The Fateless

Chapter 1: On the Road


Prologue

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The trio made for an interesting sight, seated around one of the few un-damaged tables at the Whispering Dragon Inn. One was a tall and well-muscled man, nude from the waist up, his cuirass and hauberk piled neatly beside him. A heavy bandage stained with brackish, grey fluid was bound around his chest, and he nursed a chalice of deep, red wine. His other hand never strayed from the hilt of a sword hanging from a well-used scabbard on the his hip.

The other was a stranger to these lands - an Orc clad in a savage's leather and furs, which did little to conceal the swathes of deep, purple bruises marring his sinewy, green flesh. He hunched over a bowl of stewed boar's meat, fat and gravy dripping from his split and swollen lips, one eye sealed almost shut like that of a prize-pugilist's.

The last was a giant encumbered in legionnaire's plate, his features concealed by a cracked, porcelain mask of some forgotten king from an earlier age. The legionnaire was silent, impassive, his attention focused solely on a square of velum inscribed with flowery scrip clutched in his gauntleted hands.

"Ya'all seem as though ye have a story ta tell" offered a wizened man approaching the trio. "Care ta share it with an old scholar?".

Both the giant and the orc did little to recognise the speaker, engaged as they were. The knight appraised him with narrowed eyes before sliding over a mostly-intact stool with his foot, and summoning the tavern wench with a snap of his fingers.

"Have a seat, scholar. 'Tis not a long story, but 'tis a curious one. In fact it began right here in this very establishment…"


Of Druids and Diabolists

"That's quite a tale - surely you are to be congratulated for your bravery. As it is I require the aid of brave men such as yourselves. But where are my manners? I am known as Alebert - no last name required. Should it interest you, I have work which requires your attention. Meet me at the Speckeled Mare in Greyrock - I'll have more information for you there. It's just three days north-east of here. No Mr. Azarak, I don't expect you to work for free. Here's a down-payment for your services. You'll receive the rest in Greenhearth…"

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Setting off for the town of Greenhearth, the Orc and Knight bid farewell to their silent companion, the curious Legionnaire parting eastward with his typical taciturn air. The road north is fairly well-traveled, and as the word of Alebert the Scholar promised the two soon arrived in Greenhearth, taking residence at the Crooked Wheelbarrow Inn. Far from being the only strangers in town, the arrival of a lithe, pale man accompanied by a raven black as night raises many eyebrows among the simple farmers and craftsmen of Greenhearth. Weary from travel or hard labour, all soon retire to their beds as night falls…

The night-time peace was rent by a terrified scream, Agron the Orc the first to leap from his bedroll and dash into the night, giving chase to a cloaked suspect found perched over a bloodied body. The Knight and the pale-newcomer followed, pausing to render aid to the victim as Agron disappeared into tall stalks of wheat, returning shortly after without his quarry. The newcomer, introducing himself as Mazek Asymptus, declared loudly and without prompt that the victim was dead, and by the hand of a diabolist given the ritualistic marks upon her flesh.

With the people roused, a town-meeting is quickly called by the alderman to discern the nature of the attack. At the behest of the common-peoples, Sir Felstrom vowed to bring the culprit to justice, the alderman suggesting that a visit to the town wise-woman may shed some light on the matter. In a ramshackle hut at the edge of the forest the wise-woman, a dabbler of the small-arts, reveals the presence of an ancient evil which has existed within the dark-green glades for generations. If a diabolist was to be found, it was to be there.

As the sun reached it's zenith the trio were deep in the forest, the thick canopy above blocking out the noon-day light. The Orc, leading from the front, was the first to spy the sudden ambush, leaping out of the way as a heavy ironwood tree came crashing down. Amidst a cloud of dirt and leaves a hideous beast, it's body a messy conglomeration of a dozen disparate forest animals, clambered onto the felled trunk. With a challenging roar it lunged for the party, twisted horns held low for a goring charge against Sir Felstrom whom stood steadfast with shield raised. The beast's charge is brought up short by a arcane word from Mazek, rays of frost spraying from his outstretched staff to freeze it's cloven hooves to the dirt. Stuck-fast, the biting dagger of Agron and the hewing blade of Sir Felstrom made short work of the immobile abomination.

Undaunted, the party plunged deeper into the forest, coming across a thick copse of trees of unnatural vitality. Despite their best efforts, the trio are unable to make it past the bizarre barrier, thwarted at every attempt by unknown magicks. In frustration the Orc jammed his knife to the hilt into one of the trunks, the sinewy timber beneath bleeding bright orange energy from the wound. Springing from the canopy came a clutch of thin-limb creatures of bark and branch, their lashing talons cutting the offending Agron down in a flurry of blows. Leaping to his aid, Sir Felstrom set about the fiends with great cleaving blows from his longsword, while Mazek summoned prismatic bursts of colour which flayed them into kindling. As the last fiend fell, the wounded tree revealed a trio of symbols of an arcane language upon its bole. After careful scrutiny, Mazek declared the meaning of the curious sigils…

"Druidic - certainly. Tainted somewhat - perhaps a coalition of power with the diabolic? The meaning is clear, however. A blood sacrifice is required to trespass any further; blood of the hawk, blood of the bear, and the blood of man. Who knows where we could find a bear..?"


Doppelganger

With his ear to the ground, the Orc tracked the leavings and trails of a woodland bear, finding the massive beast fast at rest in a shallow cave. Stalking up to the furred creature, Agron plunged his wicked blade under the bear's shoulder, reaching for its heart. A clawed back-hand suddenly sent him sprawling, the bear's mighty constitution allowing it a few moments of life despite it's fate. Dazed and prone Agron could do nothing as the beast tore into his back with it's taloned fingers, spared a grim demise only by the thundering charge of Sir Felstrom, the knight's lance taking the bear clean through the chest. With the bear's blood claimed in a wineskin, the trio soon came across a hawk's nest, a well-placed arrow from the wounded Agron bringing the avian predator down.

Returning to the copse, the proper offerings of bear, hawk and man were made, the impenetrable trees parting through arcane sorceries. Moving into the clear glade beyond the trio come across an altar of tangled roots and brambles, displayed upon which is a bound female of striking likeness to the Alderman's wife. Leaping from behind the altar came a clutch of the same bark-and-branch creatures - clearly stalwart defenders of this unhallowed place. The typically genteel Mazek, now bored of such delays, summoned forth a superlative spray of freezing cold, his face twisted into an unkindly snarl. The creatures stood little chance against the might of the magician, petrified by the arcane cold. Hoisting the unconscious woman to his shoulder, Sir Felstrom and the duo made haste for the town of Greenhearth, the same question on each of their minds…

Arriving in town, Sir Felstrom made for the Alderman's hovel, announcing his presence with an armoured boot to the flimsy wooden door. Inside the trio found the doppelganger standing over the Alderman, the facade slowly fading to reveal a clawed and lanky woman with pointed teeth and beady, red eyes which burned like chunks of coal in the darkness. With a gnarled hand at the Alderman's throat, she warned off the trio.

"I could slice his throat in an instant - now, back you lackeys! Lay down your arms or his blood will run free…"

As Sir Felstrom knelt to place his sword upon the ground, fearing for the life of the common-man and wary of his oaths to protect, Agron vaulted blade-first over his shoulders, his wicked dagger aimed squarely at the doppleganger's heart. With a shriek of surprise the doppleganger released the Alderman's neck, reflexively extending her clawed fingers at the on-rushing Orc. With a foul crunch of shattering bone and cartilage the brave if foolhardy Agron impaled himself upon her outstretched talons, his knife stopping just inches from her heart. As the Orc's body slumped onto the wooden floor, Sir Felstrom leapt up from his kneel, his sword describing a whistling arc which caught the doppelganger under her arm, cleaving into the flesh of her side. Gasping in pain she lashed out at the knight, marring his shimmering shield with dirty claw marks. With a word of arcana, Mazek called forth an icy bolt, freezing the doppelganger in place. Sir Felstrom's second blow neatly severed her head, the frozen body releasing not a drop of crimson…

The morning after the duo prepared Agron's body for burial, entombing the Orc with his possessions as customary of his peoples. He was a stranger in a strange land, and his customs and manners were not of the Kingdom, but there was something to be said about his noble savagery, the way he would plunge head-long into danger for the thrill of the fight. With memories of the wild Orc, the duo made north for Greystone, unaware that their adventure was only just beginning…


Chapter 2: Grimoires of the Fateless


The Tower Out of Time

Greyrock. A towering edifice to the might of the Kingdom and the Mortal Realms, named so for the dull, grey stones which made up her foundations. Home to over ten-thousand, including craftsmen, merchants, nobles, soldiers, knights, scholars and peasants, Greyrock was ruled by one Duke Ardison, known as "The Mountain" to his fellows, a giant of a man worthy of Greyrock.

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Passing under the 30 foot-high stone archways, the duo of Sir Felstrom and Mazek gaped in awe of the magnificent city, momentarily forgetting their promise to meet with Alebert the Scholar at the Speckled Mare. The puzzling scholar was to be found nursing a tall chalice of spiced wine, summoning the duo approach upon entering the inn. "It pleases me ta' see ye' well after ye' journey. Tho, ye' be one shorter than when we last met. The Orc ha' taken his leave, yes?". With heavy hearts the duo recounted the fall of Agron, the Scholar weirdly showing little surprise at the news. "Come" he commanded, "There is a better place than this ta' discuss what lies ahead".

Following the wizened man, the duo are led to a colossal tower seemingly carved from a single cyclopean fragment of basalt stone, tho such a feat of engineering would be beyond even the Dwarves of Thranadun. Within they are greeted by a spiraling library, the walls thick with richly bound tomes of velum, leather and parchment. Within the offices of Alebert they discover another; a Dwarf bearing the twisting sigil of some great serpent, his finely-wrought plate and shield lacquered a brilliant blue chased in gold, and a fearsomely heavy hammer resting by his side. "Sir Felstrom, Mazek. This is Dain Stoneheart; a Dwarvern Cleric of the Wyrm. Please, take a seat. There is much ta' impart".

Over the course of several hours, and more than a few cups of mead, Alebert imparted unto the trio the purpose of the tower and those who reside within. Every creature, be they man, dwarf or denizen are bound to fate -a predetermined path which none can escape. The Tower exists to predict and document these fates, preparing the Kingdom for when terrible danger or destruction is to be wrought as the uncaring gods have dictated. Pulling a trio of tomes from the shelf, Alebert arranged them in full view of all. Each bore a name of one of those seated before him. These were their fates, and if fate was to be believed, they had all perished some years past. Sir Felstrom fell fighting an unconquerable horde of Crusaders somewhere to the north. Mazek had been assassinated by a devilish diabolist at the University in Whitefox. And Dain had been tried and executed by the Dwarven King for his crimes against the Ancestors. Alebert continued, explaining that in every Age a handful of Fateless arose, those who somehow inexplicably defied their fate. These individuals were the only who could effect the fates of others, preventing catastrophes and calamities across the land. The village of Greenhearth was one so fated to destruction, ritually sacrificed in a blood-magic ceremony. It was only the intervention of the Fateless which spared the inhabitants a fearsome demise.

A fourth tome is displayed upon the oaken table beside the others. Frostbarrow, bulwark of the Northern Realms and the primary line of defence against the advancement of the Crusader. The fortified city was fated to fall in ten days time, allowing hordes of murderous Darkblades, servants of the Crusader, beyond the North to sack the Kingdom. "I've traveled the North extensively", interjected Dain, "And I know Frostbarrow to be more than a month's travel from here. How do you propose we Fateless deny the fall of this city, when at best we may only witness the grisly aftermath?". Without a word Alebert simply rose, beckoning the trio follow him. Returning to the entry of the Tower Alebert threw open the door, allowing gales of icy wind to assault them, revealing a sleet-soaked walled city embraced in the heart of winter. "Snowhaven" explained Alebert, "A mere three days South of Frostbarrow. The Tower exists in a realm far beyond the ken of mortals, and in places were reality draws thin, we may appear in more than one place at any one time. Now I suggest you make for the haberdasher and afford yourselves some winter garments. 'Twill be a chilly ride North".

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Still reeling from their sudden travail, the trio wandered into the city of Snowhaven, acquiring steeds and shawls by which to journey North. An intricately drawn map of the local lands showed a common rest-site just a day's travel away, and with bellies full of mulled-wine and stewed swine, the trio bent their heads to the wind and set out to conquer fate. Finding the remnants of a campfire from travelers past as the map directed, the trio set watches and turned in for the night, roused shortly after by the magical alarms of Mazek. A snow-caked clutch of figures loomed in the moonlight, their shaggy cloaks doing little to conceal the spiked armour worn beneath. "Darkblades!" cried Sir Felstrom, charging forth, leaving behind armour and shield in his mad plunge to engage with the hated foes of the Kingdom. His blade clanged as it rung off the black-forge plate of the Darkblades, as Dain called upon his patron to guide their hands in battle and Mazek summoned forth his arcane power. The battle was over in scant moments, the guiding light of Dain turning away the worst of the Darkblade's blows, while the stalwart defence of Sir Felstrom provided the time for Mazek to blast their foul bodies apart in bursts of prismatic colour. Without stopping for rest, Sir Felstrom strung the corpses up against the bole of a towering redwood, the Darkblade's own swords bent and broken at their feet as a vicious warning to others who might come across the scene, and taking his rondel, carved a simple message into the tree's timber. Thus always to traitors.

The next morning the trio set out early, keen to arrive as early as possible in Frostbarrow. Coming across an over-turned horse and cart surrounded by figures, Dain was quick to move to render aid until the keen eyes of Mazek warded him off. "Wights. Or perhaps Arisen? Nonetheless these men are dead and bereft of spirit, yet they animate still. They are assuredly undead". Clutching his sigil close, Dain spoke a benediction of prayer to the Great Gold Wyrm, the warden of the dead and the guardian of the living. Ever-eager for battle, Sir Felstrom lowered his lance and plunged in amongst the dead-men, their icy claws tearing at his steed's flanks. As they surrounded the valiant knight the dwarf finished his prayers, golden hands reached up from the frozen earth to grip the undead abominations, dragging them down into the underworld where their lost spirits awaited them. "The Great Wyrm reclaims what is rightfully owed" thanked the dwarf, raising his sigil to his bearded lips. "This is an omen that the Great Wyrm is behind our cause. Come. We should not dally longer than we must".


Faith and Fury

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Frostbarrow. A small yet inexorable town, ringed by an octagon of basalt-stone guard towers manned by dozens of grim-faced soldiers clad in tarnished steel-plate, caked in blankets of sleeting, grey snow. The gates south are open, for no true danger lies that way; at least, no danger which Frostbarrow fears. "I wish to pay respects when we enter" asserted Sir Felstrom. "When my home of Alacar fell to the Crusaders, it was the men of Frostbarrow whom guarded our retreat and granted us the chance to live and fight another day". "Aye" agreed the Dwarf, "'Tis good to show respect where respect is due. I'll be off to find the families of those poor souls we put to rest on the road here - at the least I hope to offer some level of closure for their loss". Passing by a series of curious wooden effigies of black-armoured men bearing horns and pointed teeth, the trio split off to see to their duties, agreeing to meet at the Frozen Tanked Inn for supper. Sir Felstrom would pen a missive to the local lord, one Count Stilgast, requesting audience and apologising for arriving unannounced, while Dain would seek out a grieving family, handing over the meager possessions of their fallen kin-folk and assuring them that justice was meted out to their trespassers. Later that evening at the inn, the trio would learn of a coming event - the Festival of the Long Knight, wherein the inhabitants of Frostbarrow celebrate a great victory against the Crusaders by burning effigies of the black-armoured fiends and paying homage to the ones who fell repelling the vicious invaders. Conferring this new information with the fate of Frostbarrow, Mazek assures that whatever was to occur, it would fall on the night of the festival.

The next morning the trio visited the Watch Captain; a bear of a man facing a banditry problem of late. Volunteering to apprehend or slay Truldorr the bandit chief, the trio made for the forests once again, finding a number of youths arguing with the gate-watchmen. Eager to show their valour, the youths had also volunteered to seek out Truldorr, offering to lead the trio through the foreign woods in return for a chance at slaying the bandit chief. Sir Felstrom is wary of endangering the adolescents at first, but knowing they would face even greater danger bereft of his watchful eye, the noble knight eventually relented and allowed them to join. As the sun crept over the frigid tree-tops, the party delved into the new-morning's snow, arriving at the mouth of a shallow cavern littered with human refuse several hours later. Fearing for the youth's safety, Sir Felstrom commanded they stay outside with the horses, their grumbling protests waylaid by the soothing reassurances of Dain that fulfilling the role of rearguard carries with it no dishonour. Striking a lantern, the trio dove into the darkened cave, ears and eyes searching the gloom for signs of bandits and their traps. Instead of simple cut-throats, the trio came to a scene of total carnage; great, gouts of crimson splashed several feet up the stony walls, severed limbs cluttering the blood-soaked ground, and amidst it all, a quartet of black-armoured Crusaders still clutching their dripping swords. In unison the Crusaders turned and took fighting stances, intoning as one "Frostbarrow must fall".

Sir Felstrom leaped into action, finally armed and armoured in equal measure to face such wicked foes, his longsword darting into the gap between gorget and helm and piercing the first Crusader's heart and lungs. Beset by another black-armoured devil, the knight was unable to stop the remainder from striding into combat with the dwarf and wizard. Filling the narrow tunnel with his swarthy body, Dain laid about the encroaching Crusaders with his hammer, smashing armoured knees and feet to bring the superlative swordsmen down to his size, while Mazek conjured bolts of prismatic light and flung them with unnatural precision into their slanted visors. As the third assailant fell, a towering Crusader wielding a two-handed blade as tall as any man spoke words in an unknowable tongue, the trio feeling their will being swept away like minnows assaulted by a tidal wave, driving them down to their knees in despair. Laughing in a hollow, sucking shudder, the final Crusader lifted his monstrous blade, preparing to bring it down upon the dwarf's neck like an executioner at the chopping block. Pushing through his despair, Sir Felstrom threw himself bodily at the Crusader, sending the black-armoured foe off-balance. The spell momentarily broken, Dain slammed the spike of his warhammer through the devil's amoured foot and into the stone below, rooting him in place, as a splash of shimmering arcana burnt out his eyes. Staggered, blinded and pinned, the Crusader could do nothing as Sir Felstrom's sword stroke took him under the armpit, reaching up through his chest and exiting from under his sloping helm. In the stillness and silence which follows most battles, the slain Crusaders spoke in unison again, whatever foul pacts keeping their spirits in the mortal realm pushing them to speak…

"Frostbarrow must fall, for the dead must stay dead"

Exiting the cavern, soak in gore and on protesting limbs, the trio were confronted by a grim episode. A new quartet of Crusaders, a pair with their black blades held to the throats of the Frostbarrow youths while the others keep watch with notched arrows in black bows. Aggrieved but unwilling to risk the lives of innocents, Dain bargains with the Crusaders to let the youths go, his pleas interrupted by a curt word from Sir Felstrom. "Save your breath, dwarf. Darkblades have no free will of their own. It's kill, or be killed". As if on cue the Crusaders ended the youth's lives in typically brutal fashion; black blades severing their heads in a welter of blood. Charging into the fray once more, the trio set about the black-armoured devils with renewed vigor, turning aside strokes and arrows which would have felled lesser men. Once the blood-haze had lifted, the four Crusaders lay slain on the sodden earth. In taciturn silence the trio bundled up the bodies of the brave youths, paying less homage to the bodies of the Crusaders which are instead dragged behind the horses on spiked ropes. Dusk had just begun to settle as they made the south gates of Frostbarrow, passing by the downturned faces of guards and townsfolk confronted by their fallen sons. Riding into the keep, audience was swiftly granted by Count Stilgast, a council of lesser lords called to order in response to the looming threat of the Crusaders. The trio would learn of a trouble which had befallen Frostbarrow; the dead rising from their graves to take vengeance on the living. The town's mausoleum, often used as a place of worship and reverence, had been sealed and guarded for some weeks now, angering many of the more traditional residents. Dain, ever aware of the dangers of the undead, demands to be allowed access to the mausoleum to put the dead to rest in the name of the Great Wyrm. His desires are quashed by the count's Vizer,Zobru, a dark-skinned magus from the far-east who calls for more time to research the threat before acting. The captain of the Knights, Rhada proclaims he cannot allow the bodies of Frostbarrow's heroes to be desecrated by blade or by fire, espousing that it is an act of justice that they should rise again to face the Crusaders once more. Amid the bicker and squabble the count remained stone-faced, his mind awash with innumerable conflicting concerns…


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