Heroes are the protectors of the world. I am the protector of heroes.
HUMAN CLERIC 5 (IYNMAR) / SKULLBEARER 1
AC 16 (T10/FF16); HP 49
Init +0; Listen +3, Search +0, Spot +3
Fort +8, Reflex +1, Will +9
Base Atk +3; Grp +5; Speed 20
Str 14 Dex 10 Con 14 Int 10 Wis 16 Cha 12
Armor: Crimson Chainmail
Special Items: Eli’s Skull, Tome of Iynmar, Laura’s Bracelet, Black Powder, Ring of Water Breathing, Gauntlets of Eli
Feats: Combat Casting, Extra Turning, Martial Weapon Proficiency (Warhammer), Augment Healing
Team Feats: Tactician, Chain Attack
Skills: Concentration +11, Hide -5, Move Silently -5
Abilities: Turn Undead, Divine Spell-Casting, Eli, Voice of Reason, Sudden Impulse
Current XP: 18,698
Return to the Tabernacle. He awaits you there.
"Are we absolutely sure that this is witchcraft?” As he speaks, the man rises from his chair in the Isacc Inn’s common room with a look of deep concern on his weathered face.
“I don’t see where there is any doubt, Eli.” The lord takes a long pull from his pipe before continuing. “We’ve been over this again and again. The farmers of Silas had a surplus of grain this year despite the drought that plagued the rest of the North Vales. Then there was the incident with the boy, Abraham. When we found him, he was very nearly bled out. I’ve seen an injury or two in my day and have never seen someone survive anything half that bad. There is no other way to explain how he could be at market with his father only a week later and right as rain. And how, Eli, how else would you explain why the night fever killed nearly two dozen here in Gentry but left Silas completely untouched?” The lord then slams his pipe onto the table, breaking it and sending unburned tobacco and ash across his dinner plate. “I don’t like it anymore than you do but there is simply no other choice.” Slowly standing, he retrieves a cane from the back of his chair and leans heavily upon it.
Eli sighs deeply and responds, “You are right, Luther. All of the evidence is pointing toward witchcraft. I guess I just do not want to admit it.”
“None of us do, Eli,” Luther says in a somber tone. “My own nephew and his family live in Silas. But we cannot let our emotions get in the way of what has to be done. We have been taught since childhood that tapping into the powers of the occult only invites corruption. Our ancestors came to this land generations ago to escape the evil chaos that crossed from the accursed gate. It is our duty to keep the demons from our lands, from our lives, by whatever means necessary.”
The twelve villagers at the private meeting exchange uneasy glances as Luther explains the details of their task. There are no further objections.
Before sunrise, twelve men from Gentry gather in the town square then head out toward the small hamlet of Silas. Eli leads the group on horseback. At the edge of town Lord Luther stands on his front porch watching the men as they pass. He exchanges a meaningful glance with Eli but no words are spoken. It is a two-day ride to Silas.
“We’ll set camp here for the night!” Eli shouts back to the column of men behind him as he dismounts his horse. “Jeremiah and Roarke, go gather firewood. Dominic, start dinner. The rest of you tend to the horses then get the tents pitched.”
Jeremiah and Roarke collect what sparse wood is scattered around the campsite but are then forced to hike deeper into the forest. The site is used often by travelers to and from Silas so adequate firewood is hard to find nearby. Soon they find themselves out of sight of the camp and can only faintly hear the men’s voices. “This isn’t right Roarke,” says Jeremiah as he adds another twisted branch to the crook of his arm.
Roarke looks nervously back towards the camp and replies, “You should be careful about your comments, Jeremiah. Besides, it’s not for us to decide what is right or wrong.”
“But how can we do this? I just think that there has to be some other way. It makes me sick to my stomach just thinking about it. Does Iynmar not teach that we are to treat each other with kindness?” Jeremiah’s voice has a weak shake to it, as if he is unsure of his own argument.
“You heard what Lord Luther said. Think about what would happen to all of us in the North Vales if we don’t take care of this now. Hell, they are putting the entire kingdom at risk,” the tone of Roarke’s response implies that he is done discussing the issue. Having a full arm of firewood he sets out back toward the camp leaving Jeremiah alone. Jeremiah stands in the day’s failing light for a moment, shakes his head with a sigh and then heads back to the camp as well.
Luther’s Twelve arrive in Silas on the afternoon of a cool autumn day. The thought crosses Eli’s mind that if he were home in Gentry right now he would have taken his wife for a walk. They often walk when the leaves turn; they were wed in the autumn so have always enjoyed the season. ”She would love that bright red maple,” he thinks to himself as the group approaches the largest building in the hamlet – the Tabernacle of Iynmar.
The hamlet alder, Titus, emerges from his cottage and meets the men at the steps of the building. With a broad smile he takes Eli into an embrace as soon as he is dismounted from his horse, “Eli my friend! What brings visitors from Gentry this fine day?”
Eli forces a smile and replies, “We bring an important announcement from Lord Luther. Please join us inside; this is a matter of great urgency.” He claps the alder on the back and guides him into the building. Then he turns back to his men and says, “Roarke, go inside and ring the steeple bell. The rest of you sweep the town and make sure everyone answers the call.” The men disperse, and Eli climbs the stairs into the house of worship. Soon the bell is ringing at a steady cadence, and the people of Silas emerge from their homes. They begin to file inside.
Jeremiah rounds the side of a cottage on the edge of the hamlet and finds a little girl. She looks as though she has seen no more than five winters. She has several wood-carved animal figures arranged in the grass in front of her. Looking up from her toys she says, “Hi! Why is the bell ringing?”
Jeremiah stands silently for a moment. “Well, it’s the start of the game. Haven’t you heard?” The child shakes her head. “You need to run into the forest and hide. Hide there until someone finds you and then it will be your turn to find someone.” With excitement in her eyes, the little girl hops to her feet and exclaims, “You’ll never find me!” and runs off into the underbrush laughing. Jeremiah looks around to make sure that no one saw then heads back to the church.
The room quickly fills. Eli stands at the pulpit waiting. Alder Titus walks up to Eli and says, “This is everyone, Eli. What is your news?”
“Chaplain Creed,” Eli responds as his eyes scan the congregation. “I do not see the Chaplain. He needs to be here for this.”
“Oh, yes.” With a somber look on his face Titus continues, “He received word last week that his elderly father passed on. He left immediately for Ghalad so that he could preside over the burial.”
“I see,” Eli says. “Very well, please sit down, Alder.” Eli steps down from the pulpit, and walks to the double doors at the back of the room. The villagers look back at him with puzzled looks on their faces. He stops before exiting and turns back, “I am sorry, truly.” Lowering his gaze to the floor he continues outside as two unseen men push the double doors shut.
The sound of a chain passing through the handles resonates into the chamber. The villagers rush to the doors and find them impassable. At that moment the shutters slam shut over the windows and are barred from the outside. “What is happening, Titus? Why would they lock us in?” Countless questions are shouted from the crowd. A realization comes over Titus. He calmly walks over to his wife and sits with her as she prays. He prays with her.
“Burn it,” Eli orders with detached calm as he mounts his horse. Luther’s Twelve throw torches onto the roof of the Tabernacle and in moments the building is engulfed in flame.
Even above the sound of the inferno the villager’s screams can be heard. The wind shifts, blowing smoke into Jeremiah’s face. He expects the smell of wood-smoke but is hit with something he has never experienced before: the stench of burning flesh. It causes him to retch uncontrollably. Somehow he manages to mount his horse and ride from the hamlet.
Luther’s Twelve ride beyond nightfall and until their horses are exhausted. They set camp and eat a quick dinner. Little conversation is had amongst the men. Eli explains that in the morning they will set out for Ghalad to find Chaplain Creed and finish their task. The men quietly listen and then climb into their bedrolls for the night. The first watchman leans up against a tree at the edge of the camp. He is physically and emotionally exhausted from the day’s events. He holds his thumb up to the silver moon, Shaneer, and measures its distance from the treetops. With a sigh he begins the struggle to stay awake.
Jeremiah stares blankly into the fire and before long drifts off to sleep.
The heat coming off of the burning church forces Jeremiah to turn his head. Thump. Roarke walks up to him with a smile on his face. “We should go fishing after this. Hey, maybe you should watch what you say, Jeremiah.”
Jeremiah does not respond. Thump. He walks toward the town well, someone is leaning over it. As he draws closer, he can hear humming. The tune is a nursery rhyme.
“Mother?” Jeremiah says, his voice cloudy with confusion. Thump. She is reaching her arms into the well. “What are you doing here, Mother?”
She stands up from the well and in her arms holds a writhing sickly green infant with tentacles for limbs and covered in dark, almost black blood. “What are you doing here Jeremiah?” Thump.
The sound of a little girl’s giggle grabs Jeremiah’s attention. Thump. He sees the edge of her dress disappear behind a cottage. Thump. He rushes over but she is gone. Thump.
“What is that pounding?” Jeremiah looks around for its source. Thump. Everyone else is watching the church and they don’t seem to hear it. Thump. The sound came from the woods this time. He sees the little girl again, peeking at him from behind a tree. It is the girl that is supposed to be hiding. Thump. He runs over to the tree as she disappears behind it, looking back over his shoulder to make sure that no one is watching. He rushes up and looks behind the tree, and she is gone again. “Damn it! I told you that you have to hide. You have to hide!”
“I’m right here Jeremiah.” The voice is behind him, and he quickly turns around to see the little girl standing there with a big smile on her face. He crouches down and she pats his cheek, saying to him, “You have to wake up, Jeremiah.”
“What are you taking about?” he replies. “You have to hide. Please, please listen to me. You need to run into woods right now. Don’t you understand? They are going to kill you!”
She shakes her head, patting his cheek, "You have to wake up… or he will kill you.” Thump.
Jeremiah awakens with a start. With his vision still blurry from sleep, he tries desperately to focus on the figure walking toward him. His eyes finally focus. Towering over him is Chaplain Creed.
The Chaplain’s face is splattered with blood and gore. It is twisted in rage. In the Chaplain’s hands is a heavy hammer dripping with blood. Fear grips the young man. He tries to scream but is only able to muster a pathetic squeak as he crabwalks backward trying to move away from the enraged priest.
Jeremiah’s hand slips in something wet and he falls to his back. He glances above his shoulder to see the body of one of his companions. The head has been smashed like a melon. He had slipped in the mush left behind. Jeremiah is overcome with dizzying terror and tries to scream again but fails to take in a breath. The Chaplain hefts the hammer over his head. Thump.
Exhausted, Chaplain Creed drops to his knees. The bloody warhammer tumbles from his hand to the ground. He looks to the night sky, focused on a point of inky black between the silver and dark moon. Tears of sorrow and rage streak down his face. He lets out an unintelligible cry then collapses.
A timber wolf crests a ridge in the distance as the anguished cry reaches its ears. It triggers an instinct in the wolf’s animal mind. It answers the echoing cry with a warning howl to the intruder. There is no response. Satisfied, the wolf disappears into the night.
An insect crawls across Creed’s face returning him to consciousness. He swipes away the fly that has come to feast on the corpses that surround him. He sits up and takes in the horror of what he has done now illuminated by the light of the morning sun. His face is flat, emotionless. He stands and rekindles the fire then places an iron pot of water over it to boil. He disappears into the woods, returning after a time with a handful of pale-green moss which he deposits into the now boiling water. The cleric then sits down and stares at the vapor rolling off of the pot.
“What are you doing, Nathanial?”
Creed looks towards the source of the question, the underbrush nearby, and replies, “I’m brewing poison.”
“Why would you need poison? Everyone is already dead.”
Creed reaches over to a nearby corpse and retrieves a cup from its pack, “Not everyone.”
“Forgive me for saying, Nathanial, but your actions certainly seem cowardly.”
Rage again flashes in the cleric’s eyes. He retrieves his warhammer and walks over to the underbrush where the voice is coming from. Lying in the brush is the disembodied head of Eli. Creed’s inexperience with the heavy hammer caused him to be off his mark. He hit the throat rather than the face where he was aiming. It must have caused the head to separate from the body and roll into the underbrush. “Who are you to accuse me of cowardice, Eli?! What you did! What you made me do!”
“I didn’t make you do anything, Nathanial,” Eli says in the same calm tone. “Everything you do, everything you have ever done has been your choice.”
Picking up the head by its long hair, Creed holds it up to his face so he is nose to nose with it. “You’re right Eli. Since choosing to remove your head from your body didn’t shut you up then maybe this will!” He returns to the boiling poison and throws the head inside. Sitting back down he says, “We’ll see how long you can speak without a tongue.”
The head replies, “This is not helping matters, Nathanial.” The voice is still clear and calm despite the head being immersed in the boiling poison.
Creed adds more wood to the fire and the flames quickly grow higher and hotter. For hours he continues stoking the fire and replenishing the water in the pot. Not a word is spoken by either of them. As the sun sets, Creed kicks the pot over, and Eli’s skull rolls out from the slurry of boiled flesh and comes to rest near the corpse of one of the Twelve. Creed sits back down and eyes the flesh-less skull suspiciously.
“Are you ready to talk about this now, Nathanial?” the skull says without movement.
Creed jumps at the sound and then rubs his bald head in irritation, “Very well. What would you have me do, Eli? My flock is dead, and I have succumbed to the sin of retribution. I led them to this end. It is my fault; all of this death is my fault. My soul is tainted. I am lost.”
“You cannot change what is done. Perhaps Iynmar intended for this to happen. Perhaps this has all been for a reason,” Eli says.
“Iynmar does not exist, Eli. You and I both know that,” Creed hisses back.
“Maybe. But you used to believe in the Sky Father, most of your life in fact. Why did your experience with the Void change your faith so profoundly?”
Creed looks up from the ground with a raised eyebrow, “How do you know about that? I’ve never told anyone about that.”
The skull’s empty eyes almost seem to show concern as it responds, “That is not what is important, Nathanial. Have you ever considered that maybe this Void, this power, is Iynmar?”
“Of course I have. I just know that it is not. Something about it feels different…or indifferent…I’m not sure.”
Eli continues, “Nathanial, you have a chance for redemption. There are people that need you like the people of Silas did. We live in dark times, and in darkness people need light. You can be that light again. To give up now is to not only give yourself to Hell, but it is to give what is left of humanity to Hell.”
With a great sigh the Chaplain rises wearily to his feet. “I will try.” He gathers his pack and warhammer then places Eli in a hemp sack hanging from his belt. He begins to mount a horse.
“You should travel on foot and stay off of the main roads. People will be looking for you,” Eli warns.
“You’re right,” responds Chaplain Creed as he steps down from the saddle. With a small flame of hope ignited in his heart he sets out for the coast. A ship leaves for Margate every twelve days and Chaplain Nathanial Creed intends to be on it. As he disappears into the fading light, he thinks to himself, “Perhaps redemption can be found beyond Verland’s shores.”