Sidescene: They Were Coming

They were coming.

The young Drow knelt behind an overturned stone slab that was once a table. It was just a few hours ago that laughter filled his ears as he and his friends drank bitters and played dice games. Now he could only hear his heart pounding so fast and loud he was afraid the enemy would hear it.

He rechecked his crossbow as they had taught him in war camp. It was cocked and ready. The string hard and tight, ready for battle, expectant. Even in times of peace a cocked crossbow made him nervous. Not for the warnings his weapon master gave him about accidental firings, but because it made the crossbow seem anxious for battle, hungry for blood—something he never was.

He swallowed hard and closed his eyes. He mouthed a silent prayer to Lolth, the spider queen goddess of the Drow. Months ago word leaked out that her priestesses were no longer receiving spells. Lolth had abandoned her children. The Drow, who had always been the dominant power in the Underdark, panicked. Major cities fell into chaos and ruin. Thousands starved as clan rivalries became open warfare. Some brave Drow headed for the surface, hoping the Overlight would bring a new chance at life for them.

But still the young Drow prayed. It was all he had. The enemy had made it past the outer post and into the enclave. Warriors far better than he had already been killed defending their small community. It was up to him and his two brothers in arms to stop them from getting into the shrine. Lolth may have abandoned them, but the Matron Mother hadn’t and he would give his life…. His life. Oh goddess. If Lolth was gone and he was to die this day, where would his soul go?

Some had given up on the traditional Drow pantheon. They believed that with Lolth gone, oblivion was all that awaited a dying Drow who held true to them.They flocked to the worship of Eilistraee, a Drow goddess of redemption that still worked within the Elven pantheon. They preached peace between all Elven folk, so that Drow could live long full lives instead of dying in some raid or battle before they even reached their third century. Normally that would be a great heresy, but many were drawn to its message of hope. The young Drow had never really thought too much about the other gods before now, but he was suddenly wishing he had. Perhaps things would be different.

The young Drow let out a long slow breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. Things weren’t different, though. He was here now and the enemy was coming. He was afraid of the battle he was about to fight, afraid of dying, and afraid of oblivion. But he had to be strong. Strong for the Matron Mother. Strong for his brothers. He always thought he was the weakest of them because of his fears. But maybe some of them were afraid too. Maybe all of them were. Maybe that’s what it means to be Drow. To be strong in the face of fear, to attack that which makes you afraid, and to be the thing that makes other races afraid of the dark.

He heard the bootfalls of the enemy. He could smell their rotting flesh. And he was—expectant, ready for battle. He finally understood. This is why he was here, why all Drow were here. This moment. Right now. He looked down at his crossbow. This thing he once feared was now his brother, his twin. It was hungry, ready for release, ready to fulfill its destiny as an instrument of war. He understood—everything.

He was still looking at his crossbow when the arrow came that sent him to oblivion.

Sidescene: The Missive

To: High Father Angus Quinn, Purifier

–Office of the Hunters, Church of the Radiant Cross, Iberia, Europa

From: Commander Grant Pell, Hunter

–Office of the Hunters, Church of Golden Glory, Southport, Pantheon

High Father,

We have confirmed the presence of the Shadowfell plague on Pantheon. It appears to be moving very slowly as it did in the beginning of the outbreak in Europa months ago. Hopefully now that we know what to expect, we can stop this before it gets too far. There are reports of the plague in Southport, Tantras, and Sumeria. We don’t know if this is a coordinated attack or simply coincidental timing, but we aren’t taking any chances. I have dispatched Hunters across Pantheon to watch and report, but we are spread pretty thin.

The Council has issued alerts to all authorities to watch for outbreaks and all graves from the last six months are being opened and the bodies burned. They are attempting to use Woundhealer, but it can’t be enough to help everyone. They seem to be doing the right thing, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that they have a vampire and two demons on the Council. I can only hope that whatever dark forces they might answer to, they are enemies of the Raven Queen as well.

Even in a best case scenario, many lives will be lost. The best we can hope for is that we stop the Raven Queen from gaining a foothold on Pantheon. More reports to follow. Good luck and God bless, Sir.

–Commander Grant Pell, Hunter

Sidescene: Report

General Thrane: Legion has begun to move against us, but we have easily repelled him.

Emperor Som: Have you, now?

General Thrane: He may be able to take a few guards here and there, but once we mobilize, the coward retreats.

Emperor Som: Your foolishness has followed you beyond the grave. Legion is not trying to kill us one guard at a time, he is learning our defenses.

General Thrane: Our defenses…

Emperor Som: Yes. I want defense drills at every post and active perimeter searches for any sign of Legion. Put some skeletons on it if you need to. I will not have everything I have built destroyed by your mistakes–or Hers.

General Thrane: Emperor, is that not blasphemy?

Emperor Som: She can’t lay a finger on me.

General Thrane: So the rumors are true? You are the source?


Emperor Som: Return to Gallia and carry out my orders. And remember, you are not untouchable.

General Thrane: By your command, Emperor. Fear not the Queen’s murder.

Emperor Som: Fear not.

(General Thrane exits)

Raven Queen: Evil, but not so bright. I should have taken that Panthrason soul.

Emperor Som: Well, well. Look who’s here.

Raven Queen: You really think I don’t look in from time to time without your knowledge? This is my empire after all.

Emperor Som: Then you should be taking care of your problem. Legion is going to make his move–soon.

Raven Queen: I’m taking care of it.

Emperor Som: You keep saying that.

Raven Queen: And it continues to be true. I have someone on it.

Emperor Som: “Someone?!” Why won’t you let me send a battalion to find him and end this?

(Raven Queen flicks her wrist and Emperor Som’s left hand bends back until his finger nails are touching his arm and his wrist tears in half. Emperor Som doesn’t make a sound.)

Raven Queen: I said no. I’ve said no twice now. Don’t make me say it three times. You are not as untouchable as you think.

Emperor Som (pained): Yes… My… Queen…

Raven Queen: Now, there’s a genocide on the other side of the world that is about to turn into a bloody revolt and I want to get there while the picking is good. Ciao!

(Raven Queen disappears and Emperor Som’s hand springs back, tears itself the rest of the way off, and falls to the floor. Emperor Som looks down at the newly created pile of dust and sighs.)

Emperor Som: Fear not the Queen’s murder. Quite the contrary…

Sidescene: Heart of Darkness

I am a clever man. I have studied magic in all its forms. I have invented cloaks that hide and boots that quiet. I have awakened beasts and stone alike. I have lived and died many times.

Decades ago, as elves track time, I lived just north of a large human city. There I continued my studies of magic, broken up only by my body’s needs and my admittedly curious hobby of gathering relics from the fall of Angharradh. Having always been intrigued by humanity, I took on a human staff. Cooks and cleaners mostly, as well as a steward loyal beyond his end, and a lab assistant named Marie.

Though she could not always grasp the multidimensional geometries of the Art I wrestled with, Marie did begin to know me. As our time together grew longer I found the intricacies of magic far less interesting than those of her mind. She could both infuriate me with a word and intoxicate me with a glance and I loved her for it. Marie became the fire that burned within me and soon we became wedded. Her belly began to grow and though it was not my first creation, this new life, I knew, would be my greatest.

With all of her strength and passion I had forgotten how weak the mortal form was. Marie gave her life to our daughter Maggie nine months after our wedding. She did not believe in resurrection saying that it was ‘unnatural.’ I respected her choice, but I was lost without her. Lost to the darkness and the cold that replaced her fire.

And poor Maggie. I knew nothing of raising a child and I escaped into my lab for increasingly longer bouts. Though I saw her every night for dinner, at least for the first several years, it was my steward and the staff that really raised Maggie. Eventually I could not stand to be with her. I hated her for what she had taken from me and felt shame for what I had taken from her. We rarely spoke more than passing pleasantries, but sometimes I would watch quietly from the gallery as she danced in the neglected ballroom. She had the grace of an elf and the strength of a human. I thought she was happy—she looked happy when she danced. I didn’t know how many tears she shed when I was not around and I was not around a lot. In the end, her dancing was all we shared, but it was not enough. She wanted a life that staying with me could not provide. One morning she was gone, leaving only a note saying “I still love you.” She never came home and my eyes would never see her again.

It was time for my life to end. The pain was too much for that mortal form to bear. I left my loyal steward my home and entombed myself beneath it. I died holding a note I hoped my daughter would someday find. It contained my last thoughts before I moved on: “I’m sorry Maggie, it wasn’t worth it.” My Art and my toys were meaningless without her.

Decades passed before I returned to the mortal realms. I busied myself with celestial politics and the games of immortals. That terrible life, one of so many, became little more than a distant memory.

Recently, as I track time, I was in a human city watching ballet. The elegance and mathematics of dance have always reminded me of the Art and helped focus my mind when my work was at an impasse. It is then that I saw her. Maggie or Magdalena as she was now known. The distant memories of that life returned to my mind like a fireball. I should have been able to push them aside, but the depth of the pain made them stronger. I sat entranced, watching my daughter dance, seeing the aura of happiness surrounding her. I was a celestial being; she would not have recognized me even if I were visible, but none of that mattered. She was dancing and she was happy.

I should have left then. That life had ended a long time ago and it was unseemly to be drawn into it again. I was so consumed by the merging of joy and regret that I did not even sense the first of the reapers. The city was burning so quickly no warning came. The building next door collapsed through the rear wall of the stage killing my daughter. I saw the reaper standing amid the rubble with Maggie’s stupefied spirit when I realized the breadth of my failure. She was one of the faithless. I could see the entirety of her life within her. She blamed the gods for her mother’s death and my withdrawal. Cursed them for the struggles of her youth. She would see no heaven, be claimed by no god. Her soul would be delivered to Hell where she would be tortured until she became a demon or was consumed by one.

I begged the reaper to give me Maggie’s soul, but reapers are immune to the cries of mourners just as they are immune to even godly magic. Nevertheless, she was my daughter and I am a clever man. I have studied magic in all its forms. I have awakened beasts and stone alike. And like those beasts and that stone, I offered her what my daughter left me to find all those years ago: the chance to grow and be more than what she was. I gave her the ability to break the rules and all she had to do was start by giving me my daughter. I still don’t know if it was my magic or something within the reaper herself, but she accepted my offer and disappeared leaving my daughter’s soul behind.

Unfortunately I could not keep my daughter with me for long. Someone would soon find out what I had done and try to set things right. I moved north to a land where humans and elves live in peace and found a woman close to giving birth. I could see waves of joy emanating from the couple over the anticipation of their first child. I looked at my daughter one last time before placing her into the unborn infant. She would belong to this family and remember nothing of the life we had shared. She would have a second chance with parents that loved her. I wondered if she would ever find dance again, but I vowed to finally leave that life behind.

I also wondered what happened to the reaper I had changed. Celestial beings are what they are and, as a rule, do not grow beyond their limits. That power is reserved for mortals, who have all the possibilities of the universe open to them. What would she do with that power? My curiosity was piqued, but it would be some time before I discovered just what horror I had unleashed.

It is said “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Little did I know this was the trap my reaper would fall into. With the ability to grow and change she now realized just how powerless she was compared to other beings. For the first time she knew jealousy, which taught her rage, which taught her murder. She killed an angel and absorbed its powers. Then she lusted for more.

The Raven Queen, as she called herself, had worked for the gods and now she wanted to be one. But gods have followers and so she devised a plan. She began to reap souls for herself, creating an army. She scoured the world for the most evil souls she could find and reaped them to become her generals. Her armies attacked the realms of Orcus and Kiaransalee, both gods of the undead, and staked claim to open areas of the Plane of Shadow. Then she found the darkest soul of all, unclaimed by anyone for there was barely anything left of it. This soul had ruled an empire before and now he would help create and lead one for her. She created a plague that would spread across the mortal realms starting from her new Emperor. It would cause millions to die and thousands to rise up as undead followers. It would be an almost overnight immortal empire upon the mortal plane.

With her Emperor returned to Earth and the Shadowfell plague beginning to spread, she opened a rift to her realm on the Plane of Shadow. As the empire expanded so too did the rift. It grew so large that the magics of shadow and creation twisted around each other until the Veil was born. A border within which the Material Plane was being overwritten by its umbral counterpart. Time itself twisted and is altered within the Veil. While only a year passed outside, nearly twenty passed within. Any that had a will to fight back have given up by now and a new generation of mortal slaves willingly serve the Emperor and the Raven Queen, never having known any other life.

The Raven Queen is strong and only getting stronger. With each passing day the empire grows and the Veil widens. Millions are dead and more will follow. My despair and selfishness caused this and I will find a way to stop her. I am, after all, a clever man..