[DEEP IN THE HINTERLANDS; OCTOBER 10, 2016 (W.R)]
In the shadows of a gnarled oak tree, the night air parted like a curtain and from beyond it stepped a tall figure that was more shadow than flesh. Keeping one arm raised, he held the portal open as an army of the dead entered the Hinterlands. Some were corpseless beings, gliding through the air. Others were gaunt and hungry for flesh. Yet all were bereft of life and made animate by fell magics.
The last to exist the portal was a stocky human, garbed with black armor and with pallid flesh that betrayed his undead status. He nodded to the portal keeper as he passed – the tall one frowned but lowered his arm. The aethyric rift closed shortly afterward
“Gerion!” a woman and two men approached the stocky man, their skin pallid in a similar manner. From their number, the man clad in wolf furs and tattooed features sneered. “Is this all that you’ve brought? You promised –”
With a touch to the tome he carried with him, Gerion Vard silenced the speaker.
The tattooed man stopped in mid-speech then fell to the ground, clutching his guts. He gasped. “Pain?! But I’m… we’re…”
“Undead?” Gerion let his eyes wander over the others, the tall shadowy creature joining their ranks. Whatever dissent or discord there were had disappeared. “Liches? Or close enough to one?”
“What have you done to us?” the other man spoke quietly, disgust in his tone. A black and green object jutted from his chest, as though he was run through from between his shoulder blades with it. “You’ve each given us our tasks and we’ve completed them, except for the idol –but you owe us at least the truth of your motives”
“One by one, I have looked for you – sought you out by the merest whispers of rumor, by the smallest pieces of your ruin. And I have awakened you from your dooms—“
The woman whispered, the black whorls on her face seeming to move with her shadows. “–For vengeance”
“Aye” Gerion moved his hand away from his tome and the prone man stopped writhing. “For vengeance…yes, that is part of it. I may no longer be Pendrakken – but that word still means EVERYTHING to me. As it should to you all – each of you found doom at the end of the Freefolk’s blade, at the end of their machinations. Some of you were even betrayed by those who should have sided with you. I know those times well”
“But how? What allowed you this spellcraft? All of us were done! We were beyond! And you ripped us back from our rewards!” The tattooed lich raised himself up from ground and pointed to the tall shadowy figure. “How did you raise him? How did you raise us?”
“Persistence. Patience. And your own hatred in the matter at hand – but never mind the how of that. Each and every one of you have talents that are integral to my plan: special talents, special abilities. And all but one of us knows well the art of necromancy. Our knowledge and expertise combined will be greater than the mere sum!”
“Why?” The man with the shard in his chest stepped forward, his voice laced with both threat and puzzlement.
Gerion looked beyond them, eyes focused in faint light of a distant hearth-fire. “This is more than revenge. My tome of ordeals has showed me a vision: an hour of doom approaches, a day of black fire upon us that will burn the every earth. And the Freefolk will not be able to stand against it, they will simply go forth and die. They were strong enough to defeat us, but their might will quail before ours – we who are reborn in undeath and hatred! We who are stronger in our new deathless bodies and bound to me, in service to the greater good”
“Greater good?” It was the shadowed one’s turn to sneer.
Gerion ignored him, keeping his eyes fixed on the lights of the frontier town.
“In order to save Midworld – and everyone living that we still hold dear — we must destroy Freehold”
Rumor (anyone may read this): In some parts of Freehold, the month of October is called the Reaper’s Moon or the Hungry Moon. It is a time of harvest, but also a time of fear. Many are the terrible memories and horrifying nightmares born of this month. Except for the foolish, the brave and the ill-intentioned, most townsfolk and hinterlanders alike bar their doors at the setting of the sun.
The winds are colder this year. Yet, they are warmer than they could be say the tellers of tales and gatherers of gossip. The heroes and mercenaries of Freehold stopped a winter spirit corrupted by an entity known as Anubisath and defeated it before it could bring about an early frost.