Jonathan: I took some liberties with this. Both because I couldn’t remember exact details in some cases, and for the sake of the narrative, I changed a few events around from how they may have actually happened in game. If any of my adjustments are undesirable, please just let me know, and I will happily rewrite whatever part of the story you want; otherwise, here is the tale of our first session, from the perspective of my character!
Allen: I made a minor correction – Scraps isn’t a monster, he’s a halfling!
My eye! Sven’s thoughts screamed. With a sickening pop, the little girl’s finger entered the ocular cavity in his skull, sending gore flowing freely down his face. She’s laughing! he thought dully. Crying what seemed to be tears of blood, Sven’s young body could take no more pain, and he lost consciousness, falling sideways to the cobblestones on which he was kneeling.
Dreams, almost fevered in nature, came on him then, like a man whose life flashes before him in the moment of his death. Sven’s broken mind retraced all the past events of the day that had led him to that spot where he lay, beaten and unconscious, on the streets of the Land of the Dead. All the while, blood continued to poor out of the place his left eye had once been. “Hey, it’s not my fault I’m stronger than you!” Sven laughed at Kara. “I’m a boy; it goes with the territory!”
Kara, never one to take an insult, even one meant in fun, sitting down, got her hackles up and challenged, “Oh, yeah? Let’s go. Right now!” The young girl took a battle-ready stance and waited for her friend’s response. It took Sven a moment to realize what was apparently happening, but he quickly grinned and took his own stance, hands up and waiting.
“Bring it on!” he declared.
From up the alley, a young dwarf wandered down to join the group. The odd assortment of fabrics that encircled his head flopped to and fro with his every movement. Caps, so known for the multitude of experimental headgear his mother forced him to wear, approached an on-looking boy, who was watching with resignation, and leaned in to whisper.
“What’s going on, Bran?”
Bran glanced at Caps and rolled his eyes by way of answer. Having grown up together, most of Sven’s friends were well aware of the boy’s proclivity for getting himself and others into trouble. It seemed to be a family trait, actually; though, to be fair, Sven was by far the least offender of his siblings.
The initial tussle was over in a flash. Kara rushed at Sven, who easily deflected her movement, bringing her up and around in a quick sweep of his arms. She landed with a hard thump on the pavement, the wind knocked out of her. Had any adult been observing the fight, an objection may have been raised about the roughness with which Sven was handling Kara; however, to Sven, and indeed all of Kara’s close friends, she was an equal, despite good natured jibes made to the contrary. Thus, there was perceived no need to treat her like a girl.
Kara was on her feet again quickly, and rushed back at her foe, grinning wildly. She was joined, then, by the sudden appearance of a young halfling, who was grinning just as much as Kara while he charged at Sven. Each took firm hold of Sven’s arms, but the boy’s adrenaline was pumping, and he easily shook them off, tossing the small halfling bodily into Kara.
“You can’t catch me off guard so easily, Scraps!” Sven declared triumphantly.
As Kara and Scraps disentangled themselves, Sven was afforded a moment’s reprise and he glanced around, noting Caps and Bran had yet to enter the melee. Much to the young gladiator’s chagrin, it also seemed as though Bran was still in his usual gloomy state. While it was true Bran’s mother was very sick, and it was understandable the boy was worried, Sven had dragged him away from his house for the express purpose of getting Bran’s mind off of his troubles. Deciding the current state of affairs simply would not do, Sven formulated a plan on the spot to cheer up his friend, whether he liked it or not.
“Nice hat,” Sven said to Caps. “I think it looks rather dapper on you.” The unexpected compliment served his purpose well, making everyone glance at the dwarf for just a moment. Using the opening, Sven threw himself through the air at Bran.
“Flying tackle!” he proclaimed, and knocked his moping companion to the ground.
“Oh, it is on!” Caps yelled at that, and all five friends found themselves in a comical rough house that had Sven lumbering around in a circle, Kara and Caps on his legs, and little Scraps hanging from one of his up raised arms.
“I’m king of the mountain!” Sven shouted.
“Bran, get over here!” Kara insisted, laughing, but the gloomy boy continued to lay flat on his back where Sven had tackled him.
“Nope,” he said, “I know this game. I’ve played it before. If I just lay here, eventually he’ll get bored and leave me alone.”
Despite his words, however, Bran seized an opportunity to reach out and grab one of Sven’s ankles as he moved past. Regardless of Sven’s formidable strength, he couldn’t keep his balance, and down he toppled, sending the mass of bodies through a nearby doorway in the alley where they played, into a building. Pots and pans clattered to the floor along with the children, and a loud, shocked voice called out from an adjacent room.
“What’s going on here!?” a large half-orc demanded as he came into the kitchen of his tavern. Buggle Beartooth surveyed the wreckage and heaved a heavy sigh of ever suffering. “What are you kids doing!”
Righting themselves as best they could, the children regarded Buggle with a mixture of trepidation and amusement. It was Kara who began to apologize, but Buggle cut her off, sighing again and instructing them to just get out. Sven wasted no time in doing exactly that, but the others were slow enough to hear as Buggle called out to them one last time.
“Oh, and go see Scratch! I heard he’s got a job for you!” From above the street, hidden in the window of a storehouse, the twitchy gnome watched and waited for his cue. Piles of stinking gourds and vegetables surrounded him, waiting to be thrown. A few of them, handpicked by the gnome, were even soaked in minor alchemical concoctions. Tweakers, after all, did love to experiment with chemicals.
In the alley below, Tweakers’ other four compatriots hid behind crates of rotten food, abandoned long ago when that section of the city had been ceded to the monsters. Though he couldn’t see them, he knew the other children were near, and he bounced in place in anticipation of Frosty’s signal. He had been so excited when she had told them all they would be waylaying their rival clique!
Against the building Tweakers had climbed, Frosty was crouching calmly beside her brother, Stone, straining her ear for the sound of approaching footsteps. When she finally heard their foes’ advance, she stepped from behind her crate and blocked the narrow alleyway. Hands on her hips, Frosty behaved very true to her title, giving a cold and scornful stare to the approaching five children. Doing her best to look as though she was staring straight at each one, she addressed them with a voice dripping with contempt.
“Hey, orphans, you know hanging out with those three losers won’t bring your parents back, right!”
Caps and Scraps were visibly injured by the reminder of their parental situation, and Sven immediately jumped to defend his friends’ honor. “Hey, Frosty,” he shouted, “those pants make your butt look fat!”
Tweakers didn’t care if Frosty had given the signal then or not. “Them’s fighting words!” he squeaked to himself, gleefully, and reached for the nearest rotten cabbage. He hadn’t the chance to throw it, however, before Frosty and her brother were racing ahead at their enemies.
From behind and to the side, two others left their hiding spots to join Frosty’s team. An over-sized dwarf, known as Fatty, took a great bite of the rotten fish she wielded and charged in, swinging the remainder at her opposition. Nearby, Rat, a small boyish girl, stepped out and began throwing tomatoes that were nearly indistinguishable from mush.
In the ensuing fight, all nine children on the street found themselves covered in rotten food. Fatty, quickly discovering the error of eating some of her moldy weapons, also left a healthy layer of vomit over many of the combatants. Somehow, amidst the chaos, Sven found himself tossed out of the center of the brawl, and missing his pants. From his lofty position, Tweakers lobbed a never-ending barrage of toxic vegetables into the mix, completely unscathed himself.
At the site of a trouser-less Sven, the ever-stoic Stone cracked the slightest of smiles. Merely taking it as a challenge, Sven rushed back in and slammed a bucket of fish over Stone’s head and beat it several times with his mace. Though no one could see it, Stone wasn’t smiling anymore, and after a few punches from Kara, he found he no longer had the heart for fighting and ran away.
Caps and Scraps both converged on Rat, and through a combination of moldy projectiles and well-placed insults, the young girl abandoned her post and made off as quickly as she could, tears in her eyes. They turned to Fatty, then, but the dwarf was already nearing the limits of her tolerance for the fight. Sven had been spending part of his time declaring the duplicitous nature of Fatty’s friends, telling her how Frosty and Stone were always making fun of her weight behind her back. Feelings and dignity in tatters, it didn’t take the duo much more effort to get Fatty running off after Rat.
“It’s too bad,” Sven muttered. “I get it, really. She’s just hungry, is all.”
“Shut up,” Frosty said, and punched him square in the eye. The sudden jolt of pain from Frosty’s connecting fist was the proverbial last straw; as tough for his age as he was, there was only so much torment Sven could take. Thoroughly embarrassed by the lack of pants, being covered in grime, and all the various mean-spirited insults sent his way, when the girl hit Sven in the eye, he could no longer take it. Tears welled up as he dropped to the ground, and he started to cry. Frosty laughed in triumph. She’s laughing! he sobbed to himself.
“Sven!” Bran yelled. Rushing to his friend’s side, Bran momentarily forgot about his ailing mother and that Sven had forced him away from her side to go on this stupid adventure, and only thought about avenging his crying ally. Holding Frosty’s attention by pelting her with several balls of rotten mush, Bran created an opening for Kara to rush in and de-pants Frosty.
Seeing the tables turned, Sven found himself laughing instead of crying. Gathering himself and standing up, he pointed an accusing finger at Frosty, and declared, “Give it up! You’ve no one left. I mean, you know Tweakers isn’t going to stay and fight for you to the end!”
True to the claim, when Frosty looked about, no sign of the twitching gnome was to be had. “You’ll pay for this!” she shrieked, and rushed off in the direction of her brother, pulling up her pants as she went.
The five friends gave a great sigh of relief that turned into a collective fit of laughter. Casting about, Sven located his trousers and put them back on, finally feeling less exposed. He gave an appreciative smile Bran’s way, for coming to his aid in his time of need, but Bran was back to being grumpy and pretended not to notice.
“Did anyone else see the scars on the back of Frosty’s legs?” Scraps asked.
“Nope, I was too busy staring,” Sven began, but was interrupted by Kara punching him hard in the shoulder. “Ow! I was going to say, ‘for my pants!’”
“Whatever,” Bran muttered. “Let’s just go clear out the rats from that warehouse for Scratch, and be done with this. Why did I let you drag me along, again?”
“It’s good for you to get out!” Sven insisted, grinning, as he finished tightening up the laces of his pants. It had been a more difficult task than they had initially thought it would be. When Scratch, the rat catcher, had asked them to clear out the old building of rats, the five children had assumed their small adventure would entail a lot of herding and running around. They hadn’t counted on a larger dire-rat being there, encouraging more aggression out of the other, normally more passive rodents. Nevertheless, the group did emerge victorious, felling the over-sized beast, and then easily dispatching the rest of the rats.
During the skirmish, Sven was pleased to see Bran rush in beside him to help quickly defeat the dire-rat. Might be hope for that kid, yet, he thought. As ever, Bran was grousing about something, but Sven knew his unwilling friend too well, and understood Bran was actually enjoying himself.
A few minor scrapes and bruises were had by all, but Bran was quick to draw attention to the slash across his face. Though it wasn’t serious, it was swelling up a bit and turning bright red. Sven rather thought it looked cool and privately wished he had a mark like it himself. Wisely, however, Sven did not share his thoughts.
“Again, why do I let you drag me around like this?” Bran grumbled.
“It’s good for you!” Sven smirked, and slapped Bran on the back, causing him to cough a little.
Off a ways, Caps called for his friends to come over. The dwarf was standing by a small, locked chest that demanded investigation. Deftly, Scraps the halfling picked the lock, and the chest opened to reveal five medallions. Sven wasn’t sure why, but one of the medallions, bearing the image of a great spear, seemed to call out to him. As he reached for it, he noticed everyone else reaching for the other coins, as though similarly called.
“Scratch said we could keep whatever we found, right?” someone asked. Sven wasn’t paying attention, though, being too enthralled by his treasure. They found the rat catcher near where they had left him, back in the more pacified section of the city. Good on his word, Scratch let the kids keep their medallions, but only after inspecting each one to determine their worth. Satisfied he was losing nothing of value by letting them keep their coins, he sent the kids on their way, with his hearty thanks for their help and a promise to make sure they were paid for their services.
That was when things started to get weird. As soon as the group had wandered out of sight of Scratch, the world began to flicker. Once, twice, thrice. Each flicker, they felt themselves pulled in a different world, one of ancient times and dead things. During the moments when they were in this spiritual realm, they heard a woman’s calling, urging them to help her.
Around them, a battle was raging between ghostly figures that the children all knew to be a vision of the first battle of Ragnarok. While the end of the world had actually begun some fifty or sixty years prior, they were seeing a vision of their city during the first moments of the cataclysm that started it all. Ethereal monsters were swarming the streets, locking into melee with equally ethereal defenders.
After the third flicker was over, and the group was back in the real world, they spotted a wall of distortion rushing towards them. “Run!” Sven shouted, and bolted down the street. As far as the boy was concerned, it was one thing to fight off bullies and rats, but it was quite another to get sucked into the Land of the Dead!
Somehow, the other four children didn’t feel the same way. Even Bran, who had been the most reluctant participant of the adventure thus far, boldly strode into the approaching vortex. Dismissing them as fools, Sven continued to run away, but an odd feeling emanating from his newly acquired coin stopped him in his tracks just long enough for the portal to catch up. She pushed them on purpose! Sven realized. No one else had noticed, but the ghostly little girl they were watching had intentionally shoved the image of her parents in front of an oncoming carriage. At first, Sven thought they might be okay, having been run over by such a vehicle himself moments before. The carriage had gone straight through him, causing no damage, though leaving a lingering chill in his bones. Alas, the same fate was not to be had for the unlucky apparitions, and the carriage trampled them both under the hooves of the horse! The little girl laughed. She’s laughing! he thought, horrified.
Then, she turned her head and looked right at them. No others of the apparitions in that ghostly realm had seemed to take any notice of the five children, and Sven had become quite certain it was because his friends and he weren’t truly there at all. But, that murderous little girl saw them and danced over.
“Hi!” she said by way happy introduction. The others, not having noticed the purposeful shove she had given her parents, regarded her just as happily. For the moment, Sven held his tongue and bided his time.
“Will you play with me?” she asked.
Kara, always quick to make a friend, eagerly agreed, and led on by her example, Bran, Caps, and Scraps also nodded their assent. Sven was the only hold out, but the little girl didn’t seem to notice or care. She clapped her hands in excitement at having five new playmates.
Playthings, more like, Sven thought, and asked, “Aren’t you a little sad about your parents?”
“Oh, yes, I did love them!” she nodded.
“Then, why did you kill them?” He finally demanded, drawing inspiration from Stone in keeping his voice as low and emotionless as he could.
The information shocked Sven’s friends, but they had little time to respond. The girl just giggled and squealed, “Because, I didn’t need them anymore! I have a new father now! He’s just been released from jail!”
Not a single one of the five children held any doubt what those words meant. Having grown up in the time Ragnarok, they all knew the story of the evil god, Loki, and how he had broken free of his imprisonment to wage war on the rest of the gods. Had they the opportunity, they would have rushed the little girl then and there, but she was quicker.
“You said we’d play together!” she insisted, stamping her foot cutely, her voice taking a sour tone. “One, two, three! Down on your knees!” and the children immediately found themselves kneeling. They were at her mercy.
“Four, five, six! Let’s do some tricks!” At this, she grabbed Kara’s hand in a gentle way; exactly the way a little girl would hold someone’s hand to cross a busy street. The grip was deceptive, however, as with everything else about the girl, and with a twist and a snap, Kara’s hand was ripped off. The little girl laughed again and tossed it aside.
She laughing! Sven thought again, in horror.
“Seven, eight, nine! Give me what’s mine!” The girl reached over to Sven and took his beloved flute from his belt. Putting it to her lips and blowing, her cheeks puffed out in a most comical way. Or, at least it would have been comical, had the situation been any less dire. The wooden flute exploded, then, sending shards flying in every direction.
One of the pieces found its way into Sven’s already bruised eye. He grimaced, and tried to blink away the splinter. The girl looked at him and laughed again, ever-so cheerfully.
“Oh! You have something in your eye!” she declared. “It’s my finger!”
My eye! Sven’s thoughts screamed. With a sickening pop, the little girl’s finger entered the ocular cavity in his skull, sending gore flowing freely down his face. She’s laughing! he thought dully. Crying what seemed to be tears of blood, Sven’s young body could take no more pain, and he lost consciousness, falling sideways to the cobblestones on which he was kneeling. Sven never saw the woman who appeared and banished the little girl. He never heard her plea for help in escaping captivity from the Land of the Dead. Even as Bran threw his arm over his shoulder and helped him walk, Sven only barely registered that he was moving at all.
Suddenly, there was an ogre in front of him, and it was threatening Bran! The path was clear before him; Sven’s movements required no thought, which was good, and the boy found himself operating on instinctive loyalty alone. He charged forward and attacked the beast with all the strength his wounded body could muster.
Then, there were goblins. There were lots of goblins! Bran was in trouble, but Sven somehow knew he could do nothing to help his friend. Not even remembering there had ever been an ogre, Sven just kept attacking the goblins. He felt nothing when their spears cut him, only attacking the more furiously.
A bright light stopped him, after what seemed like forever. Sven didn’t know that Scraps had finally released the woman, the valkyrie, from her chains; he was just vaguely aware of Bran standing behind him. As far as Sven could remember, Bran had always been behind him. He felt Bran’s arm supporting him, and he fell into it.
There were no more goblins, then, just his parents. They were the ones attacking! Sven was in too much shock to notice the drastic changes in scenery around him suddenly; all he knew was that he had to defend his friend.
“You know what they say about his mother,” his parents were saying.
“Stop it!” he yelled, and silence filled the air. Sven seemed to recall that was the first thing he had said in hours since Bran had helped him home. “Stop it! It’s not Bran’s fault!”
Then, somehow, his parents were gone, Bran was gone, and Sven was alone. He sat on his favorite barrel by the front door and reached for his flute to play. Playing would make him feel better; it always did. But, the flute wasn’t there, and neither was his eye.
Sven put his head in his hands and cried.