The End of an Age

Where Are Your Gods: A Sequel

Piper sat at the window in her room, staring out into the darkness of night, nothing but a candle flickering on the table behind her. “We awakened a god” she mused, “how the hell did we awaken a fucking god?” Piper smiled to herself, half in satisfaction and half in bewilderment. She rubbed her eyes and chuckled. She was so tired, but yet her mind would not let her sleep. This seemed to happen a lot to not only her, but to the rest of her party as well. “I’m sure the others are still awake,” she pondered; however, she wanted, needed, this time alone. She turned to the table and her gaze became fixated on the flickering candle. As the smoke twirled in the air, Piper began to reminiscence on what brought them to this point…

The Guardians of the Word. Life was turned upside down for her because of them. Her memory was already blurring about agreeing to join their ranks. Perhaps that child she shot down affect her more than she realized. But she couldn’t show that, not after seeing Robert’s reaction. One of them had to stay strong, and this time it was her. But now, she had to kill- regardless of age. She was stunned when Robert agreed to join as well. After everything he had told her, or perhaps she is placing what she knew now with what she saw then. Memories were so fickle. However, death was a part of life, and justice had to be served. In order to restore balance, some individuals had to be removed, while other needed to be created (or in this case awakened). As she further pondered, Piper felt glad to of join the Guardians’ ranks. It gave her a purpose to be here, and their philosophy was not far from her own. To be a Northern Warder you had to give your life to protect the North. She expected nothing in return from that duty- no title, no land, and no recognition. Just the want of making it safer for her fellow Northman was enough satisfaction for her. And now, here was a group that did just that- made it safer for all beings to coexist without recognition.

Awaking a god. She couldn’t remember why or even how they stumbled upon that farm. But to find the word of civilization was either luck or fate. Perhaps it was a little of both. Because of Hadrian, she now realized that not all magic users were in it for themselves. That some truly wanted to do some good in the world. It made her job that much more satisfying to help individuals trying to help others.

She rubbed her eyes once more. “I’ve been hanging around Eddard for too long- I’m becoming soft.” She laughed again. She finally understood why Eddard love the law so much. It aided in preserving life. As a hunter she always killed to survive in order to preserve her own life. But now she found a new found respect for the animals she hunted and tracked. “Without their life, my life could not have continued.” Balance was so important in life, and every day that lesson became a little bit clearer to her.

Her thoughts wandered once more to their next task. They awakened one god, but now there were more. The trials and tribulations of finding the 3 words for Erathis was enough, but now they had to find more. Not only find the words- but to find the gods themselves. Hopefully Gavin had some clue about where to go. She noticed him reading intently during their travels. I hope he finds what he is looking for.

Piper heard Robert’s heavy steps coming down the hall. She didn’t realize how late it was getting. She blew out the candle. As she sat in the darkness, she continued to stare at the invisible smoke wafting in the air. Their upcoming journey would be no different than that smoke: it was going to be filled with more twists and be completely at the mercy of the wind.

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Sleepless Night, Part Two
"That's all you are. A barbarian."

It was like always.

That scream.

All movement, everything a blur. No time to stop, no time to think.

He was running… Why? Where to? What was… Who was screaming? There was something in his hands, he didn’t remember how it got there. It was heavy. Solid. His arms were strong, but still, it was so heavy.

Suddenly, there it was. Them. They had her. Her name was Jenne. He remembered her lips. They tasted so sweet, soft, and warm. And they were locked in a pained, horrified scream, as the two… creatures took her, right there in the field.

He was crying, he could feel it. Not of fear. Not of sadness.

Rage. Dark, burning, unmerciful Rage.

That heavy object, it moved so fast, without thinking. It came swinging around and caught the first barbarian(Yes! That’s what the monster was! A barbarian!), completely by surprise. His head burst like a melon, bits and pieces flying in all directions, covering him, covering Jenne, alerting the second as a chunk of jaw met the back of his head with a sickening, wet thwap.

Still, the screaming, the sobbing, the girl on the ground pushing herself away from the creature. The barbarian. He remembers that so vividly now, he could see her green eyes, the ones he loved watching sparkle with mischief as she made him chase her. They were wide, unseeing, like a doe. She was an animal as well, it seemed, just like him, just like the barbarian grabbing his weapons.

Whenever he focused on the barbarian, everything was red. Burning. Fury filled him, moved his arms, swung that heavy thing… That… Hammer? His fathers? The creature dodged, and dodged, leap and spun away from his clumsy swings. They were wild, forcing the creature back, keeping it on the defensive. He should have been tiring, his arms should have been weakening, and yet his swings continued. Finally, the other slipped, a rock giving way under a boot, bringing him jarringly to his knee. The barbarian looked up in time to lock eyes with him, right as the hammer came down…

Those eyes he saw, they were his.
-——————————————————————————————————————————————-

Robert woke, shaking, feeling the fury still running through his veins. It wasn’t just the fury that was making his body shudder, but also the revulsion. He felt like he was going to be sick, right there, right then, his rough pillow damp from his leaking eyes. Slowly, he looked around, looking for the judging eyes, those that might have heard him thrashing… But there was no one.

Not even Piper. His hand fell to the place she had been, as if looking for the warmth her body might have left behind, but it was gone. He shook his head, a strong arm lifting to run across his eyes, removing the evidence of those tears that had set his cheeks to glistening. The dream came to him often after times like these, whenever there was a fight, or he was heavily worked up the day before… He could never fully remember it, other than the last few moments, the way those eyes looked at him as his hammer descended, almost pleading. The rest was a haze the dissipated too quickly to decipher. He was left with his shaking body and a feeling of… He couldn’t describe it. He wanted nothing more than to pull Piper close to him, to feel her breathe and remind him of life, to calm him, to ward away those thoughts of death and fury.

Sensing his masters discomfort, Canis was there, the large wolf half stepping, half leaping into the bed next to him, and Robert attempted a smile, his arms wrapping around the shaggy creature. How had it gotten to this point?

He could smell her, still. Her scent was in the air, and he didn’t need that strange shared senses with Canis to catch it. Piper. He didn’t understand her, or the hold she had over him. His mind told him without hesitation that she was too unknown, too reckless even for him. She couldn’t be accounted for. But… Something about that called to him. He knew that, despite everything, despite her stealing the book, her part in the loss of the breastplate, that he could always trust in her. Maybe not in her being effective, but that she would always have his back, no matter what. Even if he was wrong, he didn’t believe that she would ever abandon him if he was in need. He’d had… He’d had such a hard time, seeing her bound, caught. His blood had boiled, and it was by only the barest of measures that he’d held back from charging straight for those men holding her, to remove whatever it was that was trying to harm someone he cared so deeply about.

Robert let out a long, heavy sigh, something that hinted at the weight he carried. That rage was so deep set into him. At times, and he would never, ever admit it, it scared him. But it was a tool, something that, when unleashed, had always worked in the favor of his friends, of his family. His hand pressed to his wolf, letting Canis know his time on the bed was over, and the wolf complied obediently. On the table next to him, his armor was set alongside his hammers. Absently, he found himself taking hold of that sledgehammer, and holding it as he thought, feeling it’s weight.

“Ned… You idiot.” His face scrunched up at the memory of their argument again, wondering how someone that had grown into a man so close to where he had… How he could be so different. How he couldn’t understand. It wasn’t enough to simply stop an enemy, was it? Not when the stakes were so high. When someone threatens your life, the only realistic response was to make sure they didn’t achieve their goals. Stopping them, and letting them live simply gave them the opportunity to try again, or to go after someone else. Whereas, ending the threat… It was like the Blood Fist. You didn’t just let them run away. You killed them, as many as you could, so that when they next spoke of raiding, they would remember. They would remember, and decide that another day would be better. How did Ned miss that lesson? How could he offer Life to those that would so easily end theirs? Wasn’t that insanity? Carelessness? Was Ned a coward, or a lunatic?

He knew Ned was neither, as he looked for that goblet. He’d left it… Somewhere close, before he’d let sleep take him. Ned wasn’t a coward. He’d run into battles right next to Robert, just as ready to lay down his life, to find his end on a bloody sword to protect those that needed it. Eddard was a rare man, and it hadn’t honestly taken much for them to come together as children, to find in each other an ally and friend that could be counted on. Eddard had always been this way, honorable to a fault, living that dangerous life of a man that refused to be forced to be like his enemies.

Roberts eyes widened, just as his hand found, and promptly knocked over, the goblet by his bed, spilling that dark red wine across the floorboards. He froze, his breathe caught in his chest.

“… Me. I’m… I’m the coward.” He whispered the words to himself, tasting them, finding them bitter as truth tended to be. That was it. Eddard lived the way he did, despite the dangers it imposed. It wasn’t weakness. It was a strength. Of character. Courage. All these passing days, with the weight of the world falling more and more on their shoulders, as Robert was forced to treat with kings, play saboteur, make decisions for more than just himself, but for entire kingdoms… He’d been losing more and more hold on what mattered. On being something better than those that were so willing to easily take a life.

The sound of Canis lapping at the spilled wine, cleaning it eagerly, brought Robert back. He shifted, letting his feet find the floor, as he sat on the edge of his bed, those broad shoulders bowed. He was shamed. Now that he’d accepted it, seen it for himself, what was he other than a barbarian? That was the moment that he felt it, that the sickness washed over him. His hammer hit the floor with a resounding crack. In two great, naked bounds, Robert was at a window, head out of it, retching, wine and bile exiting his stomach as quickly as they could.

Tomorrow would be terrible. Robert was so very bad as admitting he was wrong…

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Sleepless Night, Part Two
Wherein, our hero realizes he's alone.
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Sleepless Night - Eddard
The Power of a Name

Knight.

Sir.

The Realm.

…and now Thane.

Ned walked the streets of Forsevar alone underneath a sky of stars he did not recognize. He passed by the houses of people he did not know. He spent time sitting on the low wall of the fountain he found only by its noise.

“What have I done to earn the trust of these people.”

How can I live up to this honor I have been given? They expect a leader, a voice of confidence and authority. I’ve barely been able to make a decision for the four of us traveling together.

Ned looked at his sword. The sigil hanging on the wall had glowed when the Jarl had spoken, as had the sword. Gavin was able to change the very nature of wood and metal with words. Robert had become a bear. The very foundations of his world had been shaken time and time again. And then there was the dream. The vision. Did he have any option but to accept that there were powers at work much more powerful than he or any other human could hope to be?

The road took a turn. Ned looked up just in time to avoid this new corner.

Magic aside, there were more real problems that Ned had to confront. Most pressing on his mind was this tension between himself and Robert. How had his lifelong friend become so alien to him? What had driven this rift between the men who once trusted each other so implicitly it was as if they could read the other’s thoughts. Ned longed for the times when the toughest decision to be made was if Valley Town should bring in its harvest early to avoid the coming winter. Now that each day it seemed they held the life of someone in their hands, Ned and Robert found it harder and harder to agree. Why couldn’t Robert see that there must be honor in their lives?! Why did he only reach for the lawlessness of their enemies??

An upturned cobblestone in the road.

Maybe something was there in Robert’s life causing him to feel this anger, this uncontrollable rage. A thorn in his side. A stone in his boot. But what was it?

A door slammed off to his right. Ned reached for his sword and readied himself. A dog ran by, barking as its owner shouted after it. Relaxing, Ned resumed his walk.

Was there anything that showed his failure as a leader more than his relationship with Piper? Here was a girl aching to become more. She had a thirst for action that made Ned reminisce on his time as leader of the militia in Valley Town. If only he’d had scouts like her! But time and again he chastised her, speaking to her only when he saw weakness or fault.

He’d reached the northern wall. Ah, but wasn’t that it. Couldn’t it all come back to Tirion. Ned reached for the sword strapped to his waist. He remembered the sigil that Piper wore on her tabard. Always some part of that old bastard clinging to his life. For all the good Tirion had done, for the motivation he’d given Ned, there was something to be said about a backhanded compliment. Ned turned and began to walk south. What was honor if it had such poison in its roots.

He continued mulling over his thoughts until he reached the southern gate of the city.
There it was. The distraction, the barrier. All this time he had been clinging to a life he had created in the south. From the days living in fear of the wolf that had killed his father to the battles raging in the streets of southern cities, Ned’s life was forged around those shortcomings and faults of his previous life.

He had just entered a new realm, a new kingdom, a new world. Why not begin anew? Tirion had coined his nickname, Ned, saying he wasn’t worthy of such a noble name as Eddard. Those days were gone. Finished was his life as a commander speaking only in times of failure. As a new Thane in this province, he would show the people of Forsevar a paragon of honor. He would not stop at these city gates or the borders of this province. His virtue would spread as a banner of courage and hope for these people and then the people of the South.

Eddard turned the corner with a stronger, quicker stride. He would begin with the people closest to him. Piper. Gavin. And Robert. Eddard looked at his shield with the symbol of a creature he had once feared. The wolf no longer held meaning for him. He already knew what his new emblem would be.

Eddard made his way to Gavin’s new quarters, the Speaker’s quarters. He was going to need a painter in the morning, and he’d need Lionel to hold still for long enough to paint his likeness.

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The Night that Lacked Sleep
“The eyes of a raven will always be better than yours, and when you fail, the raven will poke them out until you either bleed to death or learn to see.”

Piper wanted to be able to see. She was trained to see, to perceive, to discern. But not recently. Her eyes failed her. Her wits failed her. And as she laid in the darkness, even her dreams failed her.

The scene played over and over in her mind. She was bold and reckless. Some of Robert’s traits were rubbing off on her. Perhaps they were always there, but he just brought them out more. Not necessarily a bad trait to have when you are faced with battle and told that the fate of the world was on your shoulders. But still… she should have waited to send Quark to distract the idiots. And they were just that: cowardly idiots. And yet her overconfidence blinded her vision. She knew Robert and Ned were far away. She knew she and Gavin could not take on the three men, no matter how small their intellect may have been. Maybe she put too much faith in Gavin. Gavin was talented; there was no doubt, but still just a kid. And as she found out, she too was just a kid. Just a stupid, little, brash child that would not listen to reason. Just a “low base, idiotic spawn.” The venom Tierion spit at her that night still festered in her mind.

She shifted in her sleep. He kicked her in the back. She made more room.

The archer knocked the arrow at Quark. Piper’s heart stopped. No matter how much she hated Quark because he reminded her of Tierion every day, Quark saved her so many times. No matter how annoying his constant demand for corn became, Quark was there for her as she trudged through the North alone after Tierion left her. She missed the North so much. To not even acknowledge its existence was the hardest part. No one knew how gorgeous the snows were. How beautiful the valleys were. How fucking stubborn the people were.

She shifted in her sleep. He kicked her in the back. She made more room.

She has done so much to these friends: it was amazing they even still tolerated her existence. Within that tolerance, Piper came to realize how weak she was. Ned with his never failing honor and loyalty. For some reason, he still talked to her. For all the injustices she did in front of his eyes, he still found room somewhere in his heart to forgive her. No doubt his honor sometimes was his weakness, but he was the reason she stood alive today. When the oaf held the sword to her neck, it was Ned’s honor and courage that saved her. Why he even still tolerated her, she will never understand. Now the book and the breastplate were gone because of her. Just a “low base, idiotic spawn.”

She shifted in her sleep. He kicked her in the back. She made more room.

Robert. Without him, she wouldn’t be with them, or even alive. His honor and loyalty to her was just as fierce as Ned’s was to the realm. Perhaps that is why Ned and Robert were best friends. No matter how many times they fought with each other, no matter how many times one became frustrated with the other, they both held honor and loyalty high, but in different regards. Robert was more like her. Willing to take the risks to get what was needed. She saw the fury in his eyes as she kneeled there helpless. She saw the madness that overtook him as he chased after the idiots. Not only did she lose the breastplate, she thought she lost him as he galloped away, Canis nipping at the horse’s heels. Her heart broke, as it did when he fell the day she stole the book. “And that is why, Piper, you will be the best Northern Warder, perhaps even greater than me, when you decide to pull your head from your ass.”

And Gavin… she was still so unsure about the boy. She saw so much of herself in Gavin it was frightening. “That’s right you stay silent, child. Speak when you’re spoken to. Words are sharper and much deadlier than swords in the right situations. In this situation, your words brought the sword. You are the stupidest child I have ever known. Must be that fool of a father of yours.” And now he was the Speaker. The voice of the Jarl. Such a weight for such a child. And yet in a way they were all children, and she was no exception. And yet, she held nothing but confidence in Gavin. Contempt at first, as he turn and ran as the men surrounded her. ‘He’s leaving me to die,’ she thought as he fled. But it was Gavin’s fast thinking, and even faster feet, that saved her in the end. Just a “low base, idiotic spawn.”

“You think the men will follow you just because you say you are the leader of the Northern Warders? I’VE been fighting alongside of them! You’re still just that stupid little girl I left crying. You’re still a failure.” I never cried. Not once did I cry. A true woman of the North would never cry. But yet there she was, in her dreams, huddle in the corner crying as Tierion stood over her, shoving venom down her throat. But she was a failure. The Jarl made Tierion’s words sting even further. Gavin was given the honor of being the Jarl’s new Speaker. Ned became the Jarl’s Thane and protector of his realm. Robert, the “Bloodless,” the brash and the bold, given back his prized manticor egg in order to raise it. And Piper? Ned ASKED what should be her gift. The Jarl ASKED what she wanted from him. The Jarl did not give her anything at first because she earned nothing. She was ashamed upon Ned’s request. She was embarrassed. She asked for nothing because she did nothing. Yes, she successfully trailed the idiots after the drug drop off, which in turned lead to the former Speaker’s demise. But what did she do in reality? She stole a priceless book for money, for a group she so desparately wanted to create and then promptly abandoned to come to this forsaken place, off of the only true friends she ever had. She got herself caught. Her head was not worth the price of that breastplate. Gavin had every right to leave her…Ned should have killed her a long time ago… and Robert should have let her die… She caused them nothing but trouble. Just a “low base, idiotic spawn.”

She shifted in her sleep. He kicked her in the back. She made more room as she left.

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Sleepless Night.
"You're crazy. Just like your father."

Gavin watched his companions depart his library, stared at the door for another minute or two, then heaved a sigh and shed a single tear.

What have I gotten myself into,” he thinks to himself. Slowly, wearily, he moves to his desk. “Right. My desk. My library. I’m the Speaker now. Because clearly, on top of everything else, I can handle this.” Absent mindedly he opens a random book on the desk, thumbs through a few pages, staring at nothing, seeing nothing, feeling…..nothing? “Wrong you idiot. You’re feeling things. A lot of things. Sort them out. I’ve been through worse…right? No….I’ve been through a lot. Can’t say I much fear death anymore, seeing as how I’ve been to that brink and I’ve seen that darkness. Came back oh so smart though didn’t you? Learned the science of matter, learned the names of elements, excelled with all this intelligence……and lost your entire family” More tears begin to force their way from his eyes. They drop onto the pages of the book, the old dry pages quickly absorbing the moisture. “Alright Gavin, pull yourself together. Let’s recount what your life is. So, you’re the speaker. You speak for a Jarl, whom you know little about, but is clearly a stickler for the laws. Awesome…because you get along so well with the law.” Eyes glazed over, he remembers a time that seems now as if it happened in another life. His dirty, scoundrel life on the island. And then his focus comes back. “And Ned, Thane of this region now, is to watch over me. Even better. A person who you have travelled with, yet still know so little about, who has this code…this extremely righteous sense of honor, is to watch over me as Speaker.” He closes the book, fist pressed hard on the cover, knuckles whitening. He grasps the book and throws it across the room. “Because anger is exactly what I need right now isn’t it?” He takes a deep breath, stands, walks over and picks up the book and replaces it in an empty spot on a shelf. “Done with your tantrum now? Because you need to stop acting childish. And speaking of tantrums…Robert. He is difficult. I can’t tell yet, is his attitude just derived from pure…disgust?….with everyone and everything, or is he just, by barbaric nature, full of such an intense rage that his only outlet is either physical combat, or his combative attitude towards everyone. And Piper, she is a mysterious one. Of all the companions I know nothing of, she I know the least. What is her edge? What is her game? Does she even have one? Is she playing us for fools? Is she on our side? She is an enigma to me, that is for sure.” Gavin begins to pace the library, no set motion or path. Just wandering. “So much to think of….it is going to be a sleepless night for sure. Now, your father….this Stranger….and of course….the dragon.” At the thought of the dragon Gavin stops pacing. “No, I can’t go see him yet. I have to sort through this. Focus Gavin, Focus…..Your father. Where are you? Uriah….Dad…I thought you were dead. Why didn’t you check on me? Why didn’t you come back for us? WHAT. HAPPENED. TO. YOU.” Fists clenched, crying, Gavin falls to his knees. “what happened to you…..who is the stranger….and what is happening to me?” Silence. Just silent sobbing. He appears as nothing more than a lost child. Gavin Guile, the child prodigy, brought to his knees by this life. Slowly, quietly, he rises to his feet, walks to his desk, and pours himself a cold cup of tea. Of course its cold, he has been pacing and lost in his own mind for hours. “A mind is a terrible thing……I don’t have time for this. Grow up, kid. You have major responsibilities, so act like you can handle this.” He opens the blinds, the first rays of dawn stinging his eyes, he takes a sip of his tea, bitterly cold. “Well, time to get your shit, and your things together. You’ve got people who need to become friends, no, family.” Gavin proceeds to gather some essential books, a few specific ones for Robert, drains his cup of tea, and goes to greet the day with his newest companion and guardian, Lionel.

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Sleepless Night
"Robert's wandering mind."

Robert sighed, as he looked over the softly breathing form of Piper as she beside him. It wasn’t easy, sleeping like this… Mostly because he was huge, and the beds offered to the normal Jarl soldiers weren’t up to snuff. He’d had to commandeer another, and shove them together. With a couple blankets in the middle to hide the spot where they met, he had himself something more appropriate for sharing with another living creature. She was frowning. She always frowned as she slept, and that worried him. There wasn’t much he could do while she was sleeping, or while she was awake to help with whatever troubled her. He simply wasn’t the type to look towards to help with the deeper set emotional issues… He had his own that he didn’t even know how to approach. Perhaps someday. His response to the situation for the moment was to simply shift himself into a more uncomfortable position, to make hers moreso.
His mind wandered to the past few days, and what they’d meant to him. They’d been almost too rough. He could barely look Ned in the eyes, knowing their friendship was finding frays. Was he a coward? An idiot? How could he stick so stubbornly to the laws of this land, to his “code,” when it kept him at such a disadvantage? Those men, the ones that had tricked them into meeting in that clearing, that had killed those soldiers, that had captured Piper and held her hostage… They’d gotten away with it, cleanly. They had the breastplate, which meant the enemies to the very wellbeing of the world had an item of untold power. It had all been so clumsy, and yet it should have gone off without a hitch.
After “joining” the Icelanders, it had been their job to bring a shipment of drugs to a sweet eater that was feeding them information. They were doing such a good job, keeping an eye on the agents, making the drop and figuring out that it was the new Speaker who was betraying the Jarl. They’d even gotten a message to the Jarl about it all. And that was when it had started to go bad. The speaker saw him, and wanted his egg, the egg that would hatch and produce a manticor… Robert wanted nothing more than to raise one to fight beside him. Ever since he’d started slipping from his own skin, into Canis, he’d had an affinity to wild beasts. They mirrored him in so many ways, and it was comfortable. They didn’t argue so much, they did what had to be done. He was never going to give up that egg, whether or not their were soldiers following him. Of course, they didn’t last long when those men appeared, slitting their throats and giving him the cryptic “We have something you care about.” Telling him to meet them in the woods, with the chest plate. Fast forward, and you’ll find the standoff that went so badly. No one was hurt, but the breastplate was gone. Robert had chased them, had scoured their trail to no avail, his chest filled with anger. He’d never been good at losing, and that was what this was. They’d lost against such meager enemies that it burned, deeply inside the man, making him irritable and rash.
Robert shook his head, and bit back a small groan. His new position made him rest on his lashed back in a way that made it ache… He’d taken more than most men could, without crying out, without looking anywhere but the Jarl’s eyes. Throughout the halls, he’d heard himself called “Bloodless,” from the fact that he’d barely bled from the striping he’d taken. To his credit, the Jarl had never looked away from the burning glare of the barbarous man, instead offering his own that nearly made Robert himself look away. The man was a rock, unforgiving and unmoving, and it made Robert just bristle… Because he could see much to respect in the man. The Jarl hadn’t held himself above punishment. He’d taken his own lashes for holding them illegally days before. He’d even listened when Robert had first told the tale of what had passed since their last meeting, giving the Sweet Eating Speaker his due. In fact, after doling out the deserved punishments for breaking the laws of his land, he’d rewarded them all greatly for their help. Robert now could legally own his beast once it hatched, Gavin was named new Speaker, Ned was a Thane with a new, powerful sword, and Piper was invited to use the keeps alchemical equipment to further her learning. Robert wanted so badly to hate the man, but he found himself slowly, bit by stubborn bit, giving in to respect. If a man like that, strong and fiercely protective of his people, could so strongly believe in the laws of his land, did it not lend credence to it’s importance? Was Ned right?

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Following the Footsteps of Heroes
Davos Cressen's Collected Works

The passage north was neither safe, cheap, or straightfoward, but it had come to be the expected way with those that I followed. Years later, I had to marvel at how those intrepid folk had managed such a trek back in those troubled times. The UTO had just taken control back then, and their rigorous upkeep of documents and attention to detail would have made it near impossible to make such movements as those, but it seems they were creative, as always. Taking a passage by sea, through lawless islands and into the north was impressive, but even moreso was the journey farther, into lands untouched by us southron folk. I had heard rumors of a place called the Crescent Moon Monastery, but as with most rumors and lore, I’d expected it to be more metaphor than truth in a literal way. And again, I was made to look the fool. How they had managed to make it here, bereft of help, of true knowledge of the place, boggles the mind. The people there were very much of kindred spirits to me, which aided my passage through. They understood duty, and what things must be done. History must be kept.

I traveled farther north, with probably much more care than they’d managed if I knew the ways of the indomitable Robert, the passionate Piper, and the stalwart Eddard. They would have plowed through whatever came between them and their goal, while eagerly exploring every relic of the past that they managed to come upon. It was my luck to run into one that traveled with them earlier on in my adventures, a mercenary by the name of Archer. He’d, by chance of luck, been along with them for this trip, and it was truly something, the tale he told. He spoke of ruined castles, of bits of a great man’s past helping lead them on their way, and the fateful run in with the indigenous peoples that lived here. Cragomen. They were… honestly, they were a pleasure to interact with. As before with the keepers of the Monastery, they understood duty like few others. Our two duties did not meet well, of course, but the conversations I had with their leader were long and fruitful, and I spent many days in their hospitality as they tested me through words and actions. I was able to offered them many of my salves and poultices, and taught them how to make many, while they offered me knowledge of their own in equal measure. They told me of the meeting between their leader, and my friends (I do hope that I may still call them that. It has been so long, and so much has happened, but perhaps some bonds never sever). It was a tense moment, the pair of wills meeting. Robert, apparently, headstrong as always, bulled through with the day with aid from Piper, explain in no uncertain terms that they required passage through. That they’d had visions of things that had not yet come to pass that needed to, and to make it happen, they must needs go north. Perhaps the Cragomen could see that Robert was not the sort to be turned down from this without simply forcing his way through. That Piper would simply slip past. That Eddard would have doggedly never given up. They could never have hoped to contain the three without violence. Or perhaps they felt that fate had a hand here. Archer spoke of them admitting to the strange circumstances, the vision and symbols of the trio giving the small people pause, and eventually winning out the day.

From there, information is scarce. Archer would not budge on some things, like what had happened northern of those borders. Through travel, and north did I go after finally getting the grudging agreement of those indigenous folk, I was able to see much of it with my own eyes. I have spent much of my time thinking on what I can offer to the world on this. The threats from the Cragomen give me little pause, my health does not matter so much to me as to forget my path. But, some things are best kept secret, though. I will not speak of it. I shall instead touch upon the fact that those three, and their companions, were tested each. Their uneasy alliance, troubled by all that had come to pass, was once more forged to steel there, as many are when danger is all around and trust is required highest among all things. They fought, bravely. They were the heroes we needed them to be, even though such things are always so unfair to ask of anyone. But they stood and took that on for all of us. They lifted themselves to the occasion, and in the end, took the world into their capable hands.

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Where Are Your Gods?

A burning stag, a silver dire wolf, a crow as dark as night and a boy urchin. The most unlikely of heroes. Truly nothing more than common place at first glance. But it seems the weight of the world is indeed resting on their shoulders.

After the complete an udder disbelief of Robert’s death and miraculous fiery rebirth, Piper, Ned and Robert began the long trek back to their homeland: The North. Nothing felt safe and secure anymore. The United Trade Organization held rule in the entire lands. Even the 3 travelers felt at unease with each other. Piper got her Northern Warders back but at what price? Now Eddard analyzed her every move while Robert still had disappoint on his face. But the dream kept them alive. The dream that stole a month of their lives away. The merchant directed the priest to collect 8 baskets of wheat while the mockingbird fetched 5 baskets of mud and 2 baskets of sand. The priest and mockingbird obeyed, each collecting their goods. The wheat bent at the priest. The merchant mixed the mud and sand and ordered the mockingbird to peck out the priest’s throat. As the mockingbird peck, the priest said nothing as blood ran down his throat. The mockingbird flew back to the merchant, only to be crushed in his hands. The silver dire wolf, burning stag and crow as dark as night travelled through the swamps north, only to find a boy urchin raising a dead king in the snow. The dead king mounted the stag, with crow, wolf and urchin in tow, and travelled south in which he slaughtered the merchant_ this dream was not coincidence. This dream meant something and Eddard, Robert and Piper would find out.

Along the road, they fell in line again with Pavel, a friend but ever foe. Pavel had used every single member of the party, but yet, every single member of the party had Pavel to thank for some advancement in their lives. He may be a ruined king, but even ruined kings have connections. Much to the party’s disagreement and disapproval, the trio allowed Pavel to accompany them to Westwarf to find passage on a ship north. It would be the fastest way to figuring out their dream, but it would bear a heavy cost. They would have to be slaves on a ship to slide under the Merchant’s eyesight. No one liked the idea but saw no better options.

Pavel was true to his word. He found passage to the Sandbar Isles as slaves but in reality, they were just cargo. The journey was long. Robert, Eddard and Pavel seemed unaffected by the constant motion, but Piper could never grow into her sea legs.

After a few months at sea, the party found themselves on the Sandbar Isles, a pirate’s haven. Upon disembarking, a street urchin, no more than 15, introduced himself to the group. He was immediately distrusted by Pavel and Eddard, which made him that much more intriguing to Robert and Piper. For being a boy of 15 and dressed rather shabbily, he talked as if he ran the Islands. His confidence, or arrogance, preceded him and the group soon realized he may be their golden ticket to the North. After hours of planning, the boy, Gavin as he introduced himself, seemed to have everything in order. The group had a ship of their own, men to steer her (where the heck did Archer come from???), a paperless (and thereby traceless) way out, but all was not quite set. The ship needed cargo other than men, and they needed to find cargo that would appeal the port town of Deepshore. Eddard spoke up saying the North was in desperate need of wood as the Fairy Forest was sacred and would never be used as lumbar. Gavin knew of a shipment arriving that night that would be a perfect cover-up for the group’s escape.

A few minutes pasted midnight the pirate ship docked. Her crew, tired after their journey left the ship minimally guarded. However, the drawbridge was up thus making the boat inaccessible. Gavin stared at the ship, after realizing swimming to it was not a good solution, trying to find a weakness. He asked for some rope, which Robert provided. Strangely he studied the ship, while adjusting the orientation of the rope then asked for both Robert and Ned to hold it and prepare. After Robert and Gavin discussed what would happen, Gavin instructed Piper to cut the rope. All of a sudden the rope became extremely heavy, causing Robert and Eddard to exert a great amount of strength in order to steady it. Gavin was extremely focused and couldn’t even tell the group what to do next. Piper’s crow like eyes spotted that the drawbridge was wavering and noticed that the rope holding it, had miraculously been cut. She had seen magic like this before in the old bandit hideout when Ambrose melted the escape hole shut with the fireplace flickering light. She instructed Ned and Robert to slowly lower the rope, which in turn lowered the drawbridge efficiently and more important, quietly. After dispatching a few of the watchmen, the adventurers made their way to the cargo hold; however, transporting the hold was a stitch in the plan they didn’t quite iron out. After a few attempts to get the wood out quietly, Gavin decided to rip a hole in the hold to get the wood out into the water using the same magic he used with the rope. The plan made sense in theory, but Gavin underestimated where the hold laid within the ship. Instead of being above water, the hold was below. The hold began filling up with water very quickly. As the group frantically tried to seal the hole, Gavin decided to make the hole bigger to sink the ship and gain the cargo. After Piper and Eddard almost drowned, with Robert and Gavin saving them, the wood arose to the shore. After a night that seemed to go awry, something finally went right. Eddard convinced the misplaced pirates to sell the loose cargo to the party and to become part of the crew. The team rested and set sail to Deepshore in the morning.

“Where are your papers?” the weasel like lord asked. As Gavin tried to explain that there were never papers given from Westwarf (a lie to try and cover up where the group actually set sail from), the lord called for reinforcements. Much to the lord’s surprise the reinforcements were none other than the Northern Warder’s 1st private and Ned’s former employer and master, Tieron. A battle ensued. For Eddard’s bravery, Tieron knighted him. For Piper’s mockery, Tieron acknowledged her as leader of the Northern Warders. After a weeklong respite in Deepshore the group left to find Admiral Leafton Adarondac in the Fairy Forest.

Upon reaching the shack, the group found nothing but a note from presumably Leafton saying “Through the swamps.” The group then travelled to the Cresset Moon Monastery only to become more confused as to where their destinies lead them. A woman with a hand as cold as ice explained that the only person ever to go North was a dwarf, a person the height of Gavin and the stature of Robert. However, she warned that the man that went north was not the man he was as he travelled south again. In fact, as he travelled south, she explained that the Seven and the Five were created. They did not exist before this man. After becoming completely dumbfounded by this fact, the group travelled to the end of the monastery. As Gavin approached the northern wall of the monastery, the face of a lizard like creature appeared and split the wall into a doorway leading into the uncharted marshes.

After what seemed like months, the starving and tired team approached a ruined castle. One of the castle walls held three paintings, one of an angelic being who was being praised by people, the next of the angelic being crumpled with the people holding fire and lighting, and finally the angelic being and people living side by side peacefully with a man holding a sword to the air. Upon further investigation of the ruins, a small room was discovered that held the golden emblem, which was emblazoned in the group’s dream, on a wall. It looked like the Northern Warders’ symbol, but with a lizard-like head (a dragon’s head to be exact) instead of a fleur-de-lis. Piper then discovered a very old and moldy card with the emblem that Leafton used to leave around. As the group turned to leave, a group of strange men surrounded them with spears. Their skin was almost green in color and they were covered in moss. They spoke in a strange tongue, but one approached who spoke common as Eddard explained that the group was not there to harm them. They pointed at Piper’s tabard as they exclaimed that she bore the symbol of the South man. The group accompanied the moss men to their ever-moving city, armed with more questions than answers as they delved further into destiny.

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A Weight Upon Their Shoulders

He stalked, slowly, outside the extravagant tavern. At the moment, the hulking man was less bear, and more puma, his leather armor with the thick patches of well placed fur giving him an animalistic look. It was easy to recognize the boy that had left the northern Valleytown, but it was just as easy to recognize all that was different about the man. His eyes were harder, the same as his body, the long few years spent away from his home filled with strife and intrigue. Strife, the strong man knew well, though he’d never known it for such periods of time without laughter to beak it up. Intrigue, though… That was entirely foreign to him, and it’s learning had taken a toll on his heart and soul.

Take the last month or so for example. What northman could suffer such political and moral questions? To destroy the foundations of a popular religion, alone, was a terrible question, but to do so as an act of war? To weaken a populace? That was not the way he knew. Strength of arms, face to fave open confrontation, those were the ways of the north, and the learning of others did not go smoothly. But, that was the question he faced as his companions argued and the politicians schemed.

All he knew is that a politician should not be making the decision that came with that book. A schemer was the worst person to have such power, and though he knew deep down that the weight of something like that ancient tome and the knowledge that lay within could crush a mans soul, how could he strive for anything else? He would gladly trade himself to do the right thing. He only could hope that he was equal to the task. And so, he and his companions hit the road, the enormity of it all heavy on their minds. To his right was Ned, his best friend. He would die for that man in a heartbeat, and it pained him to see the man so conflicted… And it pained him more to feel the strain that had come to their relationship. Ned was honorable. He was the one born to make these decisions, but Robert was… Selfish? His homeland came first, while Ned’s allegiance was to all people, regardless of geography. To the left was Piper. She was yet an unknown. Robert couldn’t help but trust her, though. Her whirlwind nature, swinging from calm, flirtatious with an easy laugh, to deadly, cold, and.. If he wasnt wrong, terribly affected by a past that she could not yet put behind her. That nature drew him in, something he could very easily empathize with. She proved herself several times in combat thus far, allowing him to become more and more comfortable with the beauty, to the point of implicitly trusting her to hail arrows on enemies he was currently engaged in close quarters with.

Their travels did not go smoothly, especially for Piper. Robert and Ned were used to forced march speeds, the double time travel, and he suspected that the archer was not, judging by the wear she had experienced. They ran into highwaymen, hired by the men they pursued, but proved the better, and after only a short delay found themselves back on the road with a captive mercenary and an idea of where to expect the others.

And there they were. Inside the tavern, Piper worked her magic, while Robert, that agitated bear, stalked outside, wanting nothing more than a more physical enemy to grapple with than these wisps, these ideas, these intrigues that he was faced so often with..

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