Terror of Nagash
Halfling Two-Blade Ranger
Ten years ago, when Sting was 15 years of age and was known as Feelis Ravenwood, he and his family lived in a Halfling community. He was the 3rd child to Merric and Shaena, brother of Seluna, Eirich and Corrin. Their family deity was Sehanine, goddess of the moon and autumn.
On the Celebration of the Autumn Harvest, when Feelis was to be inducted as an acolyte into the service of Sehanine, marauders attacked the community. They ransacked homes and put them to the torch, stole livestock and set fields on fire. Halflings that did not die were taken prisoner, to become slaves.
Those that survived the trek to the marauders homelands faced terrible hardship, and those that rebelled against their masters suffered terrible punishments.
The Ravenwood family was one such to suffer a terrible fate as punishment. While Feelis’ brothers stool by as their sister Seluna was victimized, the growing anger in Feelis caused him to snap and lash out at their oppressers to defend his sister. A terrible price was paid that day as Feelis was first beaten for the sin of raising his hand against their masters, and then his parents, Merric and Shaena, were brought out and executed in front of their children. Seluna was given 20 lashes herself for resisting her masters and Eirich and Corrun, submissive in the unfolding of this tragedy were loaded together into a caged cart and taken away. Battered and beaten, the last thing Feelis saw before being thrown into a pit to die was Seluna being sold to slavers and loaded into a cart.
Feelis’ fall was broken by the soft but smelly padding of the dead bodies beneath him. And that was when the stinging began, for the pit also contained a swarm of scorpions.
The shadow of death was upon Feelis; beaten and broken, stung repeatedly by scorpion venom and lacking the will to live, responsible for the death of his parents and the separation of his family. From the flat of his back he watched, as fever and delirium set in and scorpions crawled across his body, the moon – the face of Sehanine – traveled across the opening of the pit. He cried out to her in pain and agony, his hand reaching up and grasping but she disappeared as if she’d turned her back on him in discommendation.
He slipped in and out of consciousness, the hands of the dead puling him, while black silhouettes of ravens circled in the night sky.
When he opened his eyes next the hour of his death was upon him – high in the sky looking down upon him were the seven stars of the Raven Queen, the goddess of death. And he drifted off.
“This is the one? This little one? He’s to be your great hero? Surely you gest?! ... Alright, alright! I’ll get on with it!”
It was determined, like a bird that pecks away incessantly at a wound and won’t just let you die in peace. “You, you, hey you, yeah you! Can you see that I’m talking here? Talkin to you?” Feelis opened his eyes.”Hey look! It looks like it’s still got some life in it afterall!” Perched on the lip of the pit sat a raven looking down at him. It tilted it’s head as if taking a closer look and then hopped around the lip a couple of times.
An unpleasant weight upon his chest caused Feelis’ eyes to flutter open and he expected to see the hag upon him. As he struggled to focus a raven’s head loomed into view, beak open and heading directly for his eye … but at the last moment the head turned and the beak was at his ear. “She cannot help you now – Sehanine – and so she has put you into the care of my mistress – the Raven Queen,” he whispered. “And she cares not whether you live or die, for it is the natural order of things, but she sees within you a possibility. You see, you have a common enemy – the cult of N’gash! Should you survive she would use you as an instrument against her adversary.”
“Hey kid! Focus! Concentrate! It’s me -Corvina. “You gotta pay attention and stay focused if you’re gonna beat the venom in your veins.” Corvina hopped from the pit’s lip and landed on the Halfling’s stomach. Again she leaned over him and whispered in his ear, this time telling him the secret things that only ravens knew – and the Goddess of Death. As she spoke he began to feel something strange within him, as though a part of him were dying and another part underwent a strange alchemical transformation. Eventually the strain was too much and he slipped into unconsciousness… again.
It was the painful thump on his forehead that brought him to consciousness next. When he looked about him he spotted a little silver cup. Over to his left, a waterskin and something small wrapped in cloth.
“Drink and eat slowly and sparingly, little one,” said the raven sitting at the pit’s edge, “or you will be sick and attract the guard’s attention, and they will shower stones down upon you. You have survived the trial of the scorpion with your growing fortitude, but you are not yet ready for the task ahead and must conserve your strength.”
Corvina looked about her and then hopped down into the pit. “Last night I saw into your soul,” she whispered to him, “and it told me a secret thing – that out of shame and despair you have no name, but it will not always be thus. For my mistress will give you a name when you are in her service.”
Another voice came from the pit’s lip and both Corvina and the Halfling looked up. “Come Corvina. The time is near.” Another raven sat at the lip’s edge, and above it a number of ravens circled.
“We hold Parliament this day. I will be back tomorrow. In the meantime rest, and learn from the scorpions for they are now your brothers and sisters and have much to teach you.” And with that she took flight and rose into the sky, joining her brothers and sisters in the sky, and then they left. And the Halfling watched and learned.
His thoughts were not his own. They had a distinct female feel to them, and while he was edgy being so high, he felt strangely comfortable in flight. It was from this vantage point that he saw himself laying at the bottom of the pit as if dead. Gradually they circled the camp getting a bird’s-eye view of its layout. Corvina shared with him key locations – strategic targets that he understood he needed to hit.
They landed outside a tent and hopped in through the open flap. Inside was an armory. They flew up onto a table where an orc was sleeping, his feet up on the table leaning back on a tilted chair. From this vantage point, as they perused the items around the room they spotted a set of black leather armor, kukri, kopsh, and hoolurge and he knew they were meant for him.
They landed at the summit of another tent whis was next to one which bore strange glyphs and runes that neither could understand, but between the emanation of evil that permeated the air surrounding the tent and their limited understanding of the magical symbols they knew the glyphs and runes could serve no good purpose. Among those vile characters was also an illustration of a monstrous skull with downward facing horns and this s/he knew was the symbol of N’gash, King of the Undead. As they studied the tent the front flap opened and from within strode three figures – a young priest of N’gash, a sinfully handsome necromancer and a bodyguard. They took no notice of the raven observing them.
”... the ritual sacrifice of the remaining prisoners will take place this evening,” said the priest to the necromancer, “and when the new moon is at it’s apex in the hour of darkest night, you shall raise them again so that they may be reborn in the likeness of our dark master, N’gash!”
“Mark them well, Little One, for those three are your responsibility. At Parliament our mistress decreed that it should be so.”
The raven hopped from its perch into the air, taking flight and circling, then landed near a number of cages containing Halflings, elves and humans, guarded by orcs.
“These are the poor souls that tonight are to be sacrificed to N’gash. The Raven Queen cares not whether they live or die, for that is the nature of things, but that they should be denied the eternal rest they deserve – their souls in the tormenting clutch of N’gash – does. The raven tilted his head towards a stone temple where stone monoliths engraved with hideous images formed an avenue leading to a giant stone circle, at the centre of which lay a bloodstained altar stone. This evening the eye of N’gash rises in the east and will crest the surrounding mountains for the first time enabling the King of the Undead to view his stronghold. It is during this time that their blood will be spilt in the name of N’gash. In making you responsible for the servants of N’gash, The Raven Queen has put responsibility for the lives of these people into your hands. This time also marks the beginning of deep winter, and your success or failure will determine the extent and severity of the winter ahead.”
The Halfling became lost in thought considering the toil and suffering years following prolongued months of severe winter and was unmoved, as though he were numb to the plight of those who endured it. His thoughts turned to the bitter harvest that followed a miserable growing season. His thoughts of harvest turned to the day of this past harvest celebration, of the death of his parents, the separation of his family, and the treatment of his sister and himself and he felt a seething anger build within him, a cool hatred and a venomous certitude.
A bitter harvest. There would be a bitter harvest indeed.
His attention snapped back when a sudden flapping of wings and a raucous squaking marked the arrival of another raven. Where before he only understood Corvina, he now understood the latest arrival.
“I bring word, Corvina, from Corvix The White: The dwarves have crested the peaks and have begun their downward descent. They will arrive tonight but not before the ritual has begun.”
“Corvix The White is The White Raven that attends the Dwarven Warlord of Hammerheld. He leads an attack against the marauder’s camp in an attempt to free the captives. So, you will have assistance, but you must first prepare the way for their assault, Little One. Tonight you earn your name, for if you are successful in the tasks which have been set out for you, you shall be known as Sting – The Scorpion.”
(End of Part 1 – To be continued…)