WAR & REMEMBRANCE
Previously: War Crimes
Themesong: These Dreams by Heart
When I saw that Redwall was the next jump in the sequence I almost wept. Might have too, had I not so completely internalized the emotional control techniques I’d gained from being a Vulcan. It’s strange what sticks with you, but while the treacherous voice of doubt and self-loathing was speaking in my head, whispering that I’d make an utter hash of this too, the voices of my better… selves… pointed out that a) dwelling in the past was unproductive and b) I had a pretty good track record for not fucking up royally, and c) while there would almost certainly be pepper grinders in Redwall, they were unlikely to be wielded by mad scientists with a fleet of psychic tanks. Unfortunately, it didn’t do much to lighten my mood, but moping didn’t earn the CP needed to keep the lights on.
Also unfortunately, I’d never read more than the first book of Brian Jacques’ sprawling series, although I knew the names of a couple of the latter books. It was all very… Secret of NIMH without the madscience… lots of woodland animals living together and being medieval in the ruins of a Human built abbey or something. The details hadn’t stuck too firmly in my head, especially not with the voracious way I used to consume media… not that I’d slowed down, of course. Sure, I hadn’t encountered any Jump setting that wasn’t linked to something created on Origin Earth, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t ever going to happen. And sure, I was spending a lot more of my time pursuing other hobbies… but thanks to my reading glasses I could read 18 times faster than before. Shame I couldn’t process audio files 18 times faster as well. Someone should invent 18x Galeforce hearing aids… or maybe that would blow out your eardrums and core your brain… but probably not.
According to the Wheel of Locations, I would arrive a few miles from the ancient mountain of “Salamandastron” (a name I’d heard but never known to be a mountain), currently the dominion of Lord Stonepaw (whoever that was), just as the armies of the wildcat Ungatt Trunn (whoever that is) are marching towards it… though I’ll have a head start. A few seasons (out of the 40 we’ll be stuck in Zootopia) from now, a warrior named Luke (etc.) will set out to get revenge on some murderous pirates… are there really any other kind? Age and Gender are both free pick… huh… and, all the backgrounds are free. Well, that’s something. Neither Warrior nor Scoundrel appeal to me in my current state, and the relatively pacific Abbey-Dweller seems like a warm hug… emotionally speaking.
Up next was the choice of species. Maybe it’s girlish of me… maybe I was just counting on there being a Stewart Little, Secret of NIMH, MAUS, Mouseguard, or American Tail jump sometime in the future, but being a mouse now, with so many other choices, no matter how prevalent Mice might be in the books (although, as I’ve said, I’ve only read the one), seemed silly. Shrews were out for the same reason… a mouse by any other name and all. Moles have terrible vision and live in dirt… Hares… as much as I love bunnies… I dunno, the lack of binocular vision would get to me, I think, no matter how good the hearing is. That left Squirrels (poofy tail!), Hedgehogs (spiiiikes!), Badgers (growf!), and Otters (weeee!). With all due respect to the Herbivores… I’m not one. Sure Hedgies are mostly insectivorous and Squirrels are tree rats… they’ll eat anything… but I’d rather go with something higher up the foodchain.
Of course, Badgers and Otters are both relatives of the Ferret, so there’s that. Sure, I could go Vermin and take Weasel but Weasels weren’t Abbey-Dwellers. Birds were tempting, but… not free… and Badgers were very cool, but not free… so Otter it was. Drawbacks were to be avoided… at least for this jump. Too many bad thoughts.
Otters gained “Born in the Streams” free (You’re better at swimming than almost anyone else, able to swim upstream against a raging river, or keep your head above water in a hurricane. This also comes with an overall boost to your strength, and makes your belly a bit sturdier.) which was certainly nice… not that I wasn’t already lean and… tight. Abbey-Dwellers got “With Open Arms” free (Community. Security. Family. You may not have always had such things, but you’re good at finding them… or, if necessary, founding them. You know how to make a good first impression, and how to quickly find yourself integrated into any sort of loose hierarchy you may be invited to join. This is no guarantee that you won’t find yourself an outcast for egregious crimes against the community, but you’ll probably be given the benefit of the doubt on a first offense.)
It was a good start, nice, wholesome, the kind of thing a world weary veteran of the Psychic Wars… not to mention several other kinds… would want. While I was at it, I figured I might as well check out the rest of the Abbey-Dweller line… and having checked it out, I figured I might as well take it. Wholesome Home Cooking  (900/1000) made me a culinary genius, able to whip up a delicious four course meal on a moment’s notice, or to keep a whole Abbey fed for weeks under siege conditions, with knowledge of all the various local cooking styles and the ability to make vegan substitutions nearly indistinguishable from the real thing (ha… I’ll believe that when I see it). It was even future-proofed, allowing me to learn the most popular meals no matter where I was. It was, all in all, a fun little boost to my steadily growing art portfolio.
Expert Healer  (700/1000) was another no brainer. It gave next gen folk medicine and medical skills across the board, plus the ability to integrate more advanced medical knowledge with the down home style of this pre-industrial world. That would be good in this jump, helping me hide futuristic medicine in Redwall’s more folksy ways… but I figured it might also work for future jumps, helping me hide advanced treatments from the primitives… and maybe I’d learn something. Athelas did contain a potent and fairly generalized antitoxin after all.
JITTAGALL  (400/1000), an initialism that barely qualified as an acronym, stood for “Jumping Is The Thing A Good Abbey Leader Learns” and made me the embodiment of the seven virtues exemplified by the great leaders of Redwall Abbey: Humility, Patience, Wisdom, Understanding, Kindness, Friendliness, and Strength of Character. It didn’t manifest as a visible glowing aura, but as a faint smell of lilacs (which could, thankfully be suppressed at will… I detest lilacs). It meant that those who shared my values would quickly come to regard me as a veritable living saint, and even my mortal enemies would hesitate to hurt me. Saintly virtues… I could use that right now… Humility especially, but Kindness too… I put a hard lockout on the Medbay pods containing the Kihara’s. They could not be opened by anyone for ten years and 40 days. If I decided to forgive those psychos, it would not be under the kinder, gentler, pacifist me.
Companion Import  (100/1000) was next, the package coming with 8 slots, each gaining a free background plus 300 CP for Perks, Abilities, and Gear. Zane, Toph, Yoiko, Ryoga, Bao, Uriel, Joy & Ahab. One of these days I was going to find a jump that those two wouldn’t be helpful in (that still had companion imports) but this was not that jump.
Still, that seemed to be all the Perks I wanted, maybe there was Gear worth grabbing… not that I anticipated it… this was a feudal society… Of course, right away it proved me wrong. Free to everyone came a Sturdy Haversack… and not a useless oldtimey one, but a large, rigid-framed backpack with several pouches and compartments (all substantially bigger on the inside for extra excellence). They each came with a bedroll and mess kit, and could, in a pinch, be used as a surprisingly effective bludgeoning weapon.
Still, all that paled in comparison to the ultimate prize, free to all Abbey-Dwellers… Infinite Cheese. “In a world without livestock, where exactly do the dairy products come from? Probably best not to think too hard about it. Rest easy though, this cheese comes from endlessly refilling barrels in your warehouse, rather than anywhere ethically questionable.” I cackled with glee as a list of cheeses hundreds of items long scrolled across the window of the VMoD… Sure, I had near infinite sandwich cheeses already, but they were sliced for sandwiches… and there are plenty of cheeses that don’t go on sammies… the Infinite Cheese was six massive oak barrels, one full of brine and brined cheeses, the others full of wax sealed or paper wrapped cheeses, ranging from semi-soft all the way to very hard. Mmmm behold the Power… I knew I’d chosen right.
For the low cost of  (0/1000) I could also buy an Abbey Kitchen, a fully-stocked kitchen, pantry, and cellar, equipped with hot and cold running water, many ovens, stoves, and cauldrons, the best cooking utensils available, a large deep fryer, fermenting and distilling equipment, and even refrigeration facilities. Once a season, my supply of fruits, nuts, grains, and vegetables would refill automatically. And after the jump it would become an attachment to my Warehouse. What more, really, could I ask for?
Still, I had to check the Drawbacks. It was… necessary. I’d done one jump without looking and always regretted not knowing what was on the list. Always consider your options, even if ultimately you reject them. Knowledge is power. Ack… all these drawbacks are heavy hitters… but for once I think the amnesia perk “Child of the Storm” sounds good. Though I have no idea what I’d do with the extra points. It’s a 300 point Drawback, but unlike many similar ones, it doesn’t actually seal away any of my powers, simply makes it so I will have to discover for myself what powers I have and how to properly use them. When Zane asks why, my only response is, “Think of it as a test. Without my history and memories to guide me, will I still be a good person?”
Unfortunately, taking that rules out the ‘Prophecy’s Puppet’ Drawback (guided by the Author’s Hand) or ‘This is a Peaceful Place’ which would inhibit my freewill. Always Hungry was right out… No way was I going hungry for a decade… especially not with limitless cheese… though I’d have to remember it was there. Dibbunsitting (which meant I’d be saddled with the care of infants and toddlers… i.e. dubbins…) might be a fitting punishment… but it was a fail state waiting to happen since even one death… in a world often rife with violence… would end the chain. It also sounded vaguely like hell.
And speaking of hell, Relentless Riddles (+200) sounded excruciating… but might be worth it. In fact, the challenge of endless cryptic answers and riddles amused me… and it amused me right up until I thought about how Ryoga and Yoiko might take to the lack of straightforward answers… at which point it reaaallly amused me. Hopefully Ahab could keep from killing people in frustration.
To round out the make things difficult for SJ and test her patience to the limits, I picked up Incomprehensible Accents (+100) which would make almost everyone sound nigh incomprehensible to me and vise versa. Which was odd, because I had no idea what I’d spend all these points on.
I settled on “A Little Light in Every Heart”  (300/1600), which granted me “an unusual degree of insight into the content of the character of others”, a sense of when they might have nagging doubts about the correctness of their ideals, and the ability to (with a precisely chosen) kind word or two assuage those doubts… or cause them to bloom and grow. It wasn’t mind control or magical alignment change, and there wasn’t any guarantee that it would result in a convert to my cause but it probably couldn’t hurt. It was, apparently, particularly useful for promoting ideals of tolerance and nonviolence, but could almost as easily be used to spread paranoia and distrust, or whatever values I wanted to spread. It wasn’t wonderful, but it came with the added perk that would allow me and my companions to bypass the limitation on vermin species taking the Abbey-Dweller or Warrior backgrounds, or of the Goodbeast species taking the Scoundrel background.
I considered taking the serpent’s Active Camo perk. It was tempting in the extreme, but so were the sensory boosts (hearing, vibration, touch) from the Mole’s racial perk. Also tempting was the Aerial Acrobatics perk for birds. But ultimately, I went with “Musician and Poet Extraordinaire”  (100/1600) which not only made me competent in the use of every sort of musical instrument common to the world of Redwall, and a virtuoso level of talent on drums, but gave me a talent for poetry and songwriting, especially when writing songs about my adventures or those of my friends. It even boosted my memory (as if I needed it), especially with regard to recall of verse, which probably meant increased memory access speed rather than capacity. Oral history is cool… and embarrassing your friends with heroic ballads seems like fun. It even came with a free Musical Instrument “A finely made and well-maintained hand-drum.” I wonder if I could teach Ziggy to play the drum? Belly Drum was a Linoone move… though I guess the question was “Can I teach Ziggy to play the drum without hurting himself?”
With the last of my CP I picked up the mousine racial perk “Heart of a Mouse” … of course… In this world, that’s actually a compliment. They may be one of the smallest sentient species, but they produce a disproportionate number of heroes. It gave a great deal of courage even in the face of overwhelming challenges and a great deal of luck when faced with lopsided odds. I hadn’t had too much problem with courage issues, but a little good luck couldn’t hurt. Bad luck had utterly boned… well, not me, but the inhabitants of the camp and the surrounding zone of destruction pretty completely… but if I wasn’t the one boned, I was the one who had to live with the guilt and shame. Wasn’t fair, but life seldom is.
Zane, deciding to be a little different this time, went for an Owl Wanderer. A big snowy leopard owl too. Cost him all his points, but boosted his strength and gave him right fierce claws… but no hands to speak of. Aerial Acrobat was free for Bird(brains) which made him a veritable flying ace (or ass), able pull off amazing stunts and turn on a dime… not to mention making flying less tiring for him no matter what might be powering said flight… and Wanderer came with “The Open Road” which made him a seasoned traveller, at home on the road, able to travel farther with less fatigue and make himself comfortable almost anywhere. Came with skill at avoiding natural hazards and, in addition to his Haversack, he (and the other Wanderers to be) received the Abbey Records for free, a bookcase containing, among many older books and scrolls, signed first editions of the collected works of Brian Jacques. Also includes DVDs of all three seasons of the Canadian animated series, which cover the events of Redwall, Mattimeo, and Martin the Warrior… which wouldn’t do a Wanderer much good without a portable DVD player with a screen.
For Toph, it was something of a toss up. She’d been trained in Earthbending by Badgermoles… and unfortunately, had to now pick between the digging Moles and the fighting Badgers. This resulted in a lot of hemming and hawing and complaining about single natured animals, before she finally (day 20), settled on a Badger Scoundrel, since she was already the best at digging and didn’t want to sound weird. Personally I think she picked Badger so she’d be able to Hulk Out (at least mentally), as being a Badger meant you got Bloodwrath (both a perk and a drawback in one inconvenient package) for free. It was a kind of berserker fury, one raised by harm or threat against a loved one or the presence of a hated foe. It increased the Badger’s strength, speed, and ferocity, and allowed them to ignore anything short of an immediately fatal wound (as long as the fury lasted)… but shattered the Badger’s ability to concentrate on anything that wasn’t CRUSHING, KILLING, and DESTROYING… though, with great mental effort it was possible to direct what got Crushed, Killed, or Destroyed. Scoundrels just got Dirty Fighting (which was exactly what it sounded like) and some free basic weapons…. Plus the Haversack.
Yoiko, too, followed the Scoundrel’s path, but she went Wildcat (a vermin species as opposed to the normally valorous goodbeast Badgers… ah fantasy racism.). In addition to her free weapons, Haversack, and Dirty Fighting, the former otaku fangirl ended up with “Eye of the Tiger”, the ability to size up an opponent’s strengths and weaknesses at a glance and intuit how best to exploit or counter them. With time and contact, the understanding only got deeper and could be extended to inanimate structures or even hypothetical concepts. It sounded impressively… angry and damaging to me, but also extremely philosophical in nature. Introspection was often a trait Yoiko lacked.
I figured Ryoga, already master of the weakpoint detection, would follow suit, but instead he surprised me by going with a Shrew Scoundrel (Hell… I’m not even sure how Shrews are different from mice, personally.). When I asked why he went with something so… tiny… he smiled “For the Logic”. At first I didn’t understand… then I remembered that the Shrew’s racial ability granted a “firm understanding of logic”… not to mention a stubbornness upgrade. “That’s… very wise.” I was impressed, Ryoga… shoring up his weakness at last… even if it might make him a bit unbearable at times… after all, that racial perk is called “Argument for Argument’s Sake”. Warriors, of course, got the basic weapons… and the Haversack… and Dirty Fighting… but since Ryoga hadn’t blown all his points on his race, he could afford to buy Bully Pulpit for 100 (described as a “PhD in Mean”) which boiled down to a massive boost to intimidation skills (that guaranteed the target would be more willing to listen to you after you cowed, frightened, or embarrassed them)… thankfully, it could be used sarcastically instead of socipathically if one wanted to… I just hoped that would be the case.
He also scooped up “The Freebootin’ Way” for 200, a perk that ensured that Ryoga and his “mateys” would always be able to find a steady supply of plunder and drink for as long as he/they/we wanted to keep plundering and drinking. It allowed him to handwave away most of the less pleasant parts of the job, from scurvy to digging latrines, which would hopefully keep morale high…. but I wasn’t exactly certain how that would actually work… would the latrines just… be there when we needed them? Freebootin also guaranteed he’d have an easy time getting a gig as a corsair, mercenary, or the like in future Jumps. I can’t say that last sounded useful, but Ryoga seemed happy with it, so eh.
Bao, who’d been born in the year of the Rat, claimed he had no choice but to be faithful… not even when we pointed out that Chinese and European Rats aren’t exactly the same thing… Rat Wanderer was his choice. The Rat racial perk was called “The Scourge”, which made the Rats (who believed in the concept of Might makes Right) incredibly ferocious combatants, stronger, tougher, and faster than most races and tended to make and other beasts respect that strength. While it didn’t make them truly fearless, it tended to give them such a reputation. It also came with impressive facial scars and a badass story to go with them that could be redesigned or suppressed entirely at the beginning of every Jump, and Bao was already designing his scar and composing a tone poem about how he got it… I refrained from telling him that tone poems are not usually considered badass in European style Cultures… maybe in Redwall they would be.
As a Wanderer he got “The Open Road”, “The Abbey Records”, and the ever present Haversack… to which he added “Prince of Mousethieves”, a legendary talent for stealth and thievery, to the point of snatching the very whiskers from under a foebeast’s nose. If it wasn’t nailed down or on fire, he could probably steal it- and if it was, he’d just steal the nails and the fire as well. It came with a talent for picking locks, wriggling out of bonds, and ventriloquy, and made him a little more likable, ensuring that his reputation for theft would not be a barrier to people trusting him… great… a thieving rat… wooo.
Uriel’s choice of Hare Warrior, was, so he claimed based on the well documented valor of the Tamrielian Moutain Hare… As someone who’d slain over a thousand of those cowardly little food packets in Skyrim alone, I didn’t comment, but I suspected it was more about the Hare’s “Stiff Upper Lip, Wot?” racial perk, substantial increase to his stamina, toughness, and ability to recover from both physical injuries and emotional trauma… though relying on it tends to give you a prodigious appetite. With all the freebies (Weapons Training, Weapons, Haversack… have… a… sack… sigh), Uriel plucked up “A Welcome for Bullies” for 100, which would allow him (With the right motivation, and a little bit of training) to turn even a bunch of peace-loving farmers and monks into a formidable fighting force, either as recruits who plan to become professional soldiers or as citizen militias who hope to go back to their peaceful lives after the current crisis passes, and “EULALIAAA!” for 200, which made his voice much more powerful, able to carry over longer distances and be clearly audible over the din of battle. His battle cries would fill the hearts of allies (and himself) with the courage of a thousand hares, boosting their fighting ability and allowing them to persevere in the face of adversity. Apparently, Uriel just wants to be the British Bunny version of the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket… huh… hope that’s not a jump.
Joy seemed almost embarrassed to present her package (Squirrel Warrior), and it didn’t take a telepath to sense that she’d picked it because of the giant fluffy tail more than anything else. Good to see her being relaxed enough not to be the Iron Maiden around us. Her freebie pack included the usual suspects (Weapons, Weapon Training, Sack of Havering) and the Squirrel Racial Perk “Treetops and Timber”, a quintessential squirrel skill… forest freerunning that extended to rocky crags and urban environments, making her an almost unequalled climber and granting a moderate agility boost… it also came with a memory improvement for where she’d stashed things for later.
But with 300 left to spend, she picked a perk that had all but been made for her… “I Am That Is” which essentially allowed her to call upon the great warriors of the past in an internal capacity, pulling up ancient martial arts or the knowledge needed to defeat an implacable foe, or even the location of long lost MacGuffin when pushed too the edge. By engaging in meditation – or seeking them out in a dream – she could also converse with her predecessors directly. Each Jump to a new setting, she’d gain access to a new set of ancestral spirits, as appropriate to the setting and to her chosen background. And, if she should ever die for good (I’m not certain that’s possible), a fragment of her spirit would live on in each world she’s visited, to guide and advise other warriors for truth and justice… and, perhaps, to grant them access some shadow of her vast powers. This was, after all, the First Boss. She’d already done that once, inspiring a generation of new Bosses… though none of them had her…. ovaries.
Ahab, smirking, said “I can’t match that, of course… but I can be… The Mole!” which earned him a bombardment of popcorn and couch cushions… we really need to redecorate… this house is soo… eight jumps ago. Ahab the Mole Wanderer. Haversack? Check. Abbey Records? Check. Open Road? Check! Gurt Diggins? Cheeeck? What’s Gurt Diggins you ask? Me too. It apparently gave him an instinctive understanding of tunneling and mining, whether using tools or his own paws, whether digging for jewels or root vegetables. It enhanced his senses of smell, touch, and vibration, allowing him to function just fine with eyes full of dirt.
Well, that explained the digging part, but what was Gurt? Maybe Ahab’s 100 CP “Book of Riddles” might help explain. It was a book containing a long primer on the underlying theory of riddles and puzzles, a spoiler-filled walkthrough of every riddle or puzzle used in the canonical Redwall series, and a showcase of some of the great riddles of history. The book was also enchanted with a magical cryptanalysis machine. Unfortunately, it only accepted input (and only provided output) in paper media, though I might eventually find a way to bypass that limitation. A note at the back promised that (In future Jumps), the walkthrough would expand to cover some of the most important riddles in that source material. While this wasn’t guaranteed to completely short-circuit any plots, it might allow us to take significant shortcuts. That might come in handy… at least once the jump starts.
As a companion to that, he also selected “Riddle Me This” for 200 to go with the book. This world of Redwall is chock-full of riddles, puzzles, and word games, and he felt he need the promised exceptional talent at both creating and solving them… if only to annoy others. That the perk came with elevated pattern recognition skills, talent for wordplay, and intuition (especially when guessing the intent of the original author) was merely a bonus, he claimed… but I suspected that was the real reason he took it… he plans to use it against me when I’m GMing! We have a no powers at the gaming table rule for a reason AHAB! He just smirked at me and said “Intuition isn’t a power. It’s an attribute.” I glowered, but he was right.
I looked around the group and grinned “Okay, remember, once we drop, we’ll all be very confused. Try and not do anything stupid. Hopefully our implants will still function and VIvian will be able to hear us and learn the local language and then guide us back to the Warehouse, but it might take a little while…. And involve miscommunications, riddles, and who knows what all. And apparently there’s an army on the way, so… try not to get yourselves killed and I’ll see you when I see you. Do me proud out there. For the Honor of Team… we really need to come up with something that doesn’t have my initials or the word Jumper in it.” And with that non-sequitur of an ending, I pushed the button.
Wreck of the Merryweather, Churgeon’s Log, day one.
At least I assume I am the Churgeon of the Merryweather. I found this medical case washed ashore with me and the nearby wreck is, or rather was, the Merryweather. Aside from that, I have no idea who I am, nor where, save that there is a seaside mountain not far from here that, for some reason, I believe is named Salamandastron. I cannot explain my lack of memories, for I seem hale enough… indeed… I am far stronger than I believe is normal for an Otter… or even for a Bear. My clothes are unusual as well, as they shed water like fabric but are as hard as the most resilient armor… and they talk. Of course, they have no knowledge of who we are or where, but her voice is soothing, as if we’ve known each other a long time…
Through experimentation, we have determined that although I am (it seems) extremely strong, fast, and tough without her on, I am far stronger, faster, and tougher with her on. Indeed, I was able to cut myself with the edge of my bone saw (a small cut… it healed within moments… though it also took a few seconds for the wound to manifest… curious)… but the teeth of the saw would not even scratch the outside of… Aegis? I think I shall call her Aegis… and, until I find someone who knows me, I shall be… how hard it is to find something to hang one’s identity upon. I shall be Athena. She who bore Aegis… a shield of great power. Athena Bellweather. Now if only I knew where I was… if only I could fly. How would one test that?
Apparently by climbing to the top of a half wrecked mast and leaping off of it. It seems I can, in fact, fly. How odd. Is this normal? I would think not. A damage resistant, highly intelligent (I seem to have no problem doing extremely large sums in my head and I have little trouble remembering even random strings of numbers or random made up words… somehow something tells me this is not normal), flying Otter… at least that’s what Aegis and I believe I am. Whatever I am, it seems unlikely it is anything of nature. Indeed, I am writing these words, not with a quill (for I have none), but with ink that responds to my will… and I very much doubt it is a property of this ink, as… when I found this journal it was soaked through and the water departed its pages as if drawn from them by a strong force of suction… and I write this in front of a fire conjured out of the wood in much the same way.
I cannot say what tells me this, but I seem to instinctively understand that such things do not normally happen here. I slept, but woke before midnight, feeling refreshed, despite the strange dream I had about being some kind of blue-skinned she-creature in a place with metal walls fighting reanimate corpses. This too is very odd, a riddle given flesh… my flesh… to solve… itself? Then again, perhaps that is the nature of life. I take to the sky to see what I can see, and find ships, a great many of them, several days travel from the mountain. A pilgrimage? Perhaps… but it could be an army. Either way, they might be hostile… or simply never have seen an Otter before.
I land (if one can be said to land on the water) far from them, having left the haversack I found in the wreckage which seems large on the inside… and contains quite a number of chunks of cheese… and swim closer. I hear the people in my mind long before I hear them with my ears, a thundering cacophony that drives me under even as all the water around me is frozen by an unseen force, a shimmering globe surrounding me… a defense? I find I can shape the ice… lower it slowly and the… they must be thoughts, dreams, mental noise of all those people begin to leak back in… I have to struggle to find a way to turn the volume down again… a curious phrase… I wonder what it could mean… but it is appropriate.
Just before dawn I venture onto one of the ships, moving with a stealthiness that feels practiced to the point of instinct, the background thrum of mindvoices guiding me towards the encampment. Their words are almost gibberish, a dialect so divorced from the common tongue as to be patois, but the thoughts in their head are clearer… images instead of words… they are an army, led by a fierce Wildcat, heading to the mountain of Badgers and Hares to plunder and kill. I sense no motives beyond that and so I make to leave by flight… only to be attacked in midair by a massive snowy owl.
I sense confusion from him, a dazed scramble inside his head, with only the knowledge that somehow I have done this to him. The fight is hard, long, made longer since I have no desire to harm this creature who I have no memory of harming. Finally, I pin the owl’s left wing and snap, “Stop!”
Over the course of an hour, I manage to explain, carefully, that I have as little memory as this owl… Bubo, I name him… though I do invite him to join me on the quest to find out what has happened. We head together towards the mountain, the Owl asking if it is normal for Otters to fly, to which I can only chuckle. Although we both seem to be having trouble understanding each other in words, the intent comes through and we are able to make due.
A dozen miles from the mountain’s rise, we chance upon a Wildcat and a Badger engaged in a most curious fight. The Badger was scooping chunks of rock out of the ground as if they were soft mud and the Wildcat was causing them to explode into showers of pebbles. They were yelling incomprehensible things at each other and both looked as if neither understood the other.
And that is how I met Nike (the Badger) and Hera (the Wildcat). I had no idea where I was pulling these names from, but they too were missing their memories, smelling of saltwater, and possessed of strange abilities. They were not the last we were to meet that shared such distinction.
Before we reached the mountain, we came upon a Rat who I named Hermes, a Hare who I named Ares, and a Shrew who I named Apollo. We quickly became a bit of a travelling group, forming a mutual help society for the linguistically and memorially impaired. If only we’d been quicker to begin inventing our own language.
Just outside the mountain’s main entrance, we were set upon by a host of several dozen aged Hare Warriors. Things did not go well for the Hares and it took all of my ability to restrain my new companions to keep them from killing the chronologically blessed old timers, but not before all of them had sustained injuries ranging from simple concussion all the way up to compound fractures.
With great difficulty, I convinced the least injured of the Hares to limp back inside and fetch their leader, while I tended the hostages / my patients. Aegis discovered that she could see inside their flesh and somehow place that information upon my eyes so that I could see it but none else could. Setting bones was thus as simple as writing in ink without a pen, for the blood within these Hares responded to my commands as well. Indeed, the more I focused, the more I found I could manipulate their wounds to repair or restore flesh as well.
I looked around, seeing fear on the faces of these Hares (though they tried to hide it) as my companions demonstrated powers and abilities beyond the normal ken. Thus did the Lord of the Mountain, Lord Stonepaw, find me in contemplation. We were all of different kinds, some of us from the force preparing to attack, others of the kinds within the mountain, and still others foreign to both factions… all lacking memories… all lacking the ability to speak clearly to each other and to any local not of our kind (Ares seemed to have little trouble talking with the Hares)… and all possessed of strange powers and prodigious physicality.
Nike, our Badger spoke with Lord Stonepaw (who was also a Badger) and, as best I could make out, explained about the coming fleet and how we’d come to see if the people of the Mountain were worthy of our assistance. The Old Badger took some umbrage at that, but Nike was able to subdue him with relative ease… and then sit on him until his rage passed.
I spoke to the gathering of Hares and Badger, speaking slowly, clearly, and loudly so they could understand me as clearly as possible. “We. Are. Not. Here. To. Fight. You. We. Will. Help. You. Fight. The. Ship. People. If. They. Attack. We. Bring. Cheese. And. Our. Strength. If. You. Offer. Us. Hospitality. We. Shall. Pay. It. Back. Tenfold.”
That’s when a Mole dug up from beneath us and said “Oy, thas wa she sais, init?” We all looked at the mole in confusion, then laughed as an acorn bounced off his skull and a Squirrel landed next to me and said something else in yet another incomprehensible dialect. I wondered how many of these individuals we were going to collect, but this wasn’t the time. We had an enemy navy and the army it contained to fight off.
Wreck of the Merryweather Day 4
Have you ever tried to fight off a massive invasion of wode painted rats and spiders and other creepy-crawlies with 150 elderly warriors, a truly ancient berzerker captain, and 9 demi-gods… none of whom speak the same language and only vaguely trust each other? It is not a position I recommend. Thankfully, a collective enemy gave us something to focus on and we spent the day fighting back the forces of unrighteousness. It was, truth be told, strangely… familiar, as if I’d fought off waves of enemies on multiple occasions… but I didn’t bear any scars nor was I all that old… at least as far as I could tell.
It also seemed clear that we were rather unique, me and my memory challenged friends, for standing up to us, even unarmed, wasn’t safe. And yet, it was, for me at least, a strangely joyless experience. I longed to reach out to these creatures, these “Vermin” and to find out why they seemed so angry, so driven to brutality and cruelty…. But I could not, for I lacked the words.
I retired that night, wondering at that, sitting inside the stone cell I’d been offered, only my thin bedroll between me and hard stone, and yet… I felt at peace. I drifted into sleep… and dreamed of wars… so many wars… wars against dozens of different foes, foes who used sorcery, foes who used science, foes who used words, and foes who used secrets. Metal enemies, flesh and blood enemies, enemies wrought from energy itself. I saw through my own eyes as I commanded the very oceans to rise and crush enemy ships, saw as I stood on the bridge of a ship made of light and metal as it soared through the skies, saw as I cut down foes as they slept, saw the smashed bodies of deformed children and knew, somehow, that they had died at my paws?.
Wreck of the Merryweather Day 5
I woke, shuddering, and strode out into the early morning haze, looking down at the army arrayed on the beach before the mountain’s slopes. This would not be. I grabbed Hermes, who was standing watch and snapped, “Hera. Quick.” and he ran off to find the Wildcat. When they returned, I pointed down to the army. “We go. Find Leader. Teach… Lesson.”
We descended upon the encamped army just as they were readying for the second day of the siege, and smashed our way into their numbers, arrowing for the central tent. I ripped the canvas apart with a wave of my paw (I seem to be able to control the wind, but not as well as I can control Fire or Water… I also have some ability to manipulate Dirt & Stone, Metal, and Wood, though again, not as well as Wind… though somehow I sense my control of wind is part of a larger ability that I am only vaguely aware of and it certainly seems to drain me mentally while the weaker elements drain me… spiritually? And the stronger elements drain me physically and spiritually. I am unsure why, but this seems par for my course… though what Par is or what kind of Course that phrase refers to I don’t know.) and glared up the fierce Wildcat who was just pulling on his armor… though not that far up. I suspect I am quite tall for an Otter.
I pointed to Hera, “Tell. He go or we kill. Not his army. Him.” she relayed the ultimatum, but Ungatt Trunn (their Wildcat) seemed unimpressed. In fact he smirked, saying something. After I asked Hera, she said “He say “Us and What Army?’.” I laughed, then snapped the enemy cat’s whiskers off with a thought.
His eyes narrowed and he muttered something that didn’t sound complementary, so I called up the wind and, eyes actually glowing (though I cannot tell how I knew that) shaved the cat bare. “Tell him, come back with bigger army. And bigger…” I mimed testicals and Hera laughed, then spoke to the warlord. He glowered, then nodded understanding, hate radiating out of every pore.
The Blue Horde sailed with the evening tide. I knew they’d be back. We would have to be ready.
The central problem facing us was our lack of ability to communicate readily. To solve that problem would require collecting a “Speaker”, a normal member of each of our 9 different races, who would be able to speak for us and interpret, but that would slow things greatly and be useless in combat. Still, we sent to the nearest communities seeking an assistant for those of us without one (we had plenty of Hares and too many Badgers would be a bad idea) but while that was brewing, we communicated in a hodgepodge of mime, yelling, and the written word, something that each of us understood, though even then our handwriting was all different enough to cause annoyance.
We also began working on basic pawsigns for basic things, and reviewing the mountain’s defenses, trying to find ways to multiply the effectiveness of our Hare allies. The mountain contained housing for thousands, and a war forge the likes of which few might have ever seen. It was a foundry of staggering proportions and when at full heat must make the volcano look still active.
Part of the communications issue is that no one here knows how to give a straight answer. Ask what time dinner is and you’re likely to be told about thrushes and winds of autumn. Ask how many days worth of stores the Hares have laid in, find out it’s as many as white stallions graze on yon red hills. Ask what’s for breakfast and get an ode to lidless treasure boxes. Allegory, metaphor, riddles, allusions… straightforward speech is alien to these people…. But at least the Hares are no longer pretending not to be scared of me.
Lord Stonepaw’s son, Lord Brocktree has arrived, having heard that his father is being held hostage by strange invaders with stranger powers. Thankfully, I have my faithful speaker Urvo, a local Otter, to translate for me when I explain who we are (as best I can) and why we are here (in the immediate sense… existentialism notwithstanding). He brings an army with which to reinforce the mountain, and though there is tension between father and son, it is clear they have affection and mutual respect between them.
Brocktree is suitably impressed after each of us demonstrates a few of the things we can do, and begins flirting outrageously with Nike.
It seems Brocktree’s arrival was well timed. A larger fleet than before has just been sighted bearing towards the mountain. A small squabble broke out today between five different Hare Maidens all claiming that they were walking out with Ares, who didn’t even have the grace to look abashed as he assured us all that he’d never told any of the lasses that they were his only special friend. For some reason, this annoyed Hermes and the two got into a bit of a scuffle. Stars forfend I even succumb to the call of nature. It seems to make fools of us all.
The fleet will arrive in 3 or 4 days according to the scouts who reported it.
We met them on the beach, a tidal wave of rats and voles and weasels. We stacked them up like kindling, and yet they came on and on. Finally I flew up into the air, enemy arrows bouncing off my armor and raised the sea itself to push their landing boats and swimmers and even their ships back out to sea, smashing all the wood together to create a jumbled floating island trapped in a growing sheet of Ice.
I called up Urvo, outfitted in as many defenses as my companions and I could muster, and landed upon the first ship. “Surrender or face the ice,” I commanded, trying to be both regal and demanding. Ship by ship, the vermin gave up their weapons to me, and ship by ship I took the officers hostage against their crew’s obedience.
There were 131 ships, carrying over 30,000 vermin. Ungatt Trunn had been joined by his brother Welak Trunn and the dark furred brother did not look pleased to be captured by an Otter. I spoke, through Urvo, to each leader and each captain, seeking a reason for their invasion, be it climatological, famine, or simply lust for battle. While the latter was foremost, also prevalent was overcrowding of the lands they called home, a rocky, snowy peninsula to the north east.
I explained to the captains that their men would be allowed to come ashore in small work parties to build a compound, a town… to my specifications… which would be both their prison and their home. Twice now has the Blue Horde dared come against lands under my protection, and twice had I spared their lives. Now they would farm and mine for the Lords of this land and in exchange they would learn to embrace peace… or they’d feel the embrace of the sea.
I could feel the eagerness of these treacherous creatures to be allowed into the forests and fields of the countryside, where they would no doubt pillage and burn… but I had a surprise for them. At the far end of the beach from Salamandastron, upon the very stones the Merryweather had wrecked, I had had those of my companions with the power to shape and control dirt and stone, raise a causeway a mile or more out into the sea and at the end of that causeway to raise up a low island, bare of all greenery but large enough for a camp of 30,000.
The leaders were shocked, aghast, demanding to know where they’d find wood or stone to build with, and I pointed at their ships, still trapped in ice. “As for stone… you will have to earn that… as well as farmland… and the causeway will flood every day except at low tide.” And I pointed to the stone fortress that was, even now, rising at the shore end of the causeway. “That’s ours. Work well, earn our trust, pledge peace, and you’ll get all you need to survive. Don’t… and the sea will take you… and don’t try swimming from your island, it’s surrounded by reefs and shoals of knife edged rock and undertows.” Indeed, the entire island was braced by just 13 pillars of stone and could be sunk into the waves with relative ease. It also had no natural source of freshwater or soil in which to grow crops… and winter was coming.
WHY IS UNGATT TRUN TRYING TO SEDUCE MY HERA? Grrr…. Stupid biology.
I look stupid in a dress. Why do dubbins need a party to celebrate their birth? Stupid horney badgers.
If I smash my head against a stone wall enough, will it make these Vermin stop pestering me? Stars… it would have been easier to just kill them all. Now they want to form an assembly and elect leaders… but every racial faction thinks they should be in charge. The groups with small numbers, foxes, spiders, voles, think every group should have an equal number of speakers… the groups with lots of members, rats and weasels, think they should get more speakers. I point out, through my spokes-otter, that while the rats may have numerical numbers now, that might change, and they’d be at a disadvantage. To the weasels I point out that the more spokes-weasels they had, the fewer they’d be able to keep an eye on… even weasels don’t trust other weasels.
Three per group, all reporting to the Wardens… the council of Brocktree, myself, Watch Captain Ares, Educator Hermes, and Scout Captain Bubo. Politics… so much more hassle than just killing everyone. And it is a problem. Vermintown has more people than the surrounding countryside does… and they aren’t great farmers, though they’re getting better at it… there is a lot of crime, which to me is crazy, poor people stealing from other poor people.
But internal problems are to be handled internally. They respect strength, inasmuch as they respect anything, and the less heads we (The Great Ones) have to crack, the better. The threat of us has kept the peace these last 5 seasons to a large degree, with each successive mutiny getting less and less popular. The vermin aren’t slaves, merely prisoners working on parole and to support themselves (and pay taxes and tithes).
Hermes wants to create a formal school for the younger crowd, while Ares is trying to make builders out of some of the more enthusiastic and trustworthy of the rats and spiders. Hephaestus and Artemis are doing their best to train the local soldiery up to a higher standard, but ultimately, we’re still out numbered.
Unrest in the camp. A work detail of some two dozen weasels went out with three otters and a squirrel scout two days ago and the entire group have now disappeared. Both groups are blaming the other and rabble rousers are hard at work drumming up trouble. Nike and Bubo lead search parties sent out to find the missing beasts.
Unrest has become alarm. Nike and Bubo have returned, Nike alone, Bubo missing half his scouts. Both parties ambushed, ambushers unseen, arrows out of the trees, archers gone by the time Bubo could swoop down to ground level, Nike barely surviving several dozen arrows thanks to Bloodwrath. Although the others advise against it, I shall go and have a look.
Have searched the woods most carefully, looking for campfires at night, cannot find anyone. During the day, I see signs of movement, but when I investigate, I find only empty woods.
Something is wrong, smoke on the wind. I rise from the hilltop vantage and see the Catchpole Otter Village burning. I arrive too late to save them, the people slaughtered, dubbins missing. Boats missing too. I move a moment too late, a pair of saber-like fangs sink into the exposed skin of my neck and seering heat floods into my veins. My backhand shatters the teeth, leaving them sticking out of my neck and a sword springs to my hand unbidden.
I cannot see my foe, cannot hear his breathing or thoughts over the throbbing of my veins as something within me pushes the fangs out, black metal forming across my neck and hands. The blade is cold, so very cold in my hand, but right, very right, a familiar vibration, one from hundreds of dreams. I know this blade… this is Soul of Ice… and I know what those fangs mean…. And I unleash winter upon the dead village, the temperature dropping from the height of summer day to the burning chill of the Heart of Winter.
There is a groan to my left and a figure, covered in frost… long, serpentine body, falls to the ground. I place my sword to his throat. “Speak.” I command, hoping to be able to make sense of his words in time. I bring fire burning on my other hand close to him. “Or Die Screaming.”
It isn’t easy, it isn’t good, it certainly isn’t nice… but I get the information from him. Padraig, Lord of Poison, has brought an army of the Warriors of Summer to reclaim the mountain of the Fire Serpents… And to feast upon the folk of the long coast.
I freeze the toothless viper into torpor and fly as swiftly with my load as I can to Vermin Town. I do not see the stolen boats along the way, but they are there, somewhere. I land in the assembly square and lay my prisoner at my feet as the crowd gathers. Urvo was not there, but his cousin Radd was and he served as my speaker to rally the people of the town.
“We do not ask you to defend the mountain, where we, your overlords live. We do not ask you to defend the mines that bring forth metal to make our weapons, nor the farms where you toil to bring forth our food, nor the woods that provide nuts and berries and wood for our boats. We do not ask that of you, for that would be madness. Instead, we ask you to defend the walls of your town, the forge and mines where your tools come from, the farms and fields and woodlands where your food and the wood for your homes comes from. You came to us as conquerors, and we welcomed you as countrymen. Fight now for your homes, for the peace you have learned is possible. For if you don’t… the serpents will feast upon all our bones. All they have is poison, while you… have me.”
I lifted off into the air, a jump of over a dozen times my height, willing my sword into my hand, and brought it down as I landed, cleaving the Serpent’s head from it’s neck. “Place this above the gate to show the Serpents what we think of them.
Today Padraig, Lord of Poison, was brought in chains to the hall of Lord Brocktree, his fangs shattered, his wicked eyes blinded. The brothers Trun bested him in mortal combat, at the cost Ungatt’s life. Tomorrow, we shall lay him in state, a cruel man who nevertheless died a hero’s death. Though the serpent horde seems unending, perhaps removing their leadership will cause internal strife… which it will, if I have anything to say about it.
I had a most peculiar dream last night. I dreamed that my flesh could melt and flow at my command… and when I awoke, I found myself in a form most alien, that of a catlike creature, but of more refined, less animalistic form than a Wildcat, and with soft and silky fur. No sooner did I wonder if I could return to my native form… than I transformed again… but not, as it were, into my otterform, but into a smooth-skinned nearly hairless being much shorter than my normal form. Was this, then my natural form? I had seen these strange paws in dreams before, but to actually feel with them was fascinating indeed. They had so much more sensation than my paws and the skin was shockingly sensitive to the touch.
I sought to recall all the forms from my dreams, annoyed that my otherwise nearly perfect memory (baring the whole lack of a past thing) did not seem to extend to my dreams… when I found myself inside a dark, winding labyrinth of dank stone. The pillars were massive, towering vaults a giant could lose themselves in, and there were semi-luminescent clouds everywhere.
To my astonishment, I discovered that, if I peered into a cloud, I saw dreamlike images flowing past. Indeed, they were familiar, for they were my dreams. A Labyrinth of Dreams? Was there then a Library of Memories? If only I could access that… though with my luck it would be…
I found myself in a hall, brightly lit, full of signs and symbols and memories of my life, both before and after the wreck. The rooms of new memories were orderly, clean, and organized… the other rooms, the older past, was a storm-lashed ruin, everything tumbled and tossed. I did find my name however. Symbeline… how odd to know my true name… or was it? For Symbeline seemed to be the name of an Otter… not whatever I was. Was I then an entity of some cosmic realm, manifest for a mortal lifetime as Symbeline? I could not say, but it seemed likely.
I tried to leave the hall, but the door at the end was locked shut, strange symbols writ upon it in a language I had seen in my dreams but did not now know. Mysteries and riddles.
I am really getting sick of killing Serpent Chieftains. It seems like a new one shows up once every 100 days or so… with a longer gap for the colder months. Maybe if I can find out where they’re coming from….
Found out where the Serpents come from. Lots of swamp. It’s a massive bog that stretches from the south-east coast of the island we’re on to part of the northern coast of a larger landmass. Oh… and the world is definitely a sphere. Go up high enough and you can see it curve away from you. Very cool. Can totally understand why Bubo spends all his time flying super high… that, and the high speed swooping must be incredible.
Turns out that that far to the north is an island covered in rocks and snow and big white bears. Looks lovely in a stark kind of way. If only I could get the Serpent Chieftains and sub-chieftains there, they’d have loads of fun. That gives me an idea.
Today we poled the massive pleasure barge “Poseidon” into the edge of the bog and called for a summit, just us and the Serpent Leadership… but we sent flyers to every clan and sept of serpents. Let them figure out their own order of precedence.
We have plied the Serpent Lords with wine and sweets as more and more of them arrived, explaining that we are waiting until all of the Serpents have arrived until we discuss the Terms of Surrender. The feel of their minds is cold, unpleasant, and full of slow wickedness. On the day of the talks, a thick mist rolls in, blanketing the marsh and warded off only by the torches we have burning all over the barge. For hours the Hares, under Ares leadership, tangle the Serpents up in establishing proper hierarchies, pitting them against each other until the entire thing dissolves into a shouting match, only to repeat.
Finally, one of the Serpents, the most likely candidate for Warlord of the season demands to know when we plan to get around to actually surrendering. At which point I motion for the Hares to leave and the hall soon contains just me and the Snakes and a very brave Urvo.
“Oh. It’s not we who shall be surrendering. It is you, oh venomous ones.”
That got a few laughs… until at my second motion, the mist turned to snow and through the billowing drifts, the Snakes beheld that the Poseidon, rather than being moored by the edge of the swamps, was deep in the middle of the open sea. It might look like a barge, but underneath the surface, it had ratpowered paddlewheels, eight of them, churning away nonstop, pulling us smoothly through the water.
“You could fight me, but then I’d get to fight back. You could try to swim… but I doubt any of you would make it… the water is pretty cold and none of you know where land is. Or you could surrender, pledge peace with the warmbloods, and all that… or not.”
A few of them decided to break the peacebond and attack. Their frozen shattered forms were left on deck amid the finery and spilled wine to remind the others of what I could do. A few others braved the sea and quickly succumbed to the cold.
We arrived on the Island of the Snowbears… I do not think the Serpents are enjoying their stay. Most of them are huddled very close to the warmth of the braziers. In fact, once I’d explained that they’d be staying here for the next 16 seasons and, if they wanted anything from back home, we’d be happy to ship it up to them… as long as they surrendered…
Of course, it was possible their relatives would just write them off, but that would hardly be our fault, now would it.
As it turns out, loyalty is not a snake virtue, and no shipments were ever made. But without their leadership, the various snake clans… ate each other.
For weeks I have been having dreams of going down to the sea. I am no longer a young otter, perhaps 60 or 65 seasons, and my companions are all of an age. I have remembered many things of my life before the wreck, but it seems mostly like a dream. The Frogs came against us, but we turned them aside and directed them into the marshlands once held by the Serpents. The Crows came against us and we captured their rookeries and held their eggs for ransom. There were other smaller hordes, but we either converted or destroyed them all. Vermintown is a thriving city now, it stretches all the way along the coast between Point Vermin (the original town) and Salamandastron. Lord Brocktree passed some seasons back, but his daughter, Lady Cassandra, sits as overlord of the Coast. Tomorrow I will go down to the sea, the sea and the shore… and perhaps something wonderful will happen.
Next: World 27 – I Give You Everything
Addendum… I don’t remember selecting these options, but it seems I lived through them. Endless Hordes (+200) & Bully Pulpit