The Northern Frontier – Near the Ruins of Nedarloc
By dusk we had reached the edge of the Northern Frontier. The last farm was several hours behind us. Nothing lay between here and the border of Anafale but an expanse of mangy prairie, grass and brush marred by large swathes of barren earth peppered with lonely trees. Low in the west the sun was lost behind a scarlet veil. Its fading light spread in a crimson band that hung over the western earth, barred from radiating further into the heavenly dome by a vast shroud of storm clouds that rolled out of the north and filled the sky. Against this bloody glow in the west the crumbling towers and shattered walls of the old fort of Nedarloc created a forlorn silhouette. The intermittent pit-pat of large drops of rain began to sound all around us. Aeydan “Whooooh! Alright men, we make camp here. Let’s get those tents up before we are washed away.” Xotho “Um, Sire?” Aedyan “Yes.” Xotho “I hate to be a bother, but do you think it wise to stop so close to a…to…” Xotho raised his arm and pointed west. Aeydan “So close to what? Spit it out, man.” Xotho ”...to the ruins, milord.” Aeydan “Nonsense, I have stopped over here abouts, many times. There is nothing to fear from the past.” Xotho “No, milord except repeating it.” Aedyan “What’s that you say.” Xotho “Nothing, milord.” Bearn “Hey Xotho, You really scared of ghosts?”
Xotho “I most certainly am.” Raug suddenly rushed up behind the magician arms raised and wailing” Raug “WOOOOooooo!” Unflinching Xotho turned glowering at him. Linn “Never mind ghosts, Wizard. Why don’t you turn your attention to starting us a fire in a downpour.”
Moments after the last pole was raised a chill torrent of icy rain fell from the clouds which had grown dark as if streaked with ink. The tents were pitched facing one another creating a shared space between them. In the center of which, bent over a stack of broken branches was Xotho. He peered into pile of sticks as if he had lost something deep with in it. His robes were pulled taunt laden with water, strands of black hair stuck to his cheek. Then he spoke, in a manner he had not used speaking to us. His voice usually timid, and a bit nasal had become deep, and resonant, commanding. Xotho “LOC EMA OMMEN ENUMAE” At once blue, and green lights leapt out of the bundle of wood, flickering and dancing amoung the sticks. A pleasant warmth radiated from the blaze. Heads poked out of the front of each tent and marveled at the fire. After several moments I noticed that though a fire appeared to be burning none of the kindling was being consumed. Raug “Oy, Xotho is that a proper fire, I mean can we cook with it.” Xotho “No more than you could cook with a warm summers day, I’m afraid. It is called Phantom Fire, it provides light and heat, but does not truly burn.”
Raug “Aw, Spit!” Amhill “Well, Tis a pretty thing to look at, anyway.” Bearn “Tell me Raug, what were you gonna cook in this deluge, eh? Rainwater stew? Soggy biscuits?” Raug “I was thinking of roasting some meat, like your tongue on a stick.” Linn “Well, at least it will keep the cold at bay. Gad, this rain is cold as falling snow. I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned hailstones soon.” Bearn “Well, Amhill is this the life of adventure, and excitement you signed up for, lying next to a large hairy man in the freezing rain?” Raug “Hey, I ain’t no hairier than I ought to be.” Bearn “Well, I won’t try to argue with that.” Amhill “It’s not so bad. I mean this is what I wanted, to get out of the city. And hey, a day on the road beats a day cleanin fish in my uncle’s shop. Besides Raug here, has no more hair on his back than my first wife.” Raug “Ay! What about some food? I’m so hungry I could eat my own socks.” Aeydan “Quite right, Roug. Linn, break out the night’s rations” Linn “Yes sir. Let’s see for first course we have some lovely flatbread, then there’s strips of dried venison for main, and for desert a moldy hunk of, Whew!, of stink…I mean aromatic cheese. And a jug of water, and skin of wine to wash it all down.” Aeydan “Well, there you have it men a fitting feast for Tharadard’s finest. Pass the water, and wine around there’s plenty for all.” The men fell quiet as the feed.
Raug was the first to finish, an occasion he commemorated with a long draw on the wine skin, and a long rumbling belch. Raug “AAh, that hit the spot.” Bearn “Several spots by the sound of it.” Amhill still chewing his bread, settled his gaze on Xotho, and with mouth half full he asked a question. Amhill “So, Xotho, you really believe them ruins to be haunted?”
Xotho “I know that they are. If they were not the knowledge and practice of magic might never have come to Tharadard.” Bearn “What…are…you on about?” Xotho “You don’t know the story?” Amhill “No, won’t you tell us?” Bearn “Yes, by all means tell us a grand tale.” Raug “I like stories.” Xotho “Oh, very well.” He cleared his throut and continued. “Just on the other that field, where now you see only heaps of rubble, and fallen spires once stood the ancient fortress of Nedarloc.
There was a time in the age of old empire, before the Great Temblora left mankind fractured into the small kingdoms and roaming tribes, a moment when the imperial legions were on the verge of conquering all of Elan. Two brilliant generals Rhykbern, and Falcavek had led the armies of men to victory after victory, expanding the empire from the northern reaches of Ulavoc to the edge of the Southern Deserts. Elves, Dwarves, Drell, and Grem all saw their lands diminish, all fled before soldiers of the empire. You know Tharadard was not always the flat grassland it is today, no, No, once it was all forest, and one with the great forest Anafale and just as wild, and enchanted as that elf realm. By ingenious tactics, cunning siege weapons, and sheer numbers the elves were kept in continuous retreat. Well, that retreat stopped at Nedarloc. You see in those days men were ignorant of magic. For most it something not to be trusted, even something vile….and those who were curious about it, well the magical races guarded its use carefully. Here near what is now the edge of Anafale, the elves turned and made a stand. Here waiting for the oncoming legions was a host of elven sorcerers, a gathering unlike any before or since. They had animated the very trees into fearsome guardians creating the Hanefol. They had also awakened the Welkin, their ancestral spirits which are said to be immune to steel, and able to pluck a man’s soul from his body like pulling a grape from the vine. It was then Rhykbern, and Falcavek who found themselves retreating. They pulled back to Nedarloc, and regrouped within its walls. Their enemies began to swarm around the stronghold. A company of Grem soldiers and Drell warlocks marched out of the west and added to the throng. The were surrounded. After seven days of brutal siege the fortress fell. The last imperial soldiers standing were herded into the open ward. There the warlock Razfearg stood before them and condemned their souls to a curse. “For the Havoc you have wrought,” he bellowed,”I deny you, and your fallen death, a true death as you have denied life to all those you have massacred. No glorious return to the house of your fathers, no you shall neither die, nor live. You shall walk the earth in a waking dream, in a living nightmare. You will know only hunger, only torment until you pay a debt, a debt of blood. Until you have claimed one life from your own people for every Elf, Dwarf, Drell, and Grem your legions have slain you will never know peace. To this are you bound.” Then he raised his staff, and his terrible spell was cast. From Elven bows a rain of arrows fell into the courtyard, and silence fell over Nedarloc. At least until the next new moon, when Razfearg’s curse compelled those defeated soldiers to awake, and it was no small obligation they were required to fulfill. Considering the imperial legions had been at war for so many years, I don’t know if there were enough people living to complete such a contract. Well, this began the end of imperial conquest, as the empire had this new enemy with which to contend, a death-walking legion of its own fallen warriors. This is how they were known, as the Teragev, or the Fallen. The Fallen spread across the lands of men voraciously trying to pay their debt, slaying all in their path. Steel and tactics could do little, but slow the onslaught. It was not until the bandit Varaven, the priest Lazharan, and a scholar by the name of Kirojasto managed to steal a magical tome from the Drell, and decipher it. Although they could not find a way to break the curse, the did manage an invocation that pulled the wandering Fallen back to Nedarloc, and bind them within the depths of the fortress, and there they dwell still.” Bearn “Aw, come off it, you tellin me that under all them stones is an army of the walkin dead?” Xotho “That is exactly what I’m telling you, this is our history, and it should not be dismissed merely because it seems unlikely. This is an ancient land, with each patrol you walk on legends, you tread on a story with every pace. Amhill stared into the darkness, eyes wide. Amhill “You sure that spell they cast still holds, I mean you said them fellas didn’t know much about magic.” Xotho “If it were not still steadfast, you would not be alive to ask about it.” Amhill “Well, its certain, I’m gettin no sleep tonight.” Aeydan “You’re all to get some sleep, and soon. That is an order. We leave at first light.”