So. I found a copy of my second finished work. God help us if I find the first one. Then I giggled to myself – once I was done crying over how terribad it is – and said “I know! Let’s inflict it on the interwebs, see what they say!” So here it is.
What follows is longish – about 8k words, which must have seemed impressive to me at the time, since the binder it was in had “Tooth of the Vampire. A Novel” printed on it – and, honestly, just plain awful. I left it exactly as originally typed, which means there’s few paragraphs, no logic to how I chose to use quotation marks – or how I spaced out the conversations – and lots of typos and mysterious name changes.
In it’s defense, I was 11 when I wrote it, originally on an ancient typewriter and then retyped into DeskMate (anyone else remember DeskMate? Tandy’s “alternative” to Windows? No?) and it’s truly godawful text editor. I had too much of an interest in D&D – thus everyone actually having a class and referring to it in character… ugh – and I was just as terrible at naming things as I am now… I just got better at covering it. (Yes, there is a priest named Healer and a wizard who has the “Book of Redmage” in there. Yay!)
Some of you who follow this blog or know me otherwise will probably recognize a few of the terms – Milefront, mostly, alongside characters like Anthor, Iolo and Stargonish – in here. This was pretty much where that setting was born. It’s amusing to me to see how many things got changed between this story and when I actually sat down and wrote the Traveler’s Guide to Milefront (when I was in the process of attempting to turn it into a pen and paper RPG of it’s own). Mages being common, the presence of elves and dwarves and goblins, the vampires being more straightforward fantasy style than the ones I ended up with (such as the Talaq, mentioned over here). But since this whole thing grew out of a single image – that being “the vampiric bard backflipped from his horse to land in front of his enemy” – rather than any desire to practice worldbuilding, I suppose that can be forgiven. The fact that ten years passed between writing this and actually trying to work out how the world of Milefront works might have had an impact, too.
So, without further ado, I release it into the wild. Perhaps it will serve as some kind of yardstick to say “Hey, look how much better I got over 25 years!” Perhaps it will just show that I never had talent and I just got better at deluding myself. In either case, enjoy – or at least try – and feel free to roast, praise or flame as you see fit in the magic box below. Tale follows.
Tooth of the Vampire
By Rick Meeneely
The darkness covered their camp. They had not yet started a fire. The sound of a bard’s signing floated from the woods. At last the barbarian managed to get the fire going. As the fire sprang to life it revealed two men, a knight and the barbarian. The knight said “So Iolo, our paths have crossed again. Come on out. My friend won’t bite”. The bushes from which the singing had emanated rustled. A finely dressed bard emerged. He said”Ah, Anthor! My friend! So you haven’t been killed yet! I am glad to see you once again! And who is this?”. The knight introduced them:”Iolo, this is the most recent of my various traveling companions. his name is Ax-Torn. Ax-Torn, meet Iolo. He journeyed with me many years ago. He and I had such adventures!”. Ax-Torn looked up from the newly started fire and revealed the source of his name. There was a large scar running from under his left eye to his waist. It had the large ripping marks on the sides that indicated it had probably been a DemonSkuul’s Poison Axe that had done the damage. “Hello. I’m pleased to meet you. Anthor has told me much of you.” said the aging barbarian. Iolo replied”Same greetings to you, my friend. What trade are you currently practicing, Anthor? And what does your friend do for a living?”. “I am in training to become a Knight and my friend, as you have probably already guessed, is a Barbarian. Ax-Torn, Iolo is a Bard.” replied Anthor. “But come, it is not a time for simple introductions! the night is upon us! Let us dine together! We can tell each other about our adventures over supper!”
Iolo agreed.”Yes, let us do so. It will be good to be dining with people again!”. As Iolo sat down, Ax-Torn noticed a pair of strange swords on the bard’s back. This was strange, as bards were not usually schooled in the use of swords, being(like rogues) more agile than sturdy, they usually were taught to use daggers, staffs, and sometimes(if he was stronger than average) some of the lighter spears and lances. Some were even taught to enchant their harps with basic spells, such as Flame, or Cure. But bards were not trained with swords. He decided to let it pass. After all, according to Anthor’s tales, the bard was well skilled in many weapons. For all that Ax-Torn knew, he could have enough strength to heft the sword. It didn’t look very heavy. Then the bard sat, and removed the scabbards from his back. Ax-Torn screamed”Blasphemy! You hold the Holy Weapon! ’Tis the Sword of Taranis! The Herald Sword! Where did you get it? Tell me now or you die!” As he said so, he pulled a jeweled dagger from his boot, and in less than a second, the dagger was at Iolo’s throat. Before Iolo could speak, the knight said”Stop! The weapon was bestowed upon him by Taranis’ grandchild as a reward for killing a group of goblins and their DemonSkuul Ruler before they destroyed the temple of Taranis. He was given the Sword, and I took the DemonSkuul’s Poison Axe”. “Ahhhh, so you actually have one of their axes? I wish that I could have used it on the creature that did this!” shouted Ax-Torn, pointing to the scar on his face.”Pity that he’s dead now!”. Anthor replied”Yes, but they are all extinct, save for a few hiding out with the goblins”. The barbarian moved away. He said “I am sorry Iolo. I did not realize….” “It is alright, my friend. Most people would have done that same, had they not known.” “But I almost killed you.” “No worry, what matters is you did not, and blood still pumps through my veins.” “All right. Very well.” They returned to their positions around the campfire, and began to eat.
After the food was gone, they gathered in the tent that Iolo always carried in his pack. It was old, older than the adventures that had forged the friendship between the bard and Anthor, but it was roomy enough to allow four or five people inside it without crowding. They sat down, and then the tales began. “Seeing as Ax-Torn has already been told most of the tales concerning you, Iolo, why not let him tell his story first?”. “Certainly. I would be most interested to hear your history, Ax-Torn.” “Very well…..
“I was imprisoned in the Castle of Stargonish in the town of Athenar twelve years ago. I had gone to see him because he had put out a call to all barbarians that there was a need to kill a particularly evil tribe of DemonSkuuls. These were magic users mostly, instead of the usual things that had once been knights and barbarians. I discovered later that he was truly working with them, and all he wanted the barbarians for was food. He claimed he wanted the barbarians to stop them, because no one else had the stamina to withstand their powerful magic. When I arrived at the castle, I was immediately put in the dungeon, accused of being a thief. I finally escaped, by way of a secret wall, behind which was a battle axe and a passage leading upwards. I followed it and found that it lead to the King’s Chamber. As I crept through the room, I saw the king’s bed.” He paused.”It was a coffin.” His face went pale.”The king was a vampire! As I watched, frozen in fear, the coffin creaked open. I saw his face. It was just like the legends: Eyes as red as flowing blood, absolutely no color to the skin, and fangs extending out over his lips. This one had apparently not had a victim in a while, for the skin that he had left was beginning to rot away, and he looked much more like a DemonSkuul than a vampire. But I am sure of what I saw. It was a vampire. As he-no it saw me, it’s mouth opened and it hissed at me. It came towards me, it’s jaws agape, it’s eyes glowing with vampiric hate and blood lust. I swung the axe at it, knowing that if it was only a steel axe, that it would do no good, but also knowing that it was the only chance I had. It was a steel axe, but the blades had silver plating on them. I was lucky, for it sliced right through the vampire. He began to deteriorate before my eye. Before his face melted, he fixed eye hateful eyes upon me. “You have stopped me, but my servants will stop you. you can not kill me. I will return.” were the last words that came out of his decaying mouth.” He shuddered “When it was over, all that was left was one tooth. I managed to escape from and destroy the castle, but not before one of the DemonSkuuls from the forest, their leader I believe, did this to me.” He pointed to the scar that ran the length of his body. He then stopped his tale.
Iolo realized the tale was over. “Am I supposed to believe that vampires are real? That a vampire was in league with the DemonSkuuls? That he would put a barbarian in a jail cell with a Silver Bladed Axe? And an escape route that led right to his own bedroom? I don’t even believe in vampires. If they did exist, it was long ago. You wouldn’t happen to have any proof of this would you? The reply from Ax-Torn was very quiet. But it rocked Iolo with a sense of destiny. “I think the passage had been all but forgotten. And yes I do have proof. But before I show it to you, you must know the one last thing that Stargonish said before he died. I omitted it because I did not want to frighten you. I have only traveled with Mages, Knights, Barbarians and Rangers. I avoid rogues because I don’t want to be put in jail again. I don’t travel with bards because he said”You will meet a bard. You will become friends with him. He will destroy you. It will be a part of me that causes it.” I have this proof, but you must be sure that you wish to accept the destiny that may go with it. Also, one of us must leave this camp in the morning. I understand that you are friends, and if I must leave, then I will. I like you Iolo, and I do not wish either of us to be harmed.” Iolo shuddered.”I will leave with the rising sun tomorrow. But I must see this proof.” Ax-Torn nodded. “Yes. I know you must. He reached into his pack. Pulled out his weapon. “This is SilverBlade. The Destroyer of Vampires. It is said that when a vampire’s blood is spilt upon a weapon of silver, the silver will be permanently burned, as if by the water from the Marsh of Despair. It is also said that the creature’s damned soul will be forever trapped within the blade. I show you this.” As the bard examined the weapon he noticed that the blade did indeed have many burns and dents in the metal. As he looked more closely at it, his reflection seemed to change, to shimmer into a wide mouthed, red-eyed, laughing visage. He quickly handed the axe back to the barbarian. Ax-Torn said”No. You must keep it now. I have my dagger. It will suffice until I can find another axe. Now, I will show you concrete proof of his existence.” From his pack he pulled something that at first glance appeared to be a bone from some small creature. They were a common sight in these woods where the concept of “Survival of the Fittest” reigned supreme. But as Ax-Torn held it up to the light, Iolo saw that it was a fang, about three inches in length. He said “So what, that could be from just about anything. It could be from a Reptillian Cralwer for all I know!” But in his heart he knew. He knew it was the tooth of a vampire. Ax-Torn said “Here take it. You must take it. And you must leave in the morning”. The bard nodded. As he grasped the fang, destiny touched him once more. He shivered. It was smooth and polished. He touched the point accidentally. He removed his hand. As he stared at his finger, he saw blood welling from the tip. There was also a small drop of blood on the tip of the tooth. It fell on the blade of the axe, creating a small dent in the metal. As it happened, he thought he heard a laugh. His comrades asked if something was wrong. The bard lied “No, I was just examining the tooth. Goodnight.” And with that, they slept, some more easily than others.
As the three warriors shared their respective tales, a large lizard-like creature with blood red eyes emerged from a scattering of trees on a nearby hill top. As it spotted the camp, it’s eyes glowed with an even greater interest. It stared down at the remains of the campfire, and at the tent beside it, as though it could actually see something. Every once in a while it’s head flicked back and forth in a series of quick movements, but for the most part it was silent and still. As the bard pricked his finger on the tooth, it’s eyes grew wide. It smiled, but on this evil face it was more of a grimace. The thing likced it’s long sharp teeth with it’s forked togue. It hissed one single word: “Yessssssss.”
The bard woke with the rising of the sun. He quickly pocked all of his possessions, leaving three items. Both of the two swords that he carried. He left the Sword of Taranis as well as the GreatSword, a weapon that had been enchanted by a master Archmage shortly before he had died. It contained great magical power, and had been specially fitted to Iolo’s skills, and he would be sad to lose it. He also would be sad to lose the Herald Sword, for it was a symbol of great honor. But, Ax-Torn needed a weapon, for he had given his weapon to Iolo, so Iolo must give his to Ax-Torn. He also left his tent. He left a letter saying that the tent was for Anthor, and that the swords were for Ax-Torn, and told of the magical capabilities of the swords. Then, leaving the note on a large rock that they had used for a table, he left the tent. He looked around, and seemed unsure of which direction to take. He could go north to the land of Athenar(the fact that this was where Ax-Torn had been imprisoned had completely slipped his mind.), or he could go south, back to his homeland of Hillshey Valley. He decided to let fate decide. He took a coin from his pack. “Heads, I go north. Tails, I go south.” he flipped it, then proceeded to follow the winding road north. Had he bothered to examine the coin more closely, he would have seen “City of Athenar” stamped on the tails side. On the heads side was a picture of a regal man, and the words”Our King, Lord Stargonish”.
The creature followed Iolo for many miles, until night came and the bard went to hunt for food. The thing crawled into a clearing about a mile from the bard’s camp. It began a ritual. It took a small rabbit-like farnel that it had hunted down earlier for this specific purpose in it’s hands and took a large bite of it. It placed the remains of the farnel in the dust, then drew a circle around it. It then drew many symbols on the ground near the circle, and proceed to say in it’s hissing voice,”Massssster, come to me! I have food for you! I have newsssssss for you! Massster, come to me! I have a body for you!” As the thing completed the ritual, a hand, rotting and frail, broke through the earth inside the circle. It grasped the reamins of the farnel, then retreated back into the earth. Then slowly, the air grew cold. Smoke began to emerge from the hole. It began to take the shape of a man, dressed in the remains of bloody royal robes. It’s form almost solidified, then grew fluid again, becoming fro a minute a hideous parody of a man, with elongated teeth made of nothing but mist, and sharp fingernails made of dust in the wind. It then returned to the howling spirit with no real form at all. Only it’s eyes had any life. They were as red as the glowing eyes of the Reptillian Crawler that had summoned it, and then redder. It said:”Ah, my faithful servant. You say you have news?” “Yessssssss, Massssster. The marked one gave the tooth to one sssssssuitable for your needsssssss.” “And the axe? He must carry the axe! His blood must flow!” “Masssster, he hassssss the axe, and the tooth hassssss found it’sssssss mark. His blood hasssss mingled with yoursssssssss.”. For a moment the wraith’s eyes flared even brighter. “Are you sure he is the one? You must be sure!” “Yesssssss, Masssssster SSSSStargonissssssh. I am very sssssssure. There is no misssssssstake. It can be no one elsssssse.” “Very well. Be sure he arrives safely. If he tries to stary from the path we have seth for him, prevent him from doing so, but do not kill him! Make sure he arrives at the castle, and have Lord Gronblotter make him welcome. Inform Gronblotter of his special qualities, and let no one harm him.” “Yesssssss, massssster. Your will is my command.” With that, the wraith disappeared.
That night, Iolo took to feeling poorly. At first it was only a slight nausea, but then he stared at his food, decided he couldn’t eat another bite, and promptly vomited into the bowl from which he had been eating. On the way from Anthor’s camp to where he was now sitting, he had found a bazaar and had acquired some new spell scrolls and a tent. He decided to retire to his tent for the evening.
In the morning, instead of feeling better, he felt much worse. As he opened the flap of his tent, the sun shone in and grazed his arm. The bard’s arm began to burn, and he lowered the flap quickly. As he looked at it, he saw the skin blistering. He opted to wait until evening to make his journey. He stayed in the tent for the day, alternating sleeping, and studying the new scrolls that he had picked up. When sunset came, he had been napping for an hour or so, but as soon as the sun set, he was awake, without any of the grogginess that was ordinarily to be expected from such a nap in the midday sun. He exited his tent, then realized that he felt much better. He packed up his tent, then proceeded to walk down the road.
Shortly after the bard’s departure, the Reptilian Crawler began to follow him. it had observed the goings-on earlier in the day, and knew what they meant.
Shortly after midnight, Iolo heard a strange noise, and turned around. He saw the crawler. “Hey now! What are you doing?” “I am sssssssssimply looking for a traveling companion, for I am weak, and need help getting to Athenar. The bard agreed to help the crawler. “Indeed. I will help you. Please, tell me your name, and what skills you possess?”. “You may call me Bortan. I wassssss trained in the way of the rogue, as were mossssssssst of my people. I do have some limited magical capability, and sssssssome of the ssssssskill of a knight at sssssssswordplay.” “Very well. You may call me Iolo. I will only travel at night, so do not expect us to make good time.” “I alssssso only travel at night. Much ssssssssafer for me.” Thus began a companionship made in hell.
In the daytime they camped out in Iolo’s tent exchanging tales of adventures, teaching each other spells, and sleeping. At night they traveled. Finally, they reached the gates of the town of Athenar. By this time, Iolo’s eyes had begun to glow a slightly reddish color when certain subjects were talked about, such as the unusual axe that he carried with him, or when the moonlight hit the bard’s face just right. Bortan had neglected to tell Iolo of this, however. Also, Iolo’s teeth were slightly different looking than they had been before the night at Anthor and Ax-Torn’s camp. But Bortan didn’t talk of it. In fact, when he thought of it, he smiled, and whispered softly to himself “Yessssss, yessssss, thissssss isssss perfect masssssster!”
When they arrived in town, Bortan said “Ahhh, we are here. I live in the casssstle. For your kindnessssss, I will allow you a room there. Pleassssse, stay at my home. It is the only way in which I can repay you. Besssssidesss, I want you to meet Lord Gronblotter, ssssssso you may receive your rewardssssss.” Iolo, feeling very tired, and knowing that dawn was approaching quickly, agreed.”Very well, I will stay at the castle. But, will they not be suspicious of two travelers coming in at this time of night?” “Not if I give my word that you will not harm anyone in the castle. They trussssssst me.” With that, they headed towards the castle.
When they arrived at the gate to the rebuilt Castle Stargonish, they were admitted inside with no questions asked. The Reptilian Crawler seemed to know his way around, and led Iolo unerringly to the throne room. The king did not seem to have been sleeping. Indeed, he seemed wide awake. He greeted Iolo”Ah, so this is the bard whom I have heard so much about. Come, tell me your name!” “My name is Iolo DragonSpine, Sire Gronblotter.” “And a good name it is! Bortan, is all I have heard of him true?” “Yesssss, and more!” “And what of your master, Bortan?” “He issssss well. He sssssendsssss his regretssss that he cannot be here to ssssssee thissssss.” “I am sure that is very true. Iolo DragonSpine, come forward.” The bard did as he was instructed, then knelt before the king. “Oh no, my friend, it is I who should kneel before you!” At this the red glare appeared in Iolo’s eyes, then faded. “You have helped the right hand of one of the most powerful rulers tunis realm has ever seen. I would tell you his name, but fior that he is an Archmage of the highest rank, and to speak it would be to give him total control of me.” “Yes, I believe I know of the one you speak of.” The red glow returned, more strongly this time. “I decree that you will spend the next month living in the castle, until our ruler can return to congratulate you on your accomplishments. I believe you could be of great help in this region. Now please retire to your room. You must be tired from your journey.”
The bard left the room, and slept. He awoke near sunset the following day. He went to the banquet hall that Bortan had shown him earlier. There was a massive dinner laid out, which seemed to mostly consist of almost raw meat and wine, however Iolo hate heartily, for, although the food was almost raw, it was infinitely better than the food that he and Bortan had been eating for the past days. It satisfied his hunger much more adequately than any cooked rabbit. Gronblotter told the bard:”If there is anything you desire, simply ask for it. We cannot be grateful enough for the return of Bortan. I notice that you have an axe. Most bards do not have axe training. We could provide this if you wish. I also know that you are something of an amateur mage. We can provide spellbooks, wizard’s texts, anything!” “I would like to learn how to use this axe. A friend of mine gave it to me, but I have not had time to learn how to use it. Also, I would like to learn more magic. It has saved my life in more than a few situations, and I enjoy it.” “Very well. During your month in this castle, the finest in mages and weapons masters will educate you in their skills. You will begin whenever you are ready.” “Thank you, My Lord Gronblotter.”
And so the training began. Constantly, night after night, he was taught to use many weapons, taught how to cast many spells. Then, they brought in a knight who had taught himself how to use most common weapons, and had learned many, many spells, and had learned to use the two together. He was to teach Iolo to do this., On the night of his 30th day in the castle, when he had learned all of the skills that the trainers, Bortan, and Gronblotter could teach him, on the eve of his departure, Iolo voiced a scream that was heard throughout the castle. Then a much deeper voice yelled”I’ll destroy you and all that you treasure, Bontwain Ax-Torn!” And then the preface to the war began.
Of Armies and Relatives
Miles away, in his sleep Ax-Torn, once known as Bontwain, came awake. He had thought that he had heard someone calling him by his old name. And something about destroying all that he treasured. He left the tent that he, Anthor, and another adventurer, this one a rogue by the name of Artex the Second, shared. He surveyed his surroundings. The marsh was a large black stain on what would be otherwise a beautiful valley. It was the Marsh of Despair. Artex’s wagon had been mired here. Another and Ax-Torn had heard his cries for help, and had pulled him out of the swamp.
Unfortunately, he was the sole survivor of an adventuring party of almost ten individuals, from a ranger, to a master knight. He agreed to join them, and thus, a new friendship was formed. But, Ax-Torn thought, it is a marsh of despair. Nothing good has ever come of adventures in this area. Why are we here? He realized that only one thing affects people in this valley. Destiny. He stared at the stars and thought: What is my destiny? Why haven’t I been able to leave?
As the scream emanated from the castle, Ax-Torn was not the only one to hear it. Other Reptilian Crawlers heard and answered it, Skelezombis heard the cry and crawled from their graves to meet the maker of that sound. DemonSkuuls and goblins from around the land heard the cry and began long pilgrimages to it’s source. In all of their minds, as they began the long walk to the castle of Stargonish was:”Yes, Master. We obey your every command! Yes Master Stargonish! Yes!” There is one who did not obey, however. One of the DemonSkuul’s old rulers, one who had been trained in many things, from being a rogue, to magic, to the weapon skills of a master knight or barbarian. As he left the depths of his cave, deep in the Marsh of Despair, the light glinted on an object that he carried with him. It was a souvenir from one of his victims. It was an old shield, small, but strong enough to block a few blows. It was the kind of shield that a barbarian(who are not overly concerned about being hurt) might use for the meager defense they required. It had a long tear in the metal, with ripped, burned edges. In this other hand he carried an axe that the name “Artex” stenciled into it in a flowing script. On it’s back it carried one of the tribe’s infamous poison axes. It was the second of these enchanted axes that it had acquired since it’s reincarnation in this hideous form. It hissed a name through it’s rotting mouth.”Ax-Torn”. Then it smiled.”Bontwain Ax-Torn. And then, Lord Stargonish and his new body.” It began to laugh……..
Although Ax-Torn did not know it, something was creeping up behind him. He was alerted to it’s presence only at the last minute by a soft scraping sound as it misplaced it’s foot on a rotting log. As he whirled to face the creature, it swung it’s axe. It missed by inches. Ax-Torn saw the creature and uttered a single syllable “You.” The DemonSkuul said “Yes, it is I. Stohkralek, the last of the great ones. See what I have for you Bontwain?” With that, he held Ax-Torn’s old shield up high. It laughed. “You thought you killed me back at the castle, didn’t you? Well, I possess more magic than you could stop with all of the holy weapons, let alone with a single swipe of SilverBlade. The Sword of Taranis itself could not harm me! Not even the staff of Haldorn nor the most powerful magic that it contains can injure me, could stop my revenge. I will destroy you, and then Lord Stargonish.” “Go ahead, try to kill me, I don’t care. His curse was just a cruel joke anyway! Taking away the friends I might have met, ruining the friendship that might have been with Iolo. All of it! A joke!” “Not so fool. The vampire is in the castle. I heard his cry, but unlike the others, I resisted. I had business with you first. I can not believe that you did not hear the call also, for you were the instrument of his death, were you not?” “The call! Iolo, what have I done?” “You doomed your would be friend to an existence lived entirely in the shadows, to eternal darkness, and doomed the world to total domination by the creatures of the night. Now die, Ax-Torn!” With this final statement, the loch pulled and swung his poison axe, grazing Bontwain’s arm, sending a burning jolt of pain through his body as the poison seemed in. The DemonSkuul lost it’s balance, and as it struggled to stand up and claim it’s axe from the puddle of marsh that it had become mired in, Ax-Torn ran towards the tent. Hearing the noise outside, Anthor exited the tent, holding Iolo’s sword. He tossed Iolo’s sword to Ax-Torn, and together they faced the enemy. The loch dashed at Ax-Torn, but just before it reached him, Artex leapt out of the tent, displaying some of the skill that his rogue’s training had lent him, and landed behind the creature. Artex grabbed it’s arms and began to pull it away from Bontwain. It began to scream”Noooooooooo! I must have revenge! Bontwain Ax-Torn must die by my hand!” Then Ax-Torn struck with the enchanted sword, and the creature howled in pain. It escaped, taking Artex with it. Ax-Torn shouted”Artex! Come back Stohkralek! Bring him back!” But it was too late. They were gone.
They sat in the tent. They waited. Finally, Anthor spoke.”He’s dead. Almost certainly.” “It’s my fault! If I hadn’t shown Iolo the tooth! Now both of them pay for my sins!” “It could not be prevented. You know that destiny has strange ways sometimes. This is an example of the ways that destiny can affect things. Such a small thing at first, a tale of an adventure, then bigger and bigger, until finally, it ends with two friends being swept away, presumably dead.” “It’s not over yet. Stohkralek is still out there. And Stargonish, or Iolo, or whatever Iolo has become is out there. And they’re waiting. We must stop them!” “No, my friend. We will stay here. Perhaps things will be resolved. We do not yet know if Artex is dead. He may only be wounded, or even not hurt at all, laying low for a few days, then he will return.” Little did they know that they did not have much time left……….
A week after the scream had destroyed the fragile peace that normally flowed thorough the castle, the first visitors began to arrive. At first, only a few skelezombis accompanied by a DemonSkuul or some Reptilian Crawlers, then bigger and bigger parties, finally ending in a group of one dozen Reptilian Crawlers, three Skelezombis, more than forty goblins, and twenty of the strongest remaining DemonSkuul warriors. When Bortan and Gronblotter took the final roll for their vampire master, only one of the creatures had not responded to the call of their return Lord of Darkness. King Stargonish’s top general, a DemonSkuul named Stohkralek, did not arrive at the castle. He was not particularizes expected, for he had been at the castle the night of the burning and the second death of Stargonish, and probably been killed by the barbarian. However, it was possible that he might have survived, either by escaping the castle, or by using the darkest of magics, thus turning himself into a vampire, or even a lich, or perhaps a combination of both. It was lunacy to attempt this, however, anyone who had ever met the general could not testify to his sanity. But it did not matter, for their master was alive, and his minions had returned.
Iolo paced the room. Sometimes, in the day, if he awoke, the true Iolo, the Iolo who had once saved a town from a group of goblins and DemonSkuuls, the Iolo who had once driven off a DemonSkuul general of multiple talents from a town on the outskirts of Athenar, a DemonSkuul named Stohkralek involved in both of these incidents, returned from the cell in his mind that the new Iolo, the vampire Iolo, the one who was truly Stargonish, had imposed upon him. It was one of these times now. They were becoming less and less frequent as the vampire became used to being alive once more. He was trying to think of a way out, a way to end the evil. The soldiers were gathering, and his time was short. He was trying to find a way out that would not result in his own death. So far he had not. The only solution that he had discovered was the oil in the dungeon. He would spread it around the castle, then start a fire. He would let himself die in the blaze. But, first, he must wait. Even when the vampire was asleep, Iolo had access to his mind. He knew that he once-knight Stohkralek, known as Artex the Elder before his death and resurrection, was not dead. He knew that the possibilities that Bortan and Gronblotter had feared, the possibility of the general’s resurrection as a loch and a vampire, were true. In order to stop this, the bard would have to wait until Artex Stohkralek arrived at the castle. Then……….the fire.
Although Iolo had access to the mind of Stargonish, sometimes the deepest secrets could evade the prying of what was left of the bard’s mind. This was one of those secrets. What evaded Iolo’s mind was the fact that the Stargonish and Artex families were related. King Stargonish and Artex the Elder had been cousins, however they had been raised as brothers. What he also did not know is that Stargonish had been the instrument of his brother’s death. And also his resurrection. Stargoniosh knew of his brother’s wish to be protected by magic in such a way as to prevent becoming a DemonSkuul, Skelezombi, or even a vampire. This had been particularly important to him, as he was aspiring to become a Paladin. This was why he was killed. If he had become a Paladin, then he would not have been useful to Stargonish. As a knight, no matter how good and honorable, he still would have been persuadeable. But a Paladin had powers to protect against dark magic. If Iolo had learned to use his mind to it’s fullest extent more quickly, his fate might have been different, but one never knows.
Neither Artex was dead. Artex the Elder, now known as Stohkralek, was currently hiding in his home, deep in the marsh. Even though he was protected by the most powerful of dark magics, the magic of the vampire lich, he could still be hurt. He would need to gain more control over his power to become totally invulnerable to all weapons, but he would heal. He thought:My son. You are still alive. Then he went into the healing sleep of the dead.
Several hours later, Artex leapt from his hiding place high in the trees, to the ground. He knew where the creature resided. He also knew who the creature was. He had seen the axe. He had not seen it since he had been little more than a baby. He would now return to his camp. He turned to head back the way he had come. He came face to face with the creature his father had become. “So father, you have returned.” “Yes, my son. I see you have become a rogue, a common thief. So much for your Paladin’s training.” “You were the one who wanted to be a Paladin. Not me. Now leave me alone!” “Never, my wayward son. Never. We will be together for an eternity.” And with that, the creature descended upon, teeth bared.
The sun was setting. They were still camped in the Marsh of Despair. They had tried to leave, but had found that the marsh had risen, preventing them from leaving in any direction but heading towards the city of Athenar. They had agreed not to head towards the city yet. When the marsh cleared, they would go towards Hillshey Valley, recruit a band of strong barbarians and knights, and the wisest mages, and then return here, to end the evil once and for all. As an added precaution they would bring a cleric with them, for to be sure of the vampire’s demise, holy magic must be used, and the weapons must be blessed. But for now, the path was blocked and they could only wait.
In the city of Athenar, the moon was rising, and the ruler of the land was awakening. The bard sensed Stargonish’s stirring in his mind and quickly retreated. If the vampire discovered he was in the least vulnerable, he would quickly find a way to stop Iolo from gaining control. If that happened, then Iolo would be lost, and Stargonish Dragonmire would once more walk the lands of Milefront. It must not happen. If it happened, more than the bard would be lost. The world would fall under eternal darkness, and the creatures of the night would be freed upon it. There would be a war, and when Iolo looked down upon the fallen king’s army laid out below him, he realized that there would be no possible way for the humans, elves, dwarves, nor any of the others races of Milefront to survive. Most of the soliders were undead, therefore, being already dead, not easy to kill. The rest, like the goblins and reptilian crawlers, were toughened from a life of hardship, hiding and trying to survive in the wastes or on the edges of civilization, and also, many of them were enchanted, thus they would become DemonSkuuls, Skelezombis , wraiths or liches upon their deaths. He wondered if Anthor and Ax-Torn were still alive. He thought not, for they would have been dispatched by the vampire’s servants at the earliest opportunity. My friends. I have failed you. I am sorry.
It had been a week. The pass was clear and they were packing their possessions. As they left, Ax-Torn looked towards the city, and said “I am coming. I hope you both hear me. If you can be saved, then you will be Iolo. As for you, Stargonish Dragonmire, King of Vampires, you will perish. We will return.” Then they left, leaving most of their possessions behind, carrying only their weapons, their clothes, and their rations, they left for Iolo’s homeland.
Iolo heard Ax-Torn’s words, and replied “I hope you can still stop him. I know that I cannot.” Stargonish also heard. He awakened. “You! You still remain! I will crush your mind like a spider! And Bontwain! Your blood will run over my lips, and you will be my eternal servant, beside Artex Stohkralek!” The last traces of Iolo in the vampire’s eyes faded, then was replaced by the blood red glow as the vampire returned to his coffin, and slept.
They were returning, a band of over fifty warriors, with seven leaders, one from each of the guilds available in the town. A barbarian, Ax-Torn. A knight, Anthor. A rogue by the name of Grantak DragonSpine, the cousin of Iolo. A ranger known as Goblin Slayer. A cleric simply called Healer. An Archmage whose name was unpronounceable in any tongue by the old and mostly forgotten language of the Goblins, a leftover from before the war between the humanoids and the goblins. And finally, a Paladin, Hafran Artex, Artex the Second’s brother. They had a large party consisting of these guilds, every one of them armed, whether with axe, sword, staff, bow, dagger, or spellbook, each had powers unmatched by most in their guild. This was why they had been chosen, for they would need extreme abilities and perseverance to survive this mission.
The leaders also carried the Holy Weapons that had been available. Ax-Torn carried the Herald Sword of Taranis. Anthor carried his sword, QuickSilver, which although not one of the Holy weapons, had been blessed by Healer, therefore giving it some power over the vampire. Being a knight, he should have been wielding the Herald Sword, but it was Ax-Torn’s weapon, and it would not have allowed Anthor to carry it. Grantak held the Jeweled Dagger of Fillan, one of the most famous and praised rogues in the world of Milefront. Goblin Slayer wielded the Bow of Artemisa, a ranger/cleric that had saved the small village of Hillshey long ago. Healer carried with him the Staff of Haldorn, one of the great clerics, one who could raise the dead without the evil effect that caused a Skelezombi or a DemonSkuul. The Archmage held the Spellbook of Redmage, the greatest wizard in all the Milefront lands. Hafran carried The Sword of The Sun. There were only three Paladins chosen at one time, and each carried on of three magic swords: The Sword of the Stars. The Sword of the Moon, and The Sword of the Sun. Of the three, the Sword of the Sun was the most powerful, and was awarded to the most powerful of the three Paladins. Anthor and Ax-Torn considered themselves lucky to have found one of the Paladins, for his powers were sure to be harmful to the vampire, without harming Iolo, if he still remained in his body. So was the party of companions, and as they marched towards the Castle of Athenar, they knew not the terrible fate that awaited them.
At the castle of Stargonish, the army was assembling. They had decided to start the war now, instead of waiting for one wayward DemonSkuul who was probably dead. As the army assembled, and their lord awakened at nightfall, the clash and clatter of arms was heard throughout the town. It was time for the war to truly begin. They were ready, an d nothing, not even Bontwain and Anthor and any band that they could assemble could stop them.
They had gotten far on this day. They had reached the Marsh of Despair, and now they set camp. Their journey was half done. As they rested, and the leaders discussed the plans to storm and destroy the castle and take the vampire with it, no one was aware of the fact that Stargonish’s army was on it’s way, and most of that army, being dead or endowed with super-human strength, would not be hampered by tiredness or need of food, and would make much better time. The combatants were gathering, and the Marsh of Despair would be their battlefield.
The cry awakened the camp. “Quick, to battle! They are coming! Seventy or eighty at least!” Hafran and Anthor quickly exited the tent, running towards the lookout’s post. The others were gathering their weapons, preparing for battle. Ax-Torn followed the knight and the Paladin as quickly as possible. When the three arrived, they saw the army of demons. It was happening. The chain of events that had begin with an imprisonment in an evil undead king’s jail was now going to end with a war for the destiny of the entire world.
They arranged their formation. The seven chosen ones mounted their horses and prepared for the attack. The clerics and wizards prepared their spells. They were ready. Let Stargonish and his Undead army come. They were ready/
The army of Stargonish was prepared. The black mages had their spells at the ready. The Skelezombis were prepared to rip anyone limb from limb as necessary. The DemonSkuul’s Poison Axes were polished and set to rend the flesh of the righteous. Bortan and Gronblotter(who was truly a revenant, a low power semi-vampire) rode alongside their vampire master so they could protect him with their lives if necessary.
As the armies clashed, the first attack was with magic. Healer and the Archmage, along with the members of their guilds unleashed the spells they had been nurturing since the cry of battle had been heard. The black mages and the few DemonSkuul mages unleashed their spells upon the band of guilds. The barbarians, rangers, and knights dismounted at the commands of their respective leaders. Hafran began an incantation made to ward off evil, one that only a Paladin could cast. Grantak and his band of thieves and rogues slipped away to launch a stealth attack. The army 0of Undead launched their own weapon combat as the DemonSkuul generals sent their Skelezombis, lesser DemonSkuuls, Reptilian Crawlers, and goblins after Anthor’s band. The groups clashed. The war had begun, and nothing save for complete and total extermination of both sides could stop them.
The battled raged for hours, neither side winning nor losing. Both simply fading. When none were left but Bortan, Gronblotter, Iolo/Stargonish, and the seven guild leaders, the battle was stopped by a shout from a nearby cliff. “You will die!!!!! All of you!!!!” A flame sped down towards Stargonish and his companions, then a second flew towards Anthor’s party. As they struck, killing Bortan, Grantak, Goblin Slayer and Healer, the Archmage and Gronblotter struck back, their magics met in the air and negated each other. These two mages began a battle of magic, and when they were done, neither was left standing. Now it was only Iolo, Anthor, Ax-Torn and Hafran. The voice jumped down, revealing itself. Stargonish hissed”Stohkralek! You will not stop me! You can’t harm me!” “No, but I can imprison you!” With that the loch began a series of arcane gestures that Hafran recognized as the Paladin’s ritual of Evil Imprisonment. He must not do it! It would entrap Iolo’s soul as well! It must not be allowed! Hafran drew his sword as Stohkralek drew his dual axes, then he struck. As the magical sword penetrated the vampire/lich’s back, it dropped it’s axes,. then fell to the ground, shuddered, and died. Hafran saw the etching on one of the axes. “What have I done! I have killed my father! This stain on my honor is intolerable to a Paladin! My life must end!” He then killed himself with the Sword of the Sun. Anthor tried to stop him, but he was too late. He turned towards the vampire with hate in his eyes. “You caused this. I don’t believe that there is any of Iolo left in you at all. He would have tried to help. He would have overcome you, if only for a short time. He’s gone. It’s your fault! All of it! Your fault!” The vampiric bard laughed. It dismounted, drew SilverBlade, and did a backflip, landing in front of Ax-Torn in one smooth motion. Anthor had seen evidence of Iolo’s agility, for it was a trait common to bards and rogues. However, Iolo had not been able to do anything like this before. Anthor had heard that vampires had extreme agility, even better than the best of elven rogues, and now he knew it was true. As the vampire approached Bontwain, he turned to Anthor and paralyzed him with a word of power. He held the axe high. It was dripping with blood, even though Stargonish had not been in the battle. “Bontwain, my old friend. I have your axe. Once it stopped me. Now I will destroy you with it.” He swung the axe across Ax-Torn’s midsection, slicing open his body. Ax-Torn gasped and fell, landing in one of the pools of marsh acid that lined the banks of the marsh of despair. As the skin melted off of his body, he screamed one last word. “Noooooooooo!!!!”
The vampire turned back to Anthor. He uttered a word of magic, and Anthor could move again. “You. You thought that you could destroy me with your pitiful friends. Now they are dead. Prepare to die, knight. What? NO! I won’t let you! NO!” The glow faded and the eyes of Iolo looked at Anthor with an expression of sorrow, agony, and pity. He said”I can’t contain him for long. Kill me now. We were friends once. Be my friend again. Kill me, before he kills you. Please.” Anthor said “Very well, my friend. Forgive me.” He went to Hafran’s corpse, and removed the Sword of the Sun. He then hefted QuickSilver. As he turned to do the deed he saw the vampire staring at him. “Go ahead, do as he says, it won’t do you any good.” “Yes jot will!” He swung the two swords at the creature’s neck. They each cut through one side and met in the middle. Iolo’s head flew towards the amrsh, and blood jetted over the corpses, landing plentifully on the half-skeleton of Ax-Torn. The head melted in a puddle of acid. Anthor went to it, and took the thing’s jawbone. It was said that a bone from a creature of the night was protection against them. Farewell my friend, and sleep well. Forgive me. He pulled a torch from his pack and lit it. He touched it to the vampire’s body and head, setting them ablaze. As they burned, he walked away, perhaps to other adventures, perhaps not.