The Council of the Round Table have clung to stagnation for long enough.
Empty seats have been left unfilled, the Monarch’s throne especially conspicuous. The Empire’s lands are being held, but expansion has stopped. King Statton’s light burnt bright but dirty – his rule brought comfortable prosperity but that stability could not last.
The problems for the Council began the moment the first of the coal mines ran dry.
Our warden of the Barracks at the Easern Front has only grown in strength, politically. His physical attendance at Council was rare, nonetheless amongst the circles of people who mattered there was very little resistance against him. By this time he has all but forgotten his Lain, a key tool of his at the time, but now the Church had moved on without her and her husband, leaving behind the traditions she had encouraged.
Within the Barracks the Fourth Company grow restless and have to find ways to entertain themselves.
Within the isolated walls are the first generation who have grown into adulthood, knowing only the darkness of their “military” leaders. To this new generation, the dark creatures that toy and prey on them are not supernatural. On the contrary, they’re just a way of life. The feeling of being a prey creature shrinks their souls. They understand their purpose in this world, and find know pity in it.
The people outside of the those walls have no pity for them either – but only because they have no idea that hell is just a few days ride away. No word escapes. At least, not until someone found a way.
It seems Tabel is more of a concern than Sir Aeron realises, and their motivation no longer appears to be entire political. There are now two people within the walls who have managed to find a fire within them, and that can’t be good news for the Fourth.
It’s been a little over thirty years since darkness came to the Eastern Front Barracks.
There’s still no King on the throne of the Empire, but the Empire remains strong in the hands of the Round Table. Annoiting someone is right at the top of their priorities, but they’ve found a few ingenious ways of avoiding it.
All threats from the east hit the Barracks stones and are repelled. Sir Aeron continues to do a marvelous job in that respect – so marvelous that no one needs to know what’s going on inside his walls. With no royalty to keep balance, faith has soaked up all the power it can, so there’s no difficulty in sending heretics to their doom. The story, of course, is that they’re sent to fight for their country, to pay for their crimes, but rarely do they last more than a few hours once inside the gates.
A dank, depressing society trudges on within the City Barracks. The Fourth Company still rule – the world outside believes that their ranks must have changed a little. They were deathly ill when last seen, but no. Their ranks are the same, to a person.
Hope can still be found in the children though. They tell each other stories of escaping one day, out of the never ending gloom.
One such girl is Krishna Youssef. She’s certain that it’s the Fourth Company who are making their lives hell. She’s filled with horror stories from her parents about them, and knows to stay away. Her bravery gets the better of her sometimes though, and she follows them around at a distance.
She watches them more than anyone else dares to. She’s spotted the darkness that seems to leech out of them.
The darkness that hangs over the city is obvious from afar now. For those that know what they’re looking at, it stands out like a beacon.
The man that called himself only Welles entered the City of his own volition. His footprints leave behind oily patches of darkness that the meagre sunlight takes hours to wash away. He holds his cloak close around his face, hiding the mutilated flesh below. A wound that Sir Aeron notices, and immediately feels a familiar pull towards.
He pulls behind him a trunk. Heavy, stained oak with heavier looking padlocks and iron rivets. He drags it along the floor by a dark red rope which threatens to – but never will – snap at any moment.
He opens it for a moment whilst talking to Aeron, the process of unlatching locks taking a few minutes. He chucked in what he came for and then slammed it closed. The glimpse Aeron caught was unimpressive; a roll of twine, maybe, sitting a top a clay jug.
The armor would be returned to Sir Aeron two days after Welles had left, found tossed quite near the edge of the City’s outer walls. It was dusty and missing four of the gems that were previously inlaid in the silver and gold.
In exchange for the armor – or at least the gems, it seemed – Welles shared how he came across his own wound. Creatures of shadow stalked him whilst he travelled and camped. He knew now that they didn’t immediate kill him because he was chewing raican grass. They pounced the moment he spot out his last blade of it. He couldn’t stand the taste of it now. “Neither will you,” he said.
The shadow pack that got him were straight from the other side, he said. “The Alius See,” he said. “They’d probably never seen a human before me. Feral things, the native ones.”
He took a pinch of a chalky, fine substance from a pouch, and dabbed it on his tongue. Immediately the man seemed larger, his shadow darker, his eyes clearer. He was so mesmorising that Aeron forgot to flinch when he smushed a small amount of the stuff on Aeron’s lips.
The world sang around him. Each time the torchs’ flames lasped it sang louder. He was instantly aware of his brothers and sisters of the Fourth. Knew their hungry hearts. Their strength. Their loyalty.
Somewhere off, much further away, there was a wild cry of thirty or forty beasts screaming in … joy?
“That will last a few minutes. It’s hard to come by.”
Sir Aeron has managed to fail upwards remarkably. His punishment for butchering the King and then his own father was to be promoted to one of the most powerful positions in the Empire: a seat on the Round Table.
In the confusion of the leaderless time, he was able to hide away any evidence of his – or his military brothers’ and sisters’ – wrongdoing. The battle had been dreadful and they’d all been wounded horribly. Whoever the attackers were, they were at least gone now. So the Fouth Company lead by Sir Aeron were heroes.
So who better to guard the dangerous Eastern Front?
The Company – leader included – have become savages. They were once pained by their urges, but now swim in them. Their wounds are not healing. Huge swathes of flesh raw and ooze-collecting are not easy to hide. The fact that these clearly terminal injuries haven’t killed them yet is hardly to hide.
The Barracks is a wonderful place for them. There around around twelve thousand people living inside of the City Barracks. It’s a poor city, too far from proper civilisation to be remembered by traders all that often. It’s main function is a garrison for the soliders, and home for their families is secondary. It has high, stone walls which were built by the giantkin when they were allies to the throne.
In the best of times, it’s not easy to leave. A solider abandoning his post is treasonous and their family leaving shows weak faith, which is also treasonous.
So the Barracks is a wonderful place for the Fourth Company to figure out what is happening to them. It’s been two months since they were attacked by the Shadow Pack. The transformation is taking hold.
Lain travelled to the Eastern Front to see how her friend was getting on. It was not a short trip. Two days on horseback, with two escorts. She had hoped to find Aeron resting, or better yet, at work and working through his temper. She barely reached the gates of the City though. There was something wrong there – if her god had ever spoken to her before, it was not as clearly as it was now: you must not enter that place.
The two woman who had accompanied her were an issue, she knew. Odds were that at least one of them was on the pay of the Round Table, and if not then they would gossip nonetheless. They may not have heard the warning she’d been given, but to turn back and not tell them why would be as if they had.
She sent them ahead, into the City, asking them to bring a blacksmith back to fix an issue with her horse’s shoe.
When they were within the walls, she turned away and began her journey home. She had no doubt that would be the last time she’d see them.
The opening prompts for this book are incredibly bloody. I rolled a 1 (5 and 4) to start with. I remember what prompt 1 is, and I thought to myself “no, I’ll skip that one and roll again”. Then I rolled another 1 (7 and 6). Fate clearly wanted me on this path. Let the bloodshed begin.
King Statton was furious with his soliders for failing to protect his lands from the … whatever it was that invaded and messed up a lot of people. He refuses to believe that it was strange shadow creatures and even though his fighters – Sir Aeron’s fighter’s – have come back very wounded he still sees them as failures.
One of the the 4th Company laughs – letting off steam more than anything – about the death of the King. “He wouldn’t be so miserable then.” But the idea catches on the wind. The men and woman of the Company feverishly taste the idea as it passes between them. Sir Aeron knows his duty – he should shut them down and order them to run laps or something – but the taste gets to him too. What the heck is happening? he has time to think, before a switch flips and he’s tearing into the King.
It doesn’t stop there. Lord Cambridge himself comes across the scene, or at least peices together enough of what happened to know who did it. He doesn’t know why or how, really. The 4th Company step in before he can do any real damage. Aeron, right then, realises he has a new family. He’s not entirely sure he’s in charge of them, but they call him Lord Cambridge now.
His friend Lain is too sure of him though. She doesn’t realise what’s taking hold of him. Unsure what else to do to help her friend, she suggests to her husband that young Aeron Cambridge should take his father’s empty seat. “Now is a terrible time for the Council to be broken,” she tells him.
My partner hates it if I fall to sleep before he’s gotten into bed, so I’ve started doing world building things in a journal whilst I wait.
2,600 miles of roasting desert. It continues further north, but this is the furthest anyone has return from. The came back with stories of populous families of sandworms, vastly more than ever imagined. Presumably, it’s them that churn and digest the land and turn it all to sand. Giant insects have evolved to be light enough to not disturb them. Fire Wyrmlings grow too numerous to reach adulthood, such is their cruelty in their youth.
The ducks are huge creatures obsessed with pushing back the sand, northwards. They’re doing a surprisingly good job. Their flat feet do not summon the worms.
They are frequently poached. The Loyal Kindred protect them as best they can, but they have limited resources.
The wizards of Dirnt had an idea to repel the Barrens and it went badly.
It’s now the perfect home for climbing creatures, and one last expelled family from The Dales.
Loyal Kindred Of Lucian
They believe their god still lives, despite their obvious demise. Magic is powerful here, but not for the reasons they think.
The city is slowly diminishing as they pour resources into holding back the Barrens and appearing strong, avoiding war.
The Sopp takes more land each year. These peaceful people had no choice but war when their request for asylum was denied from their neighbours. The choice was the fight to the death or die standing still.
Shrinking each day from war which they appear to be losing. A recent leadership change might bring peace, but it is not likely. They worship and endeavour to wake the elephantine gods. No one else wants this.
One farmlands, now salted earth. Thousands of people had to relocate to the “mainland” of the Kingdom.
Plaguelocked city of the Dirnt
They revel in their plague and the gifts it gives them: a sleepless life where the gods can’t peer into their thoughts. They are bat shit crazy and would gladly infect the world. The surrounding countries do all they can to keep them inside.
The hierophant lives here, and she is adored by everyone. They all need her whispers from the gods. They’re all waiting for her to convince the gods to halt the Barrens and/or encroaching Sopp.
All countries donated land to her. They all kneel to those in her white robes.
The hierophant has not shared this knowledge, but they have developed technology to stay afloat in The Sopp.
The fire tribes whose culture revolve around growth and burning. They claim all the land the fires take, and the other druidic tribes shrug and accept it. Why argue? Some years, Sinder is tiny.
They’re very careful to not let the fires stretch to Vassel.
The water druids do not like the taint of The Sopp. They build huge dams and fill their southern-most lakes with concrete and tar to slow The Sopp’s spread. It is not working.
The lakes of the water druids are the most beautiful scenery of any in all the lands.
The forest druids. They’re forced to fell their own trees to slow the spread of Sinder. The oldest trees they have are thousands of years old, and their power stems straight from the ever living earth.
They will not fight Sinder, but would not mourn their loss.
We are rot. Breath in The Sopp and let it reign.
The Sopp has done something to them. They all hear each other over great distances.
They fight against the barren god though have no idea what it is. In a choice between desert and swampland, there’s only one choice, surely.
Mulched earth, rotten to the core. No foundations can be laid. Some creatures have learnt to survive it. One day, they may be all that is left.
Molton clay will often bubble up here and resolidify on the surface. This clay is perfect for homunculus.