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  1. <><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><> Leifric’s Hollow was only three days ride from my stronghold, so I had elected to make a quick trip there before continuing to where my ‘fate awaited me’. It had always seemed to me such talk of fate was for mealy mouthed weak kneed poets, and had absolutely no bearing on the real world. I said as much to my partner. “Listen Waythe, people believe what they like, why bother showing up at all?” I tossed a satchel with the documents I’d been riding with. I couldnt very well tell him the real reason. “Well if nothing else it will expand our network reach, right?” The Goblin considered, a grin snaking across his face. “Of course, master.” And just like that, I was back on the road, having traded mounts. I reached the hollow at midday on the second day, and looked out on the borough to see the same man who had so haughtily treated me before. “And who might you be, stanger?” A soldier called out. I glanced up, seeing for the first time in many months a soldier as well equipped as my own. He held my eyes. A rare trait indeed. “He’s a marauder” called out the man who had spoken with me before. “Stay your crossbow” he continued quickly on seeing the soldier’s reaction. “I am not” I answered harshly. “I am Raxus Waythe, Judge of the Wastelands.” “You should start doing that,” chuckled the rogue. I no longer considered him a soldier. He was far to insolant, like my men. “Judge of the Wastelands is a nickname, not a title. You’re a marauder with a slightly better than average relationship with local authorities, a merchant.” That rogue was beginning to get on my nerves. “I come honestly to Leifric’s hollow and this borough, from invitation. Who are you, rogue?” I asked the blond haired man I had spoken with before. He was studying me, just as he had before, and just as unnerving. “I am no rogue,” he answered plainly. “I am Adam Devereux, Squire to the Lord Baiamonte. My lord Baiamonte’s son, the Lord Cenric Baiamonte wishes to speak with you.” I knew the Baiamontes, or at least I knew of them. Rufus Baiamonte still allowed men to run around whispering of his madness, yet his rule of both clan and lands remained utterly unchallenged. If his reputation was anything to go on he was not a man to trifle with. “Then what are you waiting for? Open the gates, I will speak with Lord Cenric.” I had expected to be led into a hall of some sort, but instead I was led out by a regally dressed man with a lady on his arm, a little ways beyond the fortress onto the high road, near the woods. “You are Lord Cenric” I said, keeping my eyes on him even as the girl who had joined us began to stroke an owl. Her eyes were sharp. Not that I was trying to notice. I saw him smirk, noting how my eyes had darted. “And you are Judge Waythe.” It was noticeable how he gave a credence to my title others had not. “It seems you have brought me here, to what end?” “You may be familiar with my uncle, Rufus Baiamonte.” “I am,” I said neutrally. “Well,” the Lord Cenric Baiamonte replied amiably. “I love my uncle, he’s a good man, or at least was. Nonetheless I have my own kin to concern myself with, and furthermore I swore to my father I would help my uncle as I could.” He stopped, but as I offered no response, he shrugged and continued, “As such, I’ve been trying my hand at building my own network of men I can call upon should the unrest which so frequently engulfs historica come to our doorstep.” “How can I be of service?” I found myself liking him against my better judgement. “Exactly that. Service. I would like you to swear an oath, to me, as your Lord.” I felt something hot creeping up my neck. “I am a free Varlyrian, Lord. I have my own title.” “I’m not asking for your life, Judge. Your dominion is yours. But should the time come I need your sword, I shall need it. In return,” he had seen me open my mouth but beat me to it, “You shall be given royal contracts, and more importantly, reputation and honor for serving as soldiers, not marauders.” “He’s not a marauder.” The girl’s voice surprised me, as she had as of yet said nothing. I nodded my head. “My sword is as good as your oath,” I offered. “Good.” He smiled. “I think it marks the beginning of your fate turning.” “Turning towards what?” “Greatness, Master Waythe.”
  2. Louis of Nutwood

    Rise of the Baiamontes (Full Story)

    Beware! This is a heavy reading topic. A cup of hot beverage is advised. This story was written for Book III: Challenge V, Category B (Baiamonte Family, in Varlyrio). For each individual (concise) part, go to: Part I, Part II, Part III Happy reading. Rise of the Baiamontes By @Louis of Nutwood, @Gideon and @Henjin_Quilones A yellow orb of fire rose from under the blue mantel that divided water and sky to warm the face of land, wake the common folk, and put the isle in the middle of the sea to stand and meet the new season. From its study, The Rego snorted in satisfaction to hear the clatter of iron against wood as his guards, woken before the break of light, practicing the art of swordsmanship, as they did religiously every morning. This day, though, marked an anticipated time for both the Rego and the military force that supported and protected his kin, for on the first day of summer, when the sun was at its peak, the younglings, apprentices of the Varlyrian army, would be reckoned as men of the realm, called forth to swear their vows and win the honor of wearing the gold and white armor that made them protectors of the Isle. After 28 years in the military, Gen. Juan Rojas Baiamonte had attended the Ritual of Recognition on its every occasion since his youth. And for the past 16, upon being promoted as General after his late father Miguel Villaroya Baimonte, he was the one person that placed the golden blade of the Ancestors upon the shoulders the youngling soldiers, erasing their past and turning them into men devoted to a life of servitude in the army. In 28 years, Gen. Juan R. Baiamonte had faced the most difficult voyages, the most threatening battles, the most fearsome enemies. He had been to the Battle of the Seas, the Envoy to the Swollen Caves, even to the War of Famine, up in the continent, where soldiers have claimed to see winged beasts spitting fire from the sky. But none of these battles made Juan as uneasy as he was this day, for in the crowd of younglings that waited in a sea of anxiety to proclaim their loyalty, one boy with wavy brown hair and innocent eyes stood to him the most. As happened to Juan, it happened to Miguel, his father, and his grandfather before him, and after generations leading the Special Forces of the Army of the Isle, the Baiamonte family took the pages of history as the most cunning strategists and fearless warriors. At the age of 8, every child was to be separated from its family, stripped from all its possessions, deprived from all its comforts, and sent to live in a monastery amongst nature and other children. From youth, they would learn how to wield a sword and hold a spear, to raise a shield and perry a blow, to use hand-to-hand combat and to use nature on their favor, to trust and protect their brothers and to never give their backs to an enemy, to move, feel and think as a unit and to become a deadly weapon individually, just as much as in a group. To fear nothing but fear itself. Strength. Consistency. Trust. After years under observation and constant training, the younglings that showed capable of partaking military action, were gradually moved to battalions and frontlines to care, and learn from operative soldiers that fought for the realm and defended its sovereignty. This day, Gen. Juan Rojas Baiamonte would welcome the little younglings to their new life. This day, Juan, the little boy that was taken from his family and grew to become the most respected general in Varlyrio would welcome his only son to a new life filled with honor and responsibility. Juan could not be prouder, and he could not be more eager to once again, meet his only son Rufus. Banners flapped as the bright sun was at its peak. Lined in a trail were the younglings – some had not a strand of hair on their newborn faces – with puffed chests and clenched jaws. On their flanks, battalions of soldiers stood motionless with their spears stuck on the ground, rugged as a chain of trees. The Rego stood form his carved chair and raised his hands facing the young soldiers. General Juan Rojas Baiamonte was at his right and fell to one knee as the crown did the same. “All your past... is dust. Your family, your heritage, your mistakes, your achievements. Dust. All your future... is sand. Words in the wind. A blank page in the unknown. Sand. All there is... is now. This day, here. And this day... you are reborn! Raise, and face me in the eye. Look into my soul and pray. Who are you?” The line of younglings raised from their knees and punched their chests with fisted hands. “Ahooo! Ahooo! Ahooo!” General Juan Rojas Baiamonte left the Rego’s side and took the lead, unsheathing a golden blade from his scabbard and pointing it to the sky. Juan once again repeated the vows that bound him and every man to the Varlyrian Army together and brought his son closer than ever. … A great caravel of five masts had just docked over the harbor, following a hundred merchant ships from Avalonia, a thousand barges from Kaliphlin and countless fishing boats from Mitgardia. Over the past few years, the port area had become impassable, filled with people from all over Avalonia coming and going, trying to make a living. A welcoming place for thieves and robbers, as well as for those who envisioned a new start in a distant world. Recognizing the opportunity to develop political relations with the other guilds through trade and commerce, The Rego invested in the expansion of Varlyrian ports and established major trading routes with the continent. The recent alliance brought interest and curiosity to the Isle, as more and more people started to travel across the sea. The travel from the continent took several days and the investment in such endeavors were of great cost, so the regent Queen Ylspeth demanded the taxes on Varlyrian ports to be lowered, greatly impacting the Rego’s revenue. The Isle’s council settled, acknowledging the benefits of a larger circulation of foreign fleets, but consumed by greed, projects of exploitation were implemented to support commerce and dazzle the newcomers. Up in the Ridge Mountains, an interconnected chain of caves and tunnels opened and kept by the Island Dwarves gave way to an extraordinary route of rare gems, runes, and stones that overwhelmed the travelers with their beauty and stunned them with stories of their magical capabilities – some could heal, some could entice a loving person, and one other that was greatly searched for, they said was able to revive an old man’s vigor. Amongst all the riches in the Isle, these gems brought the wealthier lords known throughout the seas to spend their gold in the foreign lands. Exploitation in the mines had grown exponentially, from authorized groups as well as from prospectors from far beyond, and before long, the frozen Dwarven cities that were once calm and deserted, became packed with unwanted foreigners. It was called The Age of Exploration, and with it came robbery, depravation, smuggling and general chaos to the familiar streets carved on stone in the face of the mountains. Never have the Dwarves worked as much, pushed as hard and lived inside the rock for so long. Under the Rego’s order (pressured by countless lords and kings), new mines were opened daily, swept of all its riches and treasures, and left for the wolves to claim nests. The Varlyrian Guard was sent to rule the harbor and the supplies descending the mountains, and battalions took turns by the entrance of every human city in the Isle. But the army’s efforts of control were effective just to a point, until smugglers found a new way to do business and exploit both the Dwarves and the mountain. It was getting out of hand. General Juan knew it as much as the Rego. … It was common during summer for the days to be hot and dry, and as the sun started weakening, a damp breeze would swamp the streets, foretelling an expected summer rain to wash away the stickiness on people’s skins. That night, as water fell from dark skies, the Rego woke to the sound of horns being blown by the harbor, as an endless queue of ships and galleys had formed. At his chamber door, the Councilor stood soaking wet in his silken robes. “Your Highness, our ports operating way beyond capacity. The ships refuse to leave their ways as, apparently, their requests for precious gems and stones have not been fulfilled. There is a riot at the harbor and - “ “Unfulfilled? Well, can’t they leave with what they have?”, replied the Rego, grabbing a golden goblet and filling it with Kaliphlian wine. “Your Magnificence, their orders have been paid in advance. We collected their payment, but lack the product, and more ships are docking”, said the Councilor rubbing his hands together, each time more curved on his own belly. “Our supplies have been cut, your Greatness” The Rego peaked out his window and saw the flickering orange of the flames lighting the foot of the mountain, where the first Dwarven City was erected, and dwelt the Dwarven King. “Fetch me a horse, Councilor, and inform General Baiamonte I need his men ready” … The damp summer wind and the refreshing rain were long past, as in the foot of the mountain blew the of the glaciers that ran over stoned corridors before howling loose on the mountain’s scars. General Juan Rojas Baiamonte rode his brown stallion covered in crimson and gold, his scabbard kicking on the horse’s back. Behind him, other twenty men covered in boiled leather and plate, amongst which, rode Rufus, his son, weaving the white and golden banner of the guild. By the foot of the mountain, at the entrance of the first Dwarven City of Derem’tor, stood a gathering of shrunken men with thick beards that covered most of their faces, handling oddly large axes and hammers. “To what I owe the pleasure of meeting you in our town, Rego?! I was told you were not so fond of a little chill” said a bald Dwarf behind a red fuzzy beard covering his cheeks and chest. “You made quite the fuzz down at the docks, Rhloder. You know the docks? It is where those big turtles float over the water and bring the coin that buys the equipment and protection you are so affectionate about, but seem to have forgotten”, replied the Rego. “You are the one who seems to have forgotten, Rego, that unlike your garments and fancy pants, some things in this world have an end. Patience, for one. And your precious stones, Rego. I needed not have come to this. All we asked was for you to regulate the trade of gems, raise tax in the savagery you call your ports and keep those brutes off our mountain. But since you chose to ignore all my pleas, and since you do not listen to reason, I hereby declare that all the mining operations from this point on, are ceased”. “Ceased? On what grounds do you think – “ “You have been warned! Many a time. You cannot expect us to pick, drill and dig forever. There is a limit to where we can go, a limit to where our tools will reach. But we are past beyond that. To a point that we are losing lives and families to the mountain. The tunnels, they are treacherous and deceiving, collapsing each time we advance and take what is not ours. We cannot go further. Not like this. This is where we live. In here, carved under rock and stone are our homes. But the more we dig, more we are threatened. The mountain is turning against us, Rego” “This is nonsense, Dwarf. Mines collapse! Deal with it and move someplace else, but you must not, by your own will, terminate an established agree – “ “Agreement?” the dwarf smiled sympathetically, his hands over his belt. “You don’t understand, Rego. The mountain is alive. It has manifested. We can move, aye, but the mountain will stand against. Let it heal, Rego. Let it rest. Let us reestablish our connection to the Gods and nature, so we can all live another day. Or else, push through, and madness and death is all you will see” The Rego moved his horse across the snow, reaching closer to the line of dwarves. “Is this a threat, Dwarf?” “It is. But it is not coming from me”, Rhloder turned and looked up to the mountain before disappearing in the snow. … On the morning of the next day, General Juan Rojas Baiamonte left his barracks leading a group of twenty soldiers and thirty prospectors to the Ridge Mountains. The group found no resistance to enter the Dwarven City of Derem’tor, or when reaching the Mines of Rhangvar, a complex of interconnected tunnels with its wooden oaken doors, distributed on the face of the mountain like shut and blocked frames. Galloping towards the summit, the wooden doors to the mines became larger and longer, suggesting that the riches were broader on the mountaintops. But, in front of every door, from the bottom to the top of the mountain, dwarfs lay on the ground and over the white mantel of snow. Some wounded, some unconscious, some too tired and sick to even lift a pick or axe. Yet, they stood to prevent anyone from entering the mines. The last entrance, on the higher part of the mountain was marked by a stone sculpture of a dwarf holding a sword pointing to the ground, covered in a dabble of white flakes. Rhangvar – the dwarf god of prosperity. The stairs, carved in the face of the mountain led to a set of wooden doors engraved with iron spikes, so tall that reached the skies and disappeared on a frigid grey fog. On the foot of the stoned dwarf were the markings: Mines of Rhangvar. General Juan R. Baiamonte jumped aside of his horse and walked towards the set of stairs. He was met by a runt and stocky man, his nose thick and red from the cold, a brown beard covering his chest. “I would think again if I were you, brother”, said the short man, presenting himself. “I come in the name of the court and Your majesty, the Rego, with the order to reestablish all mining operations this instant and put an end to this folly of a strike. Shall you refuse, I am aloud to use force, seize you and your supporters for disobedience, revoke your right to housing and share of land in the Isle. Resist and I will put you to the sword. I am ready to substitute you and your kin with a more qualified manpower, if need be, in order to reestablish trade and commerce with our partners, and–“ The short man listened attentively, not giving a blink, and not showing a sign of resistance. “Well, go on...” “... Our partners, and don’t try to impede me, dwarf. I will use force against you and any pygmy that lay hand on my man”, snapped Gen. Baiamonte. “I see no need to do so, sir General. But I do sense you misinterpret the situation, sir. This is no strike. We wish to work, aye. We want no stress with the crown, no. Sire, we were kicked out of the mountain, you see. It is no safe to enter, no safe at all. Under no circumstance we are aloud to enter this mountain while that thing remains torturing our very heads. No, sir”, the dwarf explained as if sharing an ale with the general. “You mock me, dwarf?” “Mock, sire? You do not... I lost many a man to this mountain. This is no mocking subject” “Then get your gear, gather your men and start picking”, the General tossed a picking axe to the dwarf’s feet, that poured snow when landed. “I... I cannot, sire. I fear for me life. You all should. The creature inside does not joke. You can point your blade at me, take me head if you like. But if I enter these doors, I’m as good as dead” “Creature, you say?” “See for yourself, but I advise you not to wake the spirits of the mountain. Hear its roar, and you will shit your pants to death. It is not a pretty sight to die in loaded trousers, specially trousers as fine as yours, sire” “Leave my sight, dwarf”, said Juan, as the stocky man started his descent. At the base of the tall wooden doors, Gen. Juan and his men lifted the beams blocking the mine’s entrance. Thirty miners trembled in the cold of the Ridge Mountains, anticipating the intensity of a day’s labor, and questioning if the rumors of the mountain that lived would prove to be true. Rufus Baiamonte closed the envoy, as the last guard to lead the group into the mountain. Before entering, Juan put a hand in his son’s shoulder. “I need you to return to the Rego and report our triumph. His supply of gems will be reestablished. Alert the merchants and return with wagons. This folly ends today” “Father, -“ “I will not hear. Bring me those wagons and we will talk on the morrow. You are dismissed”, said the general bending his head. “Just be careful, sire”, whispered Rufus, but the General was too far away, heading to the tall wooden doors. ... The journey back to the bay took the whole morning and a large part of the afternoon. Rufus gathered a chain of forty wagons and needed over a dozen men to carry them through the frigid frost on the mountain’s backbones. After a day, the march reached the first Dwarven City, but Rufus fell out of place when he saw the city was deserted, and no man or dwarf lingered in the gates to welcome their arrival. Footprints deformed the snow uphill, showing the direction of a possible getaway. But then, he sensed the smell. A rotten and warm smell that pierced the throat and thickened the spit. Something burning. Rufus abandoned the empty carts and with a kick in his horse, bolted like and arrow through the trail of mines. The narrow paths, once vivid with merchants and miners was now dark and lifeless, as if a curse had swiped all souls from the face of the mountain. Closer to the summit, the stench of smoke turned harder and ticker. The horse’s gallop lifted brown snow into the air, his breath frosting on his nose. Up in the mountain, Rufus glimpsed the stoned sculpture of Rhangvar, the Dwarf God. Behind it, a wall of black smoke circled the mountaintop and embraced the set of stairs that led into the Mines of Rhangvar. The skies darkened and the ground shook. Fear lingered in the air, almost sensible to the touch. Rufus approached the entrance of the mine and finally, between deserted trails and pines covered in snow, he found his comrades. Some unconscious, others wounded, they lay on the snow, panting, and gasping for breath after being pushed out of what could have been their coffin. At least they are safe now, though Rufus. The boy meandered through bodies and trembling men, overwhelmed by the commotion. Between familiar and unfamiliar faces, Rufus saw the fear in his brothers’ eyes. All the years of training, all the quests in the forest, all those nights unslept with spear in hand, not even that was enough to keep them from shaking. Whatever they saw inside the mountain, Rufus did not want to share. But amongst all men, the boy searched for only one familiar face: his father’s, but that one was nowhere to be found. Up in the distance, fading in the freezing mist, the silhouette of a dozen men was drawn against the orange glow of the setting sun. Their bodies thick in width, but plain in height, were the last reminiscent of those who once populated these frigid settlements, now disappearing in the fog, as if leaving a prey to die, running away from judging eyes. “What happened here?”, asked Rufus, reaching a soldier that struggled to remain on his feet. “The mountain... the creature... We were massacred. We tried to run away, but these tunnels are so mischievous, they... I though it was my time. I saw my final moment in those flaming eyes...”, the soldier babbled and sunk his head on his hands, sobbing. The smell of smoke, burned meat, coal and ashes remained in the air, scraping Rufus’s throat, and painting the white mantel of snow with a soft veil of black dust. While the soldiers regained their feet, and assembled to leave this damned mountain, Rufus noticed that many of the miners and soldiers were still missing. “Where are the others, brother?”, asked Rufus to a red-haired officer whose clothes were torn and tainted with blood. “Some did not make it, comrade. The cave just... fell apart. When that thing... woke... Hell, I just ran. Some were fool enough to stay behind and buy us time to flee. But they couldn’t stand a chance” “What was it, brother?” “It was big, black. Like a giant snake, its eyes were flaming orbs. And its teeth... Hell, it was true, boy. It was just... all true”. The soldier looked away from Rufus and let out a long and lasting breath that covered his face in a freezing cloud. “The general... your father... he is a hero, you know. If it wasn’t for him...” Rufus did not want – or need – to hear any further. Despite his efforts to enter the mine, the doors were locked shut from the inside. The guards were too wounded, fragile, simply uncapable to even get near the mines, what could have been their final moments. Rufus glanced at the mountaintop, where midget silhouettes sketched the horizon, but there only remained the thin orange line of the final hours of the day. In silence, Rufus promised the gods he would have his revenge. … A flaming arrow crossed the night sky and landed on a pile of straw and sticks, lighting the dark path to heaven, where the souls of the fallen heroes would spend the rest of their days. The Rego closed the ceremony in respect to the deaths in the mines of Rhangvar naming Rufus his first lieutenant, and awarding him the star of honor, for the 28 years his father serviced the realm. A golden star the size of a cantaloupe with a striped fabric of crimson and white, to represent the blood and devotion of the ones who gave their lives to save their brothers. The following morning was grey and windy. The Rego remained on his chambers, while Rufus stood at his door for most of the day, expecting an opening for an audience. When he finally opened his door and called for the soldier, the Rego served two full glasses of red wine and sit by the balcony, where he could observe the canals and the Bay of Merchants, one of the finest districts in Varlyrio. “Your father was a brave man”, said the Rego. “One of the best”, Rufus bowed his head in a sign of respect. “Your Highness, I come to tend for different matters. I have reason to believe the Dwarves are plotting against your crown. I have reason to believe they are behind the events on the Mines of Rhangvar, where the lives of our men were taken” “This is a bold assumption, Lieutenant. Why should I-” “I saw it with my own eyes. Rhloder, the King of Dwarves is the responsible for my father’s death. His men flee the mines the moment I-“ “I will not accept it”, The Rego answered sharply. “Your Holiness, we did as you commanded and took the mines, but we were cowardly trapped and attacked under their-“ “Lieutenant, do you see these vessels trapped in the ports of our Island?”, Rufus did not answer. “I have promised to all of them an unimaginable amount of gold and jewels and stones and gems, capable of turning simple men into sons of gods. I relied on you, my most reliable men, to reestablish these supplies. Now tell me: where are my precious gems?” “Your Excellence, we were cravenly attacked!” “I asked for the completion of a simple task, and instead, you turned this into a bloody mess”, the Rego got up, filled another cup of wine, went to his desk, and searched for a parchment. “You have proven me that you chimps are uncapable of doing anything beyond waiving your swords and spears and looking strong. You are asking me to run against the only capable creatures of doing what we need, which is to explore our mines and regain our wealth”, the leader of the Isle opened the parchment and showed the signature at the bottom of the fabric. “The Dwarven King has just signed a treaty. Our stones will be restored in no time. More taxes, yes, but I do not expect you to understand any of my business” Rufus balanced the cup of wine in his hand, from which he did not take a sip, measuring his next words. The image of the dwarves fleeing from the flaming mines that trapped his father and took his life remained vividly in his mind. His promise faltered in his mouth with the known taste of blood. “At least let me fetch my father’s remains...”, the words felt unnatural in his throat, “... your Magnificence”. “To let you go back to the mountains and run the risk of you slicing the throat of my most recent commercial partner?”, The Rego snorted a suppressed laugh. “Don’t think me a fool, boy”, he looked outside once again, admiring the grey fog dancing over the canals. “Yet, the reports say the city has been abandoned, I see. And I am an understanding leader. You have your right to have your family, boy. And I respect that”, he swallowed the remaining half of his cup in large gulps. “Don’t make me regret this. Out.” The boy left the room glistering with golden ornaments without bowing to his superior. … The cold wind of the mountains felt less uncomfortable in Rufus’s back, he noticed. After days of expedition up and down the mountain, he could have been more accustomed, or it could be his blood was warmer with rage. The smell of smoke softened during the past week and there had been no more reports of attacks or suspicious activities in the mountains. How convenient. Slowly and carefully, miners returned to their duties, as the ships in the harbor departed one by one. Rufus trotted passed the Mines of Rhangvar. It was no use trying to enter – the doors were sealed and not even twenty men would suffice to force his way in. He would have to enter a different way. Rufus continued his journey across the mountain, up to the second Dwarven City, then the third. Mehlid’ravn was fortified with wooden watchtowers and stoned walls, barricaded with carefully sharpened logs, only a dwarf would be capable of carving. The houses, a mix of wood and stone, engraved with dwarven insignias and family sigils. Rufus reached the walls and was measured by two guards pointing crossbows to his chest. “Lieutenant Rufus Baiamonte, to speak with Rhloder, the King of Dwarfs” The doors opened with the clinging of chains. He expects me. In the main hall, the fire cracked in heath that ran all the way in the extension of the hall to an elevated wooden bridge with a centered oaken throne was covered in furs of fox, saber, and ox. A short man with a red beard covering his chest stared, as Rufus walked across the yellow-lit hall. “I should have your head, Dwarf” “You are grieving, so I will take no offense this time. You wished to see me. Now, spit” “Where is my father?” “Your father is a brave man. He remains inside the ruins of Rhangvar, sleeping with the beast” “Because you left him there, and all his men” “Believe what you will, but this is no true. The ones who left, they left because of him. There are living because the General sacrificed. But had he and your commander listened to our pleas, no one would have perished. I saw him stand against the beast. Leather wings spread, her fiery breath spitting... Yet he stood, sword in hand as his men and mine ran for their lives. We left that living hell and sealed the door behind us. I was the last one to leave, and no one else would have left. We took care of the most, treated their wounds as well as we could” “So, you are a hero, then? You care for the weak and give them supper, then flee to hide behind your walls... Ha... I do not believe you, Dwarf”, replied Rufus. “Your father is the true hero, boy. But I knew the moment he stood behind, that his stubborn men, with their tacky, inflexible, and revenging little minds would not be easily satisfied with the truth and would need to point fingers and search for a villain. When you fail to realize how the true villain is right under your noses, controlling each one of you”, he sighed. “Of course, we had to leave. But this act of bravery and stupidity showed that we have had enough death over those foolish riches. So, yes, I took the chance to make the Rego accept our terms, and now we can live in peace with the mountain and nature. Rufus stared blankly at the crackling fire reflecting on the round-shaped shields that covered the internal walls of the hall. “We should have never entered these damned mines”, said the boy, finally. “I... his body...” “Aye”, said Rhloder. “There is another way. We can take you there if that is what you wish”. Rufus spent the night. He ate pork and chicken, drank more mugs of ale than he could count, shared stories with the dwarves and sang their sad songs before passing out on the table. The next morning, Rhloder, Rufus and an expedition of two other dwarfs entered the broken tunnels of Derem’tor, in the search for the remains of General Juan Rojas Baiamonte. Gigantic halls that echoed infinitely gave way to tiny burrows in which Rufus found difficulty to course through. The walls looked fragile, leaning over the passageways, hanging still by the will of the gods, in the brink of collapsing over their fragile selves. They walked through cracks, hang from natural cliffs and in one passage, they even had to use ropes to traverse over a frozen lake inside the caves. Until they reached a point after a long corridor marked by two columns of ice, where the dwarfs stopped. “This is as far as we can go, boy”, said Rhloder, his voice echoing in damp walls, as he and the Dwarfs remained in the shadows of the cave. Rufus lurched through fallen rocks, reflecting pools and columns of stone. The farther he went, the warmer it got inside the cave, and it showed he was getting closer to where he was supposed to go. He cornered a long hall and found himself inside a hall fully lit by a deep crack in the ceiling of the cave, from which sunbeams passed and warmed the room’s interior in frigid grey and white stone. Rufus stepped on a chain of rocks, elevated from the ground. The rocks started as small pebbles, that turned larger and larger, poking out of the ground like stakes. The rocks twisted and turned, like roots trying to find their way through the earth. But those rocks were smooth and white as snow itself. Teeth and claws, solid as bones. He suddenly realized, he was not walking over a chain of stones, but over a skeleton of a fallen beast. Dead. He pondered how weak, yet still fearsome that gigantic creature was, even motionless and lifeless. Rufus realized the fear they all must have felt while gazing through the wholes that once held his eyes. Rufus felt a sudden relieve, thinking that the miners could return to their lives of picking, and thought of his father, General Juan Rojas Baiamonte, with proud. Bathing under the sunrays that flashed on the cave, Rufus noticed another set of bones, leaned against the tail of the fallen beast. On its side, a shiny steel sword that gleamed with the sun. On its handle was engraved the combination of three words: Strength. Consistency. Trust. The sayings of the Baiamonte family. Rufus reached for the fragile frozen and consumed hand of the skeleton lying in front of him and squeezed it tight against him chest, for a moment that would last the eternity in his mind. Rufus found his way out of the cave. Behind him, the tangling of the bag of bones reminded him that his mission had been successful, but far from complete. On the freezing wind, he saw the stream of water on the horizon, the main cities, the palace where the Rego passed his days, the monastery on the woods, where a proper burial should take place. But Rufus looked the other way, to the dry and yellow, to the deserted wastelands on the far west, where bandits, renegades, berserkers, and outcasts made their livings. Exactly where Rufus needed to go next. … Plok, plok, plok sang the bag of bones hanging on Rufus’s waist. Tuk, tuk, tuk, hummed the leathered sack on his back, starting to weigh and smell under the sun. His throat was dry, and sand ran over his face, scratching his skin and making his hair thick and parched. Invisible waves distorted the yellow horizon as the sun hit the sand and heat consumed the air. Scorpions and snakes were the living, who mocked the dried carcasses along the dirt road to the west. The wastelands. Land of the pariahs and social castaways, where men were thrown to be evaded and forgotten. In the deserts, holes, and caves, they found their ways trading favors, protection, and stolen goods. As social groups were formed, the wastelands deviated from the Rego’s established control, and while anarchy prevailed, so did the law of the strongest. During his youth in the convent, Rufus and his brothers learned about the different creatures that wandered across the Island and the best ways to fight them. Giants, for example, were extremely dependent on fire and light, being close to blind during the night. Take that, fight in the dark, and you would have the greatest advantage. Goblins, in the other hand, were creatures of the night, greedy and keen, always prone to negotiate terms and products. To have a shiny gem and convince them of its rareness was to have them on your side. But Rufus was not searching for giants or goblins. He searched for a witch. Old tales said that witches appeared in nights of full moon to perform rituals and sacrifices, in which they learned the words of the gods – chants and songs that, combined with different ingredients, had nefarious effects to entice, persuade, dissolve and control. His brothers told the tale of the three sisters. Three old ladies that roam between the realms of the living the dead were known to hide in the deep canyons of the wastelands, catching souls and condemned spirits that meandered between heaven and hell. If there was a way to speak to the dead, the three sisters would know how. Rufus counted days and nights, and not coincidentally, when the sun died on a red dried sea, the moon gleamed big and round, casting shadows over sandy tunnels. Leaning on a rock toppled over a wall of sand, Rufus waited, analyzing the holes punctured on the craggy facade. When the silver light of the moon penetrated the caves, a blue, unnatural glow illuminated the sand from within, and out of the caves, came three pale figures as thin as dried branches in the desert, in tattered rags, drifting over the sand. The boy followed the mystical figures until they stopped over the putrid carcass of a cow, consumed by the crows and vultures. They hovered in circles and chanted horrifying sounds of hissing and screaming, while the carcass gleamed in that bizarre blue light as if being evaporated in thin air. Rufus left his cover and approached the three sisters. One hand over the leathered sack hanging on his back, the other opened in his front as to calm the ghosts in front of him. Rufus carefully opened the leathered sack and took the head of a mountain wolf. Dried blood thickened his fur and maggots had found their way into his rotting meat. Rufus left the head on the ground and walked away, as the sisters circled their gift. His eyes glittered in blue, and soon, it all disappeared. The sisters turned to Rufus and floated in his direction. “A sound human, this is”, whispered the witch and a cold breeze swiped. “Would be a valuable sacrifice”, agreed the second. “Yes, the gods would gift us with splendor”, endorsed the third. “But, an act of goodwill must not come without a request... say, human, why the benevolence? What do you seek?” Rufus stared at each of them. “I seek guidance. I seek knowledge. I seek revenge”, he said kneeling on the ground and stretching the bag of bones in front of him. “Hmmm. The boy knows what he seeks and knows who to speak with” “Say, human, why should we give you what you seek instead of taking you whole back to our world” The boy bowed his head. “Grant me your guidance, sisters, and I shall forever live to fulfill your debt. Grant me your knowledge, sisters, and I shall forever live to serve your purpose. Grant me revenge, sisters, and I shall forever live to provide to you and your gods. Now and forever, my soul is yours to command, for I am your servant, follower of your rules, preacher of your will” A deafening scream echoed throughout the canyons and Rufus felt his breath fail him and his body stiffen, as if he had been tossed under a gelid waterfall that washed him from within. As the dark night turned darker still, his chest burst in pain, his heart struggling to push out of his throat, and he woke under the frying sun, laying on the sand, surrounded by a green pool of a thick and viscous liquid. Displayed on the sand were a set of white bones he found inside the tunnels of the cold mountains. “I’m sorry, father, for not being next to you when you time had come. Sorry for not being fast enough, brave enough. Sorry for being afraid. And I am sorry if I could not give you a proper burial. The day will come when I will reach you in that cave once again and hand you over to the gods. But first, I will have my revenge” Rufus tossed each part in the green water, and thought of his father, lying untouched inside the cave. The bones sank in the moss and a splash of green water lifted. The water began to bubble, and a white steam floated in the air. The skies turned from a vivid blue to a lifeless grey as the clouds closed in like a black curtain. A dark horn pierced out of the water and found its way to the sky. Behind it, a chain of scales, sharp as a Mitgardian axe erupted from the green vapor. Two arms black as leather and shiny as a blade stretched and covered the light, and a white set of teeth smiled back at Rufus, while a sounding roar tapped his ears. This black creature was released from the cold mountains of the north, and now floated untamed in warm Varlyrian skies. … Through cobblestone streets and flowing canals, through summer balconies with hanging flowers and greedy merchants, trough fish-smelling villas and wary stray cats, Rufus strolled on the city center, towards the Canal Square, where the court, the Rego, the council and every merchant in Varlyrio gathered to tend their businesses. This day, the fourth after the first full moon of the summer, the ruler, the councilor, and his followers gathered on the main square for a jaunt alongside the royal guard, to wave to the common folk, to flaunt their unending riches and unquestionable power. Seven days passed since his last audience with the Rego, when Rufus left to his mission on the Ridge Mountains, to recover his father’s remains, and since then, Rufus did not interact with his superiors. Leaving his post unattended and not communicating with your pairs was a punishable act – a fine, maybe a few days of suspension and cleaning latrines for a couple of days – but Rufus was surprised to see his face drawn all over the walls of Varlyrio under a sign that said “wanted for treason”. News ran fast on the canals of Varlyrio. But it did not matter. Rufus had expected to be pursued – collusion with obscure groups on the wastelands, plot with enemies of the crown in the mountains, use and traffic of illegal substances – one needed only choose which. Now that he thought, he was not surprised at all. Yet, he strutted. His chin pointing to the sky, and a crooked smile carved out on his face. Rufus reached the square and glanced at his brothers, all suited in full armor, surrounding a group of weak and outdated old men. The Rego on the center, waved to one side and the other, and when his eyes met Rufus’s, he stopped. “Bold of you to appear, boy. Now lay down your sword and surrender to me. You are convicted of treason against the realm for conspiring against the council, plotting against your king, and ravishing against the people” “Treason?” Rufus walked closer to the encirclement around the Rego. “I will not deny”, he extended his wrists to the guards. “But what you have been doing for the past decade, is far worse that whatever I have done in the past few days. For what I have done, I did for the people. And what you did, you did out of greed and thirst for power”, Rufus opened his arms and raised his fingers after each word. “Abuse. Diversion. Theft. Exploitation. Perjury. Assassination”. Rufus stopped. “Your days are over, your Magnificence”, and bent on one knee. A black shadow covered the square as if the sun had been a blown off flame in a dark room. A roar echoed through the canals and panic took the cobblestone streets. An obscure creature opened its leathery wings and lurched over the houses surrounding the main square. Its deafening roar was enough to break the encirclement of guards and leave the Rego exposed. The creature opened its mouth filled with infinite chains of teeth, as the ruler squeezed himself against the terracotta walls and beneath him, a yellow pool formed and ran to the flowing waters of the Varlyrian canals. The Rego’s councilor was shrunken on the ground, and noticing his ruler stripped from all his power, saw no alternative beside to acknowledge his new superior. “All hail the new king, the Mad Rufus Baiamonte!” Rufus laughed and his eyes gleamed gold as the sun, as he saw his future sitting on a new throne, under the chant of “Mad Rufus! Mad Rufus! Mad Rufus!”. THE END. ________ Phew! If you've reached this far, I truly hope you enjoyed the story an the builds. It was a very fun story to put together, especially alongside such amazing builders such as @Gideon and @Henjin_Quilones. Please, leave a comment and let us know what you think. Cheers! ________ Louis of Nutwood.
  3. Part 2 of the story about the Baiamonte family. My entry to Book III, Challenge V, Category B together with @Louis of Nutwood and @Henjin_Quilones. Rufus stepped on a chain of rocks, elevated from the ground. The rocks started as small pebbles, that turned larger and larger, poking out of the ground like stakes. The rocks twisted and turned, like roots trying to find their way through the earth. But those rocks were smooth and white as snow itself. Teeth and claws, solid as bones. He suddenly realized, he was not walking over a chain of stones, but over the skeleton of a fallen beast. Dead. Rufus Baiamonte Bathing under the sunrays that flashed on the cave, Rufus noticed another set of bones, leaned against the tail of the fallen beast. On its side, a shiny steel sword that gleamed with the sun. On its handle was engraved the combination of three words: Strength. Consistency. Trust. The sayings of the Baiamonte family. Rufus reached for the fragile frozen and consumed hand of the skeleton lying in front of him and squeezed it tight against him chest, for a moment that would last the eternity in his mind. General Juan Rojas Baiamonte Rufus found his way out of the cave. Behind him, the tangling of the bag of bones reminded him that his mission had been successful, but far from complete. The whole build