Unholy Tides

Unholy Tides: Prologue

Written by Aaron Brosman

Mikal Mckay had never been comfortable in cities. Few beastmasters were. And the unrest in Victoria had given him reason to return home early.

The weeks spent crossing Westlock were uneventful. They were protected lands even in uncertain times. Beyond them was the Darkfenne, a tainted swamp stretching the length of the Straywood. It was a lasting reminder of how careless his cousins, the high elves of Sortilege, had been. Every ponderous step through the murky swamp was evidence of their failure. It had been hundreds of years ago that Sortilege sought to experiment on the beasts of the land. Now the Darkfenne was a deadly bog inhabited by unnatural monsters. The wizards had promised their experiments were over, and the people of Straywood trusted their word.

Finally, after weeks of travel, Mikal was home. The village of Twin Oaks was just in front of him, and he would gather supplies there, then be on his way to the heart of the Straywood.

Twin Oaks is strangely quiet, Mikal thought. When I came through, on my way to Victoria, they all rushed out to greet me. But now there is an unnatural stillness.

Every hut was utterly still. Twin Oaks was empty. Mikal searched for tracks, or any sign of the inhabitants. He found tracks leading towards the edge of the Darkfenne, with evidence of dragging. Following those tracks through the village, he found a rotted corpse. The body was wasted away, eaten by disease. Under it were deep black spots in the earth, and the soil around the spots was blighted.

Never have I seen a blight like this which clings to the land itself. So much death, the very smell of it clogs my nostrils. But, there is another smell, fainter.

Without warning one of the many heads of a Darkfenne hydra snapped down upon him from behind. The intense pain would have distracted a lesser mage, but years of combat had taught Mikal focus. He faced the aberrant beast and its five heads hungry for flesh. As one, they lunged at him, barely missing, and the stench of their breath hung in the air.

I mustn’t endanger others; there can be no summoning. My own hand will finish this hydra!

Mikal cast a quick enchantment and lunged forward, his staff striking with the strength of a bear. The hydra staggered back, disoriented. As it lumbered ponderously, he could hear it wheezing and coughing. It spit up black sludge out of two of its heads, and then it collapsed, dead. The ground around the creature was dying, just as the blight throughout Twin Oaks.

What disease is powerful enough to slay a hydra? What symbol is that branded on its head? An arcane mark of Sortilege! What have those foolish wizards been doing? They must leave nature alone! I will take this to their doorstep and they will give me answers!

Unholy Tides: Chapter One – Into the Eyrie

Written by Aaron Brosman

Beastmasters avoided the tree line of the mountains North of the Straywood, but Mikal

Mckay traveled far past it, up into the rocky cliffs. This climb was almost impossible even in the

best circumstances, but Mikal had summoned eagle claw boots to aid him.

Finally, he reached the great ledge and pulled himself up. He arrived at Tarok’s Eyrie,

home of the Skyhunter. The ledge spanned the side of the mountaintop, and the nest covered

the entire surface. Mikal took a few deep breaths, first for the climb and then in awe of his

surroundings. Few beastmasters knew where Tarok’s Eyrie was, and fewer still journeyed to it.

This was a desperate time; only on wings could Mikal get to Sortilege with haste.

And that request only Tarok himself could grant. Mikal could see him soaring above the

mountaintops, riding the air currents. Reaching into one of his bags, Mikal pulled out a rabbit

he had brought. It took only a moment for Tarok to see the fresh offering. He dived down to his

eyrie with impossible speed, and landed with impossible skill.

This beast doesn’t fly—the winds themselves obey him. He must help me, for only he is fast

enough.

Tarok devoured the rabbit in a single gulp, then turned his eyes toward Mikal. He

continued to eye the Mage as he approached.

“Mighty Tarok, I am Mikal Mckay, beastmaster of the Straywood.” He reached for

another bag around his waist and opened it, presenting the contents to Tarok. “This is the head

of a hydra, the creation of the wizards of Sortilege.”

Mikal quickly covered the diseased head. “I request your aid. The disease that engulfed

my village and afflicted this hydra spreads. I need answers, and only those wizards can give

them to me. Will you help me?”

Tarok stared at Mikal, unblinking. With a flash of his great wings the bird clutched Mikal

and flew Southwest.

Unholy Tides: Chapter Two – The Court of Towers

Written by Aaron Brosman

A few days ago, Mikal Mckay was returning home to a plagued village. Now he stood

at the door that led into the chambers of the high council of Sortilege. His passage through

the city had been uneventful: most wizards had never left Sortilege. They thought him a

commoner, perhaps ruddier than most. He had arrived at the top of the great spire to demand

answers.

Mikal forced the doors open, and the sound rang throughout the chamber. The council

members sat at a raised table that circled the edge of the room.

“This is your handiwork!” Mikal proclaimed, tossing the diseased hydra’s head into the

middle of the chamber.

Silence fell over the room. Several of the council were shocked at his audacity, and others

were furious at his intrusion.

“No one interrupts this council! Remove yourself, we no longer find this amusing,”said a

great wizard in blue robes with gold trim. Mikal believed him to be the council’s head.

“No, it is I who no longer find this amusing!” Mikal bellowed. “The Straywood fought

with you in the Leaf Cutter wars. We gave our word: should we ever be needed, we would aid

you. And you gave your word that the Darkfenne would never happen again. That you had

stopped your blasphemous experiments, your affront to nature. But see this! This head is from

one of your creations, a marked hydra, which attacked a village.”

The Wizards stared at the unmistakable arcane mark on the head with astonishment, and

gave each other silent glances of concern.

“My people know the dangers of the Darkfenne. We face them daily while you recline in

your towers. Yet this creature’s disease wiped out an entire village, and blighted the land. Now

answer me! What have you been doing in the Darkfenne?”

Mikal breathed heavily, fury in his eyes. The head oozed black slime onto the marble

floor. The wizards stared in disbelief at the evidence before them.

“We have broken no promises or treaties,” said an older wizard in gray robes. “I teach in

Arcanum, the university for wizards. We have taught our students to respect the treaty with

your people, always.”

“What is causing this, Thessial?” said the wizard in the blue robes.

“We must send one of our own to find out, don’t you agree, Adameer?”

“Indeed!” Adameer turned to Mikal. “You, beastmaster.”

“Yes…wizard?” Mikal said, snarling.

“We are interested in this as much as you. We will help you get to the bottom of this. We

must find you a companion.”

Unholy Tides: Chapter Three – Into the Heart of Darkness

Written by Aaron Brosman

“This circle follows leylines of mana, and with it we were able, in ages past, to send

wizards to our laboratories in the Darkfenne,” said Thessial. “It has fallen into disuse since

we quit those experiments. Today we are going to use it once more to send you out to an

abandoned facility in the Darkfenne. We are also concerned by what happens in the swamp.”

“Are you still sending one of your number with me?” Mikal asked.

“Of course.”

An elderly woman with impeccable robes walked confidently toward them. An owl

rested on her shoulder and her hair was tied back in a single ponytail.

“You weren’t talking about me again, were you, Thessial?” she said. “You know how it

annoys me to be spoken of behind my back.”

“On the contrary, I was about to introduce you. Mikal, this is Rayna. She will be

accompanying you into the Darkfenne.”

“If she can keep up, then we should be fine,” Mikal responded.

“Charming. I see the Straywood teaches fine manners.”

“The Straywood teaches survival. Manners are for the deceptive.

“Then I’m glad you’re letting me tag along,” Rayna said.

“Let’s get started, Thessial. You have classes to attend to.”

“Indeed. Stand inside the circle, and we will

begin.” Mikal stood impatiently in the center

of the mystical circle. Rayna joined him as

Thessial and his assistants began opening

the channels of mana. Each wizard

channeled their mana into the circle

which turned a bright blue just as

Mikal felt himself being pulled out into the Darkfenne.

Mikal looked around as the circle he now stood in began to dim. Gradually, its light

went out. He saw Rayna beside him, and for as far as he could see in all directions stretched the

Darkfenne. The circle was on top of ruins that had begun sinking into the swamp.

“That was quite a trip,” Rayna said.

“And that was just the beginning. Now we must find the source of the plague.”

Before he could say anything further a hydra reared its heads in front of them, just as two

animated statues flew up out of the ruins. They heard the snarling of mana leeches from below.

“What did you send us to, wizard?” Mikal yelled.

“There will be time for discussion when we’re safe!” Rayna replied as she readied a chain

lighting spell.

Unholy Tides: Chapter Four – Encircled in Darkfenne

Written by Aaron Brosman

“You wizards sent us into a trap!” Mikal shouted.

“No! It looks like the circle called them,” Rayna replied.

The beastmaster and wizard had just teleported into the center of the

Darkfenne and now found themselves surrounded by hungry aberrations.

“Then we will need something with more substance,” Mikal said as

he summoned a steelclaw grizzly.

“I suppose that is ‘substantial,’ but there are too many for him alone.”

As Rayna cast her spell, a small blob of metal grew into a great iron golem.

The hydra before them came down uponm the grizzly with its

many maws. The great paws of the bear crushed two of the hydra’s heads

together. The iron golem guarded the circle platform, while two gargoyle

sentries circled in the air. The grizzly’s ferocity caused the hydra a moment’s

pause, but the countless mana leeches began climbing up the stairs to the

platform. They latched onto the grizzly, each bite draining mana from

Mikal.

“We can’t keep this up. Those creatures just feed off us,” he

said.

The hydra’s body mended itself, and as the creature

lunged at the grizzly anew. Its many heads latched in for terrible

bites. Finally, the grizzly died, and the leeches continued

up the stairway. The gargoyles dived down to attack the iron

golem, landing a lucky blow and tearing a chunk out of him.

“Do you see that?” Rayna pointed to some of the pillars that

surrounded the circle. “I swear they’re lighting up.”

“Don’t belittle our last moments by hallucinating.”

Suddenly one of the pillars shot out a chain of lightning, followed by

another, and another. Electricity cascaded across the pillars, jumping

from creature to creature, stunning them with electric convulsions. The

smell of ozone permeated the area as lightning continued to flash and

strike from the pillars.

“Wizard’s towers? I’ve never seen ones like that,” Rayna said.

“They are buying us time,” Mikal noted.

“Then let’s not waste it. Quickly, before more creatures are called or these recover!”

As the two mages left the site, Mikal couldn’t shake the feeling that something was

wrong with this. I leave now, but once this journey ends the Wizards will have new questions to

answer….

As Mikal and Rayna raced into the deep swamp two hidden Wizards emerged from the

platform behind them watching their departure.

Unholy Tides: Chapter Five – The Trail of Death

Written by Aaron Brosman

“I admit that I am glad to be out of the Darkfenne,” Rayna said.

“We are still on its borders. Do not let your guard down,” Mikal replied.

“You only get to be my age by keeping your guard up.”

Mikal hated to admit that this wizard was useful, but her knowledge of the fen’s creatures

was indispensable. Now the two had left the edges of the Darkfenne, and were approaching a

small village on the path to Twin Oaks, where the infection had started. Mikal looked ahead

and saw distressing signs.

“No one is coming to greet us. None of my people are in the trees… No one is here.”

“Are you sure? The buildings all look fine to me.”

“This is the same as Twin Oaks. Quick, check the ground!” Mikal ran into the village.

Rayna knelt down and ran her fingers through the dirt. The ground itself was turning

black. Her fingers began to burn as she touched it, and the smell of stale death hung in the air.

She rushed into the village behind Mikal.

“The ground is black, and it burnt my hands. Is this what happened in Twin Oaks?”

“This is worse. The plague is growing stronger.”

“It is unlike anything I’ve ever seen a wizard do. Even knowing we caused the Darkfenne,

this…this is completely different. Where are the bodies? Does the plague consume them?”

“No. I saw some tracks at Twin Oaks, but I thought them unimportant. Here they are

clearer, they head east. The creators of this infection are becoming more brazen. They hid well

before, but now they are confident, and they’ve made a mistake.”

“What mistake, Mikal?”

“They left me a trail to follow.”

Unholy Tides: Chapter Six – Death That Should Not Be

Written by Aaron Brosman

Mikal turned back to face the elderly wizard. Impressive, he thought. She’s kept up with

me for almost a week, and this is her first complaint. At least some wizards take their duty seriously. But

still…

“No, we must push on. The longer we wait the harder the trail is to find. The only way to

find the source of this evil is to continue after it.”

“Then give me a moment, and we can press on.”

They each took some calm breaths and pulled food from their packs. Rayna had special

potions to provide her sustenance, while Mikal bit into some cured meats and a chunk of

cheese.

They had been in the Darkfenne for several days now, and at all times the sounds of the

fen had surrounded them. Insects were buzzing. Frogs were croaking. The wind whistled. But

now, silence. Mikal stopped eating and began to look all around.

“Do you hear that?” He asked. “The Darkfenne is silent. Be vigilant. Nothing silences the

Darkfenne.”

The skies around them turned black. Fog off the fen coalesced into a frightful, spectral

figure that floated before them. It was covered in a black cloak with frayed edges floating just

above the fen. Below its hood they could see two eyes burning. Even with that illumination

they could not see its face. In its hands was a great scythe, dripping with inky blackness. The

creature’s very presence sapped their strength.

“No! This should not be possible!” cried Rayna.

“What is this creature?”

“It is a Fenne Reaper. It shouldn’t exist. No one summons them.”

Then the creature spoke.

“Death calls for death. Can you not feel it? The death around you demands our presence.

And now your death calls to me…”

The Reaper lunged at them, swinging its scythe. The motion seemed to wound the air

itself. Mikal dodged with the speed of a snake, but Rayna was not so lucky. The Reaper’s scythe

caught her and dug deep into her flesh. The inky blackness that dripped from the scythe clung

to her and fed on her life. Mikal charged forward, swinging his staff with all his might, but it

passed through the death specter. Seeing the futility of physical combat he quickly cast a jet

stream that threw the creature back.

“You struggle against the inevitable. Accept your death.”

“Not today,” Rayna said.

Mikal sprinted over to her, picked her up and began to carry her off. The Fenne Reaper

ponderously followed them. Using the last of her strength, Rayna teleported the two of them

well ahead of their pursuer.

“Let’s hope I can keep this up,” said Mikal. “At least we will be out of the Darkfenne

soon.”

Unholy Tides: Chapter Seven – The Renewing Spring

Written by Aaron Brosman

Mikal cleared the Southern border of the Darkfenne, but he did not slow his pace for fear

he was still pursued. Every few minutes Rayna called out in pain as the poison continued to rot

her from within. He laid her down in front of an enormous oak for a moment. Even here the

land was becoming blighted. Several hundred yards back there was a forest, but he could see

that many of its trees had begun to wilt, and to die. The land around the oak was blighted as

well. Mikal pulled out a small forestry axe and moved to cut into the tree. If it was still green,

there was a chance it could help. As he leaned back to make a strike, he heard a voice.

“If your axe bites my tree, then I will be sure you know what it feels like to be rent

asunder.”

Mikal turned to see a beautiful young wood elf clothed in vines and leaves.

“What is your business in this forest? Have you come from the lake? Does he now send

the living to do his deeds?”

“No, we were escaping a horror on the fen and found your tree. My

friend is poisoned and needs to be healed, so I sought help. If

your tree cannot help me, can you?”

“Yes, I can heal her, but why? Do you care for my

forest?”

“You must heal her, because every death

strengthens the fen. And I care for a forest of my

own, the Straywood. That is why I am here.”

“You come from Straywood? We

had thought us forgotten by the

beastmasters. Yes, I will aid your

friend. We have the same goal.”

The wood elf summoned

up a renewing spring and set to

healing Rayna.

“If this can heal the rot, why don’t you heal your forest?” Rayna asked.

“We druids are few, and the power this plague has is great. That is why I protect my

Lifetree here. This tree keeps the forest from falling into blight, but it will not hold for long. You

say you have come to protect your forest? Then you seek for the lord of death by the lake.”

“We had been following tracks up the river.”

“Then, I, Shalla of the Gray Oaks, will bring friends and we will visit this

Necromancer….” And with that several of the wilting trees began to move. They uprooted and

followed the druid as she started toward the river.

Unholy Tides: Chapter Eight – The Dead Lake

Written by Aaron Brosman

Mikal knew they were close. It had taken weeks, but they had found the source of the

plague that spread across the Darkfenne and beyond. Shalla, the druid, had led them to the

source of the corruption, and her trees had fought off the undead that found them. Now, the

three mages stared at an ancient dam from before the Demon Wars. Finding such ruins was not

uncommon, but the unnatural repairs to this one were disturbing. The dam had been rebuilt

with corpses, each piled on top of another and bound by unholy magic.

“The necromancer has been at this quite some time, clearly,” Rayna said.

Mikal growled. “We can admire his work later.”

“Yes, this death mustn’t spread farther,” Shalla said.

“Agreed. We just need to be careful,” Rayna replied.

Death pervaded the air as they approached the lake. Waves of despair rolled off the

water, and they felt their very will to live weakening. The unnatural lifelessness of this place

ate at their very souls. They could see several black robed figures on the other side of the dam,

conducting some sort of ritual. A skeleton bearing a torch illuminated their blasphemous acts.

Mikal waited for no invitation, but raced across the dam. Rayna and Shalla quickly ran

after him. The utterly unhallowed flesh moved and writhed beneath their feet. Putrid water

seeped between pieces of rotting meat wedged into the undead dam.

Mikal pounced on one of the figures in the ritual, savagely crushing its skull.

Another robed figure reared before him. “My, my, aren’t you a fierce one. No matter, he is

more useful now that he is dead.”

“Now, I come for you!” Mikal screamed.

“You will find that I am beyond

your skill,” the figure replied.

Then the newly dead cultist

grabbed Mikal’s leg. The robed figure

pulled back his hood. His face was

weathered and aged beyond time, but a

dark flame burnt in his eyes, and a wicked

smile was on his lips.

“You fight me in my very seat of

power? You will make a fitting slave, once

you’re reanimated.”

Rayna and Shalla continued across the

dam, as zombies began pouring out of the lake.

Undeath surrounded them all…