The world has gone mad! Lorenthia destroyed, reports of strange creatures and evil, robed men, and the Shadow Deep now right on our doorstep. It seems the end times are here.
Every soldier, ranger and volunteer has been mobilised, and we are amongst them. I am to accompany my noble master, Venkh the Unyielding, to search for his mentor, the veteran ranger Aventine, who has not returned from an errand to investigate reports of attacks on a nearby village. As ever, we shall be joined by the doughty yeoman Garvin, who has a stout heart and a true aim.
We are also to be accompanied by the scholarly ranger Shevarith. She offered her assistance as she knows a herbalist in the village and is worried for his safety. Her companions include Troughton, a man who looks like he will be good to have around in a tight spot, and an ill-favoured fellow known only as Wormtail - he does not inspire trust in my soul.
We depart at first light, as it is an eight-hour hike over difficult terrain to the village. I pray that our journey is needless, and we will find that all is well. However, my heart tells me that we are about to confront the horrors of the Shadow Deep for the first time.
I must have courage...
. . .
It is worse than I feared.
As soon as we came within sight of the village, we knew that something wasn’t right. There was no sound of man or animal, no movement except for the gentle swaying of the trees in the breeze.
Closer in, we could see bodies lying in the dirt and smell the stench of death. Undaunted, as ever, Venkh covered his face and carried on. He knew it was his duty to determine the fate of Aventine and the village.
We reached the centre of the village, and were about to split up to search, when a horrible moaning sound came from all around. The shambling shapes of unholy, reanimated corpses emerged from the shadows and unnaturally large bats took flight from the eaves of the buildings.
Brave and true of heart, Venkh plunged forwards toward danger with my blessing upon his axe and made short work of one of the great bats.
The lady Shevarith showed herself no less stout-hearted as she and Troughton also engaged and despatched one of the fell beasts.
Unfortunately, his foolhardy bravery put my master in danger and he was set upon from behind by one of the ungodly walking dead. He did not flinch though, and a quickly swipe of his mighty axe took the head off the creature and returned it to its rest.
Shevarith and Troughton were also attacked, but held their ground, side by side, calmly dealing with each reanimate as it approached. Such cautious teamwork was inspiring, as I was so used to seeing Master Venkh often rushed alone into danger.
Whilst I held my ground with Garvin, who maintained steady fire at our assailants, in the centre of the village, Wormtail (well does that name suit him) scurried away from danger to a small hillock at the edge of the village. He later claimed to have discovered strange tracks of many-legged creatures heading towards the woods, but I have my suspicions that he was merely cowering behind the rocks.
Meanwhile, with all visible enemies destroyed, Garvin and I headed to the opposite edge of the village searching for any sign of Aventine. During the fight, I had made out a shape in the undergrowth of an orchard that I wanted to investigate. Before we had made it halfway there, more guttural groans revealed that the dead of the village were still not at rest.
Master Venkh had also begun to search and, unbeknownst to the rest of us, had sadly found the mutilated remains of Aventine. With no time for grief, he took up his mentor's sword and swore an oath to return it to the capital only after it had been plunged into the hearts of Aventine's killers, whatever manner of creature they were.
Shevarith and Troughton were also looking for evidence of what had happened that would bring the dead back to life, but were unaware that they were being stalked by an increasing number of these creatures.
Inspired by Shevarith's example, I stood alongside Garvin as he was assailed by a walking corpse, and together we brought it peace.
Shevarith told us later that she discovered a crop of Fireheart Green growing behind a house and quickly cut some for later use. She'd told us that the herbalist had settled here because of the abundance of natural resources that grew in the surrounding area.
Master Venkh also came upon some herbs in his search of a house, which may well have belonged to the herbalist himself, as he discovered a pre-prepared explosive cocktail, which would surely be beyond the skill of an ordinary farmer to make.
Mistress Shevarith and the ever dependable Troughton were once again assaulted by the living dead, and we heard the sound of their combat from the far side of the village.
I was too far away to aid them, however, as I had finally reached the orchard and discovered the mutilated body of a villager. My quick study of the wounds told me that the poor woman had been bitten by something as large as a dog, and there were clear signs of venom in the bite mark. I was also troubled by what appeared to be strands of very fine silk wrapped around her. I did not have time to ponder things further as I suddenly heard Garvin calling for aid.
He had bravely waited alone to cover my return to the village, but a sudden terror had gripped him as he suddenly found himself out of sight of everyone except a similarly stunned Wormtail, who had slunk back from his hiding place.
As I returned to Garvin's side and calmed his nerves, I saw Wormtail frozen in the centre of the village. Much as I have not warmed to him, the shock at what he had witnessed showed clearly on his face and I felt some pity.
Wormtail was soon shaken out of his paralysis by the dynamic return of the lady Shevarith and Troughton. The soldier bore a wound on his arm and they were pursued by more of the dead. Garvin let fly in their direction, determined to help.
Master Venkh also returned to the fray and rushed heroically to our companions' aid.
Shevarith and Troughton were beset on all sides and the brave man took more wounds in defence of the lady. I was surprised to see Wormtail plunge into the fight as well (perhaps I have misjudged him), but he was almost brought low for his trouble.
However, their bravery won out and together they hacked and sliced their way through the last of the foul creatures attacking them. Both Troughton and Wormtail were sorely hurt, but thankfully still standing.
Master Venkh had cut down the last of the dead that had lurched into the village square. Before leaving, we made a quick search of a store hut. Wormtail's bloodied fingers fumbled with the lock until Master Venkh list patience and hacked down the door. Inside I discovered no more clues as to what had overcome the village, but I did discover a cordial of spellfire which would no doubt be of use in our quest.
As we left the village, we were disturbed by the sound of knocking, as if something or someone were repeatedly banging something heavy against wood.
We decided not to investigate further, as we had discovered the fate of Aventine and knew that something terrible had befell the village. Wormtail pointed us to the tracks and we headed off into the dark woods to learn more about the evil that had been unleashed by the Shadow Deep.