The Windling Creation Myth
Vertius, Librarian of Throal:
I greet you in Lochost's name. Received wisdom has it that the windlings have no legends or folklore, for they find such things too tedious. Imagine my surprise when a coy windling female told me that windlings do indeed have tales to tell. She offered to tell me the windling creation myth for five silver pieces. At once I laid down the coins. She flew off with them "for safekeeping."
When she returned -- yes, she did -- she insisted that I have my pen and scroll ready, plenty of ink on hand, and so forth. She made sure I was comfortably seated and had enough light. She had me write down the title ("The Windling Creation Myth") in my best calligraphy. In fact, she made me throw away my first two tries, inasmuch as they were (first) too plain and (second) failed to write the word "Windling" large enough.
Finally satisfied, she solemnly recited the myth. To enlighten both you and the seekers in your esteemed library, I reproduce it here in its entirety:
The Windling Creation Myth
At first it was dull, then we showed up.
I believe this sheds as much light on windling ontology as anything else we have discovered. Greetings to you in the Sign of Ink that reveals all knowledge!
A kindly old ork shoemaker kept his humble shop in Kartas. He had many loyal customers and earned his keep through hard work and honest dealing. One day he unwisely accepted a commission from a gang that wanted matching shoes for each of its members.
As the deadline grew ever closer, he knew he wouldn't be able to fulfill the job. He feared the loss of revenue, but even more, he feared the gang's displeasure.
He admitted his fears to one of his longtime customers, a windling named Pugsley Wetherwax. Wetherwax told him that if he went to the big blue rock outside of Haven (which Wetherwax called Windling Rock), uttered his wish for aid three times very loudly, then went home and kept his head beneath the blankets all night, his wish would be granted.
The kindly old shoemaker did as he was bid. That night, as he kept his head beneath the covers, he heard a furor of activity in his shop: hammering, cutting, stacking. He was sorely tempted to put his head out, but he remembered the windling's words.
The next morning the shop was full of shoes. Every one of them was windling size. The furious gang destroyed the shoemaker's shop and ran him out of town.
The moral is, When you get near a deadline, don't trust anyone but an ork.
Bronze Dangdang of Kenterell: Produced for five years in pre-Scourge times, circa TC 540-45 (est.).
Condition: Does little to modify the coin's value, for few ever circulated even in Kenterell. General uselessness of the coin fated most specimens for meltdown; hence its rarity among collectors.
Identifying marks: Series of portraits on the coin's reverse shows declining mental health of the questor Freda of Kenterell. Obverse shows face of His Royal Sublime Majestic Munificence, windling Emperor Pasha Dangdang II, behind prison bars.
History: Kenterell was known for staid and orderly ways before the Scourge. Peaceful citizens built a seminary of Dis, at that time the Passion of civic order. One night guards caught a windling thief in the library executing scandalous drawings of the dean and the secretary of the seminary. The village magistrate, herself a questor of Dis, sentenced the thief to four years in the town jail.
The prisoner was carrying Wyrm Wood currency. The magistrate, Freda, explained that the windling violated local law by possessing currency other than coins bearing her own face and that of the local count. The windling asked to read the statute and found that it did not refer explicitly to the count, but rather to "the highest ranking noble resident" in town, who had the right to design and control the currency.
The windling told Magistrate Freda to send an artist to the jail. When asked why, the windling revealed that he was Dangdang II, Emperor and Pasha of all windlings. At first Freda laughed this off, but a series of inquiries proved it true. Honor-bound to obey the law, Freda let the Pasha pose for the coin.
An endless stream of windlings came to visit the imprisoned noble, and most took the opportunity to disorder Freda's life. However, local historians believe that the daily sight of her own face on the large yellow coin, opposite the grinning Dangdang, is what finally drove her mad.
A few windlings fly from village to village telling tales such as this: "A new sort of Horror magic has befallen [a distant but recognizable settlement]. If a pumpkin or watermelon lies on the ground for ten days after it should have been picked, the Horrors change it. First the melon pulls itself off its vine. Then tiny drops of blood appear on its rind. Then it growls and rolls around and trips people. Otherwise it isn't much of a threat, as it has no teeth. If you grow melons, you should put a low fence in front of your house, so the evil melons don't roll in and pester you."
Some nettled folklorists believe the windlings spread these pointless anecdotes to mark territory, in the way an animal would spray it. Others propose that the windlings are engaged in a game or competition. Inasmuch as the windlings responsible change their stories as the mood strikes them, I favor a likelier explanation: They simply like to raise the general level of public alarm.
[This adventure can be played alone or as a prelude to "The Pipes of Wrongness," which appears in Legends of Earthdawn Vol. 1.]
All the heroes did was stop at a roadside inn for one little drink. Five minutes later a stable-keeper rushes in, saying their horses are gone! Fine warhorses, prized possessions, and almost irreplaceable.
A quick search of the tavern reveals that the horses are indeed gone. The keeper says he saw the thieves galloping away, laughing. Other patrons of the tavern remark angrily that these thieves have caused trouble for quite a while.
If necessary, establish that the heroes really need their horses. A good horse costs a great deal to replace, and the characters may also prize these animals in themselves, as companions. But getting other tavern patrons to loan their horses for pursuit is not easy, and no one wants to come along and help. If the characters try to steal horses themselves, let them get away with it unless they act with unusual clumsiness. Stealing horses is none too heroic, but maybe the local villagers will give them a break later if they defeat the thieves.
But how to track the thieves? No clear method presents itself, until a high voice sounds from near the ceiling. "I know where they live!" It's a windling.
The well-dressed windling flys down with aplomb. "I," she says, "am Elena, a teller of tales, a singer of songs. Indeed, if we had but met in a more civil place, you may well have recognized my name at once. But that is no matter. I, too, was set upon by these thieves, who cost me not my worldly wealth, but a thing far more precious, a close friendship. Let us take up arms together against these miscreants and avenge ourselves against our common foe."
The innkeeper can testify to Elena's troubadour skills, for she kept the guests well entertained last night. As the players may expect, or dread, Elena won't tell their characters where the thieves went unless they let her come along. If they bring along the windling, the characters can find the thieves' lair. If they don't bring the windling, the heroes must track the thieves or investigate with travelers on the road -- and she follows them anyway, popping up at an opportune moment to give them a warning.
At the inn or on the road, Elena tells the heroes this story.
The Windling's First Tale
"Have you known the lingering disquiet of a failed friendship? No more than two or three close friendships bless us in a lifetime. My one deepest friend first lighted my life and then darkened it -- Delphina, a Troubadour like myself. Well, not quite; she was human. Long brown hair, a dazzling smile, droll humor, a fierce honesty --
"Yes, yes, I'm getting to the horse thieves. For a time Delphina and I enjoyed convivial company. We performed together at many a gathering, and sometimes we divulged secrets to each other that, by the sharing, let us both breathe easier. I recall how one of us might begin a story and the other, without knowing the tale but simply aware of our common style, could finish it to exacting accuracy. We shared a confidence closer than love.
"I tour this part of Barsaive on a regular route, and last year Delphina travelled with me. While walking between two town festivals -- I don't recall where we were, but it lay not far from here -- we ran afoul of bandits. They all rode fine horses, and they led a dozen more horses that bore saddle and tackle but no riders.
"The one in the lead, a large ork with armor and a broken tusk, called to us. `You walkers! Buy a fine steed and ease your pains. Only a hundred silver.'
"This absurdly low price would have told the tale even had we overlooked the empty saddles. Delphina said, `I am very fond of the orkish dish of roasted horse hearts with hazelnut sauce, but I se that although yonder horses are quite hot, they have not yet been roasted.
"This seemed to anger the thieves, who had no doubt thought themselves clever -- as, indeed, all thieves think themselves clever. They rushed upon us with drawn swords and flashing spears.
"Delphina and I had fought many a battle, for as the saying goes, the roads are no safe kaer. We held our own, but I saw that the dusty trail would soon grow muddy with our blood. I tried to clear my mind to greet that old fraud Death, when suddenly I glimpsed a Horror lurking astrally nearby.
"Normally I would have no truck with such things, but full of fear that this death might be our last, I blew the Pipes of Wrongfulness and summoned the Horror into our world. (Later I will tell you the tale of how the Pipes came into my possession.) The Horror, a slow-moving, many-tentacled thing, began attacking the orcs, for Delphina and I effected a Graceful Exit. We withdrew to a nearby hillside and watched the orcs flee to a carefully hidden cave, the same lair to which I am leading you. The horror killed but two of the thieving band before returning to its astral home.
"I had thought Delphina would rejoice that I had saved our lives. But she saw me as accursed for my dealing with Horrors. She who had once looked at me with eyes of friendship saw now only a delver into forbidden magics, a pawn of the unseen hunters. Our friendship ended as surely as had the lives of those two orc thieves.
"I still recall those old days with my friend. Nothing else but a failed friendship causes in me that curious quality of almost-regret, the sense that I still live the same life, yet now a life indefinably leached of a fraction of its color and joy. Since that day I have held in my heart a hatred of these thieves, and often I dream of my revenge."
The "Pipes of Wrongness" are a magical treasure, or more precisely a cursed Horror item, that Elena keeps in her bedroll back at the inn. These Pipes figure in the sequel adventure that follows this one. Should the characters inquire more closely about the Pipes of Wrongness, Elena tries to defer the story until after the battle. If this fails, she tells them the tale from Legends of Earthdawn Vol. 1.
By then the characters sight a rock outcropping not far from the road, a scorched crag that still shows signs of the Scourge. Elena points to a grove of scraggly pine trees at the leeward base of the crag. There the characters can make out a cave half-concealed by a crude, unmortared rock wall. "That is their lair," Elena says.
The bandits, all now in the cave with their horses, are 3rd-Circle ork Weaponmasters with broadswords and daggers, led by a 5th-Circle veteran with an axe. (Adjust the strength of the bandit party to challenge the player characters.) There are as many thieves as player characters -- and several more, but let the heroes find that out later.
The bandits work on commission for the Theran army. Every horse they steal from Barsaive goes to Thera or feeds its army, weakening the one power and strengthening the other. The bandits live in the wilderness in a well-hidden, deserted cave troll lair.
At least, the thieves thought it was deserted. While they were out pulling this job, the cave trolls returned from a migration to the south. The thieves have become ground meat about the time the player characters arrive. If the characters want their horses, they must fight the trolls. Throw enough trolls at them to make a dangerous fight.
Another option: The thieves have holed up out of the trolls' reach. The cave trolls are about to lose interest in them and turn to the horses for their meal. The bandits try to deal with the player characters, trading the horses for help fighting the cave trolls.
If the deal works, the bandits pretend to help in the fight, but they let the characters do most of the work and take all the damage. Then, if and when the heroes defeat the cave trolls, the thieves turn on the heroes and fight savagely.
An Unpleasant Surprise
The windling, Elena, enters combat and plays a minor part in the battle. If requested, she apparently tries to use all the Talents appropriate to a high-Circle Troubadour, but she fails all Tests using Talents beyond First Circle. The gamemaster rolls all her Tests in secret.
Once the characters have become embroiled in the fight, she flits over the wall and toward the road. (Characters who aren't specifically watching Elena don't notice her departure unless they make a successful Perception Test.)
After the battle, the characters find no sign of Elena. What's more, they discover that some of their easily portabe possessions -- coins, gems, small magical treasures -- have vanished. Elena picked them off the characters during the battle.
Elena the "troubadour" has indeed learned the Talents of the First Circle, but only as a cover for her ongoing activities as a Fifth Circle Thief. (See "Learning New Disciplines," page 226 in the Earthdawn rulebook.) Her touching tale is largely false. Her friend Delphinia does not exist, Elena never summoned a Horror, and she knows the thieves' lair because she was once their ally. She fell out with them after a dispute over a division of loot -- a very common outcome of any cooperative venture among thieves -- and has seen in the player characters a way to carry out her spiteful revenge. She is also happy for the chance to lift a few trinkets while battle distracts them.
(One note of truth: Elena does indeed own the magical Pipes of Wrongness. See the adventure in Legends of Earthdawn Vol. 1.)
Fifth Circle Thief/First Circle Troubadour
Elena has earned 32,000 Legend Points in her long career and has acquired a reputation as a smooth talker, hard bargainer, and light-fingered companion in Bartertown, Kratas, Jerris, and especially the lower-class neighborhoods of Vivane.
Use the "Windling Thief" archetype from page 83 of the Earthdawn rulebook, but increase all Talents to Rank 5 and add the Durability, Avoid Blow, and Trap Initiative Talents, also at Rank 5. Add Detect Trap at Rank 4. Elena has the Conversation, Etiquette, Forgery, and Trading Skills at Rank 3, as well as the listed Thief archetype skills at Rank 4.
Elena also has the Troubadour Talents Disguise, Emotion Song, First Impression, Karma Ritual, and Mimic Voice at Rank 1.
Elena has 25 Karma points and 500 unspent Legend Points. She has the Thief archetype's listed equipment plus better clothes, an ocarina, a windling spear, a light quartz, and (concealed at the inn) 65 silver pieces. Her most unusual possession is a magical item called the Pipes of Wrongfulness -- the source of the adventure that follows.
While travelling, the characters hear this story first-hand from a windling Beastmaster, Kester. Kester claims he was the first windling to find a hawk, not in the wild, but in a human's home.
The hawk belonged to a minor noble who swore allegiance to the Therans. From a safe distance, that is. He milked his peasantry for Thera's ruinous taxes, and spent most of his leisure time in idle hobbies, like falconry.
Kester, on routine theft patrol around the noble's estate, looked through a window of glass inlaid with the noble's crest. STRENGTH AND COURAGE, read the motto, prompting Kester to name the noble "Strongheart." On a perch in the noble's study the windling spotted Strongheart's latest acquisition, a fine hawk.
Kester saw the fat noble enter the room. Strongheart said to the bird, "There you are, stupid beast!" His thin hair, shaped in tight curls, was the same shade of brown as the hawk's feathers, and his nose had something of the same bulge as the hawk's beak. In the hawk's eyes Kester saw alertness and fear, whereas Strongheart's eyes drooped under the weight of his immense self-satisfaction.
"So many humans, and not one of them prettier than a troll," thought Kester behind the windowpane.
Strongheart donned a padded glove and offered his arm to the hawk. The bird shied away on its perch, and at once the noble reddened with anger. Strongheart slapped at the bird with the gloved hand. "Beastly animal, learn to obey me!"
"Not going to train a hawk that way," Kester thought. He proved right, for the hawk struck with its beak, ripping a long gash in the glove.
Strongheart leaped back, and for one long moment the force of his fury threatened to uncurl his hair and burst the veins of his multiple chins. Then he struck, toppling the perch. The bird flapped in panic, but it was tied to the perch. With a pained squawk it fell against the wall and onto the floor.
"Let that be a lesson," said the noble, like a headmaster to a student who made the mistake of thinking. "We shall see who wins out, you and I." He left the study. At the window Kester said, "Yes. We shall see."
That night Kester made another visit to the noble's estate. Stopping first in the study, he then called on the noble in his bedroom. Strongheart greeted the windling with snores loud as wind in a canyon. Kester returned the greeting with a screeching kaaaaw! from above the bed's hanging canopy.
"Znn-- Wha? Whazzat?"
"I am the Celestial Hawk Spirit!" Kester cawed. "Release the hawk you hold prisoner, or my gore-drenched talons will drink deep draughts of your worthless blood!"
A brief pause. "Blasted windlings!" the noble said. "Where's my flyswatter?"
"Oh well, it could have worked," said Kester. Hoisting his spear, he ripped open the fabric canopy and dropped through, spear held point downward. As he fell, he shouted "Yakka yakka!"
Approaching from overhead, the visitor to a prone noble arrives first at the aristocrat's highest terrain feature, the swollen belly. Kester's spear hit above the navel and drove in to the depth of a finger-joint.
"Ouuuch!" cried Strongheart. "Come here, you beastly --" He grabbed for Kester, swiped at empty air, grabbed again, but the windling leaped nimbly down onto the bed. Strongheart lunged, missed, flopped head-first off the bed in a cocoon of sheets, clambered to his feet, tripped, wrestled himself free of the bedclothes, grabbed a heavy book, and ran after Kester, intending to bestow on the windling the weight of his learning.
Kester darted out a crack in the open door. From the darkness beyond came the same kaaaw! sound he made before. Strongheart whipped open the door. "That didn't work before, windling, and it won't --"
The hawk hit him at eye level, flapping its wings frantically and flashing its talons. Gashed on forehead and cheeks, the noble fell back with a scream. Blood welled up, and for the rest of his life the noble carried the scars of that night.
The hawk perched on a staircase bannister, and for a time bird and windling watched the floundering Strongheart. Elsewhere in the house servants lighted lamps, a bustle of voices and barks rose up the staircase, and everyone was waking up. "Nicely done," said Kester. He waved a sliver of meat to lure the hawk. "Let's high-fly it to the forest," he said. He flew out an open window into the night, and after a long moment, the hawk followed.
Kester convinced the hawk that windlings are not bad sorts, and persuaded it to stay by his side. He called it Trotwing, a name seemingly more appropriate for a horse than a bird. Windling logic.
Entering a small town, the player characters see a notice posted on walls and trees. The minor noble of the legend, Undergeneral Marchon Novius, Wearer of the Silver Toga, seeks powerful adventurers for an expedition into the nearby forest "to wipe out a noxious, pestiferous menace that has too long blighted our fair land." Of course Marchon means windlings, especially including Kester and, for good measure, the hawk Trotwing.
Heroes who follow up may learn the hard way that Marchon does not appreciate questions or comments about the prominent scars across his face. He still tries to hire them; whether or not they accept, eventually they enter the forest, drawn either by Marchon's work, or by pleas from windlings who barely escaped it. In the woods they see the devastation Marchon has inflicted on harmless windling settlements, and this should turn them against the Undergeneral if nothing has yet.
Marchon, however, has found other hirelings: unusually powerful warriors and wizards (at least three Circles higher than the heroes) armed with powerful magical treasures. They aim to root out and destroy every living windling.
This presents rich possibilities for comedy.
These grim avengers, casting fireballs right and howling screams left, seem unlikely adversaries for a lighthearted scenario, until the heroes join with the windlings to foil them, and preferably make them look completely silly in the process.
After the windlings and the heroes achieve a pleasant victory in this adventure, develop running gags over the campaign. The over-muscled foes they beat here can pop up in later scenarios, always seeking to smash windlings (no matter what the context of the story) and always winding up with windling-thrown egg on their faces. Eventually the villains destroy each other in sheer frustration.
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No challenge to these trademarks is intended.