- It's a night for stories, told beneath the burning pumpkins' gaze.
Tales From The Pumpkin Patch is the 12th questing area in the game (listed as 9.6 on the map) and becomes available when all sub-quests and boss encounters have been completed on at least normal difficulty in The Dragons' Claw.
- Completing this area on normal will allow you to get the Spectral Erebus raid essence
|Title||Level 1||Level 2||Level 3||Level 4||Level 5||Level 6||Level 7|
|Sinister Stories |
(Complete Tales from the Pumpkin Patch on Nightmare difficulty.)
|Pumpkin Night Reveler||95||156||134||Pumpkin Night Reveler gains 1 Attack for each Special (Attribute) troop in the legion, and 1 Defense for each Tank troop in the legion||Quest: NM Tales from the Pumpkin Patch|
|Apocolocyntosised Fiend Ring||250||230||308||150||Pumpkin Power:Chance for bonus damage; Extra damage for each additional Apocolocyntosised Fiend item equipped; Significant extra damage if the Apocolocyntosised Fiend Beast is equipped.||Quest Boss: NM Spectral Erebus|
|Apocolocyntosised Fiend Beast||330||305||406||100||Pumpkin Pounce: Chance for bonus damage; Extra damage for each additional Apocolocyntosised Fiend item equipped||Quest: NM Z9.6|
|Brown Pumpkin Night Gravestone||Craft x2 Stat Points|
|Grey Pumpkin Night Gravestone||Craft x2 Stat Points|
|Green Pumpkin Night Gravestone||Craft x2 Stat Points|
|Blue Pumpkin Night Gravestone||Craft x2 Stat Points|
|Purple Pumpkin Night Gravestone||Craft x2 Stat Points and Pet Emporium Scroll 3|
|Orange Pumpkin Night Gravestone||Craft x2 Stat Points and Pet Emporium Scroll 3|
|Braaaaains!||60||90||Pumpkin Night Specters||2700-3300|
|Black and Blue||60||90||Pumpkin Night Specters||2700-3300|
|The Vampires Prey||60||90||Pumpkin Night Specters||2700-3300|
|Beneath The Whispering Night||60||90||Pumpkin Night Specters||2700-3300|
|Braaaaains!||80||123||Pumpkin Night Specters||3600-4400|
|Black and Blue||80||123||Pumpkin Night Specters||3600-4400|
|The Vampires Prey||80||123||Pumpkin Night Specters||3600-4400|
|Beneath The Whispering Night||80||123||Pumpkin Night Specters||3600-4400|
|Braaaaains!||105||163||Pumpkin Night Specters||4725-5775|
|Black and Blue||105||163||Pumpkin Night Specters||4725-5775|
|The Vampires Prey||105||163||Pumpkin Night Specters||4725-5775|
|Beneath The Whispering Night||80||123||Pumpkin Night Specters||4725-5775|
|Braaaaains!||145||227||Pumpkin Night Specters||6525-7975|
|Black and Blue||145||227||Pumpkin Night Specters||6525-7975|
|The Vampires Prey||145||227||Pumpkin Night Specters||6525-7975|
|Beneath The Whispering Night||145||227||Pumpkin Night Specters||6525-7975|
|Tales From The Pumpkin Patch
"Ve had the better bowling, ja?"
"I must disagree with you, sir."
"Not at all!"
"The fielding too."
"Sir, I fear your memory is greatly at fault!"
Drunsdorf's grand hall was a riot of seasonal merriment. Pumpkin laterns grinned fire from the walls and tables, casting their warm, welcoming orange light over a tremendous banquet. Roasted birds wallowed beneath sweet, succulent sauces. Racks of glazed lamb, pork and venison gleam -- a veritable hoard of tasty treasures. Heaps of potato pancakes formed stalwart towers amidst these delights. Buttery vegetables waited in their dishes for diners of less carnivorous appetite. Pitchers and tankards beyond number clustered around the plates and platters, holding the dark, rich ales for which Stromhamre was lauded by hardy drinkers and sniffed at by those with softer dispositions.
As vast and unconquerable as this feast appeared, the cheery guests were making their best efforts to triumph over it. They laid into the goodly viands in the manner of besiegers storming a castle's walls. Hungry hands tore drumsticks from the birds' carcasses, letting juices spill over their grasping fingers. Knifes, forks, spoons, and the occasional battleaxe went to work on everything in sight. A drunken goblin even climbed upthe wall and nibbled on one of the illuminated pumpkins. Juding from the fruits broad, sinister smile, it was welcomed this voracity.
The city's men and women of rank reveled alongside the heroes of the dragon-rider's army, sharing the satisfaction of fine food, the world-blurring haze of strong drink, and the joy of good company. In one part of the hall Roland leaned against a wall, wielding drumstrick and tankard in lieu of his blades. He flourished these in dramatic fashion, between bies and sips, regaling a group of beaming aristocrats with tales of past adventures. Nearby marcus and Grunhilde, Drunsdorf's guard captain, reminisced about the numerous criminals they'd each apprehended. In her inebriated exuberance she grabbed hold of a neighboring feaster to demonstrate and armlock, wrenched the limb behind him, then gave a little gasp of surprise. She handed it back to the zombie along with a stream of red-faced apologies. He set it aside to be reattached later, and continued eating with his remaining hand. A pack of jovial drinkers roared with laughter at the spectacle. Their joy mingled with Medea's song, woven into the rousing ditty by her bardic arts. Hands and tankards drummed on tables in time with the tune. A burly barbarian was so enthusiastic in his unmelodious contributions to the percussion that his ale splashed left and right. On one side, Aesa shielded her meal with a glowing rune. Droplets hissed against the magical barrier it invoked. On the other side, Mina von Richten turned and glared. But the vampiress' displeasure couldn't endure the goodwill that permeated the hall. It evaported into a smile, before she turned back to Lord Ruthven and continued to discuss whose willing necks might slake each of their thirsts that night.
Baroness Greta von Humstein, the banquet's patroness, stood at the high table - ensconced in a grand orange dress so vast and voluminous it might have doubled as a one person fortress. Her broad countenance wore a radiant smile as she surveyed the results of her magnanimity. She nodded to some of the heros and aristocrats whose eyes met hers, and they raised tankards or joints of meat in salute to her largesse. Everywhere she turned there was happiness. Face after face grinned, bantered, ate, and quaffed. Though a slight frown clouded her brow when her gaze alighted on a pair of diners at the far end of the hall. Lord kristof and one of the dragon-rider's companions appeared to be embroiled in an argument. Their words were inaudible amidst the singing, drumming, and general clamor, but the expressions on their faces told of some bitter dispute. She hoped neither of them would challenge the other to a duel. That was always so distasteful... Greta was contemplating whether to send a servant over there when a drunken duke took her arm and distracted her with his weel-bred lecherousness. She turned to deal with him, leaving the lord and scholar to their own devices.
"Darkfriars is a good school, ja?" Lord Kristof said. "Though I have heard that one old boy vent craz and married a valrus"
"That was a baseless rumor, sir!" Lucian said.
"...but in cricket, ve of the Zugesschule vere superior! You must accept this!"
"I most certainly will not."
"Vhen ve met, our team vas almost always victorious!"
"Your recollection differs most substantially from mine, sir. Most substantially indeed!" The scholar's eyes were red with drink and orange from the lanterns' light. They blazed as though aflame. "Infact, I seem to recall that on more than one occasion I myself knocked your bowling all over the playing fields!"
"No! No! Your memory is playing you false, my friend, Vhen I bowled, it vas as you Friars vould say... Ducks' eggs vere cheap!"
"Preposterous! With the greastest of respect, Lord Kristof, the Zugesschule's bowling was never a match for Darkfriars' batting!"
Heads turned on all sides. Those feasters whose education had taken place in the streets, forests, or battlefields, rather than academia's hallowed halls, seem bemused by the polite words and murderous glares. They wondered whether Lucian and the lord had simply been overindulging in the wonderful beer. But others exchanged knowing looks. When two old boys from such fine places of learning met, the delight upon recongnizing one another's school rings often degenerated into such robust debates over sporting prowess. Both groups wondered wheter the punches would fly.
"Ah A pity ve cannot settle this matter... If I could bowl you but a single ball, I could take your vicket."
"Oh, but it can be settled, sir. Can and shall!"
Lucian reached down, hitched up his robes, and rummaged in their folds. The Stromhamren nobleman looked on with a raised eyebrow. It rose further still when the scholar placed a cricket bat on the table.
"You carry a bat vith you?"
"One never knows when one might need to bludgeon a beastman. A chair shall serve as my wicket, and..." He picked up a spherical fruit from a nearby bowl. "This shall be our ball."
"That's easily fixed, sir." He turned to his other neighbor, a half elven woman clad in druidic garb. "Could you..."
Calla looked from the scholar the nobleman. Lord Kristof nodded, his eyes bright and eager. So she touched the fruit and called upon nature's strong and subtle powers.
"Thank you," Lucian said. He handed it to the former Zugesschule pupil. Does this meet your needs, sir?
"Ja! Let us play!"
The two of them stood, and began to form a makeshift pitch parallel to their long table. A chair was set up at one end. The scholar took his position in front of it, bat in hand and determination written on his fiery face. Lord Kristof faced him across the hall's considerable breadth. While those nearby looked on, and those further afield continued to eat, drink, and chatter in blisful ignorance of the sporting duel that was about to ensue, he took his run-up. Then he seemed to hop, bound and turn his body in a great arc. The hardened fruit flew from his hand.
Lucian swung his bat. It was a hard fast swing that might have broken a man's skull in battle -- filled with every ounce his thews and school pride could muster. There was a loud click as it met the ball.
"Ha!" The scholar's face erupted in delight. "One for Darkfri... Oh!"
On the other side of the hall, Greta von Hurstein screamed and clutched her face. Blood spurted between the glittering rings on her fingers. Diners gasped and roared. Men and women clustered around the hostess, offering sympathy, inquiring as to her condition, and demanding to know what had happened. A few well-meaning healers threw magic in her direction. Though due to their intoxication, most of these spells burst against the onlookers instead. Thus a young countess found her recently pierced ears healing around the jewelry that adomed them, causing her no small amount of discomfort, and an elderly gentleman felt his gout subside (whis was displeasing, since it robbed him of his prime topic of complaint and conversation).
Medea's sharp elven eyes transfixed Lucian like the points of two piercing daggers.It occurred to the scholar, rather too late, that his schoolmasters had been quite right to forbid the playing of cricket indoors. He gulped and scrambled towards her.
"Oh! I'm so terribly sor-"
"You idiot!" Her harp blared, making his intestines quiver. It was like being hit in the guy by a warhammer. "Get out, now!"
"But I really must apologize to the good lady!"
"No, we'll do that. You need to leave this hall before you get punched in the face."
"I hardly think Baroness von Hurstein would resort to physical violence..."
"No, but I will."
"Oh... In that case, I'll... I'll... Please express my most sincere ap-"
So Lucian left.
Voices rang through Drundorf's streets in spite of the late hour. Here too lanterns drove back the nocturnal gloom, grinning as though amused by the drinking songs that rolled out from the taverns or the shreiks of excited childern. Youngsters hurtled in every direction -- brandishing their sacks of sweetmeats. A few of them half-tumbled to a halt in front of Lucian, and stared up in awe at the heroic adventurer they thought him to be. As the memories of the debacle in the hall were still fresh in his mind, this embarrassed him somewhat. He was still wondering how best to play the part required of him when a small girl pressed something into his hand. She and the others ran off before the scholar could decline, leaving him holding a toffee-coated treat in the shape of a manticore.
He popped it into his mouth. Soft, sticky toffee yielded to a crunchy inner layer, followed in turn by a blob of cloying pumpkin jam. Lucian masticated this culinary teasure as he walked. It reminded him of the unhealthy morsels which had delighted him as the schoolboy.
Men and women called to the scholar, asking him to join their festive quaffing. He demurred in each case. He needed to clear his head - and pouring more alcohol into the ocean which seemed to swell inside his brain wasn't calculated to achieve this. So he continued to wander, enjoying the crisp night air, pondering when it might be appropriate to return to the feast. He was still musing over this when a chill breeze tickled his cheek. Lucian halted, looked around, and found himself beside the tall iron gates of Drunsdorf's cemetery. They stood open, unsealing a path that would among gloomy trees, crypts, and tombstones. Even here Pumpkin Night had left its mark. A few of the festive lanterns cacled in silence amidst the graves, making the surrounding shadows dance.
Boisterous cries drifted on the wind behind him. They promised the scholar feasting fun, candy and ale. But the somber calm of the graveyard was far more alluring. He went inside, and at once felt a cool tranquility settle over him. Lucian traveled down the winding paths. His bleary gaze read snatches of snames and deeds where the moon and lantern light allowed. Centuries of deaths and doings enveloped him, as they did whenever he sat down with a stack of dusty tomes. He welcomed this familiarity A contended sigh escaped his lungs.
"I know how you feel," a voice said. "It's the only peaceful place in the city tonight."
A woman in a light blue dress stepped onto the path besde him. Golden curls framed a pale face that was warmed by a soft smile.
"Oh, do forgive me," Lucian said. "I didn't mean to intrude on yur solitude. I'll leave..."
"No, please -- stay. You look like you need the quiet. Too much ale?"
"I... Well, yes. And worse. I fear I inadvertently assaulted Baroness Greta with a cricket ball."
The woman blinked. Lucian blurted out a hasty explanation, and she giggled. It was a comforting, musical sound.
"Oh, poor Greta!" she said. "But she'll forgive you. She was always a good natured girl."
"I... I do hope so."
"So, what do you do when you aren't causing a scandal at banquets?"
"My name's Lucian. I'm a scholar."
"Nina. Pleased to meet you." She offered her hand. It was cool and soothing. "A scholar? The kind who knows stories?"
"Yes, I've studided a great many tales as part of my research into fabulous beasts and the like."
"It's a good night for stories. Will you walk with me and share them?" "It's a good night for stories. Will you walk with me and share them?"
|There was trouble. Marcus knew that as soon as he stepped out into the street. Fallows' cool morning air brushed against his face, as familiar as a wife's kiss, and whispered it in his ear. A good guard captain seldom needed informants. His town or city told him enough, if he only listened. And Marcus' instincts seldom played him false.
He waited, allowing his conscious thoughts to discern what he'd already sensed. The sounds were wrong. There should have been more commotion from the marketplace -- a greater babble of commerce from buyers and sellers, mischievous children and longsuffering adults; belligerent shouts or accusations of deception and treachery, which most often subsided into wry smiles and the exchange of goods for coin. But this morning the noises were subdued. People were elsewhere, and that meant...
The wind shifted. Fallows seemed to smile at her bronze guardian, and shared in the ensuing sigh. Raised voices, the market's missing clamor, came from the opposite direction. There were many buildings over there. Countless places where men and women might disturb the peace. But it didn't take a seer to know which particular street he'd find them on. So Marcus set off, along the very same route he'd been about to take when the premonition first struck.
The crowd outside the guardhouse didn't startle him. It was far from the first time a mob had assembled there, to demand one thing or another -- usually a hanging. However, the shouts he picked out from within the tumult caught him by surprise.
"We want our brains!"
"Yeah! We use them for... for..."
"Brains! Brains! Braaaaains!"
Captain Marcus pursed his lips. If this was some kind of Pumpkin Night prank, the persons responsible would receive a bronze-plated foot in their hindquarters. He was still entertaining that happy thought when the townspeople noticed him and -- in the manner of aggrieved mobs everywhere -- decided it would be more satisfying to yell at a flesh and blood representative of law and order than at the impassive stone guardhouse.
"What are you going to do about this, hey?"
"Is this what we pay our taxes for?" a flabby merchant asked. "To have our brains eaten?"
Marcus raised his hands, palms outward. The shouting died down long enough for him to drive wedge-like sentences into its midst.
"Horace," he said, "if you did ever pay your fair share, the tax collectors would take you for an imposter and have you hanged for your own murder. What's all this about brains?"
"Haven't you heard?" Horace swelled, which seemed to expand his already rotund figure to the point of bursting. "Zombies!"
"Yeah, zombies!" someone in the crowd said.
"Death to the zombies!" another cried.
"Zombies are already dead!" a third said.
"No, they're undead! That's the opposite of dead! You know, like undone is the opposite of done!"
"So you're undead then?"
"Yeah! I... Oh. I mean..."
Marcus sighed and massaged his forehead. In some towns mobs burned neighborhoods down, or looted shops. In Fallows they tended to embroil themselves in ridiculous discussions.
"Quiet!" the guardsman said. "Horace, what're you talking about?"
"A zombie murdered someone in the graveyard, and ate the poor bastard's brain. Your lot caught him and took him inside. He's in there right now, probably crapping bits of brain all over his cell!"
"Who told you that?"
"Ronber? You're shouting at the guardhouse because of something the town drunk said?"
"He may be a drunk, but you know what they say... In vino vertex!"
"I don't think I've ever heard anyone say that. Go home -- all of you. If there's a criminal in there, zombie or not, we'll deal with it."
"Cut off his head!" someone yelled. "You can't hang a zombie! You have to cut off his head."
"Or stab him with silver!" another said.
"No, it works on zombies too! We should all go buy some silver!"
"Wait... Aren't you a silversmith?"
"That's not the point..."
Marcus pushed his way through the crowd and approached the building, leaving the townspeople arguing in his wake.
"Yes. Ronber's been spreading one of his idiotic rumors. He told them we had a zombie here, and-"
The captain swore.
"In the cells?"
"No, the main room. He-"
Marcus strode off. Brain-eating zombies... That was all he needed. Aurelius Bloodwyn would demand drastic action to appease the citizenry, and as usual the guardsmen would be expected to deal with whatever turmoil ensued.
The main room was packed, as he'd expected. His comrades couldn't patrol the streets with the crowd waiting out there to accost them. And brain-eating was a novel crime in Fallows, thankfully. Even guardsmen weren't immune to ghoulish curiosity. Hence it took a moment for his authority to part the sea of bronze-armored bodies and reveal the object of their attention. The zombie sat before one of the desks, his back to Marcus. Long, greasy hair straggled down his grime-stained jerkin. Sergeant Nurth was opposite him, elbows resting on the battered wood, steel-clad fingers tented.
"I demand justice!" the zombie said. "Justice!"
"I'd have thought you'd had enough of justice," Sergeant Nurth said.
"That's not funny! I-"
Marcus' eyes widened. He knew that voice...
"Pirmun the Knife?"
The face that turned to regard him was desiccated. Thin, greenish skin stretched taut over its sharp bones, surrounding one bulging eye, an empty socket, and a triangular hole where his nose should have been. The zombie's mouth gaped -- making his flesh wrinkle like crumpled parchment. He stood up, pushed the chair away, and rounded on Marcus.
"I know you!" He leaned forward and tapped his temple. "You're that guardsman who duffed me up! I never forget a face. Brutality, that was."
"You were trying to stick a dagger in my eye."
The skin around Pirmun's missing nose twitched. A little puff of air rasped from the space where his proboscis should have been. It took Marcus a moment to realize he was trying to snort.
"Defending my rights, that's what I was doing."
"Your right to rob defenseless women?"
"Look, what's done is done. I paid my debt to society, didn't I?" He scratched at the dark marks on his neck. "Hanged by my neck until I were dead -- just like that damn judge said. And that bloody executioner couldn't even tie a proper knot! You know how much it hurts, being choked to death?"
"If I'd known you'd come back as a zombie, I'd have asked for a headsman instead of a hangman."
"And if I'd known, I'd have told the bastards not to bury me."
"Whose brain did you eat?"
"What? You... you..." Pirmun glared and spluttered. "How dare you! I'm a law-abiding citizen. Oh, just because I'm a zombie, you think I go around eating brains..."
Several guardsmen snickered. Nurth coughed.
"He isn't here as a suspect," the sergeant said. "He's the one who reported the crime."
"So another zombie ate the victim's brain?" Marcus asked.
"No!" Pirmun said. "The victim was a zombie! And someone ate his brain!"
Marcus stared at him.
"What?" the zombie said. He glowered through his lone eye.
"You found religion after you got hanged?"
"Didn't know it was lost," he said. "But someone up there wanted me alive. Or less dead, anyhow."
A gust of wind blew through the cemetery. It chased red-gold leaves among the gravestones, scattered them around the guardsman and the zombie. A few fluttered against the corpse at their feet. Pirmun brushed them aside with his ragged boot, then squatted down -- limbs creaking like old door hinges -- and plucked one out of the gaping hole at the top of Sulbin's skull. A sundered piece of bone rested on the ground nearby. It resembled a saucer, as though left there to supply a cat with milk. Marcus picked it up and examined it.
"This was removed with a saw," the guardsman said.
Pirmun made that curious snorting sound again.
"The land's not safe for honest folk anymore," he said. "You go about trying to do the decent thing and make your way in the world, then someone comes along and murders you! It's enough to make a man turn to crime."
"You did turn to crime. That's why we hanged you."
"But I turned my life... I mean, my undeath... around! And it was all because of Sulbin here. When I clawed my way out of the dirt, he handed me a bottle of whisky and welcomed me like a brother. Told me I could stay with him in his crypt and earn my keep by helping him look after this place. Said he needed a hand keeping the wrong sort out. Me, I think he was just lonely."
"The wrong sort?"
"You know, graverobbers and necromancers and whatnot. People gave us coin and drink to stop their kin getting dug up and messed with."
Marcus crouched down beside the body, set the piece of bone aside, and looked at Pirmun. The zombie went onto his knees. He lifted Sulbin's head onto his lap, turning the cavity towards Marcus.
"See. Just like I said."
The guardsman nodded. Scratches lined the inside of the skull, along with little traces of pinkish-white matter.
"Zombies don't eat with forks!" Pirmun said. "Not the kind who kill folk for their brains, anyhow."
Marcus stood up and surveyed the scene. An empty pitcher lay not far from the corpse, just as the zombie had said -- dropped when he'd returned from the roadside tavern and found Sulbin.
"It rained last night," Marcus said.
He ignored the question and moved around the gravestones, scanning the ground. The grass was long and unkempt in this part of the cemetery. Those interred here had been buried decades ago, and any kin they still possessed had long since ceased to care for their resting places. It wasn't difficult to find the spots where yellow-green clumps of grass and leaves had been stamped down into the previous evening's sodden dirt. Then luck played its part.
"Here," the guardsman said.
Pirmun got to his feet, bones creaking and popping in protest, and came over. Marcus pointed. A patch of mud -- which had managed to defy the foliage for many years -- had been claimed by a different invader. A small, neat print lay embedded in the earth.
"A child?" the zombie said.
"No. It's too broad. I'd say this was made by a gnome."
"There aren't too many of those in Fallows..."
"No. And tonight's Pumpkin Night, so I'll wager we'd find most of them in the Munched Mushroom. They start drinking early in there."
"Then that's where I'm going! I'll bash every single four-fingered bugger in the place until one of them admits it!"
"There's a better way. I'll just need to claim a favor someone owes me..."
He stamped a hoof. His body shuddered, making the black and white patches tremble.
"This is unacceptable!" he said. "I'm a... a cow-man! I want my gold back!"
The raven-haired woman behind the counter rolled her eyes.
"I told you," she said, "no refunds. You wanted a unique spell. Something no one else at the ball would be wearing. Well, I gave you one. You'll be the only cow-centaur there."
"I'm a friend of Mayor Bloodwyn's. He'll hear of this!"
"If I look like I care, that's a better illusion than the one you have on."
The man glowered, stomped his hoof again, wheeled his four-legged body round, and stormed through the doorway. He brushed past Captain Marcus in the street. A profanity died on his lips at the sight of the bronze armor. He satisfied himself with a dirty look instead. The guardsman smiled and stepped into the store.
"Good day, Marcus." The woman waved at the wall, from which dozens of hideous visages glared. "Looking for a mask? Or if you want an illusion for tonight, I've been working on one that'd suit you a treat."
"Actually, Janessa I need your help with something else. Can you get away for a little while?"
"Yeah. By now everyone's already bought their costumes. The ones who come in are mostly just here to complain. So where are we going? If you want to sweep me off my feet, the Pig and Poker's doing a nice roast today."
However, these varied spectacles could only be truly appreciated by those who did what the Mushroom's four-fingered patrons were engaged in. For though flagons of ale and bottles of wine graced most of the tables, the intoxicant of choice lay beside them -- dressed in riots of mingling color. Eager fingers plucked bright fungi from their plates and shoved them onto salivating tongues. Gasps of horrified pleasure followed. The tavern's terrors came to psychedelic life around the mushroom-gobbling gnomes.
Not all of them reacted well to the experience. One leapt from his chair, with half-chewed chunks of green fungus oozing down his chin, stared at an untenanted corner of the room, and screamed. Then he ran for the exit, shouting unintelligible words until the door opened and he crashed into a tall, bronze-armored form. Marcus looked down at the heap curled up in front of his boots. The gnome was snoring and sucking his thumb, so the guardsman merely stepped over him and approached the bar.
"Here for the ale..." The barman learned forward and stroked his bristly black beard. "...or the mushrooms?"
"Neither." Marcus sat down on one of the stools. As it was built for someone two-thirds his height, the barman still had to stare up into his dusky features. "I'm chasing a ghost."
The barman laughed. So did the nearest patrons. Many of the others looked round to see what was going on, but the rest were too busy eating fungi or staring at their hands.
"It's a good night for that!" the barman said. He tugged his beard. "Let me guess... Jack?"
Several gnomes hooted, hollered, and banged on the tables. Though one ran around the tavern screaming.
"Help! Jack'll kill us all! Help!"
"No," Marcus said. "This is the ghost of a zombie."
"Huh?" The barman scratched his head. "But... I mean... Do zombies have ghosts?"
"This one does. There've been sightings all over Fallows. People say he's screaming about his brain..."
The guardsman didn't turn around. He was too experienced to reveal his suspicions with a careless glance. Perhaps he only imagined the sharp inhalation from somewhere behind him. After all, it shouldn't have been possible for mere human ears to pick it out amidst the tavern's din. But Marcus trusted his instincts.
"He was seen heading in this direction," he continued.
"He's welcome in the Mushroom," the barman said. "Least a ghost won't piss on the floor when he's hammered, like some of this lot!"
There was laughter, but threaded with disquiet. It died when the door opened. Marcus listened to the gasps and cries for a moment or two, before turning to observe the drama.
"I want my braaaaain!"
The specter stood in the doorway -- a mist of shimmering blue energy that shifted and billowed in amorphous clouds, until it settled into a humanoid shape surmounted by a horrendous visage.
Gnomes shrieked. A few laughed. A couple consumed more mushrooms to enhance the spectacle.
The specter shambled into the tavern, arms outstretched.
"No! Guardsman -- save me! For the love of all the gods, save me!" A gnome woman clung to Marcus' arm, freckled face quivering. "Don't let him kill me!"
His town hadn't failed him. The inquiries he'd made had all pointed to Tilla Sundreamer, and this was mere confirmation.
"Janessa," Marcus said, "we're done here."
"Braaa... Oh, okay," the zombie ghost said.
The apparition clicked its fingers. Its shimmering body parted, dissipating in all directions. The illusionist stood amid the lingering puffs.
"Favor returned," she said. "We're even now."
He pushed the manacled prisoner along the street, his gauntleted grasp on her shoulder. A few passersby stopped and stared. Several children cheered the guardsman -- waving their bags of treats around their heads. But most went about their business. Pumpkin Night had far more interesting sights and sounds than a mere arrest.
"My uncle's a necromancer," Tilla said. "I saw it in one of his spellbooks. Eat a zombie's brain right before the festival, and Death herself blesses you."
"So you murdered a man for a blessing... You'll enjoy explaining that one to the gods."
"Maybe. But the hangman won't send me to them."
They paused in front of the guardhouse.
"You confessed to the crime."
"What crime? Killing something that's already dead? Ha! Anyway, everyone knows Mayor Bloodwyn hates zombies. He won't let them execute me for it."
"Perhaps you're right."
"Of course I am."
Marcus opened the door and pushed her inside.
"But you're spending the night in the cells."
"Oh, how terrible!" Tilla laughed. "Is that how you scare young pickpockets?"
"Well, it won't work on me. Not a girl who eats zombie brains!"
The guard captain said nothing as they went along the corridor and descended a gloomy stone staircase. Tilla Sundreamer grinned at his discomfort.
"It's dark down here," she said. "Light a lantern or something!"
"You're not worth the price of the oil."
Tilla shrugged. Marcus undid her manacles, took them off her wrists, and pushed her through a doorway. She stumbled among dense shadows until she fetched up against a cold stone wall.
The thick portal slammed into place. Its lock clicked.
"I'll be the one laughing tomorrow," she murmured.
Tilla Sundreamer smirked, and groped around for the bed. For now she'd get some sleep...
She yelped and leapt away when her fingers touched something soft and cold.
"I've never eaten brains before," a voice said. "I wonder how they'll taste..."
"Help! Help! Guardsman, get back here!"
Pirmun cackled as he rose from the bed.
Black and Blue
|She was going to die. The universe told her this with every footfall as she ran through the snow. Whiteness crunched under her boots, bones grinding to dust between monstrous jaws. Its powder flecked her blue furs -- blood sprayed from mangled flesh. The cold winds of Nordent that had once witnessed her birth now sung her dirge.
Aesa's right hand opened and closed. Her fingers longed for the comforting feel of her sword, but it was gone. Lost amongst the drifts. And her remains would join it.
Bright moonlight spilled through the clouds. It made the snow even more brilliant, pinning her against an alabaster plain with no hope of concealment, conspiring in her doom. Ahead of Aesa the argentine illumination shone on crisp ice. A glassy expanse stretched before her, pierced in its center by a lone pillar that plunged into the frozen lake like a dagger. Runes gleamed azure and cyan on the monolith's rough dark rock. It promised to become her gravestone.
The shaman ran towards it.
A howl tore the night behind her. The black yeti was coming, and she would die. Just like the others. Screeching voices... Splintering bones... Gushing blood. He'd slaughtered them all. Ripped strong warriors apart like helpless kittens. Axes had thudded against his dark hide and rebounded, cast back by vile hunks of muscle that existed only to rend and kill. Then teeth, claws, and sinewy hands had wrought destruction. In her mind's eye, Aesa saw a torso launched through the air -- arms flailing, crimson cascading from around the broken shard of spine.
What god had fashioned such a beast? What nightmare nurtured him in its womb? She had no answer, but perhaps she'd find one in hell.
Her foot skidded on the ice. The shaman righted herself in an instant, and cursed her clumsiness. She was a Nord. Born to this land. Not a soft southlander to fumble through its snows or slip on its frozen waters. Aesa moved out onto the lake, fast as she dared. The ice was an immense scale beneath her tread, taking her measure, weighing her fate.
The yeti roared, defying the world and the heavens. His black mass crashed through the snow behind her -- a malevolent avalanche shook in her ears. She didn't look back. The monolith, her tombstone, beckoned her. It longed to find purpose in marking her demise.
Aesa's foot struck the ice. It yielded with a sharp, crisp crack. A broken mirror. Shattered hope. Death.
The shaman stumbled. Her knee landed hard, and was greeted by another splintering note of glee. Perhaps the black yeti wouldn't have her. The freezing water would drown her in its depths first...
Aesa scrambled forward, palms burning on the murderous lake, boots kicking against parting chunks. Water lapped at her legs. It was hungry too. But the yeti wouldn't be cheated of his meal. The monster bellowed. She could no longer resist its allure. The shaman had to see death coming for her.
She looked round as he leapt. A great dark lump of fur and muscle rose up into the night air, eyes burning orange, challenging the moon. Snow fell from his mighty limbs -- broken and scattered like the warriors.
Aesa crawled, stumbled, slid on the breaking lake. Water lapped at the heel of her left hand -- a cold brand marking her as its own. The yeti landed, still roaring. Saliva frothed from its savage maw.
The lake was ravenous. It gave way beneath the black beast, tried to claim it too. The yeti thrashed in its grasp. Water flew from him, driven back by hellish blows. He wouldn't be thwarted. Not by man or by nature. His powerful arms drove forward, battering the ice, smashing, obliterating. He shattered the lake and pulled himself through its chill waters. Towards his prize. His victim. His meal.
Aesa forced herself to her feet and fastened her gaze on the monolith. Ice creaked around her boots. She ran.
The black yeti roared -- at her, the lake, heaven and hell. His blows broke and destroyed, cleaving a path through the yielding crust. Exploding ice and splashing water rang in the shaman's ears. The tinkling beneath her own feet was blasted into silence by the onslaught.
She ran. A crack snatched at her right foot. She shifted away on her left. The ice gave way there too, snagging and ensnaring. But she was already gone. The lake wouldn't have her. Not now. It was too late for that second doom, with the first so very close behind.
Flecks of ice rained upon her. The beast's heralds, chilling the back of her head, telling her that black hands would soon have hold of her. The monolith loomed above her now. A stone witness of the coming horror. She grabbed it with cold, disobedient fingers.
The lake made one final attempt to murder her. It collapsed beneath her boots, trying to swallow her whole -- or perhaps it only sought to feed her to the beast, that it might at least taste her gore while he ripped her to pieces. But she pulled herself onto the pillar. The water was left below, thwarted and impotent.
Ice crashed against her back. Her spine shuddered and swore that it was snapped. Aesa climbed, ignoring the pain. The thick cloak dragged against her neck -- yanked downwards by the dampness that had seeped into the fur. Another frozen missile flew at her, thrown in malevolent earnest or else flung by the brutal blows that drew closer with every growl. It exploded on the stone above her. Chips of ice rained into her eyes. She blinked them away and groped blind for the top of the monolith.
Her fingers clasped the edge. The black yeti roared.
Aesa gritted her teeth, and mustered every flagging ounce of strength in her weary thews. She was a shaman. A warrior. A Nord. And if she was going to die, she'd have company in hell.
She pulled herself up onto the stone and gazed down, gasping for breath. The yeti glowered, half-submerged in the ravaged waters. He raised his hand -- grasped at her as though he could tear her down from the perch and bring her to his ferocious maw.
Aesa reached out in turn.
A rune flashed from her fingers, a glowing azure line that bent itself in a series of sharp, jagged angles. The shape of a lightning bolt. It hovered in space, suspended beyond the reach of monster or gravity. Energy crackled around it -- fizzing and sparking, filling the air with a strong, almost sweet scent. The symbols on the monolith blazed into life one by one. The monument was no longer Aesa's gravestone, the witness of her grim demise. It was her ally. Her salvation. Her weapon.
The yeti roared. Electricity zapped down from the rune, a series of thin, bright, hissing tendrils. Some crackled on the beast's hide, invoking little wafts of stinking smoke from incinerated hairs. A few flashed against the ice. The rest smote the lake.
Arcs of lightning erupted through the water, a school of electric fish leaping in exotic arcs. Eldritch light flared, glorious incandescence, painting the world in shades of blue and searing white. The black yeti howled. His entire body trembled, muscles convulsing, limbs flailing. His jaws opened wide and froze in a noiseless scream.
The rune vanished, flickering out of existence. The electricity gave a few more tiny sparks before it too vanished. And the black yeti sank beneath the freezing water, feeding the hungry lake.
The Vampire's Prey
|Aubrey de Chauntallion ran his tongue along his upper teeth, enjoying the contours of each pointed fang. The simpering women at the ball he'd just left had found that habit charming. They'd tittered behind their gloved hands and batted painted, long-lashed eyes at him. Perhaps they wouldn't have been so enamored of the gesture if they'd understood what it meant for a vampire to be loin-dead. Aubrey no longer made love as humans did. His bite satisfied his lust as well as his thirst. Thus when he drew his tongue over his fangs, it was no more decorous than a mortal man massaging his crotch.
There had been many beautiful girls in the grand chamber, decked out in their gorgeous gowns, twirling through the steps of loathsome dances. In Aubrey's youth men hadn't courted women in ballrooms. They'd dueled their husbands to death instead, then swooped in after the funeral with a tear and a profuse apology in public for form's sake, followed by a passionate tumble in private. These were degenerate times. But as his friend Otto von Malhaven was fond of saying, if a nosferatu didn't enjoy the present era he simply had to bide his time until one arrived that he found more palatable.
So Aubrey waited, and took his pleasures where he could. In this case the waiting took place atop the tall wall which encircled the viscount's courtyard. And the pleasure...
The woman in the purple dress came from the mansion's doorway, ushered out by a pair of bowing footmen. She closed her eyes and drank deep of the fragrant air. The viscountess' garden was the finest in the city, and the flowers' perfume hung over the grounds in an almost cloying mist. It reminded Aubrey of the over-scented fools inside -- the idiotic trollops who'd clasped his arm and whispered moronic flatteries, yearning for the crimson kiss that would both preserve their beauty and elevate their social standing. Women loved well-bred vampires. They didn't seem to appreciate that their own company grew tiresome after thirty heartbeats. A century would have driven a discerning gentleman to suicide.
Besides, willing blood didn't inveigle him...
Carmella exhaled and opened her bright blue eyes. A smile more lovely than beautiful illuminated her face with its warmth. She walked down the path, between the flowerbeds. Her gentle fingertips teased the soft petals. Aubrey licked his fangs again.
She'd caught his eye while the others earned only his aloof detachment. When they'd clustered around him, giggling and babbling, she'd kept her distance. But he'd sensed her gaze darting to him again and again -- quick, fearful glances. Those a woman might bestow on a dangerous rogue or fearsome predator. This had both pleased and amused him. After he'd sought her out, trepidation had almost overcome her deportment. She'd exchanged only those words politeness demanded, before excusing herself and latching onto the nearest non-vampiric dance partner available.
He'd spent some minutes enduring the other girls' banter, while he stared at Carmella's soft neck, and imagined what it would be like to brush the waves of midnight locks off her ivory flesh.
She sauntered beneath the archway that penetrated the courtyard's wall, slipping from Aubrey's sight. But he sensed her warmth, her alluring smell, her beating heart all the same. Now it was the vampire's turn to drink deep. It was a dry and insufficient taste, but a tantalizing hint of what was to come.
He leapt through the air, the tails of his cape fluttering around him like a pair of pteropine wings, and cleared the lane beyond. Aubrey landed on the next rooftop without a sound. His boots found effortless purchase even on the angled slates. Stalking from above was nothing new to him. He'd plied the trade in many towns and cities.
Carmella passed below, whistling a dainty tune that triggered murky memories. Perhaps a nursery rhyme he'd known as a child. He thrust the thought aside. Juvenile remembrances weren't welcome just then -- not with his head full of thoughts both amorous and murderous.
Aubrey de Chauntallion was no fool. He'd been subtle in the questions he'd asked the elderly aristocrats at the ball, learning about the enchanting woman as though in passing. The hoary fops were willing enough to blather. So it was that he'd discovered her habit of walking back to her lodgings alone after the city's autumnal balls. She stayed close by, and the streets of the wealthy quarter were safe enough. Thus she chose to enjoy the nocturnal air. Aubrey could understand the allure of the night and moon, appreciate the soft light and shifting shadows. But soon he'd sample a much finer delight.
He sprang from roof to roof, keeping the purple gown and flowing black locks transfixed in his gaze. His final perch was opposite an arched stone window. She went through the doorway below it, and for some moments she was hidden from him. But soon he was rewarded. Carmella flitted into the bedchamber, and Aubrey's tongue massaged his teeth.
The girl sat on the bed, slipping off a pair of elegant high-heeled shoes. She stretched her arms and rubbed her neck. That was enough. A single jump brought him onto her windowsill.
Carmella let out a soft sigh as her fingers eased the tension from her muscles. Aubrey smiled. He slipped inside the room, stepped onto the plush rug, and... something hit him in the chest.
He looked down. A length of carved wood protruded from his heart. He looked up, and found himself staring into a pale face surrounded by flowing scarlet hair.
"I told you he'd come," Mina von Richten said.
"I can be very alluring," Carmella replied.
The vampiress' smile lingered in his fading vision as his body began to disintegrate.
Beneath the Whispering Night
|Shadows ruled the forest, beneath the whispering night,
Travelers shunned the cold, for the hearth fires' warming light,
They shied away from darkness, while burning pumpkins said:
"Jack walks abroad in the lanes,
Jack walks with his sword in hand,
The dead come to eat your brains,
There's evil loose in this land."
Heedless of undead terrors that ventured from the tomb,
No fear could drive her to shelter, until her quest was done,
So she strode mid the trees,
With her harp strapped at her side,
Her fingers darted with ease,
And the soft sweet music plied.
Shone on twin fair faces, with tresses of long black hair.
Two maidens basked by the flames, and one called out to the bard:
"The night grows ever colder,
No one should endure the chill,
Take that weight from your shoulder,
And soon we'll all eat our fill."
Even in the darkness, ever true his arrows fly,"
The other said to Medea, and gestured to a log,
"Please sit with us my fine bard,
And play a song while we wait,
Our troubles let us discard,
Surely you're brought here by fate."
"What brings you three to the forest, on this of all dark days?
Most folk gather together, amidst the carved lanterns' grins,
They pass around the pitcher,
And delight themselves with tales,
Deeming the world much richer,
When it's seen beyond ten ales."
But both of them giggled, letting all false pretense slip.
They saw no need for lies, when two eyes glowed red in the dark,
Doom rose up behind Medea,
It would fall in the next breath,
The maidens thought to see her,
Fall prey to a gruesome death.
When the elf bard's harp rang out, with one great blaring note,
It awoke the forest's echoes, the werewolf howled in pain,
Then Medea spun around,
Drawing a fine silver blade,
Ended the lycanthrope's sound,
And laid him dead in the glade.
They plunged through the dark forest, shunning the campfire's light.
Medea didn't pursue them, instead she played and said,
"Jack walks abroad in the lanes,
Jack walks with his sword in hand,
The dead come to eat your brains,
But we elves protect this land."
Boss : Spectral Erebus