The Tome Unburnt – Phandelver

Following the advice of Al’Gul, I ingratiated myself with Gundred, a dwarven merchant. Al’Gul had set me the task of winning him to the Lord’s Fire, and by hook or by crook I was going to do it. So when Gundred asked me to help protect his supply delivery to Phandalin, I satisfied myself that this guard duty was in the service of something greater. The gold pieces Gundred offered paled in comparison to what my lord could deliver me, if I completed his mission.

Gundred had hired a most strange person to help protect the wagons. Bronzeworth was a wooden automaton, like a living scarecrow infested with vines. I’m not sure whether his circuitry is properly functioning – when I tried to enlighten him about the great Al’Gul, he didn’t show much interest. For all his ignorance about spiritual matters and unfortunate blunders, I appreciated his zeal for wealth redistribution and ability to swing a scimitar.

When we approached Phandalin, we came across a most disturbing scene. The horses of Gundred and his bodyguard had been slain, as I ascertained with a precise inspection. Before I knew what was happening, Bronzeworth had slung a rock into the back of my head!

The mechanical man’s gaffe allowed a pair of goblins to get the jump on us. While I bravely drew their fire, Bronzeworth hacked away at the bandits with his scimitar. Nasty business, but it was them or us. Once I showed them the devastating power of the Lord’s Fire, the goblins turned and fled. They had learned their lessons and were no doubt set to enroll in the local academy and turn their lives around. I had half a mind to refer the straggler to my good friend Drax for gainful employment when Bronzeworth, the cad, felled him with a stone from his sling. I must keep an eye on this wooden fellow. They didn’t program him with a sense of decency.

I’ll give him credit though, he knows a business opportunity when he sees one. We couldn’t leave the saddlebags to be pilfered by any two-bit bandits, so we performed the public service of delivering them to the proprietor of the town shop. We could form a great business team, like Unsworth and Headly. Myself with the guile, charm, salesmanship, savvy and ideas, and Bronzeworth with the audacity and ability to pull a fully laden cart. We delivered Gundred’s merchandise, but the dwarf himself was nowhere to be seen.

My probing questioning uncovered a lead – Gundred’s brothers had a camp outside the town limits. From there it was but a short hop to the Lost Mine of Phandelver. A more wretched hive of villainy I’ve never seen.

We crept in, hiding ourselves in the dark. Bronzeworth’s visual circuits clearly suffer without the beacon of the Lord’s Fire. He stumbled down a chasm and nearly knocked himself out. The old army adage holds true – teach a man a healing spell and he’ll throw himself into danger like a reckless fool. The fall must have damaged his joints, because he produced a nasty clanking sound for the rest of a day, ruining my attempts at camouflage.

Before long, we snuck up on three vile ghouls. They had been planning to ambush unsuspecting passers-by, so I performed the public service of springing their little trap. Although the ghouls took several chunks out of my armour as I fought manfully, Bronzeworth was not so agile. The ghouls, seeing in him a weaker target, ambushed him and tore off a piece of his wooden flesh. The shock seemed to short out some of his circuits, because he fell into a coma.

The air was split by two clarion calls. One was the quack of a duck-bear, and the other from an infernal horn. The ghouls fled, though from which I could not tell. The duck-bear approached, but before I could face this new arrival, my colleague Bronzeworth needed me. I applied all my expertise to reconnect his vital circuits, but a full system reboot would take a little longer. Old technology.

I faced off with the duck-bear, and it yielded to my stare. This mountain of a creature may wield a great axe with an animal rage, but I had cowed it to my will. The duck-bear carried the rebooting body of Bronzeworth as we headed for an exit. Although I was still strong and hardy, Bronzeworth clearly needed a rest.

Standing in our way however, was a bugbear. These misunderstood people are often forced into banditry, though this particular individual must have fallen on hard times indeed to share a cavern with the residents of Phandelver. Rather than forcing needless bloodshed, I used the powers of illusion bequeathed to me by Al’Gul to encourage the poor creature to flee. Though the rebooted Bronzeworth again showed his caddishness and was joined by our new duck-bear friend, I was above such bloodlust.

Bronzeworth’s reboot must have gone poorly. He kept insisting that he could understand the duck-bear’s quacks, and that it wasn’t a duck-bear at all. Who has ever heard of such a creature as a platypus? Let alone a platypus-bear. A bear that lays eggs? Entirely preposterous. I humoured the misfiring Bronzeworth and our new friend whom he dubbed Platsy.

After Bronzeworth defragmented his hard drive, our motley crew headed back into the mines to resume the fight. We couldn’t allow such dangerous ghouls to molest a settlement like Phandolin, and Gundred’s whereabouts were still unknown.

This did seem to have been, at one stage, a quite profitable mining venture. Quality ore, and plenty of it. If we could root out the source of the infestation, we could claim it for ourselves and make some proper gold. Even more gold than I liberated from the clutches of long dead men and their reanimated bones, as the light of Al’Gul shone upon them.

On this second trip, Bronzeworth insisted on spoiling our chance of surprise with a fire that his natural spirits granted him. The automaton might have a good pair of light sensors, but he’s got no sense of theater.

Our new friend Platsy though, that duck-bear could swing a greataxe. He demonstrated by ably slicing through our old foes the ghouls. Even Bronzeworth got in on the act, with a very interesting binding spell, which held the ghouls rigidly in place. And thus, the Lord’s Fire was unleashed upon them. On the second attempt, the ghouls didn’t even threaten us, as Platsy proved a very able companion.

With Bronzeworth’s torchlight and the uncanny navigation skills of the duck-bear, we soon found upon the source of all this monstrousness. An abomination against the Lord’s Fire. No one but Al’Gul may control a blaze. Peasants may have their peasants’ fire, red, dull and slow burning. But all higher levels of fire are the property of Al’Gul, for he is the Lord’s Fire.

I knew this heretic at once. A floating skull encased in a pyre of bright green heat, he could not hide from my enlightened gaze. Al’Gul’s judgement would be upon him. Though he muttered something about treasure, such matters were beneath me. This was nothing less than a holy crusade against the apostate.

Though the heretic may have stolen the Lord’s Fire, I am one with Al’Gul. He slashed and stabbed at my companions as I fired bolt after bolt upon his evil visage. Platsy swung hard with his greataxe and Bronzeworth with his scimitar, but only a holy man can purge an apostate. This evil force struck Platsy hard, leaving him a shell of a duck-bear. He drained the very life from Bronzeworth with a single touch. But I kept up the barrage, never letting the heathen rest. The fires of Al’Gul struck hard and true upon this accursed thing. It could not hide from the judgement of the Lord’s Fire.

As the heretic lay dying and mangled, the power of Al’Gul coursed through my veins. The Lord’s Fire is generous to those who serve.

My companions must learn of his power. The world must learn of his power. Perhaps even poor Bronzeworth could survive, if he were to make a deathbed conversion and realise the truth of Al’Gul. But for now, as I write this in the dark of the heretic’s lair, I pray that he wakes up. For all his faults, Bronzeworth is a hardy soul, quick with aid and a most useful travelling companion. The world would be poorer without him.

One Must Always Fill Their Pockets

“I am Zacharias Silvermoon, keeper of the baron’s cups, wielder of Gilgamesh, inventor of hydroxyl, saviour of my house and bane of spiders. You may have heard…” I say, before I’m rudely cut off.

“That’s enough. Come in, Sir Zacharias.” I am no knight, but it would be unfair to correct him. The doorkeeper motions me in to join the party. I loosen my scarf against the warmth, but retain my black greatcoat. One must always fill their pockets.

All of Hrothgar’s least important nobles are here, supping on fruit and wine. The town is too provincial and the night too early to attract serious power, but I spot a few local celebrities. The pot-bellied mayor, Therden Orcherson enjoys canapes with local guild leaders. Polo teams trade equestrian gossip. A band strums away on their instruments unobtrusively. My stomach grumbles and I head straight for the banquet table.

The peaches are particularly delectable this season. I grab several, along with a couple of the gilded wine goblets. No host will notice a few goblets disappearing throughout a night like this. They’ll be too smashed on the finest Fanfoss reds, and hopefully I can nab some more substantial items later on. One must always fill their pockets.

For now, I must keep up appearances. A plump, brown haired girl who might be a third cousin is motioning me to the dancefloor. I can smell the reek of chewing tobacco on her lips as she tries to pull me in close. Such are the perils of being devilishly attractive, even beneath half a pound of whiteface makeup. The next song cannot come quickly enough.

As the girls rotate, I am struck by my next partner. Unlike the other docile girls, she stands tall and proud. Very tall. Her face would be pretty, if it wasn’t sliced through by a most unfortunate scar, which her long red hair seems to draw attention to. Her frilly white dress looks fit for a wedding. She takes the lead, with an unladylike strength. I venture to ask her name.

“You may call me Elizabeth Bloodmoon.” she says. I reach out to her hips to better lead the dance, but she knocks my hand away with a slap. She mutters beneath her breath, then loud enough for me to hear, “But you should not be in this place. Leave the fools to their japes.” Before I can ask her to clarify, the dance is over. Elizabeth rotates through, and I’m left with another dull distant relative. I play my part, biding time until the evening’s centrepiece arrives.

Baron Hrothgar enters and taps his glass to make an announcement. The host is fashionably late, of course. The pale torchlight heightens his thin, angular visage, which is thrown into sharp relief by the brutish creature which follows him in chains. “May I present to you, the city’s newest attraction, nature’s strangest creation, the duck-bear!” he booms.

The creature following him is chained and manacled, with the beak of a duck and body of a bear. The huge monstrosity must weigh at least 200 kilograms. It quacks – a deep booming sound – and struggles against the chains. Three animal keepers strike it with whips, and it lets out another quack before quietening.

The audiences stunned silence gives way to a loud hubbub of gossip. Baron Hrothgar continues “This magnificent creature will be sent to The New Archive for study.” The keepers whips strike home again, as they try to herd this beast into position in the corner of the ballroom. “After it performs here tonight, of course.”

Before the performance can commence, there is a loud crack as the beast’s chains are shattered in a single cut. Elizabeth Bloodmoon, frilly dress flying in the air, pounces from the chain to the Baron’s side, now holding her claymore to his throat. “You decadent fools live only by the sufferance of others. How does a simple duck-bear deserve this foul treatment?”

The duck-bear is now marauding through the crowd, quacking and swiping with its paws at nobles in a mixture of confusion and fear. Elizabeth continues, “I am the Blood Moon, and my Crimson Banners stand at the doors of this aristocratic house of debauchery. You have been judged, and found wanting. The parasites will be excised.” She slices off the Baron’s head, then wades into the crowd, claymore singing. Her dance of death is graceful and terrible. She twirls and pirouettes as her white dress is stained red by the nobles she cuts down.

Trapped between the screams at the entrance where the Crimson Banners are slickening the patio with noble blood, the hollow maniacal laugh of the Blood Moon and a rampaging duck-bear, I make for the nearest window, stopping only to retrieve a gold ring from its startled owner. I dive headlong through the pane, which shatters and lodges a shard in my leg. I land with a roll on the grassed lawn, grimace as I stand up, and survey the situation.

Three Crimson Banners are being kept busy by the steady stream of sodden nobles through the main entrance. I slink over to the loose patio board hiding my stash. With a stifled squeal, I remove the glass fragment, then slip out of these noble clothes and into something less bloodstained, secreting the day’s takings into my backpack. One must always fill their pockets. Then I quietly limp my way back to the main street. These zealots wouldn’t bother a working man like poor Zac.

The Tome Unburnt, First Entry

I slaughtered the innocent and cheated the meek, in the service of a tattered banner and my own pride.

I was not a good boy. I was not a good man. I had fallen away from the light of Al’Gul’s flame.

In the great war of 1066, when the Hohhren Knights needed recruits, I was of that young impressionable age. Their heady tales of valour quickly turned to a reality of mud, muck and death for a foot solider like myself.

As they pressed against the Empire of Lan Xu, my brigade came to a small town. Quan Ma. The soldiers had retreated, leaving only the weak and wretched. They clustered around a temple with a strange sigil. Our skull-faced captain gave the order – burn it to the ground.

I was only a boy. But even a boy should have known better.

Their screams still haunt me. The fire danced from the stockades into the centre of town. They died in their hundreds. By my hand; by my flame.

After the war I settled down to run a small store on the outskirts of Hohhra. My salves could fix any wound but my own. I could run a world away, but I could never escape those haunting screams.

The town of Quan Ma didn’t appear on any Hohhren map. Little but charred ruins remained. Nothing grew, not even weeds. The blackened remains of the temple were all that remained of a once thriving town.

In search of absolution from whatever god could provide it, I entered that husk. The charred bones of the decade-long dead littered the pews, clutching at whatever solace their god could provide. Nobody had even given them a proper burial. Yet amidst this desolation, a leather-bound book stood shining and unburnt upon the pulpit.

This book.

I reached out to grab it, and felt a violent tug in my chest as my eyes swam.

This was not the church. There was far too much fire. The air smelled strongly of sulphur. This was another plane of existence. Yet within this frightful scene was a presence at once terrible, monstrous and beautiful. Al’Gul himself. He stood taller than three men, stronger than ten and beseeched me to change my ways. To repent my sins and follow his divine example.

I was not a good man. But Al’Gul saw the potential in me.

I was weak and feeble minded. Al’Gul made me strong.

I was lost in a world of decadence. Al’Gul gave me purpose.

I was just one man among many. Al’Gul made me Zaphos, acolyte to the Lord’s Fire.

His first order was to return and shine the Lord’s Fire on the Rat King. I will return now to the Abersyth tavern, where I hope to find a few righteous souls who walk in his light. Together, we shall deliver divine vengeance to the Rat King, and to all who displease Al’Gul.

– Zaphos, acolyte to the Lord’s Fire

A recommendation from LinkedIn that I go back to a past employer

Welcome

Welcome to the new and improved Sipols.com. I’ve been basically squatting the URL to keep my emails operational since I shut down Sipols Software, but this seems an opportune moment to turn it into a profile page of sorts. The 90s version of a Facebook or LinkedIn, but without the obnoxious bootlicking.

A recommendation from LinkedIn that I go back to a past employer
LinkedIn really is a parade of the slowly putrefying dead.

I’m not expecting to post here often. This certainly won’t see a return to the heyday of the blog, as the bourgeois state’s political correctness remains in force. If you’ve been missing the blog, I might recommend you check out Postcards From the Last Commons, which touches on some similar themes, even if its author is frightfully slow with content.

But I might pop up every now and then here with something which isn’t Capital P Political. Fiction, poetry, other writing, or maybe even reports on the cultural aspects of late stage capitalism. Photography, perhaps, if I can say something with it.

And in the grand tradition of portfolio pages, if you want to hire me to write about how Horkheimer’s critique of instrumental reason presaged the current discourse, feel free to leave a comment.