Tales from Forgotten Europa

The City With No Name

excerpt from the Memoirs of Dorak the Axe Bearer, Thane of Karak Belgrin

The following chronicles a part of one of the more famous quests of a mighty dwarf that once lived in Norska. Though he passed over a millennium ago, his legend lives on…

“3rd of Harvestmont, 18,506 Anno Drannorae.”

“Finally our journey has a clear purpose. Finally, the tall, thin towers of The City With No Name sit on the horizon. Finally, I find my heart beat faster with every step we take. We’ve traveled hard the last few days, and the rains that come at night may finally put out the fires behind us. Though I can still see the smoke to the south, I pray to Lofrún that she may protect this land, however cursed it may be, and to Aègnar, for guiding his righteous flame.”

“Today’s march is done, and we make camp for the night. I sit with my back against a mighty old oak, finding solace in its shadow and a cushion in its leaves. Kal sits nearby, lost in thought and somewhat subdued, fiddling with his sextant and gazing far to the horizon. Again I get that queasy just looking at the instrument. It feels… unnatural somehow. My angst only strengthens when Kal asks Raethe for Durnrik’s now-inert coin and puts it in the sextant. He’s convinced that a dead man’s coin will reveal secrets and cannot resist looking through it. I do not doubt that Durnrik’s coin holds silent power, or that it will divulge hidden things. I know of the horrors that lie beyond the realm of man. I try to warn him that some things are better left unseen, but he does not heed my words. So he puts the sextant to his eye and for a moment stares through the brilliant ruby, turning frantically left and right, as if gazing at something not quite there. I do not ask what he sees – I do not wish to know. Yet when Khalid asks to look through it too, for some reason their light-hearted frivolity angers me. I feel a rush of frustration, fury, and irritation just thinking about it, but soon Khalid is done with it, and the feeling goes away. Kal offers me a peak too, as if mocking my reservations… but it disgusts me, and I tell him to put his toy away.”

“I stare at the fire for a while, pondering why Kal’s sextant infuriates me so. I’m not sure if I dozed off or not, but the fire seemed to transform, and before I knew what was happening I found myself in a new vision, though what it meant eludes me so far.”

“When the fire faded and my eyes refocused, I slowly realized I was looking down at fine golden sand, as if standing on a very large beach, with nothing but more sand and tall dunes reaching far to the horizon. A fierce sun shone high above my head, though I did not feel its warmth, and I noticed an outlandish lizard sitting on a limestone rock nearby. The lizard was beautiful, and at once I recognized various motifs of many armors made by man. Nature is amazing, and often enough we imitate it, trying to improve on the original design. Ha! The audacity! Still, the lizard sat there, its golden scales reflecting in the sun, shifting many hues of green, red, and purple, basking in its brilliance.”

“Minutes passed, and the creature lazily jumped off the rock, and slowly walked towards a large, calm body of water, perhaps a sea. There was no wind. There were no waves. The water stood still, motionless – a perfect mirror for the sun. I followed the creature, naturally, and it seemed to be unaware of my presence. It stopped by the edge of the water, taking quick gulps with its elongated tongue. Its reflection, clear as day and undisturbed by water ripples, mimicked the real counterpart. But then the lizard spooked, as if its senses finally detected something, and scurried off back towards the rock. Its reflection stayed, however, and it was staring at me with its piercing black eyes! Moments later it too ran away and I found myself looking into the fire once again…”


“8th of Harvestmont”

“We’ve just made a short stop after a somewhat unique battle, and I take a moment to scribble down the events of the last few days. I would normally wait until nightfall to write in my journal but I do not know if we’ll have a chance to make camp, and I don’t want to forget anything (hehehe, like a dwarf would ever forget something!)”

“Three days ago we finally encountered the first signs of the city. We came across a maintained, though seemingly empty watchtower, with a very old and almost altogether washed-out road sign pointing towards the still-distant city. After some deciphering, Kal figured the puzzle out: The sign pointed to a legendary city of Bellona, or City of Truth. Could that be the city we’ve sighted days ago and now head towards? Could that be the City that lost its name to annals of time… or something else? It is quite a discovery, however, and it lightens our mood.”

“The next day we came across another watchtower, and again it seemed maintained, and again it stood empty. Though this time there were no road signs, we instead came across a body of a dead human with strange steel springs and coils covering parts of his body. Kal thought they might belong to the metalspinners (mythical spiders), but I remain skeptical – I think this metal was crafted by man.”

“On the third day, today, we finally came across a much larger watchtower, and less than an hour later we reached the ‘gates’ of the long-lost city. The sign at the entrance read Belrael, or City of Lies. Odd, since we expected just the opposite. I think back to my ‘vision’ and the reflection of the lizard, but quickly the thought fades away.”

“The city is large and strange in many ways, though it is hard to see it all through the thick, throat-scratching smoke of the many fires burning within its walls. The defense walls are… lacking, if not altogether missing. The tall, thin towers of pale blue, pink and green defy logic and one wanders if they serve any purpose other than as a monument of some crazed architect. Still, it remains impressive, and old.”

“At first we see no sign of life, moving slowly through the streets, not sure of what to expect or of what we may find. The streets look unkempt. The buildings look abandoned, once undoubtedly inhabited by those who deeply cared about them, but now boarded up, with crumbling exterior and cracked walls. They all look very old, though it is hard to gauge their age. This entire place seems to be ageless yet clearly man-made – located to the north of The Winter Gate yet mostly unheard of – with a straight road yet one easily lost upon. Initially I thought it was chaos but now… I’m not so sure. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it feels almost like sorcery of the worst kind.”

“Finally we hear ‘clicking’ sounds up ahead. Not sure what to make of it we move cautiously, and before us we find a group of bantering scorpions, larger than any of us in size. Observing them for a moment there is an obvious flair of adolescence and foolishness, and soon we notice that these scorpions are an arcane illusion used by young hooligans playing in the streets. These have the same kind of steel coils around their arms and torso as we encountered a day before, but the coils end with a metal claw at the hand. Each boy carries an amulet around his neck, and it appears this amulet has the ability to create the illusion of the scorpion. I find it intriguing and disturbing that such powerful Craft found itself into the hands of simple farm boys. Perhaps there’s more to them than meets the eye?”

“We finally approach these boys, and a courteous, though cautious conversation resulted in more questions than it answered. These boys obviously know much more than they let on, and hinted about many dangers within the city, but seemed as confused about its state and purpose as we were on the way here. I started to get the feeling that this place is some weird prison, but for whom and to what end I have yet to figure out. It briefly reminded me of what I’ve read of Nilhelm – a place where the unworthy roam aimlessly with no purpose or reason. But we’ll see – we’ve only scratched the surface of this place, and I know this is just a stop on my journey, not its final destination.”

“We parted ways with the scorpions, a self-identified gang of many rivaling forces in this city. There are others, apparently, like the ‘Bulls’, and perhaps more. Caution is advised, and weapons at the ready. But we continue on, looking for something to tell us where we need to go, or why we are here. I’m certain our path will reveal itself in due time. Ehem… hopefully soon.”

“We slowly move deeper into the city, hoping we’ll find something there. A tall white building – a bleached cathedral once upon a time – sits at the center, and it seems as good a ‘target’ as any. When we reach its walls, we encounter a flamboyant, though clearly crazy man, who identifies himself as Willem the Architect. He claims to be the brains behind the many odd-shaped towers, and that by itself set the stage for his mental health. I would have dismissed him right there and then but in an odd twist of fate he recognized Khalid, our wizard from Araby.”

“Now, this architect has been in the city for quite some time, having built all those towers. And mental state puts in question anything he says or does, but, he accused Khalid of murdering someone, and seemed to realize that it was Khalid that ‘sent’ him here – however a person, or soul, is sent here. That gives me pause – for in a possible moment of clarity he could have told the truth. Or not. We are, after all, in the City of Lies. But it is worth remembering. Next time we have some time, it might be prudent to ask Khalid questions that should have been asked weeks ago. But for now we move forward, leaving behind this wreck of a man to keep wallowing in self-pity and ignorance.”

“We walk around for a little while, seeking something to give us direction. We weren’t looking for trouble, but as it often happens, it found us instead. After passing one of the large multi-building fires that no one seems to do anything about, we finally came across the ‘Bulls’ that the scorpion boys mentioned when we first entered the city. It seems a little misnomer, for they are in fact another group of thugs masquerading as Minotaurs. Clearly they are no such thing, for I have seen a real Minotaur, and these are simply too short and not bestial enough. We have a brief discussion, trying to avoid the inevitable, but alas, Raethe’s patience runs out quickly, and soon any further diplomatic resolution is unfeasible.”

“With blades drawn, we have a violent scuffle with these thugs. It would be a lie to say it was easy, and even Khalid found his match in one of the bulls, who too seemed to have mastered the Craft. But these thugs are no match for warriors of our stature, and soon enough the remaining few fled from the scene.”

“I am once again troubled by the escalating fury that governs Raethe’s actions. I do not know if it is due to the proximity of his ultimate goal, or if the demons within him are gaining control, but it surely worries me. I am beginning to get a sense that he might not know whom he strikes next, and pulverizing a boy into a paste was completely unnecessary and brutal. It is one thing to defeat your enemy – it is completely another to hate him with such passion so as to pound his head with a sledgehammer long after he’s dead. I will give Kal one more opportunity to address his friend – and then I’ll step in. This must be addressed before something horrible happens. What if he turns against us next? What if he kills one of us?”

“We collect a few of the ‘minotaur’ pendants similar to the ones the scorpion boys had. I find the mechanism of the locket simple enough and ‘turning’ into a Minotaur does not appear to have any side effects. Still, I disable it for now… maybe it will come in useful later. And so I’m sitting on a stone bandaging my wounds, scribbling in my journal. I have not cast any blessings on Raethe yet… I wonder if I should. He sits there, exhausted, trying to garner control, and I watch him out of the corner of my eye. But for now it is time to close the book – the journey isn’t over…

Comments

The campfire crackles and its warmth combined with the chill night air of Ruus makes for a comfortable give and take. These sensations and the pouch of salted meats sitting next to him are lost on the dwarf sitting just a bit too close to the flames.

Raethe works intently on his hammer, more so every day in fact. Using a few of the master’s tools he carefully works at the stone.

“I can see it… I know I saw it…” he thinks to himself. “Was it a mark, some ore in the stone… it won’t quite show itself, but I can SEE it! I haven’t seen anything like this before, not even…”

He continues working carefully and intently for some time when it registers that Kal had been talking to him. He pulls the fine pick from the stone and as he shifts his gaze to his friend, he sees the glint in the corner of his eyes. A split second was all, and it was enough… and a small smile forces its way to his lips.

“Here…” Raethe flips the coin/lens of the fallen slayer Dornrik to Kal as if he had heard every word, and despite Dorak’s protests. “You know you have to.” Raethe knew that Kal needed no high-minded reason to test the other coin, no legend or quest needed to be satisfied, only curiosity. That was enough, and as his friend Raethe would respect his motives… with one warning.

“Just be wary, if you expect to see some other realm, its masters may not take kindly to uninvited observers.”

It wasn’t an attempt to dissuade Kal, just a reminder to keep his guard up. Raethe knew all too well that the denizens of the lower planes were not the sorts to be trifled with, and the last thing Kal wants is to draw their attention.

With that he left Kal to discover what was on the other side of the coin, and got back to work.

The next few days passed without much interest, until the watchtower. Bellona, the City of Truth. Finally a sign that we were not lost in a frozen abyss. Unfortunately, the hope that this would lead us to some answers was dashed as we continued down the road. We entered Belrael, the City of Lies, looking upon a series of odd, impossible towers. They would almost be comical if they didn’t remind me of… him.

We happened across the path of some street urchins masquerading as giant scorpions with the help of some sorcery. They gave us no trouble, and warned us that their rivals, the “Bulls” wouldn’t be as hospitable. After that we found the home of Machiavelli, an artist and, as we would learn, the architect of the odd towers littering this city. He spoke with the others at some length about who knows what, but there was only one real point of interest… he knew Khalid. Not the Khalid we had come to know, humble, respectful, and overly polite… he spoke of grizzly murders and all sorts of nefarious acts. It seems we all hide demons.

After a while it was time to get moving again, too much stalling. Then we found the Bulls. The same sort of rabble as the Scorpions we met, but they weren’t too interested in talking. So be it.

The fight is quick but the pace is furious. These manlings are trained, and their weapons are vicious. “The Orchids” as they’re called are greaves fitted with four long tapered blades. Effective, if a bit awkward. Several of the Bulls pay the price for our delay, and just as the battle was coming to an end, one of them caught me. He took a chunk out of my shoulder… that one hurt. The wound was bad, but it was worse to be caught up here trading blows with this… refuse. These lost, aimless souls who were trapped here for whatever reasons, not worthy of the fight, but most aren’t. ther is no honor here, no glory, no purpose to this fight. Still they forced the issue, and that cannot stand. The Orchid slices deep into my skin, but it catches… and I’ve got him. With will alone I hold him close, he’s scared, and soon he’ll be dead. I resist the urge to sink my teeth into his jugular, the desire is almost too much to ignore, so I hit him… hard. Then again, he’s gone now and his body goes limp and falls… I hit him again… over and over… until the urge passes.

They’re horrified. Not the fleeing Bulls, but my comrades. I suppose they should be, but they don’t know what the alternative is. With every stroke of the Stormhammer I have control, and I won’t surrender it. If some nameless thug needs to be mutilated to keep those forces under my command it’s a small price to pay.

The City With No Name
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