“Fascinating,” said Leanorel. A few more brush strokes revealed the final portions of the mural. “This hallways was used by the dwarves to record their entire history as it happened, from the founding of the settlement to its ultimate failure.”

Aviss, her fellow archaeologist from the Elven Exploration and Excavation Society leaned forward. “We’ve seen the years of plenty, but everyone knows about those from the other settlements. Let’s see the good stuff.”

“This panel…the dwarves seem to be triumphant over the goblins, but the runes tell a different story. They say that the overseer demanded a triumphant mural but it is only a monument to death.”

“Interesting, and not unlike a dwarf to say,” drawled Aviss. “What about that last bit there?”

Leanorel recoiled. “That’s not engraved in the same way, it was chiseled in roughly over another half-finished triumph.”

“What’s it say?”

“DWEAVAN YOU ASSHOLE YOU’VE KILLED US ALL.”

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“So here’s the thing. Elves won’t go to school with orcs. They say that, in their holy book, orcs stole the Light of the Twin Boughs and fed it to Ariachne the Star-Devourer. So naturally, that means that their kids can’t learn about geometry together.”

“And the orcs?”

“There are enough velfor tots around to show that they’re one and the same once you get past appearances, but a lot of the orcs are a little hostile on account of the fact that the elves saw fit to condemn them to an eternity of servitude after the defeat of their dark master Malktozt the Enemy. So the orc parents are likely to agree to shared bussing but their damn kids get in trouble with the elves. And of course neither of them likes the velfor.”

“I see what you mean about this being complicated.”

“And ours is an easy lot! District 12 is 15% dwarves and 5% hoblings. Now any student of history knows that they have a common origin, but thanks to the Dwarf-Hobling conflict in the Middle West, they get hysterical at any idea of shared schooling. And naturally, the dwarves believe that orcs are unclean thanks to the Dimming of the Two Bushes (subtly different from stealing the Light of the Twin Boughs you understand), while the hobbling are a bit peeved at elves thanks to the Harrowing of Hoblingshire, during the war, when 50% of their people were killed by elves for no good reason I’ve ever been able to uncover.”

“So you can’t bus orcs and elves, orcs and dwarves, hoblings and elves, or hobbling and dwarves. That’s beyond complicated.”

“Oh you can try. Many have. What you wind up with is the elves pulling their kids out to go to expensive private elf academies, the elves move away and stop paying taxes, and then you’re got a school that is 90% orcs again.”

“Makes me glad I’m an goblin and reproduce through budding.”

“You and me both, buddy. You and me both.”

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[swipe]

Smoker? Ew no.

[swipe]

That tattoo looks like it was done in prison. By a blind man. And he misspelled the “little” in “My Little Pony.”

[swipe]

Oh God, not another goblin.

[swipe]

Nicely built elf, love those ears…could do without the duckface but whatever. Wait, what’s that on his shirt? Kinky Boots?

Gay.

[swipe]

Ugh, no sword pics.

[swipe]

God, another goblin.

[swipe]

Oh, what’s this? Well-built, handsome, half-orc but with style. Might be something there! But than again…those teeth…

[swipe]

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When Tinuviel woke up she wasn’t just in jail. She wasn’t just in a cell in the deepest part of the Welkor’s Light fortress. She was also in the body of a goblin.

“I asked you what we could do to keep from being possessed out of our bodies,” she cried. “Hours ago! But did anyone answer? NO!”

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These are the truths that we of the Elder set forth, recorded this year 1051 post-Calamity in the great Caldera.

Of Makuun Welkor, Our Founder and Guiding Light
We record not from which elvish nation Makuun Welkor came, nor do we record what name he was given before taking one of his own fashioning. Makuun comes from our old word for “bearer” and Welkor is derived from the archaic name our forebears once held for the great sun. As our Sun-Bearer, Welkor brought light to the darkness of the Caldera. He brought our people here, uniting disparate elves in common cause, construction, concordance. He recognized that only in the magical stew left over from the great Calamity would we survive, would we thrive. To him and his male heirs, we pledge our unending fealty.

Of Xan the Wise, Our Patron and Protector
Long forgotten by our elvish brethren, Xan is a deity apart from the pantheon in that he recognizes knowledge not as a means to an end but as an end unto itself. So we pay him homage through the act of scholarship, through the act of creation, through the act of research. Each piece of knowledge added to the great library pleases him greatly. Xan knows, as we must, that knowledge is beyond good, beyond evil. We must not let our petty concerns interfere with our worship of the supreme wisdom that our Light illuminates.

Of the Tenets of Xanism at Welkor
Makuun Welkor, in his wisdom, helped the first elven settlers at Welkor’s Light to distill their great deity’s wishes into a series of simple commandments:

Isolation – The elves of Welkor’s Light are to hold themselves separate from all other races, even from other elves. Only through banishment or the explicit needs of their community are they to leave the Light. Only those who have proven themselves with gifts of knowledge may be permitted temporary access to the Light.

Experimentation – The Light shines, and is fed, by knowledge. Only through magical experimentation can this be brought about. There are no limits, no boundaries, no consequences beyond the immediate. Xan must be fed and feted with the fruits of elven research until the end of days when all that is knowable has become known.

Preservation – The Light preserves, hoards, and catalogs all knowledge that exists, whether generated by the elves of the Light or external sources. It is not to be parted with. It is not to be shared except with the most trusted of allies.

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Jylas Durothane
The current Lord of Welkor’s Light. A descendant of Welkor himself, he has been controversial among the elves of that settlement for his willingness to bend their ancient rules and embrace change. A powerful fighter and mage, he served as the captain of the guard before the deaths of his uncle and cousin led to him inheriting the lordship.

Aznaj Durothane
The only child of Jylas and the crown prince. Unlike his father, he holds deeply to the ancient tenets of Welkor’s Light: isolation, experimentation, and preservation. As such, he has been the primary enforcer of the citadel’s draconian entrance requirements. He serves as the current captain of the guard and is also a powerful rogue-mage.

Myna Durothane
The wife of Jylas, and a cleric-mage responsible for the worship of the local elven deity Xan the Wise. Intolerant as she is fervent, Myna’s temperament informs her son much more than her husband’s does. She is particularly suspicious of outside clerics, and attempt to convert them or confiscate their weapons or holy symbols.

Tosaj Felyeager
The court mage of Welkor’s Light, and the eldest of the elves present there. Despite his age and the level of respect that Xen-worshippers are encouraged to show the elderly, he has been written off as paranoid and insane and has taken to self-harm and lunatic ravings.

Kyria Wormwander
One of the youngest elves in Welkor’s Light, the daughter of the late lord Quill Wormwander and, like Jylas, a direct descendant of Welkor. Passed over for the lordship due to the elves’ laws on primogeniture, she seethes with resentment despite a peppy exterior. A cleric-mage like Myna, she is devoted to Xen and the traditions of Welkor.

Red
Red is not a name but a title, handed down from master to apprentice. A rogue/mage, Red is sworn to silence and acts as the curator of the vast holdings and library of Welkor’s Light. S/he will protect the artifacts and books with his/her life, and will respond to requests only in signs.

Blade Sentinels
The elite fighter-mages of Welkor’s Light, the Blade Sentinels are renowned for their speed and combat prowess. They always move first in combat and can attack independently with their two weapons: a bound elven sword and a spelldagger. The bound sword is a simple but finely wrought blade, but the spelldagger is far more dangerous: when used against a mage or cleric, it drains one of their spells and grants it to the Blade Sentinel. 0th-level spells are taken first, then 1st-level spells, and so on. The spells are stolen on a damage roll of 3-4 and cast in the same round on d20 roll of 16 or higher.

Crimson Enforcers
The militia of Welkor’s Light, in which every able-bodied elf is required to serve. They are armed with +2 bound scimitars and +2 crossbows of wounding, which cause an additional 1 point of bleeding damage per round. Despite the quality of these weapons, the Enforcers are no match for the Blade Sentinels to whom they ultimately answer.

Goblins
A colony of goblins resides within Welkor’s walls. Traditionally regarded as property, they have generally had their tongues cut out at birth, rendering them unable to speak except in a sign language that only those authorized to command them are taught. Jylas has opposed this practice but has been overruled by his wife and son.

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The Branding
Only the Kingdom of Mangeni resisted integration into the Realms. The result was a campaign of slaughter and terror to subjugate the land; it lasted for two decades before a native Mangeni dwarf noble managed to unify the land and submitted in exchange for certain rights, notably the continuance of the Right of Strength. The name comes from the procedure of branding cattle, and is at once both facetious and irredentist.

Crownfall
The Four Realms were mismanaged in the years leading up to the Crownfall Wars, and eventually the kings found themselves faced with a restive population. In a brutal campaign lasting ten years, the King and all three Archdukes were forced to abdicate or were killed on the battlefield. Attempted intervention by the Empire of Vachen led to further war between it and the newly declared Republic of the Realms.

War of Independence
The Empire of Vachen’s intervention, ostensibly at the behest of the rightful heirs to the crown, lasted five years. It was notable as a struggle both internal and external, as Swynwr, Mangeni, and Tavallinen all sought independence from the central administration of the Republic in Dahlgren. This led to the Peaceable Settlement, an agreement that autonomy would be protected and the Old Right and the Right of Strength allowed to continue. The war ended with the total defeat of Vachen.

War of Rights
In time, opposition in Dahlgren and parts of Tavallinen to the Old Right and the Right of Strength grew. Increased incursions into Tavallinen and Dahlgren for “unprotected” citizens led to a war of laws between the Republic and its constituents, and ultimately Swynwr and Mangeni attempted to regain their independence, aided by a significant portion of Tavallinen. Five years of brutal war followed between the Republicans (the government of the Republic of the Realms) and the Rightists (officially the Federation of Rights, sometimes called the Federals or Federalists). Eventually, the Rightists were broken and annihilated, their ancient Rights abolished, and all the Realms brought under a centralized and bureaucratic administration. An attempted intevention by the Empire of Vachen also failed spectacularly.

The Brushfire
The defeat of Vachen’s intervention meant that the victorious government of the Republic of the Realms was able to annex the Verge, an area they had long desired. Desolate and sparsely populated, the Verge was rich in minerals and other resources but had never been developed by the Empire due to its remoteness and fierce resistence from native inhabitants. After the War of Rights, though, the resources of the Republic were turned to the region and it was flooded with soldiers, refugees and exiles from the defeated armies, and opportunists. This led to a series of small but intense conflicts, some spanning months or years; this 50-year period of violence has entered history books as “the Brushfire.”

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“We’ll need a couple of people,” Hiraul said, adjusting his hat to clip his long, pointed ears to the sides of his head. “A horse thief, for one. Can’t have anyone at the livery seeing us on a poster and putting two and two together.”

“Already done,” said Votal, harrumphing through his beard. “My boy Nvar. Sister’s son. Family. We can trust him, and he’s already stolen enough horses to equip a cavalry division.”

Hiraul arched a delicate eyebrow. “A dwarf horse thief?”

“He’s a quarter human on his father’s side, he can reach the stirrups,” snapped Votal. “Lithe as a willow too.”

“Someone who can deal with explosives next,” Hiraul continued. “Got to stop the train. I think I know someone. Neridi. She was in artillery during the war and her father owes me a favor.”

It was Votal’s turn to scoff. “A woman and an elf?”

“You remember how hard-pressed we were for troops as well as I do,” snapped Hiraul. “And if nothing else, no one will believe her story.”

“All right, all right,” Votal said. “But that’s not all, is it?”

“We need someone on the inside, on the train. A human, or somebody that can pass as one.”

Votal pondered this a moment. “One of Quint’s Raiders? They clipped their own ears after all.”

“The train will have an escort. Military. You’d better believe that they’ll have an etherometer and be checking everyone that boards.”

“So where does that leave us?” said Votal. “My boy Nvar isn’t passing an etherometer. You won’t pass muster on one of those if you’ve got so much as a great-grandparent who isn’t as human as President Graham.”

“I know. It’s a tough proposition…a human working for us when the old war means nobody trusts anybody else. But I think I know just the guy.”

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“Ed Boneshredder,” said the muscled mercenary. He bore many tattoos on his unarmored torso, from a wiry spread devoted to “Ed Bonecrusher” that suggested he himself was not quite sure of his proper appellation to a heart on one bicep devoted to someone named “Peter.”

“I know that,” said Iffy the mage. “But why are you so angry at me?”

Ed Boneshredder,” replied the mercenary through gritted teeth, spraying saliva on the demon bartender as well as Skeletonio the Skeleton Mage seated nearby.

“What?”

Ed BONEshredder!”

“Does anyone have any idea what he’s trying to say?”

Adenan the halfling, who had an affinity for languages, piped up: “He’s saying you insulted his friend and must pay for your crimes at the hands of the Threadbare Gang.”

“How in blazes did you know that?” spat Tinuviel the rogue, nearly choking on her raisin wine.

“I’m good with languages,” said Adenan, “and I spent some time with the Nisiar of Lehsir, who can only speak their own names due to their religion.”


With the bar clear and his meaty group of shirtless Threadbare Gang pals matching the adventurers blade for blade, Finnegen Funderberger IV strode up to the bar with a supremely confident swagger. Bearing a ritual Nisiar Revenge Katana, he seemed unmoved by Iffy’s rant about his prowess in bed and the length/hardiness of his shillelagh.

“I will have my revenge!” he cried, adjusting the wig on his head to cover up a spot of stubble from where the adventurers had shaved him bald on their last encounter.

His revenge started, it seemed, with a savage attack, lightning-fast, on Iffy. Or, rather, on Iffy’s hair. In a flash of steel and burst of keratin, Funderberger lopped off 18 of the 20 inches on Iffy’s head.

“My…HAIR!” cried Iffy. “That’s it! You must die for your crimes!”


Seeing that the battle had gone ill, and with their leader dead and de-wigged, the remaining two members of the Threadbare Gang attempted to flee.

Droog McPhereson, who had spent most of the battle passed out thanks to the vivid clashing hues of a Color Spray spell, tipped his jaunty hat and starched collar (unattached to any shirt) before disappearing up the steps. His getaway was eminently roguelike: quiet and efficient.

Ed Boneshredder, for his part, ran for the front door of the Demon Arms. The direct approach seemed to suit him best, after all. “Ed Boneshredder!” he cried over his shoulder, the words having the affect of “I’ll get you next time!”

However, Tinuviel the rogue had retreated to the door in a failed attempt to pepper the Threadbare Gang’s archer, Daniel Midland, with arrows. She stuck out a stubby, hairy leg and tripped the man-mountain as he tried to pass.

The human-tibia axe that Ed Boneshredder used shattered and buried itself in his chest as he went down. “Ed…Ed…Boneshredder…” he gurgled before breathing his last.

Chanel the cleric pulled the wig off of Finnigan Funderberger IV’s dead head and placed it on the countertop in front of Iazgu the Slayer, demon of the Demon Arms. “There you go,” she panted. “For your bald head.”

Iazgu looked at the wig with a distasteful expression, as if a dead ferret had been slapped down on his bartop. Then, with an air of humoring the bloodied adventurers before him, he doffed his chambermaid’s had and placed the bloody, dripping wig atop his hairless demon head.

“…thank you…” he murmured. “Just what…I have always wanted…I’m sure.”

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In time, though, all douches will eventually feel the great pull of their kind toward their distant homeland. Popped collars will lose their appeal. “Brah” will be uttered less frequently and with greater longing. Beer, bad driving, and combinations thereof will lose their luster.

Those douches that feel the pull will be inexorable drawn to the far-off island of Novaya Düshensk. They depart there from the Green Cruise Terminal, bound for a land of eternal keg stands and uncrashable Land Rovers.

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