Friday, December 18, 2015

Once Upon a Time in Ar, Part Three

A soft rap at the door pulled Dardaniel from fitful slumber. Malvolian stuck his head in and gazed at the wizard. “We’ve arrived, Master,” he said in a muted voice. His angular, bluish face seemed as if it had been carved with a hatchet, with prominent cheekbones and an upturned, claw-like chin. He bore the large pointed ears of djinni-kind and iridescent eyes that gave them a strange, inscrutable expression.

Dardaniel stirred under a pale ray of light filtering through his bedchamber’s window. He grunted, got up, and shuffled groggily toward the light. A sea of dark green treetops lay below the Silver Cloud, as far as the eye could see, partially masked by dawn’s lingering mist.

Elbowing his way in, Feyward approached, holding a steaming bowl. “You might need this, Master,” he said with a grin revealing large gray teeth. “Just got it from the galley.” As fat and jovial as Malvolian was wiry and gloomy, Feyward owned small, porcine eyes almost invisible behind drooping eyelids, and a large, hooked nose. A long, black goatee snaked from his chin, reaching almost to his bulging belly.

The wizard took the bowl and sniffed at the steam, which conjured the previous evening’s queasiness. At least the Silver Cloud was now stationary. Cautious, he sipped some of the greenish broth. He recognized it as something for which he’d acquired a taste when he lived with his mother, a cloudy consommé made from wyvern scraps and thunderbird tongue. The stinging taste dispelled the last shreds of his fatigue while the tingling down his esophagus quelled his persistent nausea. Dardaniel wondered whether this choice of breakfast had been intentional. He looked at the portly servant whose grin widened at the wizard’s inquisitive expression. Feyward glanced at his companion, nodded with glee, and motioned Dardaniel to drink more.

The wizard gulped down the rest of the bouillon and handed the bowl back to his valet before heading out. The morning was cool and damp, and diffuse beams of red and pink still colored the sky. Captain Zephylon stood on the main deck, awaiting orders as Dardaniel approached.

“Ready the launch,” commanded the wizard. “No need to waste good magic so early in the day I say.”

The grizzled old veteran of the Efreet Wars raised an eyebrow. After a fleeting expression of disdain faded from his face, he hooted and howled eerily at nearby crew who endeavored to unfasten the flying skiff.

“I have business in the woods,” declared Dardaniel. “I must go alone. Wait for me here until I send a signal to be picked up.”

Dour as a harpy without a bone to gnaw, the captain asked, “What if you do not return, my lord? These are dangerous parts. How long shall we wait?”

Dardaniel hadn’t considered the issue. By the Wands, he was an Alphatian wizard of the most proper upbringing! There wasn’t a shadow of a doubt in his mind he’d prevail upon anything the blasted forest had in store, and that was that. Zephylon’s crossed arms, forward chin, and insistent look demanded an answer.

“Hold your position until tomorrow’s dawn,” the wizard answered at last. “Should I fail to return, set sail to the Haaken’s domain and inform Lady Auriane—and no one else. I trust she will take proper measures.”

“As you wish, my lord.” While the captain bowed, the ship’s coxswain boarded the launch, sat at its stern, and commanded it to lift.

Without hesitation, Dardaniel climbed aboard. Sitting in a most dignified manner, he nodded for the coxswain to take off. As the skiff flew away, he caught sight of Malvolian and Feyward standing at the railing with worried expressions. He then clenched his teeth and hung on for dear life when the launch suddenly nosedived toward the forest. It was a good thing he’d consumed the steadying broth, for he might have altogether fainted during the hair-rising plunge. Thankfully, the skiff levelled as it reached the trees, quickly dodged the thick foliage, and alighted on the mossy bottom. His knees still weak and his footing somewhat uncertain, Dardaniel climbed off, shooting a dark look at the phlegmatic coxswain.

Calm returned to the woods after the launch’s return to the Silver Cloud. Though the sun was slowly rising above the horizon, the underbrush remained dark under the forest’s dense canopy. Massive oaks surrounding him seemed to mute most sounds, something Dardaniel found strangely comforting. The moist smells of humus, moss, and wood bursting with sap hung in the air.

The wizard walked some distance from the Silver Cloud. Annoyed with roots and bushes catching on his robe, he pulled up the ample black garment’s hem and tucked it into his silk belt. He wore mud-colored pants wrapped tightly like puttees around his lower legs, and soft-leather, ankle-high boots. He’d retained his father’s Alphatian appearance: pale skin, patrician nose, dark blue eyes, black hair tied at the nape, and a slightly haughty expression.

Dardaniel sat on a small boulder and reached into a pocket in his robe. It wasn’t just any pocket. This was a pocket of many things. His hand first snagged his spell book, a small volume carefully bound in leather and treated to keep water at bay. After consideration, he returned it whence it came. Next came a missing sock. He’d been looking for it a few days earlier, and wondered how it came to be there. Then again, missing socks had a knack for turning up in the oddest places. He returned it to his pocket and kept rummaging until he got what he wanted, an ivory pipe whose bowl had been carved into a dragon’s head . After whispering a command word, Dardaniel drew on the bit a few times and released a soothing puff of smoke.

As he savored a moment of peace and tranquility, he thought of the direction he should follow. His creature could be a hundred leagues from where he sat, for all he knew. The enchantment he’d cast the day before still lingered in the back of his mind, binding him to the companion he sought. The wizard closed his eyes and concentrated. His thoughts drifted until his mind unveiled another place in the vast forest of Grünfold. He sensed it to be close enough for the next stage of his ritual to trigger. His body faded, pipe, smoke, and all, and reappeared at the spot he’d just seen.

Branches, more gnarled and knotted than those where he’d landed earlier, formed a vault overhead, almost like a dwelling of some sort. Dardaniel looked around for his beastie. He could sense it was close by. A large bush stood a few paces away, within which the wizard caught a slight movement. A whispered word extinguished his pipe before he returned it to his pocket. He then stood and treaded carefully over a jumble of intertwined tree roots covering the ground. “Hello there,” he said calmly, leaning closer to the bush. “Care to come out, my little friend?”

The bush trembled as something within stirred. A small tuft of tawny fur twitched when it emerged from the foliage. As it rose, a very large pointed ear followed next to another, attached to a massive shaggy head. Powerful shoulders came next as a towering being stood upright before the wizard, easily twice his size.

“Well, this is most unexpected,” said Dardaniel, gauging the looming, growling beast. “I was hoping I could keep you on my shoulder or under my hat, mind you. I don’t suppose you can shrink, can you?”

To be Continued…

A Letter to Mystara Fans

It’s been quite a while now since I’ve had a hand in fleshing out the World of Mystara. There was of course my time at TSR, those glorious years when the gazetteers came like clockwork. I’ve had great fun more recently developing a version of Alphatia on this blog. I’ve enjoyed all this immensely.

It is unfortunate, however, that Wizards did not see fit to share an arrangement for the fans of this grand old world to enjoy new material. This is the primary reason I launched Calidar “In Stranger Skies,” which is inspired from the “Voyage of the Princess Ark.” There is another reason for this new creative endeavor. Though I love writing, I still need to address the hard realities of life. Success is crucial for me to be able to continue in this direction and—as demonstrated in the stories about Dardaniel—to offer new fan material for the World of Mystara. Now is a very busy time for me to write these adventures, and some of my present backers may see them as a diversion from my crowdfunding efforts.

In keeping with the spirit of this new chapter in my life, I’m suggesting therefore the following: when “Beyond the Skies” reaches its first funding goal, I’d like to celebrate its success with a new episode of Dardaniel’s quest. We’re very close to reaching this target, perhaps in a few days. I will be more than happy to write subsequent episodes as stretch goals are reached. I believe this will satisfy all sides of this equation.

Nothing would please me more than to see all of you adopting Calidar as an alternate setting, or simply as a source of fun reading and adventure ideas. A good number of Mystara fans have proven themselves stalwart supporters from the beginning of my journey. That’s wonderful. Thank you! Many more aren’t aware of Calidar or haven’t made a move to support it. Some of you aren’t interested at all, and I respect this. Others remain who aren’t sure yet of Calidar’s value. Please bear this in mind: the more supporters get behind Calidar, the better the chances will be that I can afford to keep writing, and by the same token, that I’ll keep creating new content for Mystara as well. Think about this. See where your heart lies.

I do sincerely thank you for your interest, your gratitude, and your support.

Merry Christmas to you all.