Hi all, with quarantine in my country I figured there was no better time to write some fan lore. I’ll try and post once a week-ish.
This is not intended to supersede the lore posted by IP2, but instead to complement it. If you find any discrepancies between my writing and that of IP2, you can chalk it down to mine happening in a parallel universe where things are slightly different
Below is my first offering, a prologue to some other tales that I hope to tell. I’d love to hear any feedback.
#PROLOGUE - THE BOARD OF GEMS#
She stepped gingerly out of the horse drawn cart, almost stumbling as her foot slipped on a cobble and her ankle buckled. Her companion had swiftly made his way to her side of the carriage, and with a strong arm steadied her before she fell.
“Thank you”, she murmured breathlessly, brushing herself down.
“You should have waited. You are still building your strength”, he replied, his voice rich and deep.
She dismissed his concern with a turn of her head, and shook her arm from his. Rearranging the cowl that drooped over her head to cover all her features, she strode across the pavement towards the small shop nestled in the terrace of buildings alongside which the cart had pulled up. Her companion fell in line half a step behind her, eyeing their surroundings. His overcloak did very little to hide the intimidating height and frame beneath. This was an unsavoury part of town rife with beggars and thieves, but any onlookers that might have been considering the possibility of relieving the inhabitants of the carriage of their possessions when it had drawn up were now shrinking away, attention pointedly focussing elsewhere.
The shop front, like most buildings in this part, had seen better days. A window with rusted iron bars, the interior too dark to see into from the outside. Spalling stonework, unpainted, unmaintained and uncared for. A tattered wooden sign barely still hanging, with whatever writing had once adorned it faded into illegibility. A door hanging poorly from the frame promised a constant draft inside.
The woman pushed the door open and stood into the doorway, peering into the gloom. A raspy old woman’s voice that sounded like its owner hadn’t spoken in some time greeted her from within, before bursting into a cough.
“Should I wait outside?”, the man asked.
The woman pondered a moment before the voice from the back of the shop piped up with “Bring the Archon too!”. The woman beckoned him in after her. He had to bend his head to fit through the doorway, and once inside made several attempts to close the door behind him, banging it against the crooked frame.
“Any more of that and you’ll break it!” snapped the voice of the inhabitant of the shop. “Leave it be. Come in and sit with me before you do any damage”.
Eyes adjusting to the darkness, they ventured to the back of the shop, past shelves containing dusty books, gaudy trinkets, and some rather disgusting looking things in jars to where an old lady sat on a cushion in front of a low, wide table. She motioned towards the cushions on the other side of the table, where her visitors sat down. She regarded them with beady eyes: one huge bulking man, one sleight woman.
The woman removed her hood and cleared her throat. She seemed slightly taken aback when the Hag did not react, but only for a flash. She was about to speak before the Hag interrupted her.
“Am I supposed to act surprised? Forgive me your highness, but the gems tell me all. I’ve known you would visit me today since before you were born.” She nodded towards the man. “And you, Archon. Not that you were born, eh?”
The woman - the Queen - rolled her eyes. “Of course you have. Now-”
The Hag interrupted her again.
”Now you were going to tell me that you don’t want any smoke and mirror rituals. Did you not notice that I have not offered you any tea? That I have not prepared any potions, have not presented any crystals, have not drawn any symbols? Have I even held out my palm for you to cross?
“I know you came to me because I have the true Sight, and that if you wanted magic tricks you would have remained in the high district. You come to me for a reading; I know. Believe it or not, I am as anxious as you are to get straight to the matter of the truth.”
She hacked a wet, chesty cough, snorted up phlegm, and swallowed.
“Very well. No introductions. No nonsense, no patter. Do you have any words before we proceed?”
The Queen opened her mouth as if to speak, then shut it firmly and shook her head.
“Excellent”, the Hag croaked. She drew a large velvet pouch from her side and with some effort, hefted it up onto the table with a dull clatter onto a shallow groove carved out to hold it. She placed two separate decks of cards on painted rectangles next to the bag. The middle of the table had a grid painted on it of eight rows and eight columns.
Noticing the Queen’s somewhat dubious expression, she made a gummy attempt at a smile, the result of which was somewhat frightening. “Somewhat rudimentary isn’t it? No doubt you are used to a more… sophisticated set up in the palace.”
The Queen frowned at the truth of the words. “I am. It’s been some time since I saw a board of gems.”
The hag grinned even wider. “Believe me when I say, child, that the simplest methods provide the straightest truths. Forget your crystal balls and fancy spells, the old ways are the best ways. Now, let’s begin”.
She reached into the pouch and withdrew her hand with a fistful of coloured stones, which she dumped into the middle of the grid. She closed her eyes and began to arrange the gems into each square of the grid, seemingly at random. The Queen and her companion watched, entranced by the dexterity of the movements which betrayed the fortune teller’s age.
“Many events across the world”, the hag crooned. “Everything is connected; one thing has led to another.” With a gem now occupying each of the 64 spaces in the grid, she opened her eyes and shuffled the deck of cards. Looking intently at the board in front of her, she started laying cards on the right side of the board, narrating as she went along. She drew first from one deck, cards with coloured images to match the colours of the gems in the grid, then from the second deck, cards with symbols, to make three fans of cards facing her visitors on the right hand side of the board as they looked at it.
“We begin in the past.
“Fire and Earth, the arcane Lava stone. Dragon: the flame wyrm.
“Air and Magic, the arcane Plains stone. Dragon: the poison wyrm.
“Fire and Wind, arcane Storm. Daemon: the corruptor.
“A tryst is made to usurp the kingdoms of man.”
She shuffled the cards again and began the same process, this time laying cards on the left side of the board.
“Water and Earth, arcane Shield. Human, the former knight commander.
“Fire and Fire, arcane Rage. Human, the unknown hero.
“One card, not arcane but runic: Nature. Goblin, inconsequential, common even, but the first of many troops impressed into service.”
She began matching the gems with quick movements, removing them and replacing them with new ones to tell the story. Each match of gems resulted in an action by one or the other of the players alongside the board. The two visitors watched, mesmerised, as she told the story of the battles that had taken place whilst swapping, removing, and adding gems to the board. After a short time, she gathered the cards belonging to the vanquished flame wyrm, holding them up.
“And so Sheggra was defeated at the Broken Spire, her heart carved out to provide an antidote to a most malignant curse.”
The Queen spoke. “Most impressive and well told. But we know of this tale already, all too well”. She fidgeted and looked mildly uncomfortable. “I fear we are wasting our time”.
The hag grinned again and the Queen had to fight down her repulsion at the expression. “To understand the future, we must start with the past. Bear with me”.
The hag gathered up the cards on the left hand side, shuffled them back into their decks, and continued to draw cards and match gems to tell the story. The corruptor, Moloch, defeated by the unknown hero and the blood drinker. The poison worm, Shadow, defeated by the unknown hero and the would-be knight.
The hag dealt several more piles of cards. “Orion, god of the plains. Carnex, the errant mechanoid. Abhorath, a god in infancy. The Crimson Bat, Prince of blood. The Silent One, stealer of voices. The Black Beast, devourer of souls. I won’t waste any more time playing it out. But do you see the connection?”
The Queen swallowed, and nodded. “The hero”.
“In each case, a hero emerges. In various forms or in a single form, depending on which stories you believe, but a hero emerges nonetheless”, the hag confirmed.
“OK”, the Queen agreed. “But what does this have to do with the-”
“What does this have to do with the future; what does this have to do with me”, the hag repeated in a mocking voice before bursting into a fit of coughs. The Queen watched, speechless, unaccustomed as she was to being interrupted or mocked. The man next to her growled ever so slightly, and the Queen placed a hand gently on his knee to indicate he should not allow his anger to bloom any further.
Coughing fit over, the hag wiped her mouth of spittle. “I’m getting to it, Your Highness, have patience and all will be revealed”. She turned her attention to the man. “And enough from you, Archon. Growl all you like, little pussy cat, but there’ll be no swords drawn in my house.”
The Archon simmered, radiating suppressed anger, but made no movement and did not speak.
“Now on with the reading”.
They returned their attention to the table, and the hag began to draw again, dealing to the right hand side of the board.
“Water and Fire, blood.” She paused, her hand hovering over the second deck, then returned to draw more cards from the first pile. “And fire and earth, lava. Daemon, knight aspected. I know not its name.”
The Queen and the Archon stared at the wide fan of cards in disbelief.
“Two arcane stones…” he sputtered. “That’s impossible”.
The hag shrugged. “Is it, though?”
The Queen held her hand in front of the Archon to silence him. “Let her continue”.
The Hag started dealing to the left hand side of the board.
“Nature and Water, Swamp. Human, knight aspected. Royalty; she lay in unnatural sickness while her kingdom was almost reduced to rubble, but she was fed Sheggra’s Heart and now her glory is restored and the vigor of her people along with it.”
She bowed her head. “That would be you, my dearest Queen, Ysabelle.”
Ysabelle somewhat resignedly nodded in return. The hag straightened and continued drawing cards.
“Fire and Water, Blood. Divine, knight aspected.”
She looked at the Archon. “Valor, Archon to Sword’s Edge. Knight prince of Gaard, hero to humans and slayer of daemons. And wielder of anger which he is unable to control”. She cackled at her own joke, whilst Valor did not respond.
She drew more cards. “The knights coronet. The Order of the Dragon. Ah - and the former knight commander appears too for the second time today!”
She set the cards aside and started matching gems.
“The unknown assailant is strong, but the slayer of daemons will of course meet any challenge. Ah - but he is vanquished!”
Valor stood up, his eyes raging. “Nonsense”, he asserted. He turned to the Queen. “My lady, this is ridiculous, absurd. No daemon will ever threaten this kingdom. This lady is merely trying to provoke me! I will have no more of this.”
The Hag’s eyes danced with mischief. “If you aren’t happy with my reading, take it up with the board”. She cacked again at her joke.
“Valor, please calm yourself”. Ysabelle turned to the Hag. “When you say ‘vanquished’…?”
The Hag cackled again. “Defeated, your highness. Dead.”
Valor could stand it no longer. He swept an arm across the table, scattering gems and cards everywhere. He turned to Ysabelle, her eyes furious, they locked gazes for a few moments. Once he could stand no more of the silent rebuke, he swept around and stormed out of the shop.
“Rude!”, the Hag called after him to which he waves a dismissive hand in a rude gesture over his shoulder.
After watching him go, Ysabelle returned her attention to the hag.
“Is this real? Will this happen? Can it be changed?”
“My dear”, the hag began. “In some ways, this has already happened. War is coming to Sword’s Edge, and you must be prepared.”
“Can we defeat it though? Whatever this new threat is? My people have already suffered so much.”
“I don’t know. I can set up another reading perhaps…”
Ysabelle screwed her eyes closed and pinched the top of her nose. “No more readings for now. If the future is bleak, I’d rather not know. We’ll make preparations. Thank you for your time.” She paused. “I do have one final question though. Why the history lesson?”
The Hag chuckled. “You don’t see the connection? Did I not say that everything is connected? That one event has led to another?”
Ysabelle was silent in thought.
The Hag eventually continued. “Balance is broken, balance is restored. Twas ever the way of things.”
“Escalation”, Ysabelle quietly offered.
The Hag nodded. “As one side gains power, others rise to meet it. The world is changing, Queen Ysabelle.”
Ysabelle leant over and dropped a heavy pouch of coins into the delighted Hag’s lap, and turned to leave the shop. A few steps away from the door, she stopped.
“You say this can’t be changed, but the Gods-”, she started over her shoulder.
“The Gods make a mockery of the chains of time, it’s true”, mused the hag. “But never rely on the Gods, Queen Ysabelle”.
Ysabelle sighed, and continued on out into the daylight of the street.
“War!”, called the Hag after her. “War is coming to Sword’s Edge!”
She watched the Queen disappear and waited until she heard the carriage wheels turn before she moved. She began picking up the cards and gems that Valor had scattered, leaving just the six cards belonging to the unknown threat left on the table. Water, Fire, Fire, Earth, Daemon, Knight. And froze. Her hands tremored. Involuntarily, she started quickly dealing more cards in three more sets below it, her hands moving so fast they were almost at a blur. She then dealt one final set on the other side of the empty board.
She regarded the cards in front of her almost in disbelief. The reading had not been finished. There were four of these daemons, each with the strange dual-stone characteristic, and just one would be able to rise to meet them. She looked up at the open door, and pondered whether she should warn the Queen. Then the Queen’s words echoed in her mind: I’d rather not know. She shrugged to herself, and reached into the bag for a handful of gems.