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The Bondsman Chronicles

Larryn "Skorpios" Cock

The Bondsman Chronicles detail the exploits of the halfling Connor Shortknee, codename "Bondsman " or "observer 007", an operative from Tulla. Needless to say, this series is NOT based on any modern-day fiction in particular.

The following chapters are currently available:

Prologue: Hourglass Pass
An unnerving report about happenings within the ranks of an Orcish clan...

Chapter 1: Secrets
Bondsman's report is received at Tulla.


Appendix 1: Dwarven Genesis
Being a translation of inscriptions found in a Dwarven Tomb, recently excavated by Professor Herman Chesterfield. Not directly related to the Bondsman story, but an interesting read anyway.


Prologue: Hourglass Pass

by Larryn "Skorpios" Cock, posted on December 29th, 2000

Transcript of Windsprite message received 9 April, 1883.
To: M. (ref: Master of Watchers, Tulla Council)
From: Bondsman (ref: Connor Shortknee, Halfling, Observer 007)
Re: Current Assignment: Orc surveillance, Southern Stonewall Mountains.


Windsprite, heed my words...


As per your instructions I followed the Orcish tribe known as the Egg-suckers as they moved into the fringes of Dwarven territory. At the beginning of March, they set up a camp in a secluded wooded valley several miles from Hourglass Pass, which is guarded by a Dwarven outpost.

Once the tribe had made camp I was able to place them under close observation and I have learnt much more about their background and activities. Under Granny Ogg's stern leadership, the anomalous behaviour of the Egg-suckers continued. Young orcs were being removed from the brood-pens and used as runners to communicate with other tribes back in the Orc homelands. Although not very fast and ridiculously easy to track, these orclings could run for days without a break, forming the first shadow of an inter-tribal communications network. What was even more worrying was that they seemed to operate under an inter-tribal truce that guaranteed them passage through tribal lands. Some great warlord, or other force is overeriding the normal hostility between tribes...and this influence seems to be growing stronger.

Inter-tribal trade was also increasing, as more modern weapons began appearing in the Egg-suckers' camp. It also seemed apparent that some tribes have discovered the process of making gunpowder. The powder is black and coarse, but effective - most of the time. I have collected samples for analysis, maybe Q can confirm the source.

For the most part, the Egg-sucker warriors were still armed with muzzle-loading blunderbusses captured from an ambush on a dwarven convoy approximately fifty years ago, this and much other information was gleaned from the history chants of the tribe's Shaman. Although gun-powder was available, grape-shot or similar ammunition was in short supply. The tribe conquered this problem in a surprising fashion: They
used their teeth. Salvaged from their dead, or clubbed from the mouths of miscreants as part of tribal justice. The teeth usually grew back so it was a renewable resource. In dangerous times, the tribe had been known to remove all of their teeth for use in battle, hence the name the tribe was known by.

They called their guns 'Foe-biters' and these weapons were heavily modified with spikes and blades making them formidable melee weapons. They were effectively one-shot firearms and the warriors' standard tactic was to rush the enemy and fire at point-blank range. The teeth shattered into deadly shards that although foiled by anything stronger than leather armour often blinded even a fully armoured opponent. While their enemy was disoriented by the gun-blast, the orcs attacked with the Foe-biters' blades in vicious hand-to-hand combat.

This was often a very effective tactic against troops that expected a similarly armed opponent to stand and fire first, instead of charging ahead, screaming war-cries. Of course, the orcs could soak up a lot of gun-fire and still keep coming until they were close enough to use the extremely inaccurate Foe-Biters effectively.

Any survivors of that charge then had to face the fact that even the slightest wound inflicted by the Foe-biters' unique ammunition quickly became septic, followed by the onset of a terrible flesh-rotting disease. Quick and thorough cauterization seemed to be the only way to control its spread.

Oddly, once their camp was secured, the orcs made no attempt to raid any nearby settlements or even reconnoitre the outpost. They seemed to be waiting for something...very strange behaviour for orcs.

Now for the dwarves. They were unaware of the orcs' presence so close to their lands, and passing on this information helped me to gain a position as a scout, which meant I could continue my surveillance of the orcs with the assistance of their patrols, instead of having to avoid them. This was not difficult in any case, as the dwarves disliked leaving their rocky peaks and were untrained in any of the skills of stealth applicable to the wilderness. There were several other scouts, mainly half-elven rangers and a couple of humans. Not having washed after several days of hard travel it was easy to slip into my "Bubo" persona and within days, I was accepted as nothing more than a lazy,
dirty little scruff - and thus became virtually invisible around the outpost.

It seemed that the Clans did have some worries about Orc expansion in the area, as the Hourglass outpost had been recently upgraded and fortified. I was able to explore nearly every inch of the external facilities, but the bulk of the outpost was concealed within the cliffs and access was restricted to dwarves only. Still, I had access to the clifftop lookout positions, which were equipped with telescopes, and
also housed the new 'Skyhammer' artillery pieces.

At the base of the sheer cliffs, guarding the entrance of the pass, were two 'stone-helms'. Squat stone towers, carved into the likenesses of giant dwarven war-helms with the slender muzzles of the new dwarven 'machine-guns' protruding from the narrow visor slits. They had no visible entrances, and I assumed they were linked by tunnels to the main outpost.

One further feature was an area in front of the stone-helms bounded by barbed wire which completely closed off the pass. This area, known as the deathcap field, was declared completely off-limits I couldn't see any mushrooms, just bare earth.

As for further developments in dwarven technology, on one occasion I was able to smuggle some ale to a dwarf on sentry duty. It was quite difficult to get him drunk, but eventually his tongue loosened a little, and I was able to glean some information before he passed out. My translations of the dwarven terms he used are mostly guesswork, however. He mentioned 'charcoal-beard' armour, which was 'as light as silk but could stop a bullet'...and also some new breakthrough that he was quite excited about...but he lapsed into incoherence and then unconsciousness...only mumbling something about 'crawling death'.

You might be wondering why I've been referring to the Egg-suckers in the past tense...[long pause]...well, it's because the tribe has been effectively wiped out. I will explain how this happened with a detailed report of the last twenty-four hours.

15:44 April 8th, 1883
During the communal meal, general unrest among a group of young males culminated in a challenge against Granny Ogg by a warrior named Gobblefinger. The fight was brutal and short, and Gobblefinger's resilience and savagery won over Granny Ogg's experience and she was slain.

The tribe's shaman, Nord, began the ritual passover of leadership: the cannibalisation of Granny Ogg's body. It was a very solemn and structured affair with certain portions shared amongst various members of the tribe. Gobblefinger claimed her heart and eyes, and her brain was eaten raw by Nord. The orcs believe the tribe shares her strength and that Nord gains her wisdom and memories through this ritual. If this is the case, it might explain how the orc race holds onto civilisation despite their chaotic natures and short lifespans.

A tribal meeting was held where Gobblefinger, flushed with his success and new status, presented his plans for an assault on the dwarven outpost the next morning. I immediately left to advise the dwarves of the impending attack.

8:13 April 9th, 1883
I was up at one of the lookout posts when the orcs were first sighted emerging from the forest and I was able to claim one of the telescopes.
Through it I watched Nord begin a war-chant, but in this case it seemed to be a focus for a primitive morphing spell, as the orc warriors visibly swelled in size and strength. This development of arcane skills by the tribal shamans is yet another worrying sign.

A thunderous blast behind me announced the beginning of the dwarves' defense as the Skyhammer artillery-pieces opened up from the cliff-tops. The orcs were already moving though, loping across the open ground in front of the pass and only Nord and a few stragglers were caught as the first shells exploded, flinging earth and bodies dozens of feet into the
air and gouging huge craters in the ground.

The Skyhammers unleashed another salvo, and as the ringing in my ears subsided I could hear the curses of the dwarven officers as they failed to find the range of the rapidly advancing orcs, inflicting no casualties.

Then the massed horde of orcs reached the barbed wire, rolled straight over it and entered the deathcap field. They ran about three yards, their howling war-cries freezing my marrow even though they were far below me. The Skyhammers remained silent but suddenly the ground erupted beneath the orcs' feet. The dwarven deathcaps were obviously explosives of some kind buried just beneath the surface and triggered by the orcs' weight.

The murderous charge of the orc warriors dissolved into stumbling confusion...and then the machine-guns in the stone-helms opened up, catching the orcs in a perfect cross-fire. The orcs fell like skittles, their bodies torn apart by the hail of bullets. Their screams of agony punctuated by the monotonous death-rattle of the guns.

They....they....[heavy breathing, gasps, sobs?] the gods M, they wouldn't die even then!! That bloody deathcap field became a quagmire of blood and entrails...detached orc limbs flopping like trout pulled fresh from a stream...I saw headless, limbless torsos wriggling like slugs through the black, bloody mud...

Sorry...[pause - deep breath]...then a squad of dwarves emerged from hidden passages at the base of the cliff and lined up along the barbed wire at the inner edge of the deathcap field. They were armed with flamethrowers and they sprayed the whole area with liquid fire, consuming all traces of the orc dead and wounded, obscuring the carnage beneath a pall of black, putrid smoke. The orc's total annihilation took less than an hour.

It is now 14:00 and I have delayed sending this report long enough to give me a chance to inspect the battlefield. I cannot describe the feeling of wrongness I experienced as I approached the craters made by the shells. I held one of the magick glowstones you gave me in the palm of my hand as I approached and it flickered. Moving close to the edge of the deathcap field it dimmed markedly. Perhaps Q can use this effect to create a detector for these and other technological hazards.

M, I apologise for my earlier lapse in discipline, but the power of this technology is terrifying and it is growing. The dwarves have obvious skill but their isolationist policies mean they are unlikely to use it except in self-defense. The growing evidence of orc organisation is of concern but they are still a long way away from mastery of technology or magick. No, it is the increasing use of technology in the volatile political cauldron that is Tarant that truly scares me. There are factions there that wouldn't hesitate to use the weapons I have seen in action today to further their own ends, and that cannot be allowed to happen.

I am leaving Hourglass Pass today and await further instructions. A detailed report with maps, sketches and the samples I mentioned will be passed on via courier.

Windsprite, carry my words faithfully to your master so that he may hear the truth.



Chapter 1: Secrets

by Larryn "Skorpios" Cock, posted on January 4th, 2001

Deep beneath the city of Tulla is a room with no doors, and inside this room sits an elf with no name. From this tiny bubble of light and air magickally maintained in the deep, dark stone extends a network of observers, agents and spies that stretches the length and breadth of Arcanum.

Every fragmentary vision of the Diviners, every graveyard whisper of the Necromancers, every unearthly rumour from the Summoners, every stray thought from the Mind College, every odd scent detected by the followers of Nature; all of these are funnelled into this room to be collated, dissected and analysed by one of the greatest intellects of the age.

He never sleeps and seems to survive solely on the information passing across his desk. Periodically he reports via projected phantasms direct to the High Council of Tulla, advising them on any developments in the outside world that might impinge on Tulla's carefully protected existence. The Council knows him as the Master of Watchers, and his many agents refer to him simply as 'M'.

The Master sighs softly and his head dips, the cowl of his dark robe shadowing his pale, thin face as he rolls up the parchment bearing the latest report from 'Bondsman', one of his most reliable agents. Opening a drawer, he slips the scroll inside, where it disappears - transported instantly to a much larger room, a secret wing of the Tulla Library that contains the Master's archives. Thousands of reports, all dutifully filed by mindless golems. All written in ink that is invisible except when read by the light emitted by the glowing gem mounted on a candlestick that sits on the Master's desk.

Slowly his tall, slender form rises from the chair, his stiffness easing as he steps way from the desk. Pausing for a moment to concentrate, he vanishes from the room in a flash of violet light...

...reappearing a moment later in a short corridor carved from the living rock. Behind him is a dead end and before him stands a window. There are no sunlit vistas, sunlight is but a dim memory for the Master anyway. The window opens into a narrow, rocky shaft containing a mirror. The mirror is just the first of many set at each twist and turn of the shaft, angled so that the Master can clearly see into the room at the far end.

It is an alien world that he can see, full of oil-stained gears, soot-blackened walls and hissing, steaming boilers. The shaft has been carefully designed so that every sound carries perfectly. The room is harshly lit by an unwavering white light. A movement catches his eye; a construction of springs and levers walks jerkily across sthe room on two oddly bird-like legs. The Master represses a shudder, for there is something in that mechanical, indomitable movement that disturbs him more than the shambling steps of the undead or the impossibly delicate gait of demons.

It is not just his physical senses that are repulsed. He is used to feeling myriad possibilities lurking just below reality, waiting to be unleashed by his magickal abilities and mental focus. In that room though, those endless possiblities collapse into narrow, mechanistic certainties. Action and reaction, solid, predictable and beyond the control of even the most powerful mages. Any attempt at spellcasting results in pure chaos that disrupts both the magick and the technology.

So the Master keeps his distance and communicates with the workshop's sole occupant via the shaft instead of attempting a scrying spell or even worse, using some kind of technological communication device.

"Q? Are you awake? Quisitor Technologickal! Are you there?"

"Of course I'm awake, M. You know I've haven't slept in decades ever since I came down here." The voice is a harsh whisper, and it is only the lilting tones supplied by the Master's memory that identifies it as female.

A figure moves into view, a wizened elven woman strapped into a wheeled chair that is propelled by a small, whirring engine. She controls its progress with a small brass knob grasped in her claw-like right hand. Dressed simply in a robe that once was white, but is now stained by grease, smoke and various chemicals. The Quisitor's frail body is surrounded by a web of wires that link some kind of harness beneath her robe to the engine of her conveyance. A strange helmet covered in valves and more wires covers her hairless skull and her gaunt, grey face is half-obscured by a large pair of goggles that owlishly magnify her bloodshot grey-green eyes.

"What do you want, M?" A flash of pink gums, perhaps a smile meant to offset the abruptness of her question.

"I have just received a report from Bondsman on recent developments in Dwarven military technology as well as further evidence that someone or something is organising the tribal orcs. Further information and samples should be arriving by courier in the next couple of days and I would appreciate it if they became your top priority."

The Master keeps his voice neutral as he studies the Quisitor. Decades ago she had been one of Tulla's finest Diviners with a curiosity that blazed as brightly as her emerald eyes and a mind that shone brighter than her silvery hair. It was that boundless thirst for knowledge that led her to be appointed the Quisitor Technologickal, spearheading Tulla's research into the disturbing new force rising up to challenge Magick's dominance in Arcanum.

When it became clear that her studies were threatening to disrupt the magickal defenses of Tulla, as well as the work of every other mage in the city, she voluntarily accepted exile to this subterranean workshop to continue her invaluable research. She gave up not just her freedom, but her magick as well. The enchantments that preserved her youth and prolonged her life eventually failed, and her divination spells became useless. However, the curiosity that defined her character still burned fiercely and she soon adapted and devised technological aids that allowed her to continue her work efficiently if not comfortably.

Her advice on matters technological had become vital to the Master's work and the decisions made by the High Council. In fact, several of her inventions had been issued to the Master's agents, for use in highly technological areas such as Tarant, where magick was becoming more and more unreliable. Perhaps the Master might have marvelled at her level of dedication if he did not share it, so he returns to the matters at hand.

"Anything new to report, Q?"

"Well, my investigations into the effects of magnetic forces on living tissue are proving very interesting, with medical and offensive outcomes both very possible. I've also been working on some explosives that are inert and completely safe until activated by an electric detonator. You can throw them in a fire and get nothing but a bad smell, but fit the detonator and activate it and you end up with a very large crater. Sonic devices are another area I'm investigating. It seems that different materials have different resonant frequencies and you can inflict quite serious damage if you hit the right frequency. Just think of the opera singer and the wineglass and then apply that methodology to fortress walls, gun barrels or even bones."

"Intriguing, are you aware of any research going on in these areas elsewhere?"

"Well, who knows what the Dwarves are up to, they are so damn secretive, even your network hasn't fully penetrated their factories and laboratories, so I don't have much to go on. The gnomes are investing more capital in research, mainly with human inventors, trying to break the Dwarven monopoly in high-tech items, weapons especially, so they might be exploring some more exotic possibilities. These projects are mostly small-scale initially, so it is hard to find them let alone infiltrate them."

Q's left hand begins to twitch, and as the Master watches it move towards a row of vials clipped to the chair's arm, he realises he has stayed a little too long, overtaxing Q's limited stamina.

"Very well, Q, I think I will send Bondsman to Tarant to investigate these latest developments. Thank you for your insight. Farewell."

"You're welcome M..." The Quisitor's hoarse whisper dissolves into a hacking cough, and she rolls out of sight, frantically lifting up one of the vials to her blood-flecked lips.

The Master bows his head for a long moment, and then the violet glow of the conveyance spell swallows up his dark form...

~ to be continued...


Appendix: Dwarven Genesis

by Larryn "Skorpios" Cock, posted on January 25th, 2001

Being a translation of inscriptions found in a Dwarven Tomb, recently excavated by Professor Herman Chesterfield.

...And Alberich brought forth his children from the stone into a dark world lit only by the stars. The dwarves stood naked in the darkness and fell to their knees as the voice of Alberich echoed from the mountain peaks around them.

"Behold, my children! I have raised up mighty fortresses of stone that you might live in safety forever. Go forth and make these great halls your own."

Then, with a roar louder than thunder, a great cavern mouth opened up in the rock before them and the dwarves entered their underground home for the first time. But the caverns were dark, damp and cold, and fell creatures lurked in the deeper passages, and the dwarves fled from the caverns, crying out to their Lord in dismay.

Alberich was angered that his children had rejected his gift, and the world trembled with his wrath. He spake not, but sent his herald to remonstrate with them.

The dwarves' cries were stilled when the earth split asunder and a pillar of fire ascended. Stepping from the pillar was a creature like a living flame. Clad all in shining metal it was, and at their first sight of this wondrous substance a great hunger was awakened in the hearts of the dwarves.

Standing before them, outshining the stars above, the herald cried: "Children of Alberich, I am thy Lord's herald. Why have you spurned his generous gifts and awakened his terrible anger?"

Overcoming his fear and awe, one dwarf stepped forward, saying, "Great herald, we cannot live within our Lord's halls. They are dark and dangerous and we are naked and weak."

The herald looked down on the dwarves and spoke, "Children of Alberich, are you not born from stone? Do you not have the strength of stone, the endurance of stone? Look deep within your hearts, can you not feel the wisdom of stone within you? You have yet to learn the full wonder of the Lord's gifts to you. Behold!"

The herald knelt and picked up two stones, then stood and struck them together. Sparks showered down, as if the stars had fallen from the sky. The dwarves watched as one spark fell on a dead tree, instantly setting it ablaze.

"See, Children of Alberich. Hidden within these rocks, called flints, is the gift of fire. Light and warmth for your people, if you would look for it. In his infinite wisdom, Lord Alberich has hidden many such secrets within the stones around you. Stone can seem harsh and cold, but it will reward those who work hard many times over. Follow me, those who feel they are worthy!"

Wrenching a burning limb from the tree, the herald raised it high and led the dwarves back into the caves. There they learned many skills from the herald, but it was dwarven hands and dwarven strength alone that carved out their first halls, forged their first weapons, and made the caverns their true home...


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