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  1. THE MASKED ABERRATION _____________________________________________________________________________________________ The sun shone brightly upon Númendil today. The gentle breeze whispered secrets from the distant sea, mingling with the fading floral scents of autumn. It was the perfect day for a joust, and many Númenedain flocked to the arena. Laughter and jubilation hung in the air, the stands full of waving scarves, jovial shouts, and the unmistakable camaraderie of wagers being exchanged. Amidst the preparations of knights and their steeds, wives cheered with anticipation for their husbands. Nearby, fathers brimming with pride, bestowed their heartfelt blessings upon their daughters. It was a scene begging to be captured on canvas, almost maddeningly sweet in my opinion- all the more, it reminded me of home. _____________________________________________________________________________________________ The warmth of this celebration, however, met an abrupt end with a chilling interruption as whispers of an attack echoed through the gathering. The details were scarce, but they were not necessary for the Knights and soldiers of Númendil, within each of them dwelled an unyielding readiness for battle. They descended the winding path at the command of Ser Galadain of Númenost, each step taking them deeper into the ancient embrace of the oak forest where the looming threat slowly unraveled, casting a shadow darker and more ominous than anyone could have imagined. The further they tread, the more things seemed wrong. The scent filling the air was no longer that of salt and cedar, but unmistakable death - putrid rotting flesh. Soon, they would find the source; civilians, their friends, littering the forest floor, their corpses decomposing amidst sodden earth. A slaughter. But from the devastation a lone girl emerged, a stark contrast to the surrounding chaos. She burst forth from the dense forest, drenched in gore and wailing. Yet, her fate lay beyond the grasp of any savior among us. Within mere seconds her very skin shed from her body, her eyes melting like tears spilling over bloodied cheeks. It was unlike any death I could have fathomed. There was no time for pity or mourning, not when the hooded man revealed himself. I couldn't discern a single word from him, but as he lofted a hand the corpses began to rise. They convulsed at first, and eerie sounds of ripping and cracking filled the air as bodies emerged from the mire, our own people levied against us. Their mouths gaping, biting viciously, while wanting hands reached for anything they could grasp. These were not mere skeletons; one clutched my helm with such unearthly strength that it etched rivulets into steel. This was a battle unlike any I'd fought, it was an escalating descent. Even as the courageous men and women hacked their way through the savage cadavers, their relentless advance remained unbroken. Their heads severed and cleaved limbs scarcely impeded the assault; only those wielding aurum and other blessed metals could hope to inflict harm. In between dodging claws and gnashing teeth, Bishop Pious carved a swift and daring path through the fray. A solitary man navigating the relentless tempest with unshaking determination, deftly alluding every adversary in the pursuit of the cloaked shaman. Each evasion brought him closer to his quarry—the enigmatic mage who had conjured these corpses. Divine providence undoubtedly stood as an ally by his side, escorting the Bishop through until the vial of oil met its target, that of the masked cultist’s chest - crumpling to its knees. That one victory was our saving grace. The corpses slowed, their vigor lessening with every passing second. And then, from the heart of the Kingswood, there appeared yet another marvel—a majestic, ivory-white Griffon. The magnificence of that beast came to the forefront as it snatched one of the necromancers between its powerful jaws before ascending into the sky. The tides of fate had shifted in favor of us, twice slain corpses returned to their well-deserved rest. As for the masked man, the Bishop had no intention of granting him such peace. With the hooded figure pinned into the dirt, he demanded answers as to who he served. A whisper emerged from beneath the beaked veil resonating through the ranks. “He comes, The Lord. He comes.” Those words etched a lasting mark upon my mind, the threat of them stripping any solace found in our once perceived victory. The commands from Ser Caliene, Baerte, and Edywn all harmonized in one resounding chorus - "Run." And yet, the Bishop lingered to collect the wheezing Heretic, hoisting its limp body onto his shoulder before following the rest. Our journey home felt as though it had gained a mile, the once-familiar road unfurling beneath exhausted feet. The trees now seemed to mutter and giggle among themselves. But the voices that whispered into our minds were not the hushed conversations of concealed men. No, it was as though they had woven themselves into the very fabric of our thoughts, speaking directly into the recesses of our minds. The chorus of voices entwined with my own fell silent only as I emerged from the ancient oak. It faded so quickly, I had considered it a figment of pure imagination. The soldiers gathered in the square, conversing of what had transpired in the woods as they tended to one another’s wounds. But Pious had his own plan, his usual cold demeanor nowhere to be found, replaced by some subtle exhilaration. He moved with purpose, carrying that full-grown man upon his arm as if it were not a burden dragging him down - until he had vanished from sight. _____________________________________________________________________________________________ I wish I could recount for you the beginning of the chapter to follow, alas I can not. It is in the culmination of this story that I believe you shall find your curiosity most rewarded. _____________________________________________________________________________________________ As time trickled on, an unease settled within me, an absence realized - that of the Bishop and his captive. It tugged at me, compelling me onward to seek him to ensure his well being. And where else could I begin my search but at the hallowed threshold of the Temple of St. King Caius? Upon stepping into the bastion, a clamoring rustle echoed through the air, but in the dim light of the expanse locating any specific form proved futile. I pressed further and within just a few strides, the grim reality of the scene became excruciatingly apparent. There, bathed in the light of the pyre, Pious confronted the shadowy presence of the masked figure. However, it was clear that the necromancer was no longer. Stood between the Bishop and the flames was a husk of a man shrouded in a midnight black cloak. His head hung back until he was utterly malformed with mouth agape in a nightmarish grimace, stretching so wide that his jaw dislocated with a sickening snap. Blood was not all that leaked from the increasing gash in his face, but tendrils of green, glowing radiantly as they leached into this holy chamber from its tainted maw. _____________________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________________ The largest tentacle had slithered around Pious’ throat, a constricting serpent that needed no venom to kill. It tightened further with each second, a creature seeking obliteration. In the face of what appeared to be imminent death many would submit, but he waged war with every fiber of his being. Pious thrashed and struggled against the beast that sought to dispatch him, clawing for precious seconds as the temple filled with allies. The commotion permeating from the church reached the ears of those passing by, beckoning men of action to converge upon the scene. Their booming commands reverberated through the hallowed halls as they joined the fray, coming to face the distressing peril playing out upon Númenost’s most sanctified ground. Just as a glimmer of hope flickered to life, the beast responded in kind, hoisting the Bishop high above our heads. The room descended into bedlam as men unsheathed their blades and hurled themselves at the tentacle that had decimated the corpse of the cultist. It swelled in size with such alarming speed that it posed a direct threat to every being it faced, to the very heart of Númendil, unless it could be slain in its nascence. From within the throng, a valiant guardian arose brandishing an enormous claymore that shimmered in the pyre’s flickering luster, its metal exhibiting a subtle shift of indicolite. Sir Gaspard van Aert boldly broke away from the front lines, directing his attention toward the ensnaring foe. With masterful control, he executed a swift horizontal strike, aiming to slash through the gelatinous arm with utmost precision. Gaspard’s loyal retainers trailed only a breath behind him, poised to deliver a continued onslaught upon the monster. However, their advance was abruptly hindered when they encountered a blinding burst of radiant light emanating from the blade as it cleaved through the creature’s flesh. The sudden surge of brilliance left those nearest to the spectacle with marred vision muddied by spots and blurs. A bone-rattling screech then erupted from the leviathan, its scream tearing through the hall like a malevolent symphony reverberating upon itself. The harrowing shriek unleashed beyond the confines of the temple, taking hold of the city. The wail stretched far across Númenranyё, planting seeds of dread. Amidst the overwhelming sensory lashing, Hannibal remained undeterred, his facilities weakened but never overcome. His attentiveness and expansive wingspan were ever valuable as the Bishop plummeted into the safety of his enveloping arms. Pious, at last, had been released from the clutches of the devilish tendril and returned to his feet, drawing air to compensate for all he had missed. Initially, that screech was nothing more than a death rattle, an end. Yet, from within the engulfing flames arose the form of the charred mage, its head severed at the neck. The body remained eerily sturdy for an instant before bowing forward, offering those near enough a chilling glimpse into the abyss of its exposed throat. What met our gazes was not tissue, but a dozen lurid yellow eyes, each one’s piercing stare meeting ours before vanishing back into the exposed fleshy depths of its unholy host. _____________________________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________________ Within the temple, a discordant cacophony of laughter echoed, a further desecration of our sacred home. Then, that voice, the one I had left behind in the ancient wood, offered a final taunt, a sinister prelude as it proclaimed, “Perhaps you will be fun after all.” With those words spoken, I realized its threat had come to fruition. “The Lord, He comes.” Their pretender God had come just as the mage promised - a piece of it at least. It crossed into our Temple coiled by an aurum rope and yet it was never truly contained. This beast is no foolish animal, but a malevolence that wears whatever mask it likes. _____________________________________________________________________________________________ I can not tell you what this Geist Beast desires, save for its relentless thirst for destruction. However, this is not some story to tell children by a fire. I write of this day with only gratitude to Owyn who has delivered us not once, but twice in the face of this abomination. I write in thanks to the men of Veletz who were guided by his light and risked their own lives for ours. A question often lingers in my soul: What do we owe one another? Today, I have found the resounding answer, etched in the memory of what I have witnessed — simply put, everything. Journey safely, my friends, Elowen O’Rourke
  2. Willowisp


    You’ve just arrived in a swampy, dim town. As you look around, your gaze is met with shacks and cabins. It smells of rotted wood and wet moss. You duck and step into a tattered tent, illuminated by a series of candles suspended in the air. At the back of the tent, an old hag raises her head, “What brings you to this dingy town? she begins, then pauses to study your face—”Ah, it’s you. I’ve been expecting you. Sit,” she gestures at a cushion, “Tell me your story.” ((How do you respond?)) Unaware of the woman's presence, Iarina stood captivated by the dilapidated scene, illuminated solely by flickering candlelight. Her nose wrinkled instinctively, as if hoping to shield her from the pervasive odor of petrichor that squished beneath each cautious step. The woman's words would startle her, causing her head to snap around, eyes squinting in an attempt to discern the figure hidden amidst the shadows. "I... I didn't mean to intrude," she began hesitantly, gesturing to the shared space with a nervous hand. "I should probably be going," Iarina stammered, starting to turn on her heel. However, her steps faltered as she reached the threshold. Her attention gravitated back to the enigmatic woman. "Who am I to you?" She murmured in a near whisper, curiosity taking hold of her. Silence hung heavily in the enclosed space, compelling Iarina to draw nearer to the cushion laid out for her. She spoke softly, "I am Iarina, hailing from the Silver City. I must admit, I don't recognize you; perhaps my mother's face is the one you remember, not mine. I've spent my years combing the forest floors for herbs mentioned in ancient, yet forgotten texts. A profession that has not garnered much attention. My mother, Seraphina Aeverie, was a renowned woman from Haelun'or, and she crossed far more paths than I have." Her words trailed off as the realization of her situation once again took hold. She hesitated before asking, "And who, may I ask, are you once more?"
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