Growing Up Poor
Poor people, like Hrothfeond Evermorn, weren’t supposed to have a pendant like this. But then again, not every poor person came from a line like Hrothfeond, more commonly known as Fe.
Yes, his father was a blacksmith, as was his father before him and all the fathers that were known for hundreds of years. But somewhere far back in his family’s line, an Evermorn was not a blacksmith, but someone great. A person of importance.
Maybe they were noble, royal even, but this individual must have made people yield to his command just as Fe’s hammer formed metal into whatever he desired. His ancestor certainly did not mourn, but one whose days were always bright. Someone who would possess a pendant of power like the one Fe now wore around his neck.
No one knows exactly what, but something happened to the line of Evermorns; it was surely dark and disastrous. An event so horrific that it changed the trajectory of his family’s history forever. Something that caused this beautiful pendant of power to be known instead as the “Dread Bite” and imbuing it with a mysterious and tragic sort of magic.
After working as a smith for over 20 years, Fe was sick of living in Schlel. He was ready for adventure, to travel beyond his realm of lel Kúbklor and to see new sights and have experiences he had only read of in books. Fe made a vow to himself that night: he would take the first boat out to sea that would give him passage.
The Night at the Viper Tavern
That night, Fe went to the Viper Tavern, named after a local dungeon near the city. Fe had his usual, a strong ale with a dram of Hardguzzle, a spirit made from Malfour cactus that lel Kúbklor was renowned for distilling. Fe knew that crews often visited the Viper Tavern prior to a long voyage—it was a departing tradition for the men to get good and drunk before they hit the open water, passing through the Tides of Tears, through the Sea of Hermits and to the rollicking Dommian Ocean.
It seemed that the luck of his long-lost ancestor was bestowed on Fe that night as a crew was to set sail the next day. Listening further, Fe overheard the captain and his first mate deep in concerned conversation: their blacksmith had fallen ill and they were worried that the voyage would have to be delayed.
“You know that now is our only chance,” the captain said. “We are three months from the Northern winds blowing in and we must leave now as it is more than a two-month journey and we don’t even know exactly where The Maelstrom is located. As soon as the air has just a bit of a chill the creature goes dormant, and the island is submerged.”
“But where are we going to find a smith in such order? And one that can forge cold iron, none-the-less. It’s a lost art and we are losing time,” the first mate replied. “Face it cap’n, this voyage is going to have to wait for another day. Thou mayest want to quest, but Odin has other ideas; heed his advice.”
Fe heard everything. He knew he had his chance, but had Odin made the ship’s smith ill so the boat would not set sail? Or was it so that Fe could seize this moment and leave? While Fe never considered himself one to give his opinions on metaphysical matters, he knew he must make a choice. Sidling up the table, Fe took the biggest risk of his life.
“I can work cold iron to be the sharpest blade or the strongest greaves,” Fe spoke, finding his courage after a swig of Hardguzzle. “If your mission needs a blacksmith, then look no further than the person who sits in front of you here. I’m ready to leave Schlel as soon as I can find passage.”
“Aye, man! And how do we know you can work cold iron like you say? Plenty of people claim to have skills to get out of this pitiful city but are as worthless as a wooden shield in a battle with a fire breathing dragon” the first mate said with a sneer of mockery, spitting on the ground.
Fe pounced, grabbed the first mate and placed him in a headlock, putting a knife to his throat. “You tell me if this knife is sharp enough, for it was forged from my own hands,” Fe snarled, nicked the man’s skin and threw him to the ground.
“All right, you’re in,” the captain spoke, putting an end to the theatrics at the tavern. “But you need to know what you’re getting into. This is no ordinary seafaring journey of transferring commodities from one port to another. This is an expedition into the heart of the Dommian Ocean to a place feared by even the most tenured sailor.
“We are going to The Maelstrom, a place that many don’t believe exists, but one that I’m confident I will find. Legend has it that years ago a dark mage of power ventured into the open sea in search of a monstrous creature that he believed he could tame with his sorcery. Controlling this monster would make him an unstoppable force that no one in the realms would dare challenge.
The mage set off with only one deck hand to help with the sails. The pair traveled day and night in search for the mythical beast and would only return to port after several epochs where they’d resupply and set sail the next morning.
Legend has it that the mage found the creature, but it was far more powerful than he could have imagined. The beast spun an incredible whirlpool; at the center, was the tip of an island that became more and more visible as the rushing waters spun faster and faster. The beast rose out of the water, smashing the small ship with its enormous tentacles. The mage was on the demolished vessel, sucked into the center of The Maelstrom towards that island, while the deck hand was cast outside of the wake, clutching to a few boards.
Without warning, massive waves clapped together from the perimeter of the whirlpool, submerging the island in a wall of water and drowning the dark wizard, along with his ghost wand and other magical items from the Order of Power.
The deck hand miraculously escaped, floating through the ocean on some of the wreckage before washing ashore in Guz-Metmas of the Kezgep-Mas realm. There, he told everyone his tale and it became a bit of local legend. None believed him at first, but over time, ships began disappearing in the middle of the Dommian Ocean, especially at this time of year. Some say that the beast is most active now, before the cold winds of the North blow in.
We aim to prove the legend is true and want to recover all the treasures from the sunken ships, along with the items of the dark mage, especially his powerful ghost wand. We believe that the beast hates the cold, which is why we need a smith to fashion weapons from cold iron. That’s why we docked in lel Kúbklor, to stock up on raw materials that can be turned into spears and cannon fodder over the long journey to The Maelstrom. If you’re up to the task, I’m ready to take you aboard.”
Fe felt that the captain’s story was nothing more than fantasy, lore of the sea that sailors tell to keep their minds off the drudgery of work. But what did he care? This story was his ticket away from Schlel, let them believe what they want if it got him on a boat.
Feigning deep thought at the decision, Fe ultimately nodded his head in agreement. The captain hired him on the spot; the first mate’s pride badly bruised. Fe was flush with excitement and became drunk on beer and his good luck, concerned not for the danger that was ahead of him.
The Journey Begins
The crew embarked for The Maelstrom, leaving Schlel early the next morning. Even though Fe was green when it came to sailing, his position as the ship’s smith earned him a place in the officer’s quarters and the luxury of having only one roommate, instead of 15. He had his own shop to work in and got to eat in the mess hall before the rest of the men.
The truth, however, was that he was an outsider; he didn’t have any practical seafaring experience, which made him loathed by many in the crew and officers alike. While he found no counsel with the elites, Fe could feel the daggers of the crew’s eyes as he ate before them. “Let them stare,” he thought, “for if the Maelstrom actually exists, which it certainly does not, my weapons will be their salvation.”
To combat the loneliness of sea, Fe immersed himself in his work. Truly, no one had seen anything like him before—the sound of hammers banging metal rang out from his shop at all hours of day and night. Slowly the crew’s disdain gave way to admiration for the quality of arms that Fe produced. But as he continued to make spear after spear, the men’s feeling of awe became one of fear as the crew began to wonder, “What kind of monster are we to battle at The Maelstrom that would need this kind of armory? What fate awaits us in the open sea?”
Everything Goes Wrong
The crew had been at sea for just over three months and the air was beginning to turn crisp. The captain thought that the journey was sure to be a bust; he had already begun working on what he’d say to the lords who had invested in this venture. They would be disappointed that he would return home empty handed, but the chances of success were small. Surely these men of means would understand that it was a long shot in the first place.
Suddenly, a call came down from the crow’s nest, “I see somethin’! I see somethin’!” a sailor shouted out from above. “Other there! The ocean is, I don’t know, swirling like I have never seen before. Aye, cap’n, the water is churning like nothin’ else! Over there! Starboard! Look!!!”
The captain went on deck, climbed up a mast and looked out in the distance. By Odin, the water was spinning around like a great circle. Was this the beast he had been seeking? Had his ship finally reached The Maelstrom? He went into his quarters and prepared for the monster, donning his chest armor, gloves and belt made from demonhide, the strongest material for battle known to the realms. These items have been in his family for ages and putting them on he felt braver to face what lurked beneath the surface. At the minimun, he thought that he looked the part of an Adventurer even though he felt a chill to his very marrow.
At the last moment, he took off a glove and slipped on his titanium ring from the Order of Power that was a gift from the father of his bride. “For good luck,” he thought as he walked out of his quarters, “we certainly will need it.”
“Men, what lies beneath these waters is the most dangerous beast any of us have ever seen or imagined. But this is why you are all here! You said you wanted adventure? You said you wanted verses sung about you throughout the ages? You said you wanted treasure?!” the captain proclaimed to a roar of approval. “Aye men, your day has come! Grab the spears, load the cannons, it is time we kill this Kraken of the sea! It is time to show the beast that no crew from the Order of Power is afraid of it! Take your stations!”
While the men moved on the deck, Fe could only stand there in shock. While he certainly wanted adventure far away from the monotony Schlel, he also wanted to live a full life. Seeing this whirlpool form in the distance, he felt a disastrous outcome lay before him and felt a pang of regret in leaving his friendly confines. But was that life of boredom one worth living? No, he reminded himself, tucking his pendant under his shirt and grabbing a spear. He would go down fighting with the weapons he had forged.
As the ship drew closer to The Maelstrom, Fe saw at the center of the whirlpool the island that the captain had spoken of long ago in the Viper Tavern. The waters continued to churn, creating a vortex at the center where the island became more and more exposed. Fe could see countless numbers of shipwrecks.
But where was this beast that caused the waters to rise? Fe tried imagining the size of this monster that could churn open water seemingly on command, when a tentacle, larger than any ship he’d ever seen, broke through the water and tried to slap their ship.
For a moment, all the men froze, gazing up to the sky at a writhing limb that seemed as though it pierced through the depths of the underworld. But regaining his composure, the captain steadied his crew and told them to take aim; on his command the cannons thundered, and the men flung spears at the beast.
The kraken’s howl was shrill and guttural, shaking the moon and the sky with reverberations through the cloudless night. The captain realized that he had been correct in assuming the cold iron would cause great harm to the beast. Feeling more embolden than afraid, he encouraged his men to ready the next assault when he eyed a small, wrecked ship constructed in an ancient style on the Eastern part of the island at the center of The Maelstrom. At once he knew it must be the boat of the dark mage from long ago.
“Fe! Grab some spears and the strongest long sword you’ve made. You wanted adventure? Come with me,” the captain howled at the blacksmith. “We’re boarding that raft and retrieving the ghost wand from the isle over there.”
“You’re mad!” shouted Fe. “What spell are you under?! There’s no way we can get past the Kraken and even if we do, how will we return?”
“Listen man and listen well. The crew is brave, and your armory is as strong as any of legend but look at that beast. We’ve managed to hit only one of its arms and yet we’ve gone through a tenth of our munitions. We don’t stand a chance fighting it this way. But the crew may buy us enough time to retrieve the ghost wand, which can help us slay this beast. My family may be of the class of hunters, but in telling me the legend of The Maelstrom, my father taught me a spell should I ever recover the weapon. This is our only hope,” the captain said with desperation in his voice. “I need another man to help me row this raft and you’re the strongest one I’ve come across. Come with me.”
Fe did as he was told, and he and the captain boarded the raft as the captain relayed his plans to his first mate. Another tentacle rose into the air, this time the captain’s right-hand man gave the order to attack. The two men started rowing, every ounce of their energy going into the oars to overcome the waves that crested above them. At one time, an arm of the kraken came crashing down beside them, only to wash away the weapons that Fe brought on board. But the two held fast to their oars amid the chaos, pressing on.
Miraculously, the pair made it to the island and crashed the raft into the Eastern shore. Time was not on their side; the captain estimated he heard six rounds of cannon fire and knew there were only enough munitions for a few rounds more. But there, beside their raft, was wreckage with ancient runes in faded fabric on a sail that was tattered and worn. This was the ship of the dark mage; the captain was certain of it.
“Find the wand and give it to me as soon as you do!” the captain shouted. “We are running out of time Fe!”
“Wait! Before we begin our search, tell me the incantation in case you fall. You’ve come too far to let that secret go with you in death,” Fe hollered. “I’ve proven a faithful hand; I deserve to know it should I find the wand and cannot find you!”
The captain realized that Fe was right and trusted the man; he had proved himself loyal and there was no reason not to withhold the spell from him. He shouted the words to Fe, and both men went to searching at once for the missing wand.
BOOM! The air shook with another round of cannon fire. The captain knew there was one round left before his men would be out of ammunition and the creature from the depths would smash the ship to pieces. He had to find the wand if there was ever a chance to save his crew. The captain panicked as he searched the wreckage, but nothing was to be found.
While the captain was anxious, Fe felt a surreal sense of calm. The pendant around his neck seemed to sooth him, while prompting him to go down into the depths of the wreck. He went willingly, not questioning the odd feeling, when suddenly he spotted a chest with a broken lock. Fe pried open the box and mixed in among the sunken shekels were a divine hood and slippers along with a gnarled wand unlike any he had ever seen: the ghost wand of the dark mage.
“I found it! I found it!” Fe shouted, joy in his voice. “Captain, come quick, I found it!”
Fe heard the quick steps of the captain above board and knew that the man would be thrilled at the discovery. But as the captain descended the stairs, his foot went through a rotten plank. He twisted his ankle and fell, hitting his head on the wreckage below. Fe went over, but the captain was unconscious.
BOOM! This sound was not quite as powerful as the last; Fe knew that the ship was out of cannon fodder. But he couldn’t leave the captain knocked out at the bottom of this ship’s hull. Gathering the magical items from the chest, but leaving all the coins, Fe began to pull the captain up the stairs, struggling with every step. He knew he must cast the spell if the crew were to live but doing so now would be certain doom for the two of them it succeeds. Fe had to get to high ground so that they wouldn’t be submerged when The Maelstrom subsided.
But time was running out. There was no longer the rumble of the cannons; in fact, there was an eerie sense of quiet over the ocean, the water was no longer churning but began to calm. Then out nowhere the beast rose from the sea, not just a tentacle, but the entire monster. Six arms flailing in the air ready to exact its revenge on this wooden vessel that caused it so much pain.
Even though he was not high enough, Fe knew that this was the moment he must act, or the crew would be doomed. With his left hand, he clutched the Doom Bite pendant and with his right hand pointed the ghost wand at the kraken, shouting the spell with every fiber of his soul. A blinding flash consumed the sky along with a thunder of 10,000 war drums.
Everything went black.
The Adventurer Rises
Fe didn’t know how long he was knocked out, but from the stubble on his face he knew it had to be several days. When he came to, everything ached, but he was relatively unharmed. Around his neck was the Dread Bite pendant and next to him was the captain, still and without breath, alongside the ghost wand and the divine hood and slippers Fe had taken from the chest.
Looking around, he could see no traces of the beast nor that of the ship. Grief washed over Fe as he realized at once that he was alone, marooned on the island. Tears of anguish swelled inside him, but Fe buried them. There was work to do.
The captain was a good man, and as was the custom of his people, he prepared the body to be burned on a funeral pyre. “Odin, allow me the strength to mourn once more,” he prayed. Fe removed the demonhide gear from the captain and dressed himself in them. “If I shall find his family, I will return these,” thought Fe. “Until then, may they give me great power in my attempt to survive."
Fe looked at the hood and slippers and knew they were powerful totems. Rather than carry them, he thought he might gain more strength by putting them on. He took the ghost wand and could feel its power coursing through his body, it was as if he were destined to be holding it, and Fe felt an ease with the magical weapon. As if the Dread Bite spoke to him, he knew the spell to cast to start a fire in which to burn the captain’s body.
Before Fe placed him on the flame, he caught glimpse of the ring and removed it, "This too will go to his family,” Fe said aloud, placing it on his finger.
As the smoke rose into the night sky, Fe realized just how far he was from Schlel and how slim the chances would be he would survive. But a sense of confidence began to swell inside of him, feeling the power of the magical items now in his possession.
“I will survive,” Fe spoke, not to give himself words of support, but rather to affirm his fate. “It is my destiny to survive,” he roared at the heavens, no one else around to hear his cry. “And this wand shall evermore be known as the Maelstrom Whisper, for silencing the beast of the sea!”
Items from the Lootverse referenced in this story:Genesis Adventurer #530: Hrothfeond Evermorn an Adventurer of PowerRealms (for Adventurers) #26: lel Kúbklor of the Order of Power, Schlel is a port city of this realmRealms (for Adventurers) #6382: Kezgep-Mas of the Order of the Twins, Guz-Metmas is a port city of this realmCrypts and Caverns #5409: ‘The Maelstrom,’ a legendary dungeon where the battle takes placeCrypts and Caverns #7216: Grotto of the Viper, the dungeon for which the tavern is named afterRealms Atlas: For names of the different bodies of water