This thread is indeed more of a journal, with many things directly related to the game evolving as we go along, and many background info being expanded beyond a point where it is directly relevant to the things we do in the game. As in, prior knowledge of the World of Meleon might be useful if you want to make the most of the texts stored here.
There's also a list available on Goodreads, if you like, but those lists are not synchronized, and in fact, I recommend different books to the people immediately involved with the game. The list created is more to describe the general flavor, and general inspiration: Check it out!.
In this post, which I will periodically update, I'll name books and other media that served as inspiration for the campaign - or that I consider a good read to accompany the game. It's not so much because I would like to force y'all to read, watch, listen to, or play all of these titles, but rather because I think, like with our last game, it might be interesting for you to know my own personal take on the setting, our game, the hobby, whatever.
Novels & Stories
Ithkar Series - fantasy short fiction in a world that I wanted to mirror, at least in its general flair, when I started writing "Meleon".
Knights of Dark Renown - in many ways, the most important fantasy novel I ever read. The tracks of this one, on every page I write for "Meleon".
The Gentleman Bastard Sequence - unconventional, and slightly anarchic fantasy, brilliant and chuckle-worthy. A series that transcends its genre.
Ghostwalk - a product I bought because I liked the cover, back in the day. In retrospect, perhaps the product of the d20 that influenced my take on fantasy the most.
The Elven Crystals - for Dragon Warriors. Perhaps what gave me the initial idea that would develop into the first Meleon game.
Eldarath: The Lost City - for RuneQuest. The model of deserted Asterion is based in great part on Eldarad's use of genre conventions and aesthetics.
Final Fantasy V - chosen out of stylistic reasons: My Blackmoor games were all about "Final Fantasy IV", so I too this one from the get-go to ensure a different stylistic direction.
Dragon's Dogma - the most immediate visual inspiration for "The World of Meleon"; how I envision men, and monsters.
The Witcher, Part III - a seminal product, and, in many ways, a writer's manual about how to write a good interactive story.
Movies & Television
Legend of Crystania - both the movie, and the series: One of my personal all-time favorites. For a lot of reasons. No need to say more.
Valhalla Rising - as if Sartre wrote a fantasy movie. A world without God, and a land without hope.
Dracula Untold - postmodern fantasy, with amazing visuals, and interesting concepts beneath the very superficial setup. One of my favorite movies in recent years.
Immortal, fey-like creatures of many different shapes that still inhabit the deepest forests of the world. The enemies of mankind, since ages forgotten. Creatures of pure magic.
The principal deity of Barr, usually depicted as a hermit with a lantern. An all-inclusive deity of almost monotheistic deity, notably recognized by the Foulborn fey of Norran. While tolerant towards other religions and races, notably demanding animal and even human sacrifices.
Term used for the tribes of evil fey that inhabit the Northern edge of Norran.
The last king of Asterion, obsessed with bringing magic back to the world. Restlessly pursuing his arrogant endeavor, he summoned forces that proved to be his undoing. - His, and that of the entire kingdom of Asterion.
The first king of mankind, ruler of Norran, and conqueror of Erle. Venerated as a god in old Asterion, but reverence faded long before the age of the Tempest. Likely not a historical person, but a figure of myth.
The Lonely God
The principal deity of mankind, personified as a lonely pilgrim. His symbol, the flame in the dark, the candle, or the hermit's lantern. The sworn enemy of the Many, and of their Children.
The Many Gods
Inhuman deities of ages long forgotten. The enemies of the Lonely God, and later of King Rain. The creators, parents, and forefathers of the "Children of the Many".
Youngest son of King Allwoes. An able warrior.
The White Warriors
The pirates of Barr, who paint their faces and torsos chalk-white. Especially in the Forest Kingdom, the stuff of legends, and the usual seaman's yarn.
King Rain's legendary adversary, and the most powerful magician to ever live. A demon you scare little children with, and often used synonymously with "the devil".
Principal geography of the southern part of the great continent of Erle
Mankind's fallen kingdom, and also, mankind's mythical craddle. The coat of arms of Asterion is a crowned falcon, framed by a sword and a mace.
"Great Asterion", "The City by the Sea". The capital of the kingdom of the same name, located on the Eastern shore of the realm. Until its fall, perhaps the single most important seaport in Erle.
The traditional hunting lodge of the kings of Asterion, in Ryer's Meadow. Since the agricultural deforestation many centuries ago, located between huge, and intensely beautiful fields of flax flowers, and primarily used for purposes of falconry.
The biggest military base in the vicinity of the Great City, and the seat of Asterion's general military command.
A village with a famous temple, southwest of Janina.
An inland port in Asterion.
A rural territory southwest of Asterion, under normal circumstances a one-day horse ride away from the city. Since time immemorial, the peasants of the area have taken great pride in growing flax plants, in supply of the linen manufactories in the Great City.
The Duchy of Caladan
The largest province of Asterion, a duchy that harbors the biggest and busiest seaport in Erle. Between mainland Asterion, and the Almacian territories in the north. The rulers of Caladan have always been royal bastards. Currently, the duke is from the Hawthorne family, which in turn is family to king Allwoes.
Also called "The Forest Kingdom"; a vast, and largely unexplored woodland area. Home to the last "Children of the Many".
Another kingdom of man, to the southwest of Asterion and Flathinnis. A dry country, where local lords are locked in a perpetual civil war. The land of knights, and the craddle of modern chivalry... And warfare.
Principal Geography of the World of Meleon... As far as your characters might know so far.
The continent to the North, separated by Erle only by a small body of water, "The Sunken Sea". Home to mighty Dwarven empires, and chivalric kingdoms of man. Legendary home of the Wishmaster, the foe of mythical King Rain.
A land of man in Northwestern Norran, of ice, and snow, and evergreen trees. The men of Barr, infamous pirates, and known around Erle as "The White Warriors", for their habit of painting their bodies with chalk powder before they go to battle. "The Deathless" is the main deity of Barr.
The Sunken Sea
Body of water between Norran to the North, and Erle to the South. A quiet ocean, used for intercontinental trade, and fishery. According to legend, created when King Rain and his sons challenged the Wishmaster, during their final confrontation.
*Like all of the entries in this chronology, this one will be expanded in time. so, NO, these are not the only races of our gaming world, of course. Note that I overemphasize the constructions with "-born" to give you a simplified and coherent idea of how things are, or may be connected. This only partially reflects how I treat fantasy races in my home game, for example. I hope, with time, to expand the section substantially, though.
The first fey of Meleon, long before the awakening of man.
The good fey of the forest that gather in enclaves all over the world. Shy, and often enemy to man.
The fey of Norran, enemies of all living things.
The Elves of Meleon, servant races to the fey. Immortal, unable to experience sleep, but able to wield arcane magic, and able to see in the dark. Quicker, stronger, and morementally resourceful than man. Born with a skin that is almost paper-white, sporting red eyes, and vulnerable to sunlight. - To which effect they often veil or otherwise mask themselves. Referring to themselves as the Vaeltaya, or, in ancient times, as the, divided into the tribes of the Sentinels and the Sentries, of which the Sentinel tribe has gone extinct.
The only race able to dream, and to wield magic bestowed by the gods of Meleon. Reffered to as Havelya by the Elves, as the Sugnadur by the Dwarves, and as the "Harvesters" by Smallfolk and other uncivilized races. In Norran, most men live under the protectorate of the dwarves, and are treated as second-class citizens.
Extremely rare, as Elves and Humans do not interact socially, and usually, under normal circumstances, do not mate. In both Human and Elven communities, regarded as social pariah. Mutations and powers may vary; usually, though Half-Elves have a normal human lifespan, and lack the red eyes of their kin. At the same time, though, they are not able to experience sleep, and can see in the dark. Sensivity to sunlight, and sensibility to magic may also vary.
The Dwarves of Meleon, another ancient servant race of the fey. Living up to a thousand years, stronger, and more mentally able than mortal men. also able to see in the dark. The master race, and the rulers of Norran, and the mightiest mortal beings in the World of Meleon. Unable to experience dreams, or any kind of magic.
Very rare albino dwarves, mostly found in Norran. Said to be descendants of the firstborn dwarves (not to be confused with the Firstborn.)
A servant race to the Dwarves, presumably raised from impaired and developmentally defective dwarves. Beardless and crooked. In Erle, some independent tribes of Smallfolk can be found living in rural areas. In Norran, all smallfolk live in the slums of the big Dwarven cities.
Fair- and Foulborn
Mortal offsprings of fey; extremely rare, and usually only found in the Northernmost realms of Norran. Freaks and mutants, usually dwelling in the forests, if their parents accept them. Powers, appearance, and abilities may vastly vary.
A few *rules of thumb*, if too short for a primer.
Only humans, and Fair- and Foulborn Feykin can use clerical magic. The only sources of clerical magic generally known are the power of the Lonely God ("Good"), and, only very rarely, the Shadow ("Evil").
Only humans, Elves, Elvenkin (Half-Elves), and Feykin can use arcane magic.
Humans are not able to understand Elven magic, though, and vice versa. In D&D terms, Elves inherently cannot understand wild magic, and can only become wizard-ish magicians. Humans, in turn, are only able to wield wield magic - and can only become sorcerer-ish magic-users. Elvenkin (Half-Elves, and their immediate descendants), however, can become both.
The Elves venerate the stars of the night sky (which represent their ancestry) as the source of magic. Humans, especially people from Shahar, call upon the "Everflame" and "The Nightheart", two mystical artifacts, as the source of their arcane powers.
The Nightheart, a black stone at the bottom of a black pool of water, is located in a temple in the duchy of Caladan, and world-famous.
The location of the Everflame, however, is not widely known. Rumors persist, though, that it is located somewhereon the distant continent of Shahar. (You, my players, might in fact remember that a certain red mage from Angria might have more than a little clue about where the Everflame is. )
Other races know no magic, and it takes them years, even decades to manage even the slightest form of command over the simplest magical spell or item. At some point during your many journeys, you might or might not encounter a Dwarven mercenary who goes by ominous name of "Malagant". That he wields a magic sword, "Sparker", is testimony to his great skill and determination.
Generally, the rule of thumb that only certain races can wield magic can be subverted, though, because the ability to use magic can be transferred, by free will, or by force: While this practice is nearly unknown in Erle, the people of Norran and of Shahar use it to - an extend, at least. But that's another story...
Two magical orders of Meleon are so famous all of you have heard of, or probably even seen them: One is the Order of the Travellers; they serve the Nightheart, and are famous as fortune tellers and oracles. Every bigger court in the Known World fancies itself one or two of those black-cloakeded time mages. The second one are the Red Mages, who predominantly come from Shahar. They are what in other worlds would be called "elemental mages", or "druids". Our common friend Chyat is supposed to once become the most powerful of them that ever was.
Two historical events of note have shaped the perception of magic in local folklore, and those two events are of some significance to your own exploits:
First, King Rain's war against the Wishmaster, the mightiest human mage to have ever lived, over 4.000 years ago. Thw Wishmaster had found ways to shape reality to his will, and their conflict changed the face of the world forever.
Second, the so-called Second Summoning that ended the Elven kingdom in Erle, and nearly destroyed the Elven race on entire Meleon, around 600 years ago: The Elves broke a magical seal, the second of three, and one that had been in place since time immemorial. Since then, all newborn magic-users in Meleon have been born weaker than the generations before them. Five-hundred years ago, a few single sorcerers could defeat entire armies. Today, one sorcerer against one armed soldier is usually a fair fight.
In the years to come after the party meets Prince Telegon, they might hear rumors that the terrible Tempest might have been the result of the dreadful - and foretold - Third Summoning.
The sun had set. The great shadows came striding over the forest. In the weird twilight of a late summer day, I saw the path ahead glide on among the mighty trees and disappear. And I shuddered and glanced fearfully over my shoulder. Miles behind lay the nearest village—miles ahead the next.
I looked to left and to right as I strode on, and anon I looked behind me. And anon I stopped short, grasping my rapier, as a breaking twig betokened the going of some small beast. Or was it a beast?
But the path led on and I followed, because, forsooth, I had naught else to do.
As I went I bethought me, "My own thoughts will route me, if I be not aware. What is there in this forest, except perhaps the creatures that roam it, deer and the like? Tush, the foolish legends of those villagers!"
And so I went and the twilight faded into dusk. Stars began to blink and the leaves of the trees murmured in the faint breeze. And then I stopped short, my sword leaping to my hand, for just ahead, around a curve of the path, someone was singing. The words I could not distinguish, but the accent was strange, almost barbaric.
I stepped behind a great tree, and the cold sweat beaded my forehead. Then the singer came in sight, a tall, thin man, vague in the twilight. I shrugged my shoulders. A man I did not fear. I sprang out, my point raised.
He showed no surprise. "I prithee, handle thy blade with care, friend," he said.
Somewhat ashamed, I lowered my sword.
"I am new to this forest," I quoth, apologetically. "I heard talk of bandits. I crave pardon. Where lies the road to Villefère?"
"Corbleu, you've missed it," he answered. "You should have branched off to the right some distance back. I am going there myself. If you may abide my company, I will direct you."
I hesitated. Yet why should I hesitate?
"Why, certainly. My name is de Montour, of Normandy."
"And I am Carolus le Loup."
"No!" I started back.
He looked at me in astonishment.
"Pardon," said I; "the name is strange. Does not loup mean wolf?"
"My family were always great hunters," he answered. He did not offer his hand.
"You will pardon my staring," said I as we walked down the path, "but I can hardly see your face in the dusk."
I sensed that he was laughing, though he made no sound.
"It is little to look upon," he answered.
I stepped closer and then leaped away, my hair bristling.
"A mask!" I exclaimed. "Why do you wear a mask, m'sieu?"
"It is a vow," he exclaimed. "In fleeing a pack of hounds I vowed that if I escaped I would wear a mask for a certain time."
"Wolves," he answered quickly; "I said wolves."
We walked in silence for awhile and then my companion said, "I am surprised that you walk these woods by night. Few people come these ways even in the day."
"I am in haste to reach the border," I answered. "A treaty has been signed with the English, and the Duke of Burgundy should know of it. The people at the village sought to dissuade me. They spoke of—a wolf that was purported to roam these woods."
"Here the path branches to Villefère," said he, and I saw a narrow, crooked path that I had not seen when I passed it before. It led in amid the darkness of the trees. I shuddered.
"You wish to return to the village?"
"No!" I exclaimed. "No, no! Lead on."
So narrow was the path that we walked single file, he leading. I looked well at him. He was taller, much taller than I, and thin, wiry. He was dressed in a costume that smacked of Spain. A long rapier swung at his hip. He walked with long easy strides, noiselessly.
Then he began to talk of travel and adventure. He spoke of many lands and seas he had seen and many strange things. So we talked and went farther and farther into the forest.
I presumed that he was French, and yet he had a very strange accent, that was neither French nor Spanish nor English, not like any language I had ever heard. Some words he slurred strangely and some he could not pronounce at all.
"This path is often used, is it?" I asked.
"Not by many," he answered and laughed silently. I shuddered. It was very dark and the leaves whispered together among the branches.
"A fiend haunts this forest," I said.
"So the peasants say," he answered, "but I have roamed it oft and have never seen his face."
Then he began to speak of strange creatures of darkness, and the moon rose and shadows glided among the trees. He looked up at the moon.
"Haste!" said he. "We must reach our destination before the moon reaches her zenith."
We hurried along the trail.
"They say," said I, "that a werewolf haunts these woodlands."
"It might be," said he, and we argued much upon the subject.
"The old women say," said he, "that if a werewolf is slain while a wolf, then he is slain, but if he is slain as a man, then his half-soul will haunt his slayer forever. But haste thee, the moon nears her zenith."
We came into a small moonlit glade and the stranger stopped.
"Let us pause a while," said he.
"Nay, let us be gone," I urged; "I like not this place."
He laughed without sound. "Why," said he, "This is a fair glade. As good as a banquet hall it is, and many times have I feasted here. Ha, ha, ha! Look ye, I will show you a dance." And he began bounding here and there, anon flinging back his head and laughing silently. Thought I, the man is mad.
As he danced his weird dance I looked about me. The trail went not on but stopped in the glade.
"Come," said I "we must on. Do you not smell the rank, hairy scent that hovers about the glade? Wolves den here. Perhaps they are about us and are gliding upon us even now."
He dropped upon all fours, bounded higher than my head, and came toward me with a strange slinking motion.
"That dance is called the Dance of the Wolf," said he, and my hair bristled.
"Keep off!" I stepped back, and with a screech that set the echoes shuddering he leaped for me, and though a sword hung at his belt he did not draw it. My rapier was half out when he grasped my arm and flung me headlong. I dragged him with me and we struck the ground together. Wrenching a hand free I jerked off the mask. A shriek of horror broke from my lips. Beast eyes glittered beneath that mask, white fangs flashed in the moonlight. The face was that of a wolf.
In an instant those fangs were at my throat. Taloned hands tore the sword from my grasp. I beat at that horrible face with my clenched fists, but his jaws were fastened on my shoulders, his talons tore at my throat. Then I was on my back. The world was fading. Blindly I struck out. My hand dropped, then closed automatically about the hilt of my dagger, which I had been unable to get at. I drew and stabbed. A terrible, half-bestial bellowing screech. Then I reeled to my feet, free. At my feet lay the werewolf.
I stooped, raised the dagger, then paused, looked up. The moon hovered close to her zenith. If I slew the thing as a man its frightful spirit would haunt me forever. I sat down waiting. The thing watched me with flaming wolf eyes. The long wiry limbs seemed to shrink, to crook; hair seemed to grow upon them. Fearing madness, I snatched up the thing's own sword and hacked it to pieces. Then I flung the sword away and fled.
To compensate you all for the birthday-caused delay, another story, from another famous writer. An aptly Halloween-ish read, and quite probably one of my personal favorites of Gothic Fiction.
The Phantom Coach
By Amelia B. Edwards
The circumstances I am about to relate to you have truth to recommend them. They happened to myself, and my recollection of them is as vivid as if they had taken place only yesterday. Twenty years, however, have gone by since that night. During those twenty years I have told the story to but one other person. I tell it now with a reluctance which I find it difficult to overcome. All I entreat, meanwhile, is that you will abstain from forcing your own conclusions upon me. I want nothing explained away. I desire no arguments. My mind on this subject is quite made up, and, having the testimony of my own senses to rely upon, I prefer to abide by it.
Well! It was just twenty years ago, and within a day or two of the end of the grouse season. I had been out all day with my gun, and had had no sport to speak of. The wind was due east; the month, December; the place, a bleak wide moor in the far north of England. And I had lost my way. It was not a pleasant place in which to lose one's way, with the first feathery flakes of a coming snowstorm just fluttering down upon the heather, and the leaden evening closing in all around. I shaded my eyes with my hand, and staled anxiously into the gathering darkness, where the purple moorland melted into a range of low hills, some ten or twelve miles distant. Not the faintest smoke-wreath, not the tiniest cultivated patch, or fence, or sheep-track, met my eyes in any direction. There was nothing for it but to walk on, and take my chance of finding what shelter I could, by the way. So I shouldered my gun again, and pushed wearily forward; for I had been on foot since an hour after daybreak, and had eaten nothing since breakfast.
Meanwhile, the snow began to come down with ominous steadiness, and the wind fell. After this, the cold became more intense, and the night came rapidly up. As for me, my prospects darkened with the darkening sky, and my heart grew heavy as I thought how my young wife was already watching for me through the window of our little inn parlour, and thought of all the suffering in store for her throughout this weary night. We had been married four months, and, having spent our autumn in the Highlands, were now lodging in a remote little village situated just on the verge of the great English moorlands. We were very much in love, and, of course, very happy. This morning, when we parted, she had implored me to return before dusk, and I had promised her that I would. What would I not have given to have kept my word!
Even now, weary as I was, I felt that with a supper, an hour's rest, and a guide, I might still get back to her before midnight, if only guide and shelter could be found.
And all this time, the snow fell and the night thickened. I stopped and shouted every now and then, but my shouts seemed only to make the silence deeper. Then a vague sense of uneasiness came upon me, and I began to remember stories of travellers who had walked on and on in the falling snow until, wearied out, they were fain to lie down and sleep their lives away. Would it be possible, I asked myself, to keep on thus through all the long dark night? Would there not come a time when my limbs must fail, and my resolution give way? When I, too, must sleep the sleep of death. Death! I shuddered. How hard to die just now, when life lay all so bright before me! How hard for my darling, whose whole loving heart but that thought was not to be borne! To banish it, I shouted again, louder and longer, and then listened eagerly. Was my shout answered, or did I only fancy that I heard a far-off cry? I halloed again, and again the echo followed. Then a wavering speck of light came suddenly out of the dark, shifting, disappearing, growing momentarily nearer and brighter. Running towards it at full speed, I found myself, to my great joy, face to face with an old man and a lantern.
"Thank God!" was the exclamation that burst involuntarily from my lips.
Blinking and frowning, he lifted his lantern and peered into my face.
"What for?" growled he, sulkily.
"Well--for you. I began to fear I should be lost in the snow."
"Eh, then, folks do get cast away hereabouts fra' time to time, an' what's to hinder you from bein' cast away likewise, if the Lord's so minded?"
"If the Lord is so minded that you and I shall be lost together, friend, we must submit," I replied; "but I don't mean to be lost without you. How far am I now from Dwolding?"
"A gude twenty mile, more or less."
"And the nearest village?"
"The nearest village is Wyke, an' that's twelve mile t'other side."
"Where do you live, then?"
"Out yonder," said he, with a vague jerk of the lantern.
"You're going home, I presume?"
"Maybe I am."
"Then I'm going with you."
The old man shook his head, and rubbed his nose reflectively with the handle of the lantern.
"It ain't o' no use," growled he. "He 'ont let you in--not he."
"We'll see about that," I replied, briskly. "Who is He?"
"Who is the master?"
"That's nowt to you," was the unceremonious reply.
"Well, well; you lead the way, and I'll engage that the master shall give me shelter and a supper to-night."
"Eh, you can try him!" muttered my reluctant guide; and, still shaking his head, he hobbled, gnome-like, away through the falling snow. A large mass loomed up presently out of the darkness, and a huge dog rushed out, barking furiously.
"Is this the house?" I asked.
"Ay, it's the house. Down, Bey!" And he fumbled in his pocket for the key.
I drew up close behind him, prepared to lose no chance of entrance, and saw in the little circle of light shed by the lantern that the door was heavily studded with iron nails, like the door of a prison. In another minute he had turned the key and I had pushed past him into the house.
Once inside, I looked round with curiosity, and found myself in a great raftered hall, which served, apparently, a variety of uses. One end was piled to the roof with corn, like a barn. The other was stored with flour-sacks, agricultural implements, casks, and all kinds of miscellaneous lumber; while from the beams overhead hung rows of hams, flitches, and bunches of dried herbs for winter use. In the centre of the floor stood some huge object gauntly dressed in a dingy wrapping-cloth, and reaching half way to the rafters. Lifting a corner of this cloth, I saw, to my surprise, a telescope of very considerable size, mounted on a rude movable platform, with four small wheels. The tube was made of painted wood, bound round with bands of metal rudely fashioned; the speculum, so far as I could estimate its size in the dim light, measured at least fifteen inches in diameter. While I was yet examining the instrument, and asking myself whether it was not the work of some self-taught optician, a bell rang sharply.
"That's for you," said my guide, with a malicious grin. "Yonder's his room."
He pointed to a low black door at the opposite side of the hall. I crossed over, rapped somewhat loudly, and went in, without waiting for an invitation. A huge, white-haired old man rose from a table covered with books and papers, and confronted me sternly.
"Who are you?" said he. "How came you here? What do you want?"
"James Murray, barrister-at-law. On foot across the moor. Meat, drink, and sleep."
He bent his bushy brows into a portentous frown.
"Mine is not a house of entertainment," he said, haughtily. "Jacob, how dared you admit this stranger?"
"I didn't admit him," grumbled the old man. "He followed me over the muir, and shouldered his way in before me. I'm no match for six foot two."
"And pray, sir, by what right have you forced an entrance into my house?"
"The same by which I should have clung to your boat, if I were drowning. The right of self-preservation."
"There's an inch of snow on the ground already," I replied, briefly; "and it would be deep enough to cover my body before daybreak."
He strode to the window, pulled aside a heavy black curtain, and looked out.
"It is true," he said. "You can stay, if you choose, till morning. Jacob, serve the supper."
With this he waved me to a seat, resumed his own, and became at once absorbed in the studies from which I had disturbed him.
I placed my gun in a corner, drew a chair to the hearth, and examined my quarters at leisure. Smaller and less incongruous in its arrangements than the hall, this room contained, nevertheless, much to awaken my curiosity. The floor was carpetless. The whitewashed walls were in parts scrawled over with strange diagrams, and in others covered with shelves crowded with philosophical instruments, the uses of many of which were unknown to me. On one side of the fireplace, stood a bookcase filled with dingy folios; on the other, a small organ, fantastically decorated with painted carvings of medieval saints and devils. Through the half-opened door of a cupboard at the further end of the room, I saw a long array of geological specimens, surgical preparations, crucibles, retorts, and jars of chemicals; while on the mantleshelf beside me, amid a number of small objects, stood a model of the solar system, a small galvanic battery, and a microscope. Every chair had its burden. Every corner was heaped high with books. The very floor was littered over with maps, casts, papers,tracings, and learned lumber of all conceivable kinds.
I stared about me with an amazement increased by every fresh object upon which my eyes chanced to rest. So strange a room I had never seen; yet seemed it stranger still, to find such a room in a lone farmhouse amid those wild and solitary moors! Over and over again, I looked from my host to his surroundings, and from his surroundings back to my host, asking myself who and what he could be? His head was singularly fine; but it was more the head of a poet than of a philosopher. Broad in the temples, prominent over the eyes, and clothed with a rough profusion of perfectly white hair, it had all the ideality and much of the ruggedness that characterises the head of Louis von Beethoven. There were the same deep lines about the mouth, and the same stern furrows in the brow. There was the same concentration of expression. While I was yet observing him, the door opened, and Jacob brought in the supper. His master then closed his book, rose, and with more courtesy of manner than he had yet shown, invited me to the table.
A dish of ham and eggs, a loaf of brown bread, and a bottle of admirable sherry, were placed before me.
"I have but the homeliest farmhouse fare to offer you, sir," said my entertainer. "Your appetite, I trust, will make up for the deficiencies of our larder."
I had already fallen upon the viands, and now protested, with the enthusiasm of a starving sportsman, that I had never eaten anything so delicious.
He bowed stiffly, and sat down to his own supper, which consisted, primitively, of a jug of milk and a basin of porridge. We ate in silence, and, when we had done, Jacob removed the tray. I then drew my chair back to the fireside. My host, somewhat to my surprise, did the same, and turning abruptly towards me, said:
"Sir, I have lived here in strict retirement for three-and-twenty years. During that time, I have not seen as many strange faces, and I have not read a single newspaper. You are the first stranger who has crossed my threshold for more than four years. Will you favour me with a few words of information respecting that outer world from which I have parted company so long?"
"Pray interrogate me," I replied. "I am heartily at your service."
He bent his head in acknowledgment; leaned forward, with his elbows resting on his knees and his chin supported in the palms of his hands; stared fixedly into the fire; and proceeded to question me.
His inquiries related chiefly to scientific matters, with the later progress of which, as applied to the practical purposes of life, he was almost wholly unacquainted. No student of science myself, I replied as well as my slight information permitted; but the task was far from easy, and I was much relieved when, passing from interrogation to discussion, he began pouring forth his own conclusions upon the facts which I had been attempting to place before him. He talked, and I listened spellbound. He talked till I believe he almost forgot my presence, and only thought aloud. I had never heard anything like it then; I have never heard anything like it since. Familiar with all systems of all philosophies, subtle in analysis, bold in generalisation, he poured forth his thoughts in an uninterrupted stream, and, still leaning forward in the same moody attitude with his eyes fixed upon the fire, wandered from topic to topic, from speculation to speculation, like an inspired dreamer. From practical science to mental philosophy; from electricity in the wire to electricity in the nerve; from Watts to Mesmer, from Mesmer to Reichenbach, from Reichenbach to Swedenborg, Spinoza, Condillac, Descartes, Berkeley, Aristotle, Plato, and the Magi and mystics of the East, were transitions which, however bewildering in their variety and scope, seemed easy and harmonious upon his lips as sequences in music. By-and-by--I forget now by what link of conjecture or illustration--he passed on to that field which lies beyond the boundary line of even conjectural philosophy, and reaches no man knows whither. He spoke of the soul and its aspirations; of the spirit and its powers; of second sight; of prophecy; of those phenomena which, under the names of ghosts, spectres, and supernatural appearances, have been denied by the sceptics and attested by the credulous, of all ages.
"The world," he said, "grows hourly more and more sceptical of all that lies beyond its own narrow radius; and our men of science foster the fatal tendency. They condemn as fable all that resists experiment. They reject as false all that cannot be brought to the test of the laboratory or the dissecting-room. Against what superstition have they waged so long and obstinate a war, as against the belief in apparitions? And yet what superstition has maintained its hold upon the minds of men so long and so firmly? Show me any fact in physics, in history, in archeology, which is supported by testimony so wide and so various. Attested by all races of men, in all ages, and in all climates, by the soberest sages of antiquity, by the rudest savage of to-day, by the Christian, the Pagan, the Pantheist, the Materialist, this phenomenon is treated as a nursery tale by the philosophers of our century. Circumstantial evidence weighs with them as a feather in the balance. The comparison of causes with effects, however valuable in physical science, is put aside as worthless and unreliable. The evidence of competent witnesses, however conclusive in a court of justice, counts for nothing. He who pauses before he pronounces, is condemned as a trifler. He who believes, is a dreamer or a fool."
He spoke with bitterness, and, having said thus, relapsed for some minutes into silence. Presently he raised his head from his hands, and added, with an altered voice and manner, "I, sir, paused, investigated, believed, and was not ashamed to state my convictions to the world. I, too, was branded as a visionary, held up to ridicule by my contemporaries, and hooted from that field of science in which I had laboured with honour during all the best years of my life. These things happened just three-and-twenty years ago. Since then, I have lived as you see me living now, and the world has forgotten me, as I have forgot--ten the world. You have my history."
"It is a very sad one," I murmured, scarcely knowing what to answer.
"It is a very common one," he replied. "I have only suffered for the truth, as many a better and wiser man has suffered before me."
He rose, as if desirous of ending the conversation, and went over to the window.
"It has ceased snowing," he observed, as he dropped the curtain, and came back to the fireside.
"Ceased!" I exclaimed, starting eagerly to my feet. "Oh, if it were only possible--but no! it is hopeless. Even if I could find my way across the moor, I could not walk twenty miles to-night."
"Walk twenty miles to-night!" repeated my host. "What are you thinking of?"
"Of my wife," I replied, impatiently. "Of my young wife, who does not know that I have lost my way, and who is at this moment breaking her heart with suspense and terror."
"Where is she?"
"At Dwolding, twenty miles away."
"At Dwolding," he echoed, thoughtfully. "Yes, the distance, it is true, is twenty miles; but--are you so very anxious to save the next six or eight hours?"
"So very, very anxious, that I would give ten guineas at this moment for a guide and a horse."
"Your wish can be gratified at a less costly rate," said he, smiling. "The night mail from the north, which changes horses at Dwolding, passes within five miles of this spot, and will be due at a certain cross-road in about an hour and a quarter. If Jacob were to go with you across the moor, and put you into the old coach-road, you could find your way, I suppose, to where it joins the new one?"
He smiled again, rang the bell, gave the old servant his directions, and, taking a bottle of whisky and a wineglass from the cupboard in which he kept his chemicals, said:
"The snow lies deep, and it will be difficult walking to-night on the moor. A glass of usquebaugh before you start?"
I would have declined the spirit, but he pressed it on me, and I drank it. It went down my throat like liquid flame, and almost took my breath away.
"It is strong," he said; "but it will help to keep out the cold. And now you have no moments to spare. Good night!"
I thanked him for his hospitality, and would have shaken hands, but that he had turned away before I could finish my sentence. In another minute I had traversed the hall, Jacob had locked the outer door behind me, and we were out on the wide white moor.
Although the wind had fallen, it was still bitterly cold. Not a star glimmered in the black vault overhead. Not a sound, save the rapid crunching of the snow beneath our feet, disturbed the heavy stillness of the night. Jacob, not too well pleased with his mission, shambled on before in sullen silence, his lantern in his hand, and his shadow at his feet. I followed, with my gun over my shoulder, as little inclined for conversation as himself. My thoughts were full of my late host. His voice yet rang in my ears. His eloquence yet held my imagination captive. I remember to this day, with surprise, how my over-excited brain retained whole sentences and parts of sentences, troops of brilliant images, and fragments of splendid reasoning, in the very words in which he had uttered them. Musing thus over what I had heard, and striving to recall a lost link here and there, I strode on at the heels of my guide, absorbed and unobservant. Presently--at the end, as it seemed to me, of only a few minutes--he came to a sudden halt, and said:
"Yon's your road. Keep the stone fence to your right hand, and you can't fail of the way."
"This, then, is the old coach-road?"
"Ay, 'tis the old coach-road."
"And how far do I go, before I reach the cross-roads?"
"Nigh upon three mile."
I pulled out my purse, and he became more communicative.
"The road's a fair road enough," said he, "for foot passengers; but 'twas over steep and narrow for the northern traffic. You'll mind where the parapet's broken away, close again the sign-post. It's never been mended since the accident."
"Eh, the night mail pitched right over into the valley below--a gude fifty feet an' more--just at the worst bit o' road in the whole county."
"Horrible! Were many lives lost?"
"All. Four were found dead, and t'other two died next morning."
"How long is it since this happened?"
"Just nine year."
"Near the sign-post, you say? I will bear it in mind. Good night."
"Gude night, sir, and thankee." Jacob pocketed his half-crown, made a faint pretence of touching his hat, and trudged back by the way he had come.
I watched the light of his lantern till it quite disappeared, and then turned to pursue my way alone. This was no longer matter of the slightest difficulty, for, despite the dead darkness overhead, the line of stone fence showed distinctly enough against the pale gleam of the snow. How silent it seemed now, with only my footsteps to listen to; how silent and how solitary! A strange disagreeable sense of loneliness stole over me. I walked faster. I hummed a fragment of a tune. I cast up enormous sums in my head, and accumulated them at compound interest. I did my best, in short, to forget the startling speculations to which I had but just been listening, and, to some extent, I succeeded.
Meanwhile the night air seemed to become colder and colder, and though I walked fast I found it impossible to keep myself warm. My feet were like ice. I lost sensation in my hands, and grasped my gun mechanically. I even breathed with difficulty, as though, instead of traversing a quiet north country highway, I were scaling the uppermost heights of some gigantic Alp. This last symptom became presently so distressing, that I was forced to stop for a few minutes, and lean against the stone fence. As I did so, I chanced to look back up the road, and there, to my infinite relief, I saw a distant point of light, like the gleam of an approaching lantern. I at first concluded that Jacob had retraced his steps and followed me; but even as the conjecture presented itself, a second light flashed into sight--a light evidently parallel with the first, and approaching at the same rate of motion. It needed no second thought to show me that these must be the carriage-lamps of some private vehicle, though it seemed strange that any private vehicle should take a road professedly disused and dangerous.
There could be no doubt, however, of the fact, for the lamps grew larger and brighter every moment, and I even fancied I could already see the dark outline of the carriage between them. It was coming up very fast, and quite noiselessly, the snow being nearly a foot deep under the wheels.
And now the body of the vehicle became distinctly visible behind the lamps. It looked strangely lofty. A sudden suspicion flashed upon me. Was it possible that I had passed the cross-roads in the dark without observing the sign-post, and could this be the very coach which I had come to meet?
No need to ask myself that question a second time, for here it came round the bend of the road, guard and driver, one outside passenger, and four steaming greys, all wrapped in a soft haze of light, through which the lamps blazed out, like a pair of fiery meteors.
I jumped forward, waved my hat, and shouted. The mail came down at full speed, and passed me. For a moment I feared that I had not been seen or heard, but it was only for a moment. The coachman pulled up; the guard, muffled to the eyes in capes and comforters, and apparently sound asleep in the rumble, neither answered my hail nor made the slightest effort to dismount; the outside passenger did not even turn his head. I opened the door for myself, and looked in. There were but three travellers inside, so I stepped in, shut the door, slipped into the vacant corner, and congratulated myself on my good fortune.
The atmosphere of the coach seemed, if possible, colder than that of the outer air, and was pervaded by a singularly damp and disagreeable smell. I looked round at my fellow-passengers. They were all three, men, and all silent. They did not seem to be asleep, but each leaned back in his corner of the vehicle, as if absorbed in his own reflections. I attempted to open a conversation.
"How intensely cold it is to-night," I said, addressing my opposite neighbour.
He lifted his head, looked at me, but made no reply.
"The winter," I added, "seems to have begun in earnest."
Although the corner in which he sat was so dim that I could distinguish none of his features very clearly, I saw that his eyes were still turned full upon me. And yet he answered never a word.
At any other time I should have felt, and perhaps expressed, some annoyance, but at the moment I felt too ill to do either. The icy coldness of the night air had struck a chill to my very marrow, and the strange smell inside the coach was affecting me with an intolerable nausea. I shivered from head to foot, and, turning to my left-hand neighbour, asked if he had any objection to an open window?
He neither spoke nor stirred.
I repeated the question somewhat more loudly, but with the same result. Then I lost patience, and let the sash down. As I did so, the leather strap broke in my hand, and I observed that the glass was covered with a thick coat of mildew, the accumulation, apparently, of years. My attention being thus drawn to the condition of the coach, I examined it more narrowly, and saw by the uncertain light of the outer lamps that it was in the last stage of dilapidation. Every part of it was not only out of repair, but in a condition of decay. The sashes splintered at a touch. The leather fittings were crusted over with mould, and literally rotting from the woodwork. The floor was almost breaking away beneath my feet. The whole machine, in short, was foul with damp, and had evidently been dragged from some outhouse in which it had been mouldering away for years, to do another day or two of duty on the road.
I turned to the third passenger, whom I had not yet addressed, and hazarded one more remark.
"This coach," I said, "is in a deplorable condition. The regular mail, I suppose, is under repair?"
He moved his head slowly, and looked me in the face, without speaking a word. I shall never forget that look while I live. I turned cold at heart under it. I turn cold at heart even now when I recall it. His eyes glowed with a fiery unnatural lustre. His face was livid as the face of a corpse. His bloodless lips were drawn back as if in the agony of death, and showed the gleaming teeth between.
The words that I was about to utter died upon my lips, and a strange horror--a dreadful horror--came upon me. My sight had by this time become used to the gloom of the coach, and I could see with tolerable distinctness. I turned to my opposite neighbour. He, too, was looking at me, with the same startling pallor in his face, and the same stony glitter in his eyes. I passed my hand across my brow. I turned to the passenger on the seat beside my own, and saw--oh Heaven! how shall I describe what I saw? I saw that he was no living man--that none of them were living men, like myself! A pale phosphorescent light--the light of putrefaction--played upon their awful faces; upon their hair, dank with the dews of the grave; upon their clothes, earth-stained and dropping to pieces; upon their hands, which were as the hands of corpses long buried. Only their eyes, their terrible eyes, were living; and those eyes were all turned menacingly upon me!
A shriek of terror, a wild unintelligible cry for help and mercy; burst from my lips as I flung myself against the door, and strove in vain to open it.
In that single instant, brief and vivid as a landscape beheld in the flash of summer lightning, I saw the moon shining down through a rift of stormy cloud--the ghastly sign-post rearing its warning finger by the wayside--the broken parapet--the plunging horses--the black gulf below. Then, the coach reeled like a ship at sea. Then, came a mighty crash--a sense of crushing pain--and then, darkness.
It seemed as if years had gone by when I awoke one morning from a deep sleep, and found my wife watching by my bedside I will pass over the scene that ensued, and give you, in half a dozen words, the tale she told me with tears of thanksgiving. I had fallen over a precipice, close against the junction of the old coach-road and the new, and had only been saved from certain death by lighting upon a deep snowdrift that had accumulated at the foot of the rock beneath. In this snowdrift I was discovered at daybreak, by a couple of shepherds, who carried me to the nearest shelter, and brought a surgeon to my aid. The surgeon found me in a state of raving delirium, with a broken arm and a compound fracture of the skull. The letters in my pocket-book showed my name and address; my wife was summoned to nurse me; and, thanks to youth and a fine constitution, I came out of danger at last. The place of my fall, I need scarcely say, was precisely that at which a frightful accident had happened to the north mail nine years before.
I never told my wife the fearful events which I have just related to you. I told the surgeon who attended me; but he treated the whole adventure as a mere dream born of the fever in my brain. We discussed the question over and over again, until we found that we could discuss it with temper no longer, and then we dropped it. Others may form what conclusions they please--I know that twenty years ago I was the fourth inside passenger in that Phantom Coach.
The tentpole character around which I built the Angrian adventures you might remember from the "Mordred Games". In the campaign, he would have featured styled as a distant descendant of Rowell, but the 'as written'-character is probably more related to the boyish heroes from the novels of Angus Wells.
Just a quick note that I will likely greatly overhaul this section over the Christmas break. No sense in posting any more lengthy descriptions before the 100-year jump. Also, you know the setting now, at least within the frame that the game is taking place.
The castle of Hernswolf, at the close of the year 1655, was the resort of fashion and gaiety. The baron of that name was the most powerful nobleman in Germany, and equally celebrated for the patriotic achievements of his sons, and the beauty of his only daughter. The estate of Hernswolf, which was situated in the centre of the Black Forest, had been given to one of his ancestors by the gratitude of the nation, and descended with other hereditary possessions to the family of the present owner. It was a castellated, gothic mansion, built according to the fashion of the times, in the grandest style of architecture, and consisted principally of dark winding corridors, and vaulted tapestry rooms, magnificent indeed in their size, but ill-suited to private comfort, from the very circumstance of their dreary magnitude. A dark grove of pine and mountain ash encompassed the castle on every side, and threw an aspect of gloom around the scene, which was seldom enlivened by the cheering sunshine of heaven.
The castle bells rung out a merry peal at the approach of a winter twilight, and the warder was stationed with his retinue on the battlements, to announce the arrival of the company who were invited to share the amusements that reigned within the walls. The Lady Clotilda, the baron's only daughter, had but just attained her seventeenth year, and a brilliant assembly was invited to celebrate the birthday. The large vaulted apartments were thrown open for the reception of the numerous guests, and the gaieties of the evening had scarcely commenced when the clock from the dungeon tower was heard to strike with unusual solemnity, and on the instant a tall stranger, arrayed in a deep suit of black, made his appearance in the ballroom. He bowed courteously on every side, but was received by all with the strictest reserve. No one knew who he was or whence he came, but it was evident from his appearance, that he was a nobleman of the first rank, and though his introduction was accepted with distrust, he was treated by all with respect. He addressed himself particularly to the daughter of the baron, and was so intelligent in his remarks, so lively in his sallies, and so fascinating in his address, that he quickly interested the feelings of his young and sensitive auditor. In fine, after some hesitation on the part of the host, who, with the rest of the company, was unable to approach the stranger with indifference, he was requested to remain a few days at the castle, an invitation which was cheerfully accepted.
The dead of the night drew on, and when all had retired to rest, the dull heavy bell was heard swinging to and fro in the grey tower, though there was scarcely a breath to move the forest trees. Many of the guests, when they met the next morning at the breakfast table, averred that there had been sounds as of the most heavenly music, while all persisted in affirming that they had heard awful noises, proceeding, as it seemed, from the apartment which the stranger at that time occupied. He soon, however, made his appearance at the breakfast circle, and when the circumstances of the preceding night were alluded to, a dark smile of unutterable meaning played round his saturnine features, and then relapsed into an expression of the deepest melancholy. He addressed his conversation principally to Clotilda, and when he talked of the different climes he had visited, of the sunny regions of Italy, where the very air breathes the fragrance of flowers, and the summer breeze sighs over a land of sweets; when he spoke to her of those delicious countries, where the smile of the day sinks into the softer beauty of the night, and the loveliness of heaven is never for an instant obscured, he drew tears of regret from the bosom of his fair auditor, and for the first time she regretted that she was yet at home
Days rolled on, and every moment increased the fervour of the inexpressible sentiments with which the stranger had inspired her. He never discoursed of love, but he looked it in his language, in his manner, in the insinuating tones of his voice, and in the slumbering softness of his smile, and when he found that he had succeeded in inspiring her with favourable sentiments, a sneer of the most diabolical meaning spoke for an instant, and died again on his dark featured countenance. When he met her in the company of her parents, he was at once respectful and submissive, and it was only when alone with her, in her ramble through the dark recesses of the forest, that he assumed the guise of the more impassioned admirer.
As he was sitting one evening with the baron in the wainscotted apartment of the library, the conversation happened to turn upon supernatural agency. The stranger remained reserved and mysterious during the discussion, but when the baron in a jocular manner denied the existence of spirits, and satirically mocked their appearance, his eyes glowed with unearthly lustre, and his form seemed to dilate to more than its natural dimensions. When the conversation had ceased, a fearful pause of a few seconds and a chorus of celestial harmony was heard pealing through the dark forest glade. All were entranced with delight, but the stranger was disturbed and gloomy; he looked at his noble host with compassion, and something like a tear swam in his dark eye. After the lapse of a few seconds, the music died gently in the distance, and all was hushed as before. The baron soon after quitted the apartment, and was followed almost immediately by the stranger. He had not long been absent, when an awful noise, as of a person in the agonies of death, was heard, and the Baron was discovered stretched dead along the corridors. His countenance was convulsed with pain, and the grip of a human hand was visible on his blackened throat. The alarm was instantly given, the castle searched in every direction, but the stranger was seen no more. The body of the baron, in the meantime, was quietly committed to the earth, and the remembrance of the dreadful transaction, recalled but as a thing that once was.
After the departure of the stranger, who had indeed fascinated her very senses, the spirits of the gentle Clotilda evidently declined. She loved to walk early and late in the walks that he had once frequented, to recall his last words; to dwell on his sweet smile; and wander to the spot where she had once discoursed with him of love. She avoided all society, and never seemed to be happy but when left alone in the solitude of her chamber. It was then that she gave vent to her affliction in tears; and the love that the pride of maiden modesty concealed in public, burst forth in the hours of privacy. So beauteous, yet so resigned was the fair mourner, that she seemed already an angel freed from the trammels of the world, and prepared to take her flight to heaven.
As she was one summer evening rambling to the sequestered spot that had been selected as her favourite residence, a slow step advanced towards her. She turned round, and to her infinite surprise discovered the stranger. He stepped gaily to her side, and commenced an animated conversation. 'You left me,' exclaimed the delighted girl; 'and I thought all happiness was fled from me for ever; but you return, and shall we not again be happy?' - 'Happy,' replied the stranger, with a scornful burst of derision, 'Can I ever be happy again - can there; - but excuse the agitation, my love, and impute it to the pleasure I experience at our meeting. Oh! I have many things to tell you; aye! and many kind words to receive; is it not so, sweet one? Come, tell me truly, have you been happy in my absence? No! I see in that sunken eye, in that pallid cheek, that the poor wanderer has at least gained some slight interest in the heart of his beloved. I have roamed to other climes, I have seen other nations; I have met with other females, beautiful and accomplished, but I have met with but one angel, and she is here before me. Accept this simple offering of my affection, dearest,' continued the stranger, plucking a heath-rose from its stem; 'it is beautiful as the wild flowers that deck thy hair, and sweet as is the love I bear thee.' - 'It is sweet, indeed,' replied Clotilda, 'but its sweetness must wither ere night closes around. It is beautiful, but its beauty is short-lived, as the love evinced by man. Let not this, then, be the type of thy attachment; bring me the delicate evergreen, the sweet flower that blossoms throughout the year, and I will say, as I wreathe it in my hair, "The violets have bloomed and died - the roses have flourished and decayed; but the evergreen is still young, and so is the love of heart!" - you will not - cannot desert me. I live but in you; you are my hopes, my thoughts, my existence itself: and if I lose you, I lose my all - I was but a solitary wild flower in the wilderness of nature, until you transplanted me to a more genial soil; and can you now break the fond heart you first taught to glow with passion?' - 'Speak not thus,' returned the stranger, 'it rends my very soul to hear you; leave me - forget me - avoid me for ever - or your eternal ruin must ensue. I am a thing abandoned of God and man - and did you but see the scared heart that scarcely beats within this moving mass of deformity, you would flee me, as you would an adder in your path. Here is my heart, love, feel how cold it is; there is no pulse that betrays its emotion; for all is chilled and dead as the friends I once knew.' - 'You are unhappy, love, and your poor Clotilda shall stay to succour you. Think not I can abandon you in your misfortunes. No! I will wander with thee through the wide world, and be thy servant, thy slave, if thou wilt have it so. I will shield thee from the night winds, that they blow not too roughly on thy unprotected head. I will defend thee from the tempest that howls around; and though the cold world may devote thy name to scorn - though friends may fall off, and associates wither in the grave, there shall be one fond heart who shall love thee better in thy misfortune, and cherish thee, bless thee still.' She ceased, and her blue eyes swam in tears, as she turned it glistening with affection towards the stranger. He averted his head from her gaze, and a scornful sneer of the darkest, the deadliest malice passed over his fine countenance. In an instant, the expression subsided; his fixed glassy eye resumed its unearthly chillness, and he turned once again to his companion. 'It is the hour of sunset,' he exclaimed; 'the soft, the beauteous hour, when the hearts of lovers are happy, and nature smiles in unison with their feelings; but to me it will smile no longer - ere the morrow dawns I shall very far, from the house of my beloved; from the scenes where my heart is enshrined, as in a sepulchre. But must I leave thee, dearest flower of the wilderness, to be the sport of a whirlwind, the prey of the mountain blast?' - 'No, we will not part,' replied the impassioned girl; 'where thou goest, will I go; thy home shall be my home; and thy God shall be my God.' - 'Swear it, swear it,' resumed the stranger, wildly grasping her by the hand; 'swear to the fearful oath I shall dictate.' He then desired her to kneel, and holding his right hand in a menacing attitude towards heaven, and throwing back his dark raven locks, exclaimed in a strain of bitter imprecation with the ghastly smile of an incarnate fiend, 'May the curses of an offended God,' he cried, 'haunt thee, cling to thee for ever in the tempest and in the calm, in the day and in the night, in sickness and in sorrow, in life and in death, shouldst thou swerve from the promise thou hast here made to be mine. May the dark spirits of the d**ned howl in thine ears the accursed chorus of fiends - may the air rack thy bosom with the quenchless flames of hell! May thy soul be as the lazar-house of corruption, where the ghost of departed pleasure sits enshrined, as in a grave: where the hundred-headed worm never dies where the fire is never extinguished. May a spirit of evil lord it over thy brow, and proclaim, as thou passest by, "THIS IS THE ABANDONED OF GOD AND MAN;" may fearful spectres haunt thee in the night season; may thy dearest friends drop day by day into the grave, and curse thee with their dying breath: may all that is most horrible in human nature, more solemn than language can frame, or lips can utter, may this, and more than this, be thy eternal portion, shouldst thou violate the oath that thou has taken.' He ceased - hardly knowing what she did, the terrified girl acceded to the awful adjuration, and promised eternal fidelity to him who was henceforth to be her lord. 'Spirits of the d**ned, I thank thee for thine assistance,' shouted the stranger; 'I have wooed my fair bride bravely. She is mine - mine for ever. - Aye, body and soul both mine; mine in life, and mine in death. What in tears, my sweet one, ere yet the honeymoon is past? Why! indeed thou hast cause for weeping: but when next we meet we shall meet to sign the nuptial bond.' He then imprinted a cold salute on the cheek of his young bride, and softening down the unutterable horrors of his countenance, requested her to meet him at eight o'clock on the ensuing evening in the chapel adjoining to the castle of Hernswolf. She turned round to him with a burning sigh, as if to implore protection from himself, but the stranger was gone.
On entering the castle, she was observed to be impressed with deepest melancholy. Her relations vainly endeavoured to ascertain the cause of her uneasiness; but the tremendous oath she had sworn completely paralysed her faculties, and she was fearful of betraying herself by even the slightest intonation of her voice, or the least variable expression of her countenance. When the evening was concluded, the family retired to rest; but Clotilda, who was unable to take repose, from the restlessness of her disposition, requested to remain alone in the library that adjoined her apartment.
All was now deep midnight; every domestic had long since retired to rest, and the only sound that could be distinguished was the sullen howl of the ban-dog as he bayed, the waning moon Clotilda remained in the library in an attitude of deep meditation. The lamp that burnt on the table, where she sat, was dying away, and the lower end of the apartment was already more than half obscured. The clock from the northern angle of the castle tolled out the hour of twelve, and the sound echoed dismally in the solemn stillness of the night. Sudden the oaken door at the farther end of the room was gently lifted on its latch, and a bloodless figure, apparelled in the habiliments of the grave, advanced slowly up the apartment. No sound heralded its approach, as it moved with noiseless steps to the table where the lady was stationed. She did not at first perceive it, till she felt a death-cold hand fast grasped in her own, and heard a solemn voice whisper in her ear, 'Clotilda.' She looked up, a dark figure was standing beside her; she endeavoured to scream, but her voice was unequal to the exertion; her eye was fixed, as if by magic, on the form which, slowly removed the garb that concealed its countenance, and disclosed the livid eyes and skeleton shape of her father. It seemed to gaze on her with pity, an regret, and mournfully exclaimed - 'Clotilda, the dresses and the servants are ready, the church bell has tolled, and the priest is at the altar, but where is the affianced bride? There is room for her in the grave, and tomorrow shall she be with me.' -
'Tomorrow?' faltered out the distracted girl; 'the spirits of hell shall have registered it, and tomorrow must the bond be cancelled.' The figure ceased - slowly retired, and was soon lost in the obscurity of distance.
The morning - evening - arrived; and already as the hall clock struck eight, Clotilda was on her road to the chapel. It was a dark, gloomy night, thick masses of dun clouds sailed across the firmament, and the roar of the winter wind echoed awfully through the forest trees. She reached the appointed place; a figure was in waiting for her - it advanced - and discovered the features of the stranger. 'Why! this is well, my bride,' he exclaimed, with a sneer; 'and well will I repay thy fondness. Follow me.' They proceeded together in silence through the winding avenues of the chapel, until they reached the adjoining cemetery. Here they paused for an instant; and the stranger, in a softened tone, said, 'But one hour more, and the struggle will be over. And yet this heart of incarnate malice can feel, when it devotes so young, so pure a spirit to the grave. But it must - it must be,' he proceeded, as the memory of her past love rushed on her mind; 'for the fiend whom I obey has so willed it. Poor girl, I am leading thee indeed to our nuptials; but the priest will be death, thy parents the mouldering skeletons that rot in heaps around; and the witnesses to our union, the lazy worms that revel on the carious bones of the dead. Come, my young bride, the priest is impatient for his victim.' As they proceeded, a dim blue light moved swiftly before them, and displayed at the extremity of the churchyard the portals of a vault. It was open, and they entered it in silence. The hollow wind came rushing through the gloomy abode of the dead; and on every side were piled the mouldering remnants of coffins, which dropped piece by piece upon the damp mud. Every step they took was on a dead body; and the bleached bones rattled horribly beneath their feet. In the centre of the vault rose a heap of unburied skeletons, whereon was seated, a figure too awful even for the darkest imagination to conceive. As they approached it, the hollow vault rung with a hellish peal of laughter; and every mouldering corpse seemed endued with unholy life. The stranger paused, and as he grasped his victim in his hand, one sigh burst from his heart - one tear glistened in his eye. It was but for an instant; the figure frowned awfully at his vacillation, and waved his gaunt hand.
The stranger advanced; he made certain mystic circles in the air, uttered unearthly words, and paused in excess of terror. On a sudden he raised his voice and wildly exclaimed - 'Spouse of the spirit of darkness, a few moments are yet thine; that thou may'st know to whom thou hast consigned thyself. I am the undying spirit of the wretch who curst his Saviour on the cross. He looked at me in the closing hour of his existence, and that look hath not yet passed away, for I am curst above all on earth. I am eternally condemned to hell and I must cater for my master's taste till the world is parched as is a scroll, and the heavens and the earth have passed away. I am he of whom thou may'st have read, and of whose feats thou may'st have heard. A million souls has my master condemned me to ensnare, and then my penance is accomplished, and I may know the repose of the grave. Thou art the thousandth soul that I have d**ned. I saw thee in thine hour of purity, and I marked thee at once for my home. Thy father did I murder for his temerity, and permitted to warn thee of thy fate; and myself have I beguiled for thy simplicity. Ha! the spell works bravely, and thou shall soon see, my sweet one, to whom thou hast linked thine undying fortunes, for as long as the seasons shall move on their course of nature - as long as the lightning shall flash, and the thunders roll, thy penance shall be eternal. Look below! and see to what thou art destined.' She looked, the vault split in a thousand different directions; the earth yawned asunder; and the roar of mighty waters was heard. A living ocean of molten fire glowed in the abyss beneath her, and blending with the shrieks of the d**ned, and the triumphant shouts of the fiends, rendered horror more horrible than imagination. Ten millions of souls were writhing in the fiery flames, and as the boiling billows dashed them against the blackened rocks of adamant, they cursed with the blasphemies of despair; and each curse echoed in thunder cross the wave. The stranger rushed towards his victim. For an instant he held her over the burning vista, looked fondly in her face and wept as he were a child. This was but the impulse of a moment; again he grasped her in his arms, dashed her from him with fury; and as her last parting glance was cast in kindness on his face, shouted aloud, 'not mine is the crime, but the religion that thou professest; for is it not said that there is a fire of eternity prepared for the souls of the wicked; and hast not thou incurred its torments?' She, poor girl, heard not, heeded not the shouts of the blasphemer. Her delicate form bounded from rock to rock, over billow, and over foam; as she fell, the ocean lashed itself as it were in triumph to receive her soul, and as she sunk deep in the burning pit, ten thousand voices reverberated from the bottomless abyss, 'Spirit of evil! here indeed is an eternity of torments prepared for thee; for here the worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.'
The guardians of Larad, and the ancient scourge of Duneyrr. You will likely never meet them in this game. Artist Snowskadi might have intended something else here, but this is EXACTLY how I picture them. ...As I told you, Elves are complicated in our world of Meleon.
Another one of my Meleon-ese stock characters, from the Duchy of Caladan - a plae that might well feature in our game, at a later point. In my mind, he's perhaps a very distant descendant of another, rather famous wandering minstrel, though I have to be careful, because of certain copyright restrictions.
If you like any of the books I've recommended you over the years, then I greatly recommend you the read. - The story is really too short to talk much about it, so, no spoilers here. Just that I really, really liked this story, for a couple of reasons. Which I, again, cannot talk about. Gaah.
The legendary first king of humanity, sort of Meleon's Gilgamesh.
This is less a full-fledged character, of course, and more of a "plot device", if you will, but I found this picture a few days ago, and think it represents him well. The underlying idea is that Rain, like many of the heroes of the real world's middle East, united his country, and then fought a devil-like entity, "The Shadow".
I am not sure how that story really goes, and how it ends - but I think of it mainly in connection to stories like "The Legend of Huma"; so I assume 'Rain' didn't survive.
The name, by the way, is not some strange symbolism, but based on the hieroglyph that is supposedly found on the ruins of his kingdom, all over the three continents of Shahar, Norran, and Erle.
You might know that I like to approach fantasy worldbuilding with some sort of pseudo-linguistic approach: So, this idea really came when I looked into Old Japanese; not out of any scholarly interest, but really, more randomly.
So, for a paladin, I basically looked at what Frank had set up for the Name level proto-prestige class, and extrapolated backwards, to get:
Fighter, but with the following perks, after swearing fealty to a church/temple, etc. :
Able to detect evil as the clerical spell, at will (once per round), to a range of 120'
If Wisdom is 13 or higher, casts spells as a cleric of 1/3 level.
can Turn Undead as a cleric of 1/3 level
Lay on Hands -- heal (levelx2)hp a number of times equal to (Wis? or Cha?) modifier per day*
immune to normal diseases**
* this is from the AD&D incarnation of the class, and not technically in the BECMI version of the paladin. The number of uses could vary, depending on how deadly Rafe makes the game. Minimum once per day, if at all. ** again, this is from the AD&D class, and not the BECMI incarnation. But c'mon. Why else does anyone play a paladin?
Does this warrant needing extra XP per level? It doesn't require it in BECMI -- just that your fighter survive to Name level, and swear fealty to a church. But horning in on the cleric's territory a bit earlier than that, with spells and turning undead and such...? Maybe another 200-300 per level? Or maybe that extra XP cost kicks in after 3rd or 4th level, when the clerical abilities manifest? (or maybe we're not using XP at all, and we level up when Rafe says we level up....)