Interlude 5 - "The DEAD"
Kerbach Passes to the Other Side
Kerbach stood in the half light...and all about him was shadows and flickering reflections of things that once were. "The battle! My friends!" The last thing Kerbach remembered was charging into a cluster of huge brown bears with orks on their backs. Kerbach had gone in swinging his newly-found magical bastard sword, chopping and slicing at the bear s flesh. There had been a flash of red...and now everything was shadow.
Kerbach's eyes slowly adjusted to the strange atmosphere and realized that in the shadows he glimpsed scenes of the world...scenes of things going on all over the World of Kempin, and perhaps other stranger worlds. "No...I can t be dead! Kerbach thought of his friends...and whether they too would end up dead. He thought of his one true love in the Grasslands of Shronth. He thought of the many battles he would now miss. And finally he thought of how boring this land of shadow was for one such as he.
Hadn t the Weavers taught him at a young age, that to die in battle earned you an eternal reward. A place among the Eternal Warriors, battling and....
Suddenly there was the sound of a clang of metal on metal behind Kerbach, and then the neighing of a horse. Then the many sounds of battle washed over Kerbach. He spun around and reached for his sword...and he smiled as his hand closed over the hilt of Goblin s Bane. He drew the bastard sword forth, and gasped at the scene that was becoming visible before him.
As if a fog was clearing, the shadows receded...and Kerbach stood on a grassy plain. Directly in front of him well over a thousand men clashed together in mortal combat...horses biting at one another, as the men on their backs hacked at each other with swords and axes. These were mighty warriors, skilled in the arts of warfare...of that Kerbach was sure. One by one they fell from their horses mortally wounded, to lie bleeding on the grass.
Kerbach would have entered the fray, had he known which side to join! But, ignorant as he was to the reason for their battle, and the cause for which each side fought...he stood and waited for the battle s out-come. Eventually, only one side of the battle remained, with the other side was decimated upon the field. Cheers went up from the victors:
IRON CLAN...IRON CLAN...IRON CLAN...IRON CLAN...IRON CLAN...IRON CLAN!
Kerbach smiled. Suddenly, the dead and injured on the field began to sit up, completely healed, and straightening the gear and weapons that they wore. A large one among them called out, You ve won this battle...but you shall not win the next!!! Both armies approached each other, and hands were shook, shoulders slapped, and quite a few friendly insults bantered about.
The men began to walk away, and for the first time Kerbach noticed there were large campaign-tents on the edge of the field. Tables full of feasting food were visible through the open flaps, and women to serve the men s hungers. Kerbach looked back at the last glimpses of shadow that were fading away beneath the crystal blue sky. A wind blew in Kerbach s face, and he turned back towards the field of battle, the warriors, the feast, and the women. Wait up, Brothers! I m due a share of that feast...and I ll fight any man that says otherwise!!! Kerbach ran through the tall grass to catch up with his kinsmen....
Gremage Passes to the Other Side
Gremage stood in the half light...and all about him was shadows and flickering reflections of things that once were. "The battle! My friends!" The last thing Gremage remembered was firing off a series of magic missle spells at the strange priest who could bring down lightning to earth...there had been a flash...and now everything was shadow.
Gremage's eyes slowly adjusted to the strange atmosphere and he realized that in the shadows he glimpsed scenes of the world...scenes of things going on all over the World of Kempin, and perhaps other stranger worlds. "No...I can t be dead! Gremage thought of his friends...and whether they too would end up dead. Gremage thought of all the things he had hoped to learn...and perhaps a journey to the Island of Swaldune. Now none of that would happen. Gremage thought of his kind Mentor. Had he foreseen such a quick end to his pupil. And finally he thought of how dreadful and dull this land of shadow was...
A cool breeze hit Gremage from behind, and he spun to witness the source of this new sensation. As if a fog was clearing, the shadows receded...and Gremage stood on a rocky shoreline. Cool black ocean water crashed upon the rocks. In the distance, Gremage saw black ships anchored just off the shore. Black winged shapes flew from the shore to the ships, carrying large bundles with them.
Gremage walked along the shore, for he wished to see more of what was happening. He was that the winged shapes were dragons, and their bundles were supplies for the ships. Swaldunian sailors, warriors, and dragon lords had gathered at the shore, and appeared to be preparing for a journey.
As he got even closer, he could see the beautiful clothing that these Swaldunians wore...and the ornate carvings in the black wood of the huge ships. Several of the Swaldunians had huge white tigers on the ends of silver chains. As he got closer, some of the Swaldunians noticed him, and a small group of them approached.
Hello, Swaldunian Brother. Do you come to journey with us?
Gremage did not know what to say exactly. Where do you plan to travel...why do you journey?
The young Swaldunian laughed. We journey our final journey, brother. We are dead...and we must go to where all dead Swaldunians go! One last ride upon a Dragon Ship...adventure, magic...the cold black sea. One last time we will sail...each of us a Dragon Prince. What say you...will you join us.
Gremage looked back at the last glimpses of shadow that were fading away beneath the cool sky. A wind blew in Gremage s face, and he turned back towards his kinsmen, the large black ships, the dragons, the white tigers, and the promise of adventure. Gremage smiled. Yes...yes, brother...I shall go with you.
The small group walked back up the shore, towards the larger group. Gremage walked among them...asking questions for which he had always wanted answers. Gremage was going home....
Alcald VanDrunan s Offer to Collin
Collin stood in the half light...and all was shadows and flickering reflections of things that once were. "The battle! My friends!" The last thing Collin remembered was firing arrow after arrow at the strange priest who could bring down lightning to earth...there had been a flash...and now everything was shadow.
Collin's eyes slowly adjusted to the strange atmosphere and realized that in the shadow he glimpsed scenes of the world...scenes of things going on all over the World of Kempin, and perhaps other stranger worlds. "My mother's soul be blessed, I have passed beyond....NO! I have so much yet to do!!!" Collin quickly wrote a verse and thought of Kit. He sensed somehow that the song had been communicated to her...and he was pleased. He thought next of his father...but then he heard a voice:
"Collin...you know me not, and you will believe me not...but I come as a friend." Collin spun around, peering into the the shadows and the flickering pieces of existence.
A darkly robed figure stepped forth from the shadows, as if from a bank of fog. His face was pale and sallow, and his dark hair, beard, and mustache were neatly trimmed. The pins holding his cloak in place were skulls fashioned of silver. "I am Alcald VanDrunan, and you are in my realm."
Collin swallowed and wondered if things could get any worse. "Sir, I assure you I do not trespass here by my own wishes. I wish to yet live."
"Oh, please Collin...do not fear me. My word is good when I say I have come as a friend. I am friend to all that are dead and wish to yet live. Your very wish is why I have appeared before you." VanDrunan paused, and appeared to be sizing Collin up. "You feel you were wrongly killed, and deserve a chance to live and defend your name. You wish to contact your friends, and those that would influence the situation in your favor...and in your friends' favor."
Collin was not in a trusting mood. "Fine...I do want those things. I suppose you want my soul in return or something! Forget it!"
VanDrunan smiled. "I think I see why you ended up here, talking with me. I don't deal in souls...not worth my time. Do you know how many souls pass through my realm on any given day? No, Collin...I deal in hope. Your hope to someday live out your life...your plans...your dreams. You are dead...and normally, the dead must pass to the next level...their eternal reward...heaven...whatever it is that you believe in! I will offer you a simple deal to avoid this...a deal this no tricks, no hidden rules, and no fine print. Willing to hear me out?"
Collin shrugged. "I do want to live again. But I will not be taken advantage of. I will hear you out, but I promise nothing."
VanDrunan shook his head. "If you don't take this deal...you will pass beyond this shadow realm and away from Kempin. Your concerns for what happens on the mortal sphere will remain just that...concerns only. No dreams, no contact, no knowledge even of what will occur. But, I will allow you to remain in this fringe world...my shadow realm, hovering between life and death for the remainder of the Month of Iron, as figured on the Empire Calendar...IF you accept the following price. If at the end of the Month of Iron, your friends have not managed to give you back your life...you will come and live in Gellhorn, City of the Dead, with me forever."
Collin began to answer, but VanDrunan held up his hand and signalled for him to not speak. "Collin, I don't want you to answer immediately. This is too important a decision. Pass on now to the next world, leaving this one behind forever. Or gamble that your friends can bring you to life in the 44 remaining days of the Month of Iron. If they fail to bring you back within that period of time, you will promise to remain with me in Gellhorn...forever. In return for this gamble, you will be allowed to hover between life and death for those 44 remaining days."
Collin was looking downwards, deep in thought.
VanDrunan stood by patiently. "I will remain here with you until you decide. If you decline my offer, I will ease your transition to your afterlife. If you accept my offer, I will leave you be for 44 days...to do as you please in my realm. Please speak up when you have made your final decision."
Collin thought over everything he knew of Alcald VanDrunan. Hadn t Gorin referred to him in his notes? Hadn t the Hooded Mage mentioned that Gorin had studied under VanDrunan? Collin felt that as far as this deal went...VanDrunan was on the up-and-up. He could sense the aura of death that surrounded the bearded man, but for some reason he decided that this was a gamble he was willing to make. VanDrunan, I ll take your deal.
The Dreams that Collin Sent:
A Dream for Moontree:
So the Elven maiden wanted a song did she! Well, I certainly have no need for money. The Treasuries of the Azure Keep have seen to that! Sadly, I already know that tale she is wants to tell...only to well. The ork army was like an arrow sent speeding from its bow...impossible to call back, and destined to strike where it may. Meepo had seen to that before he ever came to me for help. I bought the army s mission for a fee, and with the gruff aggressiveness of my friend Vikos and my Captain, Jack Skull. But still some things can t be helped...and he same goes for some people. I can t believe Collin is dead! I had begun to look at him as a friend....
Well, I've three hours till I need to be at the shrine, maybe a nap would be in order. It was a very late night last eve. Surely Ockrote wouldn't mind if I had one of his wonderful breakfast cakes and laid down on the cot in the back..........The Castle is crowded tonight, Moontree thought. Everybody is getting back into the swing of things after The Battle of the Bushes. I've been waiting to debut my new song, Bushwhacker. This should be the night. Two debuts in one night...I m beginning to like this ruse that is Moontree.
Moontree was standing to the side of the stage tuning his instrument when Collin approached him.
"Good to see you my friend" Moontree said. "It's been quite a while, where have you been?"
"Off with the Marked Ones, seeking me fortune."
"I hope it went well."
"Never as good as a lad would 'ope. Mind if I sit in with ya this eve? I've no need of a share, but I do need the practice."
"That would be great!" Moontree replied, knowing that the extra instrument could only enhance the evenings take. And Collin was very skilled, the Castle wouldn't have seen a show like this in some time. Something bothered Moontree. Hadn t he just been thinking about Collin...hadn t something bad happened?
The evening was near perfect. The crowd was in rare form and the ale flowed, followed in short order by their coin. The first set was filled with traditionals and ended with, The Banks of the Bonny Green, with Collin accompanying on the pipes. Even the most hardened faces shed a tear at that one. The second set would contain the debuts. You couldn't use them to early, but waiting for later would risk the crowd having invested all their spare coin in drink. Bushwhacker went wonderfully, the crowd was into the chorus by the second verse. They all laughed at the humor in the song and many here had participated in the event and were happy to have it memorialized. A few more traditionals and then it was time for Justice for All. Moontree's stomach had that queasy feeling he still got after all these years of revealing new songs and tales to a crowd. Bards all over town would be debuting their entries into the competition this eve. He would have stiff competition. Well, the crowd was good and that was half the battle, he just hoped he'd gotten the lyrics right. He was a little unsure on the chorus. As he was preparing to start, Collin leaned over and whispered in his ear. That was it the perfect chorus, he stared at Collin with a blank look on his face, how did he know the lyrics to his new song? Out of the corner of his eye he caught site of Ockrote striding towards him, a grim look on his face.
The next thing he knew Ockrote was standing over him shaking him by the shoulders, and yelling.
"Wake up, Moontree. I did what you said and told no other bards about the meeting with the Elvan Maiden. I m not sure why its so important to you...but I owe you. Good luck with your tale!
Moontree reached up and touched his hair with his hand, as if to straighten it...or see if it was still in place. No, Ockrote...I owe you. I will reveal all to you eventually. I appreciated your trust.
Ian MacGregor sat bolt upright in bed. He hurried towards the shuttered window wrapping his blanket about him to ward off the cold night air, his bare feet however received no benefit. Opening the shutter he craned his neck to look to the south, his eye catching the afterglow of a distant bolt of lightning. Odd on a winters evening he thought. But it matched his dream. Collin on a battlement, flinging arrow after arrow, then the flash of light, which had, sent him crashing from his sleep. He had no idea what it meant, but was sure it wasn't good.
Shaking Angus, the elder MacGregor hissed, "Wake up lad! I've an errand for ye." Angus shaking off the stupor of the night, stared dimly at his father.
"What is it da', are the wolves back?"
"No lad, it's yer brother, Collin. Some trouble 'as befallen 'im."
"Well 'es a big lad now isn't 'e. Left, 'e couldn't be bothered with the farm."
"You've been taught better than that lad. No matter the troubles we've 'ad with your brother, 'es still a MacGregor! and we'll 'ot forget that. I want you to saddle ---- and pack a couple loaves and that wheel of cheese we got from your Auntie Emma. Ride to Greenmark now. Send me back word o' your brother. Now off we ye lad!"
Moving next to young Roberts's bed, Ian repeated the process he'd gone through with Angus. The boy slept the sleep of the dead and it took his father several tries to rouse him. "Robert! Your brother Collin is in trouble. I've sent Angus to Greenmark to fetch news. I'll be off to Uncle Brin's and then Clanhall"
"Da' we're at war are we?"
"Then why ya goin' to Clanhall?"
"I've a feeling lad, I've not 'ad since your Mum passed. An we'll ought let something like that abide agin!"
Robert looked perplexed. What did dad mean, Mum had passed when he was born, hadn't she?
His father continued, " I'll be needin' you to mind the farm while I'm gone. You'll watch after the lasses and your younger brothers and see no 'arm comes to um. Lilly can do the cookin'. You have yer bow, and there's a long knife under me bed if ya've need o' it. Mind those wolves stay out o' the sheep." His father's voice had turned high and strained and he turned away sharply rubbing his eye. Robert felt the weight of the family fall on his shoulders for the first time. "I'll be back as soon as I'm able," his father finished as he walked from the room.
A Dream for Lady Kerowyn Hucrele:
Lady Hucrele sat in the padded chair in the great room. She'd had trouble sleeping since The Marked One, Collin had returned with the sad news of her grandchildren. A life's work she'd seen and now she'd no one to which she could pass the fruits of her and her husbands toil. But life was still rich she told herself, her staff and her tenants loved her and doted on her. Even more since they'd heard the sad news. She was one of the most beloved women in Greenmark, Lord Green had even come today to express his sympathy. Yes, she did much for Greenmark, her Kempinday feasts were a legend and she served any who were able to make her house. She took special care to send out her staff to collect all the urchins of the village. Each would receive a present the same as her own kin. Still there was a hole at the center of her being.
Finally she dozed to the sweet strains of a bagpipe. It played, The Brave Highlanders. A bold yet sad song, she wondered who serenaded her. The next thing she knew she found herself at the glass window to the greatroom, looking out on her snow covered garden. Standing, silhouetted by the moonlight was none other than Collin MacGregor. The sweet tune continued for another few minutes, and she swayed softly, remembering her dear husband as she gazed on the handsome face of the young bard. Finally the song ended and Collin spoke in a soft voice. It was a wonder she could hear it inside the house. He said, "My dear Lady, inquire of Lord Green my fate. Then ask him of his justice."
She awoke with a start. A sense of unease creeping over her mind. Lord Green had brought exciting news with him on his visit today. He had spoken with the Goblin Queen for the first time in years...and there was a new lord in the Azure Keep. Galen had been taken to the Keep and had seen an army of Black Dwarves toiling on the walls and turrets of the Keep, making them as if they were new. Galen had spoken of a long-fought-for peace, and stability in the region. How many generations had lived in chaos? How many lives wasted on pointless wars with the Demi-Humans. Few alive now even remembered the tales, but Lady Hucrele remembered. The Azure King had depended heavily on the Goblin Queen in days of old. It had never been about Human vs. Demi-Human in those days...but
little people versus giants. Living people versus the walking dead. Those that would be good versus the evil. And everyone versus the power of the winter storms. Perhaps the days of old were returning. What part had Collin played in this, and what was this unease she felt.
A Dream for Oren:
Oren, arm in arm with Redfang took another swig of the expensive brandy. "You know" he thought, "these Ork's aren't so bad. When I see my father, I shall tell him to go easy on these orks...for they have been fair to his son! All Redfang had asked for was a little understanding. He suggested that the way I felt about my friends being dead, was much like he felt when he'd heard the Kobolds, and Yusdrayl had been slaughtered. It almost sounded like Redfang had know Yusdrayl...as if they had history of some sort?
Oren had been mad the second he heard about the slaughter. He had been late in arriving at the dungeon, and had seen the dead kobolds...women, children, and the old...being eaten by giant rats at the entrance to the Sunless Citadel. Oren had yelled at the party, and pointed out the folly of the slaughter the second he became aware of it. What the hell could the party have been thinking? Kerbach, so thoughtless and insulting to both Oren and Vax, he had begun the battle during negotiations. But it had not been without some egging-on by other party members. Oren was sure of that. Those Kobolds hadn't threatened anybody; they just kept to themselves. Fighting their little war with the Goblins. Sure the kobolds had killed goblins...and the goblins had killed kobolds, but what did the party have to do with any of that? Perhaps the party had judged the kobolds as quickly and as harshly as they had judged Vax...
Oren pulled himself up on his cot holding his head in his hands. He was still in the dank supply tent. He could see the shadow of his guards beyond the tent flap. Everyone had been so jovial at the feast. They all wanted to be his friend, but here he was alone. Clearly the guards would not let Oren leave...what had they called him...a witness. Who s fault was that? That damned Kerbach and his warrior s temper. He had persecuted Oren and Vax, began the slaughter of the Kobolds, and had insisted the party stand and fight the ork army...along with Collin. Oren had listened to them, and in the end Vax...good old faithful Vax, had come to Oren s rescue. Where was Vax? Oren hadn t seen him since his capture.
And that smell. What the hell was that smell? He padded around the tent, nose in the air like some overgrown bloodhound. It must be that big bag hanging on the tent's center pole. Opening the bag he was sure of it. What could be in here, he'd heard Orcs ate some pretty rank cheese but this was a little much. It was dark in the tent and peering inside Oren couldn't make out what was in the bag. He reached inside and felt something round, pulling it out he spasmed in revulsion and fear, dropping the thing to the ground. It was Collin's head!
The soot stained head opened it's eyes and looked up at Oren, a grimace creasing its brow. "Bloody hell, Oren! Why'd ya 'ave to go and do that for? It's not like I don't have no feeling ya know. Well... technically I guess I don't. But it damn sure looked like it would'a been an ugly bruise if I 'ad any. Yer jumpiness wouldn't have anything to do with the company you been keepin these days now would it? You've been mighty friendly with the sugar-tongued lackeys of a lying Warlord. Yes, I know you've 'ad some doubt about it all yourself. I'da not blame ya lad."
"Just keep your 'ead up. I'm sure more than you as been taken in by the likes of that self anointed Prince. Not from the Azure, but seems to think e can run the place. Either convincing Green and Dunmit to go along or coercing em! I've not much love for either of em either way. Willing to sell out their own kin without so much as a, what were you thinkin lad! And Javair! Sending an Orc army to do 'is dirty work. Says he was 'eadin it off from just coming to kill us. If it'd be justice he'd be wantin' 'e could o' got here ahead of the mob and got us into Greenmark to 'ear our side o' the story. These lying devils as you've got bending your ear here, this so called Priest, parading around with the walking dead and an Orc who'd only see justice for 'is own kind. If they'd a wanted to take the Marked Ones alive all they'd 'ad to do was wait for word from Greenmark. At's all it would a takin for us to surrender. It was only a day down the road but instead they choose to take blood instead. If we're guilty of anything in this 'ole mess it's bringing those good people into our fight. For that I'm sure I'll pay. If not in this life then in the next."
"But enough of these angry words and depressing talk. I'm 'ere to prop your spirits Oren. Remember our brotherhood. We've truth to stand on, and be it enough or nay, for justice to be served it's not our place to judge. Always remember that in the mortal veil to which I hope to return or the shadows of Gellhorn, I'll sing of ye fondly. And be a good lad and mind me 'ead! I'll be needin it if I'm to return properly."
Oren woke with a start when the head winked at him. Thank god, it had all been a dream, he thought. Too much wine and food and to little sleep he'd had these last few days. Sinking back into the soft pillow he hoped it wasn't to close to daybreak. He could use a couple more hours sleep. That damned Collin, always talking nonsense when he was alive...now he s dead and he s crept into my dreams! Chattering on and on about Javair and the orks, Vikos and Jack Skull. Perhaps it my own doubts haunting me...or perhaps the dreams were a result of that smelly ork cheese he had eaten. Either way, it is time to sleep. Turning over he wrinkled his nose and wondered, what was that smell?
Collin stood in the swirling shadows, looking upon the fractured images of the world and worlds of the living. VanDrunan...VANDRUNAN! I VE RECONSIDERED THE DEAL...COME T ME AND TALK WIT ME A BIT!!! Collin s voice trailed off into the endless space around him, and he wondered if anyone...let along VanDrunan would hear his calls.
I am here. Collin spun to face the white-skinned, dark-haired and bearded man in black.
I ve bin thinkin about our deal. I trust my friends to raise me. And I trust my friends to fight the good fight. I know I made a deal wit ya , but I ask you now to let me pass on.
VanDrunan smiled a wry smile. Bard, a deal is a deal is a deal. I made my deal fairly and without any hidden clauses. I was above board with you, and as such this deal is binding with any and all powers you may ask to intercede on your behalf. But I am fair, and understand that perhaps now wish to enjoy the eternal reward that you have earned in life. You have two choices. The first option is to keep the deal as it now stands. There are now 43 days left before the deadline...and if your friends fail to raise you...you will come to Gellhorn forever. The second option is to replace the current deal with a new one. If you come to Gellhorn and serve me as a bard there for those 43 remaining days in the Month of Iron, I will allow you to pass to the other side at the end of your term. This new deal would completely replace our prior deal, and would be equally binding.
Collin s face reflected his anger. Ruler of Gellhorn you may be, but you are not fair. We but just made the deal...it is not so old that it cannot be disolved! I wish to reside in your shadow realm no longer...let me pass on!
VanDrunan s face took on an emotionless look. You are dead, songster. There is no fairness...there is no justice, for you there is only death. Our current deal stands, or you may choose the new deal I have offered you. It is your choice. Now make it!
Collin mulled it over for a moment and decided to wait it out. It was clear to him that deep within himself, he would rather spend eternity in Gellhorn than whatever passing on had in store for him. Gellhorn was at least some version of life...even if it was life among the stubborn dead!
(from Matt) When Kerbock would gain fourth level he would gain two attacks per round and have something like +9 or +10 to his damage rolls during his rage. He could do up to 40pts of damage without a critical hit. Quite a lethal power to have as a partner. Just in case you might want to resurrect him....
(reply from Mark) Matt, I see you were appealing to the "Power Gamer" attitude in the other group. Very clever move!
(from Chris) Dead is Dead...Leav'em dead'n buried..
(reply from Mark) Man that tattoo'd guy is a dick....
(reply from Chris) And you thought Kerbach smelled bad while living.
(reply from Scott) Kit is starting to think Oren is the most normal companion she has met. She keeps coming to the conclusion she shouldn t pick-up guy s in bars. (As for Matt s power-gaming appeal:) OK , that would get him through the first 20 Ork's hunting his head maybe, but what about the 180 behind them?
Feel Free to Contact me at VoidPulp@aol.com