PAX Unplugged – Nov 30 – Dec 2

This year I will be running some RPGs for Magpie Games, the company that brought you MASKS and Bluebeard’s Bride, among others. I love this company and what it’s up to, and I can’t wait to visit Pax Unplugged. I didn’t make it to the premier last year.

PAX Unplugged will be an exciting analog-focused extension of our already existing portfolio of PAX events. We’ve found that the Tabletop parts of PAX have grown and grown to the point where we said, “You know what? Let’s make a show that’s just that.”

Iron Sorcerer – Episode 4: Craven

They didn’t get very far the first day out. There were only a few hours left of daylight, and Kelvin insisted on stopping at a particular spot, somewhere protected by overhanging rocks, to avoid being seen by any patrols. They didn’t speak much. Each fell into a role as they made camp. Kelvin started setting up wards around them, while Locasta checked their surroundings for signs of anything dangerous.

Trax started the fire. He wasn’t usually careless building a fire pit, but either he was tired from the day, or tired of Locasta’s behavior, and he dumped a pile of dry sticks into a cleared circle, and breathed flame onto it. It made Kelvin stop and stare.

Trax shrugged. Kelvin raised his eyebrows and went back to what he was doing. Locasta returned, sat down cross legged by the fire, and began her evening prayers. She said them quietly, but not so quietly that the others couldn’t hear, her words still firm and strong.

“Oh Great One, today in your strength I helped to defeat a mighty roc. Today in your strength I traveled far in search of Craven. Today in your strength I have found the way to it, and shall soon bring it home. Thank you for your strength.”

Kelvin didn’t raise his eyes this time. Locasta ignored him as well, took a stick from the pile Trax had made and began whittling at it with a hunting knife she had on her belt. They enjoyed the fire for a while, each resting their own way. But eventually, Locasta caught Kelvin eying her. She was hoping he would start asking questions. She enjoyed seeing his cocky smile disappear.

“So, who’s Jinn?” Kelvin said eventually. Locasta’s smile faded. That was the last thing she had expected him to catch on to. “That is the name on the blade, right?” He continued.

“Yes.” Locasta set the stick down. It had taken on the shape of a stretched out dragon. She held his gaze, but offered no further information.

“So, does he have your blade?”

“Yes. I left it buried in his chest.”

Trax spoke up before the following silence swallowed the evening. “You said, Kelvin, that you were familiar with the champions of Dragonhelm. Are you not familiar with how they are chosen?”

“Well, one hears rumors,” Kelvin said with a shrug, trying to shrug off his shock at Locata’s words. “We’ve heard that there are difficult trials.”

Locasta snorted, but Trax continued.

“They are raised in preparation from their very early years to take part in the trials,” Trax explained. Locasta began spinning the knife in the dirt on its point. She thought she should be proud to hear Trax recount what she had gone through, but she couldn’t raise her eyes. “When a trial is called, any of the trainees between the ages thirteen and eighteen are released into a nearby forest or canyon, and there can be only one to make it out again.”

Kelvin nodded. “I’d not heard all of that, but I’m not surprised.” He watched Locasta dig a hole into the dirt with the knife. “And what about you, Trax? Were you left outside as a hatchling to see if you could survive the elements and be worthy of living as a dragonblessed?”

Trax responded quickly. “They leave us trapped in our nest with no food and no way out, until one of us eats all the others.”  Kelvin went pale, but Locasta huffed.

“Stop teasing him, Trax, he can’t tell when you’re joking.” Locasta said, cleaning off her knife and resheathing it. Trax showed his teeth and laughed his hissing laugh. “He’s joking,” Locasta repeated to Kelvin, who was still looking terrified. It took him a moment to return to a more normal shade.

“And you?” Trax asked. “Where are you from?”

Kelvin started poking at the fire. “I’ve lived in several places. None of which cared if I was the strongest, or could kill everyone of my rivals, or anything, really.”

“You’re a healer, and an amazing fighter. I sincerely doubt that.” Locasta said.

“No, it’s true. My parents died when I was very young, so I started scrounging where I could. I learned to fight from some monks I ran into when I was a teenager, same with the healing.”

“So you’ve always been a scavenger.”

“I’ve always made my own way, survived on my own strength, yes.” Kelvin bared his teeth at her when he smiled. Locasta simply narrowed her eyes and took a deep breath. There were always those that because they followed their own chaotic rules that they were stronger. Perhaps they had faced dangers, overcome obstacles, but they were all happenstance. Nothing could match the carefully planned training and honing that bred the iron wills of the champions of Dragonhelm. The weak ones were not worth getting upset about.

“I’ll take the first watch,” Locasta said, standing up and heading out into the now dark plains around them.

 


 

The next day they caught sight of Gerard’s trail, the hint of footprints on a creek bed. A few hours later, Trax caught his scent, and they traced him to a set of three craggy hills that stood out against the flat landscape like the three fingers of a claw.

“We could circle around wide, see if we can spot him hiding in the hills,” Kelvin suggested.

Locasta laughed. “We’re not here to capture him. Besides, I’m sure he’s already seen us coming.” She headed for a rise of ground not far from the hills, planted her spear in the ground and yelled. Her voice carried well across the plains. “Iron Champion! Come and prove your mission has succeeded!”

The sun was directly overhead, and beat down ruthlessly. Trax sat down beside Locasta and curled his tail around his feet. He leaned back a bit and raised his face to the sun. Kelvin paced behind them.

“He won’t join us until you sit down,” Locasta said, pulling her knees up.

Kelvin sighed, and plopped down into the dirt beside Locasta. Another few minutes or so passed, and then a shadow appeared beside one of the hills.

“Who is that?” Though Locasta’s voice had resonated loudly, this voice boomed and echoed. “Who comes to challenge my mission?”

“Come closer and I’ll tell you,” Locasta answered.

The voice replied with an loud laugh that resounded from the rocky hills behind him. “You must be from Dragonhelm, no one else would be so cocky.” The shadow started moving towards them, and solidified into a craggy man, clad in scaled armor, with a long sword at his side. A jagged scar ran the full length of his arm.

Locasta stood up, planted her spear again, and stood as tall as she could. “I am. I am in training to be the champion of Stonehaven.”

“Ah, and I’m to be the completion of your training?” Gerard’s tone was light, almost jovial. He stopped about thirty yards away from the group, and considered the trio.

“That depends. I have been sent to see if you’ve completed your mission. Is that Craven?” Locasta motioned to the sword at his side.

“What is this?” Kelvin asked, rising to stand beside Locasta. “I thought you were the champion of Stonehaven?”

Locasta ignored him. Everyone else ignored him, too.

“Have you come for the sword or for me?” Gerard asked with a sigh.

“I’ve come to ensure that the sword makes it home. With or without you,” Locasta answered. Trax finally reacted to that, coming out of his enjoyment of the sun, and looked up at Locasta.

“I thought it would be a bit longer before the Stone Dragon sent someone to find me. I guess you were just too eager to contain.”

“You underestimate how important Craven is to the Stone Dragon. Are you refusing to come back with us?” Locasta began to step forward, and readied her spear. Trax rose to his feet.

“I’d like to see how well you’ve been trained,” Gerard answered. “But this is no longer a concern of mine.” He turned his back on them, and started walking back to the hills.

Locasta quickened her step. “Then I will make it your concern. The sword is coming back to Stonehaven.”

Then a lot of things happened at once. Kelvin raised his hammer, and launched himself from the small rise towards the two champions. Trax started to go after him, but stopped when he heard the flapping of wings, and saw the shadows rush along the ground past them. Looking up, he saw three small wyverns that were being ridden toward Locasta and Gerard. Then dozens of people began to appear all round them, all yelling and waving weapons above their heads.

After taking in the situation, Trax shot forward towards the Locasta and Gerard, outpacing even the flying wyverns, and plowed into Locasta. As they tumbled across the ground, Locasta stabbed her spear into the dirt to slow them down.

“What?” she asked. When they landed Trax’s wings had unfurled and he was crouching over Locasta, who had landed on her side and was half covered by wings.

He answered in draconic, so he could quickly explain that this was a trap, and that somehow the people had stolen wyverns for their own use. Locasta pushed her way through his wings and looked up as the wyverns began to circle Gerard. He seemed to be aware of them, but was more focused on Kelvin, who was charging him, hammer raised.

“You take high, I take low?” Locasta said. Trax nodded, and they jumped back into action.

Trax launched himself into the air after the wyverns. The first rider wasn’t expecting an attack from the air. Trax pulled him from the wyvern and let him fall to the ground. The wyvern screamed and wheeled away, tearing at his saddle as he flew. The others noticed the attack, and one turned to retaliate, as the other dove towards Gerard.

Locasta screamed to him. “Gerard, jump!”

Locasta barked out another word in draconic, and the ground rose up beneath him, tossing him into the air. He leapt over the heads of the attacking crowd, tumbled twice when he fell but was up and running right after.

Locasta crouched and set her hands flat on the earth. Large cracks spread across the ground from her hands, and a massive tremor rippled towards the attackers. Half of them stumbled and fell, and the others were kept busy trying to stay on their feet, distracting the attackers just long enough to allow Gerard to return to the crowd.

Gerard stepped into the throng of attackers slowly. He took his time looking them over, lightly dodged a few attacks, and then swept into one long stroke with Craven. Two of the attacking crowd fell bleeding onto the broken ground. Others rushed him, two and three at a time, but no one came any closer than Gerard allowed. He left a swathe of fallen bodies as he made his way toward Kelvin.

Kelvin changed course away from him, barking orders at those still standing to go after Locasta instead. Trax tried to shout her a warning, but was interrupted by the last remaining wyvern and rider that plowed into him from the side. They spiralled together into the ground. Kelvin led six of his crew, surrounding Locasta as she began to stand up, a bit weakened by the spell.

The first hit, from a club, barely phased her. She batted away another strike from a staff, but that opened her up to two more blows from behind. Her stony skin could only protect her from so much, and she fell to one knee. Trax lost sight of her within the crowd. He managed to land on top of the wyvern while throwing the rider several feet away. Using the wyvern as a platflorm Trax launched himself toward the knot of people that were still swinging away.

Before he could reach them, a growling shout erupted from the center of the knot, and a booming clap of thunder exploded out from the area, knocking all of the attackers away. The few that got up only made it to their hands and knees to crawl.

Locasta was still on the ground, leaning heavily on her spear, and breathing very shallow. Trax reached her a few moments later, and crouched beside her. Gerard had Kelvin by the back of his collar, and dragged him across the ground toward Trax and Locasta. Kelvin was still alive, barely. He was was groaning with each step Gerard took. Gerard dumped Kelvin at Locasta’s feet. Trax eyed him carefully, raising up to his full height and spreading his wings out over Locasta.

“Do you understand now what this one was planning? You lead him to me, right to the treasure that they needed.” Gerard knelt down to try and look into Locasta’s face. “All because you got ahead of yourself. You thought you saw a chance to become the champion before your time.”

Locasta took a deep breath, gripped her spear, and began to stand. Slowly, her face twisted and gray, she raised herself up. Gerard followed her up, staring into her face the whole time.

“You just hurt yourself with your own spell, didn’t you? So desperate to show how strong you are.”

Locasta began muttering, quietly at first and then more loudly.

“Ah, there you are,” Gerard said, sounding relieved.

“My will is iron,” Locasta said, breathily. “My heart is adamant.”

“That’s it. Get up.” Gerard almost growled it through gritted teeth.

“My body is stone. I feel no pain.” The last sentence tore out of Locasta in a shout. She pushed herself up and lunged at Gerard. He grabbed hold of her wrists to keep her from scratching his eyes out. They struggled for a moment, but every move Locasta made, despite her assertion, forced a look of agony across her face.

“You don’t have to do this,” Gerard said, looking into her face. “Let’s go talk for a bit. If you don’t like what I have to say, you can kill me later.”

Locasta took a few more ragged breaths, then nodded. Gerard let go of her wrists, and she staggered briefly, but caught herself before falling backwards into Trax.

Trax put his hand up to steady her. Gerard turned and started walking back towards the three clawing hills, stepping over bodies as he went. She was leaning heavily on her spear again, and breathing shallow.

Without a word, Trax reached into the folds of his robe and produced a small vial of red liquid, and held it out to her. She looked at it, and then him, with contempt, but he held it out until she took it and drank down the contents.

The potion took affect fairly quickly, and in a few moments she was standing straight and breathing more deeply. The stony look of her skin faded away, and several large bruises and cuts appeared. She dropped the vial back into Trax’s hand, and followed Gerard to the hills.

 


 

Gerard had made camp between the clawing hills, nothing more than a small fire and a place to lie down. Locasta lowered herself down to the ground, gingerly, and leaned against a larger rock at the foot of the hill.

Gerard stoked the fire up, and made a place for Trax to sit, using his own bedding to form a sort of seat for him. Trax hovered near Locasta for a bit, but she waved him away.

“I’m fine Trax. Sit, eat something. Tend your wounds.”

“Please, blessed one, sit,” Gerard said, motioning to the seat he had made. “Can I get you anything?”

Trax shook his head, took another close look at Locasta, and then made himself comfortable on the seat, folding his wings behind him.

“Those fools out there had you convinced they were just a bunch of scavengers, trying to live on their own without the Gargants in charge.” Gerard shook his head and crouched by the fire. “But they were more than that, as I’m sure you noticed. They were rebels, some of the top people from each of the four lands, and the moment they knew what you were they intended to kill you. But not before you led them to me.”

“Was it Craven they wanted? Or just to take a stab at us?” Locasta’s voice sounded small to her, weak compared to Gerards, which rumbled in the small space around them.

“Mostly Craven, I think.” Gerard shrugged. “But it would have helped them to say they had killed us as well.”

“Helped them how? Even if I had reported them when we returned home, they would have been able to move, find another hiding place, and keep on doing whatever they’re doing.”

“Perhaps they believe that they can start a larger rebellion if they continue making a nuisance of themselves?” Trax commeted.

“That is all they are too, a nuisance.” Gerard huffed. “They would have been stamped out eventually. Kelvin was a fine fighter, but he was no leader. They were after something more than just scrabbling around and making trouble. They needed a prize.”

Gerard had laid his sword aside, and was cleaning his hand. It was puffed up, and bleeding. Blood covered the hilt of Craven, and as Locasta watched it slowly began to disappear. Not drip off, or dry, but was absorbed into the sword. Once his hand was clean he bound it tightly with a strip of cloth.

“A prize? For what?” Locasta started to lean forward eagerly, winced, and sat back again.

“They wanted to impress someone else. The real leaders of the city for humans. They needed a prize to get into the city of Rest. I think Kelvin had actually been there, and they knew he was trouble, so they wouldn’t let him and his scavengers in. So he thought if he killed a few champions, brought them a magical weapon, that they would reconsider.”

“Rest?” Trax said, thoughtfully. “Where is this city?”

“The eastern wastes, somewhere. I’ve only heard rumors.”

“Is that . . .” Locasta wasa having trouble finding her words. “Is that why you didn’t return home when you found Craven? You’re hoping to find Rest?”

“Yes. I’m hoping to find Rest. I will not be returning home.”

Silence stretched between them. Locasta started down at the fire, thinking furiously through any and all options. But none of them ended well.

“I don’t understand.”

“No, I imagine you don’t.” Gerard stirred the fire again, looked across at her, then at Trax. “I will try to explain. But I can’t make you understand.”

Ancient (Dungeon) World – world building and character creation

I am currently on a hiatus from running games. We have Extra Life and two conventions coming up this month, plus nanowrimo. So I won’t have much time to plan out the running of a game. Thankfully, I have lots of friends who run awesome games.

Our Sunday night D&D game ended so fantastically well. The Iron Sorcerer, my character through Storm King’s Thunder, did not bring down the world, or get the party killed. She made the right choice at the end, and it seemed that everyone in the party found a fitting end to their character’s tale.

But we wanted to continue gaming with this crew. They are fun and creative and generally cool all around. And our GM was eager to try a longer campaign using Dungeon World, a system that many of us hold dear. But we thought we would enjoy a dfiferent setting, something other than the typical fantasy world we had just been playing in. So we did what we have come to learn is the most awesome way to start a campaign. We played Microscope to build our own setting.

For anyone who has never played Microscope, you are missing out. It is a fantastic way to create a history and world. Even if you don’t intend to play in it as we do, the experience itself is loads of fun. We have also played Kingdom, by the same creators, which is more about large organizations moving through a world, and feels a bit more role play like that Microscope. But both are fantastic.

Our world for this next campaign, which I’m callling Ancient World until we get a better name, is based in Greek mythology. We began with the idea that the Olympians are dead, but the demigods they gave birth to are still around and powerful. They were driven to Atlantis by the group that killed the gods, the Nicheans. Another group that sprang up in their absense was the Prometheans, who make fantastic mechanical creations. Atlantis sank when the last remaining Titan, a kraken, dragged it into the sea, killing itself in the process. After many years of turmoil, during which it was discovered that there were still artefacts from the gods that held magical powers, Atlantis was rediscovered.

That is the time our heroes are in, and are going to work together as one of many teams exploring into the rediscovered Atlantis for artefacts of the gods. Of course, each of us as our own personal motives as well.

I don’t know all the details about the other players characters yet, but I will outline mine here, and give you the rest when we meet for our first gaming session. We used the companion book Class Warfare to build our characters, rather than using the base playbooks found in Dungeon World.

Acacia Kypris

Class Warfare Choices: Magician

  • Arcane Ritualist
  • Enchanter (or Vancian Caster)
  • Spellsinger

Acacia is the younger sister of Taemon and Cathius. (Taemon is another player character) She has the blood of the muses, and as such can create magic through art. She is also very moody, moved by which ever muse happens to be upon her at the moment. Their older brother Cathius was arrested and accused of treason when their city state was taken over by another. They fled, apart from their parents, to Acropolis. Acacia met another of the player characters there, as she found a place in the temple of Dionysus. She is determined to find an artefact of power on Atlantis that will help her gain influence politically so she can go home and help retake her city and free Cathius. She is a little worried for Taemon, who has become a bounty hunter and fighter, since he seems bent on freeing their brother through violence.

Our GM is away on a cruise (lucky dog), but I will continue to post about our game once he returns.

Burrito Challenge

So, I have no idea why it’s called the burrito challenge, but the prompts were much more inspiring than the ones for Inktober. Plus, I just got a new Sketchbox. So, here’s the first prompt, Dragon Charmer.

The dragon charmers of Gargantua are a rare and brave tribe, found amont the roc hordes. Since may of the rocs people have no fear of flying or heights, having been raised among the rock cliffs of their masters, they are also willing to brave the cliff top homes of the wyverns. The dragons do what they can to keep these lithe flying lizards free, but the roc hordes will on occassion catch and harness these creatures to use as part of their aerial assualt teams.

Iron Sorcerer – Episode 3: Trading Off

Locasta did not protest helping the strange camp move quickly away from the site of the roc attack. She didn’t want to be found there when the other roc scouts came looking for their missing friend. Kelvin, it turned out, had skill with healing magic, and restored Trax well enough that he was no longer limping. He and Locasta remained at the rear of the fleeing people, in case of another attack. She watched him for a while, to be certain he was well. He fought lithely, but he was not young, and she worried that he would tire soon.

She did what she could to hide their trail as they passed. It was difficult, even moving as slowly as they were, to cover every sign of their passing, but she at least managed to smooth the earth out enough to keep it from being obvious. She also lowered the stony protection from her skin, because she didn’t like the way the people were looking at her.

Kelvin led them through rocky, desert land for several hours, until they reached a deep cut in the earth. The canyon was hard to see from far off if one wasn’t looking for it, and as they descended she guessed this was where they lived when they weren’t out doing . . . whatever they were doing.

There were small shelters set up along the sandy bottom, and a spring of water that formed a stream down the center. It was cooler in the canyon, and deep enough that even if a roc could find it, it couldn’t follow them down. She doubted anything but a very young Gargant of any kind could follow them into the place. The group spread out as they reached the bottom, greeted by others who had stayed behind. There were children in some of the huts.

“What is this place?” Locasta said quietly to Trax as they watched the crowd disperse.

“It appears to be a village.”

Locasta stopped and looked at him. He may have been smiling. He may also have been wondering how she could not know this was a village.

“A village. Part of no one’s territory, where no Gargant can reach. These people are rebels, Trax.”

“They may simply be outcasts, or refugees from some battle between the lands.” He was looking at a few children playing around the spring, splashing each other and laughing.

“Perhaps some of them are,” Locasta said. “But Kelvin is not. Those guards were not. No Gargant would let them go.”

“What do you mean to do?” Trax turned back to look at her again, his eyes narrowing slightly, his head tilted to one side.

“If there are people here from our lands, we will bring them back with us. The others are not our responsibility.”

“What if they do not wish to leave?”

Locasta frowned and looked away, spinning her spear in her hand a few times before striding forward to find Kelvin. He was busy supervising the distribution of goods through the village. He kindly but firmly told her she would have to wait until they were done.

While Locasta waited, Trax began slowly walking among the people, stopping now and then if there were any that didn’t shy away from him. He helped carry some of the heavier items to people’s huts. Locasta paced, tapping her spear on the ground like a walking stick.

Finally, all the goods had been distributed, and Kelvin turned to Locasta.

“Are you always like this?” he asked her, his mouth twisted into a half smile. Locasta paused, not used to anyone in leadership smiling. It was unnerving. Not as terrifying as when a dragon smiled. But close.

“Like what?”

Kelvin laughed. “Never mind. Where is your friend? Join me for a meal, and we’ll talk about all of this.” He waved his hand to signify the village.

__________________________________________

The meal was simple. It was mostly vegetables and bread and cheese. They sat in Kelvin’s hut and ate quietly for a while. Locasta was used to catching a meal whenever she could, so she had been ignoring her hunger until now. She did her best to eat calmly, the way Trax did, as though they weren’t in the middle of trying to find a lost compatriot. She was still finished before either of the men.

Kelvin seemed to enjoy her impatience. Rather than start the conversation right away, he watched and ate slowly as she tapped her fork on the table.

“You already have some idea of what we are,” Kelvin said when he had finished, leaning back in his chair. “I won’t insult you by pretending. We are made up of people who have escaped from each of the four lands.”

“Escaped? You mean deserted.” Locasta folded her arms.

“I would say that was true of me, if you insist,” Kelvin said sighing. “But most of the others, they were not soldiers, or guards. They were just citizens, forced into labor for the Gargants.”

“And are fed and protected for it.” Locasta shook her head. “Let’s skip past the ideological bickering and get to the point. What do you intend to do with this band of yours? If you just mean to scrounge out an existence in this hole, that’s fine. But if you mean to be attacking temples-”

“We did not attack the temple. The roc did that. We did go past there to scavenge afterwards, and we weren’t the only ones.”

“Why would the roc attack a temple?” Locasta ignored his remark about other scavengers. At least the thing she was looking for rightfully belonged to the dragons.

“We weren’t sure. But your comment earlier helped me understand. They must be looking for the sword.”

Locasta grimaced. If they were after the sword, they would be after Gerard. She would never doubt a seasoned champion of a city of Dragonhelm, even if she hadn’t seen one in action. And she had watched Gerard fight a Roc, alone. The last she had seen him, he still bore a spear made from one of its talons. But that had been only one, and it had nearly killed him.

“You said that you’ve seen . . . the other champion. Could you describe him for me? Do you know if he had the sword?”

“Well, I’m not quite certain what the sword looks like, so I don’t know that I can help you with that. But he was a tall man, powerfully built, with a long scar along his forearm.”

Locata’s grimace deepened into a scowl. It was Gerard. If he had found the sword he would have returned to Stonehaven. Perhaps he knew where the sword was, and was going after whatever had taken it, the roc that had attacked the temple.

“Where did you see him last?”

“It was on the trail to the temple. It was how we knew that it had been recently attacked.”

“So it was not weeks ago, as you had said before.” Trax spoke up, his level voice sounding strange in the small hut. Kelvin shrugged, but was looking at Trax as though trying to read him. He had said nothing about the camp, and probably never would, Locasta guessed.

“No, only two days.”

“Where is he going?” Locasta asked, sitting forward suddenly. Kelvin swayed back a little.

“I’m not sure. He didn’t seem willing to give up much information. But he was heading north while we were coming south.”

That was all Locasta needed to hear. She stood up and started to head out of the hut.

“Wait, now,” Kelvin daid, hurrying around her and blocking the small door. “You promised to tell me what you were doing in these parts, if I explained what we were doing.”

Locasta sighed deeply. “I thought that was obvious. I am looking for this other champion. It is likely at this point that he has the sword, and is trying to take it back to wherever he’s from.”

Kelvin watched her closely as she spoke, so she did her best to talk as though bored, having to explain the obvious to him. The most important part about lying, Locasta had learned, was that you needed to put as much truth into it as possible. There was nothing untrue about what she had said. Just nothing important either, at least not to a leader of scavengers.

“And what is so special about this sword?” He didn’t look completely convinced.

“There are several things about it that make it useful to the dragons and their champions.” She kept the same disaffected air. This would be the first time Trax was hearing any of this as well. “More symbolic than anything, though there is some magic in the sword. I’m surprised it seems so popular now. The magic that it uses harms the person wielding it as well as the person being attacked.”

Kelvin narrowed his eyes a bit at that. Locasta had hoped that he would focus more on the sword, and its peculiarities, rather than Gerard and their purpose in being so far from home.

“So you’ll be going after him?”

“Of course,” Locasta said, pushing past him, or trying to. “And I’ll be taking along with me any of our people who are part of your little pocket of rebellion.”

He was much more solid than she had expected, and he refused to get out of her way. She grunted a bit and stepped back, looking up at him with no less determination than before.

“Are you going to insist on arguing with me?” she asked.

“Perhaps we should find out what the people would like to do,” Trax said, coming up behind Locasta, and setting a large clawed hand on her shoulder.

“If that makes you feel better,” Locasta said, shrugging him away.

__________________________________________

Through the rest of the camp, people from all of the lands mixed together. There were clerics and bowed over servants from giant lands in long brown robes, there were wiry unkempt folk from the roq’s mountains, and wispy haunted eyed sailors from the kraken’s broken coast. The strong, tall people from Dragonhelm kept themselves a little apart from the others, at their own fire, surrounded by their own ring of tents.

When Locasta and Trax appeared near them, they stood up, straightening their dusty clothes, and nodded to them.

“Are you well?” Locasta asked, looking them over. There were a few men, and two women. No children with this group.

“As well as can be expected,” the oldest of them said.

“They’ve been treating you well?”

“Mostly they leave us be.”

“We are going in search of a prize of the dragons, and we are offering to bring you with us.” Trax spoke quickly before Locasta could order them to come along. She looked sideways at him, and then added in Draconic, assuming that wherever Kelvin was from, it was not Dragonhelm.

“You will come along with us. Your place is not with this rabble.”

No one in the group answered, simply hung their heads or bobbed them in agreement.

“See, they are agreed. They’ll come with us,” Locasta said. Then she turned as though to head back out of the ravine right away. Kelvin moved, not to get in her way, but between her and the others.

“My lady champion,” he said, smiling widely. Locasta froze, and then slowly turned to look at Kelvin. “These are my people now. I will not have you threatening them, or leading them into harm.”

“Harm?” Locasta took a long stride toward Kelvin and looked into his face. They were nearly even in height, and though he did a good job of keeping it off of his face, he almost took a step back. “You are dragging these people into the wilderness, and picking scraps from the fights of others like wild dogs.”

“You’d rather have them picking scraps at the tables of the Gargants and their favorites?”

“I can’t speak for the other Gargants, but the dragons protect their folk. Do they look like they were raised on scraps?” She nodded toward the group behind Kelvin. They were healthy, strong people, and relatively well kept even for having lived in the middle of nowhere for so long.

“Really? Is that why I found these ones stranded alone after a battle?”

“There are a million reasons for that. Either way, you have no right to keep them here. And what will you do next time you get caught between a roc and a load of tents? You cannot protect these people forever. They will be safer at home.”

“Fine. Perhaps we can make another trade then,” Kelvin said, holding his hands up against her tirade.

“I’m listening.” Locasta held her hands on her hips and tilted her head.

“Let me come with you. Help you find this pretender champion. If I succeed in leading you to him, you leave these people in peace with me.”

Locasta furrowed her brow, and looked over Kelvin. She couldn’t tell where he was from, not by his speech or by his clothes. When she had first seen him he had been wearing simple leather armor, something they could have made out here in the wastes. He had removed that for dinner, to reveal a plain grey shirt and dark pants, again nothing specific to a region. He spoke with little accent, so she doubted he was from roc or kraken territory, but those from Dragonhelm and those from the giant’s land of Silm sounded fairly similar. He had the courage of someone from the dragon lands, and had managed to lead a band of lost humans. Giants preferred to lead their own themselves. Dragons tended to train others to do it for them.

“Sounds good to me,” Locasta said finally. “Do you want the first blow?”

Kelvin frowned, confused. “What?”

Then Locasta punched him hard in the jaw, making him stumble back a step.

“What was that for?!” Even after being hit by her, he didn’t raise a hand against Locasta. He just looked at her, rubbing his jaw. Locasta nearly rolled her eyes. It usually happened like that the first time, with her opponent in shock that a barely grown woman would hit them. The second time they put up their defenses before she hit them.

“She wishes for you to prove that you are worthy to join us,” Trax explained as Locasta took a fighting stance, raising her spear and pulling her shield around.

Kelvin looked at Trax. “Are you serious? She wants me to fight her?”

“You could fight me instead,” Trax said. His voice was calm and his expression still. He didn’t need to do anything to look terrifying.

“Stop stalling,” Locasta said, and took a stab at him with the spear. It wasn’t meant to harm him, just to get his attention. “Get your hammer.”

__________________________________________

Kelvin emerged from his tent carrying his warhammer and wearing his armor. Locasta was waiting for him. A crowd had gathered around the tents, leaving a good amount of space around her.

“Well, you asked for it,” Kelvin said. “Let’s get started.”

“I’ve already hit you once. Your turn,” Locasta reminded him. She was enjoying that Kelvin was no longer smiling.

He was a smart fighter. Rather than running at her, as many men did when faced with what they thought was a weaker opponent, he began to circle to his left. Locasta turned to watch him, while keeping an eye on her surroundings. She was on his turf, and the bottom of the ravine was not exactly even. She would have to carefully watch her step.

Kelvin took a few more measured steps, and then turned to rush her mid stride. She managed to plant her feet and deflect his blow with her shield. The blow rang loudly, echoing through the ravine. Locasta gritted her teeth and twisted with the force of the blow, swinging her spear towards the spot under his arm that wasn’t protected with thick leather. He managed to pull away from her and avoid the blow, but his footing wobbled and he hurried to the far side of what space they had.

“Are you trying to kill me?” His voice was high with shock or disbelief. But there was no fear in his face.

“I’m trying to make sure you know how not to die,” she answered. “And you still haven’t hit me.” She charged at him, steadying her spear against the side of her shield. He deflected her with his hammer, twisting away and letting her rush past him, and managing to land a punch on her side as she passed.

“There, I hit you. Is that enough?”

When Locasta turned, Kelvin stared. Her skin had turned stony gray, and ground dryly against her spear.

“I’ll let you know when I feel it.”

“Not exactly fair, is it?” They were circling each other again, watching for gaps in the other’s defences. “Using your magic against me?”

“Right, because you didn’t ask for the blessing of your god before coming out here to fight?” Locasta took a few stabs, taking advantage of the reach she had with a spear, but he was good at dodging. Or perhaps he was good at reading her. “I have fought clerics before, you know. I remember how it feels. Always just out of reach, always one step ahead.”

“I can’t help it if my god likes me,” Kelvin said. His smile was back.

“So I can use the favor of the Stone Dragon,” Locasta replied. “Doesn’t sound unfair to me at all.”

He charged her again, full steam, his hammer raised high. Locasta took a few steps towards him, feigning a blow with her spear. He responded, pulling that side of him away, and throwing his stride off just enough. Then she planted herself firmly, and crouched as slow as she could. She caught him just above the knees, which would have knocked most charging men off balance, let alone one wielding a heavy warhammer. Kelvin flipped forward, somersaulting over her and landing on his back behind her.

She spun quickly and planted her spear in the earth just beside his ear. “That was better, but a little over the top.”

Kelvin’s response was to wrap his legs around her waist and toss her onto the ground beside him. He shoved himself halfway on top of her, and pushed a dagger to her throat.

“Well, you know, I don’t like to be accused of being over dramatic.”

Locasta laughed, then looked up, away from Kelvin, as a tall shadow moved over them.

“I think he should join us. It’ll be fun.”

Trax, who had just stepped into view over the pair, grunted and shook his head. “I think perhaps we should also discuss your definition of fun. You can get off of her now.”

Kelvin hopped up quickly, brushed himself off, and moved to offer a hand to Locasta, but she hopped up easily on her own.

“All right, let’s go. We still have plenty of daylight left.” Locasta pulled up her spear and started walking back towards the entrance of the ravine. Kelvin sighed loudly, and looked at Trax.

Trax shrugged. “I apologize. She is young. She is very young.”