Hernando’s Final Log Entry, Midsummer 1511
I’ve been putting off making this entry for a long time. What happened on Midsummer’s Eve was too immense and terrible. I find myself reluctant to record the disaster . . . as if not putting the story to paper will make it any less real.
I have lost so many friends. I think back to that day and I see them dying again. Kliff’s face . . .
Okay. Doneblas was inaccessible. Gondal had committed suicide. And we were trudging up the road to Tovag Baragu to defeat the forces of Antisocial Tendencies. Elrich’s “army,” the vaunted Third Bywater, had melted away when we were caught between a Banite army and a united force of three Yazak clans crossing the Vaasa. Still, we decided to press on and do as we always did -- sneak by the guards, get the bad guy. A dozen-odd fools who would have been better off throwing themselves on their swords.
When we entered the circle the sky was dark with stormclouds. Thunder without lightning. A dry wind that held no promise of rain. This storm had no intentions of breaking. We got by the plainsmen alright, even broached the circle. Then Vecna’s minions emerged from the shadows without even attempting ambush - which immediately made me worry - and it was the same tiresome theme of hands and eyes, repeated in dull profusion, plus undead, lots of undead.
Greywolf popped Agrippa out of the portable hole, and Agrippa lit up a couple of the monsters with a Fireball. For the most part, though, the mages were holding back for the big scuffle with Vecna. Kliff and Elsinor chopped up a big ugly quickly; after that it was just a matter of mopping up little guys who didn’t have a prayer of hitting us anyway. Some just disappeared back into the shadows; Khoresh wanted to go after them, but Greywolf said no, stick together. The dwarf was always smart about stuff like that. Not that it made a damn bit of difference in the end.
There were two more attacks before we reached the center of the circle. Neither amounted to much. They seemed to be just feints. Then my invisibility started going in and out, and all our magic behaved erratically. I was liking the situation less and less as we went along.
We came in sight of the ancient altar at the center of the circle, and I really started to get nervous. Vecna had a fucking army. Even without the plainsmen encamped outside the circle, the shrivelled prick still had enough left over to fill a fair-sized town. The kind of town where everybody looks the same and sheep are nervous.
By this time we were all powered up with strengths and protections. Agrippa had called up a bunch of vermin to create confusion. We sent in some monsters Stonne summoned to occupy the dragon fodder. Vecna, of course, knew we were there, but was ignoring us. As always, Vecna shrugged off our worst magic like it was water. Meanwhile, our fighters were getting into it hand to hand with the grunts, and Khoresh and Black Arrow had found good perches on top of the stone columns to lay down heavy bowfire. The Yazaks were pelting us with accurate fire of their own, but didn’t send in the troops -- Vecna had other minions for that. Somebody was already down, from a finger of death I think, and Elmo was working on him. We were pretty spread out - we didn’t want to get hit with a Time Stop like last time - so I couldn’t tell who it was.
Things started getting bad early on. Greywolf got knocked unconscious by debris that Vecna was throwing around telekinetically. I had to charge in to get Vecna’s minions off him, and then had to carry the dwarf out of the battle and bind his wounds -- luckily, my invisibility held. Thus, I wasn’t there when Vecna brought out his big guns. When I returned, though, things had gone from bad right through worse and straight to heinous. Something that looked like the grim reaper on horseback was hurling flaming eyes at Khoresh, who already looked badly burnt. Drazen was fighting against bad odds, and Kliff was hacking his way through six pug-uglies toward a beast with some kind of a sac blooming from its back and head. Black Arrow was putting arrows into something tall and thin that looked like it was made of wood. Wildcard and Stonne were backed into a corner using combat spells to ward off a host of empty suits of living armor. I couldn’t see Elmo or Elrich. Agrippa was flying above the fray, fighting a sort of spectral hand and getting off the odd spell against Vecna (uselessly). Elsinor was like a demon, taking crazy risks to get closer to Vecna. He was closest to me, so I followed him in invisibly to keep the critters off his back. Then the sky went totally dark, and more enemies started pouring in around us -- were definitely humans, but I couldn’t place their race or origin, it wasn’t like I had time to contemplate.
Vecna threw his head back and laughed, taking notice of us for the first time -- said something like he was the only one now, and our “irritation” was at an end. Above it all we could hear his voice -- no longer that of the bent old ship captain whose frail guise he once took. He was casting some sort of major spell, and everyone was trying desperately to disrupt his concentration, but our spells couldn’t affect him and our fighters couldn’t reach him. Suddenly the ground started to shift under our feet. “Earthquake!” Wildcard shouted, but that wasn’t it . . .
They came up out of the ground, arms clutching and jaws chomping, all around us. Elsinor jumped away from the rising tide of undead, and took flight as a great bird. Drazen was not so lucky. He was pulled off-balance, his armed attackers closed in over him, and that was the last we ever saw of him -- ironic way to go for a necromancer. I heard him screaming as he was torn to pieces and there wasn’t a fucking thing any of us could do.
Elsinor tried anyway, diving into the knot of fright warriors and skeletons around Drazen. Stonne directed his monsters that way too. It was in vain. The monsters - ogres and such - were cut down, one by one, and Elsinor (again in his human form) was driven away. When it was clearly too late he started fighting his way toward Vecna again, and this time I couldn’t reach him to watch his back. Then Vecna threw up a Wall of Force separating the battle into two halves -- an old Cortalish lich tactic. He was at one end of the wall, able to cast spells on one side or the other as he liked, while we couldn’t communicate. Wildcard cast a Dig spell under the wall, like at Osnabrolt, but all we got out of that was a pit seething with the animated corpses of people who’d been buried there.
On the other side of the wall from me, Greywolf had awakened and was making his way toward Khoresh, who was hard-pressed. The mounted grim reaper drew something from his cloak and threw it at Khoresh. It sprung eyestalks and opened its central eye in midair, and Khoresh toppled from his perch. The beholder chomped off Khoresh’s head as he fell, a moment before Black Arrow’s missiles took it out of the air. Greywolf caught the rider in a Flame Strike, finishing him off, but it was too little, too late.
The giant spectral hand slapped Agrippa out of the sky. He plummeted out of sight near Vecna. Quite a magic show followed - lights and explosions - but Vecna reappeared apparently unharmed. About this time Kliff met the sac-backed bugger on the field; he was berserk from being pressed on all sides, and just lashed out with his sword. It ripped the monster in half, and the contents of the sac spilled all over Kliff. I was too far away to make out clearly what it was, but it looked like a ton of little heads with one eye each and too many teeth. They covered Kliff so densely you couldn’t even see his sword! He tried to scrape them off, but they were too many and too quick to handle that way. Even above the roar of battle you could hear Kliff screaming. He had the wit, at the end, to bend double over his hand to protect the ring of regeneration. One of the little monsters must have gotten to it first; when Wildcard’s Fireball cleared the fuckers off, Kliff never got up. I got one brief look at his body and wished I didn’t.
We’d lost Kliff, Khoresh, maybe Agrippa, and who knew who else. I was starting to think it was time to retreat. Then Vecna started rising up into the sky on a pillar of dark cloud -- he didn’t even bother to look at us anymore. The ritual was complete. Vecna was a god -- the only god. Game over, just game over.
"Let's get the fuck out of here!" I yelled to the others, heading for the door myself. I was looking around wildly for Elmo or Elrich, but didn't see them. Wildcard, Stonne, Greywolf, and Black Arrow joined me. Then I felt the power of Vecna, and my mind went dull and cold. We all stopped running, having forgotten that running was important. There was a peal of thunder. I looked up and saw the stormclouds boiling down toward us; they were lit by the energies within them, and it grew so bright that it might have been the sun hurling toward us behind a cloak of clouds. I was sure it was the end.
"I have power enough now that I need brook no further interference," Vecna's voice boomed out over the suddenly-still battlefield. "You will be still, and accept your destruction!"
Then a shadow passed overhead. It was Elsinor, in his bird form. He shrieked; I looked at Wildcard (who had a Speak with Animals up) but her explanation was lost in another burst of thunder. Elsinor screamed again, wheeled, and dove toward Vecna. His talons found Vecna's face. He pulled away, feathers smoking, and I had a brief glimpse of Vecna's ghastly expression. The bastard's face was streaked with blood and gobbets of flesh trailed from his ruined eye. Then the heavens burst upon poor Elsinor, and night turned to day.
We staggered out, deafened and blinded. When we had groped and sumbled our way to a safe distance (ha!), we took cover. We all had wounds to bandage - Greywolf had a nasty scalp cut - and we were hoping Agrippa, Elmo, or Elrich might show up. It was then that we found that healing spells no longer worked.
The ringing in my ears eventually faded. Elmo showed up bleeding and broken after about an hour. He lived long enough to tell us that Elrich was dead. Without healing spells or potions we couldn't keep him alive. We buried him there. No sign of the vampire.
We made the long trip back to civilization mostly in silence. Fortunately the undead hadn't yet learned they could roam about in daylight. (Daylight! A ridiculous word for this half-assed twilight we live in now.) We arrived in Bywater three weeks later, footsore and hungry, where we learned that Vecna had bent the Cortals to his will again, who had in turn routed the forces of Southold and Tara. There had been riots and mass panic all across the continent. Adding to the chaos, the undead were walking night and day, and new breeds were making their presence known. Between shifts of defending Blaskor’s Retreat against zombie and skeleton attacks, the four of us worked out a final desperate strategy of waging guerilla war against Vecna's regime from the inside. Greywolf and Stonne returned to their respective people; Wildcard went to join whatever was left of the Irrudian clans. I was to see if there was still a government or an army to coordinate in the few part of Southold the Cortals hadn’t occupied. Black Arrow would explore the possibility of using Brazzemal's caverns and Underdark as a base of operations. We parted, and thus ended the Miscreants, Bywater Six, Intrepid Paragagon -- whatever.
No-one is quite sure what happened to the surviving elves in the Galathiene, who had been putting up a good fight against the drow of Everhate. Reports just stopped coming from them one day. It took a month for the ancient Forests of the Day to burn.
Greywolf never reached the dwarven halls of Rockhome. His travelling party was ambushed on the road by a pack of the new undead. All were slain.
As for Wildcard, she and her kinsmen and women fought valiantly; but Vecna seemed to have a special hatred for Irrudium, as we who remain well know. The McGillahans and their brother clans, finally united, were annihilated together.
Black Arrow did make it to Brazzemal's halls, where even Vecna's hand will not reach for a while. Arrow is still eager to continue playing Robin Hood; when I told him it was over, we had a falling out of sorts. It doesn't matter. I now see that there will be no final triumph for humanity. Vecna is a god and there are no other gods to aid us against him. Already they're renaming Grund "Lichworld," and Vecna has razed Dunthrane and built a citadel on its ruins. Which has got me thinking.
When we were on the road back from the debacle at Tovag Baragu I had a chance to ask Wildcard what Elsinor had said just before he died. She gave me this sad look and said, "He said he'd die so we could live. So we could all live." Well, Vecna is god and everything sucks; but I have my own mind. And I'm alive. So why not live?
The new city is called Revenance, and I hear that despite the daily horrors of life under Vecna's rule, a smart operator can make a coin there playing both ends against the middle. I've managed to get an audience with Vecna's first-in-command, and I'll see whether I can make things happen even here in hell. It's a shit of a life, but who knows?
Maybe this "Lichtor" will turn out to be someone I can work with.