Author Topic: The Black Grimoire: Tales of the Masked One, the Hand of Death  (Read 918 times)

JDodger

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Report from Kilhorn Dodger
 
Message sent to all nobles of Eponllyn (14 recipients) - many moons ago

Blood King of the Xavax who is not a Xavax

I have issued demandings to the Duke of Blades

He will give to me the land of Commonyr

If he does not

Raise his taxations

Take from him many golds




Attached are the demandings

Letter from Kilhorn Dodger
 
(Personal message to Andross Blint)

Greetings Duke of Blades I am the Masked One the Hand of Death Kilhorn Dodger

Give to me the land of Commonyr

It is a rich land and I desire it

Kilhorn Dodger
Knight of Westmoor


Kilhorn Dodger
Knight of Westmoor
« Last Edit: February 16, 2023, 09:08:03 AM by JDodger »
By the way, would love to see you coordinate three realms without having an OOC teamspeak with everyone on it.

JDodger

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The dreams were relentless, and the Chief of Justice, Arbiter, Duke, Councilman Godric Warbornsson had of late taken to extra paces along the walls of Oligarch at night, weary heart full of unspoken things.

For the one who goes too often without sleep, the waking world can often take on the aspect of dream. For one such, often matters perfectly rational cease to make sense, and all manner of matters strange -- and too often, wrong and twisted -- seem to be perfectly rational.

Perhaps for this reason, perhaps for the knowledge that one who called himself a Dodger had made a promise, perhaps for any number of other reasons, Godric was utterly unsurprised to turn a corner on his city's battlements and find a shadow, dark beyond the dark before dawn, in the shape of a man beneath one of his walls' torch-sconces.

Godric drew to a halt as he saw it, hand reflexively reaching for his weapon, but perfectly calm in his heart. With the well-practiced composure of a warrior and statesman, he held his ground and silently studied the intruder.

The shadow's face was hidden within a deep hood, but Godric could feel it silently studying him as well. For long minutes, the torch crackled, the high air of the battlements swirled between them. The sudden hiss of – was it satisfaction? - was a shock against the silence as it crept, long and slithering like a serpent, from the deep folds of jet-black cloth.

“Yesss,” rasped a speaker hidden in darkness, its eldritch voice evocative of an even deeper darkness. “This one is the famous killer once called Torxanib, who now calls himself Godric the Arbitrating One, the killer who the great killer - I speak not his name - named Dukeslayer, the killer who broke the heart of the famous dead killer Kellan.”

“I have seen you through his eyes, killer,” it continued, for the first time seeming to address Godric rather than itself or some unseen third party. “I watched your killing in the forestlands of Cathay, on the fields of Lenamaziel, the walls of Colasan, of Ossaet! Yes, Toren killer of the blood of the great killer Karibash – great was the killing in Dwilight when we fought that one! – I know you. Would that I could have looked through the eyes of the famous dead one Kellan, to witness your killing in these lands!”

Godric's rational mind screamed at him from somewhere deep within his being. There is too much that is wrong here, he seemed to hear it cry, but the torch's light soothed his eyes with its shadows, and he could hear the screams of the dying on the winds that caressed the battlements.

“You are Kilhorn Dodger,” Godric the Arbiter stated, but his statement was a command of admission.

“The killer you address is indeed the Masked One, the Hand of Death, Kilhorn Dodger,” the shadow seemed darkly pleased to confirm.

“I received several messages from you,” Godric continued steadily. “You claim to have killed the rebel Kellan Dodger.”

A slow hiss of wicked satisfaction slithered forth from the hood, and it echoed softly on the stones as, at length, the shadow began its reply. “The famous killer who was my brother Kellan lies slain by my blade, yes. The great enemy of your people is now a dead one, Arbitrating One of the Xavax.”

Godric did not visibly react, but continued in the same tone. “You also claim that the weapon called the Nightblade, which has recently come into my possession, belongs to you, and that you 'desire it,' or else, if I recall your words, 'there will be much killing.' Can you prove your ownership over this weapon?”

“I can, questioning one,” the shadow that called itself Kilhorn rasped as a clawed, gnarled, wood-brown hand, a blood-stained longknife gently balanced along its palm, slid forth from within the folds of its black cloak. Silently, slowly, the shadow stepped away from the torch toward the strong and broad and waiting form of Godric Warbornsson.

As Kilhorn stepped away from the torchlight, Godric's eyes adjusted, and the soft white light of the full moon overhead for the first time illuminated the recesses of the shadowy hood. The face it revealed was one born of nightmare – the sharpened teeth, bared in a savage and bloodthirsty grimace, were the first to appear; then the piercing yellow eyes, somewhere between a forest cat's and a snake's. Those eyes, as they stared into his, seemed to pierce through to the depths of Godric's soul, bearing darkness and corruption with them.

“Place this blade next to the one you call your own, the Nightblade, which is mine by right,” Kilhorn hissed softly, his eyes suddenly and startlingly flashing toward Godric's belt and the weapon held sheathed upon it. Godric, to his surprise, found his hand hovering by its hilt – upon seeing Kilhorn, he had reached for the Nightblade instead of his trusty spear.

“Yes, killer,” Kilhorn rasped, a nasty half-smile tugging at the corners of his cruel and ragged lips. “Already you can feel its hold growing upon you. Can you hear the voices of the killed ones? The men, and women, and children – yesss, even the little ones, killer – and monsters, and daimons? Many thousands of the dead ones who walk and kill would cry out, too, if they could! With that blade I have killed thousands, hundreds of thousands!”

Kilhorn's monstrous face shined dully, an oily sheen over its rough and barklike skin reflecting a corrupted mockery of the moonlight. The covetous glare of his sickly yellow eyes never once left the blade, even as Godric slowly and carefully moved his hand away from it and toward the haft of his spear. Then, as if waking suddenly from a trance, Kilhorn drew a quick and rasping breath, and his eyes flashed back to meet Godric's, his posture subtly shifting to one of readiness.

“So, mighty Toren killer, questioning and calculating one,” he hissed quietly, “is it killing you desire? Or will you see the proof that the Hand of Death has brought? Upon this longknife is the blood of your enemy, the killer Kellan, my famous little brother. Place its blade upon that of the Nightblade, and you will see things that will bring much amazement, and your questionings will have their answerings.”

“But if it is killing you desire,” he continued, even as a previously-unseen hand drew a second longknife from somewhere within the voluminous black cloak, “know that I am well prepared for that.”

The cruel twisting of the mouth that passed for a smile widened, and Kilhorn's yellow eyes studied Godric's unwaveringly, like the bullfighter studies the bull.
By the way, would love to see you coordinate three realms without having an OOC teamspeak with everyone on it.

JDodger

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Is it a dead god, Toren killer of the blood of the great killer Karibash? What do you truly know of matters dark and hidden?

Bang.

Gethsemene. Now. The gate crashes open, and a column of tiny brown riders enters the city.

The largest among them, Godric's height but slight and wiry, looks like a strong child in the saddle of a full-sized warhorse. He pulls an already-lit cigar from behind his ear, takes a deep drag, holds it, at length exhaling a long and luxurious cloud of smoke, and begins to sing. It is not the beginning of the song, but his singing begins thus:

Peo-ple say that, we wild like a ti-i-ger
AND GO WAR-RINGGG like Udorian ri-i-der
Some peo-ple say, we more like, dragon-sticks and spi-ders
Dragon-sticks and spiii-ders, dragon-sticks and spi-de-errrs.
Dragon-sticks and spi-de-errrs, dragon-sticks and spi-i-ders


Kilhorn's hiss is filled with rage and hatred and something else, something hidden even from Godric.

Bang.

Bang.

Like a sharp clap of thunder, and yet different, and Godric is torn away from the son of Jonn at the gates of Gethsemene to another place, another time.

The sun is high and hot in the sky, and the shadows cast by the trees are as soothing to Godric as they are to Kilhorn of the Dark Isle, the Masked One who was born into darkness.

They hunt together amongst the boles of dusky giants, the wet sticky heat pleasant as fresh-spilling blood on Kilhorn's oily skin and along the edge of the weapon that is becoming Godric.

Or is it you who becomes the weapon, killer? The thought in Godric's mind is soft and smooth and mesmerizing, like the eyes of the cobra to the swallow.

And do you think you are the first?

The people of the forest of Kamade are tall and strong and dark like the trees themselves, but they are not prepared for killing.

The Lurian soldiers around them are not prepared for killing either, but this is immaterial to the Hand of Death and the weapon it holds.

Even as the midday sun filters through high and leafy branches, they are darkness against darkness, darker than the dark before dawn, the killer called Kilhorn and the weapon called the Nightblade.

And there is much killing.

One of the Kamadi has a spear in his hand, and with it he fights well, but this too is immaterial. Ruthless, relentless, Kilhorn and his blade will not be denied.

The Kamadi killer's blood is even hotter and stickier than the tropical summer air of the forest, and it beats forth his life in quick and violent bursts, but he dies slow, as was their intent.

Godric and the Nightblade, if they can still be regarded as two separate things, are held tight in Kilhorn's clawed and oily hand as he hovers above the form of the slowly-dying man and begins to whisper to him, whispers of darkness, whispers as yet unheard by any other.

This killer is the first, but he will not be the last. The cobra strikes at its prey, strikes home.

Bang.

Bang.

Bangbangbangbangbangbangbang. The echo of it rolls on like thunder against the mountains, and yet different.

Toren Stronghold. Now. The seeing of it threatens to tear Godric's soul from his body, all the way back there on the high walls of another mighty fortress, all the way back there in another world.

They are close now, though less close than they were before. Through Kilhorn's eyes he sees them, the masked giant and the one who was born dead, the wolf. They march under the same banner, together and yet apart.

The Nightblade thirsts for them both.

Bang.


Bang.

Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. The smith's face is black as black iron, black as charcoal, black as the deepest fire, and it is not the face of a human. It grits its teeth in fierce determination as it beats endlessly at the night-black blade upon the darkiron anvil, and it is hot in this small and cramped and deep place, but no sweat drips from the smith's black and high and haughty brow.

Remnant.

Fa'armora, D'varr'grr, X'ostraximos, Ebonchild.
Ancient killer of men and monsters and daimons and elves.

First raisers of the dead ones who walk and kill.

Kilhorn's long, slow hiss is one of deepest and darkest appreciation, and of triumph, and Godric can hear the endless shuffling march of a thousand thousand ragged feet in the beating of the blacksmith's hammer. They trample upon every corner of the earth, and Godric welcomes them.

The Nightblade welcomes them, bids them come.

Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. As the smith's hammer beats down upon them, they begin to hear the chanting that fills the barrow, and yet does not. It is a chanting from another plane, and yet it is here, all around them and inside them. The forge's flame casts the shadows of figures of all shapes and sizes. They silently and watchfully surround the smith and the object of his labors, and behind these shadows are other shadows, shadows cast by the unseen fire of another world, and it is their voices that fill this place.

As they chant, a new darkness begins to push against the dark of the deepest of the already-ancient barrows of the forest sometime called Rapael, but known now and far earlier and far longer by other names, long before the coming of the men who would one day be called the First People, the Darkishmen, the Khalkar, in the days when the dark elves who would one day be called the Remnant called themselves by other names as well.

As the new darkness fills it, begins to shine forth from it, the weapon that will be known as the Nightblade nears its completion. Suddenly, the crowd of shadowy and hidden figures surrounding the smith and his labors parts, admits a newly-arrived member to their number. A human, female, young and beautiful by the standards of her kind, but her eyes are already old and cold and sharp.

Fae.

Witch-woman of the Mistwood, Sorceress of the Great Dark One-Eyed One, Raven-Sung.

Grandmother. Ah, she was so young then! And yet already so full of power, already so full of knowledge of things dark and hidden!


Godric's heart threatens to burst from his chest, here and elsewhere, somewhere else...

Bang. Bang. Bang. The hammer continues to beat down upon them as the witch-woman who is and will be called Fae of the Mistwood turns to one of the nearer shadows to demand her prize. The weapon is what she has come for. It is for her and her alone. Her eyes blaze with the fire of the forge and the darkness of the blade and the dark fire of the other world.

“I can see the desire in your black and ancient heart, L'etas Daraghul Sidhei. Deny me not what is mine.”

The shadow beyond blackness she commands, dares to command, draws back, grows tense with indignation and something else, something hidden but seen against the will of its hider.

Kilhorn's hiss is an oath of fealty renewed. Yes, killer, even now he fears you, fears what you will become!

“Deny me not what is mine, what I know will be mine,” the young and beautiful, powerful and wicked woman commands the shadow beyond blackness. “Forget not that I have looked into the deepest spae-pool of the place that will be called the Temple of Zraath, that ancient black temple of the Thousand-Named One that lies beneath the forest they call Athla Azros. Forget not what I saw in its black waters, O ancient King of the Neth Al'afara, O ancient killer of men and monsters and daimons and elves, Old One-Eyed One, First Servant of the Great Dark One-Eyed One who walked the world before them all!”

Fae's eyes blaze with darkest magic, and, as if raised from one of the nether worlds by the witch-woman's recitation of his titles, the shadow beyond blackness that is and will be called L'etas Daraghul Sidhei steps into the bale light of the forge to respond to her call.

Bang. Bang. Bang. The hammer beats down, striking sparks of darkness, forging them into something new and strong and sharp and deadly.

His face is like the smith's face, black and high-browed and haughty, except that there is the slightest of pockmarks where one eye must once have been, the empty socket covered over by smooth and near-unblemished ebony skin, and the rest of his features are even more cunning and twisted and corrupted by the evil of millennia uncounted.

Upon this one's brow sits a crown of darkiron, ancient and brutal and spare in its design. As its wearer draws nearer to the blade that is near complete upon the darkiron anvil, the crown glows with a darkness blacker than the black before dawn, and the darkness of the blade grows in answer to it.

“Say less, prating and demanding one, disrespecting one, and forget not what I saw in the flames of the dark fire of the Temple of Enlod, which these hands built alone,” says the shadow beyond blackness, the ancient King of an ancient people, L'etas Daraghul Sidhei.  “And think not that I forget, no, not for one moment, that already in the land that is called and will be called Nbasah, your people prepare a fleet to sail upon my Isle, and if your vision be proved wrong and mine right, your people will be a curse upon mine and the cause of many troubles.

“And you, witch-woman of the men who are called the Tu'adhana, and will one day be called by other names, but one name above all others! You, warning and promising and scheming one! Ambitious, self-serving and crafty one! Think not that I forget that from your accursed womb has already sprung the accursed bloodline that will outlast all others of your people, and that from your sons will come the ones that will bind the ones now called the Tu'adhana, and the sons of Geg who is and are a curse upon my people yet unborn, and the Shadow Clans whose blood, in time, will be mixed with those who are not men nor daimon nor elfkind!

“Yea, from your accursed womb have sprung the ones that will bind them all with fire and steel, bind them into a Brotherhood that will be as a plague upon this Isle and other lands, and upon my people, the Neth Al'afara, and the tribes of men, and monsters, and daimons, and elves!

“Men! Short-lived and petty ones! Hasty and overreaching ones! Regretting and retreating ones! You, sacrificing and entreating one! You who would extend your life a paltry few centuries at the cost of many thousands, yea, thousands upon thousands of the lives of your own accursed race! What can you know, you of few years and much lusting for living, what can you know of the weight borne by one who is already ancient now, in a time your race, the forgetting ones, will one day call ancient? Yea, of the weight of a crown, this crown, forged in the very flame that heats the blade you so desire, the First Fire that was lit before this world was born!

“Men! Selfish and short-sighted ones! I curse them, all of them but the fortunate and happy ones willed by the All-Creator, the mighty and merciful one!”

The shadow beyond blackness that is and will be L'etas Daraghul Sidhei seems to catch himself suddenly, and his booming, ancient voice is silenced for the first time since he first began to speak. Kilhorn's hiss is slow and wary and cautious, and Godric feels the nervous tension that suddenly fills the shadow-crowded chamber, even unto the shadows behind shadows, whose chanting stammers and fades for long moments. Even the smith ceases his hammering for a heartbeat before quickly returning to his task, the work of a century or more and nearly, finally, complete.

Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang, and the chanting of the shadows behind shadows slowly rises back to life.

The King of the Neth Al'afara, after another frozen and crackling second, regains his composure and continues as well. “Men! Feeble and pathetic ones! I curse them with the dimming of the lights of their bloodlines, yea, a weakening, a shrinking, unto a time of ignorance and chaos and darkness! They will fight among themselves for our benefit! They will fight men, and monsters, and daimons, and elves, and more, and we shall direct them from the shadows and laugh, for a time. I curse them even in their graves, yea, those who are already in their graves and those who will be!”

And with a flourish of his ancient and cunning and as-yet-unblemished hand, the King of the Neth Al'afara, L'etas Daraghul Sidhei, ancient killer of men and monsters and daimons and elves, the Old One-Eyed One, reaches out and plucks the weapon that will soon be called the Nightblade from its anvil.

It is, at last, complete, and its edge is already sharp, and the cunning and keen eyes of the shadow beyond blackness, L'etas Daraghul Sidhei, ancient beyond telling, run admiringly along its blade.

Panic. Panic panic panic. He was not supposed to be the first to touch them. He sees us he sees us he sees us he seeeeeeees... but his keen eyes pass over them, and he does not see them, yet, and they are relieved, if there is relief for those who have been given over to darkness, for those who are become darkness itself.

Then, grasping the curved and wickedly graceful hilt in both hands, he raises them toward the ceiling. Above it they can feel the cold dark earth, in this moment already ancient beyond the understanding of men, and yet younger than many men will one day believe, and within it they feel something stir.

Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. A new sound. Not the blacksmith's hammer this time, not here in the darkness of the deepest barrow beneath the forest that will one day be called Rapael, for that work is already done. But up there, from every direction, up in the cold, dark earth, they hear it, like ragged fists against the insides of a thousand thousand coffin lids.

L'etas Daraghul Sidhei, the ancient one whose hands alone built the Temple of Enlod and lit its dark fire from the First Fire that was lit before the world was born, raises the weapon that will soon be called the Nightblade, the weapon into which was poured the dark wisdom and craft of millennia uncounted, and the darkest magic of the shadows behind shadows who are even more ancient than that.

“I am the King of the Neth Al'afara, ancient killer of men and monsters and daimons and elves, doer of what he wills, and I have had one vision the likes of which you have not,” he declares.

And he begins to chant in the ancient and flowing dark tongue of his people, but all Godric can hear is the shuffling march of a thousand thousand ragged feet, the banging of ragged hands on the insides of a thousand thousand coffin lids.

Bang.

Kilhorn can hear the chanting, and he listens as if enraptured, and what he hears is knowledge that even he, the Masked One, knower of many things dark and hidden, the Hand of Death who is many hands and many eyes, has never known before this moment. His hiss, for the first time but not the last, is one of surprise and of awe.

My Nightblade!

Kilhorn's hiss continues as it becomes one of pride, and of redoubled dark reverence, and of triumph, and it stretches on and on, until it seems endless.

The forge's fire suddenly roars, its wild flames making the shadows dance to rhythms never before heard upon the earth.

Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang...
By the way, would love to see you coordinate three realms without having an OOC teamspeak with everyone on it.

JDodger

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Bang.

FWOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOSHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH...

Boom... boom...boomboom... boomboomboomboomboomboomboomboombooomboom...


He stands alone, longsword still sheathed on his back, hands hidden inside his cloak of sable ermine.

And what do you hold in those hands, Hand of Life, great conquering killer of men and monsters and daimons and elves and dead ones and those ancient ones who first raised them?


Kilhorn's hiss is slow and patient and suspicious of all things, but especially this one.

The Nightblade thirsts for him, thirsts for him above all others, and Godric can taste its thirst, but suddenly its thirst is not his own. In this high and lonely place, he can nearly feel his way back to the other high and lonely place, that place and time where his broad shoulders stoop beneath the weight of a city and many other heavy things.

But did they not bear such a weight before? It is a new voice, and yet it is one the warrior once known as Torxanib Godric Tórrarin , the Dukeslayer, Margrave of Taop once knew.

He stands with Godric now, and Kilhorn sees him not.

The Shadowless Sword is a sword with no shadow.

This is the First Tenet of the Shadowless Sword.

Let this Tenet be understood before continuing to the Second.


Tonight, the shadow of his sword is cast by fire from the heavens.

Bang.
By the way, would love to see you coordinate three realms without having an OOC teamspeak with everyone on it.

JDodger

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Bang.

No, not there, killer, not the other place, not where you are dead and not where he is dead

The other one is dead here you are alive

Look into my eyes killer

Look at the Nightblade that weapon that you bear that you become that I have already become

The weapon raised by L'etas Daraghul Sidhei first raiser of the dead ones that walk and kill

You have not even seen it raised by the witch-woman of the Mistwood Raven-Sung

Sorceress of the Black Temple of Enlod and the Black Temple of Zraath

Grandmother Fae you will see her raise it as I have seen her raise it in times long called ancient

Look not to the tall and golden-haired giant blood of the mountain and the Isle

I see that one too I see him now I did not see him then no not among the mountains not among the fires falling from the heavens

Falling from the heavens to make explosions explosions of deadly starshards that rend and kill

He laid a trap for me he did the great killer conqueror of cities burner of lies that were the work of centuries

But I laid a trap for him

The Masked One the Hand of Death laid a trap for him

Greatest of the killers of all the lands new and ancient

Yes

Look into my eyes killer I will show you many things

Yes


Bang.


He thinks he sees us now

Sees us in my Nightblade the weapon which you bear and he bears

First Bearer of the Nightblade exiled and ancient King of an exiled and ancient people

What does your one eye see first servant of the Great Dark One-Eyed One

No you do not see the Masked One nor the one bound to him

Bound by the blood of Kellan

The hidden one who waits and strikes and strikes again

Call me by my name killer

Call me by my name and hand her my Nightblade



Keltas Dla'kuul.”

The shadow beyond blackness called L'etas Daraghul Sidhei has a voice of darkiron, and the crown upon his head glows dark, darker than the dark before dawn.

The darkness that shines forth from them grows too, grows darker as they are given their first names.

Masked One. Hand of Death.

First names given to the Nightblade by the King of the Remnant, the Once-Lords, the Devoured, the Exiled, the Ebonchildren, the Neth Al'afara.

Ancient killers of men and monsters and daimons and elves, and each other.

First raisers of the dead ones who walk and kill raised by my Nightblade deep beneath the earth

Keltas Dla'kuul you have heard it now in two tongues

Masked One Hand of Death

Witness us we are triumphant

Triumphant and he knows it not yet


Bang.



Witness killer

Witness as I hold the blade to his neck

Ancient and exiled King of an ancient and exiled people

When I laid the blade to his neck he was already once exiled

Old one-eyed one, first servant of the Great Dark One-Eyed One of the Thousand Names

Ancient already then already now now the twice exiled

Witness the blade which I did bring to your city the rich city of Oligarch

Oligarch of the high and mighty walls withstander of many besiegings

Ancient Oligarch ancient before the Elflands had their pretty names Anarionath and Sirion

When they were known by darker and more ancient names

Anarionarch and Oslirion twice home of the Neth Al'afara

The blade that did slay the famous dead one in the city of Aix that sprang from the forest of Athla Aix

The blade slick with his blood the blood of a brother yet unborn

The blade slick with the blood of a brother born to die by his brother's hand

The Hand of Death the Masked One greatest killer of them all

Witness now killer

Witness us as she calls us by our name our true name


“Kilhorn,” Fae declares, commands, summons them, and they are there.

Bang.


“Kilhorn, Blade of the Night.”


The Nightblade...

Kilhorn's hiss is long, and his dead brother's blood, the one yet to be born in this moment ancient and evil, hisses too as he presses the longknife to L'etas Daraghul Sidhei's neck.

Hand her

my Nightblade...


And he does.

She presses it close to her body as she begins a new chant, and the shadows behind the shadows, the nine thousand nine hundred ninety nine diabhalin, add their voices to hers, and the darkness grows until it is blinding...

But not as bright as the fire which rains from above, that fire that is the fruit of the work of a lifetime.

Bang.
« Last Edit: February 19, 2023, 06:44:00 AM by JDodger »
By the way, would love to see you coordinate three realms without having an OOC teamspeak with everyone on it.

JDodger

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A hacking cough racked Selmon's frame as he awoke, shaking from the cold and aching from a fitful sleep upon a thin bed of hay laid over uneven stone. The old healer's ears perked at some far-off sound, a steady rustling somewhere far off.

“Must have been what woke me,” he groaned as he struggled to roust himself. He had served long enough at the front lines to sense danger before it came.

What danger could be worse than the black hole into which he had been cast, this dripping subterranean mausoleum, or dungeon, or whatever it once had been? The cramped room was lit only by sputtering, dying incense.

“I'll have to change that before he comes back,” Selmon muttered, and immediately set about feeling around the corner in which he'd deposited the few things he'd been allowed – incense, flint and steel, a bit of punkwood, some scraps of food, and his medical supplies.

Almost ironic, that last bit, for there was, for the first time in a long time, no patient to tend to. No wounded soldier, no snakebit scout, no hostage deemed too important to allow to die. No patient in the traditional sense, at least. For there was a reason why he had been allowed his supplies – some of them were still relevant to the task at hand.

His fingers after some effort found the compressed pastilles of sandalwood and frangipani, and next to them lay the flint and steel and punkwood he'd need to light them. Some desperation lent itself to the quickness of his movements – the rustling was getting closer.

“He's back, he's back...”

Quick now, to the dais in the center of the room, skirting around the third denizen of the dark, the unnamed skeleton chained to the wall, whose acquaintance Selmon had initially made the hard way – tripping over a thigh bone – on his first night in this place.

How many nights had passed since, there was no way to know. Wherever he was, it was far, far underground, a place where no heavenly light had ever shined or ever would. Perhaps a mausoleum or catacombs once, for there were halls upon halls that stretched off into the distance, though they had been installed with barred gates at some point more recent. If it had not always been a dungeon, it had certainly been repurposed as one. For the skeletal unfortunate by the wall, and now for Selmon.

With shaking hands, Selmon placed the little pyramids of incense in their censers, struggled to set the punkwood alight, near-burned himself lighting the incense. In the temporary increase of light, he could make out the outline of the form on the dais – the body of a noble warrior, brutally and unjustly murdered. At least for him, this placed still served, if it ever had so served, as a place of burial.

Selmon's heart skipped a beat as the ever-closer rustling was suddenly punctuated by the scraping of metal on stone. Dragging down a ragged breath through gritted teeth, he quickly checked the cloth shroud covering the body on the dais, made sure all was tucked in tightly, then double-checked to make sure incense burned in every censer. Then – and not without a blow to what little was left of his pride – he did his best to hide huddled in a corner.

The door – it was one of many, but it was the only one he'd ever seen opened – seemed like the gaping maw of a vicious beast, behind which lay an all-consuming gullet and a stomach that rumbled with raging hunger. The rustling got louder, the clank and scrape of metal more frequent. Like a child, Selmon squeezed his eyes shut, as if by shutting them the horrors which they had seen and dreaded to see again would simply cease to be. If only it were so. If only evil ceased to be for lack of being seen.

Selmon's terror rose to a desperate pitch, and it was all he could do to keep the lump in his throat from escaping into the damp air as a wail. The rustling stopped just outside the door. Then a key could plainly be heard clicking into the lock, then turning. Inevitability forced the old man's eyes open – a true survival instinct, the need to look upon the source of dread. The door swung open, creaking on its hinges.

A pair of Revenants entered first, their ghastly, blank, bloodless-white visages drawn more from Selmon's memory than from the work of his eyes in this near-blackness. They parted as they entered to take position at either side of the door. Then into the darkness of Selmon's prison stepped an even deeper darkness. Hooded and cowled, a shadow against shadow.

“Rise, healer,” it croaked, and Selmon gasped. The shadow stood still and silent, and even its silence was a command. Selmon gathered what little of himself he could, and stood.

It took all he could to say the words, but he managed to do as he had been commanded. In a wavering whisper, Selmon spoke to the darkness.

“I obey, Lord Kilhorn, O Hand of Death.”
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“I obey, Lord Kilhorn, O Hand of Death,” the unfortunate old healer named Selmon of Askileon said, awkwardly and uncomfortably managing a half-bow.

The creature known as Kilhorn stood still and silent a long time, deep, rasping breaths the only sign he lived. It was the way with him, Selmon had learned in these past few long years of forced servitude. In all but killing and warfare - if the two can be fully separated as such - it was as if Kilhorn took far longer to react to anything in his environment than a normal man. Yet if his stillness was disturbed, his reaction would be swift and invariably violent. Selmon had long since learned to wait - quietly, inoffensively.

“Lift the shroud of the dead one,” Kilhorn ordered at length. Selmon hastened to obey, at least in body, for in his mind and his heart he dreaded the task. So much of what had been done to the dead man on the dais was already marked with evil, sacrilege even. Kilhorn's continued obsession with the body was just as disturbing, and for Selmon, to have to play the role of custodian and preserver was nearly unbearable.

He approached the dais from the side opposite Kilhorn, carefully lifted the shroud. As the face came into focus in the demi-light of the burning incense, Selmon's heart panged with pity and with anger. He had not known the man long by some standards, but the few months they had spent locked together in the cabin of Kilhorn's ghastly ship had felt like a lifetime. In even the dimmest light, he could trace the lines of the more than a dozen scars that lined that face. Even in his youth, the man had never been what one would call handsome, but he had not been ugly, and “plain” was a word that would never apply to him. It was a warrior's face. A general's face. A king's face.

“The preserving is good,” Kilhorn rasped, interrupting Selmon's thoughts.

“Thank you, Lord Kilhorn,” Selmon mumbled, ducking his head instinctively.

“Go and hide in your corner, healer,” Kilhorn rasped, and Selmon obeyed. Quickly.

From the safety of the corner, he felt brave enough to study Kilhorn out of the corner of his eye. His face was very near one of the censers, and it was one Selmon knew as well - the sharpened teeth, ever-bared in a malevolent grimace; the nose, wide of nostril but barely protruding, as if placed upon the face as an afterthought; the strange skin, rough and brown as tree bark; the narrow, yellowy, inscrutable eyes that never seemed to move from dead forward, and yet seemed always to see all.

Those same eyes were locked upon the face of the one on the dais, and who could say what thoughts formed themselves - if any - behind them as Kilhorn looked upon the face of the slain? Selmon did not have long to think about it, for Kilhorn once more barked a command - this time not in the common tongue of Dwilight, in which he usually spoke to Selmon, but in Darkish, the tongue of the Darkishmen, natives of the Dark Isle in the Far East from among whom House Dodger had sprung in ages past.

“Awaken, dead one, and speak to your killer!” Kilhorn's eyes flashed as he spoke.

Selmon at first was shocked, then nearly amused. A prisoner over time learns to know his captors, and revels in their every minor idiosyncrasy and weakness. Kilhorn's, Selmon had found, was his pride – everything he wanted, he believed he should have, and in the rare occasions that the world said him nay, the rage that would come upon him was impressive to behold. Surely this was one case in which the mighty Kilhorn, self-styled Hand of Death, would be denied.

Long moments passed. Selmon struggled to hold back his coughing, for fear that it would be mistaken as laughter. And yet - did the light seem to grow brighter in the room? Did a quiet humming seem to grow, slowly, as if the very air grew excited with some unspoken anticipation?

Was the image of a body not materializing, sitting in the air above the flesh-and-blood one on the dais as if upon an invisible chair?

Kilhorn grunted with evident frustration. “Hasten and come, dead one,” he spoke again in Darkish, “you are killed and long since King of these lands. Do not keep the Hand of Death waiting, dead one.”

The image did not hasten in materializing, but it had nearly composed itself, and the response was not long in coming. “Hasten and come, eh? What would you threaten he who is already dead with, O Hand of Murder? I am unaccustomed to taking orders in my own “palace” - even if we are many levels below it, and even if another man sits the throne in a different one and bears my crown.”

Selmon's jaw dropped, and he threw both hands over his mouth as a fit of coughing, emboldened by the shock of what he was witnessing, escaped forth. Not just by the words, but by the voice itself, there could be no doubt - he was witnessing the soul of Kellan Dodger given visible form!

Kilhorn's breath hissed forth in an expression of barely-constrained rage, but he held his stone-stillness and stared impassively at the fully-materialized image of his murdered brother. “You speak with much pride for one who died like a slaughtered lamb, dead one. For all your fame and all your victories and all your killing in these lands and afar, you were killed by a greater killer, one who should be more famous and will be more famous in time. Speak with respectfulnesses, dead one.”

The shade of Kellan laughed, leaned back in the invisible chair, and reached out - from somewhere unseen, plucking a spectral raaha joint, already lit. The pungent smell of the narcotic substance filled the room, though no smoke could be seen.

“Murderer,” he sang, smiling - Selmon could see the smile through the back of the spectre's head - “blood is on your shoulders. Kill I today, you cannot kill I tomorrow. Murderer, your insides must be hollow. How does it feel to take the life of your brother?”

It was a take on an old Darkish song that Selmon recognized - he had heard it while in Lord Jonn's service.

Kilhorn was evidently displeased – he was not getting what he wanted out of the conversation, and his eyes were wide and flashing with rage. “Enough of your foolishness, smoking and singing one! I come to speak to you of killing!” he rasped in a louder tone, about the closest he ever got to yelling.

Kellan was nonplussed. “If you wanted to come to me for advice, big brother, it would have been easier to keep me alive. I know things you do not, it is true, things that would have been hidden from me had you kept me locked up here or anywhere as a living man. But I know precious little that will benefit you, and I will speak nothing to you of strategy, now that you have nothing to threaten me with.”

At this Kilhorn's mouth widened into what, for him, passed as a sharp-toothed grin. “Strategy?” he hissed with evident pleasure, “You think I come to speak to you of strategy, dead one? All you ever knew of strategizings came from the one whose name we speak not, and which of us knows him best? Did I not live with him, killer, live with him, inside my mind, speaking to me, ordering me, forcing me to do his will, for decades? Was I not the instrument of his desires in Dwilight, killer? Did I not conquer the lands sometime known as Westfold, only for him to take my place of glory? I did, killer, and he did send me to a backwater desert in the Beluaterra! And did I not do much killing in those lands, while he threw Westfold away in his vanity? Did I, the Masked One, the Hand of Death, killer of men and monsters and daimons and elves, did I not show the killers of Beluaterra and beyond how to kill daimons? Am I not the killer of untold thousands, hundreds of thousands, and victor of more battles than any man left living? Your fame in these lands is meaningless to me, Imperator-King, Supreme Ally-Commanding one! I am the Masked One! I am the Hand of Death! No, I do not come to speak to you of strategy. Of killing, I know all that I need to know and more.”

This was a lot of words for Kilhorn, and even the spectre of Kellan seemed somewhat surprised at his elder brother's sudden effluence. “If you do not come to ask me of war,” he said in between spectral puffs of the spectral joint, “then what? This spliff is only to mock you - it does not affect me in my current state - and if it is the same to you, I would rather return to my sleep.”

“Sleep, yes,” Kilhorn rasped, his eyes once again narrowing into slits. “The famous killer Kellan, after all his killing and burning and looting, the great terror of Xavax and the North, now sleeps. Well, somnolent one, answer me but one question, and I will leave you to your slumberings.”

With this, Kilhorn leaned forward, and the spectre of Kellan leaned forward to meet him in one of the most uncanny conferences to which man has ever been witness. Selmon of Askileon was there, and two Revenants, and none of them will ever speak of what passed in that deep and dark place beneath the edifice known as the Greenstone Tower, former “palace” of the Imperator-King Kellan, who loved war and smoke more than crowns and titles. Selmon, for his part, did not hear the question, but he crept closer, and he heard the answer, and saw the look upon the face of the shade of Kellan Dodger as he gave it. It was a look of surprise and heartbreaking pity.

“Yes,” was the answer, and Kilhorn reared back, his eyes flashing, teeth bared, hissing with surprise.

“How?” asked the Hand of Death, or of Murder, whichever you would call him.

“You already know,” was Kellan's reply, eyes still full of pity, and perhaps, somehow, even a bit of love for this creature who was his brother, who he had barely known, and who had kidnapped and murdered him out of spite and jealousy and an all-consuming desire for killing. As he spoke, his image began to fade.

Kilhorn practically yowled in frustration and alarm, jumping forward to grasp uselessly at the immaterial form as it disappeared. “I don't know! I don't know! Tell me, dead one! Tell me, little brother!” But Kellan was already gone.

Kilhorn sank into himself, clawed hands gripping at the edge of the dais, rasping breaths racking his hunched-over frame as he stared madly into the dead face of the brother he had murdered. Then suddenly he composed himself, shot a glance at Selmon as if daring him to judge his sudden outburst.

“Keep the body preserved, healer,” he commanded. “I will return.” And with that he wheeled and left through the door he had entered from. The Revenants followed, and the one who turned to close and lock the door did not look at Selmon as he did so.

A wheezing cough racked Selmon of Askileon's aged frame, and he sank to his knees, overwhelmed by many things.
« Last Edit: February 19, 2023, 07:08:31 AM by JDodger »
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Caladar clutched his head in both hands and fought the urge to vomit.

It was in his best interest to let it out now, here alone in his field tent with no one to see, but he was at all times on guard against any loss of self-control. And besides, someone might be outside listening.

Never had he felt such dread before setting foot in these lands, these lands that seemed so fair, and yet oozed with a malevolence such as Caladar had never felt... and the nightmares...

The first night, after willing his already-frayed nerves through a lecture with the stonemasons, Caladar had tossed and turned worse than his worst night on the stormy sea. And when slumber did at last mercifully descend, his dreams were full of the shambling of a thousand rotting feet, and the screams of the walking dead.

He awoke to a Vozzessdor dancing with shadows, as if flames played behind every nook and corner, a city gone to madness. "Or is it I who've gone mad?" Caladar had wondered, and wondered again since.

With haste, he gathered his men and made for the road to someplace named Xerus, any place but where he was, but the shadows followed.

They spoke to him the second night...
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Caladar's knuckles were white as ash upon the hilt of his shortsword, and he did not know why, but he could not let it go.

Around and around his little room he paced, the sounds of the bustling tavern below drowned out by the incessant humming in his ears, a tidal wave crashing with every ragged beat of his weary heart.

What did they mean, the Black Temple? And why did they come to me?

I'm not a killer, damn it, I'm not even a fighter!

So why so I suddenly desire blood, so much blood, blood and killing?


***

What do they know...

What do they know of the dead ones that walk and kill

I was there in the darkness when he called them

The darkness within darkness of the Black Temple of...

You must... in the Black Temple of...


Caladar awakes screaming, and his bed is drenched in sweat...

***

Ah yes... revenge, reclamation, and much, much killing...

Caladar stoops before the pool, the black pool of whispers, and the shadows whisper around him...
« Last Edit: February 25, 2023, 10:16:05 AM by JDodger »
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Caladar's nights are restless, his days a listless haze. He cannot decide which is worse, the shadowy mirages and ever-growing sense of dread that haunt his days, or the dreams that haunt his sleep.

The further south he drags himself, the worse it gets, and now he knows that something is drawing him forward, something that seems to grip at his very soul. For surely no amount of curiosity, ambition, or even sense of duty could be enough to propel him forward through such terrors as those that plague his every moment.

He does not remember the pool, the pool that lies ever-waiting in the deepest dark places of the cursed city of Wudenkin, but of course he is not supposed to remember, yet.

All he knows is his dreams and waking visions are becoming more and more alike, and now within every shadow is a pair of sickly-yellow, gleaming eyes, and on every chilling wind a voice, halfway between a snake's hiss and a death rattle.

The further south he goes, the worse it gets; and yet he trudges on, willed forward by some unknown force, step by ragged step...
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This... is a brave one and a foolish one

He desires crossing the barrier into the lands of death

He desires... in the lands of the dead ones that...

What does he know of...

Is he prepared for...

Cross not the barrier... I cannot...

You must seek... in the Black Temple of...


Caladar awakes shaking, and tries to make sense of it all...
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Caladar's head is throbbing, and the hardtack and stale water do not help.

He is torn, torn in multiple directions. Duty calls him north, but this call is silenced unto nothing by the other forces that seem to duel for his soul.

One seeks to draw him south, south past the barrier, south like the fools of Irondale who sought to probe the forbidden lands, south into the waiting arms and gnashing teeth of the hordes.

They call to him with speechless tongues; they watch him with sightless eyes. Mere feet from the mysterious barrier, he could simply walk through upon a whim, straight into the pack that seem to sullenly observe from the other side. They sniff and sputter, they shuffle and pace, but they cannot cross the line.

But I can...

He could give himself to them, and be done with it all. The nightmares, the endless dread of his waking hours, all of it, over.

But would it be? That little voice of doubt nags him. Do they dream? Do they dread? Does it hurt to slowly rot to bits?

What if it's even worse than this..?


And in the end, Caladar knows he is a coward. If he was going to, he'd have done it already.

And so, begrudgingly, he knows he must heed the other call, the call of the shadows that haunt his nights and days, that have haunted him since the first night in these accursed lands.

They do not call him to death or undeath, but to life. A life of power, of accomplishment, perhaps even greatness. But Caladar is a coward, not a fool. He feels the evil that lurks behind the shadows, and he knows there will be a cost.

But he cannot fight forever, and he cannot stay here in this dying land, and he knows not what else to do.

So, protesting against himself in the back of his mind, he gathers his men and marches westward...

Yes... westward

Westward to the desert where...

And there was... of monsters and dead ones...

The... that came from the sea and then... from the sands themselves

There shall you find it, the...

In the desert of Kording where... was once law

And shall be again

And there will be...
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[It can hardly be called a letter: words delicately carved into the flesh of what seems to be a human back, removed from its previous owner with near-surgical precision, not a trace of gore to be found on the inside.

The writing spirals inward, downward, from the outer edges of the flesh...]

Cross not the barrier killers I cannot cross the barrier it burns it rends Send not your killers to die upon dead claw and tooth they wait Hungering and slavering the dead ones that walk and kill they wait Called upon by the Great Old One Eyed One he waits as well Waits and schemes the old schemer it was he He who called them in the great dark of dark darkness the darkness it consumes Consumes the Masked One it unmasks it sees But I am the Masked One the Hand of Death the one who is many hands and many eyes Revenants yes Revenants then and now killers and watchers Watchers of the foolish ones the arrogant ones who cross the barrier Cross the barrier to be killed by the ones that are already dead Foolish ones they go to die Wolf I was and wolf I am waiter and watcher and schemer of schemes Killer of men and monsters and daimons and elves and the old dark ones and the dead ones that walk and kill Waiting and watching for the moment of weakness the time to strike Killing and killing I must return Return yes the Masked One returns for much much much killing killing

Kill smarter not harder killers
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The desert nears, and Caladar can hear the howling of a sandstorm...

It seems to call to him...

They call to him across the whispering sands...

The shadows ride on the desert winds, and they call to him...


Letter from Caladar Rizz
Message sent to all nobles of Reven (many moons ago)


The desert it calls to me

Calls to me with the voices on the winds the voices beneath the shifting sands it calls

Comforting and condemning it calls

All are equals in the desert the sun and sand care not for ranks and titles

The king and the pauper die as equals

Die as equals beneath the beating brazen implacable sun

Die as equals upon the sly and whispering sands

The king sells his kingdom for a sip of water

The pauper's poverty matters not in the moment of death

The king is poor as the pauper the pauper is rich as the king in the desert

In the desert where the winds come stealthy and wipe out every trace

Wipe out every trace down to the footprints barely a moment old

What are lands and titles and armies against the shifting sands of time

Caladar Rizz
Knight of Vozzessdor
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He has found it...

Wandering over the whispering sands, he has found it...

The markings in the stone are barely visible, and there is no other indication...

No other indication that this stone is any more or less than any other...

Just another stone among the thousands that lie in and upon the shifting desert sands...

Thousands upon thousands...

Each at a moment, at a breath of the wind, rising from the sea of sand, or being washed below its turbulent surface...

Rising and falling, rising and falling across the centuries...

A thousand generations of men and monsters and daimons and elves and the old dark ones might pass without a soul to see...

Without a soul to see this stone, this stone like any other...

Like any other but for the markings...

The markings are as faint as the stars as the dawn grows..

Grows and spreads its proud light across the sky, eclipsing all other lights...

This stone is not meant for the light, it is not meant for the sun and stars...

It is meant to call upon darkness, a darkness to blot out all light...

Blot out all light forever, the light of life...

Life, life, yes, Caladar will live...

Many others may not be so lucky...

It is a price Caladar must pay, willing or no...

He draws the blade across his hand, and his blood drips forth...

His blood drips forth red and hot against the cool tawny stone...

And the way is revealed...
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