First Prologue: The Trigger Finger

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Vanion Shadowcast
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First Prologue: The Trigger Finger

Post by Vanion Shadowcast »

(This story makes references to this story from before the Hydra season.)

"The important thing is this: to be able to, at any moment, sacrifice what we are for what we could become."
- Charles Du Bos

Vanion stayed awake throughout the night, sitting in silence upon the creaky chair in the corner of the room at the Inn. His posture did not slump, but the golden elf did feel tired. The necessary preparation and spellcrafting for such a subtle possession was exhausting. Still, he did not sleep.

Old habits. The night had been his for an eon, and he found solace in it as often as he found loneliness. The light in the dusty old room was dimming, and cold shadows began to swallow its ragged comforts without remorse. Without lifting a finger, he stoked the embers dying within the rusted fireplace, and so turned back the night for another hour.

"Couldn't make it more than a few months without crawling back to me in a box", Vanion said quietly as he stared at the small shape covered up beneath ratty blankets on the room's four-post bed.

"I told you that I am fickle", the sultry voice of FireStar answered, crackling like the fireplace.

The elf guffawed prettily, then countered, "You scheme. It's your way. Won't judge you for it."

Like ashes swirling, FireStar laughed, "And how could you? You scheme, too. I'm just better at it than you are."

Slowly, the shape hidden beneath the bed-covers stirred, and slowly Vanion rose from his chair with the groaning protest of old oak. There was silence for a long moment as the wheels turned within the Necromancer's mind.

Finally, he broke the silence with his pleasant, if slightly bored lilt, "You're trying to make me think that you caused all of this. That you left a trail for Rakeesh's friends to find. That you left the furry meatsack and outed me, so that they'd ruin my plans and force me back into this coil of flesh and nothingness."

"Is it so hard to believe? You were compromised when you possessed the Paladin. You are so much more ... exciting ... left to your own devices", the spirit of fire teased him.

"I'm no man or spirit's pawn. You'd not like to see what happens to those powers that try to make it otherwise", the Necromancer bit back with poison on his tongue.

"On the contrary. I helped to free you. You have not been this free since that night in Edge City, all of those years ago", FireStar's voice filled the elf with warmth. She was right. He was more free now than he had ever been before.

With small steps, Vanion crossed the short length of the cramped room to stand over the ratty bed. For a moment, he wondered how many old men had died on that bed, or how many whores had cursed some fool to die by spreading their legs in that very spot.

Then his mind made a strange, if not uncommon leap. He remembered the night that he lost his family in Edge City, on his far away home world. He could see the hungry flames clawing high above the top of the Tower of Mystara, the Goddess of Love. Could hear the screams of women and children dying. Could remember the strange, almost sweet smell of his son Kael, nothing more than a burnt husk of a boy. Could feel the heat of the boy's body stinging his arms as he clutched Kael to his chest. Could taste his own tears as he fell to his knees after having escaped the massacre, but failed to save his wife and his child.

Vanion did not cry there in the quiet room at the Inn, though. Not over what was long in the past. Not over memories. He was far beyond such trivialities.

"Still, I do worry about you. I think that the Paladin changed you. For instance, why are we here right now when we could be doing something far more fun?", FireStar broke the silence with a question and another series of fiery crackles in its voice. Vanion did not answer immediately. Instead, he looked down upon the hidden shape beneath the bed-covers again as it stirred. The motion pulled the covers down a foot, and exposed the thing lying beneath.

Ollie. The brave, stupid little street boy. Vanion had promised to feed him and his friends, if Ollie would let the Necromancer borrow his body. Those spells always worked best with a willing host. The boy knew that if Vanion could win some sort of special stone in some big fighting tournament, using his body to fight, then his hungry existence might carry on. Hunger was one truly powerful motivator. Throughout the tournament, Ollie had been so afraid to fight the monsters, and the knight, and the woman wearing the terrifying mask. But he had never once resisted Vanion's possession or strategic urges. And so, despite the urchin's human origins, the Necromancer respected the child's spirit and resolve.

Vanion pulled the cover back over the sleeping boy's head. Then, his gaze flickered to the night-stand nearby, where he had left a note for the lad to wake up to. It was tied tightly to the drawstrings of the small pouch of silver coins the elf had promised the hungry waif should they win the tournament.

Vanion read his letter once more, as the orange glow from the fireplace danced to some wild, unheard music.


This city is full of snakes and wolves, both ugly and beautiful. Only trust yourself. Take these coins and go to Dragon's Gate Manor. Buy food for you and your friends, but save some of your money. The Baron of Dragon's Gate will help you. Let him help you, and then you must help yourself become a man. You have seen monsters now, and fought them. You are no longer a child.

Never speak of me, or to me again, and perhaps you will live longer than your fellows.


"Yes. I do believe that Rakeesh has changed you", FireStar stoked at the fire buried in the golden elf's gut. Vanion growled quietly in the back of his throat and flicked his wrist to trigger a teleportation spell at the Opal's insistence.

Less than a breath later, he stood amidst the collapsed ruins of a large loghouse, somewhere in Battlefield Park where the woods rose around him to one side and a clearing lay flat on the other. A torn, faded blue and white banner whipped about a bent flagpost with the Hallow's Eve wind, barely noticeable beneath the pale kiss of the tiny moon's light from above.

"Not as much as I changed him", Vanion finally snapped back at the nagging spirit with a vicious satisfaction, hate filling his musical tenor as much as it filled the rest of his being.

And then, the Bearer of FireStar lit a fire.
Last edited by Vanion Shadowcast on Tue Mar 11, 2014 7:27 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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Post by Vanion Shadowcast »

“Lightning and thunder require time, the light of the stars requires time.
Deeds require time even after they are done, before they can be seen and heard.”
- Nietzsche

Somewhere in the city of Rhydin, ale was being poured from profitable taps, people were dancing as though their lives had semblance of meaning, and a newborn babe cried for the first of what would be many lamentations in its life. Beyond the city walls, in Battlefield Park, Vanion sat upon the high perch of an ancient oak tree, his crimson gaze burning like two torches beneath a cloudy, star-less night sky. Clad in black robes, a remnant of his days as a dark priest, he looked out over the canopy towards the manor of Battlefield Park some two miles away. In his mind, his hatred tangoed with his ambition, and they each proved insatiable partners in their own way.

'And how is the Simon family spending its night?', the elf wondered as he idly tapped upon the holes of the bone flute resting in his lap, practicing the intricate finger patterns of a powerful song.

'I wonder if Matt drinks. Or does Koyliak? Do their children call nannies and housekeepers Mama and Papa out of habit? Or is it Matt that tucks them in each night with a bedtime story about how their father is the Gods' gift to this backwater world?'

The beautiful elf smiled to himself in the dark, musing on whether or not the children inside were playing with toy space fighters. He imagined a joyful future: a boy of barely eighteen years, one day following in his father's footsteps as a military man - only to have his life snuffed out in a meaningless dogfight in space. It would be a fitting tale of the dangers of hero worship.

Or perhaps Simon's children resented him and his fame. Perhaps they barely knew him. Such delicious thoughts swirled in the Necromancer's mind as, from afar, he regarded the manor that Matt Simon had lived in for so long.

"You finally have a plan, then?", the seductive voice of FireStar crackled as it spoke to Vanion from within his mind. He answered aloud, slowly giving a vague speech. His cryptic explanation was distracted by his fevered imagination conjuring the stories of hundreds of different Simon families, each just as disgusting to him as the last.

"Of course. I always had a plan. Some of the steps of the dance may have changed, but the crux of the song is still the same. It begins with a prick. A single blow to an outdated mode of celebrity. And then, they'll come. And in time, we'll tip the balance of things to our way. And when this decaying heap of stone and garbage is exposed, it will begin to crumble beneath the weight of its own filth. I've studied the magics of what the cat-demon tried to do. Shakira was crafty, but she lacked a vision of an ending. I don't have that misfortune."

"You're speaking in riddles that I only half understand", FireStar interjected, annoyed, as Vanion's eyes flickered in their search for signs of movement within the Battlefield Park manor.

"And it's all that you will get from me, rock. Does it frustrate you that I've blocked my thoughts from you?", the golden elf smiled with satisfaction as he taunted the powerful spirit of fire. He had not forgiven FireStar for claiming to have made him her pawn.

"I am willing to suffer mystery. For now", FireStar's sultry retort sizzled like bacon fat frying over a skillet. She did not speak to Vanion again that night.

The elf continued to sit there in silence until the morning came, happy enough to be alone with his thoughts and the woods. Sometimes, he tapped notes against his flute without giving it the air to become song. Sometimes he thought of his future. Mostly, he took pleasure in imagining sneaking into Matt Simon's home in the middle of the night, moving room to room as he choked the life out of his entire family. In his idle dreaming, it was always the same. Matt would go first, but he would only be subdued to begin with. Then Koyliak while Simon watched. Then the children while Simon watched, one at a time, oldest to youngest. Finally, Simon last, and so very, very slowly.

But his pleasure was not to be his reality, and he knew that. In the end, his ambition triumphed over his hatred. And after so long spent preparing this game for himself, it was nearly time to begin. He would need allies. He would need pawns. And he would need patience. Given those things, though, he saw the end of his story very clearly set out before him.

It would begin with him watching the city of Rhydin burn to the ground.
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Post by Vanion Shadowcast »

"And it is in his own image, let us remember, that Man creates God."
- Havelock Ellis

"C'mon and hurry, Marie. It's gonna start without us!", the blue-haired boy cried out over his shoulder as he dropped down from the edge of the alchemy shop's roof and out of sight. Marie, who was Peter's elder by almost two years and no stranger to running across roof-tops, struggled to keep up with him. Out of breath, she had to stop at the edge of the building, letting her coal eyes look down into the alley-way below. She could not see Peter amongst the shadows, but her ears were keen, and she could hear the frantic patter of his makeshift shoes splashing carelessly through puddles below.

She glanced in the opposite direction. There was the usual bustle near the docks, as sailors and merchants worked into the night to move their cargo. Beyond, lamps burned in the windows of shanty taverns and run-down bordellos, and the night-people plied their secret trades. Marie felt frozen in sadness for a moment. This was not the life her Mother and Father would have wanted for her.

But they were gone, and she was here, and life went on. Marie took a deep breath and swung her legs over the edge of the shop, then slowly lowered herself. She dangled there for a moment, then let go and fell to the street. She groaned as her feet hit the broken stone of the alleyway, but she wasn't truly hurt.

"This way, Marie!", Peter called out from some distance ahead, the boy's tiny voice muffled by din of the workers just two blocks away. She turned and ran as hard as she could, navigating the dark streets as well as the sailors traversed the seas.

Marie ducked through a broken doorway, taking a short-cut across an abandoned warehouse littered with broken glass. Managing to not cut herself in her haste, she climbed out through the space where a window once was, and met Peter as he turned the corner just ahead of her.

"How th' Hell'd you get in front of me?", the boy asked her as he slowed down to greet her. Peter was fast, but he wasn't nearly as bright as she was.

"Tell you when you're older", Marie answered. She shared a knowing smile with Peter as she bent over to catch her breath. After a moment, she let her curiousity get the better of her. "Now enough of the games, Peter. I could'a made maybe ten silvers tonight already. Did y'see those merchants down by the Docks? New faces."

Peter smiled. Despite being ten, and an idiot, and a thief, and having gone what could have been a year without a shower, the boy's smile was charming. Marie knew enough about the world to know that one day, Peter's smile would likely win him into the beds of many women.

"Well, out with it already, Peter. What're we doin' here?", she nagged, being well immune to the boy's attempts to be charming.

"His name's Drakhar. He's new here. His world's died, and he's livin' it up in Dockside. There's gonna be a feast, Marie. And music!", Peter prattled with his usual enthusiasm.

Marie's stomach growled at the news, despite her skepticism. She hadn't eaten more than an apple that Peter stole for her in almost two days. "Drakhar, huh? And what makes y'think we'd even be invited to some off-worlder's feast?", she asked, feeling cross with herself for letting Peter drag her away from begging.

Peter huffed. "Y'don't get it, Marie. He's not some off-worlder. He's a God. God of Lost Souls. He's been lookin' out for a lot've us since he got here last week", the boy insisted.

"You're a damned idiot", the girl said, finally, after considering whether or not Peter had been playing a joke on her this whole time. She turned to storm off, but the boy reached out and put a hand on Marie's shoulder.

"Please", Peter pleaded, "Y'gotta trust me. Came all this way already." Then, he smiled again, and her anger faded. Silently, she turned back and nodded slightly. Then, Peter led Marie to the end of the dead-end alleyway. And then, he led her through the back wall of the alley-way. She sensed magic afoot, and shivered as she followed him into a torch-lit cavern beyond.

There were two dozen, or more, children skittering about the large place. In the center cavern was a large firepit, giving more light and warmth to the sun-less abode. The childrens' excited voices echoed like merry ghosts off of the natural stone walls, as they filled their bellies with meats and sweet cheeses and ale. "I told you", Peter whispered into Marie's ear as she stared, stunned. "Get some food. He leaves it for's every night. Word is that we'll get to meet Drakhar himself tonight."

Marie didn't need to be told twice to eat. Any pride or thought to act mature in the presence of so many other children her age was gone when she saw the banquet table. Spread over the length of twenty feet, it held platters of rich-looking food. Food enough to feed her for a week, if she snuck some away in her pack. And for what seemed like hours, Marie gorged herself on pastries, and lamb, and delicate dishes that she had not tasted since her parents had died some five years earlier. She laughed with other children, and played chase-the-bear with Peter.

Marie had almost forgotten Peter's tale when the music began. From one of the unlit, shaded corners of the cavern, a low, sweet pipe begin to play. A shadowy figure sat there against the wall, too large to be a child. Marie began to sweat at the beautiful, deep song. The music took its time, lingering and wavering on each note before it danced to another. It dawned on Marie that she, and all of the others gathered here to eat, had gone silent. She watched the flute-player, straining her eyes to make out his shape in the shadow. And then, the flute music stopped, and the figure began to sing, rich and low, and his voice sounded like honey and smoke. She had never heard such a beautiful voice, not even when her Father had hired a noble minstrel for her sixth birthday.

"Come join the dance of mana
Tonight, we'll have some fun
Find your sweet nirvana
There's no more need to run"

Marie had heard a foreign music called jazz played once, when she begged outside of a popular tavern in the Seaside District. She was younger then, and her clothes were less tattered. This song seemed almost like that, in her memory, but somehow different. The singer lingered on the notes at the end of each line, stretching them, teasing with them. She glanced over at Peter to her side, who was smiling that charming smile of his. She felt uncomfortable, but Peter's wide-eyed wonder at the music calmed her.

"Children of the night,
We will make things right."

The unseen singer's voice climbed with those lines, and then the flute started again, this time higher in pitch and more energetic. Marie tried to remember a fairytale that her Mother had once told her, but her mind felt fuzzy and slow. Then, the lilting flute transition stopped and the singer filled the cavern with a pure tenor that seemed to make the torch-light shrink as though a gust of wind threatened to snuff it out.

"Drakhar beckons
And now you're home
No more hunger
No more need to roam."

Marie felt fear claw up at her heart from within her gut. She looked over to Peter, and he was still smiling. But his smile didn't look charming anymore. It seemed almost hungry. She tried to turn away from the music, just as the sounds of a wild guitar found her ears. Then, the song began in earnest, dancing and demanding. The acoustic guitar continued to strum, and Marie felt herself turning towards the fire pit and away from the singer. She and the other children stumbled towards it. She saw nothing but the flame. She heard nothing but the call of the beautiful, terrible music.

And then, a fight broke out amongst the children. They lashed out wildly at a small boy, who couldn't have been a day older than eight. Marie tried to open her mouth to scream, as Peter lifted a sharp rock up over his head, preparing to bring it down upon the beaten boy. Instead, she joined in with the others, kicking the lad while he was trying to crawl away. As the guitar's sound continued to increase in urgency and danger, she helped lift the boy up off of the cold stone floor. And with the help of blue-haired, smiling Peter, she threw the screaming boy into the fire-pit.

And as the flames twisted and grew to consume the boy, Marie and the others gave themselves over fully. They began to dance around the almost human-looking fire, moving in perfect unison to the rhythm of the guitar, their motions sharp and violent and ancient. The singer's tenor filled their heads once more, now joining the decadent sounds of his instrument.

"Dance about the flame! Give up your regrets!
All the children cry:"

Marie and Peter and the others thrust their hips and their hands toward the flame, even as it melted the flesh from their victim's face. They all chanted their reply to the song in one desperate, enraptured voice, "Yes! Yes! Yes!"

Their words summoned old spirits to the cavern, and the shadows themselves began to take form to join them in their dance. As the singer continued, the boy cast into the flame rose, now nothing more than a scorched skeleton with small scraps of hair and flesh still melting away. The dead boy began to dance in the center of the pit with the living flame. He lifted two old thigh bones up over his head and began to beat them together in rhythm, providing macabre percussion for the song.

"Can't you feel the heat of hungry pagan fire?
Let it lift your souls up higher and higher!
Dancing shadows come to take you;
The dead men play their drums!
The music's your wicked master 'til the morning comes!"

Marie felt a life-time of hatred that was not her own fill her like a vessel as she danced. She managed to force her eyes to close as she continued the ritual dance, and tried hard to imagine a time in her life when she had a family that loved her, and the world seemed wide open and amazing. Still, she sang with the other children, in praise of her sweet-voiced master.

"We give ourselves to Drakhar, God of Lost Souls and Despair
Lord of shadows and of fire, please hear our prayer!"

And then the maestro filled, invaded, every dark corner of Marie's being with his geas, his song. She could not hear the other children, then, or even the flourish of guitar. There was only the voice of Drakhar.

"Sing now children, sing now;
You all are mine!"

Marie opened her eyes, wishing on any stars that might look down on her from their great heights above that the nightmare might end soon, that she might finally see her parents again in a better world.

But she only stared into the face of Oblivion itself. The song continued until the sun first rose on the city above the lost ones.
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Post by Vanion Shadowcast »

"There is no passion so contagious as that of fear."
- Michel de Montaigne

The full moon looked down upon the sleepy canopy of the trees in Battlefield Park, while Vanion perched atop the haunted armory's rooftop like a gargoyle. He watched the stars creep across the sky so slowly that even his elvish eyes could not notice the subtleties of their movements. He yearned to be there, in that sea of light, to burn as brightly as one of those stars. FireStar noticed.

"You've been staring all night", the spirit of fire hissed into the elf's ear. "I'm beginning to think that you've lost your way entirely."

Vanion didn't respond. In the distance, a hungry howl pierced the air, and was answered by two others in kind. Vanion smiled, slightly, and continued to watch the stars with a life-long appreciation.

"I can value chaos too, wizard. More than most, even. But you don't know when to burn and when to rest. You let yourself be blown about like a leaf by your emotions and petty vendettas. Is that how you will be remembered?", FireStar continued to taunt him, her ashen voice soft and seductive and deadly.

Vanion still didn't respond. A gust of wint'ry wind whipped across Battlefield Park, rustling the dead leaves that covered the Baronial courtyard below. The golden elf watched them swirl and dance, random and beautiful.

"If you continue to shut me out, you will find that it's easy for me to find a more useful companion", FireStar's voice crackled like kindling with the threat.

Finally, Vanion spoke, his gentle elvish tongue unburdened by worry or haste, "My pets are here. They sound hungry."

"Another meaningless show of your lack of focus", the angry spirit challenged the Necromancer. "The taunting of your opponents, your little cult, the sword, these beasts, this business with Will Wulfson. You're a leaf, Vanion. And your time is coming to an end. I'll make sure of it."

"The day that I fear the threats of a rock, is the day that I make love to a woman for the pleasure of it", the elf retorted, lazily. "Have some faith. Chaos might be fun, but do not mistake the past ten years of my work here for nothing more than random cruelty. Soon enough, I'll allow you to devour this whole world, if you can bother yourself to check your attitude. You're not very pleasant like this."

FireStar didn't respond. The Necromancer slowly drew his blade, heavy under the enchantments of the demoness Shakira, and let its sickly green glow light his face in the darkness. He turned his head to look down at the unlucky villager that lay beside him, pinned to the roof of the armory by four rail-road spikes thrust through her appendages.

"The Sword of Cups is hungry, dear. Be a good girl and let it suckle from you", Vanion purred at his captive, his honey'd tenor deceptively kind. She averted her gaze away from the Necromancer, closed her eyes tightly, and wept.

He waited until the morning to free the woman of her bonds, heal her, and set her loose in Dockside. She remembered nothing of that night, but would never walk another day without fearing the dark.
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Post by Vanion Shadowcast »

((This takes place several days after, and as a response to, this live event depicting a number of Rhydin's villains coming together in Council.))

"A man is a God in ruins. When men are innocent, life shall be longer, and shall pass into the immortal, as gently as we awake from dreams."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

A moonless eve settled in over Rhydin. In Dockside, poor families huddled about their makeshift fireplaces, and told stories of faeries and Gods to fend off their superstitious fears of the dark night to come. At a swampy, forgotten graveyard in the northern section of Battlefield Park, Vanion sat perched upon a thick, dead tree branch. With expressionless eyes, he watched the will o'the wisps dance over the murky waters, and let the child-spirits calm the nervousness clawing at his gut.

The elf opened his right fist and let the shard of Quyl'Isha lay flat in his palm. With a peaceful smile, he looked down at the ancient relic in his hand. Within its crystal prison he could make out swirling, colorful shapes: red for fire and vengeance, blue for ice and water, yellow for the air and thunder, brown for earth and mountain, and white for the stars in the sky. He watched the dancing of the celestial energy within the longest, remembering what it had been like to visit Jesse in the Tower of the Stars on Twilight Isle and finally finish what had been ten years of work.

For the shard of Quyl'Isha held the tiniest fragment of the five Towers of the Isle and their magic, and was the instrument of what Vanion hoped would be the second most important spell that he would ever cast in his life.

"I can sense something stirring in you, Mage", FireStar whispered to him with a voice like a burning forest. "Do you mean to tell me that you are finally going to act?"

The elvish Necromancer did not respond immediately. When he did, it was in a distant tone of a day-dreamer who has arrived late to dinner. "Yes. It's time."

FireStar seemed annoyed at the response, demanding, "Time for what? You have guarded your plans from me for too long. I have been more than patient with you this year."

Vanion responded, a little more presently, "I will shatter the shard of Quyl'Isha, triggering the spell that I cast upon it ten years ago. The people of Rhydin will go to sleep tonight, as they have done every night before. But when they wake, their nightmares will wake with them, and panic and chaos will take the streets."

A howl echoed in the forest beyond, one of the elf's newest pets. The unholy sound frightened even the swamp spirits, and the will o'the wisps scattered, leaving the graveyard cast into a darkness, a void. FireStar glowed humbly from beneath Vanion's dark robes, and probed its bearer further, "And to what end? It seems a trifle mischief, this grand scheme of yours. Such magics cannot last long before they burn away."

"Fear", the Necromancer said with a great, grim satisfaction. "At the Council of my Manor, I played the fool, asking little, offering much, laughing much. Some of my newfound allies are already brewing chaos in the city, which will turn the self-proclaimed heroes' eyes away from me for a time. This spell will stir up more fear than all of my other plots in this city combined, for it draws upon the most secret fears of its victims."

Then, FireStar's voice was as ash upon the wind, soft and unsure at the incredible viciousness that lay beneath Vanion's usually pleasant tenor. "And what good is fear, to you or me?"

The elf cackled wildly at the Opal's question, and his fit of laughter lasted far too long. It was evident to FireStar that perhaps even she had underestimated the extent of the madness that gripped her bearer. Finally, Vanion answered, through his own guffawing, "I've been stealing the energy released by fear in this city ever since I returned as Rakeesh a year ago. With Quyl'Isha, and this final scheme, I'll earn what has been coming to me for one thousand years of bloodshed and slavery."

Suddenly, Vanion shattered the shard of Quyl'Isha in his fist with so much force that some of the broken fragments shredded flesh from his palm as they were flung down into the swamp below. The most foul kind of magic spilled from the broken artifact, and rode the winter's wind southward into the city, seeking its sleeping victims. If FireStar were more than a spirit embodied by stone, and she might have shivered, she might have, so strong and black was the witchery unleashed by the elf.

"I'll wash away the pollution that is my past. What I've suffered, and what I have inflicted onto others will be cleansed from me, and I'll be made pure", the immortally young golden elf said with an angelic smile, tears welling up in the corner of his crimson eyes.

That moment of peace passed all too soon, and Vanion clenched his teeth tightly. The old hatred that flowed ever beneath his beautiful flesh spilled out from within him like an open vein. "And then, I'll take my rightful place amongst the stars, and I will become God", he hissed, more meaningfully than anything he had ever said in his long, mad life.

A long moment of tense silence settled upon the darkened graveyard, a rift between the Necromancer and FireStar, before his tone grew light-hearted and whimsical once more. "Now, let's go call upon my daughter."
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Post by Vanion Shadowcast »

“It is very easy to be a military strategist, a mercenary, or a king, but much harder to be a father.”
- Nadia Scrieva

He felt her arrival deep within him. Not in his heart, which had grown weak and small with so little use, but in the pit of his gut where resided all of his fear and hatred for the world that had given him so much, yet stolen even more. Of course he felt her coming. She was his daughter, and somehow more than his daughter, and somehow less than his daughter. She had been at his side for over one thousand years, and now she was returning to him.

Vanion finished what was left in the bottle of wine, and let the empty thing fall from his hand and roll a few feet across the cold stone floor of his private chamber. And he waited for her to come, sitting upon the large, lonely stone chair that made him feel more like a King and less like the Overlord. Dizzy with wine, more than he consumed without reason, he shut his eyes tightly and focused his keen mind against wandering thoughts. But memories came unbidden, crashing into his resolve like the waves against the shore, with a steady and unyielding rhythm.


A young golden elf wearing a dirty trouper's doublet runs through the old woods. His feet and his heart know the way through these woods, because they are his. Starlight and a sliver of four visible moons shine down through the leafy canopy, and the Bard looks up to them with empty curiousity in his eyes, as his legs take him across the forest at a feverish pace.

"F-father! Wait!", Mischaelna calls out to the Bard from fifty yards back, her voice coarse and tired. With the grace of a dancer, the Bard catches his footing atop the surface of a downed oak trunk in his path. He looks back over his shoulder with sudden concern for his daughter's safety. There she is, moving quickly. In another couple of moments, she catches up, and leans her dirty face against the trunk, exhausted.

The Bard watches her, breathing hard, then looks down to what he is carrying in his arms. It is his son, Kael, and he is dead. Another part of the Bard's heart breaks, and he can find no words of comfort for his daughter. He can feel the vibrations of her trembling against the dead log, but he cannot look away from his son. Not dead. Murdered. He reaches down to touch the boy's face. He looked so much like him, his wife had always told him.

Kael's cheek is still hot to the touch, from the fire the Bard had pulled him from. "Are we almost there, Father? What if the Men come back and look for us?", Mischaelna asks with wide eyes red from tears, tugging upon the Bard's sleeve. He forces himself to look away from the dead boy in his arms, his boy, and manage the greatest moment of acting of his career as a performer.

He smiles reassuringly to the girl, who just celebrated her ninth birthday less than one moon ago, and lies. He is not used to lying, and believes in telling the truth, but in this moment he finds that a liar's words come easily from his lips. "The Humans are gone, Mischie. And they can never find us here. This is our family's woods, and has always been our family's woods. I'll keep you safe."

Mischaelna is not immune to her father's charms, just like her mother before her. She smiles back to the her father and answers, "Okay. And I'll keep you safe, too."

Another piece of the Bard's heart breaks at his daughter's words. He lies again, "I know that you will. Stay close. We're almost there."

He turns and starts off through the woods again, and the eve-lit trees become blurs in the corners of his eyes. Mischaelna almost keeps up this time, and it's not long before they come to a secret clearing. He has only seen it once before, and he was much younger then. This is the place where he buried his father.

The stars and four moons shine down brightly, unhindered by the surrounding canopy. All of twilight's colors cast their spell over the unfettered garden foliage. The Bard slows his pace to a determined walk and the girl follows him, holding idly onto the back of his tunic. She forgets the horrors of the past several hours as they walk past the silver roses, the purple horse bushes, the fiery phoenix flowers. There is an old sort of peace in the garden, the type borne by the gift of an ancient enchantment.

But the Bard does not forget his pain, even for a moment, and suddenly realizes that he never will. He leads the girl through the garden and to the mouth of an old cave. Before it stand two ivory statues depict winged elves, the angels of Mystara the Goddess of Love. He stops and kneels upon the warm grass before the cave. He lays Kael's body down before him with great care, taking nearly a minute to try to position the charred child in a way that makes him look restful.

"He's going to miss the Festival of Lights", Mischaelna says quietly from over her father's shoulder. "I really wanted to see him dance. He was a ..." She breaks and begins to sob inconsolably into her hands. The Bard turns towards her and she falls into his arms. He wraps her up tightly and whispers into her ear, his gentle voice steady.

"Kael was a beautiful dancer. Just like you will be one day, Mischie. Shhh. I know. I know, Mischie. I know. I know", he repeats quietly until she grows tired from crying again. "Stay here, just outside the cave, unless you hear something coming. I'll be back soon."

The Bard wipes drying tears away from Mischaelna's cheeks and manages to lie to her with another forced smile. She smiles back, and looks for a moment to him a hundred years older than the slip of a girl that she is.

"I love you, Mischie", he tells her, lingering, afraid that if he leaves her behind that he might never see her again. This place is hidden, though, and his ears know that they are alone. It's an irrational fear, but one honestly earned. He never expected that the Temple of Mystara would have been attacked, that his family would have been hunted down, that his life would have been shattered in the span of a few minutes.

"Why can't I come with you?", Mischaelna asks, meekly, looking up at him with pretty violet eyes.

The Bard brushes some hair away from her face and hides the grief in his eyes. "A son buries his father. And a father buries his son. It is our way." He watches her nod as though she understands what he is telling her, but how can she? How can she make sense of any of this? He rubs the top of Mischaelna's head absent-mindedly and kisses her on the cheek.

Then, he cradles the body of his son in his arms, and walks numbly through the mouth of the cave. He does not pause to look at the many tombs within, all belonging to his family. It seems to take a few minutes, but his eyes adjust to the dark by the time that he comes to a large, open door with no regalia on it.

It's not until then, truly alone, that he cries. He stands before the ancient stone door for a long time, staining his face with a father's tears, before he steels himself enough to lay Kael to rest. Inside, an ever-flaming torch flickers with a pale blue light. He sets the boy's body upon the hard dirt, and begins to weave simple magics to light the pyre that waits for a final rite.

As he summons the element of fire, the elf senses that something is strange. Wrong. When the pyre lights, he sees another figure in the catacomb. The old man's face is hidden by a cold and unnatural shadow, but he can see the hard, scaly edges of features that are not human. A chill sets deep into his bones when he looks upon the visitor, and the Bard knows the truth.

"Demon", the Bard spits out the word, his honey tenor filled with revulsion. The old man laughs without mirth, and the elf learns quickly that he cannot move his limbs.

When the demon speaks, it is with the whispering voice of a snake, and its sound makes the Bard gag. "Drakhar Knightwood. Your suffering called to me, and I am here. Tonight is the beginning of a new age for this world. Mankind has denounced the Old Gods and magic. They make war against your people, and against the old ones. I offer you a choice now. I will grant you power that your world has not seen in thousands of years, if you but swear your life and soul to me. Power to protect your daughter. Power to protect your people."

He knows well not to bargain with demons. Mystara's teachings tell many a story of such dealings, and none of them end happily. The creature before him waits for an answer. The Bard gives it, but his voice is small and shakes with fear. "I will never swear to you."

"Ah. But look at your child. Do you not wish to avenge his murder?", the demon taunts him. He shuts out the demon's reptilian voice and turns his head away to force his gaze upon the flickering flames of the growing pyre light. He sees a vision there, hazy and distant at first. Drawn to the vision, the Bard stares hard into the flame, though its smoke burns his weary eyes.

"Do you not seek vengeance for your wife, Drakhar?", the demon whispers, more softly, even as the vision in the flame grows clearer. The Bard watches the attack on the Temple of Mystara. Human soldiers cut down women and children as they flee. He sees the bath-house where his wife often bathes. It is the first place that they made love, when they were still children in the eyes of their parents. When he sees the specter of his beautiful Drexxa bathing there, alone, sorrow takes hold of him and squeezes while he continues to watch the scene unfold. Four men. Another piece of the elf's heart breaks when he sees them storm into the bath-house.

The Bard cannot look away, held by the demon's enchantment. He watches the men do things to his wife that defy description. Each thrust, each beating, each cruel insult fills him with a hatred that he has never known in his gentle life. He watches his Drexxa die at their hand in the flames. And then he watches their abuses continue after her death. Once the brutal vision ends, all is silent in the catacombs for a time, but for the crackle of his son's funeral pyre.

"Give me vengeance", the Bard pleas finally, fighting back another wave of useless tears. The demon laughs cruelly, and suddenly they become one. There is no better, more descriptive way to tell of the joining of a mortal to one of the Old Ones. It is a profound, personal experience beyond that of sex, or of love, or of war. The Bard feels, for a mere moment, infinite.

When the demon leaves him, the Bard feels different. Stronger. Knowledge of great magics fill his mind, from mundane, to arcane, to arts far darker. And he is hungry. Starving. His senses are heightened. For a moment, he feels fear again when he has the sudden realization that he can hear his daughter's breath some two hundred yards away, but cannot hear his own heart beating.

Before the Bard has time to panic over the incredible changes taking place within his mind and body, the demon whispers to him again. "Let your son lay here upon the dirt. Turn around, and do not look back. Leave this place, Drakhar Knightwood. When you do, you will be Vanion Shadowcast, my right hand in this world. The Champion of Myr'Khul. Together, we will find more vengeance than you could ever imagine."

The Bard is surprised at how easily he obeys the commanding voice of Myr'Khul. He turns and walks through the open catacomb doorway in a daze. He only looks back once, instinct telling him to close the stone door behind him. When he does, he sees that the pyre's flame within is already dying. Before it, he watches as the old demon feasts on Kael's lifeless body. Rage fills the Bard's being at his son's desecration, and he tries to stop the creature, but finds his will falter against that of his new master's. The world around him goes black.

The Bard does not know how much time has passed before he leaves the catacombs behind and steps out into the moonlight of the secret grove. He sees Mischaelna hiding behind a bush a moment before she steps out and runs into his arms as fast as her young legs will carry her. He sweeps her up off of the ground.

"Father! I thought that I heard a the rattling of snake, so I hid", she sniffles into his chest, frightened. He hugs his daughter tightly, then sets her down upon the ground and kneels before her. He looks her squarely in the eyes and marvels at how much she looks like her mother, even so young as she is.

"You're so cold", Mischaelna says, rubbing her arms.

He smiles fondly at her. "Come here, Mischie", he commands her gently. "Give your father a kiss."

With big, beautiful violet eyes she looks at the Bard and does as he says. She throws her arms around his neck and kisses his cheek. He can feel her heart beat against his skin through her soft neck.

He closes his eyes tightly, and steels his resolve to do what must be done. "No one will ever hurt us again", he whispers into his daughter's ear and lowers his mouth to her neck under the light of the stars and the four moons. She only screams for a moment.


"You called for me, Father?", Mischaelna said as she stepped out of a shadow in Vanion's chamber, her girlish voice laden with scorn.

He pushed the past from his mind, and rose drunkenly from his stone chair. "Mischaelna", he retorted, dumbly, looking upon his daughter with his own eyes for the first time in several years. "I'm glad that you've returned."

The girl vampiress giggled, and swung her feet a few steps closer. "Are you, now? I'm not surprised. What would you be, without me to dote on?"

He wanted to embrace her. Nostalgia. Useless. Instead, the elf lowered himself back onto his chair and canted his head just enough to look upon her. "It was foolish of you to leave me. You cannot protect yourself."

"No", she admitted while she looked around the Overlord's chamber, examining it. "But I found it easy enough to please men who would protect me for a time, until I grew bored of them. I have to say, it is good to see you free of that smelly beast's body."

"It is good to be what I once was", he agreed, watching her carefully.

"Yes. I could smell your mortality from outside the gatehouse. I must ask, why? Why return like this?", Mischaelna asked, sounding less curious than like a shark smelling for blood.

"Enough, Mischaelna! I will not play your games tonight", Vanion snapped at her. She giggled with mock innocence.

"Oh, how strong you are. I'll admit, you are far more dashing like this", she purred.

He stared at her in silence for a moment, then forced a small smile. "Come here, Mischie. Give your father a kiss."

Mischaelna parted her lips playfully, then knelt down onto the stone floor and began to crawl towards him with a slink that belied her youthful appearance. "Mmh. Father. I knew that this day would come."

Vanion froze upon his chair, staring down at Mischaelna. For a moment, fragments of the night that changed his life forever came back to him, but he shut his mind to them. His daughter climbed up his legs and sat upon his lap. She craned her neck and pressed her lips against his cheek in a lingering, unchaste kiss.

"Let me give you the gift that you gave to me all those years ago, Father", Mischaelna spoke into the crook of Vanion's neck.

The golden elf tilted his head to whisper down into his daughter's ear, "No one will ever hurt us again", and a piece of what was left of his heart broke as he spoke those liar's words.

And then, he drove the small wooden stake hidden in his left palm up into his daughter's heart, shattering part of her ribcage with the violence of his murderous blow. Mischaelna looked up at him with a father's betrayal in her big, pretty violet eyes. She opened her mouth as though to speak, but no words came out. Instead, she vomited what seemed like all of the blood within her body, and then her own organs, upon Vanion in a span of seconds.

The projectile wretching of her innards continued for a few moments, before her body began to decay nearly faster than the golden elf's eyes could follow its dissolution. In the time it took him to breathe one sharp inhalation, Vanion's daughter turned to dust around him. The golden elf blinked some of Mischaelna out of his eyes, then slowly stood and began to walk towards the door of his chamber, his face and clothes covered in gore. Half-way to the door, he began to laugh, wildly, looking up towards the ceiling as though expecting it to answer him.

The door to his chamber swung open, and Rolph entered hurriedly with alarm in his eyes. The Overlord's chamber servant stopped just inside the room to watch Vanion's madness unfurl. When laughing finally grew too painful for the elf, he doubled over and fell to his knees. He breathed hard against the floor, and old tears trickled from his eyes, unbidden. They stayed there like that as time passed quietly by, servant and master, until Rolph grew bold enough to approach him.

As Rolph reached out slowly for his master's shoulder, Vanion turned his bloody gaze upward and snatched his servant's arm with his left hand. The force of the elf's grab shattered the bones in Rolph's arm instantly, but the chamber-man knew better than to scream or show weakness or pain in front of his Lord. Still gripping Rolph's wounded arm, Vanion rose steadily and expressionless.

Once he stood proudly and at his full height, the Necromancer gave his orders to the servant, "Clean up the mess and gather my daughter's ashes. See that they are placed in a proper receptacle. They'll be needed for the ascension ritual." His voice was cold and aloof.

Then, Vanion released the arm of his servant so that Rolph could do his bidding, and began to walk towards the chamber door that led to his private shower. No memories haunted him then, not of Drexxa, or of Kael, or of Mischaelna.

The Overlord's Keep was as silent as the grave. Its Lord felt nothing but the great emptiness of ambition and the cruel chill of a long winter.
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