Located at the mouth of the Great Sands River, the city of Gilj sprawls with all the bleakness of a darkened and hastily painted watercolor. There was a time when all that was found in the port were the local fisherman, modest merchant vessels, and explorers. It was a time that could not be recalled by the young. The city had changed more in the last two decades than it had in the last five-hundred years. It was the war that caused it. Trad’s declaration of neutrality did not stop the intrusion of those who sought the city’s tactical advantage; it merely changed the tactics in which they laid siege.
Census lost track of the population at two-hundred thousand. The influx of refugees, deserters, and businessmen armed with the motivation of contracts stemming both from the allied countries to the west and their enemies of the east turned the city into a competition of political and monetary power. Hundreds of square miles of farmland, mines, woodland, outlying villages, and even the sea itself became the property of barons and lords. All that grew, lived, swam or breathed were commodities to be manipulated to best provide a profit.
As the city grew, it became sectioned. Each district maintained its own law, its own court, and its own political agenda. The Church of Ohkin’s influence upon the Gilj senate deteriorated as the forum became infiltrated with politicians with interests not native to Trad. The struggle for the city’s land began. Prime locations were coveted by ambitious profiteers who were anxious to capitalize on the rich resources and growing labor force. Taxes were raised until the local populace could no longer afford the land that had been in their families for countless generations. On the eastern bank of the Sands River, domiciles were destroyed, and in their place, a maze of filth belching factories was born.
To the east of the city emerged the Blight. Forty thousand refugees, over half of which once owned land and earned their living in Gilj were now exiled to an area unfit for development. The steep, rocky soil held no mineral worth mining, nor could it sustain livestock or crop. It became a place of starving and desperate people – a work force for the factories, forges, fish-houses, kilns, and textile mills.
Not all of Gilj became a blister of despair. The coast, to the west of the river, thrived with its theaters, restaurants, apparel boutiques, and houses of pleasures. Nobles from nearly all parts of the land came to vacation in the gluttony that had evolved as an offspring to the cold industry to the east.
The war rages on to the north, where the armies of the east and west are currently dead-locked. Trad, with its great port city of Gilj, holds fast to its declaration of neutrality. But the leverage to be gained by the faction who might use its harbor to stage naval sieges is too great to ignore. Although cloaked in the guise of politicians and gold, the war rages in Gilj as violently as through the once green fields of Gorn.
“What do you know about Morithian agriculture?” Haden asked, beginning a tale which seemed irrelevant. “Its history is quite interesting, really. Sand holds very little nutrients; certainly not enough to sustain a mentionable crop. At some point in history, one of the tribes began to import dirt in an attempt to rectify that problem. For years the southern Morithian clans traded for loads of soil with Tradian farmers.”
“The effort failed. It couldn’t hold moisture as the weather wouldn’t allow it. In answer to that problem, stone walls – tall barricades – were raised. Most were built in tandem with the natural features of the desert to form havens where the soil could be protected from the arid wind. That left the problem of the sun simply baking the water away. A fibrous vine grows abundant and wild in Morith. It could be woven as it grew into circus tent-sized sheets, and was used to cover the beds. It let the sun through, but trapped the moisture. But, still it wasn’t enough.”
“The final solution came unexpectedly in the form of a spider. Fire spiders to be precise, though their name is misleading. They possess a weak venom and feed upon carrion, rarely growing larger than a coin in their natural habitat.”
“Some tribe, somewhere, tried adding their dead to the mix in hopes that their spirits would remain behind to magically cause the crops to grow. There were no ghosts, but it lured fire spiders, and as it turned out, fire spiders could grow indefinitely as long as they had two things; food and water. Beneath the shade of the vine canopies, they could survive between meals. Once the tribe realized that the spider’s droppings were a fertilizer that could, in time, transform even bare sand into a medium that could sprout seeds, everything that died went into the farms. If there were not enough dead things to feed the spiders, then sacrifices were made; slaves, prisoners, the old…”
“The spiders grew as large as the top of this table, and the larger the spider, the better the soil. Once they attained a certain size, their taste for dead meat waned. They became cannibalistic, eating each other as readily as they devoured snakes, scorpions, lizards, horses, and whatever was unfortunate enough to be caught.”
Bartholomew Haden poured himself a glass of wine as he organized his thoughts.
“I saw a Morithian farm when I was a boy. My father took me, along with a procession of wagons carrying goods destined to be traded for obsidian block. There was a priestess of Ohkin among us – we were near the same age. Her purpose was entirely humanitarian.” Haden smirked. “Her superiors felt she could form relations with the clans and spread the word of the true God while doing so.”
“We spent a day at the first village we came to. I remember the farm vividly. Spiders scurrying violently through the thick, green crops, searching for something to consume.”
Haden gazed into his wine glass as if the vessel contained something more than the red product of fermented grapes. “That night, at feast, their chieftain offered a gift to my father; a half-elf woman. He refused.”
Bart’s face twisted into a frown - perhaps to thwart a show of emotion. “We realized that in Morith, women are not respected as they are in civilized society, although we underestimated the extent that it was so. When she was rejected, she became unworthy in the eyes of the tribe. She was staked to the ground and tortured.”
“The image of the spider, its legs thrashing as it sought to break free of the iron tongs with which the tribesman grasped it will forever occupy my thoughts.”
The man’s eyes glistened as tears born more than forty-years past struggled to escape.
“They put it on her. It plunged its barb into her and filled her with its eggs. It…” He paused. “…It began eating her alive.”
“My father was terrified. Thinking only for our safety, he ordered us to leave. And we did.”
Haden drained his glass and refilled it.
“I am ashamed that I did nothing to help her. If it had not been for the priestess, and her courage, we would have not gone back for her. I don’t know how – perhaps the priestess’ faith instilled the half-elf with life - but she survived. We brought her home and healed her as best we were able – but there are some wounds that cannot be mended.”
No one asked for her name, although Haden thought his audience should know it.
“Keeru. Her name is Keeru Hilla.”
The City of Gilj. Day 37 of the 4th Season, year 1197 since the coming of Blessed Knowledge.
The city was especially foreboding that morning. An unusually warm sea met a near freezing temperature, causing a blanket of fog to ooze over the eastern banks of the Sands River. The bellowing coal fires of industry pumped black columns of filth, mixing with the fog like a scene from a nightmare.
Keeru took the final bite of her apple, relishing the taste of the rare, sweet fruit. A lock of her long, black hair had escaped her pony tail. She cleaned her hands on a silk kerchief, and tucked the strands behind an ear before adorning a pair of gloves and lifting the hood of her cloak. Shivering against the humid cold, she climbed down the building’s fire escape and blended into the stream of people on the street.
She hated this.
Bartholomew had promised her she could retire from working contracts. After twenty years of surviving, she believed she had earned that much. But someone had to pay the bills, and since the untimely deaths of Mr. Haden’s former collectors, it looked like it would be her until a new crew could be hired.
Lady Keeru Hilla was more than she seemed. Her face was that of youth, with a body that had filled to a proportion that could draw jealousy from any woman who might consider herself ‘attractive’. But Keeru cared nothing for image. Sweet perfumes and painted eyes - those were things for pampered animals who could only rely on their charade to survive. No. Keeru was not like that at all.
She was eighty-seven, or so she guessed. She appeared no older than twenty by human standards. The elfin blood which coursed through her veins did nothing to alter her appearance save for the slightest curve to the top of her ears, an anatomical feature which she kept habitually hidden from others.
There was a time, when she was much younger, that contract work had been exciting. She used to spend days gathering information and logging the movements of her targets before executing her plan. But that was a long time ago. She no longer cared whose feathers were ruffled, or who saw her do it.
She hated this.
The chill, damp air gave way to warmth as she pushed open a door and entered a small, but cluttered calligraphy shop. There were two men inside. One was an older man, frail and bent at the shoulders. The other was an enormous hulk with far too much facial hair. That one exuded an air of belligerent confidence, and the scabbard dangling from his side left no doubt as to his purpose. He was an easterner, judging by his garb.
“You owe 250 Ohkin gold.” She skipped a greeting, stating her business as flatly as if she were ordering pastries from a baker. “I have come to collect.”
“I know you.” The old man glanced at his hireling and laughed. “You’re Haden’s wench. Times must be difficult indeed if he is resorting to his half-blood scum to do his bidding.”
In Keeru’s life, she had already heard every insult in existence as to her heritage. Insults were easy to ignore. They amounted to nothing compared to the events of her darkened history. “Will you pay or not..?”
“Please remove this… thing… from the premises,” the shop owner ordered the mercenary.
The larger man’s face twisted into a suggestive smile. “As you wish.”
On the counter was a cup holding a neatly arranged display of quills. In a single motion, Keeru selected one and drove it deeply into the large man’s neck. The half-elf scowled at her glove – a spot of blood had stained the supple leather.
The man gurgled and clawed at the device, although removing it only allowed the wound to bleed more freely.
“I’ll only ask once more. Will you pay, or not..?”
This time the old man was more cooperative. “I don’t have that much here.” He produced a small pouch and set it on the counter.
“I expect the balance to be delivered to Haden within three days.”
“You can’t do this. Coming into a man’s place of business and murdering people. You will hang, half-breed. I will see to it personally.”
She grunted as if the idea held merit. That would be one way to keep from being sent on these dreadful errands. “Three days.”
The sun had climbed high into the sky, melting the fog and allowing the smoke from the factories to drift with the wind. A clearing sky gave reason for where she was. She paused at the base of Gilj’s lighthouse to scratch an old hound’s head. The dog never moved as she approached, he only thumped his tail on the planks of the decking in greeting. From the door of the coal-house, an aged and weathered man appeared, though he offered her nothing but a familiar glance. His heavy footsteps faded as he disappeared into the arching tunnel which led into the tower.
This was her favorite place. No one bothered her here.
She was free to ascend through the inner lift, but she chose the spiraling outer stairs instead. The narrow blocks were without a railing, coursing upward 400 feet around the massive tower’s circumference. At its summit a mound of coal and wood lay upon a huge bowl-shaped, iron dish, ready to be lit as dusk approached or the weather demanded.
Keeru stood at the edge and looked down at the ever-moving city. The wind pushed at her, as if urging her to take one final step.
It made her feel alive.
“I think it has been proven once and for all. The pen is mightier than the sword.”
Paul always had his sense of humor. He was a tall, wiry man, his height and weight oddly out of proportion. His affinity for tattoos also made him an object of attention. From the neck down, there was barely an inch of skin unadorned with a marking or design. Despite his appearance, Paul Jikey had been a reliable cog in Bartholomew Haden’s operations for the last nine years. He managed all aspects of the Empty Pallet, a tavern owned by Haden which occupied the western corner of his warehouse. When news of Keeru stabbing someone with a writing utensil found its way to Paul’s bar, he immediately brought it to Haden’s attention.
His face covered by his palms, Bartholomew absorbed the news of Keeru with an extended sigh. It appeared as if the proverbial wheels were beginning to come off. “You’re certain the man died?” Haden’s voice was painfully muffled behind his hands.
“Do you really have to ask?” Paul guffawed.
“No.” Haden lowered his hands, revealing a pair of strained, bloodshot eyes.
“Lie to Ohkin, Bart! …You look like something out of the bottom of a gullet vat.”
“Thanks. It must be all the sleep I’m getting.” Haden glanced at the top of his desk – a palisade of deeds, and contracts, and shipping orders, and storage orders, and taxes, and legal proceedings, and…
“It wouldn’t be so bad if Keeru hadn’t gone crazy…”
“I can’t blame her.”
Jikey smirked. “Gods, you are soft on that woman.”
“Am I..? Have you ever stopped to wonder what it must be like watching everyone you know grow old and die? When we found her, I thought she was younger than I was. Now look at her. She could be my daughter. You know…” Haden reached for a tall bottle and poured the remainder of its contents into two glasses. Passing one to Paul, he asked, “How do you think you’d fare being completely alone in the world. Where contact with another person is only a placebo to get you from today until tomorrow, and no further than that? How would you do?”
The thin man could only answer with silence.
“I’m not being soft. But, in the same breath, I don’t know what I am being. How can I possibly understand what she feels? I have obviously put too much on her.”
“Regardless, it doesn’t change the fact that we are now harboring a murder suspect who conveniently committed it in front of a prominent businessman. I don’t think any amount of back-scratching is going to get her or us out of that.”
Haden’s retort carried more venom than he intended. “I am well aware of the current predicament.”
“What are we going to do, then?”
“Sell what we can and move to Horj.”
“Right… Have you ever been to Horj? The land is a swamp. There aren’t any luxury resorts to pamper tourists. And the winters…”
“I am aware of that, as well. But you know what’s going to happen the second we are behind on the taxes. We’ll lose the whole thing. All of it. What then..?”
“You will just have to hire new help.”
“You make it sound so easy.” It was Haden’s turn to laugh. “I’ll just run an ad in the paper; Wanted: Trust-worthy, reliable, and experienced thieves. Apply in Person. Must have references. Tell me, where do you suggest I find this help?”
“If they were worth their weight, they wouldn’t be in the Blight!”
“Maybe they aren’t worth their weight now. But, they could be.”
“Are you suggesting I incorporate on-the-job training?”
“Bart. You have friends who are in the same situation as we are. Friends who could provide the training that would be required, and I know they would welcome any business we could offer. I’ll risk a guess and say that none of them want to move to Horj any more than we do. Besides, if you find someone with potential – make them pay for their own training. Take it out of their pay.”
Haden’s hands covered his face again. “I don’t know, Paul. I just don’t know.”
The conversation came to an awkward halt.
“Well, my friend. Whatever you decide, count me in. I have spoken to Leb. He’s with us for the long haul.”
With that, Paul Jikey showed himself out of Bartholomew Haden’s office, pulling the door gently closed as he left.
“The Blight,” Haden muttered to no one.
He sat long in silence, slowly sipping the contents of his glass and straining his tired mind for some other solution.
“Gods help us,” he finally said. There was no other choice. He flattened a sheet of parchment, but paused as he lifted his quill. It was worn from years of use. He and Keeru had few things in common, though murder by quill, in an obscure way, was one of them.
Forcing the thought from his mind, he dipped the point into the inkwell and began to write…
Oliphur Perry, of Perry’s Foundry, 15 Kargos Street SE, 3rd District of the City of Gilj, Trad
I would like to offer a proposal for the purchase of two able bodied workers…
Thanks for taking the time to look and read!
I will be accepting two players. A third ‘may’ be involved at some point, but I have no plans for that now. I am not certain how many applicants I will get, but if there is a lot and you are not accepted then please take no offense at the lack of explanation - I am not a meanie. If you would feel better with an explanation of my choices, you can message me and I will be happy to share my reason.
P.S. If you have never had to ‘choose’ between people, then let me just say that it kind of sucks. I don’t really care for that part. But, I have been turned down too, so don’t be discouraged.
The game is slow paced, and I removed the word cap on posts. Not suggesting it requires long posts all the time, but the option is there if you need length to get your point across.
This is a low magic setting, and the characters are not ‘spell casters’. Magic will be involved, however.
Character creation: You will notice that there are no races specified in the Nature cards. There are Dwarves, Elves, Half Elves, Halflings, Orcs, and more dwelling in various regions of Kime. However, this story is based in a city known as Gilj, and it is overwhelmingly human. I wish to stay true to the setting I have already accumulated over the years, thus being demi-human is not something I suggest simply because there is a lot to know if you are to ‘fit’. If you are bent upon it, however, I reserve the right to discuss, or not, how it ‘could’ be that you are not human and have been located to the Blight.
That being said….
Hosted and narrated by:
Scenes played: 7
License: Community License