Paper and Dice

Gaming from an author's point of view, and fiction from a gamer's point of view.

Epilogue from the Other Side

Saturday, August 8, 2009 - 1:35 PM

Still here. Wedding, two receptions on two sides of the country, a stint in Paris (ah, Paris), and a road trip as well as various bureaucratic ordeals have kept me very busy. In my last game session for DnD, the players came to the end of the Big Plot Arc, and became very famous people indeed. This got me thinking about gaming epilogues, of course, and I decided to show something from The Other Side.
Sometimes a victory is a two-edged sword.

Yesterday, Julian was inconsolable. He had wept blood, thrashed as if he wanted to destroy his own body against any surface he could find, and howled until his voice failed. Avar had to restrain him, binding the smaller man.

Today, Julian sagged with despair. There was no spark left in him, and he followed Avar meekly. Silent, Julian would not or could not speak, and Avar did not press him. There had been fits before, frothing and gnashing, but Julian had never been so broken. Avar did not rely on conversation, but as the two of them through thick, dank woods to the Manticore, he felt alone. Julian usually sang quietly or offered occasional words, but he walked silently, withdrawn.

Leoric had sent word that morning for them to come to the Manticore. Ever since their failed journey to the Alyach, finding it impassable, Leoric had stayed in the north of the Wound while the rest had gone back to attend to the growing army and preparing for the onslaught against the Green Veil knights.

But yesterday, Fidelity suddenly withdrew, leaving his cult confused and dismayed. Julian and the other Wormkeepers all became howling wrecks. Something had changed, and Avar expected that Leoric would have an answer.

When he crested the dead trees of the Manticore, he emerged to see Leoric standing at the edge of the Manticore's 'head', the slight overhang that looked down at the Wound. Nearby, Tancred stood, leaning heavily on a gnarled club, and a scabrous ghoul of large size crouched next to Leoric.

Isabeau, wearing her ghoul, Avar thought. As he and Julian moved to join the three, Leoric turned slightly.

“I am glad we didn't lose Julian. Many of the Wormkeepers died yesterday.”

“Yes,” said Avar. “And Fidelity left. What has happened?”

“The impossible,” said Tancred bleakly, but Leoric's glance killed anything else Tancred might have said.

Instead, Leoric pointed north, and Avar could see a whirlwind of harpies, this time swirling over the constant thick smog of the deep Wound.

He furrowed his brow. “I thought they did that once a year.”

“Watch,” said Leoric. “What has happened was not what we ever expected, but I have seen the runes, and I understand now. The harpies are waiting, just as we are.”

Avar decided not to ask, and as he expected, part of the answer occurred shortly. A great shadow crossed over them, sweeping a horrible sour odor through the wind, and he looked up to see a tremendous harpy, a giant around which a vast cloud of flies buzzed. Other harpies followed in her wake, and he could feel the uncomfortable tickling at the back of his mind that indicated she was a Disciple.

“Beauty,” murmured Tancred with awe.

The giant harpy glided and dipped through the air, joining the huge vortex of her countless children, and then her devastating voice echoed through the Wound. It swept up the voices of her children, building a storm of angry wordless song that built steadily.

A sharp scuffing sound pulled Avar's attention away, and he glanced back at Julian, who had crumpled himself into a little weeping ball. Isabeau's ghoul also glanced at Julian, and took a slight step towards him.

“Oh no,” murmured Julian. “No, no. No.”

The steady tide of the harpy song built and then broke into a frightful harmonic screaming, equal parts anguish and rage and triumph. Avar felt, rather than saw, creatures fleeing from the Wound. Somehow he knew that even the most diseased and corrupted animals were running away. Tancred shifted uncomfortably, and for the first time Avar saw fear on his weathered face.

This time the question would not be restrained. “What is happening,” he said softly.

“Watch. Watch for the stirring of His corpse,” said Leoric.

Like dust billowing out from the collapse of a cave, the smog at the deepest end of the Wound suddenly burgeoned out, a foul greasy thunderhead of thick vapor. It rolled over the edges of the Wound, seeped in and around the trees and boiled over the hills. The brunt of it spilled through the deep canyon of the Wound, obscuring even the shallow areas with ochre-green smog. Avar saw a good many harpies plummet from the sky, dead.

There was a moment of profound silence, and then the earth groaned. A tremor went through the ground, a jolt of anguish.

“The Alyach is open,” said Leoric with satisfaction. “The Disciples all gathered at the Tree, because Hope was slain. Hope is dead.”

Avar tilted his head, and was not at all surprised that even the ghoul looked discomfited.

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