Tales of the Outlands
Tales of the Outlands

Tales of the Outlands

Tales of the Outlands

Meagan’s Children

by Ruin deKaye

Niamh Dan y Dwr, a planewalker retired due to leg injury, living with her brother and his wife, told me the following story…

There is a long road that runs between my village and the next. I dinna travel it often as a girl, but lately, Robbie’s been taking it to see an old woman for his Eilean. She’s ill, with her third bairn in two years. The other two were still-born and Robbie’s desperate now. Eilean would give anything for a son an’ she knows it, but she cannot recall one moment to the next in her state.

I travel now with Robbie sometimes, to keep him away from the snake-oil dealers and the stags selling cure-alls. What’s a village without a Priestess? Poor, is what. But Robbie can’t stand to see his lovely wife so miserable, so he’s willing to try anything. Anything! Even snake oil and cure-all. Nothing that would work, anyway. He wouldn’t listen to me, anyway. He hasn’t listened to me since Father died. That’s another story.

The road was long enough that it was a three-day journey to the next village. We had to sleep under the sky. Stars are things on prime worlds, and moons, but the sky overhead dimmed until it was dark like the moon hid behind a cloud.

I had made this journey with Robbie twice so far, to see if the nearest village had a Priestess visiting. They never bothered with our little thing. Nobody could afford it. But Robbie could I don’t know how, but he could, so he visited the village as often as he could get away from the fields.

This third time is the one I’m talking about. Chalk it up to the Rule of Threes if you like, but what happened this night has been happening long before someone pinned it down with a name and some math or logic.

In Tir na Og, brownies and pixies and sprites and those creatures live a little bit closer to the creatures that named them, and so they’ve retained more of their truth. Brownies are house sprites that invade and disrupt, but if you feed them and clothe them they’ll do your sweeping and milking before the mistress ever stirs. But if you try to see them or thank them, they’ll wreck your house and disappear before you can think.

There is one named Wild Meagan. Mother told me of her, when I was young, so she was just a story for the most part. Meagan had a baby boy, sickly and ugly, colicky like a sour horse and poor of disposition. She switched it, as ones like her (though she’s not a brownie I cannot remember what Mother called her) are apt to do. She switched her baby with that of Lily Hughes’, the night Brian Hughes was born. Of course, Lily knew what had happened the morning she woke up to find a six-month-old changeling colicking in Brian’s crib. What she didn’t know was how to fix it.

Lily was the sweetest girl you’d ever meet. She could turn sour milk into cream and gentle horses because she was so gentle. Lily didn’t know what to do except take the changeling for her own. She named him Patrick and raised him as hers. Her husband loved Pat like his own son, though he was sad the boy was not his. Pat grew up fey and wild, but he loved Lily and her husband and it never crossed him that he was different. However, he never called Lily Mother or her husband Father. He had an uncanny ability with a set of reed pipes. He could charm a tune from just about anything you could blow into, but on a reed pipe, he was uncanny.

The poor boy just looked different. He was always smaller, with fine features and slender bones. His hair grew long to hide his pointed ears, but nothing could hide his tilted eyes and pale complexion. He tried Lily hard some times, but she was always patient and gentle, and her husband never lifted a hand against that boy, ever.

One day, a strange woman knocked on Lily’s door. When she opened it, she asked after Patrick, even though Lily had never sent him to the village, for school or errands, nor to any of the farm gatherings and festivals. How this woman knew of her fey son, she didn’t know. But she asked after Patrick, finally demanding to see him, and when she stormed into the house and found the boy smiling faintly and playing the pipes, she relaxed and said in a scraping voice, “My gratitude is yours. I have come for my son.”

At that point, Patrick looked up. He saw the old woman and broke out laughing wildly. He cast down his pipe and leapt out his first-floor window, and ran leaping over their fields until he disappeared. Lily broke down crying, and the old woman disappeared.

Lily never did see her true son, or Patrick, ever again. For all their years after, their farm was prosperous and fertile, but Lily never had another child and they never saw Meagan again. Their prosperity was due to Meagan’s gratitude, I suppose.

I’ve always wondered after the point of that story. Others like it taught me not to run widdershins around a church, or to step through or break a faerie ring, and to never approach a cross-roads at dusk or dawn. But this one was just a sad fable of a woman who lost both her sons to the fey, and there was nothing she could do.

At the time I learned that story, Robbie had been off bashing about Edward with a pot-metal blade and a buckler. Much good that did him. Now, I knew the sound of the pipes coming from the forest off the road that night, and I knew that when Robbie got up not to go after him. I didn’t, of course. Whatever Robbie bargained with Wild Meagan or whoever played those pipes that night, it was none of my business.

He stumbled out of the forest at dawn, looking dazed and drunk, but smiling faintly and looking mysteriously pleased. I didna ask.

“We can go home,” he said faintly, kicking his bedding into a roll and stuffing it into his pack.

“Suits me,” I said, shrugging. My feet were weary. Not my body, my feet.

“I’ll have a son,” he said after a while down the road. “Eilean will be so pleased… she’s wanted a son.”

“Eilean would rather have a daughter,” I said crossly. I don’t know why I was cross. Perhaps I was curious. “You’re the one who wants a son.”

He nodded agreeably, obviously not having heard me, and we walked along home in silence.

Nine months later, Eilean’s bairn was a sickly, ugly, pale changeling child no more natural that Lily’s boy Patrick. But I watched Eilean birth it it had the ears and the eyes, and it didna cry, nor did it ever after. Eilean loved him dearly and named him Brian, after her grandda. I wondered about that name. Robbie loved him because he was a boy.

I watched them raise Brian like any other human boy save that they never could take him to the village nor let him join the festivals. He grew into a young man, a fey young man with pale blond hair and icy blue eyes, thin, birdlike bones, wiry strength and uncanny dexterity. Brian played the flute like he was born with one beneath his nose. He could charm birds out of trees, and then he broke their wings and locked them in the barn with the cats.

Eilean loved him, cared for him, gentled him as best she could, though as he got older, it became more and more clear that he would not take after Robbie and pick up a sword for the village militia, nor would he set out to see the Planes, or anything of that sort. The boy grew older, and though he looked no older than ten or so, he was more than twenty. He was not strong enough to help on the farm, and he had a voracious appetite, and no matter how sweet Eilean was and how kind Robbie was, the boy stayed sour and wild, miserably fey in a human household.

For those twenty years, Robbie’s farm grew prosperous and they became very rich. He could afford to rent me a cottage in the village and keep me well, though my leg kept me from riding out very often to visit. That suited Robbie, I suppose I had tried once to tell him the story of Meagan and Lily, but he had none of it, as usual.

One year, a priestess came through, and she healed my leg. I had long ago stopped wishing for it to be healed, so that I could run off and hurt myself again. I was content to travel the Outlands while Robbie prospered and forgot about that night on the long road.

I came home years later to find Robbie’s creek dry, his barn in ruins and his thatch rotting down. He was unshaven and drunk, and Eilean had sickened and died a year earlier. Brian was no where to be seen, but slowly, I got the story out of Robbie.

“That night on the road, Niamh. That night, you were right not to follow me. I met her. I saw her. That woman. You told me of her once. I thought of the story, but I thought it would be different… She came for him, but not in gratitude, Niamh. She came because I struck him…”

Robbie died a few months later. I gathered more of the same stories all the Land of Youth and even a little beyond that border, and they were much the same. It was just enough different each time for the person to believe their case would be different. It wasn’t always Meagan, either. Sometimes it was a woman named Mae, or Brown something, I can’t remember in that case.

Robbie’s violence cost him Meagan’s gratitude. I suppose the faerie got overeager at having another sweet child and gave Robbie and Eilean their reward before she collected the child, rather than coming for him as she did with Lily.

I’ve never learned where the switched children go, or what becomes of the changelings. They cannot be normal, no matter where they go- human raised faeries and faerie raised humans. Though I am searching for them, I doubt I’ll ever find them.

The Weird Wood

by Brannon Hollingsworth

As told by Cestus Morningside, Gondsman of Ironhearth

“The unknowns of the Outlands, berk? Suren I’ve seen ’em… Been all through ’em, with the scars ta match!” The golden-red bearded dwarf chuckles to himself, fingering a large scar on his thick forearm. “Suren, I tell ye of one, fer a drink, that is. No, no, none of that swill… Give me some REAL drink lad! How’s about some Ysgardian Honeyroot? Now that’s a drink fer ya!

The dwarf takes a long pull and finishes with a great smacking of his bearded lips. “Now, where was I? Oh, suren, the tale to tell… Well, ya see, me an Jo’tasz Ringweaver, an old friend o’ mine, a spell-slinger by trade, were heading back to our kip in the Outlands, a place by the name o’ Ironhearth. We had some mighty high-up chant fer Kalinor – that’s Ironhearth’s founder – that we had picked up in Tradegate. It was top-notch that we make it back a’fore nightfall, ’cause ya know how the Outlands can get at night, and, like I said, this was high-up chant.

“Suren as I am sittin’ a’fore ya, the darkness came on quicker than I had ever seen it, and we soon found ourselves wanderin’ through th’ inky night. We ran amongst a copse o’ trees that we had never seen the like o’ before, their forms outlined by a flashin’, silent lightening that had blown up suddenly with a pack o’ storm clouds. The trees were squat an’ stumpy, with their branches all a-hangin’ down to the ground and thick knots on the bottoms of ’em. The air around us took on a heavy feel to it, and it began harder and harder to keep our feet from stumblin’. We were considerin’ headin’ back when we heard the moanin’.

“Sounded like a barrel o’ banshees, it did, and I tell ya, berk, that my whiskers stood out on end. We followed the sounds o’ moanin’, and they led us to an sparse opening in the trees. My friend, there we saw somethin’ that could scare the beak right off’n a vrock. All about the lightly wooded clearin’ there were dozens of armoured sods, lying on the ground moanin’ low-like. Most of ’em were nearly skeletons, with their skin stretched tightly over their gaunt faces. Other’s limbs had withered away, although the shrunken stumps still flopped feebly. Not many of ’em were dead, but a-many of ’em were ringing the bell at Hades’ Gate, suren. We could see tiny two-legged critters that looked like a twisted cross between a crane and a bad dream stalkin’ around th’ bodies, peckin’ lazily. They must’a caught wind of us, or heard us, mayhaps, ’cause they flitted off into the trees as quickly as blown leaves…

“Now, some cutters might not think that this was all that scary, but you had to see it. The strange thing was that none of the bashers were bound and none appeared badly wounded It’s just like they were a-lyin’ there, waitin’ ta die, just witherin’ and wastin’ away. They seemed to have all of their equipment, weapons, even full ‘skins! Jo’tasz and I entered th’ clearin’, and the air seemed even heavier inside the clearin’ than it did in the wood. It was like havin’ an ogre’s foot in yer back.

“So here we go, a stumblin’ over the massive, gnarled, knobby roots and through th’ heavy air and all, tryin’ to help these poor sods. It’s only then that we begin to learn the dark of things. We find that we can’t get ’em up off’a the ground a-cause of their armour! The parts that weren’t covered in metal could move, but if ye had so much as a steel ring on yer belt, or a helm on yer head, then that part was stuck to the ground like ugly to a harpy!

“Luckily, with me bein’ a priest of Gond and all, and with Jo’tasz bein’ a spell-slinger, we were not drug down like the others. My tools, ye say? Humph! Well, I hadn’t really thought about ’till now, but I guess them bein’ blessed by Gond helped a bit… You’re quite the smart cutter, aye? Another clue to th’ puzzle, if’n ya ask me.

“Well, Jo’tasz an’ me start pullin’ the sods out, one at a time, strippin’ ’em out’f their armour. We pull out the more healthy lookin’ bashers out first, thinkin’ that if any trouble arises, mayhaps they could help us better’n th’ others. Good decision. Gond’s skilful hand was in that one, suren, ’cause just as soon as we pull out the sixth cutter, the ground begins ta shake…

“Now don’t get me wrong, cutter, I was mor’n happy to stand right there and clash an’ clatter, if need be, but Jo’tasz reminded me of the sods we’d saved, as well as our uncompleted mission to Ironhearth. He said there’d be another day. We lit out like a pack o’ halflin’s to a soup wagon, and ne’re looked back.

“It took us twice th’ time to make it back to Ironhearth, and along the way, we lost two of the bloods. It was like they just lost the will ta live, and dropped dead in their tracks. The other’s didn’t say nuthin’, just kept ploddin’ on, where e’er we steered ’em. The poor sods ne’er recovered, if’n ya ask me.

“Afterwards, they didn’t talk much, and the one time that we mentioned the whole affair to ’em, we almost lost ’em again. They started a-twitchin’ like a pinned-downed gnomes and frothin’ at th’ mouth. After that, we let it rest…

“Kalinor decided that some further investigation was needed, so me and Jo’ lead a small party of Ironhearth’s Shield Wall out. An’ I tell, ya berk, them’s some tough bashers, suren… We searched fer weeks, but ne’er found any trace o’ that weird wood.

“Eh? Oh, me scar, aye? Ah, ya want to know how that came about, eh? Well, that’s another story, blood, an’ it’ll cost ye another drink!”

The Spireland Icons

by Center of All

As told by the planewalker Tamien

I was wandering through the Outlands, a bit lost, I admit, when I came upon some poor sod in a field. He was bleeding from numerous wounds, and obviously dying. When he saw me, he started babbling, begging me to take him away before ‘they’ found him. I figured he was barmy, but he’d caught my curiosity, so I asked him who ‘they’ were. He glanced around, as if expecting one of ‘them’ to jump out at him at any second, then whispered “The Icons”.

I decided, since it was getting late, to spend the night in the field. In the morning, when I woke up, the sod was gone, with a trail of blood leading off Spireward. It was far too interesting a mystery for me not to follow.

After a while, I came to a huge clearing, filled with statues that were so large that they seemed, from my view point, to rise higher than anything in the Land but the Spire. It was amazing that I hadn’t seen them before. The trail of blood led straight to the one nearest me. As I got closer, I could make out runes at the base of the statue, though they weren’t in any language I recognised. As I was examining it, I happened to glance up.

The face of the statue was that of the poor sod I’d found.

Needless to say, I made my exit as quickly as possible, before the ‘icons’ caught me too. Who knows what was going on there? Another mystery of the planes that will remain unanswered… For now.

The Rilmani Town

by Flabio

“Hello there, Blood. Think you know the dark of the rilmani? Well you don’t know nothing, Berk! You needing a little chant on the rilmani? Maybe I’ll let you a peek of my diary for a little garnish….”

I was taken a little trip through the Outlands, with my “favourite” modron companion, Post. We were walking through a particularly hot and dry part of the Outlands. We had departed Xaos weeks ago, and because of the heat, tempers were rising…

“Can’t you walk any faster, you Square? This heat’s melting my beard off, here!”

“That is illogical, Gnome:Flabio. The material that your “beard” is composed of cannot be melted by this low degree of temperature. You organic beings are so frail and slow, compared to us Modrons. I am merely matching my pace to yours, so you will not be left alone to fend off the dangers of the Outlands. I was assigned to you, to keep you out of trouble. And I am NOT a square…”

“What was that, Square…”

“I am not a square. A square is a two dimensional object, possessing only a length and a width. I am 3 dimensional, for I possess a height in addition to the other two dimensions. I am closer to what you would call a cube, and I also possess a name, Modron:Post. I will not be reminding you of this fact, again.”

“What you going to do ’bout it, square?”

Post had had enough. A metallic appendage began to appear from Post’s usually square… errr… cubelike body. I materialised my staff, and prepared to do combat. I held my staff in front of me, and muttered some arcane words, bracing for Post’s wrath, but suddenly, Post’s attention was taken by something else. In the distance was a lone figure, a rilmani! An argenach, to be exact. He approached us, and took a glancing look at us. Seeing how Post was lawful neutral, and I being chaotic good, he decided we were not a threat. He looked us over again, and turned around and walked away. A rilmani, this is what we had come here for. I wasn’t about to let him walk away.

“Wait!” I called out.

The argenach turned around, to look at me. His skin gleamed in the bright light of the Outlands (still can’t get used to not having a sun here).

“What is it that you desire, gnome?” the rilmani questioned. His voice sounded of a gently moving river, but also of the crashing waves of a waterfall.

“I…we…have come for an audience…with a aurumach!” I spurted out.

The argenach laughed, with his silvery voice.

“Ha ha ha ha! Begone you fool, I would not know where an aurumach is, and even if I did, he would not desire an audience with such lowly creatures as you. Begone!”

With that, he turned around, and continued to walk off into the desert, until he disappeared. Now I, for one, wasn’t happy. Post however, had not said anything during the rilmani encounter. I began to grow worried about my modron companion.

“You okay, Post old buddy? You aren’t still mad at me about that “square” incident, are you?”

“Of course not, Gnome:Flabio! Now be quiet, I am picking up a faint trace of the argenach’s magical energy.”

Sure as Sigil, there was a path right underneath our noses. I was embarrassed not to have found it myself. I promised myself, that from now on, I would listen more closely to what Post was saying. We followed the path, until we saw a town in the distance. The path veered off to the left, but we decided to check out the town, instead.

The town was pretty plain, and rather small, as towns went. Everything seemed to be neutral here, every move that was made by a villager, was counteracted by another villager. The population of this village seemed all to be nondescript humanoids. There were children playing in the streets, and mothers and fathers, and even a few merchants and artists. One such villager, a guide, offered us his services (while another such guide ended his contract with two travellers, a slaad and a tiefling).

After we garnished him a bit (quite a bit) he showed us around the town, which was pretty unremarkable, except for some exciting spots, which were of course, counteracted, by some of THE most ugly and boring buildings we had ever seen. This town was called Concordia, the guide explained to us.

“You see, this town is located near the centre of the Outlands. As a consequence, everything here is neutral, and is quite balanced.”

I questioned him about the Argenach we had seen earlier. The guide laughed at me, with an unnervingly silver laugh.

“Ha ha ha ha. We are quite close to the Spire, which is only a few rings from here, and Rilmani pass by quite frequently, although they rarely actually visit us.”

Now, all this was quite logical, and convincing, too convincing, one might say. Everything seemed so balanced here, yet a gut feeling was telling me different.

We had taken a good look around the town, and it was time to leave. Before we left, I asked if the guide knew of any rilmani settlements around here.

“Ha ha ha ha.” the guide gave me his silvery laugh again. “There are no such things as rilmani settlements. Have you ever heard of any berks travelling the Outlands, and stumbling across a rilmani town? No. The rilmani are a nomadic race, their only settlements, the black towers of the ferrumach. Now, if you’ll be leaving, I have other business to attend. Xaos is a few weeks walk from here.”

The guide pointed his finger roughly south-east, then prepared to take on another job, this time for an aasimar and a lower-tanari’i. I had seen stranger things. Disappointed, that our mission was a failure, I slumped my shoulders and prepared to endure the gruelling walk back to Xaos, when suddenly…

“Dispel magic” Post whispered into my ear.

Now, I wasn’t about to question Post again, so I followed through with the incantation, although I was a bit confused as to why. However, as the last of my words rolled off my tongue, something went horribly wrong. Since we were so close to the centre, my magik went awry, and ended up casting detect magic, instead of dispel. This, however, was exactly what Post had intended me to cast.

Everything seemed to go purple, then fade away. The town seemed exactly the same as it was before, except, this time, there were two black towers erected on both sides of the town. That, and the fact that the entire town’s population was rilmani! Our guide had been an rilmani, all along! The children and mothers on the street were all plumachs, even the aasimar and tanar’ri.

As I stood there gaping, Post whispered to me again.

“Think fast”

Several cuprilachs had come out of the local bar, and were heading this way, with several poisoned blades and arrows poised at us. We could never hope to outrun them, nor their weapons. We were doomed.

“Fire!” yelled one of the cuprilachs, and sent forth a storm of poisoned blades.

I didn’t have enough time to react to even cast a simple shielding spell, and I closed my eyes, in anguish. That was when Post wrapped reality and logic around us, and we found ourselves back in Sigil. I was dazed, and even Post seemed a little paler than usual. Or maybe that was just the because of all the fog and plumes that were characteristic of Sigil. As we made our trek back to headquarters, I couldn’t help but wonder where the Argenach had disappeared to. Maybe that legendary city that is said to exist under the Spire, but then again, I ain’t no mimir, Berk!

Source: Authors noted on each individual tale.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *