Category Archives: Tales from the Hinterlands

Events that take place in the Hinterlands outside Freehold.

October 2016 Prologue

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[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.

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August 2016 Prologue

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[Hinterlands north of Freehold; August 8, 2016 (WR)]

For the first time in decades, Maravalarien was cross. The Gnome had ruled a third of the Inthian Spell-tower in the Labyrinthium and had worked hard (and killed harder) for the position. And now, like a common apprentice, she waited.

Mara looked at the assembled Qabbalim behind her and felt disgust. Arrayed were some of her strongest disciples and beside them were some of her most bitter rivals, followers of Dark Mother, disobeying dictum and orders by joining her. These were not merely believers in the Inthian god of plagues and vermin – these were her most fervent (and crazed) worshippers, heretically believing themselves higher and holier than the High Priest.  Much like Jack of Knives himself.

If it were not for their own value to her, she would have set them all to flame. Instead, she waited for “contact” and mentally recounted her pacts.

Jack of Knives had promised her new demons to study and control

She had promised herself a look at the powerful entity from within the Vault of Slithering and Seething.

And she had promised her Vault-locked masters their vengeance…

Perhaps it was not the passing of time, but merely a glance in the right direction that brought Jack of Knives to them. The sorcerer had not come alone – the buzzing of wings filled the air and spined creatures lurked in the shadows nearby.

“You have arrived and you are late in the hour,” She snapped at him, fury piercing through discipline. “The rumors have it that the demon is dead, as is the Sixth Daughter of the Yao-guai. You have much to report and much to answer for.”

Her head apprentice stepped forward, his silver collar glinting in the moonlight and menace in his smile. The eyes of the bulky Minotaur were ablaze with hellfire and a love of destruction.

“She is not what we believed,” Jack spoke haltingly, one of his blood-soaked hand gripped his shoulder.

Mara eased forward, curiosity overcoming caution. “What is she then?”

Jack of Knives gasped and screamed, falling and writhing on all fours.

Dark Children and Diabolists watched as his form contorted and stretched. They listened as his bones and his flesh made way for new growths. Twin barbed limbs ripped themselves from his body to sit atop his shoulders.

“She… is so… much… MORE!” He rose slowly, his voice charged and his gaze ravenous.

“By the Vault…” Mara stepped back as Jack leapt upon her Minotaur apprentice and feasted on his liquids and essences. Jack used his six limbs to hold the Nightkin down and took his fill.

“It is as he says,” From the night sky, a woman clad in blue and white descended – her back adorned with gossamer wings. “The Seething Mother is more than a mere demon lord – Mother Portia is our salvation, our freedom, our goddess reborn anew.”

“Fallen Sky…”The Gnome’s eyes widened in recognition, and then narrowed in wrath. The Dark Children fell prostrate in abeyance. Meanwhile, the buzzing gained a hurricane’s volume as winged vermin fell from the sky to land upon her screaming apprentices.  She set herself against Jack of Knives. Ruinous magic coursed through the Gnome as she began her conjurations. “You pathetic turncoat! You would dare betray me? I’LL BURN YOU ALL TO CINDERS!”

Her spell was interrupted when spines pierced her flesh from afar. The air was filled with screaming and praying and buzzing.

Jack wept blood and his throat was raw with pain and hollowness, “All shall love her and despair.”

Rumor (anyone may read this): In the town of Northwall, the Freefolk were not only witness to the “rebirth” of the Seething Mother, but also a party to the destruction of one of her strongest minions: the Sixth Daughter of the Yao-guai. Even the Seething Mother was no match for these heroes and mercenaries — they smote her swarming form into the ground and scattered her forces like roaches before sunlight.

Near Freehold, flying spidery monstrosities have been seen and a few townsfolk have complained of strange whispers of power in their souls. Chanting has been heard in the woods, verses to “Dark Mother”, Inthian God of Plagues and Vermin, though further investigation has proven fruitless so far.

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July 2016 Prologue

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[JULY 15, 2016; BASEMENT OF THE BROTHERHOOD CHAPTERHOUSE IN FREEHOLD]

There was no light, no open flame but flickering candle fires, yet the basement of the Chapterhouse was forge-hot. A ragged, hunchbacked man knelt in a ring of candles. Three figures surrounded him, garbed in black, bearing white crosses and wearing grim features.

“Who is Fallen Sky?” Brother Arc snarled as he pushed an ensorcelled sword against the bound man, bringing more heat yet no light unto the room.

Addressing the prisoner as “Rashad”, Sister Iris echoed the question into Shensai – the closest language to whatever dialect their strange captive spoke.

“Wakasai!” the bound man writhed to no avail.  The hunch on Rashad’s back pulsed and quivered. His arms were bound but the collar around his neck was tighter still. The runed leash-pole attached to the collar allowed Brother Ox to keep their prisoner in the circle – though even he needed both hands to do it.

“He doesn’t know” Iris’ even voice was somehow heard through the screams and the sobs.

“Bullshit!” Brother Ox spat, fingers curled tighter around the leash-pole. “This fucker came back from the Vaults with her. The farms are still charred from those damned Portals they opened! He has to know somethin’!”

Iris spoke again in the Kenrei tongue. <Where is she going?>

Words spilled out of Rashad, followed by another scream of pain when Arc pressed the burning sword against him. The babbling and the screams were enough to eclipse an armored man’s entrance into the basement chamber. The newcomer stood at the doorframe and watched, knife in hand.

Iris took a moment to digest the verbal outpour before speaking. “He doesn’t know, but he can feel them going north. Possibly with his companions, ‘Vasha’ and ‘Maeda’. Something about the Seething Mother again. To… gestate? Reincarnate? I am not familiar with the word he used.”

Arc sneered. “Tell him Maeda’s dead. She died alone and crying in front of –”

“That’s enough” Arcturus Pendrakken, stepped into the candle-light with nary a sound. “This man is not our enemy”

Rashad did not understand the words, but he knew the tone. Grief overtook his features and he wept unto the basement floor “Maeda…”

“Your Majesty” Iris spoke cooly. “This interrogation chamber is no place for the King of Pendrakken”

Arc smirked, his sword was smoking and bloodstained as he laid it upon his shoulder. “Yep, you better be careful, your Kingness. That hump on his back was quivering and moving the entire time – who knows what evil lurks in our prisoner?”

“The other Kings and I will be judges to *where* our places are. Remember who you work for and why you do… it certainly is not for this barbarism”

He knelt before Rashad’s tortured form. And for a moment, he seemed as plain and a serf, no King or hero – simply a man.”This is not the solution. It never was”

Arcturus then spoke to the captive in halting Shensai. <Rashad is it? I am Arcturus Pendrakken. We is not your enemy. Help us, I implore you, Ancient One>

“Wrong verb form, your Majesty”

“So it is. Let him go, this is no way to treat an ally”

When Ox chose to exchange glances with his brethren instead of following, Arcturus did not bother waiting. With the knife, he cut the ropes around Rashad’s arms with a speed that belied his age. When he reached for the collar, Rashad grabbed the King’s wrist.

A silence blackened the room as swords were drawn and spells sprang to tongue-tips. But Rashad let go and shook his head, whispering hoarsely. Ox pushed him to the ground.

“He wants the collar to remain” Iris put her steel away.

Arcturus nodded, standing and stepping back. He motioned at Brother Ox, who shrugged and gave Rashad more slack.

“What’s up north anyway?” Ox adjusted his grip.

“Mountains, mine explosion at Northwall… and according to Scout, several swarms of Yao-guai — possibly including one of their leaders, the Sixth Daughter” Arc returned the shrug with a yawning languor. “Maybe this Seething Mother is up there, if Fallen Sky’s northbound”

<What can you tell us of the Seething Mother, Ancient One?> Arcturus used the kindly address as he had before, but he was careful to use the correct form and smiled when Iris nodded.

“Shetani. Nai, Kami Shetani” Rashad followed this with an outpouring of words.

Arcturus raised his hand, slipping into the common tongue of Wyrd-spiel. “Too fast, my friend. Slow down. Shetani? That’s Grelllken. Is she a Demon? A Demon lord? Are you pact-bound against speaking her name?”

Rashad stopped, then chanted in his strange language – a verse as rhythmic as ocean waves and ominous as a dark cloud at sea. Thrice he spoke it yet Iris only understood most of the verse.

Oh great Seething Mother, your children forever belong to you.

Oh Tyrant of the Hive, I give you all of my flesh and my soul.

Greatest and most Beloved Empress…

Arcturus took up the verse’s remainder.

“Give unto me your glorious, endless Infestation”

Rumor (anyone may read this): Last month, demonic rifts appeared all over Freehold and radiated dangerous energies. This rifts and their sources were defeated by the Freefolk’s own bravery and skill as well as a ritual that imperiled several brave individuals. Strangely, it is believed that the ritual was left by the Solari in the library in the case that this would happen  – their hatred for demons is well documented and they once resealed the borders between worlds with their magics.

Freehold has seen peace since then though it is still recovering from the destructive energies that the rifts radiated. Several farmlands were blackened, their crops pulled and set to purifying flame. A library wing and a smithy were similarly damaged.

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