Blue Rose: The RPG of Romantic Fantasy

The Sea’s Tithe

by Dawn Elliot

Under the howl of the storm, Chi could hear the bones of his ship breaking, and the tears he shed for it were swept away by the torrent. The storm had risen over them suddenly, tossing the fishing vessel like a child’s toy. The Mother Sea was taking her tithe in blood tonight.

There was nothing to do for it. Chi had lashed himself to the rudder, the crew had taken what refuge they could, and little Wif had already been swept under. Barely audible amid the howl of the storm, Chi’s wife sang songs to calm it. The storm seemed only to scream louder. They wouldn’t last much longer and were too far out to hope for rescue.

“Gods!” Chi chanted and worked with weather-worn hands to undo the ropes binding him to the broken rudder of his ship. “Sweet gods have mercy and take your due from the captain, and be satisfied.”

The rope slipped free, and for a moment the weather seemed to hold its breath as Chi stood tall at the stern, face turned to the wind-lashed waves.

“Chi!” his wife’s voice rose fearfully above the wail of the wind. And the water came crashing down.

The dark wave hit like a hammer, cold as the grave, and washed him from the deck. He kicked his boots free, striving for the surface but couldn’t tell up from down in the wild current. In the gloom of the stinging salt water were the shapes of splintered wood. His breath was knocked from him in a cloud of bubbles as lumber slammed into his side. Choking, Chi kicked weakly, knowing the struggle was useless, but unable to surrender to the sea he’d fought all his life.

Rising from the dark depths like a ghost, a face loomed in his drowning vision. He clawed at it with the last of his strength, fearing the spirits of the drowned had come to drag him down. Strong hands gripped his arms and dragged him up instead. They broke the surface, and Chi dragged in a desperate breath, letting it go in a terrified shout. He thrashed in the grip of long hands and blue arms.

“What?” Chi shouted. “What?”

Around him, other faces bobbed to the surface, pale green or sea blue. One of the people cradled Wif’s coughing form in her arms.

“Ai!” shouted the blue-skinned man holding Chi, voice thick with a south bay accent. “Settle down, friend. That’s no way to treat them what come to rescue you!”

Blue Rose: The RPG of Romantic Fantasy

Shadows and Dust

by Dawn Elliot

Reyna froze, one hand hovering over the small silver and ebony chest. To breach the sorcerer’s tower, she’d crept through sewage tunnels and servants’ passages and struggled up the narrow chimney that vented heat into the evil mage’s private chambers. Now, sticky with sweat and ash, her hands scraped raw from gripping the rough brickwork of the vent, Reyna was within the sorcerer’s most hidden, warded chamber.

At her throat, she could feel the peculiar buzz of the ward-stone. It was a device of the Old Kingdom. Though she loathed the dull reddish stone and its price–it must be bathed in a cup of blood every full moon–it enabled her to pass through the wards set to foil thieves like her.

Her blades had been blackened with soot and grease, as had the buckles on her dull gray garb and the grappling hook she’d used to scale the walls of the keep’s bailey. Her pale skin was darkened as well, and now a layer of chimney ash left her nothing more than a slender shadow in the darkness.

She was strong and swift and, thanks to the Queen’s Finest, better trained than she had ever been in her life. All for this one moment, this one task she had willingly taken, knowing the price of failure was a fate worse than death.

Reyna stood still, not touching the small chest for which she’d been sent. Instead she turned her head from side to side, trying to catch the elusive something she’d heard a moment ago. Though her dark hair was hidden under a gray cap, her delicate ears were bare, and it was those that gave her warning now. She tipped her head–such a small thing she’d heard. A noise so faint and fragile that she was not sure she had heard it. Still, she listened and did not move.

After a moment, she crouched down, peering at the chest and the ornate pillar upon which it rested. She shifted her weight, and again, there was that sound. A faint scrape where there should be none. The pillar was supposed to be black granite, and the tiny chest atop it filled with such evil it would take great effort to move it, yet the noise was the sound of something light, something far different from what Reyna’s eyes told her. It was clear the pillar was rocking, ever so slightly, and that should not be. She remained there for a long moment, searching with her eyes, but could see nothing amiss. Everything appeared as she had been told it would, but her ears told her different.

Finally, Reyna slipped back, away from the pillar and the chest she’d risked so much to steal. She eased the grate open again and began the long climb back down the vent. Whatever her eyes might say, her ears and her instincts were always true. That tempting little chest was nothing more than a trap.

Blue Rose: The RPG of Romantic Fantasy

First Steps

by Dawn Elliot

Svel was hungry and that’s why he was there, standing in the rain and waiting. This time of year it rained a lot, and he’d been wet a lot. And hungry a lot. He wasn’t the only one waiting; there were others, some very young, some older.

Svel’s attention snapped back to the wide wooden gate as it creaked open, and silence fell among the little crowd gathered in front of the Dancer’s Hall. Stepping out into the mud, an old man smiled beneficently at them and said, “So, the first day of spring has brought you all to Dance?”

He looked them over, rich and poor, young and old, and there was something in his gaze that made Svel’s nervousness evaporate. Poor and orphaned he might be, but no one in that place would mock him for it.

“Candidates only, if you please,” the old man said and dragged the gate wider as they filed in.

This was only a regional Hall, small in size and quiet in ambition. Inside, was a complex of low buildings, eaves dripping rain, and a shallow porch crowded with students. Svel sighed, flushing. Not only would he have to take some mysterious test, but he’d have to do it under the watchful eyes of the entire Hall.

In the courtyard was a collection of stumps set into the ground. Svel stared blankly at them. It wasn’t long before the stumps’ purpose became clear. The old man hopped nimbly up onto the first stump, smiling cheerfully.

“Here for the Dance? Perhaps drawn by fame? Fear? Simple hunger? Perhaps a more complex hunger than you know.” The old man seemed to be looking right at Svel. “Well, then Dance,” the old man said, taking a step to the next stump, a quick spin and a hop to the third and fourth, and then he was dancing, his feet barely touching the stumps. He spun and swayed gracefully despite his age, surefooted despite the rain.

Svel watched as others tried the Dance. None made it past the seventh step. He realized, watching, it wasn’t the number of steps that mattered; it was how you took them. Some of the candidates who’d made it all the way to the seventh step were turned away, while others who’d not gone as far were accepted. Standing there in the drizzle, Svel didn’t know what the Dance Master was looking for and realized, if he couldn’t predict the master’s mind, he’d best pay attention to his own steps.

Svel sighed, stepped onto the first stump, and then hopped to the next. He immediately realized there was a rhythm to the steps, and he was out of rhythm. He struggled to find it but was at the wrong angle for the fourth and had to twist mid-air to reach it. He could feel his balance sliding away and desperately leapt for the fifth. He spun again and found the sixth, then kept right on spinning, off the stumps and into the mud. Sitting there, he laughed because he could feel the rhythm now, in the beating of his heart, in the rise of his breath. The Dance was there; all he had to do was feel it, and follow it.

He looked up into the old spirit dancer’s eyes. They were warm with amusement and welcome and he held out a hand to help Svel up. “You might want to get out of those wet clothes,” the old man said, “and get yourself some soup–apprentice.”

Blue Rose: The RPG of Romantic Fantasy

Lovers of the Dawn

by Jeremy Crawford

“Please tell us about the birth of Lord Hiathas,” the twin girls implored their mother, Loreena. She shook her head and chuckled, having told them many times how the Dawn Prince came to be. It was their favorite story, not only because it included the first unicorn, but also because they giggled at how their older brother, Phaedryl, blushed at its telling. About to shoo her daughters out into the garden, Loreena spotted why the girls were asking for the tale now; Phaedryl, a willowy and handsome teenager, was on his way up the hill to their open kitchen door. Loreena smiled to herself and asked the twins, “Where should I begin?”

“With the unicorn!”

“Of course,” she laughed. “With the unicorn.” She sat down and began, “After Lord Braniel caught Lady Maurenna’s tears in his chalice, he lovingly sang the Eternal Song over it, and waited for what would happen next. At first there was a great quiet, and the water rippled in the Twilight. But then a light began to emanate from the chalice, and Lord Braniel knew something wondrous was about to take place.

“Soon the light was brighter than anything in the world. Not wishing to confine it to his chalice, Lord Braniel poured the illuminated water out, and wondered and waited. Freed into the open, the light grew brighter still, until not even Lord Braniel could see into it. He could tell there was a figure within, a young man perhaps, but the light would reveal no features. Drops of life-giving water fell from the figure, and as one hit the surface of the pool, there was a neigh, and from the water emerged the first unicorn. Its horn breached the surface first, followed by its serene face and pearly white body. Lord Braniel laughed in joy and welcome, as the unicorn whinnied and shook its luminous mane.” Loreena’s daughters were so transfixed they didn’t notice Phaedryl, until their mother looked up at him. He leaned against the doorjamb, a spring breeze blowing in past him, carrying aromas of honeysuckle and approaching rain. He smiled, somewhat shyly at his mother, waiting for her to continue.

She obliged: “What could be more beautiful than this?” Lord Braniel pondered aloud. In answer, the light grew smaller, but no less bright. It shrank until it was a halo behind the head of the most beautiful youth Lord Braniel had seen. The first unicorn bowed its head before the new god, who gently laid his hand on its mane. Newly born but fully grown, the youth said, “I am Hiathas,” and Lord Braniel’s heart ached at the loveliness of his voice. They gazed into each other’s eyes and knew, with joy and longing, they would be one for all the ages.” Loreena watched her son, as his cheeks flushed at the ending. The twins noticed and giggled.

Just then a whistle came from out in the garden, and the tailor’s son poked his head through the open window. “Coming, Phaedryl?” he asked with a grin. Phaedryl flushed even more, nodded, and laughed. Looking to his mother for her consent, she said, “Have a wonderful time at the fair.” Her eyes followed the boys as they walked down the lane and saw Phaedryl shyly slip his hand into the other boy’s. With happiness in her heart, she prayed, “Lord Hiathas, watch over these lovers of the dawn….”

Blue Rose: The RPG of Romantic Fantasy

Key to the Kingdom

by Dawn Elliot

Tallow smoke hung low in the small room, hazing the air. The Lich King Jarek leaned on the edge of the map table, ignoring the smoke and the uneasy shifting of his generals. Jarek no longer breathed, nor cared about the feelings of the living. They would do as he wished and that was what mattered.

“There.” He pointed, black painted nail sharpened to a deadly point and dipped in venom. “Our victory. There.”

Jarek’s black fingernail traced a path from the guardian Ice-Binder Mountains, through a narrow pass, into the Pavin Weald—and on into the heart of accursed Aldis. There was a long, shallow valley running towards the heart of the kingdom. The trees of the Weald were thinest there, and the mountains dipped low.

Aldis was a fertile and gentle land, of gentle, weak people. The winters were soft there, the farmlands generous with their bounty, the forests full of hardwoods and rare herbs. The west opened onto the sea, giving Aldis access to lands beyond the waters, a strength they refused to exploit. The soft and foolish citizens of that kingdom did not deserve the riches they possessed, yet they continued to defy the strength and uncanny power of the Kingdom of Kern.

They had warred with Aldis before, throwing the strength of ancient sorcery against the weak powers of the arcane arts. Jarek scowled at the memories. He had lost more than one army in battle with the kingdom of the Blue Rose. At first, young and foolish, he had been certain pure might would overcome their enemy. Now, older and wiser, Jarek knew that guile was also a strategy of war. With a new queen on the throne of Aldis, treachery and deception might win him what brute force could not.

“My lord…,” Jarek’s favored general—the only one who dared to question him—spoke up uncertainly. The long valley had been tried before, and their enemy guarded that weakness well. Jarek could see the thoughts pass in her mind, and smiled. Here was one who could be nurtured, a general who could be trained in guile and, properly managed, taught loyalty.

“Indeed. Obvious, is it not? Oft tried and oft failed.” Jarek’s burning red gaze shifted to the silent guest at the other end of the map table. The stranger stood, throwing back his hood to reveal the dark, elegant looks of the Western seafarers. A long scar traveled across his face, the mark of a traitor. He also wore a nose ring signifying his membership in the pilot’s guild. Hatred burned in his black eyes and shadowed his face.

The generals stirred, faces lit with sudden excitement. The sea passages to Aldis were protected by nature in the form of deadly shoals and treacherous currents; only trained pilots knew the secrets of passage. And here, for the first time in the history of landlocked Kern, a pilot stood in the council chambers of the last of the Sorcerer Kings.

“And here is our key to the kingdom,” Jarek said softly with a dry chuckle.