Coldfire's Reign

Journey to Watchgap Fort - Epilogue

“That’s it. I know it stings your hands, but dip the gauze deep and wrap the bodies tight.”

She could still prepare the poultice, say the old words, apply it where it must be applied, but her old bones would no longer let her lift and wrap the bodies. At least not these big human bodies, muscled from years of swordplay and hard labor. Thank the Norns these Saxa women were hearty and eager to help, working efficiently to prepare the men for burial, even if the younger of them blushed or blanched at the naked corpses.

The old Engro woman stood wearily, leaning on an oaken cane, and ambled ahead to the next body laid out on the floor. Another big one. She stood there a moment, massaging her elbow joints, then stooped, prepared to remove the sheet someone had hastily drawn over the poor dead soldier.

“Kaya! Another squad of knights has arrived. Two are injured from a squabble with bandits. See to them!”

It was Ulfwald, the caravaner, the merchant, bursting into the tower with a slam of the newly-installed door, and strutting with self-importance. He had recently taken it upon himself speak for the new Captain of the fort, who had no voice of his own.

Kaya turned to the merchant. “Do you see I’m busy, or did it ruin your eyes to hole up in the dark so long while real men fought?”

“Just see to them. We need able men to protect this fort.”

“Aye. And we need our dead to stay that way. If those knights aren’t dying, it’s just as well that I finish up here. Why don’t you go out there and sell them some of your useless charms and piss potions, Deep-Pockets?”

“You murderous old crone! You think that thief treated your poorly? He should have made you his pet!”

“Ulfwald.” One of the Saxa women had stepped forward, approaching Ulfwald gently. The pretty one. Kata, wasn’t it? All these Saxas seemed to have the same name.

“Ulfwald, she has worked day and night to tend to the wounded and bury the dead, asking for nothing in return.” The girl touched the merchat’s arm. “She is not to be commanded, my love. Simply ask, and she will come according to her own counsel. Something must wait. She is only one.”

Well, the girl had that right. All the most formidable survivors of the Battle of Watchgap Fort had made way for the South as soon as they were able—something to do with the singer girl and that damned mask.

It was just as well. She was happy to have that mask out of her sight. Little good had come from pursuing it and the man now had his whelp of a nephew on the job.

If she’d known the caravan was packed with wizards and the like, she would have been better prepared. But no matter. At least that accursed Ferryman would never again charge an Engro man his fortune for a crossing—or an Engro woman her sex.

The Saxa woman smiled up at Ulfwald, who softened and relented at the mere sight of her. “Fine. I’ll bring them in. But make sure you see to them! I’ll be in conference.”

There was a great deal of conferencing going on. If she had the right of it, some of the dwarves from underneath the Icebarrier mountains were in cahoots with the giants atop them. In their alliance, they’d found a way to breed and control a host of goblin warriors. The host had dispersed when their commander died, but there was no reason to think the threat of dwarves and giants working together was ended. So the men conferenced day and night.

But the doings of men and dwarves were not for the old Engro women to worry over. Let them fight their wars. Women survive to mind the details. Make the potion. Tend the garden. Nurse the young ones. Bury the dead.

She returned to her work, pulling the sheet from the body, and couldn’t help but chuckle a bit. “The Norns mock an old Engro’s wisdom,” she thought, “for here’s a woman and a warrior as well.”

It was the one they called Ser Iris, the knight her caravan had carried to the caves, and who had fought alongside them to slay the giant.

Haltingly, leaning on her can, the old one got to her knees. Her gnarled and crooked hands moved with strange efficiency, unfastening the armor, removing her purse and pack, sifting it through it for anything of value for the fort to keep. She stopped suddenly as her fingers found a small parchment scroll sealed with the signet ring of a Hearth Knight commander.

Furtively, she looked about. No one noticed as she broke the seal, opened the scroll, and read it.

“They heroes of Watchgap Fort are lucky they left when they did. This was a woman on a mission.”

She was overcome, then, for the first time. Her daughter was dead; her own neck was still chafed from the thief’s rope; her son Wayan had fallen in this very fort to be buried weeks ago without her knowledge; her tribe was wiped out, to a man; and this—-this was the thing that made her weep? She wept for a woman she hardly knew, for her unfinished business, for the woman’s light and warmth gone from a world that has none to spare.

“Kaya? Are you all right?” It was the pretty Saxa girl who loved the merchant, who was still naive enough to think a family and a home can be made and kept. The girl stood above her and looked down with pity. Kaya pitied her right back.

“I’ll be fine, dear, when I see this woman’s mission done.”

The Mark of Faith

After winding through the tower and wading through a dozen undead, Cynric and his brothers-in-arms faced the evil mage. And how ugly it was. No wonder it hid down here.

Cynric smiled while the others in the party cowered at the mere sight of the pathetic weakling. How can anyone fear such a tiny, disgusting thing?

The party recovered and the Saxa next to Cynric stood strong and swung his blade with skill. Cynric knew he had finally found his place in battle this day. Peace had finally fallen over him.

And yet, his blows could find no purchase on this flimsy excuse for a human. The arcane energies stopped his blows. If only he could move faster and strike with more speed.

The mage reached out to touch Cynric and he was shocked to see this frail creature dare to get so close. Yet, as the foul creature made contact, Cynric felt a pain he had never known and this world ceased to exist…

~ ~ ~
The stars wheeled about and he knew he was on his way to Scaetha’s hall. But, this could not be; he had found a source of such unholy blasphemy that he must see it ended. This evil mage must be brought down, else all who had been defeated in battle would rise again and again. Victory would be a meaningless mockery of the glory of Tiw.

“Tiw, if it means my life later, let me bring him down NOW” Cynric whispered this in the dark amongst the spinning lights. And lo, his god answered!

“Your life later?” said a voice, low and rumbling as if scarred from a thousand thousand battle cries brayed across fields of war. “Your life is Tiw’s already. What more can you give?”

The swirling darkness coalesced into a hulking figure in armor so heavy with spikes and plates that it seemed unwearable by mortal men. A pile of corpses lay at his feet. A ring of skulls girded him.

“Though that is by your own will. There is yet more of your life to lay at Tiw’s feet. Only a few can walk this path of suffering. It is not trod lightly.”

He gestured with a gauntleted hand, indicating the dungeon, the walking dead, the brothers-in-arms, somehow still visible through the stygian haze of near death. “This. Here. This is a good death. A man can ask for no better. And any death is far sweeter than the trial to come. Are you certain?”

Cynric looked the hulking figure dead in the eye and spoke “If it is Tiw’s will, then I am certain.”

In a blinding motion, the hulking figure’s great sword was in his hands; a massive blade wielded with the precision of a knife point. The blade sliced into Cynric’s chest. “Then I leave Tiw’s mark upon you. By this mark, you live. At Tiw’s whim, you die. Follow his commands or, by this mark, you will be damned. Seek Father Blood in the village of Nevus.”

With that, the figure was gone.
~ ~ ~

Cynric opened his eyes. He was shocked from the awesome energies that had coursed through his body. He was barely able to keep track of the fight. Twice, the frightened one with the staff found the courage to cast arcane energies in the face of the evil mage. Meanwhile, the others swung blades, cast spells and shot arrows at it. And then, it happened. The frail and frightened whelp threw so much arcane energy at the evil mage that it’s body all but disintegrated before Cynric. Such awesome power…surely Tiw had his hand in this battle amongst us all.

The Dead...Walk?

Cynric’s mind races as he processes the closing events of the siege at Watchgap Fort.

= = ===

The dwarf stands in his red armor wearing the wooden mask, arrogantly making meaningless demands. How can anyone who leads little snotlings into battle be trusted? …especially when making such ridiculous claims?

The blue skinned mage casts a spell on the dwarf and peace falls over Cynric as he takes aim with a dagger. Shortly, he closes with the figure and wrestles him to the ground, just outside the gate. Insects fly out of the mask in an attempt to distract Cynric, but he ignores it. Such a waste, with no blood being drawn in the attack.

Though certain he could take the dwarf in simple combat, Cynric fears the dwarf will use the mask to escape, as the previous owner had. He calls out to the mages, “Kill him, do not worry about me!” And though his attempts to further injure the dwarf are futile, Cynric holds him so the casters can finish the job. Once the dwarf is dead, Cynric cuts the wooden mask off the dwarf’s face and reenters the fort.

Now things should revert to normal, with the mask out of the battle.

The goblins come and let them. Their blood will run as a river of tribute to Tiw.

Cynric closes the front gate and opens the door of the first building he sees, hoping to find a suitable hiding place for the wooden mask. He smiles as he notices it is the keep’s armory. Surely, Tiw will guard the mask as this grand battle comes to a close. He takes aim and tosses the mask behind a set of shields.

With the mask hidden, Cynric rushes to the wall. He makes sure to choose the side opposite the blue-skinned mage. The mage’s potency in dealing death would rob Cynric of many chances at spilling blood, himself.

The goblins approach and Cynric takes aim with a bow. He does little more than waste arrows as the horde advances. The knights, however, appear to have increased their aptitude with the bow as they drop great numbers of the snotlings before they even reach the wall. Cynric’s heart drops at the sight of this. The siege could be defeated without a single blow from his flail.

Finally, snotlings scale the earthen mounds and the wall. Cynric begins to fall into the peace of hand-to-hand battle when a great death roar fills the air. In response, the snotlings show true fear in their eyes. Then, as one, they bolt for the hills; heedless of the foes around them. And, again, Cynric is robbed of a chance for peace and to make further sacrifices to Tiw. Is this place cursed?? How could an opportunity so ripe for battle evade him twice? And, this time, the mask could not have caused this.

As if in answer to his question, the bodies of the fallen snotlings begin to rise around him…around all of them. A few of the risen goblins run past Cynric and without thought, he drops them all. But shock sets in as Cynric tries to cope with this new development on the battlefield. Always has he found his place in battle, now he is unable to fit this in to what he has seen before. At a loss, he drops to a knee and prays to Tiw.

“Battle Father, WHAT IS THIS? What kind of abomination allows the defeated to rise and fight again? I can think of nothing that violates your sacred reign more than this.”

As an answer, Tiw allows him to understand that the risen rush toward the tower of the keep. Whatever it is that has allowed this to happen must be in the tower. And that is where Cynric belongs. Knowing not what part the mask plays in this, Cynric no longer cares. He must defeat whatever is allowing the dead to rise.

As the survivors of the siege make ready to assault the tower, the risen outside the walls speak as one and ask for safe passage out of the keep. Such a sign of weakness gives Cynric cause to believe the end of the battle near. If the enemy asks for free passage, they must be near the breaking point. Why else ask for mercy?

Once he has pushed through the ranks of the risen, the source of power should be easy to bring down. Cynric begins to pray in preparation.

Big and Little

When the giant rushed toward them, Koll had sense enough to think of Leo: he always got out of the way before Koll could really smack him good. So Koll shouted to the others to spread out, keep away from the giant, and try to take out its legs. The big woman knight did well, darting back and forth from behind trees. Leo might have done that. Koll tried to do that, too, but first the giant knocked him onto his ass with a huge swipe from his axe, and then Kryllin started singing. He looked over at her, and the song got into his head, and he flared up with rage. He knew it was a bad idea—fighting angry was always a bad idea; everyone said so—but he wanted nothing more than to slice open the giant from nuts to neck. So he didn’t even follow his own instructions; he just stayed toe-to-toe with something three times his size. Oh, if Leo had ever done this he’d have killed him for sure. (Well, not killed him, but bloodied him badly.) He did manage to stop hitting it in the chest, though, and he was pretty sure other people were aiming for soft spots, too. He saw at least one arrow stick into its cheek, and the knight and he were both slashing the hell out of its legs and loins. The wizard who didn’t know how to fight seemed to be throwing things at it, too.

At some point Kryllin stopped singing. Koll thought about playing smart, like Leo would have, but there never seemed to be a good time to slip backward and out of reach. So he just stood there like a tree and tried his best to knock the enormous axe away when it came whooshing toward him. But oh, it was cold in there. Just being close to the giant was like standing right next to a fire, only the opposite. A few times it got so cold that all Koll could do was stand there with chattering teeth and try not to drop his sword or shield.

But things were looking up. Arrows and swords were bouncing off left and right, but every once in a while one would draw a bit of blood. And then, just when Koll thought they might actually not all die in the clearing, a double handful of little rocks hurtled into the giant’s eyes, nose, and mouth. There was a lot of blood. Then came more rocks, and more blood. The giant screamed—really, really, really loudly—and fell over, and Koll and the knight rushed forward to slash its head from its neck. Even that—cutting the head off an unconscious giant—turned out to be pretty hard.

When they had finished, Koll wiped and sheathed his blade and then turned to find the rock-throwers—and was surprised to see the engros from the caravan standing at the edge of the clearing, watching the beheading. First things first. “Thank you,” Koll said to the witch who seemed to be their leader. (Now that he thought of it, there was a time when plants had wrapped around the giant. He hadn’t thought to wonder why then, but now it made sense.) And, because it was the right thing to do, “I’m sorry for what I said earlier.” With that, he ducked his head and made for the horses they’d tied up earlier, carrying the giant’s huge head under his arm.

The trip gave him some time to think, but not enough. The engros had killed the ferryman and tried to rob Malik. So they were bandits and murderers. Why would bandits and murderers help fight the giant? People who fight giants are knights. The engros had fought the giant. So they were knights. But bandits and murderers couldn’t be knights, any more than Leofric could be strong or Koll could be fast. So what in Hela’s halls were the engros? The only thing that Koll had decided on by the time he reached the horses was that they liked killing things. That seemed useful, if nothing else, out here.

With a bit of coaxing, a lot of strapping, and a fair amount of mess, Koll got the giant’s head tied up securely on the haunches of his horse. As he and the others made their way toward Watchgap, the first thing they noticed was that the seige had broken—sort of. Tons of goblins were running from the fort as if it were on fire. But tons more were just standing perfectly still, like those dead people the snow demons had possessed in that village up north. Soon it became clear that these goblins, too, were walking dead. But since they weren’t moving and Koll and the others were on horseback, it seemed like a good idea to ride them down. So Koll called out to the others to suggest doing just that. And as they crashed into the ranks of undead, stock-still goblins, with hooves and swords laying waste left and right, Koll thought about what an advantage speed was. It mattered more than size, apparently. Once again, Leofric had been right, and Kollsvein had been wrong. He’d never admit that to Leo, though. But he would really enjoy telling him about the time they’d killed a frost giant.

Assault Averted on Watchgap Keep

The onslaught continues, droves of goblins surging against the raised earthen mounds. They struggle for purchase on the slick dirt, sodden with the blood of fallen comrades, pushing with but one goal. Surmount the wall and breach within! The overwhelming urge to fight and kill steels their courage against the arrows, daggers and magic assaulting their ranks as they advance. Shouts to Tiw can be heard echoing out towards them, encouraging their enemies and rallying their foes morale.

Within the keep, Griven continues to struggle against the mental fatigue creeping into his body with each cast spell. His arm still hangs limp against his side, though the pain of it plagues not his mind as the rejuvenating magic of Cynric holds the pain at bay. The newly found ability within thankfully grants a brief reprieve in spaces as the coldfire blasts carve out the goblin ranks. The motions have become routine, the act of casting more difficult, the matrices harder to form in his mind.

Behind, the shouts of a dwarf can be heard approaching, a voice eerily familiar but impossible to be. Sparing a moment to turn from the tides before him, Griven is shocked to see the form of Hald Austri Giantsbane hustling forward towards the gates, a look of shocked concern and disbelief on his face. Another spell let loose, another pack of goblins fall before the roiling coldfire as the flickering blue-white flames dance across the trodden surface of the snow, coalescing into a finite point before bursting outward with violent and consuming force.

Suddenly an impossibly loud bellow rolls out over the battlefield, rage and pain mingled together as one. The goblin forces stop their press and glance about in distress. The Hearth Knights find the pressure easing and giving way as the goblins turn from their all-encompassing goal and flee from the embattled keep. As the shout subsides, the rumble felt under foot gains it’s own substance as the galloping sound of hundreds of feet rushing away in unison fills the ears of the gallant defenders.

Moans suddenly filled the yard as the fallen bodies of the goblin horde rose from their temporary slumber. As one they moved quickly forward towards the tower at the far end of the keep. A brief battle erupted as the knights and their companions quickly removed the new threat from the within.

The words of the dwarf lord come thru much clearer now as he approaches the gates. Griven hops down from the wooden ledge allowing him a vantage point to see the events transpiring within and outside the keep. “Brother…? The dwarf at the gate is his brother?” For the first time since apparating to Malosian’s sanctuary and finding the keep besieged, a crack appears in the determined visage of Griven, the strained rage and hatred lurking in his eyes slowly dispersing with the goblins before him. “What is this? His brother? Oh…what have I done? What have my actions done? Does he live?”

Traveling in the shadow of Hald Giantsbane, it is difficult to see if the chest of the fallen dwarf rises and lowers beneath the red platemail encasing the still form. Austri drops to a knee, the pain within etched starkly on his face as he reaches down to his kin. “Look at what my actions have done…this could have been the fate of all within this keep. My own arrogance, my own need, my anger could have cost all of these their lives. Yes, I, we, need the mask back in our possession but was the risk worth the lives of those here?” Within, the well of anger which had previously been fueling Griven’s actions begins to subside, the stark reality of past moments finally catching up to an emotionally fatigued mind. “I’m sorry, Emeric. I’ve let my own arrogance and pain drive my actions. I’ve lost myself, my beliefs, with you. I can still help though. I can try and fix what has happened, what I’ve done.”

“I’m sorry, it was my hand which caused this folly.”

Austri looked up, confused, as the people within the keep approached the gates. “What do you speak of,” asked the Hald, confused. “What do you mean?”

“Your brother came before these gates with a force of goblins at his back and demanded we tell him about things unknown to us. He wished to know about the dungeons that reside here.” Steeling himself, knowing the next words to be the most difficult, Griven continued, “He said should we tell him then he would let us leave this place, our lives intact. Else wise, our souls were forfeit and all within this keep would die.”

“This is impossible. Why would he come forward with a force to do such a thing…”, Austri responded. As the defender’s continued their conversation in earnest, Griven kneeled beside the still form of Austri’s brother and unslung the bag of healer’s herbs. Thuringil approached and watched as Griven began his ministrations, lending a hand as the two of them worked to heal the grievous wounds inflicted. “I can still make this right…”

Elf and man worked quickly as the discussion continued. As they progressed, the whispers of hundreds of voices began creeping thru the courtyard. Glancing up from his work and looking out the gates only mere feet away, Griven spied the bodies of all the fallen goblins standing up at once from the chaotic state of repose they had adopted as their consciousness fled from the world. All turned to face inward, their mouths opening as one and speaking, “Let my contingent leave untouched and all here shall remain unharmed.” The unnerving eyes of the undead watched in silence as the people within continued.

Slowly the awakening noises of the still dwarf interrupted the vocal discussion taking place. “I believe that your brother may speak for himself in these matters, now.” All turned to look at the recovering dwarf, as Hald Austri Giantsbane turned his eyes in judgement. All but Griven, who’s stunned eyes suddenly lit up in concern, remembering the bodies rising. “Emeric…” The wind whipped at the retreating robes of the blue-skinned mage as his retreating form rushed across the courtyard towards the sanctuary where he had left his brother.

Abridged Thoughts
  • As the companions return to Watchgap Fort and are quickly caught up in battle, many thoughts emerge briefly to the surface of Griven’s mind before quickly submerging once again below consciousness.

Finally, we may rest, Brother. The time is soon when Kryllin can help me see you down the proper path. Before that, though, some questions need be answered. Now where could…

Shouting! Demon?! In the keep? We’ve but only just arrived! What’s this they say? Malik is a demon? Ahh, the Mask! What has he gone and done now.

Malik is dead? Truly? The man was wretched socially, but even so I’d not have wished a fate on him such as he underwent. What could have caused his rush thru the keep? I feel there are many things I haven’t heard. Wait, the goblins have the Mask?!

They come. Let them!

Who is this armor-clad soldier and who does he think he is! He stares at me as the rest of Myre did. I can see the resentment in his eyes and feel the subtle venom in his words. Oh, but you have chosen the wrong day to trifle with me.

Yet, even after the answering words have left my mouth, the conversation over and left on the edge of malice, I wonder… Why am I feeling so angry?

He fights well. I’ll grudgingly give him that. The blessing he bestowed seems to be quite potent as well. It’s almost as if my arm is completely healed. Maybe I was wrong to say what I did. If time permits and fate allows, I’ll need to find him on the field and congratulate him on the victory. My words left my mouth unbidden, drawing from some well of anger I can still feel filling inside of me. I should apologize.

Another one dies! It feels good to lash out against these beasts. Emeric would be proud of my mastery this day. He taught me well. Still, each death feels empty. Regardless, these vermin must be eradicated. They shall not breach these walls while the body of my brother still lay requiring passage and his soul’s journey unresolved.

The gate! What treachery is this? And they come again towards the gates. There must be some way to fight more at once. How would Emeric do it? Think! Gather the energy from without, pull its power within and reach…. There! I can feel it. It’s tentative, but I think I can feel the area in the distance. Focus! Imagine the power flowing from the matrices within, flowing out, channeled in a line towards your target.

The power is grounding out though! I can’t push it along my arm as Emeric does. Wait…it isn’t grounding out, rather seeking to flow along the ground or thru it. There, I can feel a connection to the point in the distance. Now, just push….PUSH!

The Wolf and the Hare
The last Wolf and Hare Story

This is the last Wolf and Hare story Krylinn told to the children of the stead.

I’ve told you all the stories of the Hare and the Wolf that I know, but one. This is the last story of the Hare, for this is the story that ends his life.

As you remember, in those days, animals spoke the same language and could speak to one another as easily as I speak to you. But there were only a few People back then, and the Hare had met none.

The Wolf, however, had met People in his ranging and knew them to be cunning, cruel, and murderous, with a taste for animal flesh.

Ever intent on killing his enemy the Hare, the Wolf decided to set a trap. “I will get the Hare to go to the humans. When they’ve captured him, I’ll steal him and eat him myself!”

So he went to the Hare and said. “Oh, Hare. Please help! I have been stricken with such a belly-ache! I came up on a human village, and there they had a place where they grew vegetables right in a row! I dug under their fence and ate so much that now my belly is killing me! I may die!”

“Vegetables, you say?” said the Hare. And off he skipped toward the human village. There, he hopped over the fence and tripped a snare the humans had prepared.

There he hung, by one foot, for the longest time, until he could see a Human approaching, bow in hand.

The Hare looked the other way and saw the Wolf coming, his teeth glistening with drool. What was he going to do this time?

Dangling from a snare trap by only a foot, with both Human and Wolf coming his way, the Hare had no way out. In desperation, cried out to Eostre, Goddess of Nature, who appeared to him in a form that only he could see, her legs entwined with vines and stalks of wheat and barley for her hair. “Eostre! Please! Save me from this trap!” said the Hare.

Eostre said “And why should I save you, clever Hare. You have always been too smart by half. Can’t you figure a way to save yourself?”

Hare said, “You are Goddess of the animals! It’s your job to save me!”

Eostre grew perturbed and said, “I am also Goddess of the plants. Should I then save the vegetables from you? Perhaps I should save the Wolf, for the Human will turn on him next. It is not for you to tell me my duty. By ancient law, my intervention requires sacrifice. In this case, blood. Where is your blood, hare?”

The Hare had no time to answer, for the Human raised his bow and shot him.

But the arrow pierced through his leg and hit the Wolf between the eyes, spilling the Wolf’s blood into the ground below Eostre.

The Wolf died immediately. The sacrifice made, Eostre grew the Hare a new foot, though he left the old one behind for the human.

So began the war between Wolf and Man that has lasted to this day.

And, to this day, Humans keep Hare feet to remind them that blood and luck are sometimes all that may move the Gods.

Cylas Flinch
A folktale of Heligioland

More than once, Krylinn repeats this familiar campfire tale after the younger children have fallen asleep.

Once, not long ago, there was a man named Cylas Flinch who made his meager living as a gravedigger and caretaker of cemeteries. He was a quiet man, skinny, and pale, timid and unkempt. Some laughed that it was no wonder he was such a good caretaker, for he was as dead as those he served, but that was just a jibe. In truth, he was as alive as you or I, for his heart beat quickly for a young maiden of Appledore in Heligioland’s northeast, whose mother had died, and who would visit the cemetery late at night, when the rest of the house slept, for her father had remarried and the household had nothing but scorn for the departed or the maiden.

Lurking in the darkness, Cylas would see the poor girl praying by the light of a lantern at her mother’s grave, but he was too timid to speak to her, for he knew she would be fearful to be approached by one such as he so late in the night. There in the graveyard, Cylas Flinch would get as close as he dared, then hide behind a tombstone and watch the poor girl at her prayers, his passions so inflamed that, one night, he took his pale skinny member from his trousers and churned it so that he spilled his seed right there on the ground. The girl heard his moan of passion and cried out, “Is someone there?” Ashamed, Cylas Flinch ran away.

The next morning, as he went about his duties, Cylas Flinch came upon the gravesite where he had hidden and found its dirt unpacked, its stone overturned, footprints around the disturbed sod. Fearful that someone had seen him in his shame and vandalized the grave as a prank, he hurried away, and tried to banish the thought from his mind as he finished his day’s work.

He returned home that evening to find something waiting for him. It sat still as a stone in his chair, stinking of rot and mud, staring, human of shape, but monstrous of visage and uncanny of bearing. “Who are you?” Cylas demanded. It said nothing. “Up from my chair! Out of my house!”. It obeyed.

So Cylas learned of his power over the dead. A mighty power, indeed, but not the sort to woo a young maiden. Nonetheless, Cylas tried.

He would command his rotting thralls to steal trinkets from nearby houses and leave them at her mother’s grave. When he learned that the baker’s son had taken a liking to the maiden, he had one of his minions follow the boy on a delivery and bash in his skull with a rock. So it went for awhile, but the walking dead do not go unnoticed, though tales of them are often dismissed from sheer hope that they may not be true.

The whispers became loud enough that the local constable was pressed to investigate. He visited the cemetery and its caretaker, Cylas Flinch.

By this time, Cylas Flinch had neither the ability nor the desire to hide his doings. His cabin reeked of rot. Corpses and their bits lay about his dirt floor. Cylas said to the constable: “Disturb me again and I will raise up your father and a host of corpses to bugger his bones. If you wish my minions to cease their doings, then bring me the maiden I love. Then I will leave your town in peace, but the graveyard will ever be my fiefdom.”

The maiden’s family had little love for her and were only too happy to be rid of the mopey girl who reminded them so of her dead mum. The townsfolk agreed that she should be sacrificed for the greater good, and the Maiden did not object. The next evening, she walked alone into the cemetery to meet Cylas Flinch.

He presented himself to her before a beautiful alabaster sarcophagus deep in the graveyard, dressed in finery he had taken from a rich man recently dead. His hair was oiled to a shine and he held fresh flowers, for the Day of the Dead had recently passed.

He bowed low and said “Welcome, my bride, to your new home. I am Lord, here, and you are my Lady. We will make it a loving home indeed.”

She spit on the ground before him and said “You killed the baker’s son and you’ve sullied the dead of our village! I am here because I must be here, but I will never love you.”

It is said that, as Cylas Finch raged, graves opened across the Heligiolands and far to the south. Throughout the land, the dead walked. And, though corpses shed no tears, those who still remember that night swear the dead were weeping.

The maiden survived the ordeal and lived a long life, though she never wed. Today, she is dead and buried in Appledore. None know what became of Cylas Flinch. Some say he died in his grief, but commanded himself to continue walking these lands . Some say he took up with bandits out west. Some say he never left Appledore and visits the maiden’s grave when the moon is new, spilling his seed on her grave-dirt, hoping she will rise. Yet, still, somehow, she refuses him.

Captain Grulsh's Journal, Watchgap Fort 3
Werremonan, 3rd Healfdaeg

The gate is opened, and by one of my own. The enemy is within. Hope is fading.

I take these precious moments to make this final entry in hopes that, should my journal survive, it will provide some clue as to the nature and identity of our enemy. Red armor. Black cloak. Short and broad, like a dwarf, though neither face nor beard can be seen beneath the demon mask that he now wears. He wears no crest, nor symbol.

May the gods help you.

Meanwhile, in a place unimagined

Titania: Turnips? Is this a jest?

Tangletwig: No jest, milady. A steal of a trade, worth far more than the rotting cabbage you bid me give them.

Titania: The cabbage was not the point! It was glamoured to appear as a human babe!

Tangletwig: Yes, but, if it please my lady, the glamour wore off before I could bring the babe to your beneficent and forgiving arms.

Titania: Why did you not return to me immediately?

Tangletwig: Beg pardon, my lady, but I was weary and needed rest! Human babies are heavy, what with all that meat on their bones.

Titania: Yet you had no trouble with this sack of turnips.

Tangletwig: To be fair, my lady, they’re rather paltry turnips.

Titania: Enough of your prattle! Tell me why I shouldn’t turn you into worms for your failure.

Tangletwig: Because I have secured not only these turnips, but also the baby you require.

Titania: What? I see no baby? Or do you mean to swaddle yourself in rags and nuzzle at my breast?

Tangletwig: As enchanted as I am at the thought, my lady, I do mean a real, true, addlepated, shit-stained, helpless, worthless human baby, fresh from her mother’s bunghole, promised in blood.

Titania: Blood?

Tangletwig: See, my lady? Upon my thorny inner finger. The blood of the mother who swore.

Titiania: Yes. Pregnant from her first. But unwilling. Yet there is some confused affection from this coupling. Poor girl. Accursed man. Does she understand what a blood vow means? Was it clear to her?

Tangletwig: There…wasn’t time to explain all of the intricacies, my lady. But she knows the baby is yours.

Titania: Very well. I promised Oberon my help, and my help he shall have. When the babe is in my arms.

Tangletwig: But—but the human walls are besieged now! They will not last the many months it takes a human baby to sprout!

Titania: What care I for human walls?

Tangletwig: From the human stronghold, they will overrun the forests.

Titania: And then I will drive them out.

Tangletwig: And what of the other things? The buried things that the goblins may unleash? And what of their masters? Will you drive them out so easily?

Titania: Do not question my power, you glorified faggot!

Tangletwig: My lady! I would never presume too—

Titania: Still, you have made a fair point.

Tangletwig: I have?

Titania: I will help them now, though I will not move directly on the mere promise of a babe, blood-bound as it may be. Here is what you must do.

High upon the mountain called Trataga
Where neither foot of man nor monster trods.
Sits a boulder all bejeweled in crystal.
Known to only faeries and to gods.

In boulder’s cleft, there sits a flower.
Red as blood against eternal snows.
Basking in the crystal focused sunlight.
Roots deep in the rock from whence it grows.

Give our foe that bold, unlikely bloom.
Let him drink its hoarfrost sweetened scent.
And so inflamed his passions will become.
That on untoward objects ’twill be spent.

Now go!

Tangletwig: Yes, my lady.

Titania: And Tangletwig?

Tangletwig: Yes, my lady?

Titania: Don’t foul this up.


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