Category Archives: Tales from the Hinterlands

Events that take place in the Hinterlands outside Freehold.

June 2019 Prologue

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[THE BROTHERHOOD CHAPTERHOUSE, FREEHOLD; JUNE 01, 2019 (WR)]

The ritual room was windowless and made hazy by dozens of lit candles. Flickering softly with the opened door, they lined the three-foot wide circle drawn in the middle of the chamber. The hall outside was equally dim, the sconced torches along the walls burning low. Thus, the ingress of the Brotherhood mercenaries and their guests was greeted only by a slight brightening and the echoing sounds of booted feet scuffing the stone floors.

Clad in black garb and white crosses, Brothers Mars and Grim flanked the door after they entered. The former had to bow slightly to prevent the sheathed swords at his back from hitting the doorway while the latter did so anyway from his height — he only bore the Tome hanging from his belt. They watched their Solari visitors take their places at the far corners of the circle, with one Sun Elf standing in the center. Wearing red and gold and the Solari Sun, the Commander, the Purifier, and the Hierophant were guarded, yet peered curiously at every rune, candle, and device they had passed.

In particular, Hierophant Luthaniel abandoned decorum for curiosity. “So many wards and in such primitive forms!” They whispered in awe. “How did they ever resist the might of the Emperor?”

Purifier Azrael grinned. “Resilience and persistence. You could not cut it from them if you tried. I, however –”

“Purifier.” Commander Malphas’ rebuke was softly spoken, yet there was enough power in it to quiet his subordinates.

Sister Iris, veiled and armored, and Brother Jagentuefel filed in behind them, standing at the corners nearest the door to face the Sun Elves. Jagenteufel doffed his wide-brimmed hat immediately after entering.

Their brethren beside the door closed it and approached the circle. They halted at its edge, but not before Brother Mars placed a chest at the center and opened it. He exchanged a hateful stare at the Elf that had ordered the destruction of so many of his brethren — but he was mindful enough not to break the circle with a misstep as he took his place.

Commander Malphas gazed upon the soft green light of the chest’s contents with equal measures of awe and vigilance. “Purified Vashalla. I had scarcely thought I would see it given to us by the Kingdoms after the Summit.”

“They’re not giving you the ore,” Mars sneered at them. “We’re giving you some of our Mercurium (which is what it’s actually called, idiot).”

“Then we are both renegades in our own way,” the Commander nodded serenely. “The Emperor does not approve of our actions as well, but Midworld is far more important than the lives and freedoms of a few Solari outlaws.”

“Nein nein, do not bother commiserating,” Jagenteufel stiffened his stance. “And do not mistake cooperation for forgiveness.”

Iris’ eyes narrowed above her veil. “We know that the Sun Empire is still a threat after the Immortals have been defeated. We’re not fool enough to be blind to the battles to come, Elf.”

Grim held up his hands. “Umm… Guys?”

Purifier Azrael’s grin turned into a knife-sharp smile. “Everything I have done, I did without remorse… and for the Glory of the Emperor.”

“Glory to His Name, Ilthari*!” From their corner, the Hierophant brought their hands together, gathering powerful energies with a single thought.

Mars reached up for the swords slung behind his back. “I’m not sure what that means. But you said it weir–”

“Enough.” The Commander’s voice cut through the din once more, a ray of light burning through a rolling mist. “We have common foes and they have the upper hand. To bicker now is to allow them victory. We have a task before us — let us see it through.”

A thousand ages seemed to pass as his words hung in the air. He glanced at the Elves behind him and they dropped their arms. The mercenaries in front of him did the same, Grim letting his arms down with a sigh.

When he was satisfied that the situation was de-escalated, he waved the Hierophant over and took their place at the corner. The Hierophant spared a few disdainful glances at the Brotherhood in front of them for a moment before they began to chant and to channel.

As one, the room joined Hierophant Luthaniel.

When they finished the ritual, hours later — the candles were spent, the Mercurium was gone and they could not speak for several days afterward. However, the intangible dome around Freehold was visible and silvery for only a minute before it shimmered into invisibility. The true proof of their success could only be guessed at, even by themselves.

*Glory to His Name: The usual response to the Solari rhetoric: “Glory to the Emperor”
*ILTHARI: “the unburned”, a term Solari use for non-Solari. Sometimes used as a derogatory term.

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May 2019 Prologue

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A Drowning Dream

OOG Clarify:

It is a dream, you know this for sure.

Your companions didn’t hear you fall into the icy sea waters. By the time you get your head above water, the boat is gone, swallowed by the inky blackness. A waning moon illuminates the frigid ocean, and in the distance, there is a lifeless tower scraping skyward through the silver.

The freezing cold brings shivers immediately. Waters roil and toss around you in all directions. Your muscles are locking up, making it hard to keep treading water, and an icy tendril of fear grasps your heart as you fight to get your bearings.

You start to swim in a direction – any direction – when you see them leering, inches beneath the surface. The glint of the moon reveals a face, brackish-green with death and bloated with water – a drowned corpse.

A rotting hand extends above the surface toward you as you react to its clammy touch. A second hand grabs your ankle, another grasps at your shoulder. Rising silently from of the abyssal depths, dozens of faces surround you. Some are old and rotting, skeletal fragments poking through moldering flesh. Others are fresher, their intact hair and limbs tangled with seaweed.

Your heartbeat is deafening in your ears as you try to find a path through the fleet of living dead.

But is it even your own?

As more hands wrap around your legs and torso, you notice a creature floating motionlessly above the glassy surface of the water. A three-faced being stares down indifferently as you struggle, each mask-like visage criss-crossed with cracks.

You are already a part of them. And they, a part of you.

It reaches a hand down towards you and, for a moment, you think it’s going to pull you from the waves.

Its fingers cup your temples and, in a flash, you see the whole world laid beneath you like a moving tapestry. Small streams, brooks, and creeks wind their way through the land, feeding into larger rivers that split into deltas, fanning across deserts and meadows and hills before culminating into a wide ocean. The tumbling waters reach every part of the land, from the deepest valleys to the highest mountains, and you see yourself at the center of this great sea. The rivers fatten as they flow, new streams branching out in different directions. The sea rises, swallowing shorelines and threatening to overtake the land entirely.

Fear pervades people as water pervades land. We lie within your dread, within your terror, within each of you. 

As your vision returns, you see the ocean choked with the dead. A multitude of pleading, desperate hands drag you beneath the tides.

A rush of briny water fills your lungs and chokes off your words, obscuring your vision. The grim, uncaring masks, tinged with the silver of a disappearing moon are the last image you see before blackness overtakes you.

You claw your way to wakefulness, drenched with sweat and gasping for breath. The dream has ended but you suspect that this new nightmare is far from over.

— Written by Catherine Rachfalski

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February 2019 Prologue

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[RUINS OF THE FREEHOLD BROTHERHOOD CHAPTERHOUSE; FEBRUARY 1, 2019 (WR)]

The magics that made a ruin of the Chapterhouse had also turned that locale into a wasteland. Trees were flattened, streams pooled into the crater, and even the local elementals were warped into forms and visages both strange and perilous. Even the charred air, the very moonlight, in this place was fringed with a poisonous magic.

What was forsaken and maligned to mere mortals was simply inconvenient to those unfettered by such limitations. Tenebrous strode past fallen tree and shattered pillar, soundless, ethereal and fell as a demon’s smile.

Clothed in the body of the Kenrei princess and crowned in shadowy glory, Tenebrous was solitary as they entered the clearing. However, every Warp Elemental that dared approach the Immortal was bent and suborned to their indomitable will. What were to be assailants became slaves instead and they followed the Immortal mindlessly thereafter.

Yet for all of their power and all of their might, the Immortals were not immune to disappointment — no, it was not here. Moreover, there were others that were looking for it.

The Fang-zharan golems and their leader received the Warp Elementals’ attacks with sufficient temerity. Whatever strange augmentations the Golemics received was more than enough to withstand the magics of the ruined crater and they even proved proof to Tenebrous’ insidious domination. Minutes flew by as elementals clashed with constructs amid the ruins of a fortress. Slaves of energy and darkness battled titanic thralls of steel and spirit, as it did in the times of old. Thundering claws crashed into metallic frames even as iron blades bit into aethyric flesh. The Immortal smiled at the memories that this vista conjured.

Then, Tenebrous espied the Golems’ leader as she tried to escape. Oh, she was slight and spry and strong and stubborn — but she was not an Immortal.

She took thirty steps, then fifty, then a hundred — muscles and spirit augmented by Fang-zharan toys. But such machinations did not save her from being shackled by benighted magics and pulled taut against a nearby tree. Augmented or not, the shadows were quicker and easier than a courtier’s lies.

“Marlowe, was it?” Tenebrous appeared before her, stepping forth from beneath the shadows of a hundred moonlit leaves. Their eyes, all of them, narrowed. “Your husband still feels for you, as do the rest of your friends and allies in Freehold.”

“Kill me now, if you dare!” Her prey hissed fury and zealotry. “You cannot stop my mistress!”

“I thought that you had something of mine, but it seems that you don’t.” Sighing, they turned around and gestured to the air, but the underside of the tree’s leaves and of every pebble watched Marlowe all the same.

Marlowe screamed silently, a single eye suddenly glaring red. But she remained ensnared and enstilled within the Immortal’s web.

Tenebrous continued speaking, careless and confident as a philosopher before a forum. “That little tinker made it a little difficult for me to ‘take’ you. But I wonder what would happen if I started removing things? First from your flesh…and then we start on your soul if that doesn’t work.”

They looked up, alone in their soliloquy, but never truly apart. The night sky was only partially veiled by leaves and clouds. This part of the Hinterlands was not flattened by Brotherhood folly.

“I mean, it has never ever worked, of course. But I have time aplenty and Fang-zhara has an overabundance… of… toys…” Tenebrous’ voice trailed off as their gaze left Marlowe. They focused instead upon a point in the skyscape amidst stars and moon and stygian void.

There was only a moment of thinking before a decision was made by all of them, the entirety of the Crescent Council and all the rest. Marlowe was ripped in half during the last tenth of that thought, torso cast away and legs forgotten.

Interesting. 

No dwelling on old questions. It was time for a new toy, after all.

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