Sunday, December 3, 2023

A Dissonant Chord - Part 1

This serialized story follows the journal of Ikram, a character in my solo Ironsworn campaign. In his world, iron arrowheads serve as the common currency. Each year consists of 160 days divided equally among four seasons. The people of Ikram's version of the Ironlands use a calendar that tracks the approximate years since humans migrated from the old world to the Ironlands. While most of the standard details about the Ironlands remain as described in the official Ironsworn materials, there is an overarching custom backstory that has emerged over numerous game sessions. This underlying narrative will gradually reveal itself through Ikram's journal entries as the story progresses. Ikram is from Graycliff and suffers from a severe case of wunderlust. As I am writing this blog post, the campaign is still ongoing and has two distinct acts. Ikram's journal becomes more and more dialog-heavy as the story progresses.

35th day of winter, year 132

After the passing of my mother, I sold the family home and most of our possessions in order to purchase saddlebags, a horse named Valeri, provisions for a long journey, and a better set of clothes. Themon, who sold me Valeri, asked that I explore an abandoned silver mine north of the village known as the Black Tunnels. While traveling there, we passed through some rough mountain terrain. Further along the path, we encountered a caravan of warriors who appeared to be transporting prisoners. Hoping to avoid conflict, we attempted to take a different route. We made camp at a peaceful spot along the trail, but the warriors later found us. When they tried to take all of our supplies, we pleaded with them to let us go freely, but to no avail. One warrior knocked Themon unconscious before I could draw an arrow in our defense. Valeri had wandered away from me as well. Barely avoiding the fist of one attacker, I managed to jump onto Valeri's back. Taking careful aim, I fired an arrow at the warrior assaulting us, but Valeri startled and stumbled, ruining my shot. I pulled her reins to put distance between us and the warriors chasing after, and she responded perfectly. Taking aim once more, my next arrow found its mark in the face of one warrior, killing him instantly. But the others continued closing in. By circling around our camp while firing arrows back at our pursuers, I was able to gradually gain more ground between us until an arrow grazed my arm, eliciting a scream from me. After recovering from the pain, I once more pulled her behind some trees to put distance between us and the warriors. They mocked me from afar, and I thought of Themon still lying unconscious in the camp. Worried for his safety, I knew I had to return to him swiftly. When I emerged from behind the trees to change positions, I saw the warriors running towards me, which frightened me greatly. As I rode Valeri away from them, I noticed the warriors becoming entangled in some brambles that grew between us. Taking aim with my bow, I loosed an arrow in their direction but missed completely, as we had moved further from the campfire's light. I circled Valeri around to approach the camp from a different angle. An arrow then grazed her again, followed by another. Upon nearing the camp, I saw the warriors standing over Themon's still body. Continuing to move did not seem to be helping my situation. Exhausted from the prolonged fight and fearing I could not defend us much longer, as I attempted our escape another arrow struck Valeri and we both fell to the earth. More warriors appeared, blocking off another route of exit. However, I spotted an opening on one side and fled from the approaching men on foot, accidentally dropping some of my arrows in the process. Though I managed to escape with my life, I was forced to abandon our supplies and the unconscious Themon. Realizing I had failed in my vow to help him, I discarded an iron arrowhead as a symbol of breaking that oath, and began the long walk back home.

36th day of winter, year 132

To my surprise and relief, Valeri found me! I do not know how she managed to locate me, as I had assumed she perished with the fall. She appeared badly injured. Creating a makeshift camp on a withered hillside, we were both too wounded and fearful to rest, so we continued our journey together. As we passed through some corrupted woods, an unsettling event transpired - the surrounding trees seemed to wither before my eyes, and I felt a strange urge to somehow absorb them into myself. I grabbed some twigs form the ground and smelled them, the sensation was akin to a deep hunger that I didn't know I ever had, finally being sated for the first time. Late that night, I arrived at Graycliff only to find it destroyed. Themon's head had been mounted on a central pike in the town square. My legs weakened at the gruesome sight, yet anger fueled my resolve to remain standing. I pondered the identity of the warriors and how events may have differed had I surrendered our supplies without a fight. Swearing an iron vow for vengeance, I made camp in the forest outside of Graycliff to plan my retaliation.

37th day of winter, year 132

I attempted to reach Stoneford but became lost due to fatigue and hunger.

38th day of winter, year 132

Still lost, I spotted a familiar hill and got back on track. Later I became lost again, but eventually arrived back at Graycliff. But how? There are only two more days left in winter. I thought I would never reach Stoneford. I felt completely useless — if anything, my skills only gave me a false sense of security in surviving. I realized I would need greater power for my revenge. I would need more of whatever empowered me in the forest, although I still did not know its nature. Just as I knew I needed food and rest, so too did I know I required "that." I pressed on toward Stoneford once more, as I needed assistance.

39th day of winter, year 132

Somehow I made it to Stoneford. I told everyone about the destruction of Graycliff but did not mention that I drew my arrow first — that secret I would take to my grave.

6th day of spring, year 132

The people of Stoneford have helped me greatly. Valeri and I are both feeling well once more. Zanita, a forester from Stoneford who went to Graycliff to look for survivors, returned today with a few others who fled into the forest during the attack. I asked her about the warriors and she said that from what she gathered, she believes they are one of the elf-bound clans that guard the Deep Wilds and trade with the elves. The elves provide them rare medicinal plants and types of living wood (wood that repairs itself when carved using special procedures), and the clans provide the elves with anything they request — very often humans with specific characteristics. No one knows why they need them or what they do with those taken. I left all my arrowheads at the church to thank them for taking care of me and left again for the corrupted woods. On the way, while passing by an isolated bay, I stepped down from Valeri to look at an abandoned shack. Beneath the shack, I found a frozen cavern through a trapdoor. The cavern "smelled," if I can call it that, just like the corrupted woods, and I felt compelled to explore it. The cavern was extremely dark, so I used some cloth to make a torch and delve deeper. I found a vast chamber that had that "smell" and I somehow let it into me. It made me feel more full, more ready — to do what, I was not sure. I was plunged into darkness when my torch unexpectedly went out, but then it started emitting flames again even though there was no oiled cloth on it. I should probably have used it to go back, but there was more there to explore and I knew I was close to something important. Adding to my perplexity, I stumbled upon a library. I took a few books with me: "The Final Alliance," "Surviving the Ocean," and "Unlikely Victories: A Review of Our History." These must have been old world books, as their quality was amazing. On the back side of the library, there was a locked iron door. I felt compelled to open it. After much searching, I located the key in the library, but it snapped when I tried to use it. Perhaps it wasn't even the right key. But I had come so close! I really thought I'd hear the lock click. And then, I did! The lock made the sound, but it remained locked. Did the mechanism move itself, or was I losing my mind? I thought perhaps I did manage to rotate the key a bit before it broke, and now the mechanism simply fell into place. I looked at the keyhole and again considered how close I must have been — it just needed a few more degrees to the left. I tilted my head, and then the clicking sound again. "Am I doing that?" I wondered. I tilted my head again, thinking of the rotating key. "Click," but this one was fuller, louder. I pushed the door, and it opened. Behind it was a small room with a desk containing some books and a stone arrowhead in the middle. I took the stone and looked around the desk. Some notes with a drawing of it mentioned that it is an invoker's lodestone and that an expert invoker should be able to use it to reduce the risks of invocations, as well as find sources of "mystical energy" and "phase rifts". I retraced my steps to the surface with the notes. Night had fallen, so I made camp.

7th day of spring, year 132

I set off for Mournwood, one of the border towns next to the deep wilds, hoping to find information about the elf-bound warrior clan. I passed a hill covered with water running downhill. It was likely the beginning of the new spring, as the water had not yet eroded the earth. I pressed on to a river rich with fish. I used my bow to fish but by evening it had grown dark, so I made camp for the night.

In the next part, Ikram visits Mournwood where a business opportunity awaits. But danger lurks closer than expected, as he encounters more weird phenomena and finds himself in yet another life-threatening situation.

To be continued...

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