Kurm Reyer

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    • Markshire PCs:

    In every meaning of the word, Kurm Reyer was a bastard.

    From the fact that his father was unknown; from the fact that he had difficulty getting along with even his own family due to his prediliction for flights of fancy, practical jokes, and creative means of avoiding the family farm tasks; from the fact that he would often cause trouble of every stripe, “just to see what would happen”; from the fact that his brothers finally threw him out of his clan homestead and his youthful charms and silver tongue couldn’t reconcile the consequences of one thoughtless prank–and one dead ox–too many…Yes, he wasn’t thought of warmly by those that knew him well.

    And yea, not only all of this, but the fact that his own cluelessness–and sometimes, luck–pulled his fat out of the fire more than once…For all these things and more.

    He most certainly looks the part, too. The gangly, lean youth, barely six feet tall, with slick black hair flopping in carefree waves at either side of his ruddy, boyish face; to the mischievious glimmer of his beady black eyes when the thought of more gold come his way rattles his near-vacant brainpan…Such sloth, carelessness, and irresponsibility surely couldn’t be so rewarded or regarded fondly by anyone in their right mind, much less the gods.

    And yet, maybe the good grace of Hermod or some other divine being appreciative of luck–and maybe youthful innocence in all its forms–may be granting Kurm a second chance.

    Finally left out in the cold, literally, at the age of seventeen, Kurm realized that all was not fun and games. For indeed, Kurm could most certainly be idle. However, his devotion to all things noted by those appreciative of hard work, discipline, and forthrightedness as “an ignoble waste of time” was the one field in which Kurm had excelled all his life. He learned too late, it seems, that bread doesn’t magically appear on the table before him (him not being a studious mage by any stretch of the imagination; he would much rather make someone else’s hard-won bread “magically disappear” while they weren’t looking).

    Behold, for here be the blossom of the snow-white rose lending fragrance to Kurm’s comeuppance here in Markshire. Mark it well.

    Facing the frigid fields beyond the warm walls of his homestead, Kurm wandered aimlessly through the fields with little more than the most rudimentary stitches on his back. Someone, or Something, must have smiled on Kurm that grey, unforgiving day, for it was only by the light of the moon–the cold, unblinking eye of the night–that led Kurm on his way to Foothold. To salvation.

    Or, as he understands it: “Finally…! A spot o’ warmth in this blinkin’ snowy mess! Now, all I needs me is some mutton…”

    Will Kurm learn to go beyond the soiled reputation of his own apparent bastardy? Will he claim his unique birthright, hitherto unknown even to him, even to his own estranged siblings?

    Probably not. But with luck on his side, who knows just what paths he may travel?

    • Markshire PCs:

    The clarion call rang throughout the Brewer’s Hall of Foothold: “By Thrym’s hairy teats, I’ve done it!”

    Standing in front of the rickety brewing keg that had known only Kurm Reyer’s misery for the past weeks, the gangly, unkempt rogue stood triumphant, with four fresh bottles of whisky–crafted by his own hand–nestled in his slender hands. “Wait ’til Nord takes a swallow of this,” he thought to himself. “He’ll be knocked on his pale halfling arse, he will!”

    A melodic chuckle escaped his lips as he carefully wadded the bottles and lifted the worn flap that closed his backpack. With a sigh, he looked over the darkly-stained backpack’s other occupants: a worn pair of boots given to him by the aforementioned halfling, that still somehow managed to be too big; a strange medallion placed in his care by a ghostly maiden encountered in the park of Stonemark one misty midnight; his well-worn stonecutter’s chisel and its companion skinning knife; some leftover wadding from several discarded healing kits; a novel lent to him, entitled “The Art of Stilled Fire”; a peculiar, bat-shaped key given to him by a peculiar grippli; a smashed, dried hops flower; a long-empty bottle of black leather dye; a handful of skeleton’s knuckles; a singluar chicken’s feather, picked up after a choice run-in with Foothold’s only ogre; a small wooden box stained in various places by Kurm’s own blood; a souvenir crossbow bolt plucked from the right buttock of his first-ever felled giant (of course, he could never forget the ferocious warrior-woman that aided him in that task). Everything within was dusted with the fine grain of cornmeal.

    “Hrmph…runnin’ outer room,” he muttered under his breath. Unceremoniously, he shoved the contents off to one side as best he could, and gingerly nestled the precious bottles within. “Next,” he thought to himself, “is to sell one half o’ these, and drink t’other!” With a breathy huff of breath, he re-slung his pack, patted the heavy crossbow of hickory at his side, adjusted his heavy (and bloodstained, and ragged) cloak about his narrow shoulders, and with a cordial nod to Wilblurr, began his leisurely walk to the Foothold Bazaar.

    • Markshire PCs:

    OOC: My apologies if readers can’t exactly understand Kurm. It’s not so much a speech impediment as it is a really thick brogue I’m shooting for, but I may be missing the mark somewhat at times. I’m doing my best. Hopefully you can at least gather the meaning, from the context. /OOC


    The piercing crash of breaking glass echoed through the brewery, emanating from one of the kitchens.

    Linos Whirlblurr sped through the doorway as quickly as he could. There on the floor, surrounded by the glimmering fragments of dozens of liquor bottles, kneel Kurm Reyer. Miniscule, skin-deep slashes crisscrossed his forearms and fingers. Kurm looked up to see Whirlblurr, then stared dumbly at the floor around him, his tongue not able to articulate the thoughts racing through his head. Suddenly, the youth let loose a feverish cry, full of anguish. Whirlblurr grimaced in response. The tears welling at the corners of Kurm’s eyes fell in quicksilver streams down his cheeks.

    “You’ll just have to brew another batch, son,”
    said Linos, by way of response. The boy sat still, seemingly ignorant of the master brewer’s assessment. “Don’t just sit there,” Linos quipped, almost in annoyance. “Go grab that broom and clean this up.”

    When Kurm still hadn’t moved, Whirlblurr’s concern grew. “Son?” Linos asked. “Are ye all right, there?”

    Kurm finally responded, with some sort of mumbled phrase that sounded like “Da gosdowammy…”

    “What’s that’che say, son?”
    Whirlblurr asked, genuinely stymied by the youth’s rustic dialect, further muffled by restrained sobs.

    howled Kurm, his blood-laced fists quivering.

    “Oh, son, how did ye ever come up with such a thing?” asked Whirlblurr, kicking bits of broken glass off to the side as he walked closer. His small, tough hand patted Kurm’s reedy shoulder. “Everyone knows the gods all have a place for us. No need to get so worked up about one bad batch.”

    “S’not about all ‘is,”
    said Kurm, with an uncharacteristic scowl, after which he snurfled apologetically. “T’was yesterday. ‘At’s when I found out.”

    “What happened?” Whirlblurr’s concern grew.

    “T’was a’ worst day o’ me life…Er death, er sumpin’…I dunno no more.”
    Kurm’s hands gradually unclenched, and lay open like a pair of forgotten orange peels: thin, curled, and lifeless.

    Linos had never seen Kurm in such a state. “Tell me about it, son.”

    “Things was goin’ all right,” Kurm began, his voice slightly cracking. “Spana an’ me was plannin’ on headin’ inter the forest fer a bit o’ scoutin’ an such, and I was sneakin’ up onnis orc near some’uns campsite he was snoopin’ ’round. And I was thinkin’ I’d get tha jump onnim, an’ I s’pose I slipped on sumpin or other, and my shot didn’t get ‘im too good. So e’ turns on me, whacks me good, I fall over. Next think I know, ‘ere’s Spana, with…” Kurm let his next words trail off into shallow breaths.

    “With what?” asked Linos. “Who?”

    Kurm continued: “He was standin’ ‘ere, all smug sayin’ like we’d a been goners fer sure had he ain’t showed up. He was blinkin’ snoopin’ on us ever since we left Foothold, he was. Showed up outer thin air. Said he made the killin’ shot an’ all, wiggles his way right o’er and nabs up ‘at orc’s spear-axe, like e’ earned the thing hisself. We let it go, he took it wi’ ‘im. We all start wanderin’ off inter the woods…decided to show Spana this li’l circle inna woods I knew about. He comes along, prolly so he can laugh at me sommore or sumpin’ and we’re just runnin’ inter more bad luck than I ever seen.

    “I back up frummese cougars out ‘ere, they juss keep on comin’. I didn’t do nothin’, they juss kep’ comin’.” Kurm shook his head, confusion and disappointment clear in his expression. “An all ‘at time, ere e’ was, juss standin’ ere, prolly smirkin’ at me the whole time while I’m doin’ me best ta not brain ’em all so Spana can herd ’em off–I didn’t wanter upset ‘er, ye know, but I hit a couple a bit too hard–“

    “Anybody would have done what you’d done, Kurm,” interjected Whirlblurr, trying to reassure the youth.

    Kurm continued, his voice regaining its usual timber. “So I starts off ahead of ’em, so’s not ta be so nearby ‘im. I know they’s friends an’ all, an’ I been told ta not start rows with ’em, so I juss kept me mouth shut and went movin’ on. All a sudden, they’s nowhere ta be found, and I’m goin’ toe ta toe with some blinkin’ polar bear! I rip ’em a new one, soon enough, get ‘im off me back, then go back ta wrangle up the two of ’em.

    “We go back ta where I seen ’em last, an’ they’s juss standin’ ere, juss gabbin’ away. I give ’em an earful–I was awful sore by this time, I was, thinkin’ the day couldn’t be worse–we go back ta the path where I tussled withat bear, and munchin’ on the bear was a–an’ I swear, by the finger-bitin’ fangs o’ Fenris–a blinkin’ green wyrm!”

    At this, Whirlblurr’s breath caught in his throat.

    “So now,” continued Kurm, unnoticing, “Now e’ steps forward, eager to show off all ‘is magic and all ‘at. Reckons e’ takes on a dragon, e’d be a hero er sumpin’. Then a rotter jumps outer the snow, and fights alongside ‘im–“

    “‘Scuse me Kurm,” interrupted Whirlblurr once more. “A–what is it…rotter?”

    Kurm glared at him incredulous. “A blinkin’ armoured skeleton, it was! Jumps right outer the snowbank and starts followin’ ‘is orders, tryin’ it’s dead best ta hack a toe offer ‘at dragon. I see it get skwarshed, look at Spana, then look back up at it, and the last thing I sees is dragon tonsils, and I can’t feel me legs. Everything’s black.”

    Whirlblurr nodded in consolation. “A terrible, terrible day you had. I’m so sorry, Kurm.”

    “I ain’t done yet, mate.” Kurm’s sidelong glance to the gnome said as much.

    The master brewer stopped in mid-apology. “Oh, sorry. Go on, son.” Kurm sniffed in acknowledgement.

    Sucking in a deep breath, then sighing in remembrance, Kurm resumed. “Now’s the bad part, it is. I’m sittin’ ‘ere in Hel, the two o’ them ain’t far behind. He says he’ll bring us back, he will, then flits off ta do whatever e’ does. Spana’s ere next ta me, bleedin’ like a virgin Valkyrie, so I patches her us as best I can. She comes to, and sure enough, I see her sucked outer there inna puff o’ smoke and ashes, juss like what always happens when some’un is a’goin’ back ta Markshire with the aid o’ some’un else. So I’m ere, waitin’ fer ‘at feelin’, and then I starts ta feel it–“ Once more, Kurm stopped in mid-sentence.

    “…And you made it back, right?” Whirlblurr explained. Kurm remained motionless and unblinking. The gnomish brewmeister chuckled nervously, then added, “See, ye always come back. Odin’s worked out an arrangement with Hel, and ye come back all right…”

    Kurm interrupted, his voice suddenly quivering and timid once more: “See, ‘at’s what’s different. I reckon I din’ came back like I was supposed ter.”

    Another nervous laugh escaped Whirlblurr’s lips. “Come now, lad! Now you’re talking some nonsense! I see you right here, as plain as day.” With a reassuring shake of Kurm’s shoulder, the brewmaster added, “Now let me find that broom so we can clean up this mess.”

    “But I didn’t come back,”
    said Kurm; his eyes were glassy as he dwelled on the memory. “I felt the…the tuggin’, ye know? I felt them hands holdin’ me soul, all comin’ back to Markshire, all warm and soft and friendly. Then somethin’ else came in, an’ stopped me up. It was like somethin’ came along and juss slapped the hands away, and I was fallin’ again. Fallin’ back innat lake o’ fire. It hurt me like nothin’ else…I keep hearin’ people say ye’re not supposeter feel no pain when ye’re dead, but that wasn’t ta happen ‘at time. My bones was burnin’, the inside a’ me head was clawin’ its way outter me skin, I saw me fingers was breakin’ in threes…” his jaw began to wobble, and Whirlblurr saw Kurm reaching up into the air, his reed-thin, liquid-slicked hands slightly shivering as they sought their invisible relief. Whirlblurr’s jaw dropped, for never before in the many weeks Kurm had spent in his brewery had Linos been privy to hearing these kinds of words come from the boy’s mouth.

    “I had ter claw me way outter there meself. Garm was jeerin’ at me all-a-way out, ‘e was.” Kurm finally closed his eyes briefly, and thick streams coursed their way down his already tear-stained cheeks. “Fer some reason, I reckon…I feel like a part a’ me’s still in ere. Still burnin’ innat lake o’ fire.”

    Kurm sucked on his bottom lip, chin almost imperceptibly shaking.

    After a moment of silence, which allowed Kurm to compose himself somewhat, the gangly youth spoke once more. “And I can’t help thinkin’ ‘e had somethin’ ta do with it, I can’t…” His expression almost instantly morphed into an uncomfortable frown, then instantly whisked again to a dispair-ridden, blank expression.

    Whirlblurr, at this point absolutely shocked to speechlessness, ventured a tentative step backwards. The heel of his boot nestled directly over a curved segment of broken glass. The sudden, alarmingly loud snap of the glass breaking seemed to have also called Kurm back from the recesses of his own lost feelings.

    The boy sprang to action, still visibly shaken, but at least attempting to stand. After absently wiping his nose with the inside of his lean forearm, Kurm managed a sentence.

    “Where’s–where’s ‘at broom ta be found, eh?”
    With a quick glance to Whirlblurr’s blanched face, and a quicker sniffling and a brief, manic chuckle, Kurm walked back into the main hall of the brewery. Linos Whirlblurr rubbed his chin, deep in thought and concern for the youth.

    “…Check that back corner, son,” was all he could manage in reply.

    • Markshire PCs:

    “I dinna ken evrythin’ ‘at’s goin’ on, I don’t,” Kurm finally confessed. He and his lone drinking companion, Linos Whirlblurr, each reclined in their own wooden chairs, framing the brewer’s keg equally between the two of them. The scent of hickory still hung heavy in the air, emanating from the firepit as a result of the wort-making Kurm had finished hours before.

    “Now I know ye have yer troubles, boy,”
    Linos replied, savoring a half-full cup of Kurm’s newest brew. “But ye have ta slow down. Do what I do. It’s like brewing. Ye take it one step at a time, yer gonna be all right. Even if it don’t turn out like ye wanted it to at first, well…at least ye learned something from it. Ye can’t rush perfection now, can ye?”

    Kurm nodded sagely, which clearly was something he wasn’t used to at all. However, in the recent days he’d much to ponder, and couldn’t help but become used to the motion somewhat. Turning to Linos for some guidance during this troubling time in his young life had been an uncharacteristically wise move for Kurm. The old gnome’s words and wisdom reached much further than simply the brewmaster’s kitchen, and Kurm was at least astute enough to pick up on that, applying the knowledge and experience as best he could to the myriad thoughts racing through his head. Some of these thoughts stretched back to his time before he relocated to Foothold, and it was on these thoughts his mind lingered, wondering just what it was he should have learned then…Perhaps, he thought, if he had learned then what he should have, then the present situation wouldn’t have found itself so daunting.

    As a child, being unguided as he was–growing up on a meager farm amongst three able-bodied older brothers, an ailing mother, and no father–Kurm faced little choice but to seek fulfillment in shirking at work and avoiding responsibility as much as possible. His carefree attitude–clearly inherited from his unknown father, since the other three men of the house did not share one whit of it–was not welcome at the homestead. After his mother’s death, there was little to hold their hostility towards Kurm in check. The final prank Kurm had attempted at the family farm resulted in many things, none of them good.

    Kurm would often spend his days seeking out refuge from his toiling brothers, and his insistence that he join them in the work. One of his favorite spots until the day he was to leave the farm was the thatched roof of the ox’s stable. This structure, built of hand-hewn hickory logs and rope painstakingly lashed by Kurm’s own brothers from hemp they themselves had grown, was roughly ten feet high at its highest point, reclining to a height of six feet in the back. The enclosure was at least ten feet deep, with an opening just as wide as the whole was deep on one side. It was built in such a way as to allow shelter from the elements for all the oxen in the family’s herd. Though the herd was kept to a manageable size in an effort to reduce expenses and efforts in the realm of feeding the animals, shelter was well-prepared for the animals, and all eleven of them were surprisingly comfortable in the lodgings granted them by the three brothers.

    In his younger days, Kurm had discovered that it was quite easy to climb the back wall of the ox stable, and lay upon his belly atop the roof. From that vantage point, he could see any of his brothers as they worked the fields and garden plots that surrounded their simple farmhouse. He could also watch the chickens, the goats, and especially the oxen. Kurm’s opinion of oxen was that they were terribly unintelligent, and he enjoyed watching the lowly animals wander about almost aimlessly, while he secreted himself on the roof of their pen, throwing stones down upon them. He chuckled at the unceasing humor they provided when the stones dropped on their heads, and the worked themselves into a frenzy wondering just from where their annoyance had come, and never knowing enough to simply look up. Kurm’s brothers would approach the pen and attendant stable, never knowing that Kurm lay hidden beneath some of the thatching atop the stable’s opening, giggling like a hiccupping jackal.

    Kurm’s pranks against the animals gradually evolved into more and more elaborate machinations as he grew older. Among these was the rhubarb in their water trough—causing serious gastric disturbances for the oxen for over a week, and a serious cleanup hazard for Kurm’s brothers for twice that long. There was the itching resin tossed into the stable’s sleeping hay, resulting in no restful sleep for anyone, much less the oxen, whose bellowing indicated their annoyance at the elaborate rash they had all developed. Finally, there was the stolen beehive tied to the bull’s tail as it slept, which caused hilarity for Kurm and terror for all the oxen in equal measure.

    His last stunt, an engineering nightmare that he had improvised and concocted at the spur of the moment, had backfired: a pair of logs was to swing down between the two largest trees next to the roofed ox’s pen, triggered by a tripwire arrangement Kurm himself had designed. These logs, Kurm surmised, would smack one of the oxen in the rump, causing not only a great ruckus, but also great merriment. Unfortunately, the planning of this stunt also coincided with an unanticipated goblin raid; the result of which caused mass confusion and chaos in the oxen pen, where the bull actually wandered backwards into the trap; the animal lost its life as the two hefty logs somehow missed the bull’s horns, and crushed the skull of the beast.

    After the attack was repelled (again, without Kurm’s help; the hiding place on top of the stable was very effective, after all), Kurm’s three brothers inspected the damage, noticing the bull killed by a blow no goblin could give, the trap-like arrangement of the logs, and the telltale catgut strings strung throughout the yard. After a sound beating, Kurm was left to Nature’s devices, realizing that not only had the bull been killed by his actions, but his brothers had all been wounded in the attack, and his bedridden mother killed where she lay.

    Kurm was not proud of his past, back on the farm. His brothers had exiled him from their lands, and although he didn’t know just how far he had wandered to find his way to the western gates of Foothold, he did not anticipate ever seeing his brothers again. At the time, Kurm was thankful for never having to guide a plow behind one of those accursed, stupid oxen ever again. But as an adventurer based in Foothold, Kurm realized that although he was far from the farm, there were always responsibilities to which he would have to attend; they would just be of a different stripe.

    Kurm’s unsteady–but eager–hand turned to the brewery initially as a place where Kurm might quickly find a cup of some grog to drown his sorrows and distract his addled brain. Later he realized that it was much more work than he had ever invested in any occupation in his life. Fortunately, through his persistence, he learned that even hard work allows for some recreation, and when a healthy batch of Iron Hammer Bock at the end of the day had shown for his efforts, then so much the better. Linos Whirlblurr welcomed the boy in first because he always brought in plenty of roasted and malted grains for the brewer’s kettle, but later appreciated his company as an accomplished brewer’s apprentice in his own right. He could see that there was ‘untapped’ potential in Kurm, though it would remain to be seen if it was in the boy’s distant future to run a brewery of his own.

    And Kurm had become appreciative of Linos’ generosity and understanding. Without realizing it, Kurm had begun to consider the brewmaster as the father he’d never had. Kurm was a willing and able brewer, and eager to show Linos his every batch upon completion. And it was Linos who had encouraged Kurm to once again adventure in the world, when spiritual quandaries had hampered his resolve to make something of himself. Through gentle persistence, Whirlblurr subtly guided Kurm along the path into manhood and to being a proper adult.

    And this is how Kurm spent many an evening. When not out wandering the lands of Markshire with his adventuring companions, he would spend it in the brewery, reclining in a worn chair, kicking his feet up near the fire, and tilting back a pint of some home-brewed ale with proficiency. And he would chat for hours with Linos Whirlblurr.

    There were times when Kurm would awaken next to the smouldering embers of the kettle’s firepit, the sweet scent of malted oats or barley at his nose, and he thought there would be no more pleasant a place to be.

    • Markshire PCs:

    It was when Kurm had upturned his worn, stained rucksack over one of the nearby Trash Containers that his quick eye caught a glimpse of shining metal mixed in with the detritus: wilted hops flowers, fine grit of mud and cornmeal, broken arrows, skeleton’s knuckles, and other more-or-less worthless garbage of which he wished to rid himself.

    Like one of the huge glacial vipers he had faced a handful of death-defying occasions beneath the caves of the cyclopes near Zairat Pass, Kurm’s slender hand snatched at the shining bauble before it disappeared in the truly unwanted garbage. Upon grasping the small trinket—a brooch, if it was to be judged by all appearances—he instantly remembered the evening he had found it. Or rather, his insistent memory corrected him, when it was given to him.

    Shortly after Linos Whirlblurr had encouraged Kurm to stop skulking about the brewery with monumental lethargy and an incurable morose expression on his face, Kurm began brewing again. This particular evening, he had just begun to gather up the few final ingredients for his latest batches of tasty brew, which grew amidst the stem vents and magical sunlight beneath Foothold in the Garden Grotto. He had just dropped a handful of blueberries absently in his rucksack. Spinning around, he saw a lone figure standing in the archway between him and the exit.

    “Who’s ‘at?” Asked Kurm, accustomed to being alone in the Grotto. He squinted his eyes in an effort to see who it was, wondering if he knew them and, more importantly, he disliked the individual in question. At whom—or what—he had looked was clearly no one he’d ever met before, of that much he was certain. Though this particular individual wore armour that Kurm would have considered common throughout Markshire, he appeared to be wearing one of the Lauskveld reveler’s masks: a savage, smoky-eyed wolf’s head. Kurm nearly grinned as he viewed the reveler, about to comment on the creativity and artistry applied to the mask’s construction…until he saw the mask lick its many sharp, pointed teeth and whisker-dappled jowls with a decidedly wolfish tongue.

    “Word is ye been down on yer luck, friend.” The creature’s statement was like dried bones scraping against the flagstones of Whirlblurr’s brewery floor.

    That was all Kurm needed to hear to know that, as he would say, “Sumpin’s up.”

    The only person he had voiced his recent concerns to was Linos, and something about the visitor’s bestial manner suggested to Kurm that the master brewer knew nothing of this unknown visitor.

    And before he even knew it, the conversation was over, and the wolf-headed being was nowhere to be seen. Kurm—once he closed his gaping mouth and became aware of his surroundings once more, took stock of the situation as best he could. He was still alive, and had something other than a sprig of juniper in his hand. And it looked like treasure, to boot…He remembered the wolf-headed being mentioning something about the small metallic trinket being useful, particularly against certain spells. Much more important, however, was the knowledge his unknown benefactor had possessed in regards to the person Kurm had blamed for his current state of spiritual dissatisfaction.

    Kurm’s inexperienced mind rattled in his head, trying to determine just how he’d given it away. The wolf-headed man even knew about the ability of Kurm’s potential source of frustration to raise dead warriors to do his bidding, and how even the thought of one with the capacity to do it (not just the capability, but the moral turpitude to commit to the act itself) gave Kurm the ‘willies.’ There was no deception in the exchange to be sure. Clearly there had been something otherworldly about the encounter; at least of that much, Kurm was sure.

    Even more curious, however, was the visitor’s encouragement that Kurm contact an old acquaintance of his: someone whom he had helped in the past, but had seen even less of since granting his gift. Kurm shrugged. He was owed one for sure, and the wolf-headed man suggested that this other adventurer could assist in ridding Kurm of his troubles.

    Now the only matter was to track him down and, as Kurm would say, “git ‘is back scratched.” With a nod of appreciation, Kurm attached the elegant brooch to his cloak, replacing the bone-and-wood clasp he had kept since his days back at the family farm. With nary a thought, Kurm tossed the comparatively rustic and unsightly cloak fastener into his rucksack.


    Kurm had accidentally discovered the supposed powers of the brooch while, ironically enough, he participated in the recent “friendly contest” proposed by the effusive Lord Mark of Stonemark. While passing his hands over the mystical snowglobe given to him by the regent for the first time, Kurm gasped with surprise as the enchanted penguin was sucked within the miniature, icy prison. Upon noticing such a display, Kurm had unconsciously gripped at his throat in surprise. His fingers found an undiscovered raised lump in the curves of the brooch’s nearly smooth surface, and suddenly, a misty, iridescent globe surrounded the rogue with an energy that forced Kurm’s hairs to stand on end. At once mystified and ashamed (because of Lord Mark’s peculiar insistence that no one participating in the contest use magic), his attention was instantly commanded by the presence of a pale, thin elf garbed in nothing but black raiment.

    The two locked their gaze to one another for a moment, Kurm’s heart sprang to his throat, and his feet were instantly affixed to the ground, unmoving. Then the elf was gone, intent on capturing more penguins than Kurm (or so Kurm believed).

    “…Not if I can ‘elp it,” mused Kurm to himself. With a heretofore undiscovered motivation, Kurm sped forward, searching the city for more Flightless.

    • Markshire PCs:

    As Kurm patted his cloak in an effort to fashion a suitable pallet next to the furnace of Linos Whirlblurr’s brewery, he chuckled to himself upon remembering an event from earlier that day.

    It was a snowy afternoon–much like any other–when Kurm had recently returned to the Narlynwik Woods, south of Foothold, and decided to investigate what he thought were sounds of battle echoing from within a dank and murky cave entrance. As he sunk into the shadows, his suspicions were confirmed; intermingled with the clanging of steel upon steel, and the dull hacking of flesh, were distinctly orcish grunts and shouts.

    Kurm deftly crept into the first large chamber. From the shadows, he spied a lone warrior, surrounded by the corpses of the fallen. As the warrior’s blade arced through the air, Kurm saw the whispy sparks of electricity coursing along its length. As the blade bit into the flesh of any orc foolish enough to confront its wielder, the miniature lightning bolts would greedily wrap themselves around the orc, forcing it to shudder and spasm in its death throes.

    Upon closer examination, Kurm recognized the helm worn by the lone warrior, and he then realized it was his acquaintance, Reinhart the Red, making short work of the brutish humanoids. Still hidden in the darkness, Kurm called out just as Reinhart was pulling his blood-drenched blade from the side of a slain orc: “Looks like a bleedin’ abbatoir in ‘ere, it does!”

    Although Kurm had appropriately used the word, it was a lucky guess; he had no idea what the word ‘abbatoir’ actually meant, only hearing it come out of the mouth of both Emilia and the Sage of Foothold on the same day. They were explaining to him something about one of the withered scrolls he had found earlier that week, and their insistence that he not speak the words in the center of Stonemark made it clear the word was somehow related to bloodshed. Kurm looked in the cave, had seen the day’s share of bloodshed. All thanks to Reinhart.

    He eventually slinked his way out of the shadows, and the two of them had elected to join forces briefly to further investigate the caves below the Narlynwik. As they searched through the remainder of the cave for any remaining orc raiders, the two of them were fueled by one another. Kurm marveled at the martial skill displayed by his companion, while Reinhart commented favorably at Kurm’s skill with the bow.

    It was in the lower levels of the cave–illuminated by a supernatural, reddish glow–where Kurm witnessed Reinhart’s courage and skill at its fullest. The two of them delved deeper into the orc stronghold, eager to seek their match in battle. The steaming vents that bubbled hot air into the cavern served to invigorate Kurm, and he was more than happy to bend his bow in service to the slaying of the fiendish orcs that had so often plagued the lands of Markshire with their savagery. Indeed, some of that savagery had shown itself in Reinhart and Kurm’s actions: they mercilessly hacked and shot their way through the caves until finally they faced the Orcish Warlord himself.

    Kurm stood still and silent at the end of the bridge between the humanoid and himself. But Reinhart, with a massive bellow of a warcry, charged forward, fueled no doubt by the heat of battle. The roguish youth, incensed by his companion’s warcry, slung his bow across his shoulders, sped forward across the narrow bridge, and reached for his trusty rapier.

    With his own reedy warcry, Kurm leapt forward to attack the massive orc. The cry must had alerted the chieftan to his new attacker’s presence, for his glance darted towards the rushing youth and his narrow blade. Kurm could picture it now: his blade would strike home, between the scarlet, glowing eyes of his prey. It was Kurm who would strike down the orc, his needle-like rapier piercing the chieftan’s skull.

    With little effort, the chieftan batted Kurm’s blade aside, and hammered the teenager in the ribs with a tremendous blow. Kurm flailed backwards, his rapier now gone from his hand, lost somewhere in the crimson-hued cave. It was Reinhart who then commanded the orc warlord’s attention, not Kurm. Quickly regaining his feet, the young thief’s eyes darted about, searching for a weapon. Then, almost unconsciously, Kurm’s arms reached back to once more grasp the bow strapped across his shoulders. An arrow found its way into his fingertips, then was laced into the bowstring. With a satisfying -snap- of the bowstring, then a whistle, the arrow had found its new quiver: nestled between the shoulder-blades of the orc warlord.

    Reinhart gave a throaty grunt, then unceremoniously yanked his electrified blade from the torso of the slain orc. Whispy threads of ice-blue light danced across the still-shuddering hulk at Reinhart and Kurm’s feet. Then the armoured warrior paced forward, heading directly for the wooden chest at the foot of the former warlord’s throne.

    Kurm’s gaze was still on the bestial face of the fallen warlord. One eye rested still open, while the other now resembled a blackened crater, pouring forth a thick ichor that quickly melted into the stone beneath the orc’s skull.

    “Empty,” was the word that Kurm heard to shake him from the orc’s sightless stare. The rogue’s gaze lifted, and he saw Reinhart standing in front of the wooden chest just as the lid was slamming shut.

    “Wot!?!” exclaimed Kurm, who hopped over the chieftan’s corpse like a farmboy jumping over an upended barrel. “Lemme at it, mate…”

    Kurm soon confirmed Reinhart’s earlier assessment, even after searching for a false bottom and sides within the aged chest.

    Nothing within. Kurm looked down at his blood streaked hands for a brief moment, wondering just what they might have looked like beneath the whitened skies of Markshire, and not under the hideous scarlet light of the orc lair.

    He looked back to the gaping maw of the orc warlord. It reminded him of the laughing visage of the dog-faced Garm, guffawing at Kurm’s attempts to pull himself from the lake of fire. Laughing at his efforts to save what little life he had left within his battered, rail-thin body.

    Suddenly mortified, Kurm snapped to attention, wondering if the warrior near him had detected Kurm’s moment of introspection. Looking about the chamber quickly, Kurm scrambled over to the throne of the now-deposed orc king. Nudging aside a few errant bones with his boots, Kurm sat in the throne, and began imitating a clownish orc king for Reinhart’s enjoyment.

    “Hurr! Hurr!” Belted Kurm, deepening his voice and trying his best to act like a bloodthirsty orc. “I eats childrens, I does! Hurr! I be hungry, I am! Hurr!”

    After hearing the throaty laugh of Reinhart from beneath his characteristically fiendish helm, the young rogue was satisfied his momentary lapse of composure remained undetected. Kurm genuinely smiled; he was genuinely relieved.

    Still shaken, Kurm announced he would leave the cave quickly, as he and Reinhart parted ways. Sending one more quick glance back to the slain orc warlord, Kurm couldn’t help but wonder why the orc’s face now looked much different: both eyes intact, its mouth closed.

    • Markshire PCs:

    His teeth chattering, Kurm stomped his way through the snow towards Gargoyle’s Nest. He was hoping to blow off some steam from the terrible day he’d experienced. Though far from the worst, he was beginning to think Master Linos Whirlblurr sent him on errands solely to remind him that people all over Markshire were falling into three distinct categories: “fakers,” “arse-holes,” and “victims.” The first two categories were peppered throughout the lands of Markshire, while Kurm reserved that third category exclusively for himself and Master Linos (and sometimes, only himself).

    It was a particularly trying day at the Foothold Bazaar. Kurm attempted to sell a trio of hand-made leather armours he had crafted on his own: he had hunted the panther, cleaned and skinned them, dropped off the meat at the butcher in Yar Village for good measure, dried, tanned, and sewn the leathers himself. And yet, still did the merchants wish to haggle, butt heads, and–generally speaking–make Kurm’s life difficult. Completely fed up with the situation between the blacksmith and then again at Gloigan’s, Kurm had turned to his last resort: the price-gouging, tough-as-brass-tacks barterer and fencer, Uncle Pickle.

    It was with this pending, dreaded exchange that fueled Kurm’s burst through the door at Gargoyle’s Nest. Kurm was completely floored, though, when he saw two old acquaintances just within the threshold: Spana and Kamas. They two of them stood close to one another; Kurm assumed they were having some sort of cloistered, secretive discussion, the likes of which he wanted to hear nothing. With a quick nod in greeting, at which he met Spana’s eye only briefly, he walked on to the main chamber of the pub while simultaneously ruffling the snow from his cloak.

    He rounded the corner of the inner wall. A gravelly voice called out, “Any new brews for us today?” It was Bastian Silliant, bartender of Gargoyle’s Nest. Kurm gave a quick, casual glance to Bastian, tapped a hand on his rucksack, which echoed with a glassy clink. His gaze shifted to Gargoyle, lounging on the couch as usual, who gave Kurm a slow nod in greeting.

    Once the exchange ordeal with Uncle Pickle ended, Kurm emerged once more with his rucksack less heavy and his coin pouch less full than he’d wanted. Hoping to remedy the situation, he slinked his way over to the bar, resting his rucksack on the weathered boards. With little thought, Kurm absently lifted the flap of his rucksack, eager to withdraw some of his ales in an effort to earn some decent coin for his troubles.

    Then he heard the sound. The sound of a woman sighing in obvious pleasure. Even stranger was that he thought he might have recognized the voice. He’d never made a woman make those kinds of sounds before; of that, he was certain.

    Kurm’s beady eyes glanced around the room; he saw no one new, at least, not a female who might have made that sound. It suddenly dawned on him: it must have been Spana. Revelations followed: why else would she and Kamas have been in the dark corners of Gargoyle’s Nest? Furthermore, the final thought that descended upon him, feeling like a boulder that sought to crush the very life from him: Spana hadn’t cared about what he said.

    Several weeks had passed since the last meeting between Spana and Kurm. However, the gangly youth remembered the exchange as clear as if it had happened only moments ago. While watching over the warrior Sar as he slept a slumber visited upon him by the gods themselves, Kurm finally made his beliefs and suspicions regarding Kamas indubitably clear to the scarlet-haired, fair-skinned elf maid. In so many words (and while being conspicuously interrupted by marauding undead), Kurm stated he trusted Kamas not one whit, regardless of how he came under the thrall of his current master: an undead lich lord. If Kurm was in Kamas’ shoes, he would have ‘offed himself’ long ago, rather than be under the beck and call of some hideous ‘rotter’ and its every whim.

    With this realization, Kurm’s face blanched, and his stomach warbled. He knew that he was clearly one of the younger–if not the youngest–of the adventurers in Foothold, but to Kurm that did not mean that his voice wasn’t important. When he said something, he meant it, and he often back up his words with blade and bow ably enough. But Spana’s blatant disregard of Kurm’s warning was a clear slap in the face she gave to someone who never meant her any harm.

    And Kurm’s thoughts drifted to Kamas: the stoic, secretive, and powerful elven magic user. Kurm had his own set of illustrative words to describe the fair-skinned sorceror: skinny, undead-lovin’, sneakin’, and downright creepy.

    How could she like him? How could she want to be with him? These were the questions that confronted Kurm once again, but this time not as a compliment to his dreams…Reality was staring him in the face, just beyond that wall, dressed in a woman’s sigh.

    The thought of the two together in the hall of Gargoyles raced back into Kurm’s mind. The warbling in his stomach became a mixture of not only unease and disappointment, but also the undeniable cloying of jealously, deep within his heart. With a wordless breath, Kurm began moving bottles of fresh liquor from whithin the bag to the countertop.

    “They been at it fer a while, now,”
    Bastian muttered, rolling his eyes.

    Kurm felt like responding–loudly–with a spiteful thought of his own: “Aye, mebbe they otter git a room!”

    But the words couldn’t escape the bonds forged by his frown.

    As Bastian traded coin for beer, Kurm watched absently as Ederyn the traveller sidled up to the bar to choose his afternoon drink. Secretly, Kurm hoped that it was one of his own brews that was chosen to be sampled. But it was not meant to be; one of the house ales found its way into Ederyn’s hand, while Kurm looked on, unconsoled.

    Light footsteps made their way around the corner into the main hall of Gargoyle’s Nest, and a lump rose in Kurm’s throat when he saw Spana enter. She and Ederyn exchanged some pleasantries, and she was shown to a seat. Kurm snatched the rucksack, slinging it over his shoulder, and prepared himself to once again brave the cold.

    Hoping to save some face, Kurm steeled his courage in order to introduce himself. After offering a Blue Sword Swill to both, as they appeared to have made themselves comfortable, Kurm mumbled a parting phrase.

    “Kurm, won’t you join us?” Her voice was like the tinkling of a crystal wind chime, but to Kurm, they were as flames of Hel unto his naked skin: utterly unbearable.

    He replied, “Naw, I seen enough fer one day.” He slowly ambled his way through the corridor, out into the cold. Her sigh, audible to his pricked ears, betrayed thoughts and feelings that had no pleasure: very different from what Kurm heard from her lips before.

    “…You faker.”
    thought Kurm. He could still envision the two clandestine lovers, holding each other close, in that nook by the doorway. Kurm wore a tight-lipped frown as dearly as his enchanted cloak.

    • Markshire PCs:

    Kurm wondered why, exactly, he had decided to go in what he termed “honest man’s work.” His regrets began to surface gradually, much like the wilted hops that currently occupied his brewing keg.

    He was in over his head with this last order, and much to Kurm’s displeasure, it wasn’t in beer. It was hard work in which he was submerged. Wasn’t it ironic, then, that Kurm was hard at work, brewing beer?

    At least Kurm was aware, deep within his tiny brain, that the situation wasn’t right. Not right at all. His eyes became bleary with strain and long hours over the stinging fumes of the wort kettle. He felt like a wandering poet, some bard who stopped in for the night to trade a tale or two in exchange for a warm spot by the fire, while muttering the same sentence to himself over and over and over again: “Beer, beer everywhere, and not a drop t’ drink…”

    Blup. Blup. The bubbling of the corn wort in the massive kettle before him was his only applause.

    For the past three days, all Kurm could do was brew one batch of Will-O-Whiskey after another. Once a full 100 of these were finished, he would immediately start with the 50 Broken Knuckle Beers that were next on the list.

    Why do this? Why punish himself with such drudgery? Why create such succulent, delicious brews if he wasn’t able to drink them himself? No, they weren’t for him; if they were, Kurm would have been passed out asleep next to the wort-cooking fire.

    But they were for Barrelgore, the Minotaur, and proprietor of the Inn of the Red Dragon.

    Kurm may have been intimidated by his adventures of late–visiting the Dead Glade, Harrow’s Domain, and an ancient, eldritch temple to slay a just-as-old black wyrm–but he was even more terrified with the prospect of ending up on Barrelgore’s bad side.

    Like a rower whose oar couldn’t break free of the pull of some unforgiving waterfall, Kurm wearily trundled his brewer’s ladle in vain, staring into the viscous void.

    Having a bunch of “rich stuff” was where it was at, Kurm wholeheartedly believed. But actually working for it? According to Kurm, that was for the birds.

    • Markshire PCs:

    The young layabout, Kurm Reyer, idly poked at the campfire with a now-smouldering hickory branch. He thanked himself for the presence of mind to bring along a bundle of wood to make a quick campfire as he wait along the road to Spinehold for his contact.

    Engman’s request was simple enough, which was fortunate for someone with Kurm’s particular grasp of short-term memory. Kurm recited the instructions in his mind: bring a load of hooch to the woods just off of the road to Spinehold; there, you’ll meet someone who will smuggle it on to ports beyond; finally, report back to me with the details of the arrangement.

    Sniffing disconsolately, Kurm shuffled himself closer to the fire. “An’ ‘ere I is, all early-like, freezin’ me biscuits…This be th’ lass time I shows up early fer these folks, it is.”

    A humanoid’s grunt shook Kurm from his reverie. Dropping the stick, Kurm’s bow was instantly in his hand; he slid himself up next to the shaded side of the massive tree he had only recently lounged against. Gingerly, he peered off to the east ahead on the road, where the sound had originated.

    A spiteful grin emerged on his lean face when he noticed a couple orcs facing a handful of beetles. He let them have at one another for a little while, before he let loose a pair of arrows with practiced precision, slaying the remaining orcs. After taking one more cautionary glance about the nearby woods, Kurm stepped forward to inspect the remains of his prey.

    He noticed the glade in which they died, their blood seeping into the ground. He had passed this way before, not paying much attention to the ancient monument that sat at its center: a large, iridescent globe atop a conical stone edifice. Something seemed different about the clearing today, though. Kurm couldn’t quite put his slender finger on what seemed so unusual.

    -snap- …There was something else in the woods, not far from where he had been just moments before. Shrinking low to the ground, he doubled back, near to his original camping spot, and stepped north. Walking towards the campfire, with an effort that belied the undergrowth beneath her feet, was the striking form of Lady Kaldt herself.

    “Well, wot brings you out ‘ere, milady?” Kurm asked as he stepped forward; he lowered his bow to his side, indicating that he meant no harm, then bowed with as much reverence as he could muster. Even Kurm knew that, in the lands of Markshire, the Reidlar and other supernatural beings of similar ilk were not to be trifled with…and damned be he that raises their ire.

    Her warning was brief, and desperate. “There are evil ones coming, in an effort to raise an even greater evil. You must observe the glade, and then warn others that can help.”

    “Er…” Kurm stammered. “I was s’posed ter meet some’un out ‘eere…”

    Expecting a reprimand, Kurm was more alarmed when he heard her reply: “He fled once he sensed the emanations from the grove.” Kurm glanced back to the forest clearing, his eyes wide, then back to Lady Kaldt.

    “Conceal yourself near the glade, and observe.”
    Kurm quickly acknowledged her request, and began to walk back to the glade and its strange monument. “I must flee or they will notice my presence. Stay safe.”

    Her final words echoed in his ears, as she disappeared into the evening mist. With his legs slightly shivering, Kurm crept his way to the side of the glade. Whatever would appear there this evening, thought Kurm, he would want a front row seat.

    He did not have to wait long. Once nestled in an aperture between a wizened oak and a jutting boulder at the clearing’s edge, Kurm’s ears detected incoming footsteps.

    As the branches parted, between them strode a massive ogre. Kurm gasped involuntarily when the light from his unattended campfire caught in the creature’s eye, glinting a savage scarlet. A protruding jaw jut itself forth, showing several sharp, uneven fangs. An unkempt sprout of fur crowned the beast’s head, which dangled down to the creature’s massive shoulders. Though in all aspects it was a savage beast, the weapons and armour it sported further intimidated Kurm; it its one hand was a fiendish polearm, while the other touted a tower shield held as effortlessly as if it were a dinner platter.

    Springing through the thickets at this larger beast’s feet was a sniveling, snarling goblin, also touting its own weapons. As it hopped its way through the undergrowth, Kurm could see a flashing, wickedly-barbed blade swinging in its hand.

    It wasn’t from the unforgiving cold of the forest that Kurm was shivering. It was from terror. Lady Kaldt had warned him of these harbingers of a greater evil.

    The marched themselves into the glade, while Kurm had attempted to discern their purpose. His teeth chattering, his legs wobbling, Kurm defied his cowardice to witness the summoning of evil as it would unfold. With prayers to the Sons of Odin, Kurm clasped the boulder in front of him, hoping beyond hope he would not be discovered.

    A rumbling gradually emerged, forcing Kurm to cling to the rock like moss. As he pressed his face against the cold stone, his gaze absently lifted upward, and at that moment, he watched in wonder as the clouds above coalesced and wrapped about one another in a twisting nexus of white, shimmering violet, and veins of inky blackness.

    The first bolt of lightning struck the ground, and Kurm chipped a tooth, he clenched so hard. Then the next. And another. Tears of fright streamed down Kurm’s face, but he dare not look away as his gaze lowered once again to the glade in front of him.

    Spider-like tendrils of black smoke, like ribbons of night, crept and danced their way along the surface of the globe at the clearing’s center. The ogre stared dumbly at its mutating surface, while the goblin continued its macabre dance through the glade itself.

    A thunderous BOOM sounded its way through the forest; Kurm’s cheeks quivered at the shock. The ground itself began to buckle. Then, beneath the shimmering sphere, the pock-marked earth began to chip away. Shingles of dried sod and stone snapped in various directions, then richer-coloured earth began quickly pouring forth, like a sickly foam, in the center of the glade. From the aperture, Kurm spied something that made his bowels turn to water.

    A spindly, night-black rod began to gracefully pierce the air in front of the globe, originating from the cracked earth, not a stone’s throw from Kurm’s hiding place. The slender limb then bent at several points, taking on a spider-like appearance. After a few timid taps upon the surface of the earth, the spider’s leg finally gripped the soil with its many jet-black hairs and fiendish hooks.

    With a tremendous burst of stone, earth, and tree roots, the ground peeled back, and from within crept a hideous form, the likes of which Kurm had never seen beyond his nightmares. A strangely-shaped head emerged, looking mostly human, but not quite. Milky white eyes glared with malevolence at their new surroundings, predatory and savage. A thick neck blossomed beneath, perched atop sculpted, onyx-skinned shoulders. The man’s naked chest rippled with muscle, and as the man swung his sword arm, Kurm could see a pair of unholy blades wielded in his large hands.

    Then scarcely had Kurm recovered from this barrage on his sanity, before he was assaulted once more. The torso of the man terminated at the waist, only to continue, but upon the body of some demonic arachnid. Eight legs, all identical to the first hooked limb, sprang from the tear in the earth’s surface, and as the creature took its first breath of fresh air in aeons, it bellowed forth a horrific cry of primal satisfaction.

    A yelp sounded forth from the youth, which Kurm could no longer hold back. Stunned by the sound himself, Kurm’s fingers lost their grip, and he flailed back to smack himself against the tree behind him.

    Detecting the noise, all three humanoids snapped their gaze in Kurm’s direction. He froze–both in fear and in the desire to remain unseen. It was the ogre that first moved; a jet of steamy breath escaped the beast’s wide nostrils, and it strode forth, towards the petrified youth.

    Like a jackrabbit hunted by a family of starving fox, Kurm leapt from his hiding place. Upon watery legs he sped through the forest as quick as he could, ignoring the multitude of lashings that hungry thorn branches scraped across his face. All he knew was that someone must be alerted. Lady Kaldt’s words resonated in his terror-sundered mind…He must warn others who can help.

    The young man sprinted along the road to Foothold, raving with a hoarse voice to all passersby:


    • Markshire PCs:

    Bursting through the door to the brewery, Kurm’s dark eyes darted about. “Master Linos?”

    “What is it, boy?” quipped the gnomish brewmaster. “And keep it quiet. I’m gathering some yeast.”

    Kurm breathed a sigh of relief, watching his master gently scrape more Brewing Yeast into small glass vials at a nearby work table. Indeed things were still quiet in Foothold. But for how long? The orcish messenger had warned the crew of adventurers to beware of dangers ‘where they slept’. At that warning, Kurm wished to return to Foothold as soon as possible, to check on the brewery and more specifically, Linos Whirlblurr.

    With no parents to speak of, Kurm wanted desperately to keep the substitute he had found.


    The previous day had started innocently enough. Kurm was delivering a small donation of fresh brews to Odin’s temple, when in the main hall he noticed several other adventurers gathered near the statue of the All Father. Next to the priest, Ryche N’Wahs, stood a shimmering, illusory image of a mammoth-sized minotaur. Among those present was the indomitable fighter woman, Viridian and the granite pillar of a monk, Vruruk. After listening to the conversation, and acclimating himself to the image of the beast, Kurm stepped forward, attempting to confirm his worst fears: “Lemme guess,” he started. “Another one of them Tharteen.”

    The group around him assented. Kurm’s expression became grave.

    He stepped closer to the illusion, eldritch flakes of energy pitter-pattering across its surface. Although he considered Barkeep Barrelgore an intimidating foe, he paled in comparison to this beast, whose image Kurm now regarded with awe. The shaggy minotaur was huge, and battle-worn. It’s muscle-rippled hide was streaked with a mustard-colored woad, accenting its various scars from countless ages on the battlefield. Gold rings and other precious metals decorated its horns and nostrils. Above all, a pair of large amber eyes surveyed all before it with nothing but revilement and battle lust.

    An’ this was juss an illusion, thought Kurm.

    A plan was brought forth to defeat the beast, to which Kurm initially was non-committed. He instinctually disliked the rigidity required by plans; unless Kurm was the one to come up with it, he was automatically suspicious as to what disadvantage it would place him. However, this was no ordinary minotaur–a sentiment echoed by more than one, including Viridian herself. Kurm’s thoughts drifted to memories of the last member of The Thirteen he had confronted, and realized a little more than blindly running about, hoping to bring home a lucky shot or two before it once again sent him to visit Garm and the fires of Hel.

    His attention renewed, Kurm attentively listened to the plan: lure it to the bridge along the road to Spinehold, cut off both ends using fire or other means, then take it out, both with up-front melee attacks, and by peppering it with missile fire from around the perimeter. At first, it all seemed like gibberish to Kurm, but when they arrived at the location along the road, it began to congeal into something Kurm could at least thinly wrap his little mind around. The arrival of two of Stonemark’s ballistae also seemed to bring home the plan; they stood off to the side of the bridge, concealed with a thick brush that would be removed once the beast was brought into position.

    When it all actually ‘went down,’ as bandits and pirates would say, Kurm didn’t feel so personally threatened. Sure, the beast was there, but it couldn’t cross a bridge that wasn’t there, and besides, Viridian was on the bridge with the thing. Kurm was simply in a supportive role: one he didn’t mind, considering his past dealings with The Thirteen. From his vantage point alongside the bridge, Kurm scrambled to let off a few arrows against the beast, doing his part alongside the others along the ridge side: Gundel, Omidon, Spana, and Imoyen.

    Shortly after rejoining the bridge–assisting Ederyn with the ropework necessary–a nasty little surprise was in store for everyone. The ground began to rumble, causing the newly repaired bridge to sway to and fro, its new joints tested. Then the holes in the ground began to open up; Kurm felt the watery weight of fear in his gut once again, as spiders emerged. Fierce fighting once again ensued, but all remained alive. Kurm even walked away with several bits of Spider’s Silk, which he intended to stitch into a sling or two once he returned to Foothold.

    Kurm smacked his dry lips together once the last spider-hole was inspected for ambushers. As he kicked the ruptured soil back into it, in an effort to close the tunnel, Kurm announced: “I’m back ter Foot’old fer a beer, er three, er six. I’s tharsty.” Opinvu waved his hand, and Kurm motioned the fellow drinker and Rowdy Yeti member to come along.

    A second, more savage assault of the spiders awaited Kurm and his companions further north along the road, as the youthful rogue watched Starkadder slay one malformed arachnid after another with practiced lethality. After slaying a few himself, with precise shots at the spiders’ vitals, Kurm told the warrior, “I’s goin t’ tell th’ others.”

    The adventurers arrived, and once again, there were no dead. Only the spiders were sent to Hel. If there ever had been a day where Kurm had learned the valuable principle of teamwork, that day was it. Kurm hadn’t been condemned to the lakes of fire within Hel’s domain, and neither had any of his companions. And it had been due to not only the skills of his companions, but the well-thought-out execution of battle plans. Concepts such as ‘using the terrain to one’s advantage’ began to solidify in Kurm’s mind, and he fully intended on utilizing that knowledge in the future. Even more so, as the continued threat of The Thirteen and Thrym’s minions loomed over Foothold.

    [OOC: I’m still in a bit of a flu-induced stupor, but I wanted to write a little something about last night’s session…]

    • Markshire PCs:

    Kurm leaned against the brewing cask in one of Whirlblurr’s kitchens. His gaze never lifted from the low fire in front of him. An open bottle rest in his hand.

    Fr’m this day forth, thought Kurm to himself, No gods.

    He poured the last of his liquor into the fire, which sputtered stubbornly before extinguishing. The room was left in complete blackness, only the sharp tang of smoke in the air indicating there was a fire at all.

    • Markshire PCs:

    Remembering the past few days was only successful in too-brief spurts for Kurm Reyer:

    The raven-haired rogue, Kurm Reyer, ambled through the streets of Stonemark. Eager to begin his next “shopping expedition” to the Stonemark sewers, he made mental notes on his supplies as quickly as he could (which, being as dim as he was, certainly wouldn’t seem so quick to others). A certain trades-person had taken Kurm into their service, placing periodic “orders” for “supplies,” that would then be fenced and eventually received by some nameless recipient. Of course, the recipient did have a name, but as far as Kurm was concerned, it didn’t matter. Gold was gold, and even a master brewer (which Kurm certainly wasn’t, but in the recesses of his young mind he definitely aspired to become one) needed a break from the brewery every once in a while. Kurm was definitely attracted to breaks from hard work, and so gravitated to sticking a knife in the back of a wretched sewer citizen every once in a while in exchange for some coin.

    Upon waiting at the entrance to the sewers for a solid half an hour, with no arrivals, Kurm mused to himself: “I reckon I otter check me spellin’ nex’ time.” With an errant sniff, and a whisking of his rapier and attendant gauche, Kurm ventured into the Stonemark sewers alone.


    With a loud gasp for air, Kurm whipped off his helm. His body lay slumped against a gnarled spruce just beyond the walls of the Ogre Fortress of the Narlinwyk. Steam peeled from his sweat-slickened head in great wafts; the young man looked down at his body with weary eyes, seeing black ichor seeping from the poisonous puncture wound afflicted upon him from the arachnid Mother. With a clump of dirty snow, Kurm wiped away the venom as best he could with quivering arms.

    He looked on to see Ederyn regarding the small, glinting ring he held in one hand.

    “Burn it,” groaned Kurm. “Burn it all. It’s cursed, it is…” A ragged cough cut Kurm’s advice short, feeling as if he swallowed a shot glass full of glass shards.

    A short burst of flame, and the ring was gone. The spiders, the restless undead, the foul altar that called them forth: all gone. Kurm breathed a sigh of relief for the first time that day. Immediately following such a respiration came a great, burning pain at his ribs. Kurm groaned, gripping his wounds.

    “You all right?” asked Opinvu.

    Kurm shook his head. “Juss gotter cold from them sewers, I did.”

    “Drink this,” replied Opinvu. “It’s holy water.”

    His mouth suddenly dry, Kurm snatched the vial from his halfling friend, and quaffed the whole of its contents in one hearty gulp. Searing heat boiled down his esophagus as the holy water dealt with Kurm’s inner sickness. The youth grimaced. “Urgh…” said Kurm. “It burns.”

    The burning didn’t leave. It plagued Kurm the entire walk home to Foothold and the warmth of the brewery.


    “Kurm? Where are ye, boy?”
    Linos Whirlblurr stood silhouetted in the threshold to the eastern brew kitchen: Kurm’s adopted apartment and work space. Linos’ nose wrinkled. “An’ what’s that smell?”

    “I gotter bad cold, I does,” replied Kurm from the darkness, quickly followed by a hacking cough. “I’s sorry, I am.”

    “Ye went into those sewers, didn’t ye?” Quipped Linos. “I told ye, boy, stay outta that water. Odin knows what people put in there!”

    “Aye, aye…” muttered Kurm, knowing that Linos was right once again.


    “You all right boy?” asked Engman, his smooth eyes unblinking.

    “Aye,” replied Kurm, his gaze not straying from the hearth of the Rowdy Yeti. “I’s gotter bad cold, is all.”

    “Well, if ye need somethin’, you let us know. You done all right by us, Kurm.”

    Kurm nodded. “Much obliged, Mister Engman. The pleasure’s been all mine.”

    “I know,” mused the diminutive Engman. “But sometimes it’s worth repeating.”

    Kurm stared into the fire, his cloak wrapped tightly around him to eliminate a nagging chill.


    Kurm lay in the east brewery, the dim light of the wort fire his only source of illumination. Kurm regarded the long slash along his abdomen, which had refused to heal ever since he had left the sewers. The warmth of the enchanted gauche at Kurm’s side emanated and comforted him through its scabbard, and even through his armour. He had refused to remove his weapon belt, though his tunic and leather jacket were laying in a haphazard pile on the other side of the kitchen. Kurm shook his head, even as he held the reagents of a healing kit to his chest.

    Kurm reached into his worn rucksack with his free hand, and withdrew his sewing kit. He then switched his hands compressing the healing kit to his chest, then reached across the floor in the other direction to grab one of his very own Black Knight Malts. There lay eight bottles nearby.

    With his teeth, Kurm gripped the cork and yanked it from the bottle. Still gripping the bottle top in his mouth, Kurm inhaled deeply, and half-spat, half-coughed the cork across the room. After another set of chest-wracking coughs, Kurm took in a hearty swallow of liquor to clean the sour, foul residue from his parched mouth.

    • Markshire PCs:

    “Now what in the world is takin’ that boy so long to get outta bed?” Master Linos Whirlblurr scratched his balding scalp while he peered into the eastern brew kitchen. “Kurm!” He shouted. “Off yer arse and in here, be quick about it!” Linos turned back to the large pack he had painstakingly filled with dozens of bottles of freshly-brewed liquors and spirits. He gently worked two more lengths of cheesecloth into the leather pack. Annoyed at the lack of response from his young assistant, Linos turned with a snort to the kitchen door once more. “KURM? Are ye dead in there or what, boy?”

    The gnomish brewmaster padded with a purpose across the brewing hall, to Kurm’s apartment doorway. Wrinkling his nose at the unwholesome aroma wafting from within, Linos remarked out loud: “All those days ye been gone, and ye still haven’t taken a bath!” Leaning on the threshold, Linos leaned in, his eyes scanning the darkness. “…Kurm?”

    A low groan, emanating from somewhere within the darkness, was his only reply.

    With the warm light of the main hall disturbing his low-light vision, Linos couldn’t see very far into the depths of the apartment. With a few steps, he was next to the roasting oven, where he grabbed a smouldering branch from the embers of the fire. Working it back and forth in the cinders, he soon acquired a rudimentary torch. He held the stick upwards and in front of him, illuminating his path.

    Another low noise, this time an audible grumble, greeted his ears.

    His concern for the youth resurfacing, Linos walked towards the sound.


    Kurm’s breath rushed in ragged gasps, as his vision regained focus. The deep scarlet light of Hel shone all around him. Unconciously clutching his chest, Kurm looked down to see a wicked gash along his abdomen. Quickly, he snaked a slender hand into his worn leather rucksack, withdrawing one of his many Healing Kits from its interior. His breathing calmed. As he unravelled the outer wrappings, he was startled to hear a woman’s wistful sigh. his ears perked up and he spun his head around to see Spana huddled in the corner, her knees drawn up to her chest and arms wrapped around her shins.

    Kurm froze for a moment, his hands motionless but still holding the healing reagents. “Well,” he gently grumbled. “Fancy meetin’ ye in ‘eere.” Spana seemed to not notice his comments; rather she may have chosen to ignore them, Kurm mused. The two of them hadn’t been getting along as well as they could have, recently.

    With a shrug, Kurm went back to wrapping his wounds, eager to remove himself from the land of the dead as soon as possible. After wrapping his chest as fitfully as he could, he stood up with a groan. At the sound of movement from Spana’s corner, Kurm turned once more. Spana had removed something from the pack at her side, and Kurm looked closer.

    “Wot’s ‘at?” he asked. It appeared to Kurm that Spana was holding, in one hand, a pudgy child. No, wait… Kurm squinted and looked closer, his vision suddenly blurry. Yes, she was holding a doll. The doll once held by a little girl…

    With a suddenness that completely surprised Kurm, his vision went completely black, and he could soon see and hear nothing. It felt as if a close-fitting prison of bones–a skeletal hand grasping his entire body–had wrenched him from that place, only to deliver him somewhere even worse. Just as suddenly, the bony hands released their grip, and Kurm found himself deposited on the grimy floor of the Stonemark sewers. Looking down at his chest, he saw that the wrappings he had most recently applied to himself were now soaked through with his blood.

    A rasping, fiendish chuckle assaulted his ears, and his eyes darted about to find their creator. “I see you’ve come back,” said the Sewer King. “No worse for the wear, either, all things considered.” The haggard underground denizen stepped forward; his narrow, ratlike face now illuminated by some otherworldly vermillion glow emanating from a brazier at his side. “Go, and never return here in anger,” were the words the Sewer King spoke.

    Kurm’s body seemed to move without his efforts; some other force, summoned by the Sewer King, pushed him towards the tunnel that led to the surface.

    Kurm’s journey took him through the darkest, foulest warrens of the rat-people of the sewers; he trod slowly past the corpses of the wererats he had slain in his venture. As his feet moved ever forward, Kurm’s gaze constantly shifted. He watched the stones that built the walls of the sewers slowly wear away, their coloration deteriorating into some eroded mass of black and violet stones. Around a bend in the tunnel, Kurm could see a bluish light begin to appear. He urged himself forward as quick as he could, his legs feeling as if they were of lead. Brackish sewer water splashed like syrup at his feet.

    Finally moving around the corner, the bluish light gave way to a small chamber, where a dias lay at its center. The light seemed to shine from the dias itself, shrouding a small item sitting upon it in a queer halo of blue. Kurm stepped closer, and the light began to dim. With each step, a scarlet light began to enshroud the room. At the base of the dias, Kurm reached forward for the small, egg-shaped item. It’s texture like paper but feeling oddly moist, Kurm gracefully held it with one hand and drew it close for examination. Once the object no longer touched the dias, the blue light began to fade completely, while the red light grew ever stronger. Cupping the object in both hands, Kurm held it in front of his face.

    It was a human heart Kurm held in his hands. He gasped in shock, his hands quivering in terror, though he dare not drop it where he stood.

    A grating, rasping his arose in the chamber. Kurm’s gaze spun around, and he watched the rough-hewn stones that made up the walls of the chamber. From the cracks and gaps between the rocks, liquid black pools began to form. The pools swelled, met, coalesced, and grew together, illuminated oddly by the red light surrounding them. The blackness began to take on a form Kurm knew as familiar. The blackness somehow formed itself into the shape of a hooded, robed human figure. From underneath the hood, two pinpoints of scarlet light shone forth.

    “Lead us!” commanded the hooded wraith.

    “N-no!” stammered Kurm, stepping backwards with one slogging footstep.

    More of the wraiths began to seep from the walls themselves; more hooded fiends began to materialize and take on human form. With their cowled shoulders lurching forward, their spindly, skinless fingers reaching towards him. All the while, they chanted: “Lead us…Lead ussss…”

    The young rogue stumbled backwards, his hands and forearms quickly becoming soaked with the waters of the sewer beneath him. Like a panicked blue crab, Kurm scrambled backwards, the heart having since disappeared (and forgotten). Wishing to regain his bearings once more, Kurm spun around to be on his hands and knees. Looking up, he saw another light ahead of him: daylight. Waiting within the healthy glow were familiar faces: Opinvu. Ederyn. Dram. Monty. The woodland half-orc, Drask. And Spana. Behind them, Kurm saw what looked to be a dragonfly flitting through the air in lazy arcs. It was his enchanted dagger, its blade aflame, leaving a brilliant orange trail behind it as it carved its passage through the air. If blades could laugh, it certainly would have been now. With tears and blood streaking down his face, Kurm reached for the dancing blade.

    The youthful rogue awoke splattering and spluttering. As best as he could surmise, he was safe and sound, in the east brewery kitchen. Only he was now soaked to the bone with ice-cold well water. Looking about him once more, he saw his master, Linos Whirlblurr, standing in front of him, empty bucket in hand.

    “I was wonderin’ what would finally wake you up,” mused Linos. “Now git out here. Have some breakfast before ye make this delivery.”

    Wiping his hair from his face with slender hands, Kurm looked up to Linos (which wasn’t very often, now that Kurm thought about it), and nodded his head. “Aye, aye, Master Linos.”

    • Markshire PCs:

    As a light snow drifted down from the slate-grey clouds hanging over Foothold, the spry rogue Kurm Reyer casually loped his way back to the Brewery he came to know and love. Having just returned from a refreshing journey through the Northern Plains–including slaying handfuls of kobolds and even a grizzly bear that attempted to eat Kurm for its lunch–Kurm was eager to sit by the warmth of the oven in his apartment, curling up to the dry, hot stones with a cool, frothy brew.

    He stepped through the door, and immediately his jaw dropped. Rarely were there any guests in Master Linos Whirlblurr’s brewery, but today must have been an exception. A gaggle of short men–most likely gnomes, by the look of them, Kurm surmised– buzzed to and fro within the brewery’s main hall. Each one carefully went about his work, not looking up even to take notice of the gangly youth upon his entrance and awed expression. Aye, indeed they were working; each one did his part in constructing some large piece of machinery, either handing tools to one another, chipping away at this, twisting and shaving away at that, measuring, remeasuring, then making a single tap with a miniscule hammer…Yes, they were most dutifully at work. Across the main hall, brushing dust from the shelves that held the more common brewing supplies, was Linos Whirlblurr. Still staring at the diligent gnomes, Kurm crossed the construction area to speak intelligently with Whirlblurr.

    “Wot in th’ name o’ Nidhogg’s Knob izzat?” Asked Kurm.

    Linos, grinning like the cat who caught the canary, replied, “Well, you remember what you bought, don’t you?”

    Kurm’s eyes brightened. “It all came in, eh? How long it’ll take ’em ter build it?”

    The master brewer shrugged, dropping his dusting rag on the counter nearby, and wiping his hands on his canvas apron. “I give them a couple o’ days, at most. You’ll be grinding your own grain in no time.”

    Kurm chuckled. “Well, I reckon they’d git ‘eere quick, but finishin’ it in a coupler days? Och…An’ all ‘at fer a measly thousant, an’ a coupler cases of ale.”

    Master Whirlblurr nodded slowly. “About that ale of yours Kurm…”

    “Aye?” Kurm glanced at his master quickly.

    “I didn’t have any of it myself. What was it? Dwarf’s Head?” Linos looked to him, his expression unreadable.

    “Er, naw, Master Linos…I made ’em Wizard’s Wheat.”

    “Wizard’s Wheat Ale, is it?” The aged gnome scratched his chin absently. “Good choice. They loved it. But they would have been finished by now if it wasn’t so tasty.” Linos winked at Kurm, then chuckled, his gaze going back to the workers.

    Kurm was at first apologetic. “Din’ ken who was ter be drinkin’ it, else I’d a made some Broken Knuckle…” Finally realizing his master was jesting, Kurm also let out a light chuckle. His gaze lingered on the Farmer’s Mill, still in pieces, at the gnome workers’ feet.

    At once, the master brewer clapped his hands lightly, and Kurm snapped to attention as best as he could. “One more delivery for you today, my boy,” announced Linos. “Take these bottles to the White Crane in Stonemark.”

    His gaze still lingering on the gnomish machinery-to-be, Kurm nodded, acknowledging with a soft “Aye, aye, Master Linos.”

    • Markshire PCs:

    Standing bow-legged, over the washing bin, Kurm reflected on the week’s earlier events as he wrung out his trousers. He still could not believe that Lady Viridian had taken him in as a student. Even more miraculous, she didn’t bat an eye at his woeful performance in his initial lessons, either.

    Shortly after the tour of the Academy facilities, a Stonemark guard approached Viridian, informing the two of them of the recent disturbance that originated below the crowded city streets of Stonemark. He remembered Viridian’s words as they left the Academy in the late afternoon. “Today’s lesson will be in facing one’s past fears.”

    Kurm blinked at his rememberance…The sewers. He had actually set foot in the sewers once again. Even now, safe within the walls of Foothold, leagues away from those decrepit tunnels and slime-slick waters, Kurm’s blood and breath quickened at the thought. He was so preoccupied with facing the leader of the sewer people, he was more relieved than terrified of the actual inhabitants, who were hardly sewer citizens at all…Well, he maintained his courage, that is, until they began chasing him. His graceless retreat from the sewers was the reason why he was scrubbing his soiled trousers at the moment.

    But in battle, he hadn’t shown any fear; this fascinated him, and drove him to deeper thought.

    It was something about being in such close proximity to the famed warrior woman, obviously, that stirred his courage. He felt almost a crippled fool as he compared her deft, sure attacks to his clumsy strikes. But still, she had not thrown him out on his ear, like his brothers had, so many months ago.

    She had seen promise in him. Upon remarking on his “…But you’re quick,” she stated, “and you can use that to your advantage.”

    As Kurm gripped his trousers and rubbed them against the washboard in the basin at his feet, he remembered her lessons well. At a particularly cramped tunnel, the two of them came upon a passageway blocked with numerous crates. As Kurm clumsily hacked ineffectually at the boxes in front of them, he was amazed to see Viridian bash through two of them in one swipe.

    “Like any enemy, you need to find the weak points, and exploit it. It’s the surest way to defeat your opponent.”

    The lesson was carried with them back to the Academy, where Kurm–still immeasurably impressed by the contents of Viridian’s illustrious study, crammed with priceless war trophies of conquests long past–was directed to the weak points found in the most common armours: the neckline; under the arm; the small of the back. His experience in leather-crafting informed him of these inherent shortcomings easily enough, but now he began to look at them as true gateways to felling his opponents more quickly.

    Though most assuredly dimwitted, the rusty cogs and gears in Kurm’s brain were shuddering to life that day. After even a single day of instruction with Viridian, he began to look at combat not as an exercise in chance and chaos…but in skilled planning, which was rewarded with thinking as quick as one’s blade. He had ascertained that there definitely could be a method to the lethal madness of battle.

    He remembered, too, his last words to her that evening. “I be most definitely ready t’ be a student, but be ye up t’ yer task, Lady V’Ridian?”

    “I’ve never turned a student away.”

    Kurm continued to scrub away at his pants, hoping to have the wash water dumped before Master Linos would return. His proud smile, however, couldn’t be washed away by the scrubbing of the strongest of the jotuns.

    • Markshire PCs:

    With an adolescent yelp, Kurm awoke from his slumber. Though the fire in the nearby oven had long-since been reduced to smouldering embers, the young man was slickened with a sheen of cold sweat.

    The nights of full, interrupted sleep were even fewer in frequency than when he fell ill with the Sewer King’s curse. But many of the players in his dreams were the same now as then. His visions bespoke of the dark, shifting wraiths of which Kurm knew nothing other than that they wanted him as one of their foul brotherhood. The wicked scarecrows of Harrow’s realm. The laughing visage of Garm.

    It muster been them chit-chats wiff Dram, thought Kurm. Or maybe, he guessed, it was the mission he attended to with Anadra, the woman of the woods.

    What’d Dram rilly meant? Join th’ rotters?
    The very notion seemed absurd to Kurm, though he didn’t know the exact definition of the word. Even so, the shades never left Kurm’s mind for long. The ever-present dreams, plaguing Kurm incessantly as he slept, always served as unwelcome reminders. He wished he could put them out of his mind as easily he could the days of his youth.

    And who were the well-equipped bandits that had accosted Anadra and he on the road to Stonemark that long night a ways back? Kurm grinned slightly, as he remembered his uncharacteristic, puffed-up bravado he displayed in front of Anadra. He almost scoffed at it now; Viridian, in the brief time he seved as her pupil, taught him better than that.

    Besides, his taunts did nothing to discourage the bandits. They seemed dead-set on acquiring Kurm’s seemingly-innocuous cargo: by hook, crook, or stab in the gut.

    He and Anadra repelled them, Kurm recalled, only to encounter a number of the animated scarecrows lurking within the walls of Stonemark itself later that cursed eve.

    Kurm shook his head. Who was this “Otha,” and what were his (or it’s) plans? How did Master Linos know of the materials needed to concoct the faltering barrier between our realm, and that of the Lord of Nightmares? What else did he know?

    …And what was with Dram, anyway? The two of them got along well enough. But whether it was his peculiar manners, or something in the way he talked about the shadows that assaulted the two of them while on a recent trip into the Thrym Mountains…Dram was unsettling at times, even to Kurm.

    He din’ rilly drink much, neither,
    Kurm thought to himself.

    • Markshire PCs:

    The numerous times he had been smacked around by his brothers during his farm days couldn’t compare with the beating Kurm had just endured. At least, that’s how he felt. The boggle he’d seen months ago was there, but so was a big, green troll.

    Kurm lay on the hot floor of Garm’s chambers in Helheim, collecting his thoughts, still too fatigued to even consider moving. He stared up to the roof of the chamber, which was more or less shrouded in darkness; between bouts of blurred vision he thought he could discern a few spindly stalagtites across its breadth, their stony points dripping some foul fluid into the molten lava that surrounded Helheim’s footpaths.

    Heavy, stomping footfalls came closer and closer to Kurm. “Can’t do much worse to me, way I sees it,” considered Kurm, so he simply waited in his despair for the visitor. Turning his head slowly to one side, Kurm’s gaze fell upon the figure of Garm. Though his rarely-used brain was still foggy, Kurm was intrigued to see what Garm had bundled in his arms. He was used to seeing the Hound of Hel with some huge, wickedly-pointed weapon in his hands, but this time, he carried with him a simple cloth sack.

    “Off the floor, pup,” was Garm’s gruff greeting. “And you’ll need these.” Garm’s hammy fist reached into the bag, and withdrew a pale, wrinkled object no bigger than a chestnut. A scarlet twinkle livened Garm’s eyes as he stared down at the haggard youth before him.

    “Wot’s ‘at?”
    Asked Kurm, genuinely confused, and quite concerned. He had never thought of Garm to be the gift-giving type.

    A gravelly chuckle was Garm’s only reply. With that, he dropped the item, and it fell to the rock of the footpath. Kurm reached out with one hand, and picked up the item to consider it.

    He almost tossed it away in disgust when he realized it was a human ear.

    He almost shrieked in revulsion when he realized that it was his.

    His senses now much more alert, Kurm struggled to move; at least, to sit up. For some reason, it was incredibly difficult. Garm’s gravelly chuckle washed over Kurm once more, and the young rogue grit his teeth in shame, pain, and anger.

    “This might help ye,” muttered Garm. Kurm instinctively shuffled himself away as best he could as Garm absently dipped one massive paw into the sack. He withdrew another item, much larger this time, and dropped it with a wet, meaty thump in front of Kurm.

    There, on the stony walkway in front of Kurm, lay his own left arm. A sudden rush of blood to Kurm’s head, caused him to nearly faint. The realization hit him with the strength of Trevor Lionsol’s smithy hammer. The boy fell back to the ground, utterly despondent. He wept, while Garm chuckled and walked away.

    “Wot am I gonter do…?” Kurm spoke his thoughts aloud, for the dead would not mind.

    The images within his brain swam with the huge troll and its gore-dripping axe; the boggle chuckling atop Kurm after crippling Kurm’s leg to prevent his escape; of Spana relating her tale of a similar fate befalling her at the hands of the troll; of Matrimis and his missing leg. He thought of Dram, who he spoke with seemingly mere hours before, who said, “Watch out…you’re standing in that shadow.” Of Viridian, one of the most confident warriors he’d ever seen.

    Regaining some of his composure, the young rogue mustered his remaining courage and eventually sat up. With his remaining hand, Kurm reached over to gather his body parts. Thick, gummy blood still remained on the severed socket, and Kurm couldn’t erase the grimace from his face as he wiped at it in vain. Laying his left arm across his lap, Kurm then picked up the severed ear; his grimace turned to a frown, and he thought of the boggle. “Prolly hangin’ it ’round ‘iss neck, like some damn trophy er sumpin’…”

    His missing parts now gathered close, Kurm then began to ruminate on how to re-attach them. Shaking his head, he looked about Hel, not knowing where to turn. As he peered across the fields of lava, Kurm saw shapes materializing at the edges of his vision.

    A harsh—but barely noticeable—whispering sound came to Kurm. He remembered it from long ago; back when he was sick.

    The shadows came to pay Kurm a visit.

    As the dark-robed creatures drew near, Kurm scrambled as quickly as he could to the edge of the lava. “Stay away! Git…git away!” His voice reached manic pitch as he realized there was no stopping them. He couldn’t even reach his dagger.

    “We are here to helllp youuuu….” cooed one of them.

    “We will make you feel better, Lord Kurm!” called another.

    “Allow usss…” agreed a third.

    Smoky, translucent tendrils extended from the shadow-men’s arms, and with these tendrils they slowly and gently lifted Kurm’s severed arm from his lap, easing it into position on his left side. Kurm looked over, his eyes wider than the moon on a clear Markshirian night. The tendrils snaked themselves through Kurm’s flesh, and seamlessly knit the arm back on his body with an icy, soothing touch.

    Kurm shrieked into the night air, his body coated with sweat. The moonlight peeked through the trees above him. The rogue was relieved to see that both arms, and the ear, were somehow re-attached. Wiping the frost-coated leaves off of his body, Kurm clambered his way out to a clearing.

    The barking of a large dog was heard, and Kurm drew his gauche as he tumbled back onto the ground in a heap. He looked up at the electric blue dome of the sky, and into his vision popped a mastiff’s face. With a few good-natured licks, Kurm found the fortitude to somehow sit up and eventually stand.

    The spotted mastiff bounced on the end of a long lead. The dog’s keeper, a tall, plainly-dressed Pellyte, stood staring at Kurm in wonder, flanked by his companions.

    “Wot’re ye lookin’ at?” breathed Kurm. “Ain’t never seen a body come back from th’ dead afore?”

    • Markshire PCs:

    The young roustabout, Kurm Reyer, felt like he was finally growing to be a man of society.

    Kurm had always been an individual with simple tastes, and this was also the opinion he rightly held of himself. Having grown up in a rural plains farm, miles from any large settlement, he never knew the luxuries of silk and damask sheets, of dazzling stained-glass windows or etched stone archways. He knew nothing of propriety and manners (in fact, against this, he often deliberately retaliated). To him, a good meal was not laced with exotic spices from faraway Ranasilva and other points south; it was simply warm and no longer able to bite him back.

    Time in Foothold had gradually changed him, broadening his perspective and sensibilities. He had learned many of the dark secrets of brewing. He cooked his own meals. He had studied at times under the watchful eye of Viridian, one of the most accomplished warriors Markshire had ever known. He had learned and witnessed the powers of those who were considered gods, and instead of quivering in fear and suspicion of them he pledged to no longer bend his back under their yoke. He sewed his own clothing and armour. He’d been dead and back, dead and half-dead and back, and then through all that he finally learned to live.

    For a moment, after all this accomplishment, Kurm was still not content. He had lost some of his unrefined edge, and he somewhat missed it. He began to think that, perhaps, he wasn’t actually meant to be a proper member of society. Nothing ever brought more evidence to this point than what he had done with the treasure he had found while investigating the Winter Towers, a pair of stony secrets nestled deep within the Cona Mountains.

    To Kurm, it truly seemed like a treasure beyond estimation. The emerald green field lay resplendent with thickly-woven threads, and upon its surface, a majestic warrior-bird stood, poised for battle. It clearly was meant to fly as the standard before a truly remarkable military force. So impressed was Kurm with the striking image and quality of the banner, that he chose to hang it in his apartment one day, the eastern kitchen of Whirlblurr’s Brewery.

    He felt himself finally more a part of civilization, and for once Kurm welcomed the feeling. He had learned the esteemed art of home decorating.

    It wasn’t long before Master Whirlblurr walked in and said to his young apprentice, “Now what in all of Odin’s Creation is that wretched thing?”

    Nestled on the floor, next to the soothing warmth of the wort kettle fire, Kurm looked up from his oatmeal and answered, “It be a banner I found, juss th’ other day. Right impraysive, ain’t it?” Kurm smiled , oatmeal dribbling slowly down his chin.

    “By all the Aesir,” exclaimed Linos, his expression unreadable, “In all my years as a brewmaster livin’ here in Foothold, I proclaim I ain’t never seen an uglier chicken.”

    Kurm’s expression blanked. Wordlessly, Linos Whirlblurr turned on his heel and went back to his brewing business. The wooden spoon of Kurm’s oatmeal clattered once before resting in a cold lump of breakfast.

    Perplexed, Kurm set down his oatmeal bowl, then looked up at the banner once more, this time with a more critical eye.

    “Well,” muttered Kurm, raising a brow. “I reckon th’ fangs is a bit much.”

    • Markshire PCs:

    The wort kettle bubbled pleasantly as the lean, tall youth sullenly mopped the floor. His usual jovial nature was nowhere to be found, though the previous night’s party was most definitely a success. He looked to the strange, demon-chicken banner that hung on one side of the room, and a smile escaped.

    Kurm hated making promises. It always meant he had to follow through with something. Obligations were things with which Kurm was never comfortable. Though he kept his own expectations of others rather low, he always felt like a heel whenever he let someone down.

    Linos had been a positive influence that way, for though Linos’ outbursts would come freely whenever Kurm made a mistake, botched a delivery, or made some other gaff in the brewery, his compliments on a job well-done also flowed freely. Eventually Kurm had created his own recipe–a truly remarkable drink called “Kurm’s Kicker”–which seemed to be a small-time favorite among some of his acquaintances. Linos wasn’t too fond of the brew, but he never discouraged Kurm from taking on another batch of it in the eastern kitchen. He had also granted Kurm a holiday when he requested it, and even agreed to allowing another social event within the brewery. Kurm was at a high point, as far as accomplishments were concerned.

    So it was with this bravado in mind (and maybe a few too many brews as well), that Kurm had agreed to not just one promise, but four.

    A weapon quest. Searching for a long-lost family member. Foiling that troll, if only once–but real good.

    Those three he could handle; he could wrap his mind around them. But when he was asked for his own wish, he blurted out the first thing that came to mind.

    Kurm sloshed his mop into the bucket with a huff, shaking his head. If she found out, then she’d probably take offense to it. Even though, Kurm believed, it was for her own good.

    There was a lot of history between the two of them, though in recent months, the two of them had grown distant. She’d helped in saving him not just from death, but from what he believed was a fate far worse. Having never forgotten that, he wanted to make it up to her in some way. That sense of obligation, however daunting, lingered always at the back of his mind whenever the two of them would meet.

    So when given the opportunity to share his thoughts, the gates had burst open, so to speak. The gangly rogue cursed himself for his bravado.

    How to make that happen? Following through with his earlier joking comment would have been a much more accessible goal.

    “Findin’ ‘at bow-legged nymph woulder been lots easier,” he muttered.

    • Markshire PCs:

    Kurm Reyer lay awake, next to the smouldering wort fire that staved off the chill of the Markshire night. Though he hadn’t removed it from his rucksack, where it was carefully rolled and stashed, each time he attempted to nod off to sleep, the curious banner decorated with a fearsome rooster appeared in his mind’s eye. It would not go away.

    “They’s real, Kurm said quietly to himself.

    • Markshire PCs:

    Kurm watched the lazy curls of smoke rise up from what he presumed was Foothold, a few leagues or so away from him along the road. He had just dropped off a satisfactory load of fish at Horace’s shop in Yar, and was anticipating a fine rest back home at the Brewery, now that his latest sabbatical (he called them “fishin’ trips”) was brought to a close.

    It was about time, too. Though he realized the best thing about nights in the wilderness instead of back home in his cozy kitchen apartment was that he slept much more fitfully and soundly, there were several reasons he always anticipated returning. Kurm missed his friends back in Foothold, he missed his foster father, Linos. And though he was a diligent worker and apprentice, he was sure that the stores he had stocked in the brewery prior to his departure were suitably thinned by now.

    Absently, the roguish youth readjusted his rucksack on his shoulder, noting its lack of typical bulges and weight. His own personal ale stores were also running thin.

    As the last of the trees parted before him, Kurm’s eyes took in the wisps of smoke, which had broadened considerably since he last noted them. What’s more, they weren’t coming from the stonework chimneys with which he was accustomed to seeing. Rather, they originated in several locations within the palisade, none of which should have housed fire.

    The gate of the palisade, Kurm regarded with horror, was splintered and bashed aside. His jaw dropped, the youth raced to the gates, passing through the wreckage around him, instantly fearing for his master’s life. He made no pause until he came to the doorway of Whirlblurr’s Brewery.

    His cold-blanched face took on a whiter shade of pale when he saw the splintered condition of the doorway and the surrounding threshold.

    Kurm very nearly leapt through the doorway into the main hall, where – much to his relief – Linos Whirlblurr was alive. Though his diminutive frame seemed somehow even more shrunken, he let a small smile escape when Kurm appeared.

    “Long time, no see, my boy,” announced Linos, leaning on his broom with a sigh. “Was wonderin’ when you’d come back.”

    “Wot in th’ name o’ Balder’s Breeches ‘appened ‘eere?” Kurm looked around in amazement. “Yer awright, eh?”

    Linos waved dismissedly at Kurm with a tiny hand. “No need to worry about me, lad. I made it out before things got ugly. But our home wasn’t so lucky.” His small hand gestured slowly to the wrecked brewery around him, and the pile of debris at his feet.

    Kurm made a more studious examination of the damage sustained by Whirlblurr’s Brewery. Fortunately, most of the equipment was either untouched or – by Kurm’s assessment – serviceable with a minimum of repair. But what little furniture that decorated the brewery lounge had since been dashed to bits. What’s worse, the large racks interspersed throughout the main hall that held the ales, porters, and other drinks he and Linos brewed were completely wrecked, tipped over, leaning at impossible angles…Oddly enough, though, the apprentice noted that for all the apparent destruction, there were very few broken bottles or flasks littering the hall.

    “Well,” mused Kurm awkwardly. ” ‘Least th’ beer made it outter th’ way afore all else got smarshed!” Kurm forced a chuckle in an effort to lighten the mood, but soon fell quiet once more. Linos seemed not amused at all.

    “That’s the thing,” commented the brewmaster. “It didn’t break any o’ those. It took as much as it could carry.” Linos shook his head and sighed again, looking at the broken mass of shelving in front of him. “…Which happened to be a lot.”

    Stupefied, Kurm spat out, “It took it all? What took it all?”

    Linos Whirlblurr hefted his broom aloft, where it nearly brushed the ceiling. “Oh, it’s about this tall, give or take a bit…near just as broad, with a big ol’ axe…”

    For a moment, Kurm bristled, thinking that the troll had somehow made its way into town. He listened on, quiet, as Master Linos described the thief.

    “…and a strange, mighty shield that had an azure glow about it. I reckon it was magic, as I could see it. The beast was mighty hairy. With a maw of fangs and tusks. Ogre, by the looks of ‘im. But a big one.”

    Kurm stood, confused. He was as accustomed as one could be to the brazen antics of a troll marauder…But now the ranks of giant invaders was growing?

    “I’ll replace th’ brews ‘at’s gone, Master Linos,” Kurm solemnly stated. “We’ll git ‘iss brewery back in ship-shape in no time” Linos’ only reply was a slow nod. The brewmaster seemed absorbed once more into the task of intently sweeping the floor. Kurm crossed the main hall, kicking a bit of broken chair out of his way, and entered the threshold of his apartment, the eastern kitchen.

    The young man’s heart leapt into his throat when he saw that his own living quarters had been plundered.

    The oven was there, and still intact. The wort kettle had been upended, but it was still there. The cabinet with Kurm’s brewing supplies had been roughly shuffled, but still stood. Kurm’s decorative banner, festooned with the terrible visage of Poultrix, the Demon Chicken…

    …Was gone.

    Kurm felt as if all the air had been sucked from the room, and someone had dropped a boulder in the pit of his stomach. The mysterious banner he found many months ago, exhumed from beneath the flagstones of a tower high in the Cona Mountains, harbinger to Kurm’s recent encounter with gaggles of frenzied hens, the source of the youth’s awe-inspiring dreams…was missing.

    “Whar it at?!?!” Kurm shouted. Gripping the threshold of his kitchen/apartment with his slender hands, Kurm spun around to face Linos. “Whar it go?!?!”

    Linos Whirlblurr looked up, his expression empathetic. He said simply, “The ogre took that, too.”

    It was very uncommon for Kurm to raise his voice in the presence of his master. But at that moment, Kurm could no longer hold back his rage, which no longer simmered like wort on a cooking fire, but boiled over like a stewpot thrown in the fires of Muspelheim itself.

    His fingers curled, his back bent in a feral crouch, his face twisted in a savage mask of intensity…oh yes, Kurm howled like he never had before. Was it perhaps the character upon the purloined tapestry that had instilled some of its character’s ferocity into Kurm at that moment?

    Linos stood grimacing, his hands in a white-knuckled death grip around the haft of his broom. He watched, unblinking, as his apprentice wordlessly recovered his posture, cought his breath in steadying gasps, and fell to his knees.

    And Kurm shrieked again. This time, however…this time it was clear in its humanity. It was the scream of a boy not quite yet a man, who had been cheated. Violated. Kurm sank to his knees, and his scream turned to vacant sobs; tears fell to the dust-covered floor in droves.

    The brewmaster gradually returned to his senses, lay his broom to the side, and slowly walked to Kurm’s crumpled form. Linos’ tiny hand reached forward to gently – but deliberately – grip the boy’s shoulder.


    The next day, with Linos wishing him well, Kurm began a new quest.

    His first stop on his journey, strangely enough, was the Temple of Odin. Many days ago, Kurm had promised himself he would never stoop to asking for the favour of the gods ever again. But desperate times called for desperate measures, so it seemed.

    Even as Kurm swallowed his pride and strode through the entrance to the main hall of temple, he still felt skeptical. He didn’t deny the existence of the gods; he certainly didn’t deny the power they possessed. He did, however, defy the subservience they demanded of the dwellers of Markshire. Kurm never wanted to be a slave, and would rather die a thousand painful, shameful deaths. And yet, here he was, grovelling before the Aesir once more.

    The brewer’s apprentice stood before the stone statue of Odin, biting his lip and attempting to stare the stone visage of the All Father in his one good eye.

    “Ye ken I ain’t got no love fer yer, I reckon,” began Kurm. “…Iff’n ye ever cared t’ take notice o’ some’un like me. I promised meself I’d never set foot in ‘eere an’ ask yer halp on anythin’ else in me life. Well, ‘eere I am.

    “Take ‘at one good eye o’ yers, and look in me heart. Ye’ll ken me quest. Ye’ll ken me resolve ta git th’ job done. Ye’ll realize I din’ break me promise ta mesalf fer no ordernary reason.

    “Now, I awready tol’ Master Linos I won’ be ’round much more, lessn’ I do wot I be set out ta do. If ye wanter halp me, I’ll be grateful, an’ I’ll do wot I needs ta repay yer. Iff’n ye don’ wanter give me no halp, then I won’t care iff’n ye lose yer other eye.”

    Kurm’s gaze was unwavering. “Halp me, All Father Odin. Halp me destroy th’ Ivory Spire.”

    For a few moments, Kurm simply stood, staring at the statue, waiting for a sign of acknowledgement. The air, resonant with the gravity of the situation, seemed to hum around Kurm’s ears. His very limbs felt as if they vibrated with the energy of his quest.

    The youth’s keen ears pricked up at the sound of soft footsteps on flagstone. Kurm’s gaze trained to his left. His narrow eyes spied Father Ryche standing in the dimness of the hallway.

    “Long time, no see, my son,” said the priest. “I was wondering when you’d come back.”

    • Markshire PCs:

    Huddling over the sputtering fire he had built, Kurm cursed. “By Balder’s Balls, it’s cold!”

    The savage, bitter wind ripped across the Cona Mountains like a scaling knife through a fish. Blankets of snow covered all but the steepest slopes of rock, and even then there was a thick coating of ice sheathing most of the snow. The fissure in which Kurm Reyer, young clueless roustabout, had festooned himself, was nearly covered by a lumpy mass of snow.

    His boots four-times sewn with wolf- and bear-hides, his tattered cloak draped across his narrow shoulders, his slight fingers poking through errant holes in his gloves…He was the very picture of a down-on-his-luck explorer. Fortunately for him, Kurm maintained the keen edge of his blades well enough to slaughter anything that had come his way without suffering too many injuries. Also fortunately for him, the young rogue had long since abandoned any social mores…Although he hadn’t resorted to cannibalism–and swore that he never would, let alone even thought he’d ever resort to it–he had eaten more seemingly despicable things in the past few months than he thought possible. For example, Kurm would never recommend Kobold, even to his worst enemy.

    He was never one to admit failure. But it seemed to him that the faces of these mountains had been scoured beyond measure. For at least half a year, he stumbled, stalked, and strode through the valleys and across the peaks, never finding any evidence of the so-called Ivory Spire.

    And yet, the visions still haunted him.

    Emerging from the darkness of his slumber. A pair of vermillion eyes, unblinking, flashing from either side of the creature’s skull. Flawless feathers–in a rainbow of colors–with a scintillating, metallic sheen. Scaly, taloned feet. And as always, the fanged beak.

    He clutched at his stomach, which had long since stopped its grumbling.

    “I’s so tharsty,”
    he moaned.

    • Markshire PCs:


    • Markshire PCs:

    Somewhat older and wiser, much leaner, quite covered with whiskers, and definitely very, very thirsty, Kurmet Reyer passed wordlessly through the gates of Foothold, re-entering his adopted home of several years past.

    To say that he had failed in his quest is sufficient. Despite wandering for years in the frozen mountains of the north, he had not caught one glimpse of the supposed Ivory Spire. Starved, beaten, deprived, and nearly frozen to death several times, he had clung to life with not just his characteristic stubbornness but also a manic desperation…Perhaps brought about by his fervor and obsession with the stolen Banner of Poultrix.

    In time, however, the obsession faded. The stubbornness and mania still persisted, it was true. But the hold of Poultrix had weakened over time. Whether that was for good or ill, Kurm hadn’t the faintest clue. But at least he knew (or at least he felt he knew) when it was time to quit. Besides, there was no one there to help him, and everyone he knew thought he was crazy for doing it anyway. The only person he would be disappointing would be himself.

    Wonder if Master Whilrblurr might errmember me…? , Kurm thought to himself as he walked up to the front door of his former home.

    Without the scarcest glance at the Foothold Temple, Kurm grasped the heavy bronze door handle of the brewery, kicking the snow from his patchwork boots before stepping inside.

    Kurm cleared his throat. “Yer home in ‘ere?” the young man called out.

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