As I swallowed a mouthful of ale, I glanced around the room. I seated myself by the fire, the roaring of flames a pleasant backdrop to my musings. At the corner of the room a young group sat, swapping stories. Some poor soul just stepped through the door, rain dripping off his cloak. He sat down and ordered some temporary panacea for his troubles from the barkeep. It was the group in the corner that drew me to my feet. They made the transition from loud to boisterous a while ago, but it was when the loudest one stood up and slammed the table did I find myself walking.
"THAT’S A LIE AND YOU KNOW IT! MAY THE RAKNAR TAKE YOU AND YOUR CHILDREN!" he screamed.
"That’s a mighty bold thing to say to a man." I told the boy, grasping his shoulder. He turned with a jerk.
"What would you know, old man!?" he barked in retort. His eyes fell to my right arm, noting the missing appendage.
"Oh, I believe I know something. Such as the gravity of your earlier statement. You boys ever see a Raknar before?"
They shook their heads.
"I’ve seen them. I’ve seen them do the exact thing you wished upon your friend here." I said gravely. I took a seat at their table.
It was days after the emergence at Sandsun, before word spread of the Raknar. I was working as a guard for a caravan returning to a settlement on the border of Blisterfoot. The sun was setting as we reached the place, and I was looking forward to payment. Wooden logs established the boundaries of the settlement. A number of houses sat clustered inside.
"Come." my employer said. "I have your payment at my house."
I followed him inside the settlement to his house. He had two sweet little kids, a boy and a girl.
As I made my way out, the earth growled a hollow roar. People came out of their houses searching for the source. I followed my employer to the gates. There, I saw pointed legs erupt from the ground, pulling a chitinous monstrosity out with them. The creature turned towards us, eyes gleaming in the combined glare of moon and torchlight. It charged towards the open gates.
"CLOSE THE GATES!!!" someone yelled.
The wooden gates croaked to life, the creature racing closer. The doors slammed shut just as it reached the threshold.
More rumbling followed after. The ground fissured beneath the mob. Legs sprouted from the chasms like hellish trees, lifting the horrors from the ground’s embrace. The crowd dispersed, screaming as the fiends emerged.
"TO ARMS!!" my companion called out. "Our weapons are back home!"
We dashed through the chaos. One man swung a torch at a creature. It crouched back, then a foreleg struck out, knocking the torch from his grasp. A second leg snapped forward like a snake, piercing the man through his gut and jutting out the back. The man fell limp and the creature tossed him from its leg like drops of water.
Rumbling drowned out the sound of screams as we ran. We found his house and armed ourselves. The two of us rushed outside and charged at the monsters. I found one cornering a woman against the boundary. I swung my sword upon its back. The sword glanced off, leaving no marks. The creature turned towards me. I parried a leg, and slashed at the one after. Yet nothing injured it. In desperation, I lunged at an eye above its maw. My sword sunk into its flesh, and the creature reared back, screeching. It scratched me off, and I fell to the ground. I could feel blood on my torso. I jumped to my feet, fearing retaliation. The creature, however, collapsed. Dead.
I then heard a child’s cry. I turned to see my companion’s two children running towards me.
A monster then emerged from behind a house, following them. As I looked on, the ground shuddered beneath me. I turned to see a log rise from the ground. The log crashed upon me, my body bursting with pain. I turned back to see the boy still running towards me, a leg cleaving through the middle of his small body. That was the last thing I saw that night. I quickly lost consciousness.
I awoke to a strange gurgling sound. I found myself still beneath the log. I pulled out from the lumber, leaving my arm behind. I tore some cloth to dress my wound. My right leg had been crushed, so I crawled upon the ground. All I found was the shattered remains of the village. Blood splattered the ground, glossy pools that reflected the sky above. Yet, I found no bodies, neither human nor Raknar. Yet, the gurgling persisted. I followed the noise to the village gate. It was there that I found a Raknar, slumped in the entrance. I crawled behind some wreckage, hoping it didn’t notice me. To my relief, it had not. Three bodies lay at its feet. Their features had been sunken in, dry and lifeless. All except one. The man was unconscious, dragged to the gate. The Raknar loomed over the man, and dropped down. As its fangs sank into his body, the man awoke and screamed out. The gurgling returned. The man looked out in terror, hands grasping for help. Our eyes met, and I witnessed the pure horror burning in his eyes. I saw the plumpness drain from his fingertips. His eyes sunk into his skull, the fluid of his flesh left him. The Raknar bent down and dragged the corpses away. I spent hours there in fear. It was a full day before I bound my leg and left."
The table sat awestruck, staring at me incredulously. I stood from the table.
"That is what you wished upon your friend." I said with finality.
I turned and ascended the stairs to my room, all the while clutching the phantom of my arm.
"Hey, no fair!"
I ignored the protest of my best friend and continued running across the sun baked field. With arms upraised I crossed over the goal line drawn in the golden sand; victorious. Slowing to a stop and spinning around to face Sinbe I couldn't help smiling.
"You're getting slow, my friend."
As he stalked over to me I watched as he tried to maintain his scowl.
"Don't you grin at me like that Targh D'yer. You know that move was against the rules."
"What move?" My smile vanished as I tried to appear innocent and sincere.
"...what move?! Why you... "
Home was a small claystone house on the eastern edge of a town called Sandsun. Positioned on the northern border of the Blisterfoot Desert it
didn't get quite the heat of the desert proper but was still well named all the same. The town survived through a combination of trade from the north, occassional caravans from across the desert and a network of a dozen wells tapping in to a hidden lake beneath the ground.
It was a hard life, but good in its own way. Looking back now I sure miss those sunrises over the Laststep Dunes, a plate of my mother's redback (a kind of lizard) stew, games on the field with Sinbe and Malik.
I was seventeen when they came.
A fine spring morning greeted Sinbe and I. The cool crispness of night was still in the air, and the early dew cast diamonds across the sparse grass. We were heading northeast. A lengthy trek of several hours to a small forest, the only source of wood for Sandsun. We made do without wood for many things, using dried animal dung for our cookfires. But at times the town Elders would allow limited amounts to be brought back for tools (like the handle on my axe!) and other luxuries.
The journey past in its usual way when treking with Sinbe. The dark haired boy could make a rock laugh once he started. As the sun rose to its height we each donned a kitu to protect our heads, despite it being considerably cooler than we were used to this far north.
Finally arriving at the forest we unconciously stopped for lunch before we entered the dark gloom. Neither of us mentioned it, but to desert dwellers the closed in trees were still uncomfortable even after being trusted to go wood chopping for several years. Strips of salted goat meat wrapped in Suhm (a local flatbread made from the grain of one of the few grasses we could farm near the town) made a fine meal.
"Best get chopping if we want to be back in time to get ready," Sinbe noted. Tonight there was to be a celebration for the marriage of one of the Elders' daughters. Everyone would be out in their finest for the feast and the dancing would go on all night.
"Why the hurry?" I teased. "Nothing to do with wanting to impress Jadni I'm sure."
The rough knock to my shoulder showed my accurate assumption, even though the bright blush in Sinbe's cheeks was enough.
I laughed. "Worry not. I've seen the glances she sends your way. You could shuffle up with sand in your hair and it'd make no difference."
The sun was almost set as we came within sight of the town again. Behind us the rough sled we pulled was laden with fresh cut logs. In the distance we could see the glow of numerous fires, far more than normal. It seemed the feasting had begun early.
We hurried on managing another hundred paces before the first scream floated out of the night. Surely we were mistaking laughter for a scream? Another followed, and another. No, it was no laughter.
Paying more attention to what we could see in the fading light, it showed the fires were all on the far desert side of town. The screams too.
From our position up the slope to the north a vast rippling shadow seemed to be dancing over the sand toward Sandsun.
"Targh... Targh what is it, what's happening?"
The uncommon terror in Sinbe's voice was enough to send ice down my back.
Dropping the reins of the sled we both dashed toward home as the screams continued to echo out. Half a mile away we met someone running towards us, panic painting his face and clearly visible even in the near dark.
"BEASTS! DEMONS! WE ARE CURSED! Run, must run, coming to get me, run, run, cursed."
Neither of us recognised him, and he ignored us as he ran past continuing to mumble to himself, occassionally shouting out.
A low hiss was our only warning as out of the dark a large form leaped past us and on to the man. It seemed all legs, and carried on hissing as it tore the man apart.
"ARRRRGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHH" The scream cut through my shock. It was Sinbe charging toward the creature, axe raised above his head.
Instinctively I followed, a similar cry ripping from my own throat. The creature turned towards us, showing it to have a man's body, but below the waist what seemed like a spider's. It didn't matter to either of us. Both our axes descended down. It moved with impossible speed, and what should have seen my blade in its head instead caught one of the legs. It screeched and lashed out with two other limbs hitting me directly in the chest and sending me flying backwards. My head swam as I fought for air, the hiss and scream from the creature and Sinbe filling my ears as they fought.
Then everything went black.
I awoke to the dawn light. My first sight was the lifeless form of Sinbe, his axe buried in the chest of the creature that held him in a death grip. I threw up. The stench of burning, and death from the town caught my nostrils and my stomache heaved again.
The advice of the stranger resonated around my head. "Run!"
The darkness. You asked me what I fear most? It's the darkness that sets in when the sun goes down. That wretched blackness that hides your foe with impunity while leaving you exposed and vulnerable.
What's my story? Back in '71, I was herding fresh horses for the assault on the Raknar mega-hive in Thornvine when our caravan was ambushed. We were moving at night, hoping to avoid a notorious night raid while camped, when they came. Gods there were so many. There were four hundred of us with five hundred horses, and only the gods themselves know how many Raknar there were. It started with our scouts failing to return. We never saw sign of their remains, but their absence gave warning. Then the Raknar attacked. At first they struck the head of the caravan in force. They were in great number, so some of the guards rode ahead to reinforce, weakening our flanks.
You know as well as I that the Raknar aren't ignorant. After Blisterfoot, and the beatings our cavalry gave them there, the Raknar began in ernest to decimate, yes, totally decimate, all horses in TerVarus. That is why our caravan was so important: We were taking some of the last horses in Tanious to Thornvine.
Anyway, once our herd guards had thinned, the Raknar began harassing our flanks. Yes, my friend, our guards were indeed mounted, but that only went so far. While a mounted man could equal a lone Raknar, it made little difference against hundreds. Our guards were brave, but they were no match for the darkness that surrounded us all.
At first, the guards repulsed them. The first wave of Raknar to run into sight were slain and chased away, but the guards who strayed too far into the night were never seen again. Only their screams could be heard: both of horse and man. Then the Raknar attacked in ernest. Out of the black came these monstrous arachnids; scores and scores of arachnids! Our wagon was in the rear of the column, sufficiently far back that the rear-guard could protect us, but the flanks of our herds were falling.
Oh it was horrible. Terrifying. The darkness hindered sight, but not sound, and the sound was terrifying. My friend, have you ever heard a horse scream in pure horror as it tried to flee for it's life? From certain death? I could not see, by the gods I could not see the far reaches of my herd, but I could hear their screams. The rear guard sent riders to reenforce the flanks, to protect the horses, but naught could be done for the outermost. Soldiers from the head of the caravan quickly returned to the flanks, but dozens of Raknar had already found their way into the herd and were tearing them apart. What could be done? My mates were terrified as I. The screams and neighs told of the death on our flanks. We had to keep moving. The only way out of the ambush was to keep the caravan moving.
Then I saw the horses in front of me begin walking forward. Finally, we were going again. As we moved, I still could not see any of the fighting on the flanks, but the yelling and shrieks filling the dark air told of the flanks being held, if only in part. The heart of our herd hadn't been touched, thank the gods, but I never saw what became of the outermost. I couldn't, not in that chaos. What little we could learn came from piecing together the orders from the officers and the screams from the soldiers and horses.
Onward we moved. I could not tell if there were any guards leading this stampede of horse and men. Only that we moved quickly, and were escaping the ambush. Soon, the fighting was behind us. The cries of terror soon faded into the darkness. The herd never stopped running. Eventually, the horses had outpaced my wagon and I could not see any of my herd in the blackness. Soon, we had to stop. Our mounts and wagons were on the verge of breaking, and we were loath to completely abandon the soldiers behind us. Given we had already fallen far behind the herd, we were resigned to hold off the search for it till dawn. Occasional horses would trot up from behind, having escaped from the slaughter. But beyond that, naught was seen of our guards. In that darkness we halted and waited, torches smothered for fear of alerting any Raknar of our presence. Neither horse nor man made a sound. In that darkness, one would have thought himself alone.
An eternity we tarried, hoping our guards would be victorious and return to continue protecting us. Waiting, but with no sign of them. A lieutenant who had followed us sent a rider back for news. We waited half an hour for her return with either survivors or news. When a full hour had come, we decided that with or without our guards, we must carry on. We were but fifty, and mostly non-military at that, but we had to leave. We followed the turmoiled trail of the herd, and eventually found them: human scouts from Thornvine had located and brought them to camp. We never heard what became of our guards that night, but none could be spared to make such a fools errand. It was assumed that the Raknar had slain them all.
You asked me why I fear the night? It's because I can still hear those screams in the darkness. The terror of that night still fills my head, and only the warm light of a hearth can drive the thoughts forth. Well, a hearth, or a mug of good ale. Speaking of which, Barkeep! Another round!
It must have been around midnight when we heard them coming. What started out as a distant rumble grew louder and louder and eventually woke me and my brother from our sleep. It had been a rainy evening, so at first I assumed that it was a thunderstorm approaching. But as the noise persisted, I knew something was wrong. My brother and I looked at each other, not knowing what to do.
We didn’t have much time to wonder.
The bedroom door flung open and I saw my father standing in the doorway holding a candle and an axe. His face was pale, and never before had I seen his eyes so full with fear. He looked at us and seemed unsure of what to do next. “Quick! Under the bed!”, he exclaimed after a while. A rush of fear swept through my body as I threw my blanket off me and hid under the bed. But my father’s words seemed to have paralyzed my little brother and he wouldn’t move. As he lay there in bed, still holding the blanket and staring at my father, the screaming started.
Bewildered my father looked behind him and then at my brother again. “Quick, son! Do as your sister! Hide under the bed!”, he urged as he turned around and made his way back downstairs. The screaming was getting louder now and we could hear villagers running around outside in a state of panic.
I looked at my brother and wanted to urge him to hide, but the words wouldn’t come. As I was struggling to find my voice, I heard a loud noise downstairs followed by screams from my father. That triggered something in my brother and he got up and ran downstairs. “No!!”, I managed to get out of me, but it was too late. I could hear a terrible mix of screeching and hissing sounds, drowning out the cries of my father and brother. It was too much for me, and I passed out.
As I came to, I had a hard time remembering why I was lying on the floor. The noise in the village had subsided, but I could still hear people moaning. “Father!”, I thought. I wanted to get up, but as I was lifting myself I could hear something coming up the stairs. I quickly moved back and laid still. Slowly and very quietly, a creature unlike any I had ever seen emerged in the doorway. It entered the bedroom and I had trouble breathing, afraid that it would hear me. As it stood there in the middle of the room, all I could see from my position were its legs. Hairy legs... and eight of them...
I don’t know how long I remained under the bed or why the creature didn’t find me. All I know, is that by the time I found the courage to get up, it was quiet outside and the sun had been up for quite some time. I was fairly sure that the creatures, whatever they were, had left the village. As I emerged from my hiding place I could feel a cool breeze coming over me. I walked towards the window and carefully looked outside.
At first, it seemed as if the entire village was covered in snow. Rather peaceful, like on a calm winter’s morning. But after a while, I realized that it wasn’t snow at all. Everything was covered in webs, giant spider webs. Villagers that had tried to escape had been caught in them as well. I couldn’t bear to look any longer.
I went downstairs slowly, hoping I would find my father and brother still alive, but fearing the worst. As I entered the hallway, I could see the silhouettes of two white figures, close to one another. I knew they were my father and brother, cocooned and suffocated by the webs, when they must have tried to reach out for each other in their last moments of despair. I fell on my knees and wept. As I closed my eyes, all I could see were those hairy legs, right in front of me...
“Twenty copper Deidrey.”
“Sorry, what?” I must have zoomed out for a minute there.
“I’ll give ya twenty copper for those legs. Looks like you had a good catch.”
“Yeah thanks... Suppose I did...”
I tried to picture my father’s face as I handed the salesman the Raknar legs. But all I could remember was his terrified expression as he stood in that doorway, eight years ago now. I shook off the image and regained my composure.
“Alright, I’m off to New Aryndel. Gotta get my bow fixed up and restock some supplies.”
I said goodbye to the salesman and made my way into the forest. Time to hunt again.
~ Deidrey, survivor of the first Raknar incursion. Fifteenth day of the seventh month, 7872.
Listen up all as I tell you a tale of pain and suffering.
It was supposed to be an easy trek to Sandsun, though long. We had ample supplies and were but less than a days journey from the kingdom when camp was set for the night. A nice spot, on a large sand hill, giving a small but advantageous overlook in the distance. I could glimpse the shadows of the outskirts as the men readied a small fire, just enough to heat a few supplies.
That is when I noticed the shadows. Moving shadows; creeping shadows. Shadows I thought were the outskirts of the kingdom had come alive. Was the night playing tricks on me, or had my weary old eyes decided they were no longer required to uphold their end of the bargain? “What manner of evil doings is this?” I thought, though my lips betrayed the silence in my mind.
Looking over my men, I decided it was in our best interest to investigate those creeping shadows. Eying my two best scouts, they looked at me inquisitively, then looked at each other with queer faces.
“What's going on captain?” they said in unison.
“We need to ride ahead, do a little scouting.” I declared. Clearing my throat, I continued. “There are some evil tricks going on in my mind or my eyes are failing me, but Sandsun seems to be moving.”
To my surprise, they mounted straight away with nary a word. Mounting myself, we headed off.
Had I known what I was riding toward, I may have thought better of my actions and turned the camp back that night, calling off this eventual mess, or should I say disaster. However, since I was none the wiser, off we rode into the darkness.
As Sandsun closed in, and the shadows even closer, we slowed the gait to a walk. We all could now see the shadows, creeping and crawling, enveloping the city like a dark mist, strangling the life from all within. We halted. The eerie sounds from the creatures made my skin crawl and bones chill.
“That is no shadow, that is death.” I declared. Turning our steeds, we raced back to camp. No matter the pace we rode, it never felt fast enough. Why did it seem like it took much longer to get back? It was like we were swimming through the deepest river to reach the other side, fighting the current all the way. Did the creatures see us? Were we being followed? There was no time to check, not if I valued the lives of my men, or my own.
Reaching the camp after what seemed an age, I made the announcement that we needed to make haste, break camp, and return home. Explaining that Sandsun was lost, under attack by some large, dark mass of creatures with many legs; even as many men as we traveled with, we were in danger as well.
That was the start of, what seemed at the time, our never ending plight.
With camp packed and horses mounted, we started hearing strange sounds. I recognized that sound right away, its eerie presence eating into my mind. The creatures followed us, or at least some did. Yelling to my team to ride forth, we sped away as I took the lead. I remembered an outcrop near the edge of this forsaken land. Just beyond was a mountain pass which contained a cave where I had stayed on an earlier journey. If we could make it there, we might be able to muster a defense with our backs guarded.
On we rode, beating hooves like thunder in the night. My mind raced, heart pounding. Where was that damn outcrop? Was it really that far? On I rode, charging the path for my men. Then I heard it; a loud scream; the bugler sounded; the creatures caught us.
My men instinctively got into formation as best they could, making sure the opponent didn't outflank us. To my surprise and relief, I could see this was but a small apportionment of the mass at Sandsun. This did not lower my guard however, as I knew they were quick and obviously fast since they caught us so easily. Another one down; another one down. My men swayed this way and that, trying to overcome the onslaught. These creatures were not only quick, but powerful. On horseback we were at a disadvantage. They just undercut the horses legs and chopped us down with those long, spindly limbs.
I called for dismount.
Quickly the horses became fodder, as the men used them as shields against their foes. However, the battle slowly started to turn to our side. Black, spindly legs flying here and there, we finally overcame the creatures. Men collapsed with exhaustion. I took a tally as the men rested. We had no horses left, though some bolted to their freedom. I lost 23 of my men, which put us down 45. We were tired, on foot, and very far from home.
I knew we had to get out of this area quickly. These dead things had ones just like them and they may come looking. So I gathered my men, we packed up what we could for supplies from the horses, and again I made my way for the cave, hoping against hope we could make it there without further incident. I truly hated to leave my dead men out in the open, but I had living men to worry about.
The rest of the tale is pretty mundane. We made it to the cave, but spent years wandering from place to place, avoiding these creatures, battling little groups of them, wondering if our families survived, scrounging for food. It was a harsh life. All in all I lost 57 of my men and made it home with 11. It's a wonder any of us made it back.
Captain Jadden Durenak, retired
Excerpt from the journal of one Tanion Corvyre of Sandsun, found on a corpse in the Blisterfoot Desert Hive:
Entry 539 – My apprenticeship is nearly complete. I am to craft a sword as a final test for Master Sulnen. I've already selected my materials and design, but feel that it needs something special. Something unique that will convince him I am ready to be a Journeyman. I will need to come up with something, and soon.
Entry 540 – I have begun work on the sword, but still haven't found that special addition to make it unique. Master Sulnen chided me when I mentioned this to him. He believes embellishments are for pompous Nobles whose weapons never leave their scabbards. He assured me I will never be a Journeyman with such “damn fool notions.” I know he's only trying me to make me a better smith, but I want this weapon to be incredible.
Entry 541 – I am no coward. I know how to use a sword, and I've fought men before, but the demons that appeared yesterday...horrible, spider-like monstrosities that should exist only in nightmares. I know not what they were, only that I would have stood little chance in the slaughter that accompanied them. Men and women torn limb from limb, some bitten, swelling up in grotesque bulges of blue and purple. It was all I could do to conceal myself in terror. To my great fortune, I was able to use a half-empty quenching barrel as a hiding place.
The monsters stormed through the smithy, but never stopped to search the equipment. I couldn't see anything from within, but I will hear the sound of them in my nightmares until my dying day. Armored claws clicking across the stone floor. Strange, chittering gibbersh that I can only assume was some infernal language. I spent the night in the barrel, trying to stay as quiet as possible despite the pounding of my heart. When all was quiet at dawn, I crept from my hiding place to take down my memories while they were fresh...and while I am still alive to write them. Soon I will need to venture out and see what is left of the town.
Entry 542 – I am alone...alone in my own private hell. The first thing that hit me as I left the smithy was the smell. Oh gods, the smell. Bodies, whole and in pieces, were strewn throughout the streets. Carrion birds had already begun their feast, cautiously avoiding the bloated, discolored corpses of those felled by whatever foul venom the demons possessed. Webs, like those of spiders, but as tough as strong rope, were scattered over buildings and streets in all directions. Some of the corpses had even been wrapped in the stuff and hung casually from rooftops. As I watched from the shadows, I spotted a few of the demons dragging similar bundles out of town towards the Blisterfoot Desert for gods only know what unholy purposes.
I spent most of the daylight hours searching for survivors, but only became more and more disheartened as I saw the efficiency of the carnage brought upon us. Of all the corpses I encountered, only a handful of the demons had been slain. By the time night began to fall, my search had proven fruitless, and my fear had begun giving way to a seething anger. Anger at the demons for what they had done. Anger at myself for hiding like a coward while everyone around me was slaughtered mercilessly. I resolved to do my part to make things right. I will finish my sword, and when I do, I will add a few more demon corpses to the streets.
Entry 543 – Under cover of night, I dragged several of the demon bodies to the smithy to examine them. Clearly they can die, so they must have a weakness. I intend to find it. I have already learned that they do not bleed as we do, but instead have a thin ichor that quickly seals off broken sections of their spider-like legs. I've emptied the quenching barrel and begun filling it with this ichor in the hopes that its interesting properties may be of use. I believe I have found that “something special” for my sword.
Entry 544 – Success! It took time, but from studying the corpses of the fallen demons, I devised a method for penetrating their defenses and adjusted the design of my sword accordingly. It only required minor changes. Looking back it was so obvious, I can't believe I didn't see it immediately. I know not if tempering the sword in their ichor offered any sort of benefit, but I at least take satisfaction in the poetic justice of slaying them with a weapon forged in their own blood.
So far I have only tested the design on the bodies I have been keeping in the shop. There are still a few of the demons returning to carry the webbed corpses off to the desert. Tomorrow I will put the blade to its real test.
Entry 545 – The monster never knew what hit it. The blade performed exactly as I envisioned, cleaving through the demon's defenses with minimal effort. I was terrified at first, but reminded myself of the corpses, the carnage...and my fury gave me strength. I did not walk away unscathed, but at least I walked away. Today my blade has tasted the blood of the enemy, and known its true purpose. I have decided to name it “Webrend.”
I have completed my Journeyman test, but I failed my Master and my town. Tomorrow I will follow the remaining demons as they return to the desert. I do not expect to return from this task, but if I can strike down enough of these creatures to make them feel the fear and horror that I have, it will be atonement enough.
No weapon was found on or near the corpse.
The following excerpts I discovered while rummaging through the remaining stacks of the Monolith Library - so much lore was lost in the Great War. I immediately recognized the leather bindings as originating from the Blisterfoot Desert, yet the catalogue and characteristic water and mold damage indicated it was found in a much wetter place, in the jungles of Thornvine. I swiftly deduced that this account would cover events of note. This document shall be carefully preserved and meticulously copied for future generations to peruse. I have taken the liberty of correcting spelling and grammar, in addition to cleaning up the "colorful" language. I also omitted the manifold and varied descriptions of the author's hygene and bodily functions, as well as the enumeration of the other soldiers' vast and numerous shortcomings.
- Aramath, Assistant Head Scribe and Scholar of the Monolith.
Lost some equipment down a shaft today. The torches hurt the most. No one wanted to be lowered down by rope twenty or more paces to get them back. Bloody bugs crawl on the walls and ceilings as often as the floors, pits open beneath your feet without warning.
Whoever reads this, know that it never pays to point out the obvious to the officers. They don't like to feel stupid and they will punish you. I should never have opened my fool mouth. Now I will die here in the dark, in the damp, in the cold.
We have halted for a moment for the scouts to return. Strange noises ahead. May be my last entry.
Scouts turned up some burrowing animals, furry, white as a ghost, taste like mud. At least we won't starve. Not soon anyhow.
Sometimes my mouth runs ahead of my brain. The cut of the cloth could only have come from my home. To find it dozens of leagues away, in the "hands" of the enemy was a shock. The skull was the clincher. Jarl was born with that bone spur over his temple, born not ten yards from my house. Jarl never made it out if Sandsun. Never expected to see his skull, should never have said a word.
Raknar are hard to kill. Tough armor. Quick bastards. Their joints are exposed though. If you can ever flank them, their backs and undersides are soft. Takes coordination to take down some of the bigger ones. Killed 5 today. The tunnels are starting to branch. I have nightmares of getting lost down here. So far, we have been ignoring the smaller tunnels. Hope that doesn't come back to bite us in the ass.
Another fight today. No injuries. I would thank the gods, but they have abandoned us. Days and nights are blurred together. Has it been a week? two? We have stopped a dozen times on our march. The flickering of the torches does little to mark the passage of time.
Heat I can deal with. Blisterfoot was normal, never noticed the heat. Battles are always hot, even in this demon haunted place, where the chill gnaws at your bones. If anything drives me mad, it will be the cold of these tunnels. The torches will be doused soon.
Light ahead. We have stopped for the scouts again. Roots in the ceiling above, must be some kind of plants up there. Some as thick as my leg have been sheared clean off. Never seen them kind of roots, no surprise with the biggest plants around my home being some scrawny bushes, but them fellows from Sehdegere haven't seen anything like them either. Wish I was back in the desert, fighting for my home. Tremors shaking the dirt down on our heads. Feels akin to the quakes before the attack on home. I have a bad feeling about this. Scouts back. Moving out.
(The next few pages are torn and stained. Various words and sentence fragments are still legible. I have copied them down verbatim in order to preserve whatever meaning is possible. More refined readers beware, you will get a glimpse of the base and ignoble character of the author. - Aramath)
hot *illegible* in here now, at *illegible* my legs aint frozed no more
Blody barstards cut ahint us, Slekuch had her guts pulled *illegible* What
poison *illegible* wips
thro the gap in there pus filled *illegible* five of us to kill the gutles
like *illegible* goes thro a goose them.
those hooky swords *illegible* use stuck
won. Dunt no if I will ever see home again, this *illegible* cut
I suppose you know how brutal the war was, since you died in it. A lot of people did, and those that lived did not come away unchanged. I didn’t.
Life was short in those days. In the middle of the Sehde campaign the blood feasters took the lives of my closest friends right before my eyes. That was tough to live with. I grew up with you guys. I cried like a babe that night. I couldn’t help it. But that was it. I had survived, and I was damned if I wasn’t going to kill a hundred of them for every one of my friends they sank their fangs into. But even still, you harden your heart and press on. There was a war going on, you know? Me and the rest of the gang killed scores of those cave-dwelling bastards. I lost count of how many cuts I took and how many I gave. We got used to keeping out the cold of night with fires piled high with the ruined bodies of the bloods we killed that day. The smell was horrible, but it reminded you that you were alive. We lived like that for months. And then we got word that Sehde was no more—that the war was over. Just like that. We started the slow journey home. It wasn’t far, but none of us were quite ready to just go home just yet, so we dragged things out. A few weeks where one would have done. But in the end you could see the good it was doing. That haunted look that you get when you’ve seen too much was gone. Some were even starting to feel hopeful for the web-free future, wondering what they would do when they got back to their families…
It didn’t last.
When we got home, we found a town even more haunted than we had been. Standing back from me in our own home and frightened by my anger, my wife told me about our daughter—she had been missing for two moons. No one had seen go but one morning her door was stuck shut and couldn’t be opened. Our neighbor had to climb through the window to find out that the wall and door was covered in cob’, and that my girl’s bed was empty. Empty like she had just gotten up to attend to the body’s needs, like she would be right back. I stormed back outside to find the rest of the guys waiting for me. The war was over, but a quick look around and I knew that I had not been the only one to be told he had lost a child today. Some had been lost more recently than others. Hroga and Kitharl had been hit the hardest, both losing a son and a daughter in the past two weeks. Had we not delayed our return, their children might be in their arms right now. Their eyes were filled with vows of hate, and you could see that they would not rest until they had unleashed their rage on as many a spinner as they could find. I knew this because I could feel that look mirrored in my own eyes. This is what our wives saw when they looked at us—we could not stay. In silent agreement, we left.
I know not how we chose the heading we did, but our rage was a river and we were swept along on our course. Days passed. We ate nothing—we hungered, but our desire would not be sated through teeth of bone, only through teeth of forged steel. And after many more days, our rage found its outlet. A small nest of raknar in the forest. It was large enough that it could go on kidnapping raids in undefended villages such as ours, but not enough to stand against a roiling tide of bereft, angry fathers. Our rage set fire to the forest. It announced our presence but we didn’t care. We lost five men in their counterattack, but in their anger they kept on fighting. Even the raknar were surprised as the men to whom they had surely dealt fatal blows just kept rushing forward until they finally collapsed. After that it wasn’t even a fair fight. Scenting blood, we circled and stabbed at the beasts, but we did not aim to kill. We aimed to wound, to inflict physical wounds to match our mental ones. And we did not stop when the raknar could fight no more. Did you ever catch an insect and pull off its legs and watch it squirm? Or dissect it? Well we know what it’s like when the spider is as tall as you. From the still-living raknar we removed each leg, one segment at a time. When they became too noisy we gagged their mouths with the remains of their own webs. This went on for hours, and as the cold of night drifted in, and we were reminded of our wartime tradition. A towering flame was built, and it was piled high. High with tortured, still-living bodies of legless raknar. Howls of pain were drowned out by our own howls of victory, and those by our own howls of loss. Next to the fire, we grieved.
- A scarred old man reminiscing with a set of gravestones, as overheard by Cesret Eagniel
We wait for sleep, huddled around a small fire in the dead of night. We are haggard and tired. The mostly-white, six-inch hair on Guarm, the eldest, is frayed and shooting out in all directions; Garris, only about five years older than myself, strokes his long, chaotic beard that, in the flickering firelight, I notice is also starting to grey. I, the youngest, sit splay-legged and lean against a heavy pack, my trembling hands outstretched to the fire’s heat. The night is particularly cold here up near the mountains: scarce snowflakes tremble on swirling gusts, which cut like piercing daggers straight to the bone. The night sky is clouded, and only smells from the frozen wilderness and our smokey fire permeate the chilled air.
We are soldiers. Weapons lie close at hand, though I fear we are too exhausted to wield them. Our limbs and faces hunger for the fire, and as the night presses on we edge closer to the warmth, until the leather on the my boots begins to smoke and crisp around the edges. I jump back suddenly, starting to slap at my smoking foot, but collide with a pair of strong, sturdy legs standing behind me -- I shriek.
“Quiet, you,” a voice says. Guarm immediately reaches for a sword while Garris has already drawn a long, wicked dagger from a sheath attached to his ankle. “Stay your hands, I’m not your enemy.” As the owner of the mysterious voice steps into the light, I scamper away on all fours to the other side of the fire.
The man standing above us is strong and wild: battlescars mark his face, and his exposed hands are gnarled with use. His eyes, a bright green that easily reflects the firelight, scour the small clearing where we made camp. He wears a crude suit of leather. A longsword hangs from his hip and a heavy longbow is slung on his back, a full quiver of arrows next to it.
“Who are you?” asks Garris, who lowers but does not sheath his dagger.
“My name is Beren,” the stranger says, crouching to put his hands near the fire.
“What are you doing here?”
“I live here.”
“You live here? But--” Garris hesitates a moment, looking for the right word. “How is that possible?”
A soft snort from Beren, who gives the man a pointed look. He fishes around in a satchel on his waist and produces a wooden pipe, then reaches into the fire and grabs the short, unburnt end of a smoldering stick -- several hairs off the top of his knuckles sizzle and smoke away into nothing, but he ignores them. He lights his pipe with the ember, and then tosses the stick back to the flames. Sparks jump unpredictably into the night. Breathing out smoke, he asks, “Who are you, and why are you here?”
I speak up suddenly, “We’re infantrymen loyal to Lord Almenius II: the rightful Lord of the Verran Heartlands!”
“Shh,” hisses Guarm, who has put his sword aside, “not so loud, you fool. And if Captain Evanguard knew how quickly you blurt out our allegiances, you’d be flogged for sure.”
Another snort from Beren, “These days, men should be the least of your worries.”
Again, I speak up, “If you’re talking about the Raknar, stranger, then you obviously haven’t seen our friends. Captain Evanguard and a force of Verran soldiers are nearby, and we’re going to wipe out those pests for good.”
The fire has started to lower, but Beren’s face stays lit by the soft, orange glow of his smoking pipe. “Well then, I’m afraid I have some bad news. I’ve met your Captain Evanguard, and I’ve seen the battalion that you speak of.”
“What word of the Captain, then?” blurts out Garris, who stabs his dagger into the ground suddenly. “We were separated two days ago and have been making our way to the mountain pass to meet him there.”
A long silence, and he sighs. “There is no word, friend -- only blood. Your Captain is dead, and his men died with him.”
“No,” I say disbelievingly.
“Yes,” says Beren. “The Raknar flanked them in the mountain pass -- no man climbs like those spider monstrosities. They don’t need our trails or passes to cross mountains. They climbed and swarmed around your comrades, bottlenecking them in that deathtrap of a road. Bodies of men and Raknar alike now pave the pass, but not one soldier escaped. I have read the tracks, and I don’t make mistakes.”
This revelation is followed by a long silence. Beren pulls a bloody scroll out of a satchel and hands it over; it is stamped with the Lord Almenius’ seal. I slowly reach my hand over the fire and accept it. “I believe this is written by your Lord. I took it off your Captain’s body, if that’s not proof enough. Now I suggest you get moving--”
“Wait just one second,” Garris finally finds his voice. “How are we supposed to just believe you? How can the Captain be dead and gone, with an entire battalion at his back?”
Beren has stopped smoking, an ear cocked to one side. He doesn’t answer.
“Hey! Answer me!”
“They’re coming.” Beren jumps up; in one swift motion he draws his bow, notches an arrow, and looses it into the forested sky. An inhuman screech fills the cold air and a black, many-legged creature drops to the ground only a few paces behind me. Beren fires another arrow, and there’s another screech. The sounds of scuttling legs and clicking pincers surround us. Something pounces out of the dark and poor Guarm crumples under its attack. He moans softly and is swiftly dragged away into the blackness, his legs kicking feebly at the dirt.
“Run!” cries Beren, who draws his sword just in time to halt a Raknar in mid-pounce, driving the sword up to its hilt in the beast’s belly. “Run, and tell your Lord: the Raknar are more dangerous than any rival kingdom, any rival army! Run and tell him that men must unite to survive, or everyone will die! Run and tell him that things have changed, the days of men are numbered!"
We flee, leaving our packs behind -- though the Captain’s scroll is clutched tightly in my hand -- and the sounds of desperate battle fade away behind us.
To all it may concern,
After the event being declared as the Fall of Thornvine, tales of heroism and revelry are spreading amongst the four
remaining hold of TerVarus, tales of how we bravely united together for the good of mankind to rid the world of a great evil and preserve out species.
I want everybody who reads this note to know that all of it is lies.
War is a horrible thing. It may seem a silly and obvious thing to say, but, ever since the start of the Age of Shadows,
TerVarus has not known peace. Nobody escaped the fighting, not men, not women, not even...
I'm not proud of what I've done, and that didn't change when we stopped fighting our brother and amassed against the
creatures that have come to be regarded as the 'Raknar.' Everybody's heard the stories, about the spideresque demons that mock the human form- at least, their upper half of it- and prey on the blood of the innocent, so that they may amass an army of darkness to snuff out all light and hope that exists in this realm. I admit, I, foolishly, allowed myself to believe these claims. I allowed myself to believe that we had to do everything in our power for the survival of the human race.
And we did.
It started off with the battles defending Hilglag's Keep. It was rather easy, once we had a real army of professional
soldiers. One stab between the body and thorax with a shortspear was all it took to fell the Raknar, and the keep was built for archers, so we had no shortage of room to take down the hordes while they attempted to scale the walls. This was a battle we knew we could win, and we did, but, even still, there was something our generals and commanding officers neglected to inform of us, something that happens only when you fell a Raknar in that very specific way.
I wish not to remember it, and, even as I try to recount the events on this paper, I find my mind fighting itself. The
Raknar normally let out a screech of sorts of death, one that wasn't very bothering, but our tactic brought the such pain, we realized that they weren't dying to the wound, they were dying from the fall. We watched their bodies seize and convulse as their grip faltered, their writhing bodies falling several stories into the ranks of their comrades, who then let our haunting cries of mourning and vengeance. The battle lasted nearly two days. The casualties numbered in the thousands for the Raknar. Ours numbered thirty-two. All deaths were attributed to stab wounds or great falls. The Raknar never touched a member of our army.
It brings me no comfort to relieve that from my mind. There are worse things that hang upon it.
In the latter days of the war, we were confronted with a surprise none of us, not even our most brilliant military
minds and philosophers would even suspect. The Raknar started speaking to us. In a mangled, butchered version of our language, yes, and the vast majority was insulting our uniformity and declaring us monsters, but, still, they could clearly grasp our language. Diplomacy was still an option, if we but chose to pursue it! Our commanders were delighted by this news, the war might be over without much further bloodshed, and it was relayed to the Generals, then to the Lords.
We were told to continue as planned.
The worst of it was the hive raids, though. Only half of the fighting was actually attacking their forces, where we'd
simply created a spear wall on all surrounding caverns and simply burn their web-constructed palaces with all of them inside. Giant, flaming forms burst out of the inferno every minute or so, rushing forwards in panic to escape, directly into twenty or so spears.
But the other half... we were told to ensure that more Raknar didn't crop up from these hives, to ensure that humanity
would never be threatened by them again. We were ordered to destroy their eggs. There were thousands, all in a series of massive caverns that grew larger than I though possible for a cave. Fire, hammers, feet, anything on hand was used to crush each and every egg. The ones on the ceilings were left to the more jaded members of our company, who simply shot the sacs open with a longbow or crossbow. Sometimes, a half-developed Raknar would fall out of these eggs. We were ordered to make sure they were dead.
The only thing I am thankful for is that I was not there at Thornvine. I don't want to know what we did there, nor do
I intend on ever finding out. I cannot right all the wrongs I committed or stood idly by for during that war, but there is one wrong- a wrong that continues to exist to this day- that I intend on correcting.
And, to my children, one day, people will tell you about your father.
And for that, I am sorry.
-Lieutenant Alexander D. Graves