The Undiscovered Country

A Gnome Before the Tomb

While the sun lay below the horrizon:

Mortimer sat on his own, hardly unusual, and mused on how he had got here and what he had gotten himself into and all that he might get out of it… In the scroll tube that lay across his lap, Mortimer Greysproket, “cowardly” spell-slinger of the 13th Undying had the secrets to make himself just that. The irony being he would become Undying, or die trying.

This was the realm of a master Wizard and Necromancer who desired, as Mortimer did himself above all things, to attain the power to defeat death and rise to an immortal life, (or unlife). Mortimer had considered the types of traps and tricks he would use if he had discovered such a power and wished to keep it from others after his… well he wouldn’t admit that he would ‘die’ in the strict sense, but… even so the lengths he would go to were beyond devious and cruel.

They had to assume that in the tomb… He had to be prepared.

For Mortimer, a Gnome that had taken to Necromancy not out of twisted fetish but pure practicality, that meant disposable raw material…

As the others slept after a fraught trek back from the cave, Mortimer let grains of sand fall through his small, but nimble fingers.

I wonder how many of these grains are the bones, shells, teeth and skulls of things long dead.

Reaching down into the earth with his dark, arcane, energies mortimers mind sought for that self-same feel of the dead that he had poured his power into in the cave to… impressive results. Instead of finding the void of life lost however, he found a spark of life in-patentia. Calling to that instead he was surprised and he had to admit, amused to see first a tiny creature of dust, and then one of pebbles, and then even one of air.

He let them all flit or simply fall away however when someone moved toward the camp, one of the elves, finished with their freakish trances. Maybe he’d show them his new-found “connection to nature” he smiled to himself.

When the first rays of light rose

The little gnome nodded to his slightly taller friend and she prepared for morning prayers. He knelt with her as they prayed to a dead god, and he watched as she drew dagger over willing flesh. A tiny bead of crimson splashed into the sands and shrub grasses, but in a breath it was gone and nothing to show for it than pinker dust.

The land is thirsty here, for moisture, yes, but also life. That gives me an idea.

At Dawn

Mortimer was packed up, his improvised ritual was complete and there wasn’t a moment to lose, the desert was thirsty for life but he had no idea how long he would be able to feel that hunger, how long his newly imagined blood-rite might last. Between finger and thumb of both hands his held the curved index fingers of one of the withered hands he kept… handy. They swung eerily in the morning breeze as if to point… but they would take a thirsty man to no water.

As the sun climbed in the sky

He had found his first one. Sun bleached, sand blasted, 3 quarters buried and the vultures having done the cleanup work for him. He sipped at his canteen, already feeling light, and scored eXestential Markup into the sand and dirt. Out loud he called functions and held floating points out into the either that wrote his will onto the bones of the life weary traveler, and the first one rose up.

With the sun blazing overhead he cursed his luck, canteen almost depleted and still he’d found only one. Ther had to be more! But the bones hand swung wildly and lead him to a small casm, nothing could be buried here! But he knew his ritual worked, he had found the first hadn’t he. Where then? Finally he looked down and chuckled, amused. Of course… and once again things better at surviving these harsh lands had done the work for him. If only he could Misty Step to the floor of the cliff, but the distance… was just a variable… and the excess mass… could be accounted for within the laws of Enochian Dynamics.

He stepped, arriving at the foot of the ravine with way more momentum than he had expected, he arrived face down amongst the poor fools who had taken a less magically assisted decent.

What had he been thinking? There was no way that spell should have worked. It was this heat, dark robes and mid-day sun.

He had his first pick him up as he looked at the next, two adults and a child. Tragic. But a shame to waste.

As the sun glared him in the eye

He struggled to put one foot before the other, all-but carried by his now-retinue of silent, bleached ivory servators. the smallest one carried his pack without complaint. But his canteen had been emptied hours ago and his body ached and shivered despite the heat with the sheer amounts of arcane energies he had pulled through it. The heat played tricks on the eyes so he thoughts the cacti grove meer mirage until he brushed a spine.

Saviour! He pulled out an ornate sacrificial knife and ran it’s length along the green leather, pure crystal clear sap oozed forth. Mortimer was mere millimeters from it when he sniffed, and then saw. An elf, this one not long dead, a few days maybe.

So it’s poison then. That’s how you’d take me? Not this Gnome my friend.

“You will never take my life I shall have yours!”

He hadn’t even realised he was shrieking this aloud as he flung out hands curled into claws and pulled the life essence from the tall old trunk before him. His blight saw it crumble to a lifeless grey/brown husk in moments. Mortimer fell back against one of his morbid assistance who stood untroubled by the dead-weight. Only he wasn’t dead, felt… alive, alert, stronger, better for that! He lashed out with deathly passion at another cacti, and another, chuckling as he felt strong and more alive with each withered husk until he stood surrounded in the destruction wrought by his Grim Harvest.

as the sun sank

Out from it trugged a weary little creature he leant on a pole easily twice his length, apparently twisted from the bones of the desert’s helpless, those two far gone to join the ranks of Mortimer’s found friends.

He flicked back his hood revealing how close to being one of the deserts victims himself. He croaked for water and thankfully the party he reunited with were able to oblige.
He caught their looks though;

“I found… us some… friends, that don’t mind… the dangers we’ll… we’ll see next.”

They glanced behind them at the village of Homlet, an oasis marooned in the desert

“No, not in there, they’re not for there, they have orders to wait, wait in the sand, out of
sight. They are for what comes next, better them than us.”

And with that he fell at his Dwarven friend’s feet, shallow breaths barely disturbing the sands.

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Season 4 Session 15

Two days ago: On the trail of Duellon the Proud, Mawgojzeta heads north into minotaur country. She finds the remains of a camp with two minotaur corpses, their heads having evidently exploded. Duellon’s trail is joined by a much larger group, which continues north. Seeing a minotaur observing her from afar, she waves a greeting. There is no response.

As night falls, the grassy plains offer no shelter. She makes camp on top of a small rise and, after a cold meal, falls asleep.

She is awoken by a minotaur swinging his axe down towards her. Rolling out of the way and standing, she commands the minotaur to stop, but it pays no heed and swings at her again. In her most reasonable voice, she explains that she is not hostile and has drawn no weapon, and that the best thing would be for the minotaur to return to his commander and say that all the problems have been dealt with. The minotaur lowers his axe, turns, and walks back the way he came.

The minotaurs in Wave Echo Cave do not look like stopping for anything. Mortimer, at work on the spellforge, turns himself invisible as soon as they enter. The rest of the party prepare for battle.

No Name manages to place a flaming sphere in the doorway through which the minotaurs are entering, but not before a dozen or so are already in the cave. They attack.

The battle is desperate. Rima, near the back of the cave, sings a song to strengthen her comrades. Jack’s eldritch blasts and Carreg’s firebolts do little to slow the minotaurs’ advance. Soon they are in melee range. Jack sprints down a side corridor, trying to draw the minotaurs away from the rest of the group. A handful follow him, racing through the twists and turns of the passageway until it opens suddenly onto a deep chasm. Jack makes the jump to the other side. The minotaurs stop at the edge, save for one poor soul who plummets into the dark.

Mawgojzeta picks up the trail again the next morning, following it north into hill country. In the evening, cautiously cresting a hill, she comes across a group of opaque domes arrayed in front of a cave mouth. Each is large enough to hold ten people, and she deduces that this must be the enemy encampment. It is evidently a large force. She can hear the sound of a river not too far away, which may provide an alternate route into the cave, but trying to trace its route at night in hostile territory would be folly. Instead, she seeks out shelter for the night.

Before long, she finds a small cave that shows no signs of recent habitation. Within is a resting place of comparative luxury – it even has a hot spring and a pool. Glad of the opportunity, Mawgojzeta peels off her tight, supple leather and slips her lithe, smooth body into the steaming pool. Yes, it’s sweeps week.

Back in the cave, things are not going so well for our heroes. Despite fighting fiercely, Carreg, Rima, No Name and the Bard fall under the minotaurs’ overpowering assault. Surveying the fallen, the minotaur leader gives her followers a stern command: “Kill them all.”

Recovering enough strength in the nick of time, the Bard manages to sit up and speak to the minotaur leader, gaining a stay of execution. It transpires that the minotaurs had only ever been planning to watch the party closely, until the party killed their scouts inside the cave entrance. “An eye for an eye until the world goes blind?” asks the Bard. They make peace.

Water begins surging into the cave.

Early in the morning, Mawgojzeta wakes feeling most refreshed. She returns to the hill where she spotted the enemy encampment the previous night. The domes are gone, and the large force of glass-staffs is forming up for battle. Their leader, the battle-mage Clausis, addresses her troops – “Kill everything in the complex”.

Mawgojzeta decides it’s time to try the river. She finds it easily enough, and discovers the wide pipe that leads into the cave. Hoping there isn’t a grille at the other end, she takes a deep breath and plunges in.

Water plunges into the cave, and plunging with it comes Mawgojzeta, landing in a hero stance amidst the party, water dripping from her glistening tight leather. As previously established, it’s sweeps week.

The water powers the spellforge, and Mortimer uses it to heal the party before scampering back up to the higher level to rejoin his companions. Jack also returns, after word was sent down the corridor of an end to hostilities.

Mawgojzeta asks if the party got what they came for. “Why should we trust you?” asks No Name. But the debate is cut short when Clausis and her glass-staffs sweep into the cavern. The minotaurs try to hold them off in close combat, while the party tries to attack them with spells, but it is of little use. Fire bolts bounce off magical shields, counterspells diffuse Mawgojzeta’s hypnotic illusions, and Clausis’ Globe of Invulnerability proves, well, invulnerable.

The party retreats through the water channel, back the way Mawgojzeta came. The Bard is the first to go, swimming up through the pipe and breaking surface in the river, his long hair arcing behind him, sparkling in the sun, his tight wet body arched as he takes a deep breath of free air. Again, sweeps week.

The others follow. Mortimer delays as long as he can, wrapping his precious maps up with a waterproof covering. Carreg lets loose a firebolt as she dives into the water, incinerating one hapless glass-staff who had been the focus of much of their fire.

Finally, Mortimer is ready and, not a moment too soon, he plunges into the water, bringing himself and his precious, hard-won maps to safety.

Well, relatively speaking.

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Sweeps Week Trailer

FADE IN

Rima singing a song of healing.

The song continues over…

No Name conjuring a sphere of flame

Mawgojzeta slipping naked into a hot spring

Mortimer operating the Spellforge

The Bard bursting up out of the river, long hair arcing perfectly behind him in a spray of water

Song fades out

Carreg, No Name and The Bard, motionless on the cavern floor, surrounded by minotaurs

MINOTAUR LEADER
Kill them.

High tempo, percussive music over rapid jump cuts of…

Jack, shirt ripped open, chest glistening, leaping over a darkened chasm

A fire bolt flaring from Carreg’s outstretched hand

Water rushing into the cavern

Music cuts out

Mawgojzeta landing in the cave in a hero pose, leather glistening wet

NO NAME
Why should we trust you?

Music resumes

Mortimer, feverishly packing his maps, looking over his shoulder at the oncoming minotaurs

Jack firing eldritch blasts from his hands

Carreg swinging her hammer at a charging minotaur

A cone of magical energy shooting from the beholder’s eye

Music ends abruptly

THE BARD
An eye for an eye till the world goes blind?

Titles: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY

The glassstaffs forming up for combat outside the cave

CLAUSIS
Kill everything.

FADE OUT

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Excerpt from Langhale, et al. (1257)

Of this remarkable fragment, not much is known. It appears to predate by far all current worship, and is written in a script no longer extant.¹ Its medium is unique in the literature: it is stamped in an metal that eludes our attempts at identification², a sheet almost half an inch in thickness. Despite its apparent robustness, it is nonetheless an incomplete fragment of a single page of an evidently much larger book. Discovery of any further fragments would be a major archeological find of this century.

¹ Langhale, et al., ’56
² ibid.

bartholemew.jpg

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The Bard

There is much rumour and conjecture as to the true identity of ‘The Bard’. Some surmise he was the son of the Kings council, who disappeared from school not many years before stories of his fame surface. This idea prompted many young nobles to lay claim to the title, all shown to be fraudulent, mer bar room boasts. Yet the roumor young Eugenics Fairborn frew of his noble name remains. It remains for this chronicler, with no confirmation, to conclude this hero of old will remain anonymous. His name Bard stands next to his famous companions.

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Season 4 Session 14

In the semi-ruined town hall, in the course of looting the place for valuables, Anarië finds an arcane deck of cards. Her attempts to conceal this from her colleagues are unsuccessful, and soon Tuakiin and Kai are pestering her to draw a card – or to let them draw some. She is adamant in her refusal, and soon Vani arrives after retrieving her cat from its wanderings around the drowned city, interrupting the bickering.

They decide they have rested enough, and need to take the fight to the enemy once more. Going up to the rooftop, Anarië sees four boats filled with hobgoblins and lizardmen, heading from the bell tower to the town hall. She casually destroys two of the boats with a fireball, and the other two peel off, evidently planning a pincer movement on the town hall. Kai is convinced he can hear strange sounds, like stone grinding on stone, but the others dismiss this.

Rather than wait for the enemy, the party pile into two boats and make a direct line towards the bell tower, at the top of which are a clutch of hobgoblin archers. As the party advance on them, the hobgoblins shoot volley after volley of arrows, but to little effect. Tuakiin and Lubash are too busy rowing to do much about it, but Vani peppers one unfortunate hobgoblin with arrows while Anarië calls out to the leader that this is his one chance to leave this place and get away with his life.

Vani’s arrows hit home more effectively than Anarië’s words – the hobgoblin captain is arrogant enough to talk rudely back even to a group of heroes who have, as Anarië quite reasonably points out, already killed a dragon today.

So battle it is, and as the party closes range they open up with more missile and magical attacks. The boats that were heading to the town hall have turned round by now and are following them, but for now the party concentrates on the hobgoblins in the bell tower. Kai’s strange perceptions are becoming stronger – more sounds of grinding stone, the aroma of cherry blossom – and he begins to realise that these are sensations of home. He is being called back to his monastery, the twenty stone pillars are turning one by one, and when they have all turned he will be transported home in a moment.

Tuakiin and Anarië are the first to arrive at the bell tower, disembarking on the wooden walkway that leads up to the hobgoblins’ location. Anarië presses herself back against the wall to keep out of the line of sight, but this is too little avail when the hobgoblins swarm down the walkway – all except their captain, who continues to taunt from his high position. Until, that is, Kai runs up the vertical surface, grabs him and throws him over his shoulders into the water before gently descending to the platform. Another stone pillar grinds round.

The hobgoblin captain is more discomfited than injured by this. Anarië’s scroll of Lightning Blast has a more permanent effect, killing him instantly along with two of the hobgoblins next to Anarië, and demonstrating to him decisively that the sorceress is as good as her word.

Meanwhile Tuakiin is holding the front line against the hobgoblins from the upper level, taking them apart one by one while they fail to land a blow on him thanks to a potion of strength he quaffed as he approached the tower. Lubash and Vani are followed onto the deck by two boatloads of hobgoblins and lizardmen, and a lengthy melee ensues in which the enemy are gradually whittled down by sword, hammer, bow and elemental fire. Throughout the battle, as he fights and wins each combat, Kai hears more stone pillars grind round.

During this pitched battle, there is activity on a rooftop some 150 feet away. The flashes of arcane energy indicate that this is where the teleport circle is located, and it is in use. Disengaging from the combat by means of a couple of well-placed electric shocks, Anarië goes up to the top level to observe.

A group of a dozen zombie-like creatures come through the teleport circle, led by a black Dragonborn. He observes the combat through some magnifying device, then leaves again through the teleport, leaving the zombies massing on the rooftop.

It seems clear that the longer the party leave this teleport circle in operation, the more reinforcements are going to arrive. Anarië uses a scroll of Misty Step to reach a rooftop in range of the zombies and destroys most of them with a fireball. Vani picks off the survivors. Then, as soon as the enemies at the bell tower have been vanquished, with only a single wounded hobgoblin swimming away and escaping alive to tell the tale, the party take to their boats once more and row towards the teleport circle as quickly as they can manage.

Which is not quite quickly enough. No sooner have they reached the rooftop, and are busy clambering up from their boats to reach the teleport circle, than a pair of wyverns fly out of it to attack them. Fortunately, the wyverns have to come within sword and hammer range to attack, and are poor at evading blasts of sorcerous fire, allowing the party to dispatch them quickly and get to work on the teleport circle before more trouble arrives. Kai swiftly destroys the circle with his earthbending powers – and hears yet another stone pillar turn.

Kai knows now that his quest in these lands is complete, and his homecoming cannot be further delayed. He makes an emotional farewell, pledging his monastery’s alliance with the Kingdom of Arnest and embracing Vani particularly closely. Then, the young monk vanishes, once a boy, now a man.

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Season 4 Session 13

Our heroes – Mortimer, Jack, No Name, Rima, The Bard and Günther – stand in a room amidst the bodies of the bugbears they have just slaughtered. The sound of approaching minotaurs is getting closer. Meanwhile, Carreg is still in the temple chamber, copying the stone map in ever more detail, oblivious to the oncoming danger.

Günther searches the lead bugbear for the key to the door – he finds a key , but there is no time to find out what lock it fits. The Bard conjures a cloud of daggers at the bottom of the stairs leading up towards the room, in the hope of slowing the minotaurs down, and Jack adds a further obstacle in the form of writhing, eldritch tentacles reaching out from every surface in that area.

After a quick and heated debate, the party decide to go back to the temple to get Carreg, and then attempt an escape. Günther and Jack remain behind to cover their exit, taking up positions by the corners at the top of the stairs while the others rush off.

Looking down the stairs, Günther and Jack can see that the minotaurs are gathering but not advancing, presumably waiting for the spells to end before continuing their assault. They take pot-shots at any minotaurs who stray into the line of sight, causing a few injuries and encouraging them all to keep down and out of sight.

In the temple, Carreg is determined to carry on map-making until the last possible moment, if not beyond. The rest of the party prepare to be attacked, apart from No Name who puts her wilderness skills to good use with some remarkably efficient map-making.

With the spells about to fade, Günther urges Jack to rejoin the others. Jack heads back down the corridor to the temple, where the map-making continues apace.

The daggers and tentacles vanish, and the minotaurs charge. Günther blocks their advance, shooting rapid-fire crossbow bolts at the two in the front rank and bottling the other 28 up behind them. There is only one way this mismatched combat is going to go, but Günther uses all of his endurance and the last of his luck to hold them back as long as possible.

At last, the party in the temple decide it is time to move out. Carreg is still reluctant, but Mortimer forces the issue by grabbing all the map pages with his disembodied hands and running down the corridor towards the bugbear cave, beyond which is darkness. The others follow, No Name transforming herself into a wolf for an extra turn of speed.

Running through the darkened corridor, they quickly come to edge of a collapsed section, with a stream running down into it and two tunnel entrances on the other side – one rough and one finely finished in stone. The chasm is narrower near the rough entrance, so they party all jump across in that direction, safely making it into the tunnel.

After making the jump, Mortimer hesitates. Should he go back for Günther? He could easily return to the stairway by magical means, albeit expending some power that he may well need later, and putting himself into mortal danger in the process.

Just then, a vision of the great mushroom demon appears to him. “If the Nisse wishes to sacrifice himself,” she says, “I have other plans for him.”

The vision fades. Mortimer interprets her words to mean that she has plans for Günther post mortem, and turns to rejoin his colleagues who are exploring down the corridor.

Günther’s last stand, meanwhile, is coming to an end. A minotaur’s greataxe swings straight into him, inflicting a mighty, and mortal, blow. As the strength leaves his body, he just manages to whisper his final words:

“It’s hard to be a Nissemand…”

Thirty pairs of hooves trample over him, crushing his lifeless body into pulp.

The surviving members of the party soon find themselves by an underground shoreline, looking at the waves on the sea. There is another corridor leading off, and a stairway going upwards. The cave has tide marks around seven feet up the walls, and Carreg’s extensive subterranean experience allows her to deduce that the water periodically floods this cave – and that the next flood is coming soon.

The way up the second corridor is blocked by a solid metal barrier, evidently opened by means of an old and rusted mechanism that none of the party can manage to shift. While they are trying to move it, Rima stealthily scouts up the stairs, finding a room with a set of large double doors, emanating from which is a green spectral glow.

Brute force may have failed to turn the opening mechanism, but magic prevails, and soon the metal barrier is raised. Beyond it is a large cavern with a deep, wide pit in which is another old and broken mechanism that seems to be some kind of water wheel. Mortimer is convinced this must be the Spell Forge, operated by allowing water to flow into this room at high tide. He sets about trying to repair the mechanism.

But no sooner has he started work than a floating, glowing skull rises into the air from the mud at the far end of the cavern. It cackles maniacally as it approaches, while behind it a dozen zombies pull themselves out of the mud.

The skull drops a fireball on Mortimer’s position, blasting everyone around the mechanism but causing no casualties. None of Mortimer or Carreg’s magical attacks seem to damage the skull, and the zombies are getting closer.

The party begins to panic. Rima blasts most of the zombies back over a precipice at the rear of the cavern before retreating with No Name towards the stairs. Jack follows, pausing only to toss a silver mask to Mortimer – the same mask that used to control an undead mage. Mortimer puts it on, and nearly succumbs to its power before he can remove it, but is treated to a horrifying vision of the enemy forces – numberless pits full of undead, directed by hundreds of battle mages with glass staffs.

At the top of the stairs, the fleeing adventurers come face to face with the occupant of the room behind the glowing doors – a Beholder!

Jack calls out to it “Father!”, which baffles it so much it decides to let him live. By great good fortune, Rima’s insouciance is even more perplexing to it, and it returns to behind its doors, warning that it should not be disturbed again.

Back in the cavern, the skull finally succumbs to attack and explodes in a burst of fragments – just as a group of minotaurs appears at the far end of the cave, having reached this place by an a alternative route…

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Unhappily Ever After

Months ago:

Rose finally dared to cough. The ash had mostly settled, and the barn she had hid in beneath their spare pews had only been slightly burnt. Unlike the chapel, unlike their mission.

Rose slipped out of hiding and looked over their little village of Newhope that had grown up north of the Orclands. It had been put to the torch. Not a building stood. A few women and children milled in a daze wondering what had happened to their world. They had followed Telia and Ross… Rose… they had believed them when they said they would settle the Northern territories and start a new town in The One’s name, bring civilisation and faith to the new frontier, save souls. Now women and children stood lost, their menfolk slaughtered or slaved.

Women and children.

Rose realised she stood because she fell into the group of “not a threat”… Unlike Telia who had probably stepped in front of their biggest asshole and picked a fight to get recognised as a threat, Rose had been unable to fight for her love or her church because no one even cared enough to fight her.

The he appeared, spoke to her gently. He didn’t make her feel like everything would be alright, but that just maybe, The One knew of the wrongs, and they would be righted, in time.

She after speaking to him she ran back inside the ruins of the barn, amongst the unused chapel supplies. Found a big leather bound codex, tore out the pages by the handful, roaring with grief and saturating most with hails of tears, till the last unmarked pages remained, then Rose wrote:

“I write my own ledger now for I fear what will happen to the final document I take to face The One.

My perfect life has been destroyed, torn apart by evil, so I have given wholly of myself, what was left of my life, that it might destroy evil. I have sworn my soul to heaven and my body to an oath of vengeance, to bring all the fury of Heaven above down on those who robbed me of my simple happiness. Now my hate is made manifest in my blade and by my blade I live.

For a time, we had roses, it was perfect. After the assault on Homlet, we assumed the worst had been defeated, Telia and I traveled north, beyond the Orc-lands… where human settlements are simple and honest enough to pay no mind to two young “men” that share a hut. Telia ministered to the villages. I worked with the good folk from three around to build our church. We brought The One to those who couldn’t have heard his peace, and for a time, it was good.

Then we saw the banners on the horizon. We called out to The One, Telia, she tried to get message to those heroes she had fought beside, but there was no time.

Their armies of hell fell upon us, upon our quiet little Parrish before we could offer any resistance. Telia, in Armor and with the power of Him, behind her… she was a target for them, she fought back with The One’s might… they just made an example of her, she was defiled before me on the altar of the church we built.

I was left, mocked, a child, no threat.

I offered everything I was, there and then, to any force of heaven that would hear me, I sought not only the power of The One but righteous fury! That I might enact His judgement on the Red Hand!

As I wept a bright being came to me, he gave his name as Liminus, an angel of He who is called I AM! He offered me a blade of burning golden fire, that I might strike down the enemies of The One. I took the blade and made a pact with him. I hold His blade now, I am His instrument of justice!

I cannot swear my life only to wielding this sword of justice however, my young soul cries out for vengeance! One day soon as my soul is sworn to heaven I will swear my body on a bitter oath against the Red Hand general that defiled my lady and my church. Then the world will know the wrath of The One thy god by his mortal servant!

I hide no more, I am not Ross but Rose, past be damned I take the name Blacksworn, for I pledge myself to the family of my lover and her vengeance!”

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As I live and breathe

Mortimer held the silver mask in his 4 fingered hands for a moment and thought to himself “Jack’s a genius” Mortimer had seen the battle mages wearing these masks and commanding armies of undead. Surely here then was the source of their necromantic control, a secret he must master if he was to truly command those restored to undeath.

He slipped the mask on. The fit was clumsy, made for taller leaner human features than his squat head and large nose. The effect however was certainly not lacking. Mortimer had heard your life flashes before your eyes when you die, so when someone else’s played out before him instead, he was not worried.

He saw the followers of Acererak perfecting his teachings, amassing armies of the undead, reading for war, marching followers across the barrier. It was true, it was all true, Acererak had discovered the power over life and death. A power that would be Mortimer Greysproket’s for the mastering. Sure the East and West might have to fall, to once again rise to the high wonders and Magic and Science that had once made the West the wonder he had only read and dreamt about, but that was worth it, surely?!

Beneath the mask, Mortimer smiled.

As he watched he saw the chosen of the Battle Mages gift the silver masks to those that would become their… But there was something else, something wrong, he wasn’t witnessing an anointing he was witnessing a sacrifice! The masks killed their wearers and…

The realisation came to late, Mortimer felt the cold magic touch his heart and his excitement and hope turned to mortal dread as he realised he had failed, failed and now he must face the thing that truly held terror before all others for the diminutive wizard: His own mortality.

“Jack’s an idiot!”

In his panic Mortimer’s mind raced, eXistential Markup raced through his genius brain as his will to live, his will never to feel the grave’s chill embrace, formed from the Necromancy he knew a final spelt to keep his soul ‘alive’ within his own undead risen form, now the end looked so near.

His last breath shaped the energies of the grave into his last desperate workings, and then…

The gnome breathed again, damp cold cave air.

He could barely move, barely breath, he was shaking, but he was alive, and it was time to keep it that way.

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I'm A Beholder!

The Beholder slunk back to its lair in a confused daze. What had just happened? Things had certainly not gone to plan, that was sure. After sensing intruders in the vicinity, it had expected a small diversion, fresh snacks and a return to its favourite dark corner. What it had not been anticipating was a chat!

Where to start. It frowned its eyes….even if it had offspring, it thought indignantly, they definitely wouldn’t have so few eyes and so many limbs! Though, it conceded, the strange dark aura that one gave off was vaguely familiar. And as for the gobby one – since when was it ok to treat meeting a Beholder like you’d dropped by to borrow a barrel of zombies. Even the hairy one didn’t flee in terror.

It shuddered. Perhaps it was losing its touch!

It blinked its eyes in disbelief and tried not to grind its teeth. It needed to pull itself together, especially if there really were others wandering around. It was some time since it had tasted minotaur, but it recalled they were delicious. Plus – if that mouthy creature was still around…there would be repercussions!

As that thought lingered….unbidden, from somewhere in the depths of its mind, a strange melody drifted. It seemed familiar somehow, but it couldn’t think why. It grew louder, more insistent, until the temptation to shout out words of accompaniment was almost unbearable.

People think I’m just a myth or fairy tale,
Used to scare the children into line.
Folks were out to get me,
That’s the way it seemed,
Still I loved to hear their screams.

People see my eyes – yeah I’m the Beholder.
There’s every trace,
Of fear in their minds.
I’m so tough – Yeah!
I’m A Beholder, I could’ve told ya, I’m alive!

Thought I was the biggest, baddest, scary thing,
Feared throughout the wide far lands and more.
Remember I ain’t lying,
As you lie there dying.
Don’t you think that you can mess with me!

When ya see my eyes – yeah I’m the Beholder.
There’s every trace,
Of fear in your minds.
I’m so tough – Yeah!
I’m A Beholder,I could’ve told ya, you will die

When ya see my eyes – yeah I’m the Beholder.
There’s every trace,
Of fear in your minds.
I’m so tough – Yeah!
I’m A Beholder, I could’ve told ya, I’m alive!

Almost as suddenly as it had begun, the melody began to disappear, like smoke from a corpse.

If there were minotaurs in Wave Echo Cave who dared to disturb its rest, or if the little strange ones were to return…

The Beholder bared its teeth in as close to a smile as it could manage.

Then the real music would begin.

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