The quiet jumble of an every day crowd was interrupted by the clatter of hooves on the road. The man riding the horse seemed oblivious to his surroundings and barreled down the road at top speed, causing many to dive out of the way or risk being trampled. The horse was lathered to a sweat, seemingly on its last bit of strength, but still running at break neck speed.
Though most of the crowd was panicked, there stood a few looking on with interest. One, a half-orc camping out in the outskirts of the forest, worried for the safety of the people. He smelled an odd urgency in the air, and followed after, helping a few of the people overturned.
Another, an odd lizard like man fishing in the river, his scales raising about his neck in anticipation, was curious about what could cause such commotion. These humans were weird, but got caught up in the most interesting things. He followed the trail of bedlam, seeking it's source.
In the smaller market, located just inside the gates, the horse stumbled to a halt, sending the man atop it flying. The horse took another trembling step, and then crumpled. The man struggled to his knees, taking in deep breaths of air, gasped, "Help....You must help! My family!"
A few guards had by now arrived, and they hurried over to the scene. As they got closer to the man on his knees, a robed figure stepped forward, bending to the man, "What need have you, friend? Where is your family?"
"We were attacked. Bandits...or madmen, I know not which. They destroyed my caravan... They had these monsters with them. Dead men, walking. And when we killed one, it would just rise and fight! I ran, but my family, they are back there!" The man started bawling, his shoulders wracked with grief, "Someone must save them. Please..."
The guards heard the mans words, but the one in front held up his hands, "Undead? Please, that's just a myth. Obviously a madman, we don't get paid enough to go after fairy tales. Come on boys." He turned and stalked away through the growing crowd, the others following quickly after.
A young boy ran up and whispered a few words to the grieving man, who shrugged and nodded. The boy pressed a silver coin into the mans hand, and then sprung to the horses side. In moments, a few more children with small daggers appeared, and quickly sliced the animal into usable parts and cleared the square of the mess. Soon, all that was left but the stain of blood, quickly soaking into the ground.
"Cutters. Every time I see it, I refuse to go to a sausage maker....but I always end up going back." A man in the crowd muttered, adamantly looking away from the blood, "How they do it..." He shook his head and stalked off, fuming.
From under a stall, a limber figure stretched. His skin was red, and he had small horns atop his head, along with sharp fangs that glinted when he yawned. In one hand, he had a small, dark bottle, the smell of which was evident from feet away, and the other he held out to the man.
"I will go check on your family. It can't have been far. Did you stay on this road the whole while?"
The man nodded, his weariness obviously catching up with him. He had multiple scrapes from his tumble off the horse, but even more, he had multiple wounds from what looked like swords, days old. He had been riding wounded, non stop for who knows how long.
The horned figure nodded, and set off. Flying after was the one in a dark robe, wings sprouting from his back. After a few moments, the young man scratched his chin and nodded to the one in robes, "Hey. The name's Glory, though I'd be surprised if you'd heard of me. You interested in the tales of the undead?"
After a long moment, a voice spoke from under the hood, "I am Suffering. And the Undead do not interest me, I go to help those in need. You wouldn't understand, pirate." Suffering disdainfully regarded Glory, who was dressed as you would typically think a pirate would be. A colorful shirt, with vest and a cutlass strapped to his back, knives all over, and a bottle in his hand, he grinned in response.
"Maybe not. Then again, who would? I'm curious-" He was cut off by a looming shadow blocking the path. A large green figure blocked the path. He was a big fellow, but had a gracefulness in his movements. He features seemed pretty enough, though half of his face was blocked by a finely worked silver mask. A somewhat musical, though guttural, voice spoke from the mask.
"What of that man, in the square? What was his rush to get here, I saw him from the woods."
Glory replied, while stepping back with his hand on his cutlass, "Well, I guess he was a farmer or some such thing. His family got attacked by some bandits and supposedly and undead creature or two."
The features that could be seen were troubled, and hesitant, "Were there young ones?"
Glory shrugged, trying to edge around the man, "I would suppose so, the man spoke of his family needing help. One would assume he meant a child or two as well. Now if you would kindly move, we were off to see what it was about."
The man nodded, stepping to the side, "I will come with you. It sounds like it could be trouble, and you could use another hand." A glaive materialized in his hands, and it was with sure hands the man held it. There was another strapped to his back. "I am called Andar."
"Glad to have you, I'm sure. Though that robed figure might not agree. He tends to be a sourpuss it seems."
The three set off once more, and when they got to the main gate to the city, almost weren't surprised to be joined by a hulking lizard. One of the almost fabled lizard-folk, who lived in the swamp. He smelled the air and grinned, his teeth sharp and shiny, "Smells like adventure. Swifttail join interesting bunch."
Glory rolled his eyes, and muttered, "Of course you will. And if we stop ya, you eat us. Great choices." He took a swig from his bottle and grimaced, but kept walking.
The group, odd as they were, traveled together for a few days. They silently made camp, set watches, and watched each other just as closely as they watched the road. Almost halfway through their third day together, they came into view of a wagon, overturned and smoldering. There were bodies scattered about; some of them were the bodies of mercenaries, but a few were robed in yellow cloth, with arcane symbols on the hem.
They approached cautiously, and heard sounds on the other side of the wagon. It was muttering voices, and the sound of something heavy being dragged. Andar, glaive still in hand, strolled around the wagon purposefully, and without a moment's thought. He see's two men wearing dark, bloodstained robes, standing over a few dead bodies. At their side are two skeletons, standing upright, one of which has a sword in hand.
Swifttail followed shortly after, reacting instantly to the danger. He flung out a hand, a green spray shooting towards one of the robed figures. The figure started coughing hard, blood coming up with each retch.
Suffering flapped his wings hard, flying straight into the group. As he lands, black tentacles sprout from the ground, slapping at the people and dead around him. One cultist dies from the tentacle.
The other cultist pulls out a black wand, that seems to absorb the light. He points it at Swifttail and a bolt of energy shoots out, hitting the lizard man straight in the chest. As the blast sprayed out over his chest, he stiffens, stunned.
Glory dances around, his feet finding scant purchase, his cutlass whipping out and catching the cultist high in the side, drawing blood. Almost in tandem, Andar pulls up his silver mask, unveiling a face that was both handsome and repugnant. It had the grace of an elf, but the jutting lower jaw and fangs of an orc. His glaive falls without mercy, and he beheads the robed figure easily.
One of the skeletons rips off one of his arms and swings with it as a club, going straight for Suffering's head. With near superhuman speed, Andar thrust his glaive into the path of the bone, causing it to veer overhead and miss.
Working together, they are able to easily bash the remaining skeletons into pieces, breathing hard but grinning. With a start, Glory remembers all the dead surrounding him and the smile fades instantly. Suffering walks over and grabs the wand, hefting it, "Oh, ich. It feels so....greasy....what is this?"
Swifttail creeps over, eyes intently on the wand, "I'm not sure....but...can you hear that? It sounds....like someone crying out...."
Suffering shudders and stuffs it into his pack, "Can't well leave it here. We will see if someone in town knows of it. Let's continue to look around, see if there's anything left." They spread out, and Andar calls out after a moment, "Tracks! I found some tracks! They lead that way!" He pointed, and in the distance, they could see smoke. They set off down the tracks, Swifttail stopping long enough to look back and point at each of the dead bodies. A wisp of flame shot out from his fingers, lighting each body into it's own pyre.
Down the path, the come across a farmhouse, that was obviously recently attacked. There are a few body parts littering the yard, and the door kicked in. They rushed forward, finding themselves in a kitchen. There was food on the table with maggots crawling through it, and the kitchen was trashed. Not one chair was intact, and most of the cabinet doors ripped off.
One set of doors was still on, but slightly open, left hanging ajar. There is a repugnant odor to the air, one of death, decay, and despair. Andar cocks his head, eyes on the cabinent doors still there. He stalks over and rips the door open, exposing a young child, about 12 years old, who cowers in fear, crying out.
After a moment of Andar whispering that they weren't here to hurt him, and not making any threatening gestures, the boy calmed down. Staring over tear stained hands, he mumbled, "But...where...where's the man?"
Andar started to question the boy, but decided the threat of a larger fire was more dire than the man in question. As they stand they can hear sudden voices from outside. The boy cringed and whispered in a hiss, "It's him....He's back!"
They all looked at each other, and Glory nods, "The back door. Quickly!" They all jumped to the back, pushing the door open. The edge of the field, and the beginning of the forest, lay about 40 yards away. Without hesitating, they all ran forward, diving forward just in time to land in the bushes as the back door slammed open. A man in odd purple robes, waving a bone around, emerges yelling, "Where is he? Where did he go, find him! We must find the boy!"
He slams back into the house, and two gray-robed and hooded, left after him. The rest of the cultists remained, with some walking dead, and began to search methodically. The party crept as slowly as possible out of sight, before raising to their feet to flee.
"Quickly boy!" Andar snapped, "there must be a river near by! Something to hide our tracks!" He wasted no time, already brushing a branch across their path.
"T....There's a river. It's...um... It's that way," The boy pointed shakily towards the north, and after a moment of silence, the trickle of water could be heard in the distance. The sound of zombies approaching the woods was growing louder as well, and so they leaped to the north, trying to gain some ground. It wasn't long before they came across a small brook, about 4 feet across.
"Listen, we can't run farther than those things. I saw we kill them here, and hope the cultists think a bear got them," Glory spoke, hands on his knees and breaths coming explosively, "Gods, I need a drink. I'm not cut out for all this running about, where's a good ship when you need one."
Andar nodded, looking at Suffering, "We should hide. Surprise them. You can fight from range with the pirate. I'm not sure what you," Andar started to turn towards the lizard but paused when he realized the man was no longer standing there. A faint chuckle could be heard a few feet away, and Swifttail's face broke the surface of the brook, "Hold breath long time. Hide here, attack from water. See?" He went back underwater, and once the brook settled to its usual course, it was almost impossible to see him. The water played against his scales so seamlessly, one had to really be paying attention to pick him out.
Andar turned to the young boy, "Hey, sorry I was so abrupt earlier. Just did not want to get caught back there. What's your name by the way? We can't just keep calling you boy."
The boy looked terrified still and he stammered out, "B...B...Billy. My name is Billy... My parents...were they back there? I heard them....them scream...." He started to cry, shoulders shaking with each quiet sob, "I'm scared."
"Alright, Billy. We'll take care of you. Suffering, can you carry him? Fly as quickly as you can to safety, and then come back. We may need you." Glory pat the boy on the back while looking at his robed counterpart, "We can handle a few little guys....right?" He checked his shortbow and counted his arrows, "Yeah. Pfft. Easy."
Suffering grunted, not bothering to reply, and gathered Billy close. With a strong flap, he was in the air and quickly heading to the north. As he vanished from view, Andar could be heard muttering, "I hope he comes back...we may need him after all."
Glory shrugged, his shoulders rolling easily under his leather armor, "We should maybe climb a tree or something. Get some range. I've never seen anything like those....dead things. Who knows what we're in for."
Andar shook his head, "I have no range. I'll hide behind a tree nearby and once our friend pops out from the water, I'll come out swinging. You climb, pirate. Try not to drink too much while waiting."
Glory stopped mid swig from his dark bottle and grimaced, "It's a habit. It won't affect my shooting." He mimed making a shot with his short bow and grinned, his teeth flashing bright white in the gloom of the forest. Fangs could be seen behind his thin red lips and his eyes flashed bright green.
"Whatever." Andar ran to hide behind a nearby tree while Glory found one suitable for climbing. Long minutes passed by quietly, and then the rustling of bushes could be heard as something clomped their way through the underbrush.
It wasn't long before a few misshappen shapes crashed through the bushes near the stream. They were grotesque, with skin barely hanging on to their bones. One was missing an arm completely, and they all had this vacant look in their faces. Slack and unresponsive, they didn't stop except for one, who grabbed a rabbit that was trying to flee and ripped it's head clean off....
Glory muttered, "Great. Probably told to kill anything that moves. We are in for it now..." He nocked an arrow and waited, watching the surface of the river carefully.
It seemed as if Swifttail was never going to emerge, waiting until the lead zombie reached the edge of the water before erupting with a spray, his jaws gaping wide open. His teeth tore into the dead creature, ripping it almost in half before they even knew he was there.
Glory let off his shot, but a branch fouled the bow string and made the arrow go wide. As Andar stepped from behind the tree, glaive ready, he snorted, "Not gonna affect your shooting my ass. Drunken pirate." He raced to the rivers edge, leaping over it and striking the head from one of the zombies quickly.
"I swear, it was the tree....damn it all." The second shot also went wide, and glory threw down the bow in disgust, leaping from the tree nimbly.
By the time he regained his feet and drew a cutlass, the scene in front of him changed drastically. Even the zombies that were heavily damaged were still swinging heavily with their arms, slamming into swifttail and Andar. By the time Glory reached them, Swifttail was knocked out and Andar close to fall. "We may have overestimated ourselves.... Andar, protect me, I'll keep the lizard from drowning!"
He bent over, trying to pull his heavy companion from the water, but heard no response from Andar. Looking up, he saw most of the zombies had fallen, but so had Andar. Two were left remaining, and both about to swing.
Suffering could feel his wings trembling. While the boy didn't weigh much, it was still more than he was used to carrying. Billy wouldn't stop crying either, but then all of a sudden, he quieted. In a somber voice he spoke, "We have to go back. They need you. There were too many.....I saw what they....what they did to my parents...."
Suffering looked back the way he had flown and cursed silently. The boy was right.... he set down as lightly as he could, but still winced, "Listen, just sit tight here. You should be safe enough. I'll be back after I save the others. I won't let anyone hurt you. Just hide here."
The boy nodded, his tears still staining his face. He mumbled but Suffering was already flying back the way he had come from quickly. The trees passed by in a blur, and try as he might, he couldn't help but think of what had made him the way he was....that day at his hometown..
It had been a long summer. Raiders had established a heavy handed control of the town, and enslaved almost all of the impfolk who lived there.
One of the younger imp's, named Wrath, looked on with a slowly growing anger in his heart. True to his name, he coudl feel it festering, and longed to be able to do something.
He started to seek out other ways....until one day, he came across an old tome, bound in black leather. It appeared one day on the floor next to his bed, and with trepidation, he opened it. The page that fell open depicted a ritual used that could contact "one of power" and deals could be struck.
Without thought, he started collecting the resources he would need. On a night with no moon, he spoke the words that were written in a dark brown ink, and a figure appeared.
"Foolish mortal. What need have you to call me here to this....pitiful place?"
Wrath stammered, "I need power. I.... I need to save my people."
A grin slowly spread across the figures face, until it seemed to stretch farther than possible, "Yes....I can help you with this. What do I gain of it though?
With sudden resolve, Wrath spoke, "Whatever it takes. Make me your creature after if you will, just let me save my people."
The figure seemed ponder for a long moment, before speaking, "You surprise me, mortal. Do you know who I am?"
Wrath shrugged, "It doesn't matter. A means to an end, just like I am. Save my people and then do what you will."
He clapped once, a sharp sound echoeing across the moonless night, "Done. There will come a time when I have need of thee. Then I will come. Until then, drink, and do what must be done."
He strode over the magic circle that was supposed to protect Wrath without hesitating, and slit his arm open with one long claw. The blood dripped onto Wrath's face, and made it's way slowly to his lips. "What are you called?"
The young imp licked the blood from his lips and felt power start to flow through him, "I was known as Wrath. But I will not let any suffer anymore. I am Suffering, and I will protect those who can't protect themselves."
In a second, he suddenly knew what he must do to save his people.
Fire. Mayhem. Destruction.
And then.....banishment. In his efforts to save those he loved, he became that which his people were most hated for. A demon incarnate.
Merci pour la lecture!