A small village,  directly in the center of Riddlewood. Human settlers were first drawn to the ancient forest

Retreat by Andreas Rocha

by an accidental discovery. A traveler was camping underneath one of the ancient elms, boiling some water for soup when an acorn fell into the open pot. The traveler didn’t notice right away, and by the time he did the water had turned a brilliant shade of green. History does not tell us much about this traveler but one thing is clear – – he either had an overgrown sense of adventure, or a serious deathwish. For no apparent reason he decided to give the concoction a taste. He poured off a tiny draught of the green liquid into a dented tin tankard, and tossed it back.

He woke up several hours later, his teeth stained the color of the leaves.

This unknown traveler had just discovered the remarkable soporific effects of the Riddlewood Elm. Folk tradition contends that he spent the next several weeks finishing the emerald concoction, one sip at a time — but regardless, at some point he stumbled back to civilization and somehow convinced one of the larger merchant families to invest in his new scheme. A team of brewers, apothecaries, and loggers would make their way into the heart of Riddlewood. They would harvest the amazing acorns, determine the best way to render them safely potable and marketable, and the other, lesser trees could be cut down to make casks and barrels for the new concoction. A troop of soldiers were also included to protect against the mysterious and sly wood elves that lived in the forest.

For the first few weeks, the newly christened “Barreltown” hummed with activity. Acorns were gathered, brewed and tested. Hundreds of trees were felled to make barracks, fences, and a multitude of barrels — the saw mill ran day and night. The soldiers quickly grew bored as the wildlife of Riddlewood gave the new town a wide berth, and the wood elves were nowhere to be seen.  With nothing else to do, they joined in the construction of the town, their first project a suitable saloon.

Reports vary on the events that followed, but the central theme is agreed upon by most accounts. A young soldier took to wandering the green halls of Riddlewood out of sheer boredom and restlessness. She was the youngest member of the troop, though well-trained in the ways of sword and shield.

The soldier came upon a clearing where a large red tiger lay dying, caught underneath the trunk of an oak tree that a careless logger had felled, then abandoned. Without stopping to consider the danger, she ran over to the creature and with a great cry flung herself under the tree. Arms and legs straining she pushed the felled oak up far enough that the red tiger could just barely wriggle out.

She dropped the tree in exhaustion – only then realizing that she had dropped her weapon at the clearing’s edge, and stood completely defenseless against the wounded animal.

To her surprise, the red tiger rose wearily to its feet and made no move to attack.  It looked at her curiously, then padded off into the forest.

The soldier returned to Barreltown and told all who would listen about her amazing experience. A few believed her, but she was met with more than a few mocking japes. She became obsessed with proving her story, and spent much of the next few days prowling through the forest looking for tiger tracks.

Tigers, like most cats, appear when they please.

By Rui Tenreiro.

The young soldier was keeping the late watch one night, when she felt her eyes beginning to droop. She stomped her feet, and put pebbles in her shoe, but weariness stole over her.  With a start, she awoke at moonfall, a bare hour before dawn, to find the red tiger sitting quite calmly on a felled tree trunk in front of her.

The red tiger stood, and walked a few paces before turning back to look at her. The intention clear, the soldier gripped the hilt of her sword closely and followed.

Through quiet clearing, and silent tree, through moon and leaf-rustle night. The guttering torchlight of Barreltown vanished behind the young soldier, and yet she continued on.

At last, the tiger stopped and turned to face her. The wind blew, and the tiger changed. A beautiful young wood elf, with hair as red as the tiger’s.

Without speaking a word, he knelt before a ragged stump of a tree and placed both hands upon it. He sang quietly, and the soldier was surprised to find tears running down her face.

Between the palms of the wood elf, and guided by his song the tree trunk began to grow. Forming and changing, shaped by his will as a potter turns the clay. A tiny barrel formed, sound and true — then with a sharp twist he broke it free and pushed it into her hands. The soldier held it up to the rising sun, and saw how well it was crafted. Sound and true, with nary a crack — better than any one in Barreltown could hope of making.

“Why would you take, what the forest would happily give?” the wood elf asked.

The soldier had no answer.

Time passed. The soldier and the wood elf spent much time in each other’s company.  Love was given and returned, and the two hatched a plan.

Early one morning, the soldier and the wood elf walked into Barreltown hand in hand. They marched directly into the mess hall where all the loggers, apothecaries, brewmasters, tradesmen and soldiers ate their meals. The soldier cleared off a table and called everyone’s attention, and the wood elf plead most eloquently for the forest of Riddlewood. He finished his speech, then showed the gathered crowed how wood could be shaped and sung from the living trees, without harm.

And the people listened. They understood. And they agreed.

To the vast shock of historians throughout the world, the people of Barreltown agreed that it was a great

By Annemarie Rysz

idea. This incident is hotly contested in many scholarly circles, as it goes counter to entire schools of socio-political thought. Some even go so far as to claim the story is completely fabricated, a convenient fiction crafted by the wildly successful Riddlewood Brewing Guild.

Regardless, two hundred years later the village still remains. Barton is a reasonably prosperous hamlet, most of the residents splitting their time between farming and the seasonal work on the factory floor, brewing and bottling the various ales and liquors distilled from the trees of the forest — great casks filled to brim, tight and sound made from living wood. Only the very oldest buildings in the town show the sign of an axe or saw, the rest are all formed carefully and beautifully by the druids of Barton.

The village is roughly split between human and elven populaces, with intermarriage common.  The sigil of Barton is a red tiger with a green acorn in his jaws.  The village is led by Count Pel Marlowe, his family owns controlling interest in the Riddlewood Brewing Guild.


Beach Blanket Bingo

The sand was hot, but the pineapple ice slush that The Vagabonder had concocted was glacial on the tongue. The waves lapped sedately against the white sands of The Island.

Talitha and Sinoe worked on opposite ends of a massive sand castle. The east wing was floppy, drooping towers of wet sand dribbled. The west was rigidly square, careful blocks compacted and stacked in stone-mason precision. Talitha’s skin had turned nut-brown under her blonde hair, her twin’s was still pale under purple tresses.

Carbunkle snored with ridiculous abandon, his head pillowed on a pile of books, two empty glasses lolling near his open hand. Scarlet pushed her glasses up and smiled at the snoring gnome, then went back to the massive tome she was reading. Advanced Hyper-Calculus for Fun and Profit. The two gnomes lay close together under a wide red umbrella.

The paladin gently picked up the empty glasses next to the snoring gnome, and tucked them into the crook of his arm. Haskeer was wearing a short blue loincloth and armed with a spatula. He sat the glasses down on a flat stone, and returned to tending the haunch of island boar he had been patiently smoking since mid-morning. His tusked face split in a wide grin as he peeled back the banana leaves on the smoker he had built from a discarded drum of Seafoam lubricant that Corben had found somewhere.

Thinking of his friend, he glanced across the crystal blue waves in time to see another massive splash. Corben and Dayjen had rigged up a crude sea skimmer, powered by a spare aerolith cell from the destroyed Agros fleet. The two young men pulled themselves laughing out of the water onto the contraption , arguing good-naturedly about the best way to fix the ’steering issue. ’

Agnar sweated and strained, iron bar gripped tight in his fists. A bucket was suspended from either end, filled to the brim with rocks. Through a pineapple haze the barbarian tried to remember what obscure bet he was trying to win. The sea-elf had said something and then laughed in his face, that part he could remember. The exact reason he now stood, muscles bulging were unclear.

Echo took a long slurp from her drink, and pointed imperiously at another pile of rocks. Alice laughed hysterically, her nose and cheeks red with sunburn and drink.

Crackers and Fin tumbled in the sand. The dwarf was determined to master the ancient fighting style of the Blink Dogs, but the young dog kept cheating by licking his bald head, breaking his concentration. Fin cocked an eyebrow as if to say, Perhaps that is the key to the technique. I will study this closely.

Further up the beach, under the shade of the palm trees, Martin and Thorn sat silent in wicker chairs. In the weeks since Kythera, the former cleric seemed most comfortable in the company of the old ranger. Martin held out a bowl of tel-nuts, the red haired woman waved them politely away. The bowl was intercepted by a wicked grinning monkey wearing a red bandanna. The ranger glowered but let it pass. Thorn smiled and rose to go clear the massive wooden table, still piled with the absurdly massive white cake. Despite the best efforts of all assembled, she could still read:Happy 10th Birthday, Tali——-

A breeze blew across the crew of the Lodestar, on the beach of their island. Far above, the Floating Island of Agros hung, as carefree as another cloud in the sky. A long cable hung down, and was bolted to a large granite slab on the edge of the beach.

Echo took another long slurp of her pineapple-slush, then pushed herself unsteadily to her feet. The concoction caused a serious brain freeze, but the alcoholic kick was within spitting distance of paint thinner. She began to totter in the direction of a refill, when her she felt a splitting pain in the center of her head. It was far too early for any sort of hangover — and looking across the beach she saw the rest of the crew grab their temples with similar expressions of pain.

Then the three-headed shark behemoth appeared.

Dayjen and Corben were caught completely unawares, their tiny skiff buffeted far out to sea by the titanic eruption of water. They went spinning out of sight around the edge of the cape to the west.

The sea-creature was massive, mouths thirty feet wide — Echo blinked and saw the tell-tale purple tentacles ripple out of the sea and slap and lash at the edge of the sand.

The pain in each person’s head intensified, as the creature savaged their mind with a telepathic roar. The words were not in Common, but each mind definitely got the gist.

It is I, Thousandteeth Dodecapus! I have come to wage battle with the true princess of the Dolphin Tribe. Come puny mortal, bring your pitiful land-tribe and let our prophesied time of reckoning begin!

Talitha looked across the sand castle to her adopted sister, and whispered. “Best. Birthday. Ever.”