was still a form of berry.
I look at the shadows hiding the white roots, no, not roots but bone, the slithering roots had ensnared the bones around them, giving them a life of their own; behind me was a huge thump as something heavy hit the floor, a fruit, the colour of blood and bigger than me had fallen under its own weight.
It split with a stomach-turning squelch splattering the ground with a pail slime, the thing twisted painfully and where a bulge had grown black, glistening claws ripped through the flesh, clawing a hole in the side and pulling itself out of the collapsing husk, I had just witnessed the creature’s birth. It stands, unmistakably an Elf, the high beautiful chiselled features of my Kin, but they were cold and cruel rather than radiant. The alabaster skin replaced by the warty, grey flesh of an Orc, the high, perfectly formed brow replaced by the horn ridged head of an Orc, the caring smile replaced with bloody yellow tusks of an Orc. I shuddered, it seemed like the best and worst of both races
The creature looked around, the forgiving eyes of the elf replaced with the remorseless pure black eyes of an Orc, it opened its mouth and filled its lungs before a bestial cry, reminiscent of the roaring of an orc but blasphemously mixed with the added intelligence and harmonious tones of an Elf echoed around the clearing.
* * *
I open my eyes and see I am on my back on the floor, Korra, Strike and Silanthus are all standing in the same place as when I left but Strike had the point of his rapier against Silanthus’ neck while Silanthus is holding his hands palm out submissively.
“Really?” I sigh and pull myself up.
“Yes,” Strike answers before sheathing his sword.
I look at Silanthus, who seems to be unmoved by Strike’s threat and go on to explain what I saw.
“…a mix of Elf and Orc, the best and worst of them.” I finish.
“Best and worst of which?” Strike asked.
“Both” Silanthus and I answered together.
“So what do we call them?” Strike demanded.
“Pfft, Black Elves,” I hazard, name was not important at this moment.
“Well I do hope that was of some help, but now the last of the White Boats are leaving, it is time for me to depart.”
Although I knew this would happen it still struck deeply as he walked down the corridor for the final time, not once looking back.
“So how many want to stay?” Strike enquired.
“From what I have been hearing, about fifty in total,” Korra answered after leafing through her notes.
“We need to tell those who are staying,” Strike shook his head, we all knew it would not be enough.
I ran to the platform entrance that overlooked the courtyard, “My friends, my family, those who are staying to aid the Humans. I have, this moment returned from a vision quest, from a land unknown to me seeped in death. There I saw the putrid fruit of a blackened tree give birth to a creature both beautiful and cruel…”
Those who had turned to listen gasped.
“See I told you brothers and sisters, it is…” Interrupted the voice of Zephandius.
“I am not asking you to go against what is in your heart. It is your right to leave or stay,” I shouted over him, “it will not be held against you, but I believe you should know what will happen regardless of your choice.”
The sound of Korra’s flute floated over my words, I stopped speaking as memories of when Humans and Elves fought side by side against the darkness, whatever I said could not have been any stronger than the pull of the old tales.
Zephandius still tried to rally more followers, reminding them of the hardships endured to have the lands the way it was and as Silanthus boarded the last White Boat we had just one hundred and fifty of our once proud and widespread race choosing to remain behind. Silanthus took his position on the back of the boat and with a wave of his hand the Great White Boat moved silently, without ores or sails, out into the river.
He raised his hand to me with sadness in his eyes, I returned his wave blinking hard to stop the tears from falling and with a heavy heart watched my people disappear from history.

Sapphire Islands – Dungeon World Mini-campaign – Session 2

After their encounter with the orcs on the south-eastern coast of the mainland, Will manages to limp the damaged boat to the shoreline and is just about to jump down from the boat when his keen spot one of the planks of the decking is a little raised from the others; nearly down he pulls out a dagger and pries it loose from it’s brothers, underneath is a small leather pouch containing many coins worth of shining blue sapphires, jewels common in the Sapphire Islands (and indeed the foundation on which much of their wealth is build) but rare here on the mainland. Korra also finds a shipping manifest or log book in the cabin, there are strange scrawlings in the margin but she pays them little mind. Following his directions the band begin to range further out on the beach, looking for driftwood and flotsam that can be used to make repairs to the boat. They are stopped in their task by the sound of cheerful whistling as a middle-aged man pulling an empty cart behind him comes walking down the beach, hailing them the man introduced himself as Tibbs a trader who has recently made a killing selling stone in the town of Three Rivers; he quite happily explains to the group that Three Rivers is expanding and there is great demand for materials to make new buildings to houses the blooming population. Tibbs pats a bulging coin purse hanging from his belt to demonstrate his good fortune, for a moment Will’s eyes widen at the sight of such wealth.
Demanor has been exploring the woods searching for additional materials to patch up the boat, all around the animals chatter in their own tongues, a language as clear as her own and the word they shout is the same, no matter the animal, “Elfmeet! Elfmeet!” Summoning a parrot from the nearby trees Demanor questions it and discovers that the elves have asked the animals to spread the word and that they are all gathering in the one remaining elven city to make a big decision.
Arriving back at the boat Demanor explains to the others about the meeting, Will meanwhile has been talking to Tibbs and has offered to give the trader a lift aboard their repaired boat to his destination, the village of Crossmount in the shadow of the Great Peaks, where he intends to pick up another concession of stone and sell it on for a profit; they agree to drop Demanor and Korra off in the town of Three Rivers (which Demanor says is near to the elf city) while the boat continues north to Crossmount. On the way they pass the village of River Morton, a procession of villagers is gathered along the riverbank, ferrying the arrow riddling bodies of their dead to burial holes prepared for them, priests of River Morton are saying prayers over their dead whilst the nearest and dearest of those dead, wail for their loss. The dead are heaped into pyres and burnt, once the flames have faded, grim faced gravediggers turn their ashes into the earth; Will finds it all strange and not at all like the burning boat burials that he is used to, he finds the whole thing lacking in spirit whereas Demanor finds it all a little barbaric, elves preferring to return their dead straight back to the earth.
Slowing down, they investigate the arrows riddling the bodies, finding them of curious manufacture; peering at them closely, Korra is put in mind of the tales of ‘Edwin the Great’ about the last great battle when elves and men joined forces, the arrows are graceful and seem of elven manufacture, but they are black and use the same ravens feathers as the orc arrows that they saw earlier. A woman from the shore hails them, she tells them to be careful if they are sailing north, that orcs are abroad and that they did for her husband Ted; as a mark of honour Korra begins to play a mournful tune of solemn respect as they continue their journey north, the locals tearfully hum along with the tune until they are lost from sight around a bend in the river.
A few days later they arrive at the town of Three Rivers, Korra has not been here for eight months, but the town has almost doubled in size since then; as they approach they are hailed by one of the local foremen working on the new buildings whose skeletons litter the outskirts of the town, the man called Roberts tells them that if they get any stone and give him first refusal then he’ll give them more than a fair price.
After leaving the boat Demanor and Korra make they way through hidden ways into the jungle, Demanor leading her bardic companion through trails and hidden byways until the land drops down into a secret valley, a large ziggurat rising from the centre of it, vines and leaves gathering along the surfaces of the stone, not destroying it but seeming to caress the masonry, as though they were both part of the same whole. Roughly a thousand elves gathered around the sacred building, all of them looking towards the wise figure of an elf clad in brown and green robes. Demanor recognises the elf as Silanthus, the wisest of the elves in the settlement; the gathered crowd is discussing the recent imbalance in nature and the strange anger that many of them feel building in the natural forces, Demanor steps forward and tells them about the Ent massacring the human village nearby.
Meanwhile, back on the boat, out of sight of civilisation, Will’s knife flashes out so quickly that Tibb’s barely feels his life slip away nor the northlanders hand close around his coinpurse and push his body silently into the flowing river.
Demanor visit Silanthus in his chambers, they are passed by an angry elf on the way there, there is much discussion in the chambers and Silanthus tells them that the light of the elves has faded from the world, most of them are planning to leave this world on the last  of the Great White Boats. Korra asks Silanthus whether he can decipher the strange notes scrawled in the ship’s logbook, the old elf looks at the book and says that it is a simple crpytographic code discussing a secret exchange of precious sapphires from a quantity of stone and that apparently the writer believed secrecy was imperative.
Far to the north, Will arrives in Crossmount and purchases a quantity of stone from a paunchy, red bearded stonemason called Erik with his newly acquired wealth and begins his journey southwards towards Three Rivers where he plans to sell it for a healthy profit.
Leaving Silanthus’ chamber, Demanor sees that the angry elf they spotted previously (a younger member of the race called Zephandius) is saying to his fellows that the recent decay of nature and their relationship with it is a sure sign that their previous policy of inaction has resulted in nature forsaking them as they have forsaken it; Zephandius says that they must act as parents to the younger races (who are as children) and that sometimes parents must exercise a firm hand. Demanor is worried about Zephandius, he is very persuasuve and seems to be swaying many of the crowd to his point of view. 
Will, meanwhile, on his journey to Three Rivers has come across a small fishing boat floating unrowed along the river, in it is the body of a dying man, he tells them that his party was set upon by elves and that he is trying to get to the capital to warn the King; Will tells the dying man that he will see the message delivered and then closes his eyes as the fisherman’s dying breath leaves him. His boat later makes its way into Three Rivers where Will takes the opportunity to rest and spend some of his recently gathered wealth int he local taverns, he overhears some of the locals saying that they have heard a rumour King John V is planning to announce it illegal to mine stone in the Great Peaks, although they don’t know why. A few hours later Demanor and Korra arrive to meet up with him as arranged and Will tells them about the “elf” attacks.
Taking the two of them back to the elven settlement Demanor tells Silanthus about the supposed attacks and gives him the strange hybrid arrow, the old elf looks troubled but tells them that most of the elven people are leaving this very night about the last of the White Ships, although it grieves them greatly some (like Demanor) have decided to stay; not wanting to seem unhelpful though the old elf performs a scrying ritual with Demanor as the willing subject (despite his warning that it can be a little intense even for those as experienced as himself). In her vision Demanor rushes as a disembodied presence throught the woods until she hovers before a huge, corrupted, blackwood tree, bones and skulls litter the floor around it and seem entwined with the very structure of the vegetation, even as the roots writhe and pulse obscenely. Most disturbing is the fruit of the tree, giant blood coloured fruit that pulses as though something lives within it; one of these bloody fruits falls to the ground, spilling it’s juices as a creature crawls forth from the collapsing skin. The creature stands, it bears the beauty and chiselled features of an elf, although they seem to reflect cruelty rather than the radiant beauty of the elves, but the albaster skin fo the elf is replaced by the warty grey hide of the orc and bloody, yellowed tusks jut from it’s jaws as a bellowing roar echoes from the creatures drooling lips.
Demanor awakes and tells the other about the strange ‘black elves’ that she has seen; the other elves are climbing aboard the White Ship and waving farewell as they set sail, between the persuasions of Demanor and Zephandius 150 of the once widespread race of elves remain, the druid feels her heart grow heavy as the majority of her people pass from the world, their light lost forever.

Dungeon World – Sapphire Island mini-campaign – Player write-up session 1

This is a write-up by one of the players (Kelly Grimshaw) of our first Sapphire Island Dungeon World session, Kelly plays the elven druid Demanor in the campaign.
Walking through my home known to the rest of the world as the Wildlands I could feel the piece and serenity of the land. The air, usually sticky and humid. The heat from the living forest made the animals and insects sluggish and their music would not be heard until the sun went down leaving the air cool and fresh. That was in summer.
Now the summer Lady had made way for old man winter and the crisp air hinted with the tin twang of snow on the way.

I had been asked by my mentor to go down to the old ruins of our people where a group of southern mainlanders had made a temporary home to collect various materials to aid the development of their way of life.

They had asked permission from the Elven council knowing that they would agree. Before I was born they knew that our time in this world begun to dwindle as with all growth something’s must fade and die. Our time with this world had nearly passed to make way for the time of the Humans. As with all young the Humans sometimes got over enthusiastic if unsupervised and the task was given to me to make sure that the land was not over worked.
Accompanying me was my friend Korra and Will.

Korra, a fiery eyed human bard from the distant Sapphire Isles. She told me she is the bastard child of a noble, receiving little other than some basic schooling by way of compensation for the social stigma that she faced;. She is desperate to add something to the status of her noble house and bring some glory to their name and hopefully gaining acceptance of herself in doing so. Something that thankfully does not happen in Elvan life she travelled to the mainland in search of ancient legends and to carry news to the mainland outposts of her house.

She had hear that a ship of her house was to dock on the coast and wanted to hear news from her homeland.

I met her very briefly while collecting herbs, barks and berries in the heart of the Wildlands. She had been exploring the jungles of the mainland eager to discover stories, from whom I do not know. Whilst there she was bitten by a venomous serpent and was if I had not have fallen over her she would have died.  I saw she was responding well to the treatment and I carried on my collection. She told me she often thought of our meeting and employed our other companion Will or Strike to his friends to find me so that she could tell the world of my adventures. Although I am still not sure the Humans would like to hear stories of an Elven Druid.

Strike I had known a lot longer. I had found him also wandering the Wildlands, I had helped him through his strange new lands and as a thanks and respect he bound our friendship in a Northlander blood ritual. On the long travel to the main land he had told me of how he had been made an outcast from one of the Northern barbarian tribes after he had poisoned the Chief for taking advantage of his younger sister. An act I believe he would commit again to save her. After his uncle replaced the old Chief the old warrior personally made sure he was safely stowed away in a trading ship. Although his blood still ruled the tribe Strike had broken one of their most sacred laws by using poison and not a fight to the death. I do not blame him, looking at his sinewy wiry frame he would have had no chance against a warrior of Odin. Once I had shown him though the dense rainforests he became a thief living on the streets of the cities and from the stories that make it through to me a damn good one.  

Before we began Strike had confided in me that he did not trust Korra. When he had first met her, somehow, I did not ask for the details she had recorded the story of how Will was banished for poisoning the chief after he took advantage of Will’s sister. She twisted the facts, to make the story more interesting and in her version, the sister did the poisoning and Will took the blame. Worried that someone may one day hear or read the new story and take it as the truth, Will stole Korra’s most treasured possession, an ancient flute given to her by her half-sister and held it as surety to prevent her account of his banishment ever being delivered to the masses.

With this knowledge I believe that Strike would never leave the bard’s side as a reminder how devastating stories could be.

But I digress, we walked on with the rainforest to our backs towards the coast. We were chattering about everything and nothing as we climbed to the top of one of the hills that littered the landscape and the conversation stopped.
In the distance, over the next rise was a dull red glow. Wisps of ash and embers rose up on the hot air against the white feathers of snow fall.

“I recognise this, stay here.” Strike said before slinking forward.

Korra and I looked at each other and both moved towards him.Stretching out below us was the smouldering ruins of the frontier settlement. Splintered timber littered the floor with the remains of the huts scattered to the four winds. Trees had been uprooted or snapped in half like twigs and the earth was black where the fire had taken hold. Stirring some ash with my foot I found the broken glass of a lantern, looking further I found several more, the possible reason for the fire. 
Strike turned my attention to huge dents dotted around the site. I had no explanation for these strange impressions and so I turned to the land in search of answers.

The unmistakeable signs of a gigantic creature had charged through the ruins and obliterated the settlement. The fire was started by the lamps being smashed and with all the curing timber around it had spread fiercely and quickly. I was answered.
Next I asked what is about to happen.

Whatever was responsible may return. If no one returns then Nature will take back the land, evident in the dwindling Elven ruins around the carnage. Feeling a little frustrated with answers I had already known I asked the final question, what is about to happen?

There are no bodies, if everyone had fled in terror who would have moved the remains? That was as maddingly unhelpful as the first two but it did make a very good line of reasoning.

“Since I was last here the settlement has expanded, the clearing is larger…” Korra began before wandering around trying to recognise anything in the wreckage.

“Could these dents be catapult?” Strike asked.

“No forget that, there are no boulders, just the holes.” He answered before we could.

“Possibly footprints.” I mused.

“There big footprints.” He replied.

“Ents.” I replied flatly.

“How big are these Ents?”

“As big as a tree.” I shrugged.

“Do they have legs?”

“After a fashion.” It is really difficult to explain a tree being, it is much easier just to show what they are.

Strike began his investigations again then returned. “Around twelve feet.” He muttered. “Can they be twelve feet?” he directed this question to me.

“Trees can be twelve feet. Trees can be six inches.” 

“Would they attack a village?”

I let out a long controlled sigh. That answer is complicated. “There are some who think that the land is worked more than it should be…”
“But would they wade in, obliterate and set fire to settlements?” Korra asked as she walked over to us.

“I think the fire was an accident, people running terrified not looking were, knock over a lantern, this happens all over the settlement and suddenly the whole village is ablaze.”

“What about the bodies?” Will asked almost casually.

“I was just going to come to that.”

“Do Ent’s eat?” Strike asked, his voice faltered slightly at the thought of the things coming back. 
“The same way plants do.” I replied, also with the image of a huge creature romping through the forest.

“What about other creatures?”

I looked at him blankly. “Don’t know about those, they’re not plants.”

“No, but you know stories and legends.”

“Yes.” Korra and I replied together.

“Well what in your lands eat human flesh?”

“Erm Ogres, giants, Cyclops…” Korra tried to remember the legends she sung of.

“Well are they round here?” Strikes voice getting more high pitched with urgency.

“Not that I know of.” Korra replied.

There was a weak, strangled sound, “h e l p!”

After searching the site we eventually discovered the back of a figure bound with thick rope to a tree; edging around the trunk we found a man barely alive, stripped to his waist. His eyes were missing, red encrusted holes stared blankly at nothing, his left hand had been cut off and a strange symmetrical web like pattern had been carved into the flesh of his chest.

I tried to get a feel of the land but a horrible sense of unease and irritability washed over me, the usual calm and tranquillity of the Wildlands had been disturbed.

“You do have a knife on you?” Korra asked Strike. Her answer was a sly smile.

“But who is he?” He asked chewing the side of his thumb.

“I don’t think he is a threat. I think he was a logger.”

The poor man was whimpering as we spoke, Strike cut his bonds and had to catch him before he fell; lying him gently on the ground Korra began tending to his wounds, singing as she did so, trying to sooth and calm him. When he was a comfortable as possible Korra tried to make sense of what happened.

“Men came from the south with some sort of priest. We were to be sacrificed to wake the sleeping

Giants. They took my eyes with a burning brand, after that all I could hear was screaming, so much screaming. They tied me to a tree. I heard crashing and splintering then silence. I have been shouting for someone to find me ever since.” It took a while for him to tell his tale but when he had finished Korra asked what he wanted.
“Don’t leave me here. I don’t want to be left here. I was offered the chance to go with the traders, I said I was making a new life here.” His voice trailed off to sobs.

“There are legends of giants.” Korra told us.

“The Sapphire Islands were formed when tow giants were fighting, after days and days of sharing blows and they were both about to give up, one giant punched the other so hard his teeth flew out his mouth and where they fell the smaller islands were formed. He fell hard, so hard it killed him and his body became the larger island of Mercia.” 
 “Where did it go?” Strike asked, breaking her spell.

I examined the lay of the footprints for a while before I spoke, “They emerged from the jungle behind us, attacked the settlement before bounding back the way it came. But there are Human tracks going towards the coast” I said pointing both behind and in front of us.
We discussed at length what we would do next and eventually decided to continue to the coast to try and make contact with Korra’s ship and see if they had any news about what had occurred. Taking one last look around, something caught my eye. On a large stone mantle that could easily sit four humans I noticed the same geometric web pattern drawn in blood roughly the width of a Human. I yelled in surprise and Strike and Korra were by my side.

“Is it a ritual?” Strike asked eventually.

Staring at the grotesque pattern, echoed on the man’s chest it seemed familiar yet not, “Yes but at the same time no. It is similar to the druidic patterns used in rituals but those had never been drawn in blood.” I tried to remember every ritual I had ever cast to try to find some understanding in the design.
“There are tales that tell of certain symbols and rituals that can control the energies of an area. I don’t know why they would do this but could these men have influenced this place in some way.” Korra asked standing a little way from the stone.

Strike turn to walk away and with the forward step came a slippery squelching noise. Bending down to investigate his face turned to a look of disgust when his questioning fingers pulled out a severed hand from under the plinth. Apart from it being detached from its owner the other noticeable thing was that the fingers were cut down to the first knuckle where ragged flesh hung from the bone. 
“Well I think I found the marker.” Strike said. I was not sure if he meant it as a joke or not, sometimes it was hard to tell. Korra took the appendage and studied it closely. It was easy to see that it was too badly damaged to reattach.

“Do we keep him with us?” Strike asked gesturing with a nod of his head towards the broken man. 

“Yeah, he is going to carry our equipment.” Korra replied. 

“How is he supposed to navigate the jungle floor with all its trips and pitfalls, we can’t shout instructions to him at every step.” Strike pointed out. “We could end his pain right here and now. This is a little too urgent to be dragging him around.”

Without warning this argument began to irritate me more than I could describe. I could not understand what was to discuss. Either we took him with us, left him to fend for himself or we laid him to rest. It was that simple. I tried to quell my irritation as the debate continued. 

“It’s no life with no eyes and no hand…” I heard Strike continue.
“I see your point but I am not going to help you do it.” Korra answered.
“Oh just make a decision and stick with it!” I snapped.
“Don’t get me wrong, I am going to do it…”

“Well I am not going to help.”

“Just do it then!” I yelled over them. Their look of shock echoed my own. Something was not right but I could not say what.
After making the man as comfortable as possible we headed to the coast, it took roughly half a day to reach the cliffs that overlooked the ocean as blue as the gems that shared its name, climbing to the highest point of the cliff with the salt spiked air whipping around us we gazed out hoping to see the ship already docked or at least gliding towards the coastline. What we saw was neither of those things.
The boat was stuck on the rocks, it was difficult to tell if the rocks that held it there had punctured the hull or not. The colours of Korra’s house floating in the water looked almost like they were flying in the wind. The bodies of the crew bobbing in the water, some face down others staring vacantly into the sky; we scrambled down as fast as the shifting sand dunes would allow and from our viewpoint on the shore it was clear that as well as the attack there had been sever fire damage.

“We need to get onto the ship and look at the damage.” Strike began but was cut short by the look Korra gave him. Her eyes said it all.

“If it was my people the boat would have been sunk.” He answered her unspoken question.
Wading out to the boat Strike found that the ship was not as badly damaged as first thought. In the water, close to the hull he saw a stranger in the midst of the swollen and distorted bodies of the sailors; dragging the body back to shore we helped Strike pull the Orc onto the sand. He was dressed in the heavy furs and leathers of the Northlands with a short bow still in one hand with no other signs of injury besides a clean line down the centre of his chest where he had been stabbed.
“This and a number of others were scattered over the boat and sticking out of the crew.” Strike explained handing over a black crude Orc arrow.

“Could it be Ice Giants?” Korra asked.

Strike and I exchanged a glance before he replied, “Can’t be Ice Giants, too fookin’ warm for a start.”
“You don’t know that, may be its not as much as you’d think.” 

“It’s a giant made of ice, the sun doesn’t feature much in Ragnarok.” Strike answered in a singsong voice, possibly reserved for slow children. 

“Look, we need to make this ship seaworthy and decide where to go from there.” He continued after seeing the hurt look Korra gave him.

I waded back to the ship with Strike to inspect the ship. He was right about the damage only being mostly superficial with the primitive Orc arrows embedded in the wood and the crew. There were no symbols drawn in blood or otherwise that I could see but inspecting the bodies of the sailors they did have something in common; they were all missing their left hand, I shouted this back to Korra who looked puzzled.
“What about your Orc?” I asked Strike who had started to pull the boat off the rocks.

“He was not of the same boat.” He grunted.

Back on shore with Strike busy beaching the boat and Korra scouring the shoreline for anything of use or value I found myself alone. Using this time to attempt to understand the feelings of anger, irritation and frustration I was sensing from the land.
I felt two great weights trying to pull me up. My eyes slam open and I find my hands around the neck of the sacrificial man. The weights pulling me are Strike and Korra trying to prise me off him.
I hurriedly let go, the man falls to the ground clutching his throat his eyes closed as he gasps like a fish out of water trying to catch his breath. As I watch the white welts begin to change colour to angry purple bruises while the man looked totally confused at the unprovoked attack.

“I was mooring the ship when I looked over to find the beach empty and a strangled cry coming from the jungle. We raced to find you with over the old logger trying you hardest to kill him!” Strike said to me as I struggled to escape both their holds, as confused as the old man. 

“I’m going to let go now. Care to explain what happened what happened?”

“As my spirit melded with the land red anger and hatred filled me, as though the land had been provoked in some way and I woke up to both of you pulling me off him.”

“I did say kill him but I meant a blade to the back of the neck. But whatever works best.” Strike sniggered but stopped when I looked at him. 

“I don’t know what to say, I wanted to see why my mood had been so effected…” I began but was interrupted from the treeline being ripped open by an enormous tree figure of an Ent who stomped into the clearing. It roared incoherently trying to voice the anger it felt. I had never seen such a murderous look on the face of usually such gentle creatures and seeing the others dive for cover I tried to grab the old logger round the waist to pull him to safety.

As soon as he realised someone had grabbed him he began thrashing around wildly trying to break my hold. I could not blame the man, the last time I had grabbed him I tried to kill him; he successfully managed to break my grip and all I could do was watch from my hiding place as the massive treeherder looked directly at the screaming man before crushing him under its gargantuan rooted foot. Satisfied he had been trampled into the earth the Ent roared once more before stomping back into the trees.
“It was his anger I was feeling.” I mumbled still shocked from the actions of the treehurder. 

“At least he died in battle.” Strike tried to comfort me.

Still staring at the retreating figure I spotted the same reddish brown symmetrical symbol daubed on the creatures back, in its centre someone had nailed a severed hand to the trunk of the Ent. 

“Follow that tree?” Strike suggested. 

“Get that thing off it.” I growled. 

“What thing?” Strike replied. 

“The blood symbol, with the hand nailed to it.” I snapped. 

“Follow that tree then.” Strike answered; I am so distracted by the damage inflicted on the Ent that I did not notice the black Orc arrows rain down around me. Strike flew at me, grabbing me round the waist and flung me behind the safety of a stone pedestal with him following close behind.
“I don’t think they like us.” He smiled weakly at me.

“They won’t when I’ve finished with them.” I hissed, the image of the Treehurder still burned brightly in my mind.

Fur clad Orcs began to emerge from the treeline black feathered arrows raining down around us.
“This is not defendable. We have to get to the boat!” Strike shouted about the clattering of the arrows that fell short. 

He snatched up Korra on the way down the sand and slung her over his shoulder. The Orcs grunted orders to each other in their own language while Strike lead us down the beach, easily leaving the lumbering creatures behind us.
Strike dumped Korra into the boat and frantically began to look for weapons, any weapons.
I entered the water and using the energies of the sea transformed into the form of a salt water crocodile. This time I was ready for the flow of hatred and used the tide of rage to my advantage.
Strike emerged from the boat brandishing a spear, he tested its weigh and flung it at the Orc nearest the boat. The Orc dodged out of the way but not fast enough. It let out a bellow of fury as it scraped down the side of his skull. 

The Orcs drop their short bows, the waist deep water making it impossible to use them efficiently and as they wade deeper I lash out at the Orc nearest to me grabbing him in my jaws and dragged him under. He was not going down easily though and before I managed to get a tight hold he dragged his dagger down my side. Once under the surface I rolled twice. On the second roll I felt the life force leave the Orc and letting go his limp body floated away. 

I surfaced to see Strike launch another spear at the Orc he had wounded, hitting him directly in the neck; as he fell to his knees an Orc behind him returned a spear to Strike hitting him in the shoulder. I twisted round to find two Orcs closing in on me. I opened my massive jaws intending to snap at one while tail whipping the other but I misjudged the distance and was repaid with a spear driven deep into my shoulder, with the deep wounds breaking my concentration I could feel my shape trying to re-shift back to my Elven form. As I transformed I threw my shillelagh into the face of the approaching Orc whose axe was already high above his head ready to strike, distracting him enough that the axe whispered past me instead of burring into my skull.
Seeing my struggle to get onto the ship Korra held out her hand to help me up but the shapeshifing and Orc attacks have left me too weak to pull myself up, seeing my struggle last remaining Orc pulled his axe up over his head to fling into my back. I can see this out the corner of my eye but I do not have the strength to do anything about it; from the side I see Strike realise what the Orc fighter is about to do and picking up a spear stabs at the Orc, hitting it in the top of the shoulder. 
Distracted, the Orc pulls at the spear shaft and bringing Strike in closer rakes his clawed fingers across his chest. Strike used this to his advantage and ignoring the pain like his forefathers he gets in close enough for to skewer the creature though the neck with his trusted rapier.

The splash of the dead Orc gives me the final ounce of strength to climb aboard, I fall onto Korra and roll over onto my back, breathless, beaten but still alive.

“You two wait here, I’m going to find those bows.” Strike said before dropping over the side of the ship with a splosh. I pull myself up enough to watch my friend and savour collect up the dropped Orc weapons when he stopped and looked at the tree line, I could not see what he had seen but I had a sense from my friends body language he was being watched.

Dungeon World – Sapphire Island mini-campaign

Okay, so last night I started up a mini-campaign (10 sessions or so) for my wife and a couple of friends, we’ve been playing a few one-offs together recently and they’d agreed to have me run some Dungeon World for them; people who’ve read my earlier blog entries will know that i’ve just started running a Dark Sun-esque Dungeon World campaign for my regular group as well, truth be told I was keen to see how different a world and game we’d end up with, having a different group of players.
We started off with the players picking their character classes and genning them up, we ended up with the following:
  • Will (known as ‘Strike’ to his “friends”), a hooded human thief, outcast from the northern barbarian tribes after poisoning their old chieftain; although his uncle the current chieftain was unable to take him back since he’s broken one of their most sacred taboos by using poison, the old warrior had seen his nephew safely to the mainland.
  • Demanor, an elven druid from the mainland, her wild eyes belie a deep and spiritual connection with the lands of the river delta, nestled amidst the jungles of the mainland that she calls her home. Once the elves were a mighty civilisation, but they recognise that their time has passed and, with the grace and calm only such an ancient species could possess, they accept their decline, using what little time they have left attempting to shepherd the younger races into a more positive relationship with the land.
  • Korra, a fiery eyed human bard from the distant Sapphire Isles, she is the bastard child of a noble, receiving little other than some basic schooling by way of compensation for the social stigma that she faced; desperate to add something to the status of her noble house and bring some glory to their name (and hopefully gaining acceptance of herself in the progress) she travelled to the mainland in search of ancient legends and to carry news to the mainland outposts of her house.
We followed up the character creation with everyone introducing their characters and the rest of us taking turns to ask questions, fleshing out the characters and the world using peoples responses, via these questions some of the things we discovered were:
  • Will had encountered Demanor when he first came off the boat on the southern coast of the mainland, he was only able to survive this strange environment due to her help and, as a mark of respect, shared blood with her in a northlander ritual of brotherhood.
  • Korra met Demanor whilst exploring the jungles of the mainland eager to discover storied; whilst there she was poisoned by a serpent and was only saved by the timely arrival of the druidess, whilst Demanor melted back into the jungle when she saw that Korra would recover, the bard would often think on the incident and made an effort to track her down so that her tale could be told.
  • Korra also recorded the story of how Will was banished for poisoning the chief after he took advantage of Will’s sister, in her fictionalised version, Korra re-wrote it so the sister did the poisoning and Will took the blame; worried that someone may one day read this and take it as the truth, Will stole Korra’s most treasured possession, an ancient flute given to her by her half-sister and held it as surety to prevent her account of his banishment ever being made public.
We also discovered a lot of facts about the world, including:
  • There are three known species that have built civilisations in the world:
    • Humans: The only species to populate the Northlands, the Mainland and the distant Sapphire Islands.
    • Elves: Once the sole occupiers of the jungle covered Mainland in a bygone age, the elves were the first to notice that the younger races were starting to forget how to communicate with the wild and strove to preserve these techniques by introducing some of their druidry techniques to those younger than themselves. The elves are fading custodians of the world whose time has passed, but they seem mostly restrained and possess a zen-like calm about this, being wise enough to realise that everything has it’s time and everything ends.
      • As the elves have begun to fade from the world, the Ents, once wise and noble custodians of the woodland reaches have begun to sleep, falling into a deep state of slumber rendering them like the trees that they once protected.
    • Orcs: A wild an barbaric people who focus on conquest and a life of constant fighting and warfare, the orcs mix freely with the people of the Northland, both have a very similar culture, their are mixed tribes of human and orc northlanders who raid the mainlands for supplies, particularly in the winter months when the ice sheets form between their lands and those of the Mainland.
  • The Mainland and the Northlands have been locked in conflict for years with the barbarian tribes constantly raiding and harrassing those on the mainland, this allowed the Sapphire Islands many years of peace and time to devote to improving themselves, meaning that the level of sophistication and technology is higher in the Sapphire Islands (late medieval as opposed to bronze age).
  • A hundred years ago the Sapphire Islands aided the ascension of a royal dynasty to the rulership of the Mainland Kingdom and sold them technology allowed King John I to build a wall around his kingdom to protect it from invasion; since that day the rulers of the kingdom have taken the name ‘John’ by traditions, the current ruler is John V.
  • The Sapphire Islands have come under attack from the Northlands since they provided the Kingdom with their aid, and one of their islands is currently occupied by Northland forces.
    • Having faced little in the way of organised opposition the Sapphire Islands are ruled by noble houses who spend their time competing and squabbling with each other, each house rules one of the smaller islands with the largest island (Mercia) being occupied by three houses, including the royal house of the Sapphire Emperor.
    • Even in with the threat of the Northmen bearing down on them the houses have, as yet, been unable to put up a united front against them.
    • Legend says that the Sapphire Islands were formed when two giants fought and killed each other in the ocean, the smaller islands were where their teeth fell and Mercia is where their bodies collapsed.
  • The barbarian tribes of the Northlands (orc and human) occasionally unite under a charismatic leader who is ‘crowned’ in a brutal ritual known as the ‘rite of the bloodhand’; a slaughtered foe has his blood mixed with various berries and dyes, watched over by the tribal shaman(druid) the new leader dips his left hand in the mixture and has his hand dyed permanently red as a mark of leadership.
Here is a picture of our rough world map (although we have left a fair amount of blank space to explore):
* * *
First Session

The first sesson began with our heroes travelling to a frontier settlement that the Kingdom had setup in the ruins of an ancient elven city on the southeastern part of the Mainland, they had sought (and been given) permission by the elves on the understanding that the elves would monitor them to make sure that their logging did not cause too much of an impact on the environment, Demanor had been chosen to check on them; Korra had also heard that a ship from the Sapphire Islands was going to be docking there shortly and wished to hear news of her homeland.
When they arrived at the settlement they find it nought but a smouldering ruin, huge behemoth-like footprints dotted the scene but there were no signs of any bodies; eventually they discovered a single, barely alive old logger tied to a tree, his eyes had been put out, his left hand cut off and a strange geometric web-like design carved into his flesh. Demanor felt a strange sense of unease as though the wilds had somehow been roused or disturbed, making the man as comfortable as possible they headed to the coast, hoping to intercept the ship from the Sapphire Islands and see if they had any news about what had occurred, but on arrival they found only the wreckage of the boat and a number of crew bodies bobbing in the water.
Will waded out to the boat whilst Korra scoured the beach and Demanor attempted to attune herself to the energies of the wild; reaching the boat Will saw that it was not as badly damaged as it first appeared, in the water he spotted an orc body alongside the crew and a number of primitive black orc arrows sticking from the craft, turning to tell Demanor he saw that the druidess appeared to have disappeared, but their was a trail of her footprints heading back into the jungle the way they had came. Will and Korra ran through the trees back to the ruins where they found Demanor, an expression of utter fury on her face, choking the life from the still-injured logger, when they touched her however the fury seemed to drain from her and she released her terrified prey; all she could remember was joining with the spirit of the land and then feeling a red anger come over her, as though the very spirit of the land itself had been roused.
They had little time to ponder this however when the treeline burst open and a huge lumbering tree-like figure strode into the clearing, roaring inarticulately; recognising an Ent, but being quite unaccustomed to the murderous look on it’s face, Demanor gestured for the others to hide; she tried wrestling the blind logger into cover but he screamed and broke free of her grasp. All they could do was watch from their hiding place as the huge treeherder smashed it’s mighty foot down on the screaming man, crushing him to death, before it roaring once more and stomped off into the trees; as it departed Demanor and Will noticed that the same bloody spiderweb was daubed onto the back of the tree and at it’s centre someone had nailed a severed hand to the Ents trunk-like body.
Arrows filled the air around them, our heroes dived behind a stone outcropping as fur clas orcs began to emerge from the treeline, firing black fletched arrows at them; shouting that they had to get to the boat, Will lead the others on a mad race to the beach, easily outpacing the lumbering orcs. Wading out to the boat he dived onboard and began searching for weapons, whereas Demanor focussed the power of the wild through her, once again feeling the red anger but this time she was ready for it and mastered the feelings, transforming into a huge saltwater crocodile biting and snapping at the orcs, felling two as Will threw spears from the boat felling a third huge orc. However the orcs had inflicted several deep wounds on Demanor and she could feel her alligator form ebbing away, transforming she grabbed hold of the boat and, with the aid of Korra, began to haul herself aboard; spotting the last remaining orc about to attack the druidess, Will launched an attack on it, taking some injury himself but felling the mighty beast and allowing Korra time to pull Demanor aboard.
With their opponents seemingly all dead Will was able to limp the boat to the shoreland, but as he waded ashore he briefly spotted another orc, it’s eyes glowing with reflected light, clad in bones and feathers, slinking back into the woods. 
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So how did it go?

I thought the game went pretty well, especially considering that it was late and we were all quite tired, however people really seemed to get into the idea of creating the world along with the characters; as previously it took everyone a few minutes to get into the idea that we were going to create the world around their characters (since this isn’t the philosophy espoused by a lot of RPGs), but once they had the ideas started coming thick and fast. We ended up with a very different world to the one that was created for my Dark Sun style game, the first session went very smoothly and everyone seemed to enjoy it; this is one of the things I love about Dungeon World, I went it with just the character sheet playbooks and some very basic ideas and a whole campaign has sprung from that and the players input.

I’m now ready to write out the fronts for the mini-campaign and prepare for the next session 🙂

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