Second sunday, second chapter. Well, technically the first chapter, but, ya know...
Anyways, constructive criticizm is appreciated. I'm gonna take a third look at my prologue tomorrow, I think.
Enjoy, and DFTBA!
Chapter 1: A Midnight Calling
Stepping out of the last line of trees, Kalenor quickly found a dry, flat piece of ground and collapsed onto it. His stomach empty and a thirst clawing at his throat, he was exhausted. Having barely escaped from the Ulvenwald howlpack alive, he’d traveled for two days straight, stopping only for water and to scavenge what food he could. Hunting had been appealing prospect for awhile, but the fire would have drawn attention. More than that, the smell of fresh blood would have attracted more than just insects. He’d scavenged what he could from the plants, but he would have given almost anything in the world for a large loaf of bread or even better, a cut of beef. He’d slept during midday, when he hoped he’d be left alone, for about four hours each day.
After taking a few more minutes to gather his strength (resisting the urge to lie down and sleep on the hill), Kalenor stood up and examined his situation. To his surprise, he was actually standing on the highest ground for miles. With the forest behind him, the entire valley of Nephalia spread out before him. He’d emerged from the Northwestern corner of the forest, he knew. He could see the sea in the distance, spread out like a great blue plain. Directly in his path was the Bay of Vustrow and farther south, the River Ospid, winding its way towards the ocean from the heart of Innistrad’s mountains. Towards the northeast Kalenor knew he’d find the Drownyards of Nephalia. Wrecks of old ships and lost spirits lingered there, still attached to their bodies, waiting for rest as their vessels in life slowly decayed in the water. He hoped he’d never have to journey there; the haunted beaches and grinding rocks weren’t safe, even at the best of times.
Across the bay, Kalenor could see the outlines of the cliffs and mountains that hid his destination: the city of Havengul. He hoped to be there in two days. The city held a strong Cathar presence with its training grounds, and he’d be welcomed there, at least while he gathered his strength for the journey back to Gavony. There wasn’t an easy way across the bay itself, but the Erdwal would suffice for a path. The underground caves of the Erdwal led everywhere in the Nephalia province, originally designed as an escape route against zombie attacks but eventually becoming simple, convenient trade corridors. Fortunately for Kalenor, one of those paths led straight underneath the bay. The tricky part would be finding an entrance.
Scanning the valley below him, Kalenor quickly saw what he was hoping to see. A small shoreline village, consisting of two dozen or so thatched roofs or so, was sitting next to the entrance of the bay. Kalenor didn’t know it by name, but hoped that the villagers were friendly enough to offer a room. He recalled the Nephalia idea that just because it was the only village didn’t mean it was the only settlement. Underneath the ground, the Erdwal stretched on for hundreds of miles, some caves large enough to be considered small cities when fully populated.
Climbing down the hill as the sun climbed above the trees behind him, Kalenor began his long walk, knowing that his journey would soon be over, if only temporarily.
The sun had begun to set by the time Kalenor reached the village. The march to the town hadn’t been difficult so much as it had been tedious. Thirty or more miles of open ground and he’d covered it in twelve hours.
Walking into the town, Kalenor was weary and aching. His feet bad begun to hurt from so much continual movement and the soles of his shoes were slowly approaching a point of being flatter than his heel. He’d removed the heavy cloth covering he wore over his shirt and pants, and carried it over his shoulder most of the day. His sleeves were rolled up, and his skin had thoroughly browned from so much exposure to the sun.
The people of Nephalia didn’t much trust Cathars, and walking into town, he successfully earned suspicious looks from almost every resident that crossed his path. Though he wasn’t dressed as a Cathar, the sword at his side told anyone that could see it that he was not an ordinary traveler. Much of their commerce, though kept secret, depended on activities that the church deemed blasphemous. The corpse trade alone kept a steady line of profit coming into the pockets of people in the district, though it was eventually stolen off their corpses or out of their homes when the bodies fulfilled their terrifying purposes. In the foothills to the west of the bay, in the city of Drunau, Stormkirk vampires provided grants for building and quietly kept the cream of their human crop for their own consumption. But still, the Cathars were a much needed arm of protection against the things this seedy market produced. While selling bodies might bring profit to the region, the reanimated hordes that result might not be welcomed by those that tolerated the trade. Even though the vampires were willing to spend great amounts of money, not everyone wanted to be a vampire’s dinner. And thus, the Church’s presence was tolerated (if not welcomed) to protect the people from themselves.
Finding the center square of the town, Kalenor sat down on one of four small benches surrounding a twisted tree. While not overly welcoming, neither was the village exceptionally hostile like the one in Ulvenwald. Down a small road, the village ironsmith closed his shop for the night. In front of Kalenor, a general store had its door open and the store master was trading with someone inside. All around, the quiet murmur of conversation filled the air. Down a side street, a small church was receiving a steady stream of people for an evening prayer.
Looking around, Kalenor gestured to a scraggly-haired boy that was sitting at the edge of the square, staring at Kalenor’s sword. He was probably about ten years old. His clothes were dirty and ragged, and his hair was matted to his head. He ran over, eyes wide.
“Do you know where I could find some supplies?” Kalenor asked him.
The boy pointed towards the general store. Well, that was pretty obvious, Kalenor told himself, already regretting asking the stupid question.
“Do you know where I can find a place to have my shoes repaired?” He asked.
The boy shook his head.
“Do you know where I can find a room for the night?”
The child nodded and pointed at a long, two-story building directly behind Kalenor.
“Thank you.” Kalenor said, and pulled a silver coin he’d been saving from his pocket. He handed it to the boy, who looked up as if to say ‘you’re giving this to me?’
“That’s enchanted silver.” Kalenor explained kindly. “Don’t lose it.” The church provided such coins to all Cathars, and the silver was one of the only hard currencies accepted universally on Innistrad. A small amount could protect you from many things on Innistrad.
The boy nodded and scurried off.
Standing up and turning around, Kalenor was about to head into the inn when he heard a woman’s scream echo up the street from behind him.
Burt wasn’t a nice man. He wasn’t a good man. He lived a lowly, retched existence on Innistrad, inhabiting a small den he’d carved out of the side of one of the Erdwal’s tunnels. He could only eat when he stole, and the money he’d ever made had been squandered on wine and liquor. He only occasionally came up from the Erdwal, when the darkness started talking to him. He didn’t like the darkness. It was mean, and said and did mean things. It wanted his sanity and his body, the only two things he had to his name. So when the darkness talked to him, he left.
He’d popped out of a sewer in a small town late at night, covered in filth. He’d spent the next day stealing, drinking, and generally being a nuisance to the public. But night was approaching again, and he knew the darkness would be back. So he decided before he went back to the darkness, he needed to have her.
He’d found her during the middle of the day. He didn’t know who she was, but he didn’t care. She was suddenly everything to him, and he wanted her. And if she didn’t want him, than he would take her. Who was she to tell him what he couldn’t have?
So Burt lumbered out of an alley as she passed, late in the evening. She was probably on her way back to her house. He tried to take her as she passed, but he couldn’t. He was weak, and she was strong. She had run away, and he had followed. She had screamed, and he had laughed.
Suddenly, she had run into the center square, and he had followed. People were looking as she screamed, but his only thought was to have her. On the other side of the square, a strong looking man stood, but he paid him no mind. He hadn’t seen him before, but he hadn’t seen any of these people before. But he saw her. She had fallen, and he was on top of her. Ripping, tearing at her, determined to make her his. A strong hand pushed him off her at the shoulder, and he shouted. He wanted what was his! Then something came towards him from above, and he thought no more.
Kalenor stood back, examining the man he’d just knocked unconscious. To his left lay the woman he’d been pursuing, struggling to keep her dignity as she clutched at the remains of her torn dress. An old woman came up from behind Kalenor and helped the girl to her feet, thanking Kalenor for saving her from the assailer. Behind him as they walked away, Kalenor heard the old lady mutter to her, “Are you all right? Come on, dear, let’s get you home…”
Kalenor looked with contempt at the man he’d just knocked unconscious. A drunk, or a beggar, or both, he wore old clothes and smelled as if he’d slept in the sewers recently (which he had). It was despicable. Vampires preyed on humans and demons hunted for power, and still humanity was not able to unite. All because of the low-life bastards like the man he’d just knocked unconscious.
He had no tolerance for it. The idea of humans killing other humans while every other race took advantage of them was simply too disgusting an idea for him to stomach.
The man stirred, interrupting Kalenor’s train of thought. Turning him over so his face was no longer on the pavement, Kalenor growled.
“I have half a mind to kill you right now.” He growled. He meant the threat.
“No!” The man shouted. “Burt didn’t mean to! Please don’t hurt Burt!”
Kalenor loosened his sword from his belt.
“Please!” The man screamed, sobbing. “Burt will be good! Burt promises! Please don’t hurt Burt!”
Kalenor felt no sympathy, but at the very least, didn’t like the idea of killing another man. “Leave.” He said quietly to the man. “Leave, and I don’t want to see you come back.” He stepped to the side, and the drunk jumped to his feet and sprinted out of the village. Around him, Kalenor noticed a circle of villagers had gathered. Many were looking at him in respect. As the crowd dispersed, Kalenor met the innkeeper in front of his building. He’d watched the entire episode from his doorway.
“You can sleep here free tonight, Cathar.” He said quietly. Kalenor nodded his thanks and walked inside, hoping to find something to eat.
Kalenor woke with a start with the half-moon’s light pouring into his window. Several hours earlier, after eating as much as could be provided, Kalenor had found his room (it was on the second floor, so he could see above the other houses) and collapsed into the bed. The linens on the mattress had been freshly changed for him, which was nice.
As he regained his senses, Kalenor realized why he was awake. Something had thumped on the other side of the room, right next to the door. Straining his vision, Kalenor made out a shadowy figure standing close to his door, his eyes glinting in the darkness. He hadn’t realized Kalenor was awake yet, apparently. Cautiously, Kalenor moved his arm below the single blanket, inching it towards the hilt of his sword. The man walked closer, and Kalenor grasped the hilt. As he came within three steps of the bed, Kalenor threw the covers aside with his sword in hand and shouted “Galien!”
The jewel in the base of his sword flashed to life to reveal the intruder. It was a young man, probably about the same age as Kalenor. He was dressed in his day garb, with a black hooded cloak fastened around his neck. He jumped back in fright and covered his eyes at the sudden light hit him, emitting a sound almost akin to a yelp.
Kalenor lowered his sword and placed it against the wall, so the light from the pommel could properly illuminate the room. He lit a candle close to the mattress, and the light faded from the sword. He looked at the stranger, who’d regained his stance and removed his hands from his eyes. He stared at Kelanor defiantly, as if to say, “You didn’t just see me do that.”
“What do you want?” Kalenor asked, stifling a yawn now that his adrenaline high had faded.
“I appologize for disturbing you so late at night, I…” The man began, but Kalenor shook his head and stopped the man.
“What do you want?” He asked again, already ready to go back to sleep.
The man cleared his throat. “Well, as much as I hate to admit it, I need help, and there’s nowhere else to turn. I saw what you did in town earlier this evening, and I don’t know anyone else I can ask…” this time, he cut himself off. Taking a deep breath, he continued. “To the south of this town is an old graf, where we’ve buried our dead for centuries. I pay respects to my father, who is buried there, every week. This is an increasingly difficult practice, I might add. I am not afraid of the creatures of the night, but the dead are sometimes not inclined to stay dead for long.”
“Anyway,” he continued, “I was just there tonight, and I saw someone. Two people, actually. I don’t know who one of them was, but the other was that slug that tried to rape my sister today.” His voice filled with disgust as he recalled the man. “They were walking between the graves, as if looking for something. Or at least, one of them was. The drunkard was just following, like a dog looking for a treat from his master. He kept whining about something, but I wasn’t close enough to hear.”
“I don’t think they ever saw me, but I spied on them. I wanted to know what they were doing so near our dead.” He stopped as he remembered what had transpired. “The stranger finally stopped near my father’s grave. The drunkard was shouting something. It was… pretty incoherent, but before he could finish the stranger took a knife to his heart. He just killed that son of a bitch, right there over a grave! Serve him right, but I couldn’t wish the fate that he next experienced on my worst enemy.”
“The stranger started chanting. It was magic, I was sure of it as soon as I heard the first word. I…” the man’s voice broke, and he took a deep breath, then continued. “The words sounded strange, and they rang in my ears, long after he said them. I felt like I was being watched. Then I saw the beggar get up, the knife still in his chest, and look straight at me. I swear to the angels he could see me. But then the stranger said something, and gave him a shovel from beneath his cloak, and the ghoul started digging at one of the graves.”
The man took a deep breath again, and Kalenor admired his strength. He himself had been a witness to a ghoulcalling, once. It was a very… unsettling experience. “That man is summoning the dead in our graveyard.” The man said to him. “Those people in there, my father, and the others, they led good lives. They deserve their blessed sleep. Go, please, and stop this man before he takes the only thing they ever wanted in life.” The man’s voice dropped in desperation, and he dropped down on the mattress.
Kalenor nodded and retrieved his sword. He’d been furnished with new clothes by one of the townsfolk in payment to the church (apparently, they were a bit past due on their taxes), but decided to keep his traveling garb. He did wear his new shoes though.
Looking at the man, he asked, “Can you tell me exactly where this graf is?”
Kalenor stopped outside of the cemetery and examined the scene: no one in sight. Above him, the almost-full moon had reached its peak and was beginning to descend. In front of him the graf stretched out for a few hundred feet, expanding over a tall hill before disappearing out of sight. An arched, black wire gate marked the entrance. The frame of the gates and arch had been twisted back, as if they’d been hit by a huge amount of force straight in their center. Beyond them, rows of graves stretched. Some of the tombstones were worn down to unshaped stones with unintelligible writing on them. Others were more recent. Weeds grew up around and over the graves, and twisted old trees extended their roots deep into the ground. All around, the graf gave the impression that it hadn’t been tended to in quite a long time. Kalenor sighed. To leave a cemetery untended invited restless spirits. Then people wondered why they were being haunted.
Kalenor slowly walked inside the gates; hand on the pommel of his sword. He wouldn’t use its light yet. The moon provided more than enough illumination, and the light would doubtlessly alert the ghoulcaller of his presence. He immediately noticed upturned earth off the main path. Several graves had been dug open to the sides, their contents having vanished, leaving only open caskets. Kalenor drew his sword and continued walking.
As he reached the center hill of the cemetery, he saw almost every grave had been opened, and every corpse removed. How it’d happened in such a short time, he didn’t know. As he reached the top of the hill, he quickly ducked down behind a particularly large tombstone as he found out.
Below him, a gruesome sight met his eyes. Seven ghouls stood in front of a man in a black cape, who in turn was focusing his attention towards a huge mound of bodies his undead servents had collected. The dead drunkard was among the ghouls. Kalenor forced himself not to cover his ears as the man started chanting. Loud, coarse verses echoed out into the night, drawing movement from the pile of bodies as he slowly returned to them a vestige of life. His pitch rose, and he fell to his knees, screaming the verses at the pile of bodies. Only the ghouls seemed unaffected, staring at Kalenor’s hiding spot with wide, uncomprehending eyes.
Kalenor watched as a black cloud amassed above the bodies, spiraling outwards towards the edges of the cemetery. Unearthly shrieks echoed out of it, louder than the ghoulcaller’s voice could hope to match. As it stretched above him, Kalenor could make out the twisted, blackened forms of angered spirits. As the last of the spirits left the pile, Kalenor saw a length of black mist connecting the spirits to their bodies, bearing a twisted resemblance to the life-cord attached to a newborn baby. The cord had been roughly the width of a large tree trunk, but as he watched it began shrinking, compacting and pressing against itself as it slowly dwindled into nothingness. The spirits strained against it, eager to be free from the shackles. Kalenor knew he had to make his stand now, before the spirits lost their bond to their bodies. The spirits would disappear, he hoped, but he knew that once they did, the transformation of their bony vassals into ghoulish servants would be complete. And Kalenor was in no position to take on an entire horde of the dead.
“Avacyn protect me…” Kalenor muttered a prayer as he stepped out from behind the gravestone. For the second time that night, he roared “Galien!” and pushed his sword above his head as the jewel illuminated the dark cloud. The cloud of spirits screamed even louder, and Kalenor could feel something wet running down the sides of his cheeks. Above him, the angered geists parted and swirled as he walked forward, as if he was the eye of a hurricane. Wind whipped at him as he slowly approached the ghoulcaller, whose shouts could no longer be heard above the roar of the storm he’d created. The ghouls stood on, unaware that they should have been defending their master. He’d told them to stand by, and that’s exactly what they planned to do.
The man barely noticed Kalenor’s approach. He was too busy with ensuring the umbilical binding the spirits was removed. Kalenor raised his sword and struck, all sense of pity in killing another human forgotten. In his eyes, this man was no longer human.
Quick as a flash, the man stopped chanting and rolled out of the way of Kalenor’s blow. The spirits abruptly disappeared, Kalenor assumed back into the pile of bodies the man had assembled.
“Do not intrude, Cathar!” He shouted at Kalenor.
“What?” Kalenor shouted back. His ears were ringing from the noise the spirits had made. He couldn’t hear anything.
“Do not intru- oh for the Demon’s sake…” The man muttered. Drawing a long, thin dagger from his belt, he lunged at Kalenor. Kalenor sidestepped, and the man tumbled past. Behind an army of the damned, the man might have been more intimidating, but alone, he didn’t seem to be much practiced at all.
The ghoulcaller had obviously reached the same conclusion, recovering from his misdirected attack. “Kill him!” He shouted at his undead servants.
All seven lumbered towards Kalenor, shuffling their feet and moaning in the ghoulish fashion. Kalenor wasn’t scared. He held his ground. He’d fought the living dead before, and there was never one who could match a skilled swordsman.
As the first one reached him, Kalenor pulled his sword up and swung it down, severing the former man’s arms from his body from the elbow down. Slowly spiraling (the undead weren’t usually very fast to react), he brought his sword up again and decapitated the man. Another came in on his right. Kalenor stabbed the sword into the man’s chest and brought it up to his right shoulder, rending a gash in the flesh that all but cut the ghoul in two. He fell to the side, still groaning as he struggled to separate his remaining arm and head from his torso.
As Kalenor prepared to dispatch the third man, the necromancer leapt onto the Cathar’s shoulders from behind, intending to drive his dagger into his back. Luckily, he couldn’t have chosen a worse time to act. Kalenor had brought his sword up over his head to deliver a blow to his opponent, and the sword was trapped between his back and the man’s body. Quickly pulling it out from its entrapments, he scored a hit on the jaw of the man, who fell with a cry.
Dispatching another ghoul, Kalenor turned to where he assumed the man had landed and raised his sword up, ready to deliver a killing blow. Except the man wasn’t there. Kalenor stood for a moment, surprised by how quickly his adversary had moved, and a stench hit his nostrils. Turning, he stood face to face with one of the remaining zombies, the drunken man he’d confronted earlier. The fact that it’d voided it’s bowels when it died added to the stench of drunken sewer-hermit. It’s pale, dead face seemed impassive as it snapped at his nose. Jumping back in momentary fright, Kalenor decapitated the man and looked down as something pulled on his leggings. The corpse he’d cut in half a moment ago had dragged itself to him with its single arm, pulling at his pants as it tried to raise its head for a bite.
Startled, Kalenor immediately stabbed downward at the thing’s head. “Just die!” he said, pulling the sword from the mangled body and killing the remaining three ghouls.
As the final zombie fell to the ground, devoid of life once again, Kalenor looked around for the ghoulcaller. He saw him illuminated by the moonlight as he reached the top of the hill, dark liquid dripping around a hand he held to his face.
“You shouldn’t have interfered, Cathar!” He shouted. Luckily, Kalenor’s hearing had recovered somewhat. He could hear what the man was saying now. “You’ve meddled with something far bigger than yourself. This isn’t the last you’ve heard from us!” He turned and vanished down the other side of the hill.
Kalenor shrugged. He’d heard such threats before. Casting a glance at the pile of bodies he’d just ‘saved’, he decided to let the villagers deal with their dead. He was neither able nor qualified to place any meaningful blessing over a grave. He’d have to let someone else take care of it.
Turning back towards the town, Kalenor was ready to go back to his mattress and sleep for the next ten hours. Or maybe more.
Behind him, a quiet breeze stirred the weeds of the graf.