Welcome to the novelization of my current D&D campaign, told through the perspective of the characters. Parts 1-19 charted the first part of the campaign, part 20 began the next phase of the saga: Tempora. For me, it lets me do a little creative writing between more serious projects. Links to the previous posts are at the bottom of this one. Enjoy!
I took my holy vows at the Sept of the Silver Blade before our departure. I had wanted my friends to join me, but bringing a druid and a warlock into such a sacred place would have somehow tainted the sacred ritual. The interior of the sept was magnificent, with low hanging brass lanterns intricately decorated, and the stonework some of the best I have ever seen. How could such a place of pristine goodness and sanctity be poised at the edge of a chasm where we had cast the darkest of our enemies? That was a dichotomy for greater minds to ponder.
Our journey north in search of the missing legion of brother paladins had been ponderous. The slow rising road brought a chill and thinning of the air. There were many pieces to this puzzle that we didn’t know including how to find the entrance to Tempora…if indeed that was where the wayward legion had been lured.
The goblins that Theren’s spell had just slain wore the armor (albeit poorly) of the very knights we were seeking. That did not bode well. Paladins would have never surrendered their armor to such loathsome creatures.
“I wish we hadn’t killed them both. One would have made a good pet…like a puppy,” Althalus said wryly.
“You are welcome to keep one now,” I replied.
“They are quite dead,” the warlock retorted.
“I know,” was all I said in response offering him a thin smile. That ended our banter on the matter.
We went a little ways further up the road and encamped in a small copse of pines which sheltered us from the night winds. The morn brought a low mist which clung to our clothing. We marched on and my eyes were drawn to a small three-fingers length of chainmail along the cobblestones. It was not rusted so it was an indication that we were possibly on the trail of the missing paladins from the Gash. “We are on the right trail,” I said as we passed it around.
As we marched uphill the woods alongside the long abandoned road grew thicker. The climb was steeper and the mountains crew closer with each clop of the horse’s hooves hitting the stone. It was after sunpeak that our new comrade, the ranger known as Brandon, motioned for us to halt. He fell back to the rest of our party. “I saw something run across the trail up ahead, hiding in the bushes.”
“How far up?” I queried.
“Around 80 or 90 feet from where I was at point,” the ranger replied.
I drew my sword without even thinking about it. “I say we move forward. Let us see what it was that the ranger saw.”
It wasn’t long before Brandon saw a man scurry back from his cover, diving behind another bush that took it even further from us. “Do you think we should check this out?”
“I am not in favor of pursuing things that take us off this trail,” I countered. There had been stories of such diversions aimed at luring good-hearted into ambushes.
Theren disagreed. “I don’t want whoever it is to shadow us and show up later, when we least expect it.”
We advanced slowly, stopping to see the footprints of whoever the man was. They were boot prints, the ranger assured us of that, though even I could see that much from my saddle.
“I say we ride on. Whoever this is, they are striving to steer clear of us. I will watch over my shoulder should he double-back on us,” I said. Clearly Althalus felt differently, I could see that in the furrows on his brow.
A few hours passed and we saw no immediate sign of pursuit. We set up our camp off of the road as we had on the night previously. A light drizzle began to fall and with the chill in the air, made for a stiff sleep. I had just gotten off to sleep when Theren called, “Halt,” which was enough to stir me to my feet. I saw Dimitrious spring to his feet, staff at the ready along with Brandon. Bor and Althalus apparently were still slumbering.
“Something is moving over there,” Theren said, pointing to the south of our camp. We all looked at each other, then back to Theren.
“Who goes there?” the druid called into the darkness.
A voice rose from behind a bush. “I mean no harm. I am just hungry.”
“Who goes there?” the druid repeated.
“My name is Icabod,” the voice said feebly.
Althalus, apparently just awakened moved to my side and chuckled. “Ichabod?” Apparently he saw something funny in the name of the man.
“Step out where we can see you,” Theren called. “We won’t harm you.” That was yet to be seen, but I appreciated the hint of honor in the druid.
The man stepped out, his plate armor caked with mud but still bearing the marks of the paladins from the Gash. “I—I am hungry,” he said. There was a look of fear in his face. “I just want some food, then I need to head back…away from this place.”
“Back?” Theren asked.
“Wherever you are going you are heading the wrong direction,” Ichabod replied.
“What are you doing out here?” I challenged, eyeing the longsword hanging in the scabbard at his side.
“I was part of a doomed expedition,” he said with a cough. “You have got to turn around.”
“Are you with the First Shield?” Brandon asked.
“You don’t want to go north. If you go north you will die.”
“You didn’t answer him,” I countered. “Were you with the First Shield?”
“I was,” he said with a low sign, his voice trailing off. To me, it sounded ominous. He lifted his head. “Who are you to be marching to your deaths?”
We didn’t respond quickly and Ichabod continued. “The advice I give you will save your lives. Turn around and head to the lowlands.”
I cleared my throat. “We are on a mission to go north to find the rest of the missing legion who have become captured. We are going to liberate them.”
Althalus stepped forward. “What happened to the others?”
Ichabod bowed his head slightly. “They were slaughtered. And you will be too.” He was clearly exhausted, I could see that in my fellow paladin’s face.
Althalus did a quick gesture with his hands, no doubt summoning some of his magic against the man. “What happened to the men you were with?”
“They were slaughtered. Those that weren’t killed…they were taken away.” Ichabod paused for a moment then pleaded with us. “You have got to turn around.” At the same time he began to walk towards us, no doubt under the influence of Althalus’s magic. As he reached us, he continued his plea, “You have got to go back to the south. You’ll all be dead soon – all of you.”
“So what happened?” the warlock pressed impatiently.
“Give the man some food,” Brandon said. Ichabod scarfed down the rations ravenously, thanking us between bites. The smell that rose from him spoke of a man that reeked of sweat and despair.
“You are most gracious,” he said with the last bite of jerky. “The way north is filled with black death, shame, and horror.”
“Where did you come from?” I pressed. “Was it Tempora?” our ranger added his questions as well.
“The Vale of White. That was where I was attacked. I alone was the one that escaped.”
“We need more detail than that,” Althalus said firmly.
Ichabod nodded. “We found what had escaped the Gash in the White Vale. I have always been told that it was a graveyard of goblins and dwarves that had been lost for many years. Then we saw a giant black rider, almost skeletal, on a black warhorse. We followed it into the vale at a full charge, our banner flying, swords shimmering. It was trapped there, surrounded by the mountains. We had them. In that moment…we had them.” His voice rose for a moment in memory.
“But it was a trap! The dead rose up around us like a sea. Brave knights who could turn the undead were not able to, it was as if god was no longer hearing our prayers or cries for help. I was hit on the head and stumbled…I…I do not know what happened for many minutes as my ears rang with the cries of my comrades. I came too with one of those abominations astride my chest, ready to impale me. I cut it in half and somehow got to my feet. Sir Kendrick called to me, said to go. I should not have listened to him, that is not the way of a paladin. I was afraid, as if I were a child, and in that fear I fell back, out of the bloodbath of the vale.
“I saw First Shield take his men and our standard to a narrow defile at the west end of the vale, but that was the last I saw of him. There was a bright light, like a bonfire, rising out of that pass. Whatever he saw there, it…it had to have killed them. If it didn’t – he certainly never emerged. It was all a trap – and we fell for it. Only then did I see it. The others that did–they did not survive. My brothers…they fought, as did I, but to no avail. I hear their screams now at night even now.
“I am not sure why I was spared. It was as if the dead wanted me to live, to tell others what happened. I ran…that I am not proud of. For three days and nights I ran south, my head still filled with their lamentations and cries. I passed out during a thunderstorm – I slept for I don’t know how many days.
“My cowardice saved me. My shame was all I had left. I had failed my order. I should have charged in and died with the others. I can no longer pray. I was there – god stopped answering us in that Vale. There is no way he would respond to me, a fallen holy knight. I am not worth to bend the knee in his name.
“I keep asking myself why they went there…how did they know of that place? Whatever came out of the Gash knew of the location of the Vale and possibly the way into Tempora. We saw no sign of the citadel, but it is said to have been hidden for centuries. It knew somehow, where it was going and planned our deaths.
“I should be killed for what I did…fleeing like a common coward. Better I face death than the shame of my brothers at the Fang. It would have been different if I had our standard, if that had survived. We lost our legion and the banner that held us together and blessed our order.” For a moment, the broken paladin cried, tears soaking his brown beard.
Brandon spoke up. “Would you not seize the opportunity to redeem yourself?”
Ichabod shook his bowed head as the tears continued to fall. “There’s no redemption for me.”
I alone understood him, I too was a holy knight in the service of God. For him to have run was not just breaking his bond with his men, but with his vows as a knight as well. His soul was lost in his eyes, but I saw something more. Such a man need not wallow in his failure. The church forgave those that confessed, and while the sin of cowardice was a taint on any man’s soul, there was a chance for him still. He may yet have a role to play in the affairs of this world. “You can redeem yourself. We need to go to the White Vale. You can lead us there.”
“Go back there?”
“Yes!” I said. “That act can redeem you.”
“I am a coward.”
“This is you rising above your cowardice. It is the first step to redemption. You come with us, lead us to the Vale so we can vanquish the enemy that defeated you.”
Althalus added, “You were following the orders you were given. Nothing more or less in our eyes. You were told the leave.”
Ichabod kept his head bowed. “I am not even worthy to look into your eyes.”
“Is it more shameful to go back to the Gash a coward that did not face his fears…or as a man that led us to fight that evil?” I asked.
Ichabod rose and we saw the red in his eyes. I thought for a moment that Althalus might actually hug him, but he did not. “I will not enter that place with you.”
“We are not asking that,” I replied.
“I will lead you there then,” he said with more resolve than I anticipated.
We took the rest of the slumber that night, uneasy. We ate while Theren and Brandon foraged for food. We kept a low fire, just enough to ward off the night chill.
Ichabod shared with us how they had come to the White Vale. “First Shield Sir Ferrin saw something stirring in the Gash. We went down there, along the winding stair of The Wail – with 15 other holy knights of the order. When we arrived at the landing we were confronted by…I cannot say what it was. Faceless – formless, it was an apparition and as solid as steel and just as cold. It blew past us, along with other ilk that had climbed out of the dark, leaving only four of us alive. We lost it when it headed north, into the foothills of The Horns of Essex towards the Sever Pass – the name of the Vale in the old tongue.
“The First Shield, a righteous man was he, summoned the whole of the legion to pursue. It took us days marching north. There was no trail, the dead do not leave their mark on the land. Even our best rangers struggled to find their course in the rocks. For days we marched, day and some of the night.
“Then we found them at the edge of the Vale. And that is where everything fell asunder…”
Brandon spoke up, “We were told that this was all tied to Sir Viktor Barristen.”
“Does the name Barristen mean anything to you?” Althalus asked.
The mention of his name seemed to make Ichabod’s brow furrow. “Absolutely. He is one of the most heinous men to walk the land – even before the Great War. A fallen paladin with a soul as black a coal.”
“What can you tell us of him?” I asked.
“Once the greatest paladin of the Order of the Holy Scepter, Barristen was considered at one point to be one of the most renowned paladins ever. He fell from grace however when he broke his vows and took a wife. His Order excommunicated him, erasing his name from the holy rolls. Barristen then lost his young bride to a terrible plague, one that he claimed had been set upon her by the Church as retribution.
“He turned to be a fallen knight and black paladin. It is said that he poisoned the members of his own former order, killing them all. Some say he was experimenting to become a Lich or worse.”
“Knowing what I do of the church,” Brandon said, “I cannot say I blame him.” Clearly our new ally had some foul encounters with the church. Althalus gave the ranger a nod.
“The church hunted him down and imprisoned his body in an iron and lead coffin, sealed and hidden. Not dead, his soul was trapped in purgatory for all eternity. He swore he would escape and wreak havoc on the peoples of the world, payment or the sins he perceived against him. He fell a full century prior to the last war and no one knew where his mortal remains were hidden. He is now merely a story to scare children, a story of a knight that fell and became evil. Most paladin orders will not even allow his name to be spoken, other claim he is only a legend, a myth, which may explain why you have not heard of him. Why do you think he is involved in what happened to the legion?”
“Rumor has it that he might be trying to return,” Althalus said.
“He may very well have been part of whatever it was you saw coming out of the Gash,” I added. Bit by bit the story was coming together, though our role in the tale was still not known.
“Where did you get word of this?” the fallen paladin asked.
“A letter that was sent to the Gash,” Althalus said. Brandon pulled out the letter he had delivered and saved passed it to Ichabod to read.
“You are in consort with Lexa Lyoncroft?” he said as he finished, dismayed at the words he head read.
“Well, I am,” Brandon said proudly. Clearly the ranger did not have our experience with her.
“Your acting First Shield sent us out here because of that letter,” the warlock added, cutting off the ranger’s boast.
“There is only death in that Vale,” Ichabod said firmly. “It is a while field. There is the blood of the gods there, the old gods, stones that stand out. It is a sea of bleached bones.”
“The letter mentions that,” Brandon said, taking back the parchment. “I know he has walked the Blood of the Gods and resides deep in Tempora,” he said reading the note he had preserved.
“Of that I cannot speak. But I do know this, to enter the Vale is to invite death.”
Theren rose to his feet standing over the campfire. “You said that you can take us back there to the Vale. That is where we must go.”
Ichabod nodded, bound by his words from the night before. “We are about a day’s walk from the Horns of Essex. Two days north of there is the White Vale.” The druid put out the fire with several kicks of dirt and we packed up. Ichabod and Brandon shared the ranger’s horse and we set out north.
At night fall we came to a flattened hilltop in a foothill of the looming mountains. On either side of the old road was a massive white-gray horn, that rose and arched over the trail ominously. They stood nearly 30 heads in height, looming upward and over the road. They looked as if they were stone, but there were no markings on them to indicate they had been carved. It was hard to fathom what kind of massive monster might have grown them, if they were indeed real horns. Who put them there – for what purpose? Clearly they were important. Perhaps it was the dwarves, marking the entrance to their territory. If so, what had been the origins of these now petrified remains?
We stopped just short of the Horns of Essex and made our camp for the night. That night was the coldest we experienced. For two days we tread towards the north. In the evening of the second day Ichabod raised his hand to motion for us to stop. He turned towards us, a grim expression masking his gaze. “Just over the next rise is the White Vale. I have fulfilled my word to you. The time has come for me to depart.”
“Thank you for your service,” Brandon offered politely.
“I am going to go and accept the penance and justice of my order for my deeds.”
I know how holy orders treat paladins that have fallen from grace. Ichabod faced a grim future. I borrowed a pen and parchment from Althalus. “I will write you a letter to the acting First Shield telling them that you have redeemed yourself.”
“Thank you. I beseech you to turn around while you can. You face death,” he said taking the letter.
“Live long and prosper,” I told him.
Brandon offered him his horse Siegfried and five gold pieces. “Donate it to your church.” With that, Ichabod left.
We advanced carefully forward, the fallen-paladin’s words still ringing in our ears…
The following are the previous installments. I hope you enjoy the campaign so far. Be sure to follow my blog if you do.