Chapter 6: Where Darkness Reigns
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Jaccob miller
Jaccob Miller

Jaccob pauses for a moment to let Kasper catch up. The dead boy casts a furtive glance into the inky blackness beyond the mine shaft before extending one of his sallow, bony hands towards the gnome in a way that is painfully vulnerable and utterly life-like. Kasper takes the boys hand, feeling the cold, rough flesh against his own. He peers into the darkness beyond the steady but meagre light cast by his enspelled stone. “It’s here, isn’t it,” he whispers to Jaccob, referring to the Black Alter.

The boy turns his eyes towards Kasper and nods.

“Do the others come here too?,” the gnome asks: “The other Tormented Ones.”

Again Jaccob nods his head.

They pause for a long moment, a feeling of foreboding rushing through Kasper. Without a word they step forward, hand in hand, into the gloom beyond.

Chapter 5: Jaccob's Revenge

Tristan lunged at the massive northman, feinting with his shield before lashing at him with an overhead blow. He was rewarded with a howl of pain as the finely honed edge of his longsword bit through fur cloak and mail to the muscled flesh beneath. The second northman, one of the blond men who looked so similar as to be twins, lunged at him from the left, hoping to take Tristan in his blindspot. The young knight twisted his body and felt the attack grate harmlessly against his mailed shoulder.

The northmen were not without skill, but Tristan was a knight with long training on the practice yards and ample time in the field. He took a glance around the taproom of the tavern to survey how his companions were faring. Brandos, dressed in the mail and surcoat of Cardinal Guy de Valin was holding his own against the other two mercenaries. Moments before Ssibliss had darted past their enemies and was now at work to their rear, harrying them with hand axe and flail. As for Kaspar, he was outside of the tavern, launching arcane attacks through the open window.

As if on queue four glowing sparks of red energy came from Kaspar’s location, weaving through the combatants and slamming into the chest of the wild-haired northman with the enormous maul. Once more the man howled in rage. It was a deep, blood-curdling noise and for a split second Tristan hesitated behind his shield. His one-eye grew wide as the man called Tibett, The Vulture began to grow taller, his limbs popping and groaning, his face elongating and his teeth sharpening and growing larger. Course black hair sprouted from every bit of visible skin and deadly-looking claws grew from his thick fingers. Slaver dripped from his wolfish maw and he once more let forth a deep, dreadful howl.

“Great,” Tristan thought to himself as the other three northman let out similar howls and began their own transformations…

Chapter 4: A Bump in the Night

Kaspar watched Brandos fold his hands and bow his head in supplication, beginning the last of the lengthy prayers that would unlock the divine powers of his god. The gnome stood with his arms crossed, leaning against the trestle table that held the body of Father Francis. Somewhere in the darkness of the church naive around them a scuffling noise and several desperate squeaks indicated that Ssibliss was nearby and had probably caught a mouse or rat.

Brandos’ voice raised slightly and then settled into silence as he climbed to his feet, dusting off his knees. Kaspar stepped towards the uncovered corpse of the baker’s wife, Kella Brinewood, to better observe the proceedings. He and Brandos had carefully considered the questions that would be asked of the body. The spell was only powerful enough to compel the shade to answer three questions so they had to be cautious to maximize the information.

A shudder ran through Kella’s broken limbs and shattered torso. Her chest lifted in the plain white shroud that had been sewn about her, as though she were taking breath. Kasper’s pulse quickened as he watched the distant, dead eyes snap open and the head twist towards the young monk. Her mouth opened as she awaited his queries.

Kasper knew that they were not truly communicating with the spirit of the dead woman, but merely with the memories that were imprinted on the flesh of her corpse. He absently played with a corner of the sheet that had covered the body while Brandos asked the first of their questions…

Chapter 3: The Plot Thickens
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Brandos’ eyes flickered open to the clatter of horse hooves on the cobbles of Namaran’s central square. A cloud of flies lifted from his face in a buzz of annoyance as he shifted in the heavy chains and squinted in the direction of the noise. The rider, approaching from the west, was lit from behind by the setting sun, his features lost in silhouette.

The chains dug deep into the monk’s flesh as he twisted to ease the ache in his back. The worn marble statue at the centre of the long dry fountain was a cruel mistress. Brandos had been chained to her for so long that he had lost count of the days.

At first he had laughed at the irony of it all. The stone woman represented a freed slave from the Lucidian revolt, her breasts bared, a sword held high, the shackles on her wrists hanging broken and useless. When the Baron’s men first pinioned the monks hands between heavy blocks of wood and lashed him to the statue, he could not help but find it amusing. Any such mirth had long since left him…

Chapter 2: Stir It Up

Ssibliss chirped thoughtfully to himself as he considered the ragged remains of the dead priest. The body was fresh, no more than a day old. The crows and other carrion animals had not even been at it yet. The priest had died at the very summit of the mountain pass that marked the entrance into the Namaran Valley from the north. An old, crumbled column that may have once been a mile-marker stood a scant ten feet away.
What ever had killed the man had been thorough about it, Ssibliss thought. The priest’s body was twisted and broken, right down to his individual fingers. Bones punctured the flesh and protruded from the skin like broken branches. His mouth was twisted open at an unnatural angle and his dark eyes were fixed in terror on something distant. Beneath his weather-stained travel cloak the priest wore the simple garbs of a country cleric. A small pouch on his belt held a number of coins, which Ssibliss helped himself to. There was little else to indicate his purpose on the road nor what had befallen him.
Ssibliss scrambled up a rocky outcropping and scanned the surrounding area with a wary eye. To the south the mountains turned to stony hills that sloped towards a broad valley bottom dominated by a large lake. From the heights he could make out the towers and walls of a village huddled near the western edge of the lake. Perhaps four miles away a small holdfast stood atop a hill with a cluster of huts around it. Except for a desert hawk circling high over the foothills, nothing moved.
The lizard man turned back to the north and watched as the first of the wagons creaked around a bend and into sight of the summit. Teams of dwarves put their sturdy shoulders into the heavily burdened drays, helping the horses up the road. There were a dozen of the large wagons and over seventy dwarves in the mining party. They were on their way to the village to take up employment in the mines of the valley’s lord, Baron Fenton Farling.
Ssibliss watched as Brandos, dressed now in the amour of and in the guise of a crusading knight, and Sir Tristan rounded the corner on their large brown destriers. Kasper walked alongside of one of the wagons. They were sure to make something of the dead priest, Ssibliss thought to himself. He scrambled from his perch to await their arrival…

Chapter 1: Now That's Gratitude For You

The ragged remains of King Darius’ army stretched for miles along the foothills of the Thurid Mountains, baking in the brutal heat of the desert sun. What had marched west a disciplined and confident force returned a broken and dispirited rabble.

The defeat of the Cyonian army at the Battle of the Lion had been nearly complete. King Darius who had led them to their fate was now a pale corpse riding in a wagon, his body bloating and stinking in the oppressive heat. His eldest son, Prince Dallatus, the former heir to the throne, lay bloody and cleaved next to his father. Darius’ second son, Prince Godfry had fallen as well, his body captured by the Myvar and taken to Coronet as a trophy.

Thousands of lords, knights and common soldiers from the crusader kingdom had been killed in the vicious fighting. Their corpses now littered the stony fields around the base of the mighty rock formation called ‘The Lion’. Many hundreds more were now captives of Sultan Fareez ali Husseini ibn Kadar, the Red Pirate of Coronet, who had led the victorious Myvar forces. The lucky ones would be ransomed back. Those who could not fetch a good price, however, would be sold into slavery.

For those who had escaped during the route, the way home was hard. For days they marched through the parched desert that skirted the mountains. The hardships of the road claimed more victims and behind the long train of men and horses a scattering of fresh corpses were buried in hastily made graves…


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