“I have something great for this week’s story time,” Slayte begins the normally reserved fellow as excited as they ever remember him being.
“Better than last weeks?” Jokes Synn, smiling, flicking his hair out of his eyes and smoothing one delicately arched eyebrow. While everyone else laughs, even Slayte smiles his tight-lipped smile and replies “Hey you asked and I answered, not every story we tell is as full of daring do-s and intrigue as yours or Magnus’,”
“Drama” Morrigan coughs into her hand eliciting more laughs from the reconnected friends.
“Anyway,” Slayte pulls out the chair he would normally sit in and motions to a man at the bar to take the chair, Slayte drifting over to lean against the wall on the other side of the table behind his friends. Synnaris motions for another round.
The raggedy robed man shuffles over, his movements slow and deliberate but not with age something else, something less easily quantifiable. As he sits down he nods to everyone at the table, pulling his raggedy shoulder length black hair back from his face, swiftly deftly wrapping it in a tight bun to keep it away. He is rail thin, a man once trimmed and mighty, his jaw line square and bearing formal despite a slight forward hunch. His tanned face is near ageless, old yes but not ancient or unusually so, he just has that timeless quality in his rough skin and crows’ feet. It is not his bearing, nor even his smell that is unsettling but his eyes. Oh they are normal for a human, a muted green, but there is something there or maybe not there that is unnerving, causing everyone to look away. Look to Slayte, for explanation.
“I found him last week down at the Misty Reach Tavern, he was sitting listening to that jack ass Airol tell the tales of the Time of Trials.”
Magnus rolls his eyes “That hack, he couldn’t spin a yarn if it was written out before him in giant letters, he has no meter, no poise, and he screws up the details.” To which the rest of the table raises their cups in agreeance.
“Be that as it may,’ continues Slayte “I was watching this fellow here and he was shaking his head in disagreement, clenching his fists, almost the entire time and when Airol built up to the tale of the rampage of Old Black Stripe, he jumped up startling the whole inn and began yelling in rage at poor Airol. Then the bartender, Inayaki, you know the big guy from Shin Ling, well he comes over and grabs this old man here, who was still shouting, raging almost incoherently at this point, around the shoulders and Blam!! Our friend” Slayte nods at the scruffy man quietly sipping his drink” Our friend here goes deathly silent and launches big Inayaki across the tap room with one hand. Then stumbles out of the Reach and into the night.”
Immediately everyone at the table tenses up looking at the ageless man, who just smiles and lifts his drink in bemused acknowledgement. “That fool was wrong, spreading his falsehoods.” The rugged stranger finally speaks, his voice low, rough probably from disuse, but cultured and even just the same.
“So of course I had to follow him.” Slayte smiles, “but I lost him in the mists by the harbor. I have spent my free nights searching for him and I found him a couple of nights ago, sitting on a boulder at the base of the path up to Founders Point. Just sitting there staring up at the Mountain. I sat with him and we talked and he told me a story,” Here stoic Slayte pauses, as overcome as you have ever seen him.
“Look I know we have all heard the stories of the Time of Trials. I know that you feel as I feel, believe as I believe. That near nameless distaste, crushing dissatisfaction, that horrible sense of unease that something was missing or wrong with the stories we have been told. That..”
The stranger interrupts his voice fierce, “Because they are wrong.” He whispers vehemently, his poise drawing everyone in, drinks untouched. The world around them fading away leaving nothing but the sound of his voice and the faint crackle of the nearby fireplace.
“I was there…. In our time of trials when Fan Lu almost fell. Yes, it began with earth quakes, as if the Great Dragon himself rolled or shrugged in his eternal sleep, maybe even gods have nightmares. We sure did in those days. Our protector Old Back Stripe had become unreachable according to his devotes, vanished, as was told by Hrothgar and the Night Watchman, chief amongst the Black stripes disciples.
The quakes stopped suddenly, after we foolishly ignored this phenomenon, and the grim tidings of Hrothgar. Then again everyone became exceptionally busy in the days following” At times the strange eyed man seems to fall into his own thoughts talking more to himself than to you.
“The Great Keeper of the Pacified Shadows went undeniably mad, the ancient monastery burning with dark fires. Evil flames, engulfing the living, leaving the structure untouched. I was not there for this part but I know many who were. There was a mighty battle between the Keeper, along with many of his Sohei who had also gone mad, all black eyed possessed vessels overflowing with evil. Amongst other notables, the Companions of Threnody were there, they fought the darkness.
The mighty Grognak cruising through the air like a hawk, blasting bolts of energy down upon the laughing Keeper, who was standing atop the highest tower of the Pacified Shadows hurling dark bolts of flame down to incinerate his own men, laughing all the while. Grognak’s earth shattering bolts fading into nothingness against the cackling madman. As a great eagle, Tealia was there, The Golden Lady upon her back calling down beams of light to destroy the corrupted keeper, beams that shattered and broke against his shield of evil. The mighty Hrothgar side by side with the indomitable Stern fought afoot as they had never fought before, a vicious battle against the tainted Sohei. These two matchless killing machines fighting for their lives, protecting the good Sohei, and doing everything in their power not to kill the stricken monks.
In the end it was a jade arrow, from who knows where that pierced the Ancient Keepers heart, blasting him off the top of the monastery to fall silently to the blood stained cobbles of the courtyard. No one knows exactly were that blessed bolt came from but many have their unsaid theories.
Our heroes prevailed but at cost, many of the good Sohei were slaughtered by their possessed brothers, and many of those possessed brothers could not be saved and had to be put down, even in the aftermath many that survived chose to take their own lives in shame….” He trails off taking a sip.
“Then came the Nights of Angry Spirits, when a ghostly army came oozing out of the depths of the lake breaking upon Fan Lu in a devastating wave. A deathly fog engulfing the entire city, concealing the ghostly killers and beings of indescribable horror. No one can say exactly who was there but many stories abound of the Night Watchmen, Stern and Gr…Lord Threnody Stalking the streets doing everything in their power to fight the engulfing evil for days without rest. Three nights and days of death and terror, then nothing. Seemingly inexplicably It faded away with the rising of the sun on the fourth day. Leaving Fanlu shaken and broken.”
“On the heels of that terrible time there came the seemingly unending horde of evil humanoid tribes and aberrant bandit gangs, that seeing the city weakened sought to take over. Oh how wrong they were! After the devastating days of impotence and fear the people of Fan Lu rallied against such a real-world foe and fought back as vicious as any trained army. They fought back for their families, their lives, their homes, for the city. Lead by heroes and humble folk alike. It was in those battles we lost our Mayor, Yoritomo, and many of his famed outriders from the Brotherhood of the Southern Route. They looked like the grand retainers of the kings of old, resplendent in silks of green and gold, sith silver tipped lances that shown in the firelight as they thundered down the streets of our city…but Yoritomo did fall, and only one man could rise to take his place in those times. The Famed Hrothgard rallied the people. He had been their champion in the six points ring, and so many times outside of it. The people needed a war-leader to hold them together through those times, and Hrothgar did!
Mayor Hrothgar was everywhere in those days rallying the people, leading the charge against this newest evil. It seemed that despite Fan Lu’s collective heroism, the foul besieging forces would win, but then The Golden Lady, Caris, and her glorious retainers came sweeping up from the south! From the west silent as death came the war band of Yu Shu of the Two Rivers and the valiant brothers of the Temple of the Mists came roaring down from the north. They obliterated all before them, Trapping the near victorious evil doers within the strong walls of Fan Lu. Vicious days of street to street combat ensued but eventually saw the tribes and bandits slaughtered, though a few did escape, better to let them spread the word that Fan Lu does not stand alone!
There was no time to rejoice as many of the fleeing bandits and tribes set fires in their wakes and these fires ragged almost out of control. Youngsters of your age I am sure you all remember those days, though you probably spent most of them in hiding. Oh how those fires burned, first it was down in the south corner of town, then it was in the east, then it was everywhere. Night after night, more fires, and stories of strange things roaming the back alleys. Something not many know is that during that time when the fires were at their worst, something great and terrible came out of the night to devour our town, but again heroes and common folk rose up and fought back. You know what happened in that aftermath, I am sure. The weeks of fighting the fires and months of rebuilding.
A quiet peace, like the lake after a storm, descended upon us then, it has lasted these many years’ youngsters, but if it is one thing I have learned in all my years, it is that storms come and go. What will you do when the storms come?” at this the odd gentleman begins to stand as if to leave.
“What about Fang Quiang old man?” Whispers Morrigan entranced, the others joining in to question the missing piece of the story, even from beyond as the rest of the entire tavern had become caught up in the earnest telling of a great tale.
Slowly deliberately the old man begins to walk around the table, looking everyone in the eye catching their attention fully one at a time. “What about it?” He asks rhetorically to the ensnared friends, floating with him, the outer world a foggy dream all but forgotten as they hang upon his every word, their minds whirling with the influx of information.
“That was the final storm of those times, when the Great Fang Quiang benevolent protector of Fan Lu for generations surged from the mountain and began to lay waste to the recovering city, a seeming final hour death blow to our beloved city. Everything was chaos before then in the aftermath of so many brutal trials. I am unsure if there is even a word for what was going on at that time as Old Black Stripe reappeared and laid into the city.
Fang Quiang, the spirit of the great rock dome that rises over Fan lu was twisted by evil magics, presumable, left behind by those who attacked us. He was always a good spirit that cared for all that lived in our town, even the lowly and the lost, but he rose up like a giant made of stone, walked right out of the side of The Sleeping Mountain and started destroying things with earthquakes and fists of stone.
For seven days the greatest of our heroes fought the raging mountain. Many you know, and many you do not. On those days the magnificent Hrothgar, Stern, The Favored son of Krom, his wings of golden light flaring like the morning sun, and Grim faced Grognak amongst others ascended the mountain to Battle our guardian, While the wise Yu Shu of Two rivers, Tealia, Lord Threnody, and Evon of the Sacred Leaf, along with a few trusted heroes, delved deep into the mountain in search of the heart of Fang Quiang…In the hopes that if they found the sacred object that tied the spirit to this world, they could bring it out of it’s madness.
On the afternoon of the seventh day, it was over. The Mountain sleeps again, and has ever since. Who knows if he will rise again? We do know that Hrothgar stepped down from his role as mayor to live full time upon the mountain, a hermit tending to the needs of the sleeping spirits. Since then no one man has stepped up to take up the mantle of Mayor in Fan Lu.
We lost so many in those times hero and commoner alike. Heroes like the Great Yoritomo and his trusty steed Yugo. No one knows what happened to the Night Watchman, a comforting presence in our night times now gone. Though the band of “Nightwatch men” who strive to honor his memory do a passible job, but trust me kids, it is not the same peace of mind without him.
Still others lived but were badly mauled in the Time of Trials;”
The elder fellow stops, letting this all sink in, placing his hands upon the back of the chair he had been sitting in. He leans in and continues, the world beyond his voice absolutely nonexistent at this point to the awe struck friends.
“The Temple of the Pacified Shadows Still stands though its halls are mostly empty with less than five score brothers left to carry on the teachings of the ancient monastery, led by Hanzo, the horribly burned Master Sohei, now the new Keeper, with a grim Grognak serving as advisor.
Even the seemingly unlimited mass of the Temple of the Mists was dramatically reduced.
Caris, the Golden Lady, returned to her throne in Shin Ling and has not been seen since, though rumors of her wedding and children filter up with the caravans. She has brought Shen ling into a golden age of peace and prosperity it seems.
The Spirit Walker Tealia and her Pride can be glimpsed in the woods of the northern Vale where Threnody Manor lies.
You know what became of Brother Stern, as most of you were raised in His Anvil. He can be seen coming and going within Fan Lu, often in the company of his friend, the Lord Threnody.
Our city has come through the fires of strife. Sure, there seem to be more bandits and humanoids menaces troubling the roads and outlying settlements these days, rogue spirits, wu jen and other aberrations haunt the nights. Even the local bad elements, street gangs and the like, have gained a tentative foot hold for now.
Like our city the people have come through the forge and emerged stronger. Like a muscle pushed almost to breaking but made all the stronger for its troubles, we are stronger. Though for a time we were weak. The future is uncertain younglings, but it is yours.”
He stands up straight, suddenly an imposing presence before them, a seeming throw back to a former time when he was whole. The ragged man opens his arms wide to encompass the enraptured friends and continues, “The Lord Threnody….”
“Says it is time to come home old friend.” A low, bemused voice says from the shadows behind the ragged man.
For all the friends the world snaps painfully back into focus, a sense of dislocation and near vertigo ensues as they look around. The entire tavern is shadowed, one can barely see five feet ahead, and ahead of them is the strange old man, eclipsing him to the man’s left stands the awe inspiring form of the Lord Threnody, towering above them all, easily as tall as Morrigan. Wide brimmed hat pulled low, long great coat whispering around him as he places one fine gauntleted hand upon the story tellers shoulder and they vanish.
The tavern suddenly returns to full brightness, even the sound was muted and comes roaring back. Each and every person within stunned and shocked and then the hub bub begins as everyone starts talking at once.
Except for the friends at the table in the corner.