Monday, May 31, 2010

Penny Black (deity)

The postal service around the country varied greatly for a long time, both in structure, costs and reliability. The town of Horsehead for example had their Whispery Men, a group of people that delivered short, spoken messages within the town borders. Unfortunately, the messages always seemed to transform into something else along the way, making the whole thing quite unattractive to use despite low fees and fast runners. As time went on, the Whispery Men became notorious for breaking up marriages and starting fights between friends.

The situation was similar across the country, although in general not as bad as in Horsehead. Suddenly one day, round boxes started to appear. First in the larger settlements, and then even on the countryside. Billobi remembered the day when he first saw one of these tall cylinders in Badgerbrough. He was on his way home from school when he turned a corner and almost knocked his head against the black metal. Billobi had never seen anything like it before; it stood as tall as him, and the metal was pitch black and warm to the touch. There was a thin slot near the top, for reasons he couldn't understand.

As he ran his fingers over its body, he could feel the presence of a relief:

Time passed, and Billobi eventually found out that the round, black boxes served as letter containers, placed by the postal service of Penny Black, a new organisation that was devoted to the delivery of letters and packages (and actually succeeded in this task, much to the people of Horsehead's enjoyment). "Penny Black never misses a letter" became a famous phrase across the country.

The letter carriers were easily recognized by their black dresses, pale skin and, strangely enough, empty stare. It soon became evident that the letter carriers of Penny Black actually were servants of a deity with that very name. This deity, often depicted as a young woman with long, dark hair and finer clothes, thrived on the servants' satisfactions upon fulfilling a successful delivery. Every single parcel and letter held a tiny amount of contained energy, drawn from the sender, and released upon delivery. Penny Black fed on this, and she never missed a letter.

Being a letter carrier in service of Penny Black has certain advantages, although many would argue that they don't make up for the fact that you have to devote the rest of your life to be in her service.

These letter carriers are easily spotted all over the country, although no one seems to know how to enrol willingly into her service.

If the sender doesn't pay for the letter, the receiver must upon delivery. Otherwise, they're both subject to the Distrain-spell (see below).

The letter carriers are known to possess certain spells, most likely bestowed by Black Penny herself, to ease their duties. Some of these are:

Range: One person (or home)
Duration: Immediate

If payment upon delivery isn't possible (or the sender/receiver refuses to pay), the letter carrier marks the subject with this spell. The next night, Penny Black will try to find a suitable compensation for the non-payment (depending on the size of the package and the distance travelled). In a worst case scenario, Penny Black will claim the person, turning him or her into a letter carrier.

Range: One letter/parcel/package
Duration: Until delivered

All items that are picked up by a letter carrier have this spell cast upon them as soon as possible. It will protect the package from being tampered with until the delivery is completed.
Anyone trying to open a sealed package will be marked in the same way as if the Distrain-spell was cast upon them. The only difference is that Penny Black won't accept any less than their soul (thus turning them into a letter carrier in her service).

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Society of Bow and Tea (people)

The forest of Ogrebelly held many strange things and beings, not necessarily evil or monstrous, but just - not so ordinary. After years and years of travelling through those woods, Billobi concluded that the only thing that was even remotely normal was the mushrooms, and picking them was something he very much enjoyed (at least the ones that didn't bite him).

Getting familiar with both the environment and the people living there helped a lot, especially when travelling long distances (or just picking loads of mushrooms). Mr. Bickleigh lived alone with his fat cat in the middle of the Ogrebelly forest, and was one of those peculiar but friendly faces in the otherwise hostile environment. Billobi often stayed for a night or two, in exchange for some freshly picked mushrooms, of course.

One cool, late summer morning, Billobi awoke to something other than the usual face licking from the cat (one of the drawbacks of sleeping on the floor). It was an intensive rumble, growing in strength for every second. He got up on his feet and looked out the window, but couldn't spot anything.

"Sit down, Mr. Rustfoot, have some tea", said Mr. Bickleigh calmly. He sat by the table, still dressed in his striped pyjamas. "It will be over soon."

"What will?" Billobi asked.

"What do you mean, the rumbling of course! It's nothing to worry about. Do as Mr. Bigglesworth and have some breakfast. Unlike him, it's good for you."

The fat cat sat on his own chair, rebuild and raised by Mr. Bickleigh so that the cat would reach the table. It even had its own plate, from which it ate. Billobi sat down next to the cat and took a slice of bread. The rumbling continued, almost unbearable.

"Won't be long now", said Mr. Bickleigh, and a second later, all was quiet.

"Mr. Bickleigh, will you now please explain to me what that was?"

"Of course!" said the old man and got up. "Follow me. And you, Mr. Bigglesworth, that's your last egg! You hear me? Don't need you any fatter..."

Billobi followed the old man outside, and was completely taken by surprise with what he saw. Outside the small brick house, as far as his eyes could see, riders dressed in red clothes filled up the forest. While some of them carried small flags or golden horns, most of them wielded bows. All of them wore finely crafted clothes, that probably costed more than the old man's house.

Suddenly, one of them spoke: "Mr. Bickleigh, a very good morning to you, old chap! Seen any foxes, have we?"

"Yes, it WAS a good morning..." Mr. Bickleigh answered. "And no, I haven't seen any. Not that I would tell you about it, anyway."

"Ah, shoot!" said the man. "My scouts could've sworn they'd spotted several red hounds in this area. Ah, well, what to do? Why, good day to you, good sir!"

Billobi nodded dumbly, unable to speak from the chock.

"Ah, a mute! You would be perfect as a scout! If you're ever in Ogrebelly..."

"Master!" one of the younger boys in the troop suddenly shouted. "Master! I've spotted a red hound!"

"Men! Nock an arrow and follow me! Mr. Bickleigh, I bid you and your mute a fare well! Men! We ride!"

Several of the riders pulled a strange looking arrow from their quivers; the arrowhead was replaced with a round, stuffed ball of leather. The sound of the hoard riding into the forest was almost deafening. A moment later, they were all gone.

Mr. Bickleigh shook his head twice and went inside. The door didn't even close before his booming voice could be heard: "OH LOOK, MY PLATE IS EMPTY WHEN IT WAS FULL JUST A MOMENT AGO. THAT IS REALLY STRANGE! DON'T YOU THINK, MR. BIGGLESWORTH?"

The Society of Bow and Tea is a gathering of upper-class, riding hunters, formed in Ogrebelly. Their coat of arms consists of a bow, two crossed arrows, and a teapot, all lined up in a single row.

The arrows used by the society have their heads replaced by a leather ball, stuffed with the finest goose down, to guarantee that no one gets hurt.

There hasn't been a single successful hunt in the society's entire history, much due to their choice of arrows but also the unclear objectives of the actual hunt, as stated in the decree written down by the founder: "The purpose is to hunt. In the woods. Sometimes, we will see foxes. In the woods. And we shall drink tea. In the woods. Among foxes."
This has made it unclear if the purpose really is to hunt foxes, or to just have tea in their vicinity.

The society's motto is: "To ride, to hunt, to drink tea".

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Gull flower (monster)

The southern parts of the country are more or less known for their farming communities. Big people harvesting even bigger crops, feeding the out-of-towners so they won't die of hunger - at least according to Billobi's cousin Hamphred Dungbeetle.

Hamphred was not only a self-proclaimed genius and farmer, he was the second largest person in the whole county (his father being number one). After winning the annual arm wrestling contest with ease for the third year in a row, the local newspaper described him as the closest thing you could come to a living barn with arms.

Billobi and his parents often visited his cousin during the summers, to help out with the daily chores and mock the out-of-towners.

"Them burghers come here with the're fancy talk and teeth", Hamphred used to tell Billobi, often followed by spitting. "Can't milk them cows with yer teeth, though!"

Hamphred had great knowledge of the nature of the countryside, about harvesting and farming in general, much of which he gladly passed on to young Billobi. He also liked to talk about things he didn't know anything about, like women, magic and city life. One particular lesson in gardening Billobi remembered was the one about gull flowers.

"Bill!" Hamphred shouted across the fields. "Pick me one of them yellow flowers and come!"

Billobi did as told, and picked one of the flowers. Their stalks were tall and thin, yet sturdy enough to bear its yellow crown.

"This blossom here, we call this a gull flower", Hamphred told him. "Taste like sugar, but deadly as a black cat in a fancy dress! Look here."

Hamphred led him back to the patch of flowers, and dug up one of the flowers with roots and all. A large, round bulb was attached at the bottom. It was dark red, and seemed almost polished.

"These balls, the gull bulb, are cursed. Three times does it give you a nice flower, but the fourth the shell cracks, and out crawls horned creatures, like dogs out of the soil... Horrible, annoying things, chews on everything. Good meat though, taste like sugar!"

Gull flowers grows almost everywhere. Their bulb is dark red in colour, and hard as stone. The flower blossoms thrice before the bulb enters a strange metamorphosis and evolves into a horned creature, the size of a dog.

Gull flowers are usually banned in larger settlements such as towns, although some may allow them if the planter promises to keep count.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The almost secret tower of Leasspell (map)

It was one of those calm nights at the pub in Skiff-in-Loch, the island's only inn. Old lady Darnton, the owner, sat on a chair next to the open fireplace and tried to stay awake. Since Skiff-in-Loch lacked any sorts of trees, all fuel for the fire needed to be imported from Ketch-in-Loch, the nearest settlement, which at times could be very expensive. This led to the unofficial tradition of "fuel fee"; each and every one that wanted to enjoy the warmth of the pub, must pay a fee of at least one piece of wood at the fireplace.

Billobi sat by a small window, slowly emptying his tall, dark glass of Horsehead's Stout. His eyes and head felt weary, and he longed for the rented room on the second floor. Sipping the cold beverage had a pleasant effect on his nerves, like the voice of his mother singing to him when he was but a young boy in the now lost childhood days of Badgerbrough. He missed those days and he missed them.

Looking out over the pub, he was almost alone. Almost.

"Say lad, have I told you about OAREATERS?" old Badsey said and emptied his glass. "Nasty critters, one would believe they only eat oars, but no, no. They'll eat anything - ANYTHING - I tell you. One time I dropped my bottle of fine Ogrebelly whiskey into the waters, and the bloody thing swallowed it whole! Mistook it for a small oar, I tell you! Nasty critters, yes, yes."

Badsey got up with his empty glass and walked over to the bar. He served himself a new glass of amber whiskey from Ogrebelly, walked over to lady Darnton by the fireplace with some coins, and finally sat down again next to Billobi.

"Slow night, ey?" Badsey said with a grin and raised his glass towards the fireplace. "Cheers, ms Darnton!"

The old lady answered with a snore, much to their enjoyment.

"Say lad, have I ever told you about..."

"How you lost your eye?" Billobi filled in quickly and laughed.

"Oy, no need to make fun of the less fortunate! It's not my fault a sinker caught it!"

"You're sure it wasn't an ogrefish...?"

"I swear on me mother's hair! But since you seem so cheerful, let me tell you about a strange place I once stumbled upon in my youth... Have you ever heard about Leasspell?"

Billobi shook his head.

"No, I didn't think you'd have, no. You're much too young, I was but a wee lad at the time, yes. Stranger place I'd never seen the likes of again, no. They had this tall tower in the middle of everything, a mile long! Yes, at least, one mile, if not two. Anyway, tall is it was and small as I was, I naturally had to ask about this abomination of a construction."

"What did they say?"

"'What tower?' Can you believe that? 'What tower, young boy?' Either that, or they'd just stare right past me, or start talking about something else. One lass even started laughing hysterically!"

Billobi took another sip from his glass, and asked: "Didn't they see the tower? How can one miss a tower that high?"

"I bet they were CURSED, crazed people! I even walked up to the base of the tower and slapped the stone so hard my hand turned red, screaming 'THIS TOWER! LOOK! HERE!'. But they just went on like before, yes."

Old Badsey filled his mouth with whiskey, noticeably upset by the memory. He slammed the glass so hard against the table that lady Darnton woke up.

"Cursed, crazed people, I tell you, lad. And then, the guards took me and kicked me out."

"What? For what?"

"Yep, I guess the curse got 'em too, poor bastards. All I did was push one of them into side of the tower! Not very hard, no. Bloody weaklings, if you ask me. And yet they didn't see it, no, cursed, crazed, blind, bloody people."

They sat silent for the rest of the evening, listening to the hard wind outside and the crackling sound of the fireplace - and the snoring of old lady Darnton.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Ring of Postponement (magic item)

As kids moving towards adolescence, young Billobi and best friend Tristan often had their former heroes replaced for new, more exciting sources of inspiration - like fifteen year old Donnchadh Maclure.

Donnchadh was the only child of the Maclures, a renowned butcher family specialized in rare meat from overseas. Hard work and superb quality had made them quite famous not only in Badgerbrough, but throughout the country. Their son, on the other hand, had no interest in pursuing his parents business. As a matter of fact, he had no real interests besides sleeping and gambling - school was naturally out of the question. This gave him the nickname of Deadfoot, after his slow, indolent way of walking.

Tristan and Billobi used to follow him around town (as often as they dared to skip classes); at first, sneaking and hiding, peeking around corners, awing at a distance, but after a while they noticed that Donnchadh didn't really bother, so they started walking next to him, talking about life and school. It didn't really matter that their hero didn't respond or participate in their discussions; just walking next to him was good enough.

Donnchadh's gambling habits had gotten him tangled up in an unfriendly circle of "friends", mostly people demanding money from him. Billobi and Tristan witnessed quite a few occasions where people with scars and bad intentions dragged Donnchadh into dark alleys and asked him about overdue debts with their fists - e.g. times when school seemed like a perfect, if not better, alternative.

Time passed, and after a couple of months this monotonous lifestyle started to bore both Billobi and Tristan. They agreed to spend one last day with Donnchadh, before looking for more exciting things to follow.

Said and done, this day played out as all of the other days, almost. Donnchadh went to the park and sat there for two hours, after which he went to the docks and sat there for two hours (falling asleep four times, according to Tristan). At last, he went up and started walking home, much to Tristan and Billobi's disappointment.

Halfway home, crossing a particular notorious street, a nasty looking bully popped up from nowhere and hit Donnchadh right over the nose, knocking him to the ground. The bully started raving about unpaid debts (as usual) and pulled out a thin knife. A second later, it was buried deep inside Donnchadh's chest, probably right through his heart. A muffled sound slipped through his lips, after which he went completely silent.

The bully pulled out the knife, pointed it at the two friends and whispered: "You've seen nothin'!" He then took all valuables he could find on Donnchadh's body, except for a beautiful, golden ring worn on the middle finger. Reaching for it at first, he suddenly pulled back; he grinned badly, as if he felt nauseated just by the looks of it. He went up and ran away.

Billobi and Tristan stood there scared, and had unconsciously reached for the other's hand. Hand in hand they walked up to the body of Donnchadh, uncertain what to do. Just about then, Donnchadh rose up from the ground, gasping for air as if coming up from under water.

He sat there, breathing heavily, and said without looking at the boys: "I think all three of us learned a lesson here today, yes?"

The boys nodded slowly, mute from being scared to death twice in a day. School sure felt tempting now...

"Yes, a very good lesson indeed", Donnchadh continued with a smile. He looked at the boys while holding up his hand: "Thank the gods for magical rings!"

Many, many years later, Billobi happened to stumble upon Donnchadh Maclure's obituary in Badgerbrough's local newspaper. He had died in his bed from a narrow but deep wound in his chest, that apparently had appeared out of nowhere.

A ring of postponement does almost exactly what it says it does; it postpones one physical wound for an unknown period of time. No one can for certain say what kind of wound the ring will postpone, or for how long; that's a decision left for the ring to take. But the more severe the wound, the more likely it is that the ring will postpone it.

After the right amount of time has passed, the postponed wound inside the ring will be brought back to its wearer.

The ring will only postpone a wound if currently worn on a finger. A ring that's been triggered (e.g. carries a postponed wound) can't be taken off, and will plant a uncomfortable feeling in anyone who tries to take it.

Chopping off one's finger will not only make the postponed wound come back immediately - it will probably hurt as well.