Valus' Inferno - The Death of Paws WarderDragon Valus’ Inferno – The Chronicle of the Death of Paws Author: Valus Caormastus, of the Cult of Virtue. Player Author: WarderDragon “This way, a good soul never passes.” - Written in Blood on the Church Ruins of Paws. To the Patriarch Marcius IV, Reverend Father of the Cult of Virtue, and Keeper of the Heart of the Earth. Book 1 - Faithful Marcius, It is with trepidation, and no small grain sorrow, that I pen this missive to thee. For if thou are reading this, I am already dead. But even as the shadow closes in around me, and the curse that has stolen my vigor now lays claim to my soul, I realize that I live only for the mercy of the Light, who has given unto me this final chance to reveal the grim truth I hold close to my heart, and divulge a secret the Powerful would see hidden. I refer to the destruction of Paws, Marcius, and to the atrocities that were inflicted upon innocent men. I refer to an evil that still festers in its fetid swamps, waiting for the right moment to unleash itself upon Our World. You know the histories. You know that long ago, in the Age before Cantabrigian, Paws was no more than a humble farming village located on the Golden Plains of Valencia. It was simple, unimposing, and all but ignored by the feuding warlords and aristocratic barons that divided the land then. It was the place of my birth, and it, like I, was not prepared for the evil that would rain down upon it. Mondain, the Son of Wolfgang, had hoped to become the god of this world. He believed in his madness that only through the corruption of the Gem - and the sacrifice of some ten million souls - could man regain his rightful place amongst the Stars of Heaven. To that end he blasphemed against the Light, fornicating with Devils, and sharing his knowledge with beasts who sailed amongst the stars. He *****d human women to their slave masters, and exchanged flesh for precious magic and technology our kind has not known since we departed Earth, more than three millennia ago. The Age of Darkness, as it would come to be known, was a time of bloodshed and famine, the likes of which are all but incomprehensible to those who were not there. I tell you now, Marcius, give thanks to the Light that you were not yet born, for I shudder even now to think of the atrocities I bore witness to. Give thanks, each night, that the world had not again faced such an Apocalypse. We would not survive it. Paws, along with much of the Empire, was set to the torch by the Legions of the Dark Lord, leaving only ashes and misery in their path. It was only under the banner of a single Duke, Cantabrigian, who would become our Prophet and Lawgiver, and his Champion, Ganji of Earth, that Sosaria was spared. But it was not saved. The Shattering did not free the world. It damned it. For in that fateful moment, when Ganji brought down his sword upon the Gem, Sosaria was broken forever. The world was rent in fire. Seas boiled and became like blood. Continents rose and sank. Civilizations, lost in the desperate swoop of one mans sword, a billion souls snuffed out in one instant. Light, I pray that the deaths of those vast multitudes came swiftly, and without pain. Theirs was the more merciful fate. The remnants of the continent that would become Britannia, it is said, emerged strong and powerful, not because it was so before the Breaking, but because it was spared the worst of the atrocities heaped on other nations. It was unto this land that Ganji, the Stranger, would be given a heroes welcome, honored as the Savior of Light and Virtue, before disappearing forever into the Chronicles of Man. Cantabrigian would restore Akalabeth, later to become Britain, while sending his most loyal servants west and south to map out this strange, broken new world. Those of us who returned to Paws, or what we thought was Paws, discovered a broken and lifeless shell poised on the edge of the New Sea. The lowlands and fields were replaced with a shallow surf, and the far hills, with its ancient pagan temple, became Islands. We barely recognized our home, and those with means elected to depart for the West, where new farming villages offered new opportunities in the woodlands of Caledonia. Others chose to go South, where Paladin Japeth, and Crawworth were erecting a New Trinsic, the Sentinel of the South. I was one of the fortunate, but chose instead to travel across the Sea to the opulent Magincia. It had once been a river port, where traders from the Lands of Rondolin and Olympus might trade their wares. In the Breaking, it had become an Isle in its own right, poised to become the trading center of a New Kingdom. It was there I elected to be schooled in the teachings of the Light, becoming a Theologian. It was not long into the Reign of Cantabrigian, now called British, that War, that most ancient and cruel of human practices, would again threaten to consume all Sosaria. Robere, claiming descent from the Ancient Line of Kings, announced that he was the true and rightful heir to the crown Cantabrigian now wore, and he had formed a Legion of Royalists and Mercenaries to prove his “…Legitimacy.” The Usurper was a cunning and ruthless tactician, managing to carve out a Kingdom of his own in the North, while the valiant Britannians, led by Cantabrigian and Blackthorne, managed to hold the South, though losses on both sides were great. It was during this period, I learned, that my home had taken on a new purpose: a camp for the sick, the wounded, the dying. Legions of the injured, having sacrificed life and limb in the name of Cantabrigian, were shipped here, along with the plagued, victims of Robere’s penchant for poisoning wells and hurling plague infected corpses over City Walls. I was a young man, then, and quite naïve. I was a philosopher, and theologian in profession, but a healer at heart. I hoped to help Britannia, and Paws, in whatever way I could, so I boarded a ship, leaving all that I had behind, and returned to the village of my birth. I was …horrified when the village port came into view. It had become a walled place, festering with rot, the skies dark with furnaces used to cremate the dying thousands. I did not turn back, though my stomach churned at the thought of what I might discover within. Light, I should have. But I could sense the need of the sick, the dying, the great plight within. I could smell death, rot, and decay. Light help me, Marcius. I could not turn away. Book 2 - I am told the defeat of Robere was Glorious. The final charge of the newfound Order of the Silver Serpent, something to be remembered in song and prose. But lets not mince words, or exchange in falsehoods. It was a shameful slaughter. Let it not be said Our Prophet, Cantabrigian, was injust in his War, for the tyranny he fought against is echoed in the dictatorships of later men. In Blackthorne, and in Casca. But let us glorify the things he fought for, not the means by which he fought it. I could have left then, now that the war was over. I should have left then. Studies into the deeper meaning of existence, and a young woman, awaited me in Magincia. But I could not leave the dying behind. I could hear the screams of terror in my dreams, I could feel their suffering, and I knew I must remain amongst them. It was during this period, a new man became the Lord Mayor of Paws. Vorigern. And it was under his …leadership that the Village took an even darker hue. The walls became a prison. No longer did they keep bands of roving marauders out, but instead, the people within, in. For plague flourished amongst us despite the best efforts of our healing. No longer could communication occur with the outside world. And no longer was Paws a place to send the sick, the dying. It had begun with the Last Legion of Robere, survivors of the Battle of Altmere, now the Crimson Plains. The Legion was forced into makeshift prison camps on the edge of the Village. Inquisitors, bearing the Seal of the Monarch, began extracting confessions from the soldiers, divining from them the location of any pockets of resistance that might oppose Cantabrigian’s Rule. And only healers, chosen by Vortigern, were permitted amongst their number. Healers, who turned the powers of Life to Destruction and Woe, sterilizing thousands of men, and using them to test new diseases, and cures. It was not long before the resistance was crushed. Political prisoners, and any who stood in opposition to the Britannian Court were sent here. Such nobles could not be executed - such violated the Old Codes and might stir rebellion in the North - but they could be removed from their ancestral manors and locked in a Plagued Colony. It was then that I met Gustave Hohenstaufen. He was something to behold, Gustave. Tall. Dignified. With light brown hair that cascaded in curls down his back. Dark, often narrowed eyes that bore with them the aura of command, and features that were at once brooding and seductive. He was every much a King as Cantabrigian, and as he was hauled on a prison cart into the City, people fell back in awe or looked away as his eyes swept across them. Such was the power of this strange man. I am told he was a minor noble, one of mixed heritage. Akalabethan, on his mothers side, and Valderian, on his fathers, a Northman. His sole crime? The impregnation of the wife of a Duke in the favor of Cantabrigian. He would be brought to me in the mornings, after the sadistic indignation of the inquisitors were satisfied, and with what herbal knowledge I possessed, I mixed a special poultice that would ease the pain and heal the worst of his scourgings, that he might be again put to the Question. Despite our differences, I, a man of the cloth, and he, a vain noble, he and I began to speak, and I found him to be a profoundly intelligent man. He might quote passages from Revivalist Poetry and Ancient Liturgy in the same breath, and was well versed in the Arts and Sciences of the age. The one thing I found abhorrent, however, was his strange fascination with the dark arts; in particular the names and aspects of demons, an interest I could not imagine being sparked in the education of a young noble. And not surprisingly, Gustave became acquainted with Vortigern, the two spending long hours in study and debate within his library. It was during this period that the shadow would fall again on Paws, and I would be forever changed. Book 3 - At last, the sick and the dying stopped streaming in. The War of Succession was over. Yet despite my pleas to return to Magincia, I was barred from leaving. A new plague had begun to spread, it was said, and every Healer and Priest would be needed to fight it. I was left with no choice in the matter. I am not certain when I began to understand something terrible was at work. Was it when I turned back from the Gates, and saw Vortigern, wreathed in black, staring down at me with such hate I shudder now to remember it? Was it the first night, when the scream of a woman awakened me from a nightmare, or the fifth, when the half-eaten corpse of a young maiden was discovered in the alley behind my apartment? Was it when the Order of the Silver Serpent built an encampment on the edge of the Village as though preparing for war? Or was it two weeks later, when the dead began to walk again, hungering for the flesh of the living? It was called the Plague of the Necromonger, which caused the infected to begin developing flu like symptoms. Hemopysis, and the development of black leisions soon followed. It would have been easy to believe the illness was the Black Death, which had not broken out in centuries, and not something more …malignant. That sounds absurd, doesn’t it? Nothing prepares you for a man he pronounced dead three hours before rising up and attempting to sink his teeth into your arm. The plague spread quickly, and within a month, roving mobs of undead haunted the allies at night. We had no recourse but to dismember the newly dead and burn their remains while their flesh was still warm. Light, forgive me for what I did in the name of the Greater Good. During the evenings I would speak with Gustave. He seemed surprisingly …unaffected by what was happening around us, and remained in good cheer. He revealed to me that Vortigern was studying the corpses of those …zombies laid low, and the Plague. He told me the enemy would use it one day against us, thus it was important we understand it, that we might mitigate the worst atrocities. Were we the experiments? I wonder. It was then that a woman - Aurelia - disappeared. She had been carried off into the night, it was said, her captors having managed to smuggle her through a tunnel under the wall. To my surprise, instead of sending the Order, Gustave was permitted to form a militia and leave the Gates. I was the first he asked to accompany him. Despite my ineptitude in all things warfare, I could not refuse, for I knew the woman, and her husband who fate would place amongst the prisoners of Robere’s Legion. I accepted the mission. We marched west into the Drachenwald, now called Spiritwood, in search of the woman and her captors, and spent hours searching for tracks. I heard movement. I turned. I must have been knocked out cold, for when I awoke, I discovered the corpse of a soldier atop me. I also heard whispers, something about the time when the barrier between worlds becomes weak, and the eclipse that would “…open the Gate.” I managed to climb from beneath the corpse and stand. There I beheld Gustave, and to my surprise, Vortigern, standing in a moonlit glade, staring down at the corpse of a woman, her mouth and lifeless eyes open as if to scream, a dagger plunged into her heart. I vomited. Vortigern turned, and with a sneer, he acknowledged me. He explained, when I had regained control of the contents of my stomach, that the search party had been ambushed by the dead. Killed to the last man. Gustave had survived, only because of his Swordsmanship, having driven back the dead, injuring the Necromancer responsible for this ritual, but not before he had completed this unholy sacrifice. Something was amiss. I knew that, somewhere inside, but however much I loathed Vortigern, I was inclined to trust in the goodness and valor of Gustave. In the following weeks, Gustave continued to lead his militia against the Living Dead in the Village. Yet despite his valiant crusade, and the best efforts of the crematorium, the dead mobs seemed to be growing in number each night. The Order offered us no aid. Instead, the Knights kept the gate locked and barred. We were each potential carriers, their Grand Master, Lord Delacroix, announced from behind the Wall, and until a cure could be found, no one was leaving no matter how dire things became within. Vortigern, in the few instances he departed his manor at the center of town, seemed anxious and aloof. A fellow healer claimed to have seen him in the streets one evening, babbling incoherently, and I did not doubt the rumor, though I convinced myself it was something less sinister, perhaps stress, and not an inner malevolence being loosed from the inner reaches of that mans wretched soul. The night before the eclipse, as fate would have it, I indulged in an old ritual, searching out the nearest pub. I seldom partook in the fruit of the Vine, a ritual associated with the fat and impious friars of Dal Riata, now called Yew. But I was careworn, and it seemed a sinless indulgence considering the circumstances. It was there, in the eerily quiet common room, windows boarded incase the dead decide to lay siege to the Inn, that I found Judith. Gustaves new lover sat huddled in the corner, holding herself. I moved to her side, and inquired as to the nature of her suffering. She gazed up at me, and with a haunted look that I shall not soon forget, she whispered, telling me Gustave had sacrificed …her. I inquired as to whom, and with tears in her eyes, she responded, “Aurelia. Edith. And now, Annabelle.” It struck me like a blow across the face. I reeled backwards, not because the first seeds of suspicion hadn’t been planted before this night, but because her words gave those suspicions nourishment, a place to grow, and I could no longer convince myself that such misgivings were falsehood. Whatever look I had on my face, it must have startled her, for she doubled over as though in pain, and fainted. I would have confronted him then, but I could not leave her, not in that state. Ergo, I endeavored to bear her back to my apartment where I could question her further, but that journey proved far more perilous than I had anticipated. For a ravenous corpse leapt from the shadows, nearly tearing her from my arms, and had it not been for the brave act of a young woman, bludgeoning the things skull in with a crude club, I might not be writing this. Judith awoke the next morning, clearly no more sane than she had been the night before. I saw to it one of my apprentices watched over her, and then proceeded to the Mansion occupied by Gustave. The doors were unlocked, but the door held fast as I pushed. So, with a growl, I threw my weight against it and shoved. It moved, slowly at first, and that is when the lingering scent of death overwhelmed me. I looked in. The maimed corpses of liveried servants, having attempted to flee, were piled against the door, there bodies hacked to pieces. Annabelle sat in a chair, and for a moment I thought her alive. I shudder, even now, as I recall the profusion of death laid before me, of her form, adorned in a wedding dress, now stained with blood. A slash across her carotid artery suggested a quick death, a clean death, and not the work of a ravenous zombie. I knelt down and closed her eyes, wiping from her lips a larvae that sought to crawl nestle inside the open orifice. I made to turn back then, and should have, for this task was best left to the authorities, but then a shadow moved in the room and into the dining hall. I moved to follow, but it disappeared before I could pursue. Again, I would have turned back. I should have turned back. But then I heard it. Chanting. An ancient tongue not meant to be uttered by the lips of man. I admit, I was transfixed, perhaps even curious. I descended down a set of spiraling stairs, and it was there, in the basement, I found …him. Gustave stood at the head of a black altar, its edges crusted with dried blood. On the altar writhed Edith, wrists bound, stripped to the waist, a crude gag preventing her from screaming. The man held a bloodied athame over her chest, and chanted in Enochian. I called out his name. He looked at me, and smiled, daring me to stop him, as though he thought me powerless. Perhaps I was. But that arrogant smirk twisted into a look of surprise, and loathing, as booted feet sounded behind me. Chanting. A raised hand. A ball of flame leapt from Vortigerns hand and screamed across the chamber. Gustave deflected it, a shower of sparks exploding harmlessly around an invisible barrier surrounding the Necromancer and his Sacrifice. “You cannot stop me now,” he screamed, and before I could take a step forward and stop him, Gustave plunged the ritual dagger into Edith with all his might. I dare not repeat all that transpired, for I shudder now to remember it. The world became black as the blackest night. The pentagram on the floor began to glow, and spin, as though the ground had become the sea, churning around the maelstrom at its heart. The walls faded. And on every hand, I saw a great plain of woe, and cruel torment. Tombs, scoured in flame, made to glow all over, hotter than iron need be for any craft. And such dire laments issued fourth, as only come from those who are truly wretched, suffering, and forever lost. I beheld Hell. And there in our midst, I beheld a being both terrible and beautiful, shameful to look upon, our own sins reflected back at us. Vortigern and I watched, helpless, as we share Gustaves depraved vision, and listened as the Evil One offered him immortality, revenge, perhaps even godhood, if he would but perform one favor. Sacrifice each living soul in Paws, condemning their innocent souls to Damnation. It was a price he was more than willing to pay. I know not how long I was unconscious. But I woke to Vortigern standing over me in that basement. Gustave, gone. And on my person was a strange mark. While I understood not its meaning, not its purpose at the time, I knew the script to be ancient and foul. A Brand of Sacrifice. Vortigern explained to me, in hushed tones, that Gustave had traded his immortal soul to Hell, and in exchange had become the vessel of a being from the Void. To complete the geas, he needed to sacrifice each man, each woman, and child living in Paws to complete the Ritual. Edith? The Eclipse? He had opened a Gate to the Aether, and even now, hellish creatures of the Void were pouring out into the streets, butchering the sleeping in their beds. Vortigern explained that he had been a Necromancer, permitted to live and practice his art, in exchange for his knowledge, which would be needed in the fight against the Lieutenants of Mondain still haunting the dark places of the world. He had been experimenting with the Plague in private, but Gustave had discovered this secret, stealing it and unleashing the Plague upon the Village. When Vortigern had learned what was happening, it was too late. Then he revealed to me the darkest secret of all. This was not the work of Gustave alone, but a greater web. The Order had planted the idea in the mans head, knowing he would summon the Devil and become his vessel. The Order planned to defeat the Evil here on the Mortal Plane, and even now their number was laying siege to the City, prepared to strike down the Living, the Dead, and the Demonic. He bid me escape, if I could. He would use his powers to stop Gustave, if he could, and if not, all was lost. That was the last I ever saw either of them. I fled then. I fled, avoiding mobs of zombies and winged, demonic creatures, grabbing up Judith, escaping with her under the walls in the confusion. I would learn of the destruction of Paws when I arrived in Britain. The Criers declared it an Orc Incursion, and that the Order of the Silver Serpent managed to quell the it, but not before the village was put to the torch. What remained, the charred rubble and rotting foundations would sink into the mud, forever lost. Thus was born the Fens of the Dead. Gustave was never found, Marcius. His name is not on the records of the dead. And those few survivors who managed to escape have been dying, murdered one by one. I fear that as the next eclipse approaches, more than two decades later, Gustave is alive, and he is attempting to finish the ritual. I do not possess the strength to fight him, Faithful Brother. I am an old man long before my time. The Plague waits for me to shed my last breath, that my body might rise again and hunt the living. When you read this, Brother, the poison has already touched my lips. You will not arrive in time to stop me. I have left instructions in the accompanying envelope, how to dismember my body, and scatter my ashes in accordance with our Faith. Light, give you the strength to do what must be done.