Among the Tested

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The Hateful Wars: Chapter Twenty-Three

Thomas Kelly

The leaves turned color—some had fallen—before she returned to fair Celene on embassy for the alliance (Patchwall 500 CY). She waited in the garden of the Grand Court and mingled among other ambassadors: men from Veluna and Verbobonc, from the Duchy and the County, and from the free city of Greyhawk. Stranger still, she waited among faeries of the Seeley Court, gnomes from the Kron Hills, a centaur from Greenway Valley. And for the dwur folk, she thought to herself, Kristryd Olinsdotter. So I am reduced in her Fey Majesty’s esteem to just one of a bevy of whiflings in line for a moment of her attention.   

“Daughter, what transgression have you committed to incur the Queen Yolande’s disfavor?” the wise mage Onselvon interrupted her thoughts. She had not seen the magic user approach. The long-haired elven wizard sat himself down beside her on the garden bench. “She will not hear told any good of you, whether spoken by the princes, by Darrion, Deravnye, the Fastaal, or myself.”

“I have done the queen no wrong,” Kristryd defended herself. “None of which I know. But I am hated nonetheless.”

 “She will not receive your embassy this day,” Onselvon apologized. “But she asks two questions of the dwur, and she sends me to make the akward inquiry.”

Kristryd nodded. She kept a stoic frown. Onselvon continued, “Her majesty inquires of the dwur, ‘Why did you abandon us in our hour of need?’ And she asks, ‘Why did we find your kin leading the horde in the Battle of Ulek Pass?’”

“Bear the queen this message then: I myself commanded the engagements, as you yourself well know and can testify. As for the host of Dengar, we fell back to defend our own halls from the same such an onslaught as you also faced, or so the commanders thought. As for those few dwur found among the horde, call them not dwur folk nor my kin. They are traitors most vile, one of them a foul witch. And say to the queen on my behalf, ‘Forget not that I am your wrath! For your cause have I made this war!’”

“I will bring these replies to the queen,” Onselvon stood and offered a ceremonious bow. “Return to your cosh. If you are needed further, or granted further audience, we will summon you thence.”

Kristryd did not return to her cottage straightway but wandered the royal city aimlessly. Her heart burned too hot with anger at the queen. Her mind boiled with imaginary conversations and sharp exchanges. Neither the colored leaves of Enstad, nor the fragrances of autumn, nor the beauty of the city could in any measure lift a mood so black. She wondered over Yolande’s callous treatment. Each time she rehearsed the matter, her heart grew more bitter. I once called her friend? Why did I ever trust an elf? Damn them all to the nine hells!

Continue reading “Among the Tested”

The Halfblood Prophecy

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The Hateful Wars: Chapter Twenty-Two

Thomas Kelly

Fury burned in Kristryd’s breast when she saw how her kin had had abandoned the fight at an hour so desperate. The dwarves did not accompany the march of Father Furduch. The hosts of Gilmorack paid no heed to the muster at all. Their undermountain king sent not a single axe to join the fight at Luskan. Nor did Dengar send its iron clad troops to the aid of the elves in the battle for Ulek Pass.

She dispatched a complaint to the undermountain kings from the field of the battle, and she sent an apology to Enstad, written in her own hand. The only warrior of her people to stand alongside Yolande’s people in that desperate hour was the Thunderstrike dwarf Bamadar Kadarel. He had come up from the Principality along with the halfling troop from Prinzfield, and, as such, had the privilege of contributing to the battle of on behalf of the Principality and the dwarven nations. His prowess on the field cast no shame on the reputation of the dwarves. His arms did not tire, and his legs did not falter, but many were the victims that fell beneath his axe.

The Corpse

On the day after the defeat of the horde, Kristryd summoned the winsome young Bamadar to her tent in the green hall and commended him, for he had fought bravely and in a manner worthy of her father’s name and reputation. He tried to flatter her with his attention, “I fought only for the honor of the Noble House of Corond, my lady! For your Grace, and also for his Serene Highness, Lord of the Peaks of Haven.”

“The Noble House thanks you,” Kristryd replied, “But now I must charge you another errand—one you might not find so honorable nor to your liking.”

Bamadar bowed and declared, “If my dishonor be for thy honor, my lady, what more could be to my liking?”

Kristryd ignored the words of ingratiation and continued, “Somewhere on the field of battle, near the encampment of the Red Medusa, find the body of a dwarfess, an old spellcaster, slain through the heart by the blade of Xaxa. Find the corpse and bring it to me, for I must know who she is, from where she came, and with what companions she travelled.”

Continue reading “The Halfblood Prophecy”

Spells & Stratagems

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The Hateful Wars: Chapter Twenty

Thomas Kelly

When the snowmelt and winter rains subsided, famished goblinkind came pouring out of their holes, seeking farms to raid and villages to plunder. This time, a surprise met the hungry hordes. The allies occupied every pass in the northern Lortmils, strangling the routes from the Pass of Celene all the way to the Lorridges. Under the earth, Dengar and Gilmorack garrisoned strategic positions on the Low Road, funneling the underground movements of the tribes. Kristryd had arranged it all. In the months prior to the snowmelt, she consulted with the generals and strategic thinkers of the alliance, negotiated troop placements, prepared supply lines, and sketched out contingencies. Once the action began, she played her role as liaison between the forces, moving rapidly back and forth between battlefronts mounted on the back of the great hippogriff Emolasmairim. Elves, dwarves, gnomes, and humans alike watched the sky for the wings of her steed. Field commanders and officers consulted her for information about deployments, supplies, and the movements of the enemy. She found herself providing answers to questions that exceeded the scope of her actual authority, and she did not hesitate to issue commands in the queen’s name when necessary to do so. Why shouldn’t the Queen’s Wrath take charge? Am I not the author of the strategy?

Battle of Luskan Way

The northern squeeze corralled the tribes together into a wide vale between the Celene Pass and the way to the Luskan Mines. There they remained, bottled up, until Father Furduch arrived with a gnome army from the Kron Hills and Verbobonc. Continue reading “Spells & Stratagems”

Interview with Kevin J. Anderson author of Siege of the Tower.

The husband-wife team of Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta have published an astonishing number of high-profile Science Fiction and Fantasy books, including major contributions to the expanded universes of Star Wars and Dune. Kevin Anderson’s work has garnered an impressive number of awards and nominations. He has written for Lucafilm and collaborated with big names like Dean Koontz, Brian Herbert, and (hard to believe) Neil Peart of Rush. The Andersons operate their own publishing house, WordFire.Press which has picked up rights to publish and republished big names like Alan Dean Foster, Frank Herbert, and D&D favorite Tracy Hickman.

But way back in the day, before Kevin J Anderson was a well-established name in the biz, he and his wife received a commission for a modest project with TSR’s Endless Quest series under the imprint of Greyhawk Adventures.

I recently obtained a copy of the rare book Siege of the Tower and reviewed it here. I caught up with Anderson via email to ask a few questions about how he came to be a Greyhawk writer.

Greyhawkstories:

How did you land the contract with TSR to write Siege of the Tower?

Kevin J. Anderson:

That was an interesting project that NO ONE ever asks about! Brian Thomsen was the editor at TSR, and he was a friend of ours. We (my wife Rebecca Moesta and I) were working writers, just about at the time we were quitting our day jobs and becoming full-time writers, and so we were open to new projects. Brian asked us if we were interested in doing a D&D “choose your own adventure” book, which were just starting to become popular at the time.

Greyhawkstories:

Siege of the Tower reads pretty faithful to the D&D genre. It reads like a campaign adaptation of a module. Were you already familiar with Dungeons & Dragons, or did you need to do a crash course in the game?

Kevin J. Anderson:

Oh yes, I played it all the time in college. My DM, in fact, was Kristine Kathryn Rusch, who is now an award-winning and bestselling author herself. In fact my very first published trilogy, GAMEARTH, GAMEPLAY, and GAME’S END, is D&D fantasy adventure. We would play every Sunday night with a group of friends, and our game became the basis for my trilogy and for Kris’s first published novel, White Mists of Power.

Greyhawkstories:

Were you familiar with the World of Greyhawk setting?

Kevin J. Anderson:

Not Greyhawk, as such. Just the general D&D universe, but we polished up on Greyhawk before writing the book.

Greyhawkstories:

The “choose-your-own-adventure” genre seems like a baffling way to create a narrative. How did you go about constructing the novel?

Kevin J. Anderson:

Choose-your-own-adventure was a “thing” at the time, but we had never tried one before. But it sounded like fun. So, Brian Thomsen gave us a cover painting, something TSR already owned, showing an ugly ogre and other ogres laying siege to a medieval castle. He told us that was the cover, so we agreed to set up a story around that painting. Rebecca and I brought in three other writer friends of ours for the project, and we all camped at our house for a weekend. We developed the main story, and then brainstormed all of the possibly storylines. We had a huge piece of paper, like a flowchart, mapping all the story possibilities. BUT the important thing was that every single storyline brought the reader to the scene that was on the cover.

With the other authors, we each retreated to separate writing rooms, and everybody wrote their storylines. It took the team a weekend to produce the book, and then Rebecca and I took the consolidated manuscript and polished it all up before delivery. We were all pretty pleased with how it turned out and how much fun we had. The book went unto production and Brian Thomsen, the editor, was very happy to send us the final copies.

Remember when I told you that he gave us the cover painting, and how we worked hard to make sure that every possible storyline showed that scene—burly ogres with clubs laying siege to a castle tower?  Well, when we received the final covers, we were shocked to see a demon on a flaming skeleton horse … which had nothing to do with the story. We called the editor in distress, “This isn’t the cover painting you gave us!!!”  He groaned and said “Oh, not again …”

Siege

 

Borderwatch

Greyhawkstories:

That explains the mystery of the cover. The artwork you described is a Paul Jaquays piece that appeared on the cover of the module Border Watch. The artwork on Siege of the Tower is the Jeff Easley piece that appeared on the cover of the 1992 boxset From the Ashes.

Kem Antilles is a pseudonym. Could you explain it? It sounds like a Star Wars reference.

Kevin J. Anderson:

Since so many other authors worked on Siege of the Tower, we wanted a name that was not obviously male or female, so we came up with “Kem.” I’ll confess, Antilles was an homage to Wedge Antilles from Star Wars.

Greyhawkstories:

If given the opportunity, would you ever be interested in returning to the World of Greyhawk?

Kevin J Anderson:

Interested?  Well, always. But whether or not I can fit it in with the deadlines is another thing entirely!

Greyhawkstories:

Since writing Siege of the Tower, you’ve gone on to write an astonishing library of titles. For readers who want to check out your other works, with what stories do you recommend we start?

Kevin J. Anderson:

Spine of the Dragon  is my big new epic fantasy trilogy. The second novel will come out soon, and I’m writing the third and final novel right now. I also have a really ambitious space opera series, The Saga of Seven Suns. The best thing, though, is to join my readers group at wordfire.com and I’ll keep you up on all the new stuff. You also get a free collection of my short stories.

Greyhawkstories:

One more thing. Just for fun, tell us about your relationship with Neil Peart.

Kevin J Anderson:

That’s a long story. I knew Neil for 30+ years before his passing last January. My first novel, Resurrection, Inc., was inspired by the Rush album Grace Under Pressure. Neil read the novel and wrote me. We were friends ever since. Not only did we write the novels Clockwork Angels and Clockwork Lives together, we also did a creepy short story, Drumbeats, and I’m just putting together a signed, limited and illustrated edition, which will be released soon. You can preorder at wordfireshop.com

Drumbeats

 

Siege of the Tower

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Siege of the Tower is an obscure and often-overlooked piece of Greyhawk fiction that deserves a place with other Greyhawk books. Read the review below and an interview with the author Kevin J. Anderson as well.

In 1982, TSR launched a series of books modeled after the popular Choose Your Own Adventure genre. The new series appeared under the title Endless Quest, publishing forty-nine titles before its relaunch in 2018. Most of the titles are generic Dungeons & Dragons fiction, but some were based on other TSR games and related franchises. According to a Wikipedia breakdown of the series, only two of the books are deliberately set in the World of Greyhawk: Siege of the Tower and Bigby’s Curse.

Siege of the Tower takes place during the Greyhawk Wars era, before the fall of Continue reading “Siege of the Tower”

The Stirges’ Nest

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The Hateful Wars: Chapter Seventeen

Thomas Kelly

“From where has this one come to your lands?” Kristryd asked the duke’s daughter. He was certainly no Celine elf nor grey of Silverwood. She saw that clear enough. A long dandyish coat with polished brass buttons hung draped over his slim form. Boots of striding laced up to his knees. Tight-fitting elbow-length silken gloves concealed his hands and forearms. Colorful scarves like the kerchiefs of the Baklunish harem girls adorned his head. Baubled jewelry dangled from his ears. Trinkets, charms, and precious stones hung from a slender-linked silver chain about his neck. Glittering gems set in rings adorned his fingers. Kristryd observed that he conversed easily with the duke and seemed at home among the nobles in the palace yard at Tringlee.

“Deravnye is from Seltaren in Urnst,” Nevallewen replied. “He is a most distinguished elf.”

Overhearing his name, the foppish stranger turned to Kristryd and the duke’s daughter, executed a formal bow, and introduced himself properly, “To my kinfolk I am Deravnye, but I am simply Xaxa among friends.”

“Xaxa? Is that a name?” Kristryd asked. To her, all elves seemed effeminate, but this one more so.

“It’s a diminutive form. Xaxalander in full. And it is a name among the people of Urnst.”

“It must be a difficult burden to bear such an uncouth string of syllables!” the duke’s daughter flirted with feigned distaste.

“My lady knows that I am an uncouth elf. A rogue, expert treasure-hunter, dungeon explorer, magsman, and adventurer,” Xaxa returned the flirtatious jest. Continue reading “The Stirges’ Nest”

Companions of the Silver Wolf

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Greyhawkstories.com is a place for collecting stories set in the World of Greyhawk. For two decades, readers at Canonfire! have been treated to the tales of “The Companions of the Silver Wolf,” an adventuring party in the best tradition of the Flanaess. Now the author of those stories, Jared “CruelSummerLord” Milne, has collected his work into a trilogy available on Greyhawkstories. It’s not just fan-fiction, it’s fun fan-fiction.

Read all three at Greyhawkstories.com.

Continue reading “Companions of the Silver Wolf”

Head of the Medusa

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The Hateful Wars: Chapter Sixteen

Thomas Kelly

Those sons of Celene who gathered the dead and committed them to the priests of Sehanine came upon a place of battle ringed about with many corpses. In the midst of these they found a toppled and broken stone sculpture of a single warrior. Though the flesh had been made stone, the petrified warrior still wielded his armor, weapons, and gear. “This is no work of an artist’s hands,” Onselvon said when he saw the broken remains. “This was Amras the son of Telfinwe.”

Onselvon made inquiries among the survivors and found one named Eldaeron who had fought beside Amras on the High Road. “Tell us all that befell you,” Onselvon urged.

“We fought our way through a clutch of black-armored ogre guardsmen wielding axes and spears. They ringed about the commander of the force, and we hoped to cut the head from the wyrm. Many fell on my left and my right, but Amras and I leaped through a gap in the ring and confronted the commander: a tall half-blood. That one carried a shield which bore goblin heraldry, painted in red. Namely, the head of a gorgon, magically painted with such enchantment that the serpents of her head writhe and move upon the face of the shield. When Amras saw the shield he stopped frozen, even with his sword poised for the stroke. The color drained from his flesh, and in a trice, he turned to solid stone. This I saw with my own eyes, and to my shame, I turned and fled.” Continue reading “Head of the Medusa”

Way of Tears

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The Hateful Wars: Chapter Fifteen

Thomas Kelly

“We’re only here to burn the wretched city,” Hroth explained. “Outside of that, we don’t give a shite.” He gestured to the few dozen one-eared hobgoblin soldiers. They stood motionless at rigid attention—a study in military discipline. Many hundreds of miles had they traversed, under and above the mountains. They were footsore and hungry, on the last of the rations, and impatient for the fight. Now this dung-wad wanted to make excuses! Hroth hovered over Urgush and whispered, breathing his foul breath into the face of his lesser, “Where is your fiend-loving strumpet?”

Vantage on the High Road

Urgush Halfblood blanched and turned his face away from the hobgoblin warrior. “She has supplied us with spells, devilshine weapons, and armor too,” he insisted. He knocked his knuckles against the face of his shield to emphasize the point. “Tokens of her good faith!”

Horth’s yellow eyes blazed with menace. “We didn’t march a whole bloody moon for bloody tokens.”

From the height upon which they stood, the hobgoblin warlord and the half-orc looked down upon an open stretch of the Veluna High Road. A long caravan of gnomes descending from the Kron Hills snaked along the turns in the road, heading toward the fairy kingdom of Celene. Urgush pointed a clawed finger toward the caravan and snivelled, “What do you think those fonkin turds are doing? I watch ‘em come and go on that road, in and out, day after day. Buggerin’ elves, turd-nose gnomes, blasted dwarves! Armies and supplies! No one bothers them. No one hinders them.”

Hroth’s single remaining ear twitched. Continue reading “Way of Tears”

A Voice in the Dark

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The Hateful Wars: Chapter Fourteen

Thomas Kelly

The fastaal shouted out orders in the elven tongue, assuming himself the commander of the situation. Likewise, the dwarven officers shouted their own commands in their own tongue, each one assuming himself the leader. Arrows punctured flesh, dwarves and elves clutched at wounds, and savages leaped toward them with thirsty blades.

As the chaos of the battle erupted around her, Kristryd seemed to float above it, as if observing these things happen to someone other than herself—as if playing war in a child’s game. The curious detachment had dreamlike quality. Despite the darkness all around her, her dwur eyes could clearly discern the orcs leaping from behind the stones and dropping from hidden alcoves above. So this is how it ends, here on the Low Road, as it ended for my miserable and unhappy husband, she thought to herself. Her thoughts turned to her three sons. Shall I leave them as orphans?

Kristryd Takes Charge

After only a moment of hesitation, she took charge, ignoring both the Celene officer and the long-bearded dwarven warmen. With a natural ease like one long accustomed to the battlefield, she shouted orders in elvish and dwarvish as the need demanded. Her clear-toned voice resonated above the din of battle. “Form up! Wall of shields! Hammers and axes between!” she commanded in the dwarvish tongue. “Archers aim low, drop the first ranks first,” she commanded in the elvish tongue. “Spellcasters! Light spells, magical arrows, and a wall of fire on the flank!”

Both the elves and the dwarves heeded the voice in the dark, for they had already grown accustomed to her translating on behalf of one another. The dwarves raised a wall of shields, hammers, and axes against the onslaught. The elves loosed away volleys of arrows, striking the first wave so that the second stumbled over them. Archosian employed cantrips to create light spells that revealed the enemy, blinded their eyes, and outlined them in fey light. The sturdy dwur wizard Bagbag threw down spells of power worthy of warmages. Nothing struck fear into the orcs as much as Peralay’s dogs. The cooshees silently leapt at the orcs, ripping at throats. Dothmar and Peralay followed quickly with Concluder and Gnoll-Cleaver, both blades naked and unsheathed, flashing in their hands.

If any foe struck up a conversation with Fastaal Dothmar, Concluder struck twice in reply, putting in the last word. If any orc’s ugly head strayed too close to Peralay’s reach, Gnoll-Cleaver removed the offensive hairy bulb from its shoulders. The battle ended swiftly with the orc host falling back in retreat and cooshees, elves, and dwarves in full pursuit. Continue reading “A Voice in the Dark”