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    Canonfire :: View topic - Lost legends of the hero-deities
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    Lost legends of the hero-deities
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    Journeyman Greytalker

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    Thu Mar 03, 2011 6:27 pm  
    Lost legends of the hero-deities

    One would think that in order to acquire a group of worshipers, a person must be the subject of a few legends detailing said person's god-like exploits. However, many of Greyhawk's hero-deities seem to lack an accompanying body of lore.

    Take Kelanen [from the Greyhawk wiki]: "Kelanen is said to have wrested the now-lost blade Fragarach the Answerer from the hands of an alien god. He is also said to have discovered the location of three magical blades known as the Pillars of Heaven. Kelanen created the renowned "Final Word" swords, upon which his holy symbol is based. The Prince of Swords also once possessed the sword Vilharian, having won it in a duel from the hero Sellanus. [...] Kelanen is an ancient being of unknown race and origin, having been around since at least the Great Migrations."

    That seems like a fair amount, although we would need to know more about the Pillars of Heaven and Sellanus to know if such deeds are truly legendary.

    We also know that the members of the Company of Seven were involved in capturing Iuz, but what else? Sure, Heward made a Mystical Organ, but are there any tales about said organ that would make one consider Heward to be worthy of worship? What about Murlynd and the others? Sure, they returned from Veralos with a wagon-load of treasure, but is that any reason build temples in their name?

    It seems to me that, much like Catholic saints who have been canonized and beatified, a hero-deity should have a number of miracles attributable to him/her. Perhaps a future post-fest can attempt to fill-in the missing miracles. Smile
    GreySage

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    Thu Mar 03, 2011 11:45 pm  

    The Pillars of Heaven are a reference to something from Night Watch, I think, and Sellanus and the sword Vilharian are from one of the Living Greyhawk Journals. Vilharian is also probably the same as the dragon sword from Treasures of Greyhawk.

    I've been working extensively on the Company of Seven lately, but in general, no, I don't think there's much reason to build temples in their name. As of 576 CY, only Kelanen had temples and clerics; the others were mere quasi-deities, powerful beyond mortal limits but not focuses of religious devotion. Roger E. Moore upgraded Heward, Murlynd, and Keoghtom to hero-deity status by 591 CY mostly, I think, to make them more useful in a campaign. Such powerful NPCs aren't very useful in adventures (the best use of them was in Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk, in which the PCs get to fight their evil, lower-level parallel selves), but introducing them as paragons to emulate is a reasonable way to make them important in a campaign without making them deus ex machinas or mysterious guides. I don't think they did anything in particular between 576 and 591 to deserve the upgrade; rather, it was probably the cumulation of slow-brewing religious movements that had been growing for a long time.

    Tzelios wrote an adventure including Murlynd here.

    Here is an old article on Heward that I wrote. Despite not including the idea of the Company of Seven (which hadn't been published yet) I think it mostly holds up, though there are some newer ideas I'd incorporate (Heward helping to create the World Serpent Inn, for example, and Heward and Murlynd should have already known each other when they met on Earth).

    But anyway, I've had these story ideas about Murlynd and Quaal brewing in my head forever, and like you I felt that the existing body of legends around them were lacking. The Company of Seven needed some epic, climactic adventure that defined them - about a century before the binding of Iuz and some of the other nine demigods by the remnants of the Company, long after it had broken up.

    My solution was module IM1, The Immortal Storm. It's a D&D Immortal-level adventure for novice Immortals, so it assumes a fair amount of power but not that much, and it's an epic adventure that spans the multiverse in order to save it. The PCs have to travel through a plane made of music, to the heart of the galaxy and the Plane of Fire, and even to modern Earth to gain certain "essences" that when combined will end a mysterious storm that's threatening reality.

    I don't know that the details need to be entirely worked out (the details may change from telling to telling), but I decided the Company of Seven went through an adventure something like that. Not the exact same one, though; IM1 took place in Frank Mentzer's Immortals Set cosmology rather than the AD&D cosmology, for one thing, so the Company traveled to the Abyss and possibly the City of Brass and other iconic parts of the Great Wheel cosmology instead of some of the lamer parts of IM1. And I decided this was an earlier recurrence of the same threat, for - and this is the most important bit - the Company of Seven didn't entirely succeed. At the last moment, they were too greedy for power for its own sake - this is an adventuring party that included Iggwilv and Zagig, after all. They defeated the threat, but not entirely. It would be destined to return in a century or two. The storm in question may be, or having something to do with, Tharizdun.

    This is why the Company of Seven broke up. Quaal was outraged that his selfish companions didn't give it their all, and went his own way. Zagig, Iggwilv, and Nolzur, the more selfish of the three, took their own separate paths toward achieving immortality, since that was their primary goal. Murlynd, Heward, and Keoghtom became obsessed with the idea of training a new generation of heroes who would succeed where they had failed, a better group of heroes than they ever could have been. They attempted to groom Mordenkainen, Robilar and company for this, but this resulted in another failure, arguably worse than the first. And so maybe, just maybe, the player characters are the chosen ones.

    I have a pretty extensive outline for a story involving Quaal, and maybe your thread will finally encourage me to finish it. I have a lot of ideas for Murlynd stories, some better fleshed out than others, but they may require a lot more research if I'm going to credibly write about his adventures in the Old West.

    Anyway, here are some of the earlier exploits of the Company of Seven:


    Murlynd and the Company of Seven
    Determined to bring civilization to the barbarous Wild Coast and city of Greyhawk, the paladin Murlynd forms a group of adventurers (including the fighter Zagig, the mage Tasha, the bard Heward, the rogue Nolzur, the imperial explorer Jonas Marius, and the cleric Keoghtom) who will wrest the secrets of the past from the Cairn Hills and beyond. The band temporarily breaks up after the fighter Zagig leaves the group to apprentice to Lyzandred, and Jonas Marius founds his own group, the Seekers of the Arcane, in opposition to Murlynd and his Company. Murlynd's initial desire to bring civilization to the region around Greyhawk eventually expands to encompass the planes as a whole. Quaal, an ally of Keoghtom's, replaces Jonas Marius. His apprenticeship complete, Zagig rejoins the group, going on expeditions with them while not administering the city of Greyhawk, where he has gotten himself elected Lord Mayor. From the Cairn Hills to Veralos to the depths of Wildspace, the party quests for civilization.

    The Company of Seven and the Immortal Storm
    Some vague threat to all of reality needs to be periodically sealed away using rare essences. Although the party succeeds in defeating the threat for the present, Murlynd considers this quest - which takes the company to many exotic locales, including the Center of the Galaxy, the City of Brass, the Abyss, a demiplane of pure music, and 20th century New York, Lake Geneva, and Chicago - a personal failure. The Company of Seven, including himself, are too imperfect, too prone to interpersonal quarrels and weaknesses, to seal the threat off completely, and in another century the quest will have to begin again. Murlynd decides to make it his obsessive mission to train new generations of heroes who can do what he could not, and to strengthen reality so that the threat can be defeated once and for all. Meanwhile, the corruption he faces nests in an alternate world called Gothic Earth...

    At the end of the quest, Quaal leaves the group forever, shortly followed by Keoghtom, who can no longer tolerate the company of Nolzur. Zagig and Tasha retire to Greyhawk city to work on their research.

    Murlynd and the Pigments of Immortality
    Nolzur convinces Murlynd to join him on one last quest, to investigate supernatural tremors emerging from the Mountain of the Gods in the foreboding Crystalmists. After aiding him in defeating the minions of the wizard Azurax Silverhawk, Nolzur betrays Murlynd, pushing him through a portal leading to Gothic Earth, trapping him there on the far side of Shadow while Nolzur learns the secret of creating the pigments from Azurax. Unlike Azurax, Nolzur succeeds in gaining the immortality he seeks. Meanwhile, Murlynd falls, reliving his recent experiences as he plunges down into depths that bring to mind a rabbit hole, the shadows growing denser and denser as if they would grow so dense that they would trap him between worlds forever. Unable to travel back, Murlynd summons some last reserves and forces himself through. He's fated to remain there for the greater part of the 19th century.

    Murlynd in the 19th Century
    Murlynd has a showdown with an enigmatic gambler for the fate of two innocent souls, fights Quantrill's men in the Civil War, joins the expedition to hunt the Snark, uproots cultists in the Valley of Fear, and thwarts a Martian invasion, among other feats, before he escapes with the aid of Martian technology, Heward, and Tsolorandril.

    Quaal and the Unseelie Court
    A retired Quaal, living in the Vesve Forest with his mentor, Gwydiesin of the Cranes, rescues a wounded swan from unseelie fey and thereby is swept into the path of a legend that began long ago, when the Urnst States were embroiled in a war between the Seelie and Unseelie Courts and the first of the swanmays surrendered herself to the Queen of Air and Darkness in exchange for peace.

    Murlynd and Sigil
    Murlynd and Heward briefly teach at Keoghtom's school in the City of Doors, intent on training the next generation of heroes, who can complete the tasks the Company of Seven was too imperfect to complete, such as sealing away the Immortal Storm once and for all. Keoghtom's school is brought down by the Fated, who seize it for alleged tax evasion, and the experiment is ended, at least in Sigil.

    Murlynd and the Wall of Serpents
    In a very alternate version of "Wall of Serpents" by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt, Murlynd, Zagig, and Heward travel to Kalevala and ally with the hero Lemenkainen to put a stop to the plans of Louhi, who they had known as Tasha. Zagig is frustrated by his out-of-pitch singing voice rendering him unable to effectively cast spells on this world, while Heward shines as the greatest magician of all. At the end, though, Zagig somehow manages to create a paradox: a spell that sings itself into existence, an engine he can use to sing other spells but which couldn't have existed without its own singing, but somehow does, creating a feedback loop that rips a hole in the universe and sucks everyone back to Oerth, Louhi included. Impressed with the chaos magic that Zagig has mastered since they last met, Iggwilv stays with Zagig in his castle for a time to learn from him. Together, they bind the demon prince Fraz-Urb'luu before Iggwilv leaves for the Yatils.

    Murlynd and the Nine
    Murlynd joins Zagig Yragerne, St. Cuthbert, Keoghtom, Kelanen, Tsolorandril, and Heward to help capture Iuz, Vecna, and Wastri. When Zagig targets Merikka, Murlynd leaves the party and goes his own way.

    Murlynd and the Citadel of Eight
    In disguise, Murlynd (wielding a crossbow of his own invention rather than his trademark six-shooters) adventures with Robilar, Tenser, Mordenkainen, and Terik beneath Castle Greyhawk, seeing in the group a potential for greatness. They are destined to fail him.
    Adept Greytalker

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    Fri Mar 04, 2011 5:59 am  

    Rip can you repost your Heward, Zagig (Fiction). I can't seem to find it on WotC boards anymore...

    I also seem to remeber some excellent GH fan fiction about Murlynd going after Emirikol in the Star Wars universe. Found it: A Long, Long Time Ago by Russell Bird

    (There's more excellent fan fiction here but not about the hero deities iirc)
    Grandmaster Greytalker

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    Fri Mar 04, 2011 10:59 am  

    This is the intro to something I've been working on, on and off for some time -

    Every young page dreaming of being a knight someday eventually reads or hears recitations from the Romance of the Knight, which is a loose translation and retelling of the Baklunish legends of Asralk, or Azor’alq as he is known in the West. The most popular and currently widespread version is that written by the scholar Walder of Trigol in 448, though other scholars and historians have written other versions in various forms since near the end of the Great Migrations. It is believed that Walder worked directly from a copy of the Book of Azor’alq, or Kitabi Azor’alq in the Baklunish, which he obtained from a Zeifan merchant and translated from that language. This is not say that his version is a faithful copy of that work as it diverges greatly in the portrayal of the events describes in the Book of Azor’alq. But it is only understandable that this is so given that Walder’s Romance of the Knight was being written for consumption by a non-Baklunish audience, and that his purpose was to highlights the virtues of a knight following eastern gods and rules of conduct rather than a knight following Baklunish traditions.
    Grandmaster Greytalker

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    Fri Mar 04, 2011 9:21 pm  

    Rasgon,

    Thats some great stuff. Just the way it is, fine by me.
    Master Greytalker

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    Sat Mar 05, 2011 11:10 am  
    Wow!

    There is some really great stuff here, thanks all.

    It was mentioned above that the Hero-Deities are a little like saints. Though I understand this comparison, they strike me more as great leaders; people who nearly inspire worship. Arthur, Alexander, and even Ceaser come to mind; at least more so than St. Francis de Assisi.

    With that said, I can see shrines being established by people who served, or fought with them. A place of reverence not worship, at least in the beginning.
    GreySage

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    Sat Mar 05, 2011 4:02 pm  

    Keoghtom was a bit of a slacker and a dilettante, a frequently defrocked cleric of Fharlanghn (some say Celestian) who met Heward while being initiated into the mysteries of the Old Lore (Keoghtom got kicked out for perpetual drunkeness), who joined the Silent Ones for a while (he was thrown out for talking too much), whose time as an acolyte in a monastery of Xan Yae ended too quickly after his addiction to the sacred lotus grew out of control, and whose initiation into the Fey Mysteries in Celene went awry when he got one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting pregnant with a half-elven child. Stories of Keoghtom have a definite element of humor to them, which is part of what makes them so popular.

    Keoghtom is, in fact, centuries older than Zagig, Heward, Murlynd, Nolzur, or Quaal (it's a bit harder to tell with Iggwilv, as her lifespan spans several worlds and eras). Keoghtom was born in approximately -122 CY in the Sheldomar Valley during the reign of King Sanduchar the Navigator of Keoland. The defeat of the Yaheetes had been over a generation before, and the Age of the Explorer-Kings was just underway. He was born the seventh son of the seventh son of an ancient Oeridian (Keogh) noble family in Hochoch, which was shamed and dissolved after the unrest in -110 CY when his father the Count of Hochoch was executed. There were rumors that an ancestor of Keoghtom made some sort of fiendish pact in exchange for power, but it had been viewed as staid and reliable for generations until his father unexpectedly sided with the rebellious Oeridian nobles against Senestel I.

    He met Nolzur while working as a humble printmaker in Seltaren, taking in the young thief and making him his apprentice. He met Quaal while living in the northern forests; after Heward introduced him to the Company of Seven, he introduced them to both Nolzur and Quaal. His signature accomplishment, and the reason he's revered by alchemists to this day, is his creation of the alchemist's stone, which he used to restore his youth during those periods when he was focused and wealthy enough to do so. There are many who allege that Keoghtom did not originate this magic, that he learned it from the Hasharim of Aerdy or another, but he was happy to take credit for it and milk this fame for all it was worth. This wasn't the first or last time he was accused of profiting from the discoveries of another; one of the reasons the Company of Seven broke up was Nolzur insisting that he, not Keoghtom, was primarily responsible for the creation of Keoghtom's Ointment. Like John Dee or Tycho Brahe of our world, Keoghtom drifted between noble patrons, being discarded by one and spending decades in obscurity before wiling his way into the good graces of another. When his academy in Sigil was seized to pay back taxes this was only one of many periods of boom and bust in his life, with his good fortunes lost as quickly as they were won.

    Keoghtom is a bit too complex to be seen as simply a saint in Fharlanghn's or Celestian's (or Xan Yae's) church, though his veneration is popular among the wanderers of those faiths. He is venerated by planar explorers and by those who sail through the voids between the stars, but his chief adherents are those who search after occult secrets: alchemists, astrologers, those who would bind extraplanar entities with truenames, and those who would steal the carefully kept secrets of ancient orders. In his long and eventful life Keoghtom met many, if not most, of the most brilliant sages, scholars, and magi of the Flanaess and beyond; he was run out of town by half of them, but usually not before learning a secret or two, and his followers hope to emulate the latter characteristic if not the former.
    Grandmaster Greytalker

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    Sat Mar 05, 2011 6:22 pm  

    This is really good stuff, rasgon. Well done!
    Journeyman Greytalker

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    Sat Mar 05, 2011 6:56 pm  

    smillan_31 wrote:
    This is really good stuff, rasgon. Well done!


    Here here! I especially like the part about Heward's organ being heard everywhere and the song of the being. Now THAT would be a legend worthy of inspiring worship!
    GreySage

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    Sat Mar 05, 2011 6:58 pm  

    Yes, Rasgon, these are indeed very interesting anecdotes. Are they your own original creations based upon scant information provided in canon material or are they complilations of information provided (canonnically or otherwise) by other individuals?

    SirXaris
    GreySage

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    Sat Mar 05, 2011 8:15 pm  

    SirXaris wrote:
    Yes, Rasgon, these are indeed very interesting anecdotes. Are they your own original creations based upon scant information provided in canon material or are they complilations of information provided (canonnically or otherwise) by other individuals?

    SirXaris


    Er, yes. It's inspired by canon, and attempts to compile the various canonical references to the Seven, but there are an awful lot of my own ideas in there. Nolzur's backstory is heavily inspired by an adventure in Dungeon #10 (which involves the Pigments of Immortality). Quaal's story (which I'm finishing up) is partly a mix of the traditional folktales "The Crane Wife" and "Snow White." Heward's story is inspired in part by the backstory of "the Nexus" from Monte Cook's Book of Eldritch Might III and Beyond Countless Doorways. For Murlynd I'm drawing from HG Wells' War of the Worlds, Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Valley of Fear," HP Lovecraft, Michael Moorcock, Lewis Carroll, the Masque of the Red Death campaign, and the Deadlands and Castle Falkenstein RPGs, among other influences that aren't important right now because I've scarcely mentioned any of it above. The Jonas Marius bits are from ideas Gary Holian has mentioned in chat, and of course the whole concept of the Company of Seven is essentially his and Erik Mona's, working from Gary Gygax's original quasi-deities. The idea that Murlynd adventured with the Citadel of Eight in disguise is canon (and of course Murlynd was a PC in Gygax's original campaign, though he was basically just a wizard who used magic wands as if they were guns there), though we don't really know why, canonically. The Samwise/Holian Keoland timeline helped inform where I placed Keoghtom's birth. The bits about Keoghtom's school in Sigil are inspired by Planescape canon involving something called Bigby's Academy there; since it was supposed to have happened centuries ago, I changed it to Keoghtom instead.
    GreySage

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    Sun Mar 06, 2011 5:23 pm  

    A burst of motion in the underbrush, fluttering wings, an avian cry; the tell-tale unnatural blurs of quicklings.

    Knocking his bow and firing was instinctual for Quaal; he had no problem with creatures hunting, but quicklings were accursed creatures, servants of the Queen of Air and Darkness, and he knew they would turn on him for fun. They were too fast to even see clearly; he didn't hope to hit them, but only to scatter them while he closed in with his sword. The things shrieked as several arrows struck the ground near their feet, and, enraged, their paths curved toward him, their tiny silver daggers glinting in the moonlight. Quaal dropped his bow and began swinging his sword in great sweeping motions, hoping to keep them at bay despite their terrifying speed. Several managed to flank him, their blades flashing as they cut at his flesh. Quaal felt a wave of dizziness; quickling blades were soaked in sleeping poison. He didn't have long to finish them off. He feinted as if to move toward his attackers, then abruptly stepped forward instead, catching several of the elfin beings with the tip of his sword. Grimacing pale blue faces with long pointed ears fell to the ground. Several others whirred past his guard and continued hacking at him with their needle-like weapons; he swung at them, but most easily moved away. Their frail, minute bodies meant that those he managed to catch with his weapon quickly died, but their speed meant they were damnably hard to hit. Quaal redoubled his efforts, his own blade as much a blur as the quicklings were, but he feared the poison would take him down before he could finish the job.

    An avian shriek again, this time much, much closer. The bird the quicklings were hunting, a large white swan, had entered into the fray, buffeting the wicked fey with its wings and tearing at them with its beak. The quicklings were momentarily disoriented; the moment was enough time for Quaal to utter a spell, calling a wind that dashed the feather-light quicklings against the ground. Together, Quaal's flashing sword and the swan's vicious beak finished them off. Their pale blood coated the leaves and ferns.

    Quaal staggered; his wounds were not severe, but he knew he would shortly black out from the venom. He looked down at the swan, which was bleeding from dozens of tiny wounds of its own. "Brave creature," he said softly. He gently picked the bird up in his arms; it did not resist. He stumbled with it back to his cabin, which was fortunately not far away. He had time to clean and bind the swan's wounds, ignoring his own, before he fell unconscious.

    * * *

    It had been three years since Quaal returned to the world. He didn't miss the adventure.

    The moment of clarity came in the Abyss, of all places. Zagig had ensnared a hezrou in some kind of sphere - Quaal didn't know what he intended to do with it - and Tasha was giggling as if it was the funniest thing she'd ever seen. The hezrou looked at Zagig, then at Tasha with old, old eyes and croaked, "You won't be laughing when the Old One comes." Tasha went dead silent, as if the frog-demon had physically struck her. Then the demon looked at Quaal and said, clear as anything, "I'm going to kill your family."

    That's when he knew it was time to go home.

    He didn't, though. He owed too much, he thought, to his comrades in arms, to the multiverse itself. They had a quest to see through. And the demon was dead; Quaal saw to that, for all of Zagig's and Tasha's protests.

    When he finally did return, everything he had known was gone. Some sort of raid, they said, from far to the north. An evil force rising from Blackmoor that bound orcs, demons, and worse things to do its bidding. Quaal knew he wouldn't be going back to the Company of Seven, even if he could forgive them for what they had become.

    He had founded a new community on the ashes of the old. The others insisted on calling it Quaalsten, despite his protests. It was only a dozen or so cabins as yet, but it was growing daily as rangers came to learn from the legendary ranger of the Vesve, Quaal. And Quaal was determined to teach them; they were needed more than ever, for the tides of evil were rising, and not just from the distant north. Dark faeries were seen with increasing regularity, attacking innocents and kidnapping children. Quaal feared that he and his companions had stirred something up in their travels without managing to dispel it.

    * * *

    Quaal woke slowly, strangely comfortable on his simple straw mattress. Then he jumped up with a start; he was certain he hadn't made it to bed last night. And someone had apparently bound his wounds; one of his many apprentices, perhaps. He made himself relax. Whoever had intruded, they had meant to help him, not harm him. He looked for the swan, but it was gone. Whoever had helped him must have already released it.

    Someone knocked on the door. "Enter," he bade, and the door swung open to reveal a face he'd never seen before.

    She was pale, with shoulder-length red hair and bright green eyes. A light dusting of freckles on her nose and cheeks and a few old scars were the only interruptions of the pure ivory of her skin. She contrasted dramatically with Quaal, whose skin was a deep bronze and his thick, curly hair a dark brown.

    "Forgive my intrusion," she said, her voice polite but confident. "You are Quaal, yes? I am a ranger from Ulek, and I was told you were taking apprentices."

    Quaal nodded, sizing the newcomer up. She carried herself like a warrior, and her scars suggested she had seen combat. The sword and bow hanging from her mithral armor looked like they'd seen use. "I'm training as many as I can," said Quaal. "The world needs rangers who'll stand up against the dark. What's your name, lass?"

    She smiled sardonically, as if she saw something mildly humorous in what he'd said. "Fiona." She held out her hand, but when he reached for it she grasped his forearm instead of his fingers; he returned the gesture, which he found old-fashioned.

    Over the next few weeks, Quaal became impressed with Fiona; she was a good pupil, attentive and quick to pick up on his instructions. She also clearly knew a lot already, and taught him as much as he taught her. She was pious, going regularly to the shrine to the goddess Ehlonna that Quaal had set up in a nearby glade. She had a brilliant sense of humor, quick to come up with a quip to fit the situation, and generous with her laughter when he ventured his own jokes.

    Periodically, though, he would see a haunted look in her eyes. Whatever had brought her to him, which she refused to talk about, had clearly damaged her. Her expression reminded him of the way he felt, in his darker moments.

    Fiona admitted to having intruded in his cabin earlier, while Quaal had been unconscious, cleaning his wounds and releasing the swan, which had seemed healthy enough and was frantic to escape its confines. Quaal forgave her; she had been trying to help, and had likely saved him from a nasty infection.

    After the day's lessons, Quaal would retire to his cabin. Strange vapors would seep from the cracks, and the sound of chanting. Fiona interrupted him one day to see him cross-legged on the floor, scratching runes into pine cones. Beside him were several stacks of bound tomes; the one on top read Subconscious Repercussions of Pyromancy. He finished chanting at a pine cone and pointed dramatically. It burst into flames, quickly becoming an unrecognizable pile of ash.

    "What did those pine cones ever do to you?" she asked. She didn't bother to hide her amusement.

    He aimed a scowl at her, though he wasn't too upset. "Sometimes there's no time to cast a spell in the middle of combat. And not everyone has a talent for magic. I'm trying to develop an object that can hold a spell in it and be used by anyone. If there's one thing I learned in my travels that I still believe, it's that sometimes swords and armor aren't enough. We need to be armed with magic, and I intend to arm us." He gave her a self-deprecating smile. "The pine cones don't seem to enjoy the process. Acorns didn't work, either. And this book on subconscious pyromancy doesn't seem to be helping."

    Fiona looked at him seriously for a moment, her green eyes staring intently into his brown ones. "I may have a better solution," she said finally. "But you must promise me that you'll never look while I'm doing it."

    He looked puzzled, and a trifle suspicious. "Doing what?"

    "Just promise me."

    Quaal sighed. "All right, you have my word. What's your solution?"

    Fiona gave him an enigmatic look. "You'll see."

    The next evening, after practice was over, Fiona handed Quaal a small sack of white feathers. "These should hold a magical charge better than pine cones," she said. She accompanied him to his cabin, laying sprawled on his bed while he chanted and gestured. The feathers failed to burst into flame, which both Fiona and Quaal agreed was a good sign.

    Quaal stood up and, Fiona in tow, walked outside with the feathers. He dropped one to the ground. The earth around it seemed to rumble and green sprouts rose from the ground, swiftly growing into a fully mature tree. Quaal let out a cry of elation and looked to Fiona with a triumphant grin.

    "What, a tree?" asked Fiona, clearly disappointed. "That's your magical weapon?"

    Quaal scowled. "Trees can be useful!"

    "Sure," said Fiona, snorting. "For providing homes for squirrels."

    Quaal's scowl deepened. "You've been a ranger how long and you don't appreciate trees?"

    Fiona's eyes took on that haunted expression he knew so well. "A long time," was all she would say.

    As the days passed they grew closer, and soon Fiona was living with Quaal in his cabin, waking up beside him on his simple straw mattress. Quaal attempted to enchant feathers he plucked himself from local fowl, only to see them burst into flame as the acorns and pine cones had. He begged her for help. She continued to provide him with the mysterious feathers she had found, and he continued to enspell them. Sometimes she seemed reluctant to get more, and he would beg and cajole her until she agreed. He needed them to arm his troops, he insisted, to protect them all from evil. He accused her of being selfish, of not being fully committed to protecting the world from the rising darkness, and she would eventually agree. As agreed, he never watched her while she was procuring them, though this restriction struck him as deeply odd.

    It was another few weeks before the first of the murders.

    * * *

    One of the older rangers, a grizzled veteran by the name of Johann, was discovered in his cabin, his chest torn open and his heart removed. There were no suspects and no leads. The night after that Eldric, a ranger known for his great strength and endurance, was found in similar condition. Their neighbors had reported terrible screams coming from the victims' cabins. Quaal ordered that everyone sleep in shifts with others sharing their rooms. The third night two rangers were both found dead in the same cabin, both of them disemboweled. The fourth night, Quaal ordered everyone sleep together in tents in the center of the village. At midnight, the screaming began.

    It was Sven, one of the younger rangers, barely out of his teens. Hailing from the distant land of Ratik, he had shown the most hero-worship toward Quaal, and the most jealousy when he won the companionship of Fiona. Yesterday, though, he had seemed strangely relaxed, treating Quaal like neither an idol nor a rival, but simply as a fellow ranger to joke with and learn from. The others said he had been bragging about meeting a local girl, though no one else had seen her and the nearest settlement was a day's journey away. That should have been a red flag, but they were all so glad to see Sven acting normal for a change that they hadn't questioned it.

    In the middle of the night they heard him screaming. The sound went on and on, and even as Quaal, Fiona, and several other rangers rushed into his tent it continued. The elfin, child-sized creature standing by his sleeping pallet, her long clawlike hands deep in his chest, looked up at them solemnly as Sven's screams continued. Slowly, the thing grinned. "There you are," she said, and quick as lightning she pulled her hands from Sven and lunged for the nearest ranger, Fiona. Fiona jumped back, raising her sword and shield in defense as more of the slender elflike beings rose from the shadows, striking at the rangers with their gore-caked claws. Though unarmed, they seemed curiously strong, each of their blows rattling their opponents' bones. They were tough, too, shrugging off blows that would have felled a much larger warrior. The rangers struck back savagely, their own constant training under Quaal's tutelege serving them in good stead as they slowly managed to weaken the creatures, landing blows that crippled their skinny limbs. In the dark, all that could be heard were the wet thunks of weapons and claws hitting bodies. One by one, before they could be destroyed, they vanished, their bodies seeming to blur before fading into some other realm. At last only one remained. "Fionnghuala," it snarled, pronouncing the word "Finella."

    "What does that mean?" asked one of the rangers.

    "It's in the Flan tongue," said Quaal. "It means 'white shoulder.'" The creature was looking directly at Fiona.

    The creature lunged for Fiona's torso. At the last moment she thrust out her sword, extending it straight from her body through the creature's chest. It went limp, the life fading from its eyes until it was just a corpse.

    The victors looked around warily in the dark, their panting breaths breaking the stillness. Fiona checked Sven's pulse. "He's dead," she reported grimly.

    "What were those things?" asked Quaal, not really expecting an answer.

    "Organ thieves," said Fiona. "Shifeal'an in the Sylvan tongue." Quaal looked at her in surprise. "I've encountered them before," Fiona explained. "Back home, in the County of Urnst. One of them killed a friend of mine. They pose as women, harvesting their organs to fuel the rituals of the Queen of Air and Darkness. She and her nobles need hearts. They no longer have any of their own."

    Quaal looked at Fiona in surprise. "I think you're going to need to tell us more about what happened to you then," he said softly.

    Fiona looked at him silently for a moment and shook her head. "I'm sorry," she said. "I can't." She turned and walked out of the tent.

    * * *

    That night, though Fiona lay beside him, Quaal couldn't bring himself to look at her. How much did he really know about her? By the Forest Mother, she could be kidnapping children, polymorphing them into birds, and plucking feathers from her victims, for all he knew. His stomach grew chill as he remembered when the Company of Seven learned of Tasha's past... the fact that Zagig had known all along, and kept it from them, was what really made it a betrayal, of course, and forced him to leave. Tasha had probably murdered children, at some point, to help sustain her unnatural youth... Quaal steeled himself. Promise or no, he had to learn what Fiona was doing.

    The next time Fiona went to gather feathers, Quaal followed her in secret. He had learned a thing or two about stealth, and his elven-forged chain mail made no sound as he crept through the woods at a discreet distance. Watching her, unaware of his presence, Quaal thought for the first time how thin, sickly, and worried she had gotten. She must have been hiding it from him, he thought. Fiona stopped in a clearing and removed a white feather token similar to the ones he had been making, attached to her throat by a fine gold chain. She whispered something and began to transform, her arms becoming wings, her feet becoming webbed, her neck growing long and slender and her mouth and nose becoming a beak. Soon she was a huge swan, unquestionably the same swan he had rescued, though with substantially fewer feathers than it had had before. The swan craned its long neck, using its beak, and began plucking feathers from its skin.

    Quaal's eyes widened in horror. "A swanmay," he whispered. She'd been plucking the feathers from her own flesh... He backed away, in his shame and guilt neglecting to check for dry sticks, and stepped on one. The swan looked up, alerted by the sound.

    On beams of aquamarine moonlight, tall armored riders rode down into the clearing. Their skin was the same bluish tone as the moon, their ears were pointed, and their eyes were blank fields of color without sclera or pupil. They carried battleaxes and shields emblazoned with crescent moons. Their steeds were aquamarine, with ears the color of dried blood. A hunting horn bayed in the distance.

    Quaal ran out to meet them. "Leave her alone!" he shouted. The riders ignored him, grabbed the swan, and began to ride away into the sky. "Oh no you don't," muttered Quaal, throwing a feather to the ground. Instantly it transformed into an enormous swan, big enough to carry an elephant. Leaping on to its back, he flew after them.

    Higher and higher they flew, Quaal in close pursuit. The air began to grow thinner and colder, the stars becoming cold and steady beacons of light. Quaal activated another feather, and the wind it summoned helped him breathe. Hours passed, and the scarred aquamarine moon, Celene, grew larger until it filled the sky. The world behind him was now as small as the moon had been, and still the riders flew until they reached the surface of the moon itself. The riders passed through a stone arch and vanished. Quaal dismounted from the giant swan and followed.

    A long, dark tunnel descended into the earth. Quaal could hear howling winds in the distance. He pressed on.

    The further Quaal went, the louder and harsher the winds, until they were fierce enough to nearly sweep him from his feet, cacophanous enough to deafen him. "Pandemonium," he muttered, recognizing the plane of existence from his previous travels. "Home of the Unseelie Court." He pressed on through the darkness and terrible winds, navigating blindly through the confounding corridors. For the first time in years, he wished Kelanen was with him. He had known Kelanen longer than any of the others, and in fact Kelanen had introduced him to the rest of the band. Kelanen had been an able woodsman and an abler planar traveler, and Quaal had not blamed him for what happened with the rest of the Company of Seven. Quaal had never gotten the hang of the weirder planes, and he regretted Kelanen's absence badly.

    A dim verdigris glow was visible as the tunnel opened into a cavern, where the winds died down enough for his footsteps to be heard. A stone tower grew from the floor, twisting at bizarre angles, and from the door at the bottom of the tower strode a man far taller than any mortal, clad in mail fashioned to resemble leaves. Branches with autumn leaves growing from them sprouted from the man's head like antlers, and his eyes flickered with green fire. He spoke with a booming voice. "Why come you to the lands of the Unseelie Court, mortal man?"

    Quaal spoke back boldly. "I come from the lands of Oerth, seeking a swan maiden lately captured by riders from the moon."

    The fiery eyes didn't blink. "Perhaps I can help you, mortal man, if you can give me what I want. Once I was consort to the Queen of Air and Darkness, but she has cast me aside. Promise to slay the one who has taken my place, and I will show you how to find the one you seek."

    Quaal was wary. "If this consort is one of your wicked kind, I'll feel no regret from slaying him," he said. "But I won't kill an innocent. Can I trust that you'll fulfill your side of the bargain?"

    The green fire flickered, though the man's face remained expressionless. "Mortal man, I am a Verdant Prince. Oaths with my kind cannot be broken, from either side. Surely you have heard of us."

    Quaal hesitated, but nodded. "I have. I'll accept your bargain, on the condition that I won't harm a blameless man."

    The flickering eyes seemed amused. "There is nothing blameless about the King of the Unseelie Court. The deal is sealed, mortal man. Your swan maiden is this way." The tall prince strode toward a side tunnel back into the howling winds, and Quaal had little choice but to follow.

    The winds were, if anything, louder and more terrible on this leg of the journey, the sound seeming to crowd Quaal's mind with fey spirits of madness that mocked him and laid bare all his failures and weaknesses. As they continued, the darkness of Pandemonium brightened into the sickly violet and verdigris of various faerie realms surrounding the central cavern of the Queen of Air and Darkness, each ruled over by a petty lord whose attention the Verdant Prince helped Quaal avoid.

    That cavern itself, when they reached it, was vast indeed. It opened like a bowl beneath the tunnel from which they emerged, the barren desolation of stone enlivened by surreal towers and palaces built by faeries and giants over the uncounted millennia the Queen of Air and Darkness had ruled. The Verdant Prince pointed toward the central palace, visible only as a blot of utter blackness. "That is where the Queen takes her errant daughters," he said. "Your swan maiden will be there."

    The Unseelie Court was full of horrors: quicklings, fomorian giants, cyclopes, redcaps, spriggans, winged sprites that seemed to have mated with imps and fiends, organ thieves, lunar ravagers, and faeries of all types whose blank eyes and corpselike visages revealed them as undead. Most ignored the two travelers, though occasionally Quaal was forced to defend himself against a sudden mob or swarm, or a singular bully. They avoided the Verdant Prince, eyeing him with wary respect.

    At the gates of the palace, which were decorated with what were either stone sculptures of tortured fey or actual fey, petrified by dark magic, there were of course guards, burly, nine-foot-tall creatures with glistening black flesh and terrible claws and fangs. The Verdant Prince hung back, not deigning to assist Quaal as he sliced at the bulky giants with his sword. To his surprise they blurred, moving as quicklings do, but so much bigger and stronger. Desperation and the conviction that he was fighting for Fiona led strength and accuracy to Quaal's blade. Managing to cut his way through them he tossed a feather into the doorway, which grew into a tree thick enough to slow his pursuers down. "Not so useless after all," he muttered as he ran toward the great hall in the center of the palace complex. He was not surprised to see the Verdant Prince joining him, having somehow gotten past the guards and tree on his own. Once inside, the two managed to lose themselves in the great crowd of fey come to watch the ceremony.

    The Queen of Air and Darkness herself stood on a great dais; she was an angular, elflike woman with skin as pale as snow, a mane of hair as black as night, and eyes as red as blood. Beside her was her current consort, who resembled the fey riders of the moon, but taller and more massive, with skin that precisely resembled the night sky, complete with tiny motes of light like stars shining in his ebon skin. The Queen held an obsidian dagger aloft, and bound to the altar was Fiona, her clothes torn open to expose her heart. Behind them were a macabre chorus line of maidens of various races: humans, halflings, gnomes, elves, pixies, nymphs, and sprites, all with the corpselike visages of the undead, and all with breasts torn open and gutted by that terrible dagger.

    "The Queen's other daughters," whispered the Verdant Prince emotionlessly. "She has to adopt them in order to use their hearts."

    Quaal tossed a feather at the altar, which grew into a mighty tree, entangling the Queen of Air and Darkness in its limbs. Feeling an arse for rushing in there with no plan, he leapt on to the dais with absolutely no plan, cutting Fiona's bonds as a swarm of malevolent sprites swarmed him, biting at his flesh with their fangs. But now Fiona was free and had somehow taken the obsidian dagger from her "mother," and together they danced with the supernaturally quick fey, slashing and scattering them with their blades. In the distance, Quaal saw the flickering green eyes of the Verdant Prince, reminding him of what he had agreed to do. He rushed the Queen's consort, narrowly avoiding a hex hurled at him by the Queen. The King of the Unseelie Court pulled out an enormous, rune-covered axe and steel crashed against steel. The King was as strong as a giant, but Quaal had slain giants before, and demons and elder shadows and many more besides. The King fell to the dais, bleeding his last, as a new wave of unseelie fey made it to the Queen's side. Grabbing hold of Fiona, who was surrounded by the tiny corpses of unseelie sprites, Quaal leapt off the dais, summoning another giant swan in midair to spirit them away. Winged fey and tall elven creatures mounted on flying steeds followed them in close pursuit, followed by, on a chariot pulled by nightmares, the Queen of Air and Darkness herself. "That way!" screamed Fiona, pointing toward a swift-flowing river at the edge of the fey city. "She has a taboo against crossing running water!" The pursuing sprites had torn apart their poor swan by the time they reached it, but a feather token became a swan-shaped boat, keeping them from touching the dubious waters of the river before their mount drowned beneath the currents. Another token became a fan, which summoned a wind to move the boat ever swifter as the Queen and her minions screamed in rage at edge of the bank. "My heart!" screamed the Queen of Air and Darkness, and hideous stormclouds formed at her behest, and ferocious winds to churn the river up into waves that would capsize the boat. Using the fan to help control the boat with their own winds, somehow Quaal managed to keep them afloat until the river passed into a tunnel and out of the Queen's realm.

    The howling of the winds died down as the river emerged to the surface of a gray, dusty plain. Tangled, leafless trees grew along the banks, and in the distance were great crowds of gray people covered in plague sores and disease symptoms of every kind. "This must be the River Styx," Quaal whispered to Fiona, who nodded. "I think we're in Incabulos's realm. I never thought saying those words would be a relief for me."

    Fiona hugged herself to keep warm, sitting in a fetal posture on the bottom of the boat that Quaal had conjured from one of her own feathers. "When we get to the mountains, we need to disembark," she said quietly. Any kind of volume was difficult to manage in this realm, or perhaps the depths of Pandemonium had made volume too unpleasant for either of them to contemplate. "That's the realm of Cegilune, the queen of the hags and Incabulos's ally. She's also the sister, the twin or negative self, of Queen Titania of the Seelie Court. We can find a portal to the Seelie realm in Cegilune's domain."

    Quaal looked at her in surprise. "Can I ask you how you know that?"

    Fiona managed a grim smile. "You can ask me anything, now." She looked forward, toward their destination. "I'm finally going home."

    It was on that journey along the river of the dead through lands afflicted by nightmares and eternal plagues that Fiona told her story in tones almost too soft to hear. Her true name was Fionnghuala, she explained, pronounced "Finella." If she had spoken her real name aloud, or revealed her true nature as a swanmay, the Queen of Darkness would have been able to find her, no matter where she was. She had been away from the country of her birth for three hundred years.

    Fionnghuala had been a ranger in the service of both the Seelie Court and the legendary Count Cartair, revering the goddess Ehlonna as well as the fey rulers Titania and Oberon. In her many missions she battled giants, orcs, goblins, and other monsters, but primarily she fought the minions of the Unseelie Court. Wicked fey would regularly sweep through the countryside, hunting mortals and slaying or enslaving them according to their whims. None of the rangers pledged to defend the land against them could discover the gate through which they entered the world, but Fionnghuala went deeper than any other, and discovered the gate in an isolated tower run by none other than Countess Gwenhara, influenced by her mother, the Queen of Air and Darkness. After a mighty battle, Fionnghuala killed the Countess and closed the gate. Then she traveled to the court of Oberon to persuade him that, with Count Cartair, the people of Ulek could govern themselves and the Seelie Court was no longer needed. If they would retreat once more to the Fading Lands, the Unseelie Court would concentrate on other planes and their depredations would cease. Oberon was convinced, but as he attempted to take Fionnghuala to Titania's court so that she could make her case there, the group was ambushed by knights of the Queen of Air and Darkness. Fionnghuala managed to save Oberon's life almost at the cost of her own; mortally wounded, she was healed by Titania herself, given as a reward immortality and a feather token that allowed her to transform into a swan.

    The fey retreated back to their Fading Lands, and the war between the courts no longer troubled the world of Oerth to the same extent. The battles between the Ulek states calmed, too, as the fey no longer manipulated the politics there. Yet the hatred of the Queen of Air and Darkness for Fionnghuala only grew; the dark Queen demanded that Fionnghuala be brought to her court to become her new "daughter," replacing the one she had slain. When the demand was refused, the Queen of Air and Darkness plotted...

    Fionnghuala remained in the lands of the Seelie Court for centuries, venturing out when evil threatened the innocent. Over the years she recruited others to her cause, sister swanmays given the same gift of transformation that she had been granted. And yet one day she was ambushed by the lunar ravagers of the Unseelie Court and brought her bound to the palace of their Queen. She tricked a quickling into helping her escape, and pursued by the vengeful little monsters she found her way back to the mortal world, where Quaal rescued the wounded swan she had been.

    In the gloom and horror of their surroundings, Fiona - or, Quaal supposed, Fionnghuala - sighed. "I'm so sorry for endangering you all. Please believe me, that was never my intention." She looked at him with haunted eyes, dark circles underneath, her gaunt face testifying to weeks where she had steadily weakened herself, arming Quaal with magical trinkets. "You were right. I was selfish," she said, looking down at the bottom of the boat. "I should have done this alone. I shouldn't have let my feelings for you..."

    Quaal extended two fingers under her chin and gently lifted up her head. "I was the selfish one, so obsessed that I didn't see that I was killing you. I don't know how I can ever make up for that."

    "It wasn't your fault. I didn't tell you. The Queen of the Unseelie Court hears words spoken in darkness and shadow. If you knew what I was, and even whispered it to yourself, she would know. I thought keeping my secrets would protect you..."

    They embraced, and for a while, as their lovers' arms shielded them from the despair of their surroundings, no words were necessary.

    The two did not hesitate to kill any night hags they met on their journey through the mountains of Hagsend, Cegilune's realm. In time they came across the stone dolmen that led them to a twilight kingdom of fey beauty, the Seelie Court. And in a great stone circle, the Court of Rings, Titania, Oberon, and the Court's Inner Circle of nobles met the ragged pair.

    "You've rescued our hero," said Titania, a fey beauty who looked uncannily like her sister the Queen of Air and Darkness, though her eyes were a penetrating blue. "You have our gratitude, Quaal of Quaalsten. If you wish, you may share the immmortality of your bride. Be a knight errant for the Seelie Court, protecting the mortal world in our name."

    Something occured to Quaal. "The tree wasn't so useless after all, was it?"

    Fionnghuala gave him an amused scowl. "Shut up and kiss me."

    Quaal leaned toward her, closing his eyes.

    "No," said Fionnghuala. Smiling, she gently lifted his eyelids with her fingertips. "I'm never hiding from you again. You can look now."


    Last edited by rasgon on Mon Mar 07, 2011 1:20 pm; edited 1 time in total
    GreySage

    Joined: Aug 03, 2001
    Posts: 3207
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    Sun Mar 06, 2011 5:35 pm  

    Notes: As I noted above, this is sort of a mash-up of the stories "The Crane Wife" and "Snow White."

    Fionnghuala, demigoddess of swan maidens, is from Monster Mythology, as our the rulers of the Seelie and Unseelie Courts.

    The organ thieves are from Green Ronin Publishing's Aasimar and Tiefling: A Guide to the Planetouched.

    The fey riders from Celene are lunar ravagers, from the Monster Manual IV, recolored to match the aquamarine moon. The verdant princes are also from Monster Manual IV.

    Some of the hues associated with the Unseelie Court are inspired by the treatment of evil parts of Phaeree in Gary Gygax's Epic of Ærth.

    The guards of the Unseelie Court are grimms, from Necromancer Games' Tome of Horrors III.

    The King of the Unseelie Court is vaguely based - in appearance only - on a character in Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers.

    There's a lot more to the (invented by me) backstory of the Unseelie and Seelie Courts fighting over the Ulek states, but it's not really relevant to this story and there was enough infodumping as it was.

    Count Cartair is mentioned in Dragon #253, in an article by Scott Casper.

    The Court of Rings is mentioned in From the Ashes.

    And this is why I don't personally see Fionnghuala as one of the nine imprisoned demigods. Imprisoning his former adventuring companion's girlfriend/wife is too much of a bastard move even for Zagig, in my opinion.
    GreySage

    Joined: Jul 26, 2010
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    Sun Mar 06, 2011 6:11 pm  

    That was an excellent short story, Rasgon! 95% action! Happy

    The Verdant Prince, as you describe him, reminds me of the Green Knight from the Arthurian legends.

    SirXaris
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    Joined: Oct 06, 2008
    Posts: 2781
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    Mon Mar 07, 2011 12:20 pm  

    Way cool, Rasgon. You need to "pick up your pen" again, my friend. Wink Happy
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    Black Hand of Oblivion

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    Mon Mar 07, 2011 11:13 pm  

    rasgon wrote:
    The organ thieves are from Green Ronin Publishing's Aasimar and Tiefling: A Guide to the Planetouched.


    What? The Shapechangers/Polymorph Squad from 2E's "The City of Greyhawk" blue box wasn't Greyhawk enough to base them on instead? Razz Wink
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