The Ascension Gate

Do bears bear-eth, Do bees be-eth?
Notes from the game table 9/1

Video reference for the title of this post.

3 of our 4 adventurers felt haler and heartier (and the fourth choosing ellipses as his artistic medium of choice for a week) after defeating the war band of green skins.

With the trail of young Jelenneth as cold as poor Blue the dog, the party continued on with Kuipper the ranger in the hopes of tracking the young were-bear, Maxim (apparently a were-bear known for his Axe body spray ads, interviews with Kevin Smith, and top ten lists of milfs).

Bartak uses his tracking expertise to design a fool proof method for wrangling the scared teen that consisted mostly of yelling the phrase, “Hello Young Lad” very loudly over and over again. But hey, loudly yelling an annoying catch worked for Carlos Mencia, so who is this narrator to question.

The party eventually runs into Maxim in bear form wounded, presumably from the orcs, and Bartak enters into an extended negotiation with the ferocious killing machine. Below is a transcript:

Bartak: growlroargrumble
Bear: ROARORAORROARO
Bartak: ROARAORBRAAAAAH
Bear: SHlaaaaglarbroooooar
Bartak: growlgrowl growl…growlgrowlgrowl
Bear: Brump Broo?
Bartak: growl aroo ruh ruh.

Maxim receives healing from Illios, then falls asleep into hybrid form:

“He’s a shower AND a grower.”

As the party is heading out of the woods Declan spots plumes of smoke coming from the south (back beyond where Maxim was found). The part splits with Kuipper returning Maxim to his family farmstead and the adventurers heading back to Milborne.

Vilig receives a vision of Jelenneth held captive in a keep, which brings up discussion of Count Parlfray east of Thurmaster the nominal ruler of the area, but then the conversation shifts to the real power player, Darius Carmen.

The group returns the body of Blue to Garyld who is devastated, but thankful. Tauster has not seen Jelenneth either.

The party also stumble across an estate auction for downtrodden families who have lost their livelihood to the encroaching bog (an ongoing concern).

After spending an evening at the Barron of Mutton, a summons arrives to the big house on the hill. A summons from Darius Carmen.

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Vilig Ashore
To whom, from Whom?

The only sounds were the raw crush of foliage and ragged breath. Vilig’s nails were raw from clutching at branches, brambles had torn slits in his pants and shirt, and his hair, filled with leaves and mud, fell loose behind him, whipping from side to side as he maneuvered around trees and over fallen logs.

For minutes at a time Vilig refused to let himself think, trusting instinct as a guide; listening for threats, anticipating the path, but this was an unfamiliar forest and mistakes meant pain.

High twigs smacked him across the face his cheeks soon thick with welts and tears. Logs granting sure purchase fell away or crumbled leaving him to tumble and skid across stone and muck. On he ran, fatigue threatening to seize up his legs.

“No, not yet, it’s too soon,” he wheezed through gritted teeth, “Further.”


From the tree-line came a crewman whose fit youth the sun and sea had worked hard to obscure,

“Captain!” He closed the gap to two sailors crouched over a map on the sand, “Captain, we’ve picked up his trail. He’s moving fast, reckless. Shouldn’t be hard to follow.”

“I don’t think he’s trying to be coy. He’s ignorant of the area, knows his best bet is distance before nightfall. Thank you Marteen, have the scouts look for any sign of a double back in the first quarter mile. We’ll meet you by Acre’s Stone and then set out a full search. Dismissed.”

“Yes captain!”

The sand churned with urgency and the two men were alone once again. The man beside the captain snorted through his heavy beard and began reloading his pack,

“This was a bad deal from the start. Only thing you can trust a runaway to do is run. He had no intention of honoring his end of things. This was a needless risk- a waste of resources.”

Captain Storn drew himself up, and with practiced nonchalance unbuckled his mantle, spun it around his back and rolled it tightly into his pack. The heat of the morning had brought his white shirt wet against his skin, the bishop sleeves bunched tight at the wrist. He looked out into the bay where the Clarion’s Call was anchored and then looked further still. Storn’s right hand fell to his belt and with his thumb and forefinger gripped a medallion there, “Bradley,” the bearded man turned.

“Desertion, whether done from fear or malice, brings a harsh sentence, but mutineers come to a bad death. I want you to keep that fresh in your mind at all times…because I certainly will.”


Twenty minutes had passed since Vilig had first heard sounds of pursuit. It was to the South East; sweep line; methodical. They would catch up to him as he slowed. Suddenly the canopy thinned ahead of him,

No way that’s the end of the trees. Ravine or river. Can’t cross. Gotta avoid.
Vilig veered hard East and considered his final choices. If he came out of the trees now, he might be ahead of the search. Better view of the situation. He wasn’t sure if he would have enough breath left to talk his way through what was coming.


Captain Storn studied the sand. This was new beach, some maps don’t even take it into account. It was in the last century that an earthquake caused the sea to fall back and in its place the forest had advanced over the old beach. Hard to tell just by looking. Similar flora, no breaks in the tree line. The only real tell was how loose the soil still was. Loose…and prone to landslides.

The sound of dead weight rolling through underbrush and a wall of soil, sand, and twigs announced Vilig by mere moments. The elf spun wildly out of the forest, slumped and beaten, carried by the avalanche of new earth. Vilig came to rest at Storn’s feet, “…captain…”

Storn dug his boot into Vilig’s chest, pressing him back into the hill of sand. The elf coughed and sputtered, hands gripping the boot in vain as he tried to bring life back into his limbs.

“Son, play dead or be dead,” angry spittle-shot punctuated the words and Vilig relented. “Listen hard. You’ve got less than a minute before a pissed off search party is right on top of us begging for your head as a deserter or worse, a traitor. Which means I have less than that to decide if your plan from word one was to play me for a fool to get you out of that shit stain of a settlement or if you just panicked when we hit our first patch of dry land, because you’re not fit for service. Either way, make your words count.”

With that the sailor lifted his boot and stepped away from the elf. Vilig’s breath came under control and after a moment he worked up to his feet. He reached back and began collecting his hair into a pony tail, eyes turned down,

“When you were a kid, long before you had your own ship, long before the danger, and responsibility, when you were small, and fun and thrills were make-believe and safe; when you were that kid…did you ever have opportunity to run loose and free through the forest, just you and nature?"

Torn’s eyes narrowed, “…Sure, that’s what kids do.”

Vilig eyes raised up to meet his captain’s. Dry of tears, they were ringed with loss, “Well I didn’t.”

“I don’t…”

“It’s quite simple Captain. One doesn’t run carefree through a forest teeming with ghouls and zombies. You don’t have make believe threats living next to wights and liches. You don’t have a childhood.

“You don’t play, you practice. You aren’t raised, you’re trained. And as an Elf, you can never commune with the natural world; at best you dominate and lord over it, at worst, you succumb to it.”

Vilig pulled his ponytail tight and started up the beach, back towards the Clarion’s Call,

“I’ll claim this as my first shore leave. I won’t do it again without notice. You have my word. Ask everyone in that ‘shit stain’ and you’ll find that’s worth quite enough.”

Storn watched the Elf limp his way back to the ship. His right hand fell to his belt, thumb and forefinger once again finding the medallion.

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The Way I Die
Daba and a Dog's Corpse

I perched on Daba’s shoulder as she tended to the corpse of the wretched canine, performing an on-the-road embalming with as much earnest solemnity as she could muster. The herbs and serums she’d kept on hand would prevent it from acquiring a stink as we traversed from the woods back to town, to deliver this poor mongrel to his owner. The dog’s body had stiffened, and there was something especially unsettling about the way it resisted her assistance – and also about the way its eyes were fixed on a destination none living could see. Mine own eyes should have looked away, but Daba’s methodical, almost loving movements were hypnotizing, and there was naught else in this ridiculous nowhere to look at.

After a few silent minutes, I asked, “Will you do this for me?”

“Hrm?”

I dug into her shoulder with my little feet. “Will you do this for my pathetic corvis corpse, when I die?”

She chuckled. “You won’t die a bird.”

“How do you know?”

“Sass,” she mumbled, disapproval leaking through.

“I’m just asking. How do you know?”

She was quiet for a while as she went to fetch the blanket and then returned to her work, kneeling slowly. She laid the blanket flat on the ground.

“He wouldn’t do that to you. He’ll switch you back once you’ve paid your time.”

“First of all, how are you sure your patron is male, or gendered at all?”

“I’m not,” she grunted, picking up the body and proceeding to roll it like tobacco into paper, but gingerly. “I just figured a female’d never do this to another female.”

I chose not to answer.

“Plus,” she continued, “I know how you die. I seen it.”

The little feathers on the back of my neck stood up. She was tucking the last bit of blanket into a corner and the wrapped body looked like a sad birthday present.

“Stop teasing me.”

This wasn’t her sense of humor, I knew, but I didn’t like the possibility of her knowing something I didn’t. The balance of power in the partnership had always been weighted towards myself because I KNEW more – more about the curse, the role, the purpose, and especially you, the patron, the last of which Daba might never know.

She sat native-style for a moment, resting, looking down at the parcel. “Ain’t teasing. I see it sometimes, sometimes even over and over, but not with everyone. Just with certain people, I see a flash of their life ‘fore it ends. You don’t look like yourself, but it’s you.”

“I don’t believe you.”

Undaunted, she rambled: “I just know you ain’t a bird still. When I see it, your hair is…fuckin’ incredible honestly. It’s long and white and it spills all over you like ice water.”

“Many elves have fabulous hair.”

“Don’t many have a scar through their eyebrow.”

I shut my little beak right then, as I had no retort to that. It was a massive source of shame to my vanity in former life, and now it had identified me in future death.

She started putting the lids on tiny bottles and packing away the implements. After a while, I said, in a tone of umbrage, “I don’t want to know the details.”

“I didn’t offer ‘em. I’m just telling you – you don’t die a crow.”

I was pissed-off and, admittedly, petty, but it was also a great comfort. It had been, up until that moment, a substantial anxiety of mine for ten years that I would be eaten by some swamp tiger or shot by a bored hunter before I could finish my task and return to my own body.

The primary reason I was pouty and petulant, however, was because she’d managed to hide it from me for so long, and I’d imagined her this entire drawn-out decade as fairly transparent. It made me wonder what else she wrapped up in blankets in her mind.

“Who else do you know? Yourself?”

“No, not yet, but like I said if’n when I see it coming I’ll tell you.”

I looked around the camp.

“Vilig?”

“No.”

“Can you try?”

“Ain’t like that. Totally fuckin’ random. And even when I see the picture there’s not much background for it – it’s just an image. Can’t command myself to see it.”

She picked up the sad bundle and began to walk with it.

“Bartak, then?”

“No.”

“What about Jolenneth? That would be incredibly helpful.”

“No, and it crossed my mind; I wish’d I HAD seen hers. All I knew from her was bad news, but that was just a vibe – more like a smell. She smelled like bad news.”

She kept walking, past the fire; I stayed on her shoulder.

“Kuiper?”

“Not Kuiper. There’s only one man here I know the death of, Deck.”

As she whispered it, she held out the morose gift with both arms, looking up intently at Ilios.

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From the Papers of Vilig Sojet
From a stack of bound paper wrapped in leather.

Growing up I heard about the greenskins; sailors had lots of stories about all sorts of strange creatures, but the greenskins drew more cursing and caused the ground to grow slicker with derisive spittle than any other monster or abomination I can think of.

I always assumed it was because they sounded so similar to humans, though I might not say that to any human to their face. But orcs have a culture, they have tribes and families, maybe humans hate them for not being human enough, for not taking the extra steps to cultivate a peaceful world. I was on the verge of suggesting humans think orcs are too human. but that sounds like something old Crattern back in Pure Mourn might say and he mostly just inverted logic into pithy sayings in place of actual thought and wisdom, so I’ll avoid being that type of ass.

Sorry to get sidetracked. A small hunting party of orcs came across our group in the night. It was the closest call I can remember since leaving. Bartak had started to make me feel envious of his Axe; made me start questioning my training, but thanks to my sword- thanks to you, we came through alright. I thought pin point accuracy was important on a ghoul! Orcs refuse to drop like the corpses in the black valley. I can almost laugh about how close it was, but not yet.

-your son

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Orcs in the Woods
Iomeday, 22nd of Hamas, 2022 AG

We have been spared, by Gadar’s grace.

I awoke in the dark hours just before the sunrise to Declan’s panicked call.

WAKE UP! WAKE UP! THEY’RE COMING!” he sang out in his oddly refined but bird-like voice. Years of martial training and hard days on the road had me up in a flash, clad in naught but my sleeping accouterments. Before my mind had a chance to catch up to my body, a huge creature burst from the trees before me, hefting a cruel looking axe and shouting a deafening warcry.

My companions were on their feet just as quickly as I, and if not for Bartak’s intervention I may have been slain then and there. Axe met axe in a shower of sparks and screaming metal, and the blow was deflected bare inches from my face.

Finally my mind caught up. The huge creature was an Orog, a savage orc-ogre half-breed, known for their brutal and destructive natures. With him were nearly a dozen smaller orcs. Smaller, but no less deadly. With howling cries and vile epithets, they charged our encampment as we struggled to mount a defense.

Bartak took several wounds in those first few seconds, unable to mount a defense against so many blades at once. Despite my best efforts and pleads to Gadar, he fell before the greenskins. Then, they were upon me.

I do not remember much past that. I felt a stabbing pain, then darkness overtook me. I awoke later to find Kuiper, the ranger with whom we are travelling, kneeling over me with an empty potion flask in hand, a bitter taste that hinted at cherries fading from my tongue. My side had been bandaged, albeit somewhat crudely, by Daba. Without her aid, I likely would have bled out on the battlefield, and my spirit would be sitting with Gadar at the Shining Table now. While I do look forward to that day, it would seem my work in this world has not yet finished.

I channeled Gadar’s blessing to the aid of my other companions, healing Bartak’s many wounds and bringing the dwarf to his feet. Examining the remains of the orcs that Daba and Vilig so handily vanquished, I found something disturbing.

The design on the shields are of the Bloodskull clan. One of the eight clans that descended upon Kimohidaka so many years ago. What are they doing this far south? Why did they attack us with such a small force? Could this be the start of another invasion?

These questions must be answered for the good of all.

Truth and Light shine upon us.

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Oh where oh where has my little druid gone
Oh where or where can she beeeeee

“Declan!”

Through the woods, shapes were moving, brownish black and olive green. All of us were on our feet – I’d gone ballistic when I’d heard them coming – but disoriented, and I could tell Ilios wasn’t even going to have time for armor. A pity – he’d been a good healer.

“Declan!”

It was Vilig. I swiveled my head to look at him as he shouted, “Go find the druid!”

He didn’t have to tell me twice to get the fuck out of there. My last glimpse before I flew was of Daba, one talon on her scimitar and the other held up in front of her face, a slight curl to the claws. I had a feeling that a lot of these orcs would be overcome with narcolepsy soon.

I dashed up into the air, working my wings as hard as I could, trying to think of how I was going to find this crazy bag lady we’d met earlier. I’m not a hound dog, obviously, and though I’d like to think I have (or at least had) many talents, tracking humans is not one of them. (Clearly not, because, if it was, I would have already found whatserface, Jolene, and gotten us the hell out of this backwater cesspool. But I digress, as I do.)

I tried calling her name for a while as I soared. What an utterly unfortunate moniker this ragamuffin had: Oleanne. Or rather “O-LAY-un.” Dear gods! How hovelly can you get? That’s as bad as “Navaeh” or “Chastity.” I started to feel a little sorry for her and decided that, with parents stupid enough to name her that, she never really had a chance to make much of herself. Becoming a raggedy druid was probably the best she was going to do.

I had almost given up hope of finding the poor urchin when I caught a strange scent on the wind. I can’t sniff out people, as mentioned previously, but I CAN smell death, and a lot of blood had just been spilled fairly recently somewhere below me.

When I followed the scent, I found her – Oleanne, finishing off the last of six orcs. Within seconds, she had stabbed half of them and her wolf had brutally savaged the other three. I immediately decided never to say or think anything less than complimentary about her ever again.

By the time I led her back to the camp, the battle there was over, as well; nine dead orcs and one other, larger creature of indeterminate origin were sprawled out on the ground. I let the druid deliver some swords to Kuiper and talk to the others while I flew to the farther side of the small campground, noting, to my shock and delight, that Ilios had survived.

Daba was handing some kind of kit back to him when I landed on her shoulder. She looked up at me as he turned away.

“How did it go?” I said quietly. I stayed on her shoulder as she bent down to pick up items of interest from the bodies.

“It went,” she said. Occasionally she was still a Ruk.

I was happy I’d been out of the fray, of course, but I was still curious. “Any close calls?”

She nodded. “Bartak and Doc. I had to dig through Doc’s shit to find his ‘primary assistance kit’ and it didn’t go too damn well.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, I used it fine, but it took a minute to figure out. Healing is sort of the opposite of my gig, man.”

I looked over at Ilios and saw some bandages on his midsection that looked like a drunken toddler had applied them.

“But I’se able to keep the two of them going until Kuiper could get over here with his magic flask and fix everything.”

“Well, there you go. See? You were of use.”

“I’m thinkin,” she said, picking up some goopy substance from an orc’s pocket and examining it, “next time we go to a town I buy one of them kits. Learn how to use it. Next time then I won’t be caught off guard.”

“Seems wise,” I said, watching her think better of the goop and flick it off of her feathers into the fire, where it spluttered and hissed disconcertingly. “How did you do in the actual battle?”

She took a moment to answer. “Better’n last time for me anyways. Vilig and I made a good team. I put a lot of these fuckers down for a nap and then he’d comealong behind me’n kill’m.”

“Good. You’re learning.”

“I’se more worried about you matter of fact,” she said. “Took you a bit to head back.”

I cackled. It sounded squeaky in this body. “Worried about your spells?”

She picked me up and put me on her hand with deadly seriousness. Her big black eyes seemed to somehow get even bigger. “No. You’re my buddy.”

I flew up into a tree and did bird things for a while – picking through the feathers for insects and whatnot – because I couldn’t handle feelings at that particular moment. I actually don’t like having them ever. And also I especially didn’t want them right then. Whatever.

“Buddy.” Pathetic. I’m not your buddy, PAL. I’m not your PAL, friend. I’m your curse. And when I was an elf I was far more powerful than you could possibly imagine. Daba, you should hate me, and you should rage against the one who sent me to you.

Still.

It’s nice – and weird – to be appreciated.

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As She Lay Dying
The End of Taney Ruk

“Declan.”

Ever since I’d been assigned to her, she’d never once called me by name. In truth, I hadn’t even known that she’d been aware of it before that morning. It was always “Bird” before, or not even any type of address at all – gutteral command noises, or a flick of a talon in some direction. I was just a tool to her, less than a stick to stoke a fire. Never Declan – not anymore.

That, above all else, was what told me she was down to her last hour. Her ragged breath was eking out in discomfiting spurts, and the edge of the ratty blanket they’d given her was stained with splatters and lung muck from the coughing; the middle-aged Tengu woman in the doorway stared down at it in disgust.

“This was a hell of a time to come back, finally,” she spat, idly scratching her beak. A collection of young crowboys were skulking behind her silently.

My mistress (it sounds almost affectionate to me now), propped up on a straw mattress, stared up at the ceiling and, with considerable labor, sighed: “I only came back to die. I’ll be out of your feathers soon enough.”

“Why the hell couldn’t you die wherever the birddamn hell you been this whole time?” she shrieked. One of the boys, the middle-sized one, took a frightened step back into the hall and ran to the other end of the hut.

Usually the blessing of a heir being chosen at fifteen is that she is too young to have started a family or to have made her own attachments. At least, I am supposing that was the design of your original bargain. Old enough to be a little less puerile and idiotic but not old enough to have children, maybe?

That was the plan, anyway. But even the Tengu have come a long way in a hundred years; as bad as their state is now, it was far worse back then. They married the girls off young, sickeningly young, and my first mistress gave birth to a child, another girl, six days before her fifteenth birthday – before you or whatever agent you were using then showed up at her windowsill.

She slowly swung her eyes back down at the creature in the doorway. “I had no choice. I never would’ve left you of my own volition, Taney.”

Nee,” she hissed. “Taney’s your name.”

For the first time in my acquaintance with this wretched death-hag I began to feel sorry for her. I frankly should have been elated at her impending doom, due to the cold indifference with which she’d treated me for ten years, but I couldn’t muster any feelings of excitement. She squinted at her daughter. “This just… happened to me, and it will happen again – maybe even to you and your’n this time.”

“Not me! I only had boys. On purpose. Avoided that shit.” She beamed down at the two remaining ones with pride. The eldest mirrored her countenance, a mixture of feigned superiority, anger, and irritation, but the youngest made no effort to conceal his fascination at the tableau before him.

The daughter drove forward. “Ain’t no cause for you to come back here. I done dealt with all that years ago and here you come up in my house. MY HOUSE dammit. Why the fuck Hubert even let you in is beyond my reckoning.”

Some muscle in my tiny, cranky little heart must have snapped.

“Home,” I said, quoting an old piece of poetry I’d read in my past life, “is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

Everyone in the room turned to stare at me, questions flickering in their beady eyes.

After a long pause Nee squawked, “I didn’t ask you, cumwad.”

“Declan.” Sensing an argument and trying to stop it, Taney Ruk had placed a desiccated talon on my back, not aggressively, but to regain my attention.

Nee threw up her hands and stomped out of the room; the eldest followed, and the youngest only tagged along after a few more staring seconds.

“Declan, the littlest – that’n who looks more like the husband –”

That distinction meant nothing to me as all these crow people look the fucking same to me, and I can SAY THAT since I AM a crow which makes it not creaturist – end-of, we’re moving on.

Anyway, she continued:

“Tonight, afterward…make sure he gets them robes.” She’d already folded them and set them to the side; she was currently dressed in some poor attempt at a sleeping gown that Nee had thrown at her. Literally thrown in her face.

“Help him hide them somewhere. They’ll be important to him, later, much later.”

I flew over and landed on top of them, perching there to signify my agreement.

“As for you, now begins the long wait. You –”

She was interrupted by a coughing fit.

“…you’ll serve the next heir, too. Your sentence ain’t up for a while yet and you’ve more work to do, I was told. Wait until the new witch is born, and watch the little crow careful; he’ll have a girl. It’ll take a while but wait it out. She’ll be the last of many childrens. In the mean time, fly around a bit, I suppose.”

That’s helpful, Taney. Thanks, I wanted to say. But I didn’t. I’d never been allowed to be myself with her and it felt wrong to start at that moment.

I watched her struggle to breathe for a few more minutes, her heavy eyes closed, and again I was awash with this completely grotesque feeling – pity. This deal you made, you bitch (I know you’re listening) – it’s insane, it’s reprehensible, it’s beyond the bleakest horrors of what I once thought I knew. What you did to me, as much as I despise you for it, was still less cruel than this.

“What else can I do?”

She kept her eyes closed, patted her shoulder slowly with one hand.

“Just stay with me. Until it’s over.”

I hopped up to her shoulder, reduced to bone and jagged feather pieces and papery flakes of skin, breaking even as I perched on it. Somehow she ceased coughing for long enough to fall asleep. That was your one mercy.

In the morning Nee and Hubert threw her on a cart and drove it to the fens. I think they burned her there and took whatever specks of interest shined through the ash, filling their crumby pockets with her spell-beads and witch baubles.

But I wasn’t there for that, because I’d stayed behind for one last command.

You know the rest.

You knew it all, anyway.

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