The Bridge at Ashairim

Home of Izira Nyte and The Forgotten Layers Inn. Resting in an unnamed magical realm, the place is easier to find when lost if one is without the aid of a map drawn by the lady herself.

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The Bridge at Ashairim

Post by Gren Blockman » Sun Apr 03, 2016 8:02 pm

Monday, February 29, 2016

“ . . . . and he was played by the great Viggo Mortensen, who didn’t just play a Ranger, but a Ranger with a deep-seated code of honor and integrity. A Ranger who hadn’t really discovered who he truly was yet, but didn’t let that stop him from doing the right thing and upholding what we know to be good and true in the world. You don’t find quality acting of that caliber any more. I mean, why do you think he wasn’t in the Hobbit prequels? Peter said, “If I can’t have Viggo, it can’t be done.” I mean, why bother trying, right?”

Gren was standing at the counter of the Forgotten Layers Inn. He was speaking to a gentleman farmer with dusty denim overalls and a straw hat.

“Son, I don’t got the foggiest notion o’ what you’re talkin’ about.” The farmer replied with a confused look on his face.

Gren sighed and slumped his shoulders. “Well, anyway, welcome to the Forgotten Layers Inn. You look hungry, would you like something to eat? Here’s our menu for tonight.” Gren handed the man a handwritten list of the entrees Izira was preparing in the kitchen.

The farmer thoughtfully took the menu and began to peruse it. After a while, his brows creased. “This sure is some high falootin’ fare you got here. Chicken Florentine? Ain’t you got somethin’ more . . . uh . . . basic?”

Gren smiled. “I’m glad you asked.” He gave a furtive glance over his shoulder to the kitchen door, then back to the farmer. “I have just the thing. It’s called the “Blockman Blue Plate Special”. It’s perfect for the common wayfarer.”

“Is that like some meat and three vegetables?”

“Meat and three vegetables.” Gren nodded knowingly.

“Alright, I’ll give that a whirl.”

Gren pumped both his fists as if he won a great victory, then held up his index finger. “I’ll be right back, sir.” Grinning and dancing a little bit, he pushed through the kitchen door, while the farmer’s look became more confused.

“Funny sort o’ feller”, he mused.

Gren came back after a few minutes, wearing an apron, and carrying a steaming blue plate of food which he set in front of the man. “There you are sir! One “Blockman Blue Plate Special”. That’s mashed potatoes with gravy, green beans with just a pinch of salt, creamed corn, and the entrée, Chicken Fried Chicken!” Gren beamed proudly.

“Now hold on, son, I got a question. Why exactly do you call it Chicken Fried Chicken? Shouldn’t it just be Fried Chicken?”

Gren got a panicked look on his face, and stared upwards trying to think of an answer. Then he brightened and his self-assured smile returned. “Because there’s so much flavor packed into that chicken, you’ve got to use the word twice to do it justice”. Gren nodded emphatically.

“Is that so.” The farmer said, disbelieving. The food looked good, though, so he tucked his napkin into his shirt and dug in. A few bites of the meat, and he gave Gren a pleased smile. “Chicken Fried Chicken.”

Gren pointed both his index fingers at the man in triumph.

The door suddenly opened, and there was a boy of about twelve years dressed in a brown fur coat and hat. He was shivering uncontrollably, his arms clasped around himself to try to keep warm, and his skin was starting to turn blue. His brown eyes darted around the Inn and landed on Gren at the bar.

“P-please, sir, d-do you huh-have a f-fire?”

Gren ran around the counter and escorted him to the sitting room on the side, where a fire was already burning in the hearth. He ushered the boy into an armchair. “Goodness, you look chilled to the bone! Have a seat, I’ll bring you some hot chocolate.”

“Th-thank you, sir.” The boy held his hands out to the fire and tried to stop his teeth from chattering.
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Post by Gren Blockman » Thu Apr 07, 2016 6:58 pm

Gren jogged into the kitchen, returning with a steaming mug, and found an afghan to wrap around the boy. Blowing slightly on the frothy cocoa, he drank it in quick gulps so as not to burn his mouth.

“Marshmallows. Thank you sir”, he said pleased. Then his eyes wandered around the Inn as if seeing it for the first time. “What hostel is this?”

“Hostel?” Gren asked with a bewildered look. “This is the Forgotten Layers Inn.”

“Inn? So I’m not anywhere near the Great Road? I didn’t know there was a village this far up in the mountains.”

Gren chuckled. “Uhh . . . you’re not where you think you are. This place is a . . . waypoint for those who’ve lost their path.”

The boy blinked several times at Gren. “I don’t quite know what you mean. But I have lost my way. To put it mildly.” The boy said the last part softly, and covered it with another gulp of cocoa.

“Well, it’s good you found this place before you froze solid. My name is Gren. I help out around here. My girlfriend, Izira, is the proprietress. She’s in the kitchen right now.”

“Making hot cocoa”, the boy smiled. “My name is Pr . . . . um . . . Ron. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

“Alright, Ron. Well, you’re welcome to warm up here as long as you’d like. If you’d like something to eat, we can fix you something as well.”

“Oh, yes, that would be grand! I’m famished.”

“I just served up a Blue Plate Special to a very satisfied customer. Does Chicken Fried Chicken sound good to you?”

Ron looked confused. “Why did you say chicken twice?”

“Because it’s so full of chicken flavor.”

“Oh.” The boy looked unsure. “You wouldn’t happen to have anything . . . different than Fried Chicken?”

“You mean like Chicken Florentine?”

Ron sighed with relief. “Oh, yes! That’s one of my favorite dishes. Please may I have some of that?”

Gren sighed as well. Well, one for two today wasn’t bad. “Just relax, I’ll have Izira fix it right up.”

The boy smiled happily and went back to gazing into the fire while Gren went into the kitchen.
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Post by Gren Blockman » Tue Apr 12, 2016 9:10 pm

Gren soon returned with a wooden tray full of steaming food. He set it down on the table in front of Ron.

“Chicken Florentine. With a little extra sauce. Creamy Risotto. Grilled Zucchini. A Parmesan Breadstick. And some more Hot Cocoa to wash it down.” Gren pointed to all the items on the tray, then handed Ron silverware rolled in a napkin. “Bon Appetit!”

Ron’s eyes popped out as he saw the food laid in front of him. “Oh thank you, sir!” He immediately began to devour what was laid out in front of him. Gren chuckled and moved back into the main hall, looking out the window questioningly. I wonder how a young man ended up here all by himself? The food soon vanished from the tray, and Gren returned with two small plates that both contained a slice of Izira’s famous lemon crumb pie, with vanilla ice cream. He set Ron’s down near his tray, then found a place to sit and eat his own slice.

“So . . . Ron, right? Where exactly do you call home?”

“Ashairim! I’m part of the ruh . . . uh . . . I’m a rower. On a trade vessel.”

“Okay”, Gren gave him a bit of an odd look. “How did you come to find us here?”

Ron looked at his slice of pie, almost guiltily. “I was . . . exiled. I’m afraid that Ashairim isn’t a Free City the way it once was.”

“Why don’t you tell me about it”, Gren said after another mouthful of pie.

“I’m surprised you haven’t heard the news . . . even out here in the mountains. Oh well, I suppose it will pass the time. If you recall, Ashairim was a small trading port on the Deep Blue River. Because of its location in the center of the continent, and because you couldn’t go from North to South without taking a boat across the River, it became very important to the region. One day, the great Lords of the North and the Cheiftans of the South decided they had enough warring. They decided to build an immense road to better connect their lands. It would increase trade and communication, and perhaps help to ease the tension between their two peoples. Ashairim was right in the Great Road’s path. They had to build a massive bridge across the Deep Blue River to span the two halves of the continent. The Bridge at Ashairim should have been a boon to the small town, but it instead became a curse. The local warlords all desired to take the town and collect its newfound wealth for themselves. The river traders and pirates all were enraged by the Bridge that now took away their business, so they constantly schemed to destroy it. And to make matters worse, the Lords of the North and the Chieftans of the South went to war again. Luckily, we had the Paladins. They would patrol the Bridge and the town, and drive off anyone who tried to invade. In the midst of this chaos, a warlord by the name of Bhasell planned a sneak attack. He was given information on when the Paladins would have their next meeting at their Chapterhouse. That night, he surrounded them, and shut them inside. He threatened to burn them up if they did not surrender to him. They did so, and were marched into town, where Bhasell demanded that Baron Stefano surrender to him or he would execute them all. The Baron agreed on the condition that his only son’s life would be spared. Bhasell accepted. He had the Baron and the Paladins imprisoned, and he exiled his son into these mountains.” Ron gulped, then added hastily, “And anyone who still pledged loyalty to the Baron and not to Bhasell!”

Gren watched Ron, then smiled sympathetically. “The Baron’s son must have been very brave to endure all that.”

“He was”, Ron said, looking at his now empty plate. “One day . . . the Baron’s son will return and set his Father, and all the people of Ashairim, free.”
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Post by Gren Blockman » Sun Apr 17, 2016 8:02 pm

“That sounds like a noble cause, Ron.” He glanced outside at the day’s light which was beginning to fade. “You’re welcome to stay the night here. Free of charge. You look like you could use the rest.”

“Your generosity is truly humbling, sir. I would protest, but I am sorely exhausted. I accept your offer.”

Gren smiled and nodded. “Right this way.” He led Ron up the stairs to the single rooms on the second floor. Gren opened the door to the first room and showed him in. “There you are. And with a view of the gardens no less. Call if you need anything.”

Ron wasn’t interested in the gardens, and looked at the bed happily, as if he had never seen one before. “This is fine, just fine. Good evening”, he said hurriedly, and climbed into the bed without taking his clothes off. He almost fell asleep before his head hit the pillow. Gren smiled gently and shut the door behind him as he left.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Late the next morning, Gren was sitting at the bar, eating a plate of eggs and bacon that Izira had made for him. Ron came down the stairs, yawning and stretching his arms.

“My heavens, I haven’t slept like that in the longest time. How long had I rested?” Ron asked Gren.

Gren chuckled. “Sixteen hours, give or take an hour, I believe. You really must have been tired.”

“Oh, I was, I was.” Ron looked at Gren’s plate of eggs hungrily.

Gren snapped his fingers. “Breakfast. I do believe you’ll want Breakfast, am I right?”

“Oh, yes! I mean, if you please, sir.”

“I’ll see if Izira has any of these eggs left.” Gren went behind the bar and into the kitchen, while Ron took a seat there. It was then that Ron noticed Silas the cat lounging on a seat next to him. The cat was licking its paw and wiping it behind its ear, as if cleaning itself.

“My word, what a strange creature. And they let it sit where they eat like this?” Ron questioned.

Silas stopped cleaning himself and gave Ron an annoyed look.

Ron blinked. “It’s like it understands what I’m saying. How interesting.”

Silas flicked his tail, then hopped down from the seat and trotted over to the sitting area, where he found a comfy chair in the sun to curl up and nap in.

Gren came out with a plate of eggs, bacon, a biscuit, and a glass of orange juice. “Here you are, and with a biscuit, no less! I like to put my eggs and bacon on it and make a sandwich. Like this . . . “ Gren took his plate and an extra biscuit he brought out for himself, forked some eggs and bacon from his plate and stuffed them inside. He took a big bite of his newly made sandwich. “Mmmm . . . now that’s good eatin’.”

Ron gave him a dubious look. “Separate is fine with me.” Eagerly he ate his breakfast, much the same way that he did his meal from the night before. When he finished, he gave Gren a questioning look. “Pardon me . . . Gren . . . but would you happen to know a guide that could show me through the mountains? As much as I enjoy my stay here, I must be on my way.”

Gren thought of how to answer Ron. “I honestly don’t know of anyone who knows about the mountains, but I’m a Ranger. Maybe I could help. I thought you said there wasn’t a village in the mountains, though?”

“Well, there isn’t. But there is an old Paladin who lives in a cottage here . . . so I’m told. His name is Zanaro. I think he would be able to help . . . those still loyal to the Baron.”

“I could help you try to find this Zanaro, if you’d like.”

“You would? That would be most grand!”

“Alright. Let me tell Izira where I’m going first.” Gren went back into the kitchen, and several minutes later he reappeared with a satchel full of food. “For the trip.” He smiled at Ron.

Ron brightened. “For the first time in quite a while, I am full of hope. Let us go, Gren, I know in my heart we will find Zanaro now!”
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Post by Gren Blockman » Fri Apr 22, 2016 6:34 pm

Rummaging through some Lost and Found boxes, Gren found a scarf, gloves, and an extra sweater for Ron to wear on their trip. He tried to bundle up as best he could himself before the pair set off to return to Ron’s world. They didn’t have to walk far, as the portal was located right in front of some rose bushes in one of the gardens.

“Here we go”, Gren said, and they vanished in a burst of blue lights. They appeared in a rocky path that slowly snaked its way up a white peak in a chain of snowy mountains. They were immediately struck by stiff, swirling winds that blew snow into their faces.

“Do you know which way the cottage is?” Gren shouted over the storm.

“No, I just hoped that following this path I’d at least find somebody”, Ron yelled back.

Unexpectedly, Gren saw a light appear on one of the tracks leading off from the main path. It looked like the glow from a lantern. It bounced up and down slightly, as Gren squinted at it, trying to make out the shape of the person who might be holding it.

“Look!” Gren pointed at it for Ron. “Let’s check it out. We can’t stay in this storm for long, and they might be able to help us.”

Ron agreed, and they set off up the track. The light stayed ahead of them, still bobbing up and down, as they followed the winding path. Gren pulled his Ranger’s cloak around him tighter as the cold winds increased their fury. Finally, the track opened onto a shelf that overlooked the mountain range. There stood a solitary cottage made of wooden logs. The light disappeared into the doorway. Nothing could be seen through the dark windows, and everything was eerily quiet.

“There’s Zanaro’s cottage, it must be!” Ron exclaimed.

Gren looked dubious. “Well, we need shelter, so let’s investigate.”

Ron broke into a trot in his eagerness to see the lost Paladin, and Gren had to hurry to catch up. Before Gren could stop him, he had barreled through the door and into the cottage. Gren looked over his shoulder at who was inside. His eyes widened in shock as it was not who he thought it would be.

There in the main room of the cottage was a thin, balding man in his fifties sitting behind a card table. Fiddling with tarot cards, the man lifted his grey eyes to Gren and a sickly smile appeared on his face. It was the fortune teller from Creosa.

“We meet again, Ranger.”

Before Gren could reply, he felt a sharp blow on the back of his head, and everything went black.
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Post by Gren Blockman » Wed Apr 27, 2016 4:54 pm

Date Unknown

Gren painfully awoke in a gloomy, stone cell. He vaguely recalled images from a bumpy wagon ride that he spent lying at the bottom of a cage, staring up at clouds from a strange sky. He rubbed the back of his head and rolled into a sitting position. Outside the cell, there were sputtering torches that lined a shadowy hallway. He blinked his eyes and tried to recall the previous events that led him to his unfortunate predicament. He soon heard measured, ominous footfalls to his left. They stopped, and there was a long pause, before he heard a voice.

“Well, well. “Prince” Ronaldo. How are you enjoying your ‘triumphant’ return to Ashairim, hmm? You never should have sought out Zanaro. Your actions mean your father’s sacrifice is all in vain.” It was the voice of the Grey-Eyed Man.

“I will do everything in my power to end your evil reign and restore Ashairim to its rightful ruler.” That was Ron. He must be in the next cell, Gren thought.

“Rightful ruler? Who is that, you? Your father, Stefano? I am its ruler now. And I will use this little city as a springboard to take over this whole planet if I choose. Do not worry yourself about Ashairim, little prince. Worry about staying alive. Now I will talk to your “protector”, hmm?”

The footfalls began again and stopped in front of Gren’s cell. The Grey-Eyed Man stood there with his sickly smile, absently shuffling his deck of cards in his hands. He then stuffed the cards into his pocket and crossed his arms.

“I don’t know if ever caught your name, Ranger. Perhaps we should be formally introduced.”

Gren remained silent.

“My name is Lord Bhasell. In *this* world anyway. Soon to be King Bhasell, if I stick around long enough.”

Gren still didn’t answer.

“”Prince” Ronaldo said your name was Gren. I was interested to hear what your last name was. I suggest you be more . . . hospitable to your host, Gren the Ranger. Considering who it is in the cell next to you.”

Gren’s eyes briefly went to the wall to his left, then back to the Grey-Eyed Man. “Blockman. Gren Blockman.”

Lord Bhasell frowned. “Blockman. That doesn’t sound right. But no matter. I suppose you’re wondering what you’re doing here. Or what *I’m* doing here for that matter. After our little encounter in Creosa, I tried to inform the ‘powers that be’ of your existence. I was disappointed to find my discovery had fallen on deaf ears. You are not perceived as the threat that you should be.”

“I am not a threat, I’m just a Ranger . . . “

“Oh, spare me, Mister Blockman. And don’t interrupt. As I was saying, I was rebuffed and mocked.” Here his grey eyes became hard, and his face tight. “I am not one to be mocked, Mister Blockman. Therefore, I orchestrated your current little “save the Prince” adventure you’re on. Except your adventure ends here in this cell. And your test is just about to begin.”
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Post by Gren Blockman » Mon May 02, 2016 4:56 pm


“You’re the ‘Knight’, you figure it out. Have a good night, Mister Blockman.” The Grey-Eyed Man gave Gren his sickly smile, then turned and disappeared down the corridor, his footfalls ending after the thunk of a solid door.

Gren sighed, then focused his hearing on the next cell. After a few minutes of silence, he spoke.


A hesitation. “Hello, Gren. Sorry about all this.”

“Do you know who that man is?”

“I never saw him face to face before now. But he fits the description of Lord Bhasell. They said he just appeared out of nowhere a month ago and began conquering the whole Valley. I . . . uh . . . I have a confession to make.”


“I’m really Prince Ronaldo. I’m the son of Baron Stefano, rightful ruler of Ashairim.”

Gren smiled. He sort of made the connection when they met at the Inn. “You don’t say?”

“Yes, it’s true. But I deceived you in order to protect myself. I was hoping to find Zanaro and return to free my father.”

“Pardon me for asking, but why do they call you a Prince? I thought the son of a Baron would be some other title.”

“That’s a bit of a long story. We haven’t had a King in the Valley in quite some time. Centuries ago, the last King, Maurizio, faced an invasion from the Lords of the North. His army was badly outnumbered, and they were pushed all the way into the Central Square of Ashairim. There he fought back to back with his most trusted Knight, and they both thought they would die that day. But word had gotten to the Paladins across the river, and they landed and charged through the town, routing the Lords of the North. It was too late for Maurizio, who had been mortally wounded. But he gave his sword to his trusted Knight, and told him to carry on his legacy. The Knight was too humble, and did not think himself worthy of such a charge, so he thrust it into the oak tree in the Central Square. It was said that only someone with a pure heart would be able to withdraw it and restore the monarchy. We waited centuries for someone to withdraw the sword, but no one ever did. My father said that story was just a legend, and the Barons needed to unite and crown another King, considering the adversity the Valley has faced since the Bridge was built. The Barons voted on whose child would become King once they came of age, and I won. That’s why they call me “Prince”.”

“That’s quite a story”, said Gren.

“I’m sorry I got you mixed up in this. I only wanted you to help me find Zanaro.”

“It’s alright. That man had it in for me.”

The door at the end of the hallway suddenly slammed open, and heavy steps could be heard coming towards Gren. It was the Grey-Eyed Man, flanked by a half dozen warriors dressed in chain mail, holding spears.

“It’s time, Ranger.”
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Post by Gren Blockman » Mon May 09, 2016 11:57 am

The cell door creaked open and the warriors grabbed Gren and forced him down the hallway. Ahead he could see another group of soldiers dragging Ron down a separate direction as he made his way through the dark, musty passage. After many twists and turns, they appeared at an iron grate which opened into the Central Square. Gren squinted at the bright sun as he was escorted over the white cobblestones. There was a towering marble fountain set in the middle, with a statue of a king holding up a sword. Before the fountain was a gnarled, old oak tree with the hilt of a sword protruding from its trunk. A ring of soldiers surrounded the tree and fountain, and a crowd of citizens watched behind them. Gren was released in front of the oak tree, next to a man with long, grey hair and a bloody face. The Grey-Eyed Man moved beyond the ring of soldiers and onto a wooden platform where he sat down and cast his gaze upon Gren.

“People of Ashairim, behold your Champions!” Bhasell’s soldiers laughed mockingly as he extended his hand towards Gren and the other man. “Sir Zanaro you know. Gren Blockman you don’t. We are gathered here today for a special purpose. You see, you all know that whoever draws the sword from the tree is fated to crown your next King. None of you have been able to free it since none of you have a pure heart. Not surprising, really”, he said the last part dryly. “So we have the last two candidates with even an outside chance of drawing that sword. And they will do so. And then they will hand it to me.” He added the last part with a sickly smile.

“I know not what madness this is you speak of, but I would never validate you as King of our city”, Zanaro stated.

“Oh, I think you will. Considering it’s the only weapon available for you during our little . . . ‘competition’ today.”

“What do you mean, ‘competition’?” Zanaro asked.

“This one.” The Grey-Eyed Man pointed behind Zanaro.

From the ring of soldiers, a stone golem strode ahead towards the two men. It was holding a massive wooden club that it swung in an underhanded motion, catching Gren who had just turned and failed to react in time. It knocked Gren from his feet and sent him flying onto his back onto the cobblestones. Gren coughed weakly and tried to catch his breath.

“Ooooh. That looked painful”, said the Grey-Eyed Man with a smirk.
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Post by Gren Blockman » Mon May 23, 2016 11:41 am

Zanaro ran and knelt beside Gren. “Are you hurt?”

Gren winced and held his side. “I think I might have broken a few ribs, but other than that . . . “, he managed a pained smile.

Zanaro glared at the Grey-Eyed Man. “You villain! How do you expect us to fight against a stone golem with nothing but a sword?”

“That’s kind of the idea”, he replied dryly. “Now if you manage to free it, and give it to me, I might call that golem off. Might.

Zanaro muttered an oath and leaned down to whisper in Gren’s ear. “Listen to me, I have a plan. There is a grate in the fountain that empties into the sewer. We can make our escape through that. But I need you to buy me some time. Grab the sword and keep the golem off me for a few minutes.”

“I’ll try”, Gren grimaced. Zanaro helped Gren get to his feet, just as the golem swung its club at Gren again. Zanaro yanked Gren to the side in time.

“Get the sword!” Zanaro cried, and leapt into the fountain. He began to fish around in the water for the grate. Gren stumbled to the tree and put his hand around the blade’s hilt. The Grey-Eyed Man stared intently at Gren, not paying attention to what Zanaro was doing. With a strenuous tug, the blade swung free with a momentary flash of blue lights.

The Grey-Eyed Man pointed his finger at Gren. “I knew it! I knew it all along! I was right!”

Another swing of the golem’s club and Gren was retreating back to the fountain, the blow landing dangerously close to his legs.

“It must be . . . somewhere . . . found it!” Zanaro cried.

“I highly suggest you turn that sword over to me, Mister Blockman”, the Grey-Eyed Man said.

“I have a better idea . . . “, Gren began.

“Got it!” Zanaro yanked the grate upwards, opening the passage.

“ . . . I think we’ll just be leaving now”, Gren finished.

“What are they . . . SOLDIERS! STOP THEM!”

Zanaro quickly slid down the tunnel, while Gren jumped onto the fountain, batting at the golem with the sword to keep it at bay.

“Claustrophobia . . . Hydrophobia . . . right now Necrophobia trumps them both. Here goes nothing.” Gren took a deep breath with his cheeks flared, and he dove down the watery passage. He zoomed downwards as if riding a water slide, until the tunnel opened above a rapidly flowing sewer, which he landed into with a splash.
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Post by Gren Blockman » Wed Jun 01, 2016 7:54 pm

There was very little light in the tunnel, and the water that Gren found himself shoulder deep in was dark green and smelled horribly.

“Gren? Gren. Over here, there’s a walkway.” It was Zanaro. Gren followed his voice until he bumped into the stone wall of the trench, and he climbed out onto the stony path which ran alongside it. “This tunnel should go straight enough, until we make it to the River. Just keep your voice down. Bhasell knows we’re in here, and will be sending soldiers after us.”

They groped along the passageway, using the wall on their right to guide them as they made their way into the dank tunnels. It was not long before the two heard shouts and saw the flickering of torches dancing along the walls to their rear.

“We’ve got to go faster, they’re right on our heels!”

“Maybe we should hide in the water until they go by”, said Gren, but without much enthusiasm.

Suddenly, to their right, they heard a hissing noise. “Pssst. You two! You sound like a heard of stampeding cattle! Come in here before those soldiers catch you!”

They turned and saw a narrow tunnel in the wall, and a disheveled hermit wiggling his index finger at them. It was hard to distinguish his features in the darkness. Faced with Bhasell’s soldiers bearing down on them, they had no choice but to go with the man. Bent almost at a 90 degree angle, they followed him through the roughhewn, tight fitting passage. They heard the stomping and shouts of the soldiers go past their escape route, and only then did the hermit dare to speak, albeit in a whisper.

“We heard what you did on the surface. We wanted to help you if we could. Ashairim has many levels. We live here in the sewers. We can get you out and to the River. But we have to move quickly.”

Zanaro and Gren looked at each other oddly, but then they understood clearly what he meant as the passage opened into a tall cavern. Randomly clustered together were shacks built of wooden planks, tents, and boxes that resembled a makeshift city.

“Welcome to UnderAshairim”, the hermit said with a gap-toothed smile.
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Post by Gren Blockman » Mon Jun 13, 2016 11:27 am

The hermit led Gren and Zanaro past the shacks and tents. Curious people peeked out through the doors and windows as they walked down the main street. There were vendors selling food, tools, and clothing, and their shouts could be heard echoing off the cavern walls.

“A lot of people have fled here since Bhasell took over”, the hermit said. “It’s getting too crowded down here. I was hoping, Sir Zanaro, that you had some kind of plan?” The hermit looked at Zanaro with a hopeful expression.

Zanaro frowned slightly. “I do, but whether it will succeed is another matter. I was hoping we could make it to the River, escape to the other side, and make our way to the Chapterhouse.”

“Free the Paladins! If only we could be so lucky.”

“Yes, but first, we need to get to the River.”

“Of course. You’re going to need a disguise.” The hermit poked his head into a tent, and ushered Gren and Zanaro in. He gave them some of the shabby clothing the residents of UnderAshairim were wearing. “There’s a dock nearby that hires some of us here to help with fishing. I can get you on a boat, and they’ll drop you on the other side.”

Gren pulled on the clothes and a wool cap, then followed the hermit and Zanaro out of the tent, then south and into another series of tunnels. They appeared in the sunlight, and Gren squinted up at the sky. They were on the riverside, across from a series of wooden docks, clustered in one of the many coves in Ashairim. The hermit quickly led them across the riverfront to one of the smaller fishing boats. There was a man with a wool cap like Gren’s, long oily hair, and his two front teeth missing. Cheerily, the hermit waved.

“Bensan! Good to see you this fine day!”

“What’s so great about it? All hell’s broken loose in the city. Something about two missing knights. It’s a genuine crap sandwich if you ask me.” Then he began eyeing Gren and Zanaro warily.

“You’re always so negative, Bensan. Cheer up for once. Let me introduce you to my new friends. They’re looking for a job. And maybe passage to the other side. You know.”

“Passage. To the other side. One of *them* kind of jobs, eh?”

The hermit sighed. “Please? Friend?”

“Aw, don’t start with that “friend” crap. Alright, alright. But these better not be who Bhasell’s looking for. I don’t have a death wish.” He walked up to Gren and sneered, exposing his missing teeth. “This one looks scared.”

“I . . . uh . . . that’s just my natural expression.” Gren smiled unsteadily.

Bensan spit on the ground, and gave a disgusted sound. “Fine. As long as I’m getting paid.”

The hermit quickly shoved some coins into Bensan’s hand. Bensan eyed them distrustfully for a few seconds then shoved them into his jacket.

“Welcome aboard, boys. Now grab those harpoons and get to work.”

“Thanks for your help”, Zanaro said to the hermit, shaking his hands.

“Hey, this is my city too. Just come back with . . . . you know.” The hermit gave Zanaro a shrewd wink.

Zanaro chuckled, and he and Gren climbed into the fishing boat.

Just then at the other end of the docks, a platoon of Bhasell’s soldiers appeared. They were roughly shoving sailors aside, and tearing apart one of the vessels, looking for them.

“I think we’d better get a move on.”

“Hold your horses, this ain’t a cruise ship. Pushy son of a guns . . . “ Bensan stuck a pole into the water and forced the boat off into the current.
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Post by Gren Blockman » Mon Jun 27, 2016 11:26 am

The waters of the Deep Blue River flowed around them as the three men sailed into its midst. Gren could not remember seeing water with such a rich, royal blue color back in the forests of RhyDin. Bensan squinted at the water, his head darting back and forth as he looked for potential fishing targets.

“Alright, I might as well get some profit out of this. Grab your harpoons, there’s a school of fish on the starboard. Now just don’t pitch that thing out there, you have to aim below to fish. The light hitting the water makes the fish look farther away than it really is. Here, watch this.” Bensan took one of the harpoons and made sure the line attaching it to the boat was securely fastened. Lifting it behind his head, he then tossed it into the water. Rapidly hauling it back in, Gren saw a fish wriggling on its tip.

“Get it? Now you give it a try.”

While Bensan rowed them across the wide river, Gren and Zanaro did their best to catch their aquatic prey. It took a little while to get the hang of it, but in time a small pile of squirming fish began to accumulate in the bottom of the boat.

“Well, not bad for a couple of amateurs. I might not regret this little trip after all.” Bensan said, with a gap toothed grin.

The miles and hours flowed by as they passed the middle of the river and headed to the southern bank. In the distance on their right, they could see the grey span of the Bridge.

“Do you know what the situation is on the other side?” Zanaro asked Bensan.

Bensan shrugged and absently spit in the water. “Screwed up. Same as on this side.”

“What’s going on at the Chapterhouse?”

“Bhasell’s got the Paladins all locked up inside. Surprised he hasn’t killed them all just to be done with it.”

Zanaro remained silent after that. They navigated towards a little fishing community on the southern bank as darkness began to set in. They gathered the fish they caught into crates and hauled them to the nearest market before they closed. Bensan seemed halfway pleased as he got his asking price and jingled the coins in his hands.

“There’s an inn with some cheap rooms down the road. I ain’t sailing out after dark, so if you want to follow me, I can show you.”

Gren and Zanaro followed him down the dockside street to a rustic inn with weathered wooden planks. There was a sign out front with a picture of a marlin with X’s for eyes.

“The Dead Marlin”, confirmed Bensan. “Just mind your own business and everything will be fine.” A brief grin, and Bensan led them inside.

The interior looked just as weathered as the exterior did. The tables, the bar, the floors were made of the same battered wood. The air was hazy as many of the fisherman smoked pipes while they relaxed for the evening. Bensan led them to the bar where a grey haired woman in her sixties served mugs of light brown ale to the customers. Her blue eyes narrowed as Bensan approached.

“Maddie. Good evening.”

“You call me Maddalena, Bensan. What do you want?” She put one hand on a hip.

Bensan got a sour look on his face. “Same thing I always want. I want a room. And one each for these two.”

Maddalena looked like she had a problem with that until she saw Zanaro, then her face brightened. She absently patted her hair and straightened her stance.

“Well, your ‘friends’ don’t usually look as handsome as this one.”

“Do you two want to be alone?” Bensan said while wiggling his finger between her and Zanaro.

“Uh, pardon me, Madam Maddalena, but we are very tired, and would like very much a good night sleep, if you would be so kind.” Zanaro interrupted, looking a bit flustered.

Maddalena smiled sweetly at Zanaro. “Oh, a gentleman. By all means.” Then she narrowed her eyes at Bensan. “No trouble. And no whiskey this time.”

Bensan scowled and paid Maddalena for the rooms. They went up a set of rickety stairs where Bensan gave the two an absent wave that passed for a goodbye before he stomped inside and slammed the door.

“Let’s go in mine, we can make plans for what our next move is”, Zanaro said. Gren nodded and they both entered Zanaro’s room.
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Post by Gren Blockman » Mon Jul 18, 2016 11:39 am

The room was decorated with the same drab wood as the rest of the inn. A simple bed was pushed into one far corner, and a table and two chairs was crammed into the other. Zanaro sighed and went over to the table, having a seat, and Gren followed suit. Zanaro leaned his elbows on the table and covered his face with his hands.

“Thank you for your help, Gren. From here I have to decide how I’m going to free the Paladins from the Chapterhouse. But I’m sure you just want to go home. Where do you call home, Gren?”

Gren smiled slightly. In all the excitement, he realized Zanaro didn’t know he came from another world. “I come from a place called RhyDin, via a portal through the Forgotten Layers Inn. I’m not from this world.”

Zanaro squinted his eyes in confusion. “You’re . . . not from . . . then how did you get here?”

“Ron. Er, Ronaldo. He stumbled upon the Inn when he was in the mountains and it brought him to me. He told me his story, and I followed him back through the portal, trying to find your cottage and deliver him to safety.”

Zanaro rubbed his forehead. “That does complicate things. If the portal back to your home world is in the northern mountains, that means we’d have to go back through Ashairim to get there. I’m sure Bhasell’s troops are now patrolling the Bridge and the fishing docks at this point, due to our escape.”

“Is there any other way around Ashairim?”

“Well, you could go upriver, but that could take days, and could be dangerous depending on how far reaching Bhasell’s influence is. The other option . . . well it would be asking a lot, but if you help me free the Paladins, we could clear the town, then I can show you the route to my cottage and your portal home.”

“Another battle. Well, it looks like I don’t have much choice. I’ll do it. Do you think Ronaldo will be alright until we can arrive with the Paladins?”

“He should be. Bhasell probably needs his credibility to rule the town, even if Ronaldo would be nothing more than a puppet. That’s why he wanted the sword so bad.”

Gren pulled the sword from beneath his clothes. “Speaking of which, do you want this back?”

Zanaro chuckled. “Keep it for now. You were the one that drew it. Besides, you’re going to need a weapon for what is to come.”

Gren wiped his hand across his face. “Geez, I wonder how long I’ve been gone? I lost track of time.”

“Do you have someone waiting for you back home?”

“Yes. Izira, my girlfriend, and the proprietress of the Inn. I miss her like crazy.”

“She must be beautiful for you to miss her so much.”

“Oh she is, but that’s just the start. She’s sweet, loving, and a great cook.”

“Sounds like quite a catch”, Zanaro said laughing.

“Yes, she is. I can picture her now, sitting at the bar, reading a book and drinking tea.”

“Well, we’ll get you back to your Izira. I think I have an idea how we can release the Paladins and set everything right again.”
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Post by Gren Blockman » Mon Jul 25, 2016 11:42 am

Date Unknown + 1

The Chapterhouse of the Paladins had stood for centuries on the southern bank of the Deep Blue River. It formed the first line of defense against the Chieftans of the South and had fulfilled that duty for as long as anyone could remember. The building featured tall towers and spires with various stained glass windows, displaying valiant deeds by former Paladins from long ago. The stables were extensive, and the basements were large enough to hold a year’s supply of food in case of a siege.

Bhasell’s men now patrolled the old building and its perimeter. There was an area outside that had been roped off for the imprisoned Paladins, along with tents that formed their shelter from the elements. The guards had been doubled since Zanaro and Gren’s escape, but as dusk approached that day, the threat seemed to diminish. Just two men couldn’t cause any problems against so many warriors. Besides, if they knew what was good for them, they’d have disappeared far away by now.

As the sun began to set, the guards saw a large cart being drawn by a team of donkeys approaching the Chapterhouse. A grey haired man was holding the reins. He was dressed in shabby clothing with a patch over one eye while waving a tankard over his head and singing a drinking song.

“I drank a mug for my ol’ mum, I drank again to . . . someone’s . . . bum. Son of a . . . how did that one go again?” The grey haired man elbowed his companion. He was younger looking with a beard, he had a patch too, and a nervous expression on his face.

“Maybe you’ve had enough.”

“What are you talking about? I can drink as much as I want. It’s a celebration!” He raised his tankard again.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, what the hell is all this? Where do you think you’re going?” One of Bhasell’s guard stood in the path of the cart and flagged it down.

“Ah! Greeting my good man! We come bearing gifts, ha ha!” The grey haired man gestured to the cart behind him, which contained numerous wooden barrels. “Lord Bhasell sends his regards due to the capture of the notorious outlaw, Sir Zanaro.” The man blew his nose into his shirt sleeve, then downed another gulp from his tankard.

The guard looked at him suspiciously, then eyed his companion, who was glancing at him nervously.

“That one seems scared.” The guard commented.

The companion hesitated for a second, then replied. “You don’t know how he gets when he’s drunk”, he replied, pointing to the driver.

The grey haired driver let loose a barking laugh and hopped down from the cart’s seat, clapping the guard on the back. “Aw come on, friend, don’t be a stick in the mud, take a look at all this wonderful BEER.” He shouted the last word so the other guards in the area could hear him. “You wouldn’t want all this beautiful BEER to go to waste, would you? It’s a regular river of BEER back here!”
The driver rolled one of the barrels from the back of the cart with a grunt, then pried the lid off so the guard could see. Inside was the aforementioned brown liquor. The other guards had curiously wandered up to see what the commotion was about, then gave pleased shouts when they saw the bounty of ale. The first guard tried to maintain order and keep them back, but the grey haired man put his arm around his shoulders and shoved his tankard up into his face.

“Live a little, son! Drink up and have some fun for once!” Bhasell’s guards pushed past the men and began to distribute the barrels of ale amidst much shoving and grousing.

Several hours later, all of Bhasell’s guards were sleeping off the effects of the brown ale, which seemed to have been laced with some kind of sleeping agent. The grey haired man and his companion removed their eye patches and clothing, revealing Zanaro and Gren.

“Come on, we have to hurry in case there are patrols out there. We have to find the Captain of the Paladins, Isabella, and get up the road before anyone discovers what we’ve done.”
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Post by Gren Blockman » Fri Jul 29, 2016 7:01 pm

Tiptoeing past the sleeping guards, Zanaro and Gren entered the holding area for the Paladins, most of whom had gone to bed at such a late hour. Peeking from tent to tent, they found Isabella in the largest one in the middle of the encampment.

Isabella was a young woman with long, braided, brown hair. She turned from her seat at a desk when she heard the men enter. Her eyes widened and she immediately went to embrace Zanaro.

“Sir Zanaro, don’t tell me they’ve caught you too!”

“No, Isabella, I bring better tidings. We’ve drugged all the guards, and our moment of liberation is now. Tonight. Are enough Paladins ready for battle?”

Isabella smiled. “Indeed we are. Let us assemble them.”

Marching imperiously from the tent, followed by Zanaro and Gren, Isabella gathered the Paladins from their tents. Some were ordered to tie up the sleeping guards, while others began to get the horses ready. Once they had finished their tasks, Zanaro stood in front of the congregation of Paladins with Isabella and Gren flanking him.

“Paladins! It is I, Sir Zanaro. It is time to free Ashairim from Bhasell and his barbarians. We must strike now, quickly, before Bhasell can prepare himself any more than he already has. Our first objective is simple. We will charge and take the Bridge! To your horses!”

The sound of many iron suits of armor clanking could be heard as the Paladins mounted their steeds. Torches flared up here and there amongst the procession, and Gren could see the light shining off plate mail.

“Fall out in columns! Follow me!”The mounted Paladins filed up the road at a brisk trot, preparing to retake the city. Gren could see the stars twinkling in the purple night sky. Everything seemed to be going so fast. Just yesterday he had been running for his life, now he was taking part in a cavalry charge. He tried to calm his nerves with some deep breathing and pictured Izira’s face in his mind.

As they approached the Bridge, Gren could see Bhasell’s guards milling about. Some stopped and gawked at the oncoming Paladins, some turned and tried to run back across to the city.

“Steady! Form your ranks! Our home is just over the Bridge! For your families and for Prince Ronaldo! CHARGE!!!”

The clinking of lowered visors and lances was heard as the Paladins fanned out into attack formation. The hoofs of their steeds thundered on the cobblestones as they rushed their enemy. Bhasell’s guards lacked any kind of cohesive strategy, and they were either run down or knocked off the Bridge. The screams of the dying and wounded echoed in Gren’s ears as the Paladins smashed their way across the Bridge of Ashairim.
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