The Soulblight King: Chapter 1, The Return of the Soulblight King.
Lady of grace and beauty, I set down my lance, symbol of duty, upon your shrine. I spurn those whom I love. I relinquish all, and take upon the tools of my journey. No obstacle will stand before me. No plea for help shall find me wanting. No moon will look upon me twice lest I be judged idle. I give my body, heart and soul to you, oh Lady, and I shall seek wherever thou might be found. This is my questing vow, and I swear before you, mistress of mercy, and beg that you shall strike me down should I falter.
The Knights rose from the altar in the presence of the King to become Questing Knights, their mission is to scour the lands of Ghur seeking foe worthy of their blade, they seek the Grail of the Lady. "Rise, my children. For you are now in the service of the lady, I strip you of your titles as a gift to the Realm, take up your swords and ride out, may the lady be with you all"
The knights rode out of the gates of Carcassonne, their horses saddles filled with symbols, food and water. They rode fast towards the Fangwood Forests, for days they sort out beasts to slay, the forest were full of these. On the fourth day they came across a withered old man, crouching by a stream, cradling water to drink. He was weak and collapsed as he tried to look up to see the knights before him. One knights, named Chery got down from his horse and helped the man back to his knees. "Don't worry old man, we are here to aid you. How is it you have travelled this far into the woods?". The old man turned to Chery, "I was running, the sounds the smell of death, I ran as fast as I could, we all did." "Running from where, running from what old man?"
"From the city, the ruined city. We were seeking refuge from the storm and cold, We had travelled far and found the abandoned place and saw shelter there." Chery turned to his fellow knights, who were also now walking towards them. He turned back to the withered man and asked, "What is your name and where are your people now, Sir?" "All gone young one, they have all been taken by the flesh eaters and blood suckers" These words gave a chill down the Questing Knights spine. Could this old man be talking about Pares, the city of ruin? They had heard as children stories and tales of the fall of Pares and the weakness of the old King. They had been told myths of night creatures that now haunt the lands seeking revenge towards the Kingdom.
The old man looked up to Chery. "You know of the place I talk about, the place I have run from." "I think I do old man." Chery asked "Is there cloth and symbols clad in purple and yellow colouring in this ruined city? Tell me more of this place" The old man told the knights of the surroundings, the River running through the city which now glowed green and stained red from blood. He told of the fortress sitting atop a cliff with a bottomless mote encircling the walls. "I saw him children. I saw the Lord of the dead creatures, pale skinned and fangs like a Sabre. He feasted upon my brothers, he wore purple cloth and was clad in fine golden armour."
The knights looked around at each other and the same thought entered each in unison. Boira, the largest of the Knights stepped forward, "Old man, lead us back to this city, show us of what you speak of, we protect you, we vow to end the evil of this place and find your brothers so you may carry out your burials and free their spirits from the clothes of undeath." The knights helped the man to his feet. "Tell me, what is your name?" asked Boira. "Vlad, my name is Vlad."
They rode for many days, following the forgotten paths that interlinked the cities of Bretonni, one path was truly forgotten, not used in centuries. At the crossroad to this road, there was a signpost which bore just one word, where it used to read Pares (5 days), it now just read DEATH. The old man pointed in that direction and the knights rode on. The road turned to dust and the sun grew stronger as they entered a region of the Realm known as the badlands. The desert sands moaned and marsh lands clad their route, a strange smell of rotten meat filled the air.
Night came upon them quickly and they stopped to make camp, they lit a fire and sat eating provisions, rationed out. The old man did not touch a single bite, instead sat quietly looking upon the horizon. "What are you looking at Vlad, the night is too dark to see anything" Vlad, who was turned away from the knights, smiled softly. "Some things do not need to be seen my child, some things can be felt with other senses." As Vlad finished speaking, a howl filled the air and rushing of bushes surrounded them. Each knight picked up a fire torch and formed an outward facing circle around the old man. "Don't worry children, it is not me who needs protecting", as he said this a hunched over creature struck a knight face on, but the knights reactions were quick and he struck the beast away. The sounds of horse cries then fill the air as the ghouls set upon them. The knights rushed to the sound and set upon the ghouls with ferocity. They slayed the majority of them and the rest fled away, one ghoul remained and his was tied to the fire pit post, the flames scolding his back.
"Tell us who your master is creature!" "Tell us where you have come from and why you stalk these sacred lands!" "NEVER" cried the ghoul, skin now blistering from the heat. "Then you shall feel the full torture we can produce to foul things like yourself!" Boira pushed the ghoul even closer to the fire and the ghoul let out a cry in agony.
Boira was a proud knight, but as a child his main hobby was stalking small animals and seeing just how much pain he could cause them without them dying. In later years, he done the same to the enemy of the kingdom, locking himself in a room with the captives for days until the information that was needed, was obtained. No one could withhold information from him.
At the point of the creature slipping into darkness, Boira pulled him away from the fire, this went on for many hours, until the skin of the ghoul was crisp, black and raw. 4 words left the beasts mouth, but it was enough for the knights to feel for the first time, fear. "Pares, King Thierre, Soulblight.."
Not one of the knights, took in the strange words of Vlad, but subconsciously they knew something appeared odd with the old man. Once daylight broke and the scorching sun rose above the horizon, the knights looked upon the sands to see the full extent of the battle the night before. A horde of bodies piled high of rotting flesh stunk upon the air. "We must proceed south towards Pares, we are close now." explained Chery.
Two more days went by and they reached the borders of the city, Vlad stopped in his tracks. "Why do you stop old man, what do you feel?" Vlad looked up upon the walls and fell to the ground. "The knights dismounted and rushed to pick him up, but as they did, a shriek came form the other side of the walls; winged creatures flew over them and the Knights rushed back to their horses to grab their weapons. The winged creatures did not stop and flew passed them. They turned back to Vlad to find he had gone, the Knights did not have time to look for him and proceeded into gates of the ruins. As they entered, the air become cold, the sky turned dark with thick cloud cover and a fog covered the ground obscuring small obstacles which the horses tripped over from time to time. The city appeared abandoned, no sign of life for many a year was present, apart from the occasional wolf pack scavenging off the bones of fallen animals. These posed no threat to the knights and so they pushed on.
The knights came to the centre of the city, an old market place filled with ruined buildings and overgrown with now dead vines and bush. Many paths led off in different directions from the centre, the buildings lining the streets appeared to glow green from the bases. Some ruins were familiar to the sights in Carcassonne, Occulums and Dais as well as housing and shops could be made out from the rubble. One road led towards the fortress of Pares in the distance, it sat upon a rocky outcrop surrounded by a deep cavern used as a mote. They followed the road up looking upon the castle. A shadow rose from the towers and started coming closer towards them, but this was no shadow, these were huge monstrous creatures with wings wider than a Khorgorath. They swooped down and one picked a horse up and flung it against a wall. The knights held steady. Suddenly the ground begun to shake and a hand rose out of it grabbing at the foot of Boira, he kicked it from the socket of the arm and looked around to see hundreds of undead death walkers emerging from the ruins and rising out the ground. The cracks in the earth revealed a green miasma, a sign of death magic banned from this Realm. The Zombies cut off their retreat so all the knights could do was push on forwards, they carved through the hordes but for every one they killed, three more took their place. A few knights fell to the ranks of flesh eaters but the majority fought their way through and cut a route up the path to the castle. They ran over the bridge and entered the fortress, no zombie would come close to the bridge, a strong force repelled them.
The men dismounted from their horses, walking slowly through the winding corridors of the keep; they saw pale faced men cowering in the corners of the rooms, never coming more than 10 feet from the knights. "What evil lurks in these halls?" asked Chery. "Something does not feel right here". The band of questing knights make their way into a great hall with architecture that makes the stonework of Carcassonne seem insignificant. At the end of the hall they saw a figure sitting upon the grand throne and the knights stopped in their tracks.
"Welcome my brothers." The voice shouts from the seat. "Welcome to Pares, the rightful capital of Bretonni! Where have you travelled from?" The man already knew this answer. "We have travelled from Carcassonne, we seek evil to destroy in the name of the Lady. We have heard of legends about the old King of Pares, his weakness and the deal with Nagash that binds him to this god-for-saken city!" Chery explained. A sound of laughter filled the room and the Vampire rose from the throne and walked towards them.
"Let me tell you the real story of how I have come to be who I am." "I sit upon this throne now cursed until the return of my grandchild to free me from the shackles of Nagash, I ruled this kingdom in past days with honour and courage, the lands of Bretonni stretched from the Sylvaneth Forests to the Blasted Plain and The Grey Mountains. All feared the power of the Bretonni. It was your traitor king's grandfather who consumed by his hate of his people, set about to bring down the mighty empire my family created."ENOUGH Blasphemy vampire! We know this not to be true, our Noble Lord loves this land and the kingdom prospers with vast food and wealth bar this scar upon our Realm! We seek to destroy all evil in the name of Carcassonne, in the name of Bretonni and in the name of the Lady!" cried Boira. The vampire laughed.
"The lady! She does not care for bretonnian folk, she does not even reside in this Realm, she finds home among the trees now in Ghyran. She cowers behind her branches and aelf wanderers not wanting company of anything but her seeds!" "ENOUGH!" cried Boira as he drew his sword from his hilt. The rest of the Knights followed suit and charged towards the Lord. As they did, the Lords smile turned into a grimace as he called for Nagash, he uttered a spell and the room filled with green miasma. The knights were hurled up and were spun in the air, they cried with torment as their eyes, ears and mouth exploded with green light. The Lord laughed once more, "You see, the Lady is not here to save you now Knights" The horses were pulled up into the mix and all screamed with agony as their bodies twisted inside out, Chery was not part of this torture and sat upon the floor observing this evil. A green flash filled the room and then vanished. In front of the Lord now stood glowing ethereal versions of the Bretonni Questers sitting atop dragon winged horses. Chery stood up and looked upon the Lord. "What have they become! What have you done?"
"I am Thierre Dufour, rightful King of Bretonni, these knights are now mine, return to your kingdom and tell of me to your King. Tell him to find me upon the fields of Pares awaiting his army, tell him Bretonni is not his for much longer!" With that, the vampire turned and walked down the halls of the castle. The Ethereal Knights dissapeared into the air and Chery was alone in the dark hall trying to comprehend what had just happened.