“Master, it is time.”
“Yes Ubood, it is. In a few moments, the bells will sound midnight and the first day of the first month of the fourteen-hundredth year will begin. The year my might will spread upon the earth. The year those who have been loyal to me will be rewarded. The year the world will change; change to suit my desires.”
In the distance, a bell can be heard striking out the hour of midnight. The cloaked figure begins his ritual. The air around him begins to fill with purple crackling energy. Black light wreathed in purple lightning streaks from his hands, ten rays seeking toward the Ruins of Time. Below in the ruin itself, the rays rush toward a series of pyres that have been setup. Upon each pyre, a rag tag collection of charred and cracked bones lie. As the fel energy strikes each pyre, the bones upon them begin to knit together and rise. Dark as charcoal, skeletons begin to stand, shaking off the dust of death. First, one, then five then twenty. As the energy continues to flow from the cloaked figure more and more skeletons are knitted back together.
Then, something unexpected happens that obviously takes the cloaked figure by surprise. A flash of white light fills the entire valley blinding all who would look upon it. As Ubood and the cloaked figure regain their sight, they are greeted by a concerning twist of events. Upon the pyres lie five individuals. Fully clothed, armed, and armored, these individuals lie upon the pyres as if in preparation for a funeral. Equipment and secondary arms are arrayed around each. In their hands, which are folded across their chests, lie their weapons. Under different circumstance, an outside viewer would assume five great hero’s had perished and were about to be honored upon the funeral pyres.
“Master, are they yours?”
“No Ubood, and I sense no life in them.”
The figures do indeed appear to be quiet dead. They lie completely motionless upon the pyres. If one were to examine them, they would fail to detect a heartbeat, fail to find breath in their lungs. They might even detect the smell of frankincense, myrrh, styrax, and copal, traditional funeral spices. There could be no doubt, that whoever they were, they had passed into the great beyond. And yet something stirred.
They would later describe it in the following manner, “It felt as if I had been holding my breath for a very long time. Perhaps on purpose, perhaps I had forgotten how to breath, I don’t know. How long? I don’t know that either, maybe a week or a month, but it could just as easily have been a year. But then suddenly, I remembered I needed to breathe, so I opened my mouth and, as if I had been under water for a very long time, I gasped for air to fill my lungs. I don’t know why, but I had expected sweet smelling wind. What assaulted my nose was the foul stench of death and decay. As my eyes focused, I spotted the skeletons and sprang into action.”
And into action they did indeed spring. All five heroes stood and began to lay waist to the skeletons. The two figures on the hilltop were obviously perplexed, this was indeed unexpected.
But as mighty as the heroes were, the skeletons had the advantage of numbers, large numbers. There were perhaps a hundred or more of the ashy looking skeletons and although the heroes laid waste to everyone they encountered, still more stood in the way. And while no single skeleton was able to do much damage to the heroes, it quickly became obvious that the heroes would soon return to the graves it appeared they had just returned from.
The first to fall was a caster, then a rogue type. But they were only the first. As the pile of bones grew around the heroes, their numbers shrank as well. Soon there was but a lone hero left, standing upon a mound of bones that he and his fellows had sent back to the grave. It was only a matter of time now. He was surrounded on all sides. But then, something else unexpected happened that night. From behind the two figures on the hill top, a light could be seen. As the two figures noticed it, they turned. Two rider were approaching, one on horse back and the other upon a wolf the size of a small hut.
“Ubood, I can not take the chance you will be captured. I will reward you for your sacrifice when I ascend.”
“I understand Master,” with that Ubood pulled from his waist a wickedly curved blade. The cloaked figure turned and disappeared into the night.
“Goodbye Master, remember my faithfulness,” he said and raised the blade. He leaned forward allowing the blade to rest on the back of his neck. Gritting his teeth, he mustered all of his strength and quickly pulled hard and fast upon the hilt. The blade was indeed sharp and the weight of Ubood’s dead arms was enough to carry it all the way through is now lifeless neck as his head fell from his shoulders. It hit the ground and bounced once before the riders topped the hill, the giant wolf catching it in its maw.
“Brother Thomas,” the wolf rider called, “a bit more light if you will.”
The other rider, a human whose arms and armor were decorated in what must have been holy script and symbols, began casting a spell. Light filled the valley as they began to ride down the hill and into the ruins of time. The wolf rider, a male elf it appeared, began to loose arrow after arrow upon the remaining skeletons and although some seemed to pass harmlessly though fleshless ribcages, most struck their mark.
Brother Thomas began reciting rites of his deity and many more of the skeletons fell. The moment after the last of the heroes standing on the bone pile fell, so did the last of the skeletons.
The two riders approached the pile and the wolf rider spoke, “Thomas, can you determine if they are responsible for this mess?”
Thomas seemed to concentrate for just a moment then said, “No Gilead, but what I can tell you is I detect no evil in them and this was certainly an evil act. I would guess that they were not responsible for this, as a matter of fact, based on the size of this bone pile, I expect they were battling against the evil here. However, you should also know that an aura of conjuration still lingers on each of them. I am not sure why, perhaps they were summoned. But if that were true, they should have returned to their own plane as soon as they were knocked unconscious. Let me tend to their wounds and we will see what we can see.”
The wolf rider Gilead began pulling the bodies from among the skeletal remains. Brother Thomas recited several spells over the heroes, “Gilead, I’m not sure what’s going on. I’ve cast healing spells on them, and I am certain that their physical wounds are healed, but they have not regained consciousness. Let us take them to Hero Guild, Master Imbroglio will want to examine them anyway.”
With that, our heroes were loaded onto an improvised litter and the day long trip back to Hero Guild was begun. Night turned to day and day to night before the group finally made their way to the stronghold known as Hero Guild.
What followed was several days of investigations and examinations. The heroes regained consciousness on the third days but were unable to shed much light on the matter of how they came to be at the Ruins of Time. Five days after their arrival at Hero Guild, in the evening while they were in the great hall, a runner came to Master Imbroglio.
“Indeed, well, I am certain that news of our new comers has reached the foul devil and he comes to stir up trouble. Heroes, Klaus is not one to be underestimated. I think it best that you remain out of sight until I can determine what is going on here. My study directly off this room, Klaus won’t enter there without asking permission first and you should be able to overhear what is going on. Runner, back to your position, and good eye lad.”
Several minutes later a cryer announces, “All Hail, Klaus, slayer of the dragons Gimflik and Glorn, sorcerer of the north, scourge of the east, member of the council of Hero Guild and champion of the Arena.” Someone near the opposite side of the door whispers, “and bastard par-none”.
Klaus, his voice heavy and thick and currently full of sarcasm and distain replies, “The pleasure is all mine Imbroglio, Master of Hero Guild. Now, with the formal crap out of the way, let’s get down to business.”
“Ah Klaus, must it always be this way with you? Will you not take time to be hospitable? Is there no…” Klaus cuts Imbroglio off almost spitting his next words out, a slight sound of joy in his voice, “No ‘master’ Imbroglio, I will not. I will not suffer myself to continue to allow an illegitimate ruler sit in the High Seat of Hero Guild. I have found you to be in violation of the Ancient Laws and have come to lay charges against you.” Though you can’t see his face, you are certain he is grinning at this very moment.
You expected Master Imbroglio to be as surprised as you are by this statement, but there is no surprise in his voice when he speaks next, “Ah Klaus, do you still seek the High Seat for yourself? Of course you do. Honestly, I expected you yesterday, you must be getting slower as you get older. Nevertheless, let us hear this charge you have brought against me.”
Another thickly accented voice speaks, “Master Imbroglio, Hero of the North, Savior of the Slaves of Runegard and Glennhaven, Master of Hero Guild, Champion of the Arena, he whose only blight is his brother Maze…”
“Of course Master Imbroglio,” there seems to be a sense of regret in his voice, “Master Imbroglio, you stand accused permanently summoning outsiders to the demiplane of Argonees, or aiding those who have summoned or those who were summoned. This is a violation of the Ancient Laws which I will read in your hearing if you wish. The punishment for a violation of this law is death to those who were summoned and death to those who have violated the law.”
Several seconds of silence pass, silence that is louder than anything that could be said at that moment. Finally, Master Imbroglio speaks, “Interesting, very interesting. Master of the Law, let me make sure I understand, I am to share the same fate as those whom Klaus believes has been summoned, is that correct?”
“Yes, Master Imbroglio, the Law actually states that the summoned shall be put to death and those violating the law shall share the same fate.”
“That is excellent news Master. In that case, I invoke the Law of Protection of Hero Guild. As the Master of Hero Guild, I may, at any time, claim Lordship over any individual who has willing placed him or herself under the protection of Hero Guild and declare their transgressions forgiven. As steward of the Isle of Time, I declare their transgression forgiven. As such, their past acts are forgiven and if the commit the same act again, they shall suffer four times the punishment for the second transgression. And now, Master of the Law, if I understand the Law correctly, they are no longer under a death sentence and therefore neither am I.”
Klaus bursts into an outrage, “You can not do that! The Law of Protection of Hero Guild was specifically designed to allow the Master of Hero Guild to clear past transgressions of incoming students of Hero Guild. These are not youth being inducted into the Guild. These are adults, who are in violation of the Laws!”
“Klaus, are you now trying to tell me who I can and can’t admit as an apprentice of Hero Guild? Surely even you will not attempt to usurp the High Seat in that manner. I declare any and all individuals who may or may not have been summoned, against whom you have brought charges are as of this moment, apprentices of Hero Guild.”
Klaus laughs, “You have forgotten one important fact, Master, it is the Council who gets to decide if an individual’s deeds are worthy of honorary membership in Hero Guild, and I assure you, they will not have my vote.”
“You misunderstand Klaus, I do not claim them as honorary members, I claim them as apprentices.”
“You CAN’T DO THAT! They aren’t youth! And they haven’t been tested! Yes, that’s it! They haven’t been tested. The law of Hero Guild also states that all candidates must be honestly tested before they may be admitted. What are you going to do Imbroglio, let them beat up a bunch of twelve year olds? That would hardly be an honest testing.”
“I tell you what Klaus. I’ll test them first thing tomorrow morning, in the arena. And not against twelve year olds. Against Gilead. Gilead is above questions of honor even in your diluted little world. If Gilead defeats them, they will be put to death and I will share their fate. If they best him, they will become apprentices of Hero Guild and will have its protection. Master of the Law, can you find any flaw in this?”
Imbroglio smiles widely as he looks around the room, “there is no need to apologize Gilead Wolfrider, I appreciate your concern for my head. But I believe you perhaps overestimate your abilities, or underestimate my cunning. Tell the Master of the Arena to prepare the Arena for the Battle of Holden Ridge.”
Gilead laughs at something our bewildered heroes have yet to grasp. He turns and heads for the door then stops, looking at the small party assembled, “welcome to Hero Guild. Fight well tomorrow but more important, be fast,” with that he winks at the heroes, “but know this, I will not LET you win. You will win honestly or you will die. Now, sleep well, for tomorrow we battle, and if you yet live in the afternoon, we shall feast to your honor!”