A couple of years ago we started a campaign in my gaming club for AD&D (2nd Edition). It took place in the same campaign world as the Roll 20 campaign we have on here. Those of you who participate in that campaign may remember that the setting was one in which a neighboring kingdom had been devastated by an army of undead (now defeated.)
Well I was going through my computer, doing a little housekeeping, and I found the little fluff setup for that campaign. I decided to share it here in case anyone might be interested.
It was the sort of gathering people pray they'll never be a part of.
The setting sun cast long shadows into the room, doing little to illuminate the gloom. Everyone was standing except the figure sitting in the chair at the center of the room. He sat, facing the large window but his eyes were not seeing the setting sun. They were the eyes of a haunted man, one who has seen things to make him wish he had been born blind. The figure nearest to him places a gentle, almost fatherly hand upon his shoulder.
"Just take your time, Melchior. Tell us as much as you can."
Melchior nodded, gathering his robes around him as if for warmth, yet the room as a comfortable temperature with a warm fire burning in the hearth. The robes hadn't been designed for warmth anyway, despite the perpetual winter. They'd been designed for ease of movement and comfort, concessions made to those who wore then and needed to move easily when casting spells. The robe, once a fine, shimmering purple was now torn and scorched. Melchior himself was uninjured although his gaunt face was smudged with soot and his hair reeked of ash. He closed his eyes, wiped a tear from one of them, and began.
“I was in the castle... the Duke's castle in Aramat. We'd just arrived with food and water on the normal teleportation run. I was exhausted. I was looking forward to a meal, a rest, perhaps a little wine... I'd just decided to do that when the rumbling began.”
He paused again, swallowing hard. “It felt like an earthquake... as if the gods themselves were playing huge drums. The ground shook. I nearly fell. I... I kept waiting, thinking whatever it was would stop but it didn't... It just kept going and going. I made my way to the window and looked out and that's when... I saw what it was.” Melchior looked up into the face of the King, Rowind Tormagard I of Saltara. “It was the walls, sire... They... sections of them... were collapsing.”
The King looked up at Sir Roland, who stood at the back of the room next to the prince Peter Tormagard. They met the King's gaze in a silent understanding of what those words meant. The King spoke, his voice deep but gentle. “What had caused them to fall? Siege engines?” Melchior shook his head. “No, sire. We didn't know it at the time but in time we learned that it was magic. Some of those in the army of the Lich King had used magic to undermine the walls themselves and the upper parts of them simply collapsed.”
Sir Roland's wife, Serai, moved toward the tray that had been left on the corner of the King's table and poured a cup of cool water, offering it to Melchior. He accepted it and nodded, attempting a weak smile of appreciation. His eyes lingered for a moment on her gently pointed ears and her belly, slightly swollen with the child growing inside her. He wanted to be happy for her and for Sir Roland, but there was nothing in him now but despair. He sipped the water and continued.
“We immediately looked for direction. We hadn't expected this. The siege had already gone on for so long... The attack came as a complete surprise. Lord Robert... he took command quickly and sent runners to the walls to try and rally any men who remained there, intending to have them fall back to the inner walls around the keep. I followed him, unsure what to do. He saw me and put his hand on my shoulder. 'Go into the keep.' He told me. 'Go and defend my family. See to them. Now!' I nodded.... I didn't understand why he would ask me to do this, but then I realized... He needed all his warriors at the gate to the inner wall. You see... He was a ruler beloved of his people. He had removed the heavy wooden gates from the inner walls and had them taken to brace the city's gates. He had decreed that the city's fate would be his. The people loved him for it, sire... But now he realized. His family, his home, were utterly vulnerable now. He had expected to outlast the siege, perhaps to sally with outside aid and drive the Lich King's armies back. This was the last thing any of us expected.
“I didn't know the keep very well but I knew roughly where his private apartments were, and I rushed to them. I found a window that overlooked the courtyard and the city and I looked. Oh, gods... why did I look?” Hs eyes fluttered closed again, tears falling down his angular cheeks. “The attackers... they'd rushed through the gaps in the walls so fast, so very fast. None of the men at the walls could possibly have regrouped. The undead were utterly merciless. They wanted revenge for the long siege. The brutality... Oh, gods” His voice cracked, his shoulders heaved as he sobbed. The gathered audience were silent, giving him time to collect himself. “They butchered everyone. Women, children, young, old, even those who offered no resistance. They tore them to pieces. Sometimes they would use necromancy to animate the fallen to grow their ranks.” He paused again, sipping his water and using his tattered sleeve to wipe the tears form his face, now flowing freely.
“I heard a voice behind me. I looked and it was my Master, Regulus. I'd been his apprentice since childhood and yet I'd never seen the look on his face I saw there. It was something like... rage mixed with resignation. It chilled me to my soul.” He swallowed hard again, his eyes still closed. “He told me to prepare myself. Asked me how many combat spells I had prepared. I told him not many, since I wasn't expecting battle. He nodded and told me he hadn't either but that we must do our very best.
“I turned back to the window and saw Lord Robert and a small group of Knights of the Order of the Eagle with him. They were positioning themselves at the courtyard gate. That's where they meant to make their stand with the few city defenders that remained. They didn't seem to speak to one another. What do you say at a time like that? The Eagle Knights and Robert the Fox didn't see eye to eye often, in fact, they'd even been known to battle each other, but not now. Now they were like brothers. They stood together, shoulder to shoulder. It was inspiring and yet...” His voice cracked again.
The King was leaning against his table, silently listening to Melchior's tale. Sir Roland and Prince Peter stood against the back wall, and Serai sat in a wooden chair off to one side, her hand over her mouth. “The undead poured through the empty gate. Lord Robert and the knights met them and held their ground... It was beautiful. These warriors, standing against the tide. The knights were infused with the gods' own power, driving back wave after wave of the beasts, shouting battle cries and prayers as they fought. Lord Robert was silent but he fought on as hard as they. It was his family he fought for. His wife... his daughter.” Melchior's eyes flickered to Serai, thinking of the similarities between Robert's family and her own, as it would be soon.
“They fought like demons but there were...” He sobbed openly now. “There were just too many... the fallen corpses stacked in a pile before the nights until they formed a mound and those coming after were climbing it to literally jump down upon them. They... They began to fall they were enveloped.” His words came now in stuttering gasps as he tried to continue through the sobs that wracked him. “The tide poured over them and they began to swarm toward the keep.” He looked down at his own torn robes, as if remembering how each and every rip and tear happened. He pulled it around him again and continued.
“Regulus shouted for me to come join him and I did, following him through the corridors of the keep until we reached the long hallway that joined Lord Robert's apartments. Regulus clasped my shoulder and nodded once to me. A farewell? I stood behind him to lend my support. Behind me I could hear Lord Robert's daughter, Leisa, crying, terrified. Her mother was trying to comfort her but what could she do? The snarls and shrieks of the mad undead were echoing down the corridor even then and that's when Regulus began casting. I turned, and he was hurling flame from his hands, from his fists, from his fingertips even. He cast one spell then immediately started another. I'd never seen the full fury of my Master's combat magic unleashed.” He was looking at the King but not seeing, he was watching his Master in his mind's eye. “He unleashed so much flame... It was... magnificent. He was magnificent. In that moment I was so proud to be his apprentice. To have him as my teacher and mentor. He stood firm, tall, never did he waver, even when...” His voice broke down and he forced the words out, the last few syllables coming out in a desperate cry “...when they reached him and tore him down.” He wept bitterly for his fallen Master. The King once again put a gentle hand on Melchior's shoulder, patting him reassuringly.
It was a long time before Melchior was able to gather himself again, steeling himself for the terrible conclusion to his tale. “When Regulus ran out of spells he pulled his dagger. He'd never used it before in battle but he used it now. I couldn't bear to watch so I stumbled back toward the Lord's family, meaning to stand and defend them. I just wanted to die, I was ready to die. I... I opened the door... I saw them... I wanted to save them I...” His next words came out in a long, terrible wail. “They were taking some kind of pill... Each of them. The mother telling that little girl it would be alright, that she would soon see her daddy again. 'We're going to be with daddy now, little love. Daddy's waiting for us.' Oh, gods! Oh gods those pills made them cry... the pain... The little girl shrieked and her mother held her tight, whispering through her own pain that it would be over soon, that it was almost done. Oh gods sire I wanted to die with them, to lay down and let it be over. Oh gods...”
Sir Roland was looking away, his eyes crushed tightly closed. Prince Peter's face was like stone, grim and hard. The King pinched the bridge of his nose and his fingers came away wet. Serai wept softly in the corner.
Melchior resumed, his voice sounding lifeless, as if the last few moments had finished crushing his soul at last. “They fell silent even as I used my spells to fight, my own fire burned as many of the beasts as I could but in the end I was taken alive and given a scroll with a teleport spell so that I could return here and relay a message.” Here, he looked up at the King. “The Lich King says he's coming to Saltara next. He says Baron's Rock will suffer the way Aramat suffered.”
The King turned and stood at the window. The sun had gone, as if hiding from the horrors it had seen this day.
"He who takes offense when no offense is intended is a fool, and he who takes offense when offense is intended is a greater fool."
"Don't take refuge in the false security of consensus."