Skeeve wakes, shaken from his latest nightmare. He tells Enoch about what he saw in the dream.
The party memebers meet in Enoch’s room to plan the day. Enoch reveals that during the night he was able to translate another chapter of the book:
Mistress Rhone never married or had any offspring, so at her death her post fell to Archmage Mordan, her chief military adviser. Mordan arrested many foreigners travelling in his lands, including many diplomats. He imprisoned and tortured them, saying they were spies. He sent many antagonizing messages to various Dwarven and Elven leaders, and did many other deeds to provoke his enemies. While Rhone had sometimes avoided open war when possible, Mordan sought it out at every opportunity.
Even his harshest critics admitted that he was without equal at the business of warfare. He was a great seer, and could at many times view the future actions of his enemies. Within months he had utterly exterminated the Orcs to the north. He initiated and won a number of wars against both Elves and Dwarves, and conquered the northern lands of Mar Tesoro, bringing the entire country under his rule.
While Rhone was among the most gentle of leaders to sit in Fol Thron, Mordan was without question the most ruthless. The common workers in the mines became slaves, which were worked ceaselessly. Mordan decreed that the slaves should work so hard that a third should die each year. He replaced the lost slaves with the captured soldiers he won in his many battles, and with peasants taken from the farms of the north.
The people of the city fared little better. Laws were brutal under his rule, and many perished in his dungeons for the most trivial offenses. He could enter the minds of his subjects, see their thoughts and vex their dreams. Any that might oppose him in secret were known to him, and soon driven mad with visions and nightmares.
Mordan was a student of history, and knew too well how briefly other rulers had held their position as master of Khelberg. He said many times that he planned to be the final master of Khelberg, and that none would supplant him.
The years of his rule grew long. He surpassed a hundred years of age, and although he was thin and gaunt, he retained the vigor of youth. He became reclusive, and ran his empire through his servants, who were all mighty wizards in their own right. They did his will, spreading his cruelty and malice as far as his power would allow.
The years drew on, and the wealth of the mines was used to expand the city. The palace grew, a great trench was dug around it, and was filled with water from the nearby lake. This new moat was filled with many watery beasts and fell creatures of the deep, so that none dared approach the palace for fear of being dragged from the bridge by some unseen horror. The palace was then renamed the Citadel, and began to look unlike the great fortress the Dwarves had built. It was dark and twisted, and few dared to lift their eyes to look upon it, even in the daytime.
The power of the Archmage Mordan far surpassed that of any other, until there were none that dared challenge him in battle. His foes relented, and drew back. After centuries of war, Khelberg at last belonged to one man alone, uncontested.
It makes them uneasy to read of Mordan, even in the light of day. However, it is a relief to see the time they’ve invested in the book is finally paying off, and they are learning about their new foe. Enoch estimates that the book is about halfway complete. They are eager to learn more, but decide to push on to Fol Thron instead of lingering here for more studying.
The party heads downstairs where they find Beck in the dining area, having an animated conversation with a one-legged man. The man looks hard and shabby, and is dressed like the slaves that inhabit the eastern side of town. Beck has evidently bought this man a beer and is questioning him. As the rest of the party comes downstairs, they can hear the man telling Beck a story…
As he leans in his chair he rambles on, “…day I wanted to see what it would be like if I left the helmet off. I wanted to see what the place looked like, and what went on while we were wearing the helmets. So I didn’t put my mining helmet on all the way. I sort of held it over my head. Everyone else had put them on like they were supposed to, so they were just mindlessly marching into the mines. I got behind them and followed them in.
“It wasn’t until I was inside that I realized the truth: There are no lights in that mine. Nothing. Quick enough I got lost in the darkness, and had no choice but to drop the helmet onto my head. That evening I ‘woke up’ outside the mine, tired, just like I did every other day. When we took off our helmets, we didn’t remember a thing from what we’d been doing in the mines. It seemed like we’d just put the helmets on a moment before, except we’d be exhausted.“
At this point Beck sets is mug down and asks, “Okay, fair enough. But what happened to your leg?”
The man draws a deep breath, “Oh, THAT day. Well, we’re used finding ourselves at the end of the day with lots of cuts or bruises. Of course, we didn’t feel it until we took the helmet off. So, every day when I dropped the helmet on my head in the morning, I’d wonder what I’d find when it comes off again in the evening. Sometimes I’d find meself outside with a bad gash, and found I’d I bled all over myself while I worked. Some times I’d have a big scrape or bruise or maybe…“
“Or a leg missing?”, Thu’fir added, now that they had joined the two men at the table.
“Yeah. I took the helmet off and almost passed out from the pain. I looked down to see I’d broken my leg. It had snapped just below the knee. The terrible part was that it looked like I just kept working the rest of the day with the broken leg. By the time the helmet came off the bottom of my leg had been ruined.“
The man smiles, “At the time I thought this was a bad deal, but now I’m useless in the mines and I don’t have to work there anymore. So it was really the best thing that ever happened to me. Of course, now they gimmie other duties. These days I stay in town and make rope. And right now, they don’t need no more rope, so it looks like the Queen’s willing to feed me just for sitting around all day doin’ nothing. Thats agreeable enough to me.“
They all drink on this point.
Thu’fir then asks, “So are these the same sort of helmets that are worn by the Queen’s special guards?”
The man shruggs, “I wouldn’t know, I’ve never tried one of those on. They LOOK different, though. Our mining caps just cover the tops of our heads and come down to our cheekbones. They look more or less like regular mining caps except they are too long, and cover the eyes. Most of use like it because you do a full days work without having to do the work, if you take my meaning. We just put on the hats, and at the end of the day they come off and we’re just tired and hungry.”
He takes another drink and continues, “Of course, it wasn’t all good. sometimes we’d get to the end of the day and find we’d lost somebody. We’d have no idea how or where, or what happened to them. They were just gone. Probably trapped in the mines someplace or killed. For all we know, we could be marching over them every day while we work.“
Thu’fir then asks, “Does your mining camp mine for gems or gold, or what?”
He shruggs again, “I don’t know. By the time we remove the helmets, someone has come and emptied the carts. We can see we dug up SOMETHING. The carts have bits or rock and dust in them, but whatever we were mining has been taken away by the time the helmets come off.“
“Where are you from?” Thu’fir asks.
“I’m from Woodhurst, to the north. We got conquered about nine months ago. Since I was a soldier, they carted me off, and put me here. I should be grateful, though. Most times, when you get conquered, you get killed. But they let me live. Then I got a lucky break. My leg got broken and then got all nasty and infected and had to get cut off.“
“Oh yes. Very lucky.”, Thordek adds wryly.
“Well, I fared a lot better than some…“
Thu’fir agrees, “I’d rather sit in town weaving rope than spend twelve hours a day being mindless.”
They wish the man well and get ready to leave. They intend to head west, for the capital city of Fol Thron. They gather the horses and prepare for the day’s journey.
Are Lootboxes Gambling?
Obviously they are. Right? Actually, is this another one of those sneaky hard-to-define things?
The Loot Lottery
What makes the gameplay of Borderlands so addictive for some, and what does that have to do with slot machines?
WAY back in 2005, I wrote about a D&D campaign I was running. The campaign is still there, in the bottom-most strata of the archives.
Final Fantasy X
A game about the ghost of an underwater football player who travels through time to save the world from a tick that controls kaiju satan. Really.
A programming project where I set out to make a gigantic and complex world from simple data.