Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Sundermount Letters

As part of a contest I entered I got to try my hand at creating even more backstory for the videogame franchise (does one and a bunch of DLC make a franchise? Eh by next March it will be so good enough) Dragon Age. 

If you haven't played Dragon Age it's a fantasy type game based upon not just killing big scary orcs and other fantasy creatures but formed from a lot of Medieval history. The basic premise for the main land of Ferelden is what if England had after a century thrown off the Norman conquest to reclaim back their lands. There are other obvious homages to France, Italy, in some ways Germany to give it a much richer background than the typical videogame.

I decided to try my hand at crafting a letter paying homage to a classic horror story at the same time building upon the already fairly well laid land.

The story after the jump.

The Sundermount Letters


A bundle of letters stained and muddied tied together by a string. They were purchased from a trader who claims to have found them floating in a bottle in one of his nets.

My Darling Adomina,

I hope my letter finds you well and in good health. My constitution is not adjusting well to the spices the people of the Free Marches seem to love so much – they are immensely fond of a smoky red seasoning they toss in everything, pieprika I believe it is called. I am near Sundermount, a place long tied in with an Elven legend of a being that can cure any malady. It was not easy to find a guide willing to brave the supposed demons the Elves unleashed upon the land.

No news has reached me since the landing but I pray to the Maker that the Arl’s condition has not worsened since we began this quest. My quest for this legendary healer lead me to the gnarled, what can only be called, hut of a wizened woman my guide talked a great deal about.

She met us coming up her path with a half plucked chicken in one hand and a piece of flint in the other. The sight of my strange appearance set her on edge and I fear had my guide not been there she’d have attacked me in my full mail with just that piece of flint, or possibly the dead foul.

My guide and I greeted the woman – he later called Baba Yanka – in the nearly second nature Free Marches greeting by holding my arm stretched out with the palm down and the fingers touching. It was a touch more difficult this time as our host refused to put down her future supper.

After offering us a cup of something brown and sweet every Free March housewife must learn to make at an early age we sat down to business. I, with my guide translating, told the good woman about the Arl’s illness and our hope for a cure. Much like the other houses that pointed us to this Baba Yanka my guide refused to bring up any relation to the Messiahs Ashes.

The old woman approached me, and through a strength only possessed by those that work the land their whole lives pulled me down to eye level.  Her time ravaged face peered through layers of hard fought wrinkles, a deep sapphire glare pierced through judging my soul.

“What would you give up for this Arl? I am not sure if you are strong enough,” my guide translated.

“I would give everything to save him. He, he took me in when I was a small boy after I lost my parents to a Darkspawn raid. I would have nothing without him. Please I have to save him,” the words tumbled out of my mouth in such an incoherent jumble my guide stared blankly at me unable to translate.

But Baba patted my hand as though she understood everything and for a brief moment a flash of pity opened up her face. “If you continue on this trail you will lose everything you hold dear, you will no longer exist but you can save your Arl.” She turned away to a large chest caked in dust and pulled from it a small round medallion with a bit of elvish sketched around the edge, “May Mythal guard you on your journey to the abyss.”

She patted my hand one more time pressing the medallion into the palm then turned to the guide giving him specific instructions and various other March babblings. I know it is a bit silly, like still believing in the water fairies by the mill, but the Dalish medallion cooled the unnerve I hadn’t realized the old woman stirred within my breast.

I must bid you a goodnight my love, the fire in our camp is dying slowly and we have a long hike ahead of us tomorrow.

Always Yours,
Ser Halen

***

Beloved Adomina

There isn’t much oil left in the lamp perched on my saviors lap yet I have so much to tell. I can scarcely believe the horrors I have witnessed tonight yet I fear it shall not be the last on this mad journey.

By daybreak my guide and I pulled up camp and struck out on what appeared little more than a deer trail following the instructions of Baba Yankas. The trek up the mountain to the keep Cliffside wore on me more than I expected and I . . . I decided to remove my armor and carry on in just my tunic. A decision I suspect I shall regret unto my dying day.

As the sun set the tops of the forest aflame through a rare clearing in the trees my guide could make out our destination – a castle built in an age when remaining alive trumped design. Even from this distance the walls appeared heavy with age and a decrepit air a building takes on when uninhabited.

My guide mumbled something under his breath, “No monster,” and pointed to the castle then the vanishing sun. We were going to have to run to make it before nightfall set in or face a night camped in this enclosed forest.

Whatever we didn’t need we buried under a marked tree: my armor, the set of daggers the Arlessa gave me and alas even the strange cooking contraption I picked up for you in one of the famous Free March bazaars.

Then began the half blind climb tumbling over a nonexistent path avoiding low strung branches and old trap wolf pits. Less than an hour into our dash the last of the sunlight gave out and we were forced to rely upon the two oil lamps.

As the guide ignited the oil, a branch snapped not a yard away. Carefully he held the light up as I silently unsheathed my sword. Not 10 yards away a pair of watchful eyes glittered back at us as the mouth reared back into a snarl.

The wolf stared me down then ducked its head and vanished back into the woods. My guide praying under his breath shocked me as a set of daggers appeared in his hands. In all our travels I had never seen him armed.

“A lone wolf shouldn’t be a problem,” another snap and a rustle then the howling started far off in the distance up the mountain, then back behind us before settling in the throat of our first visitor.

“RUN!” but it was too late. While his back was turned the first wolf lunged out of the underbrush landing a full blow onto my guide. Curses in a tongue intangible to my ears but still known in every man’s heart rang out.

I moved to my guides aid but froze as three wolves snarling and gnashing pawed silently into our small clearing. One looked into my eyes and I almost swear I saw a look of recognition and dare I say sadness. Beside me my guide continued to thrash with his adversary making what sounded like headway. I, cursing my lack of armor, leveled my sword and taking a deep breath rushed at the nearest wolf.

It was the type of fight my mentor Ser Henric would bash my ears over. There was no skill only bile and muscle as I hauled and slashed through fur and teeth my blood pulsating so loudly I feared the animals miles way could hear my heart pounding.

Two wolves lay gravely injured, out of the corner of my eye my guide got slowly to his feet his tunic bathed in blood. I turned to face down the lone wolf, his sad eyes still burned into mine when through the forest a loud crash as if our battle woke a giant from its slumber.

A black carriage pulled by two of the maddest horses I’d ever feared to see bore down upon us, my guide dropped his daggers and brought his hands up to his eyes as tears rolled down his eyes and he wept  “Daunator, daunator!”

With my attention distracted the wolf finally took his opportunity and charged, my arm far to low for me to parry. The hot fiery breath washed over my face as teeth glinted into my eyes.

What happened next is as vague as a waking dream. I remember a great weight upon me, a flash of light and much screaming both animal and human then darkness claimed me. I came to hours later perched precariously in the black carriage that housed my savior.

He kept his hat drawn over his eyes and spoke in a most peculiar accent almost like a poor wandering players Antivan. “You are all right yes. No injury?”

I was of barely any sound mind to take stock of my injuries but aside from a slow dull ache across my body everything seemed to be in one piece. “You took hard fall back there. Good thing I come when I do. Wolves here very dangerous, don’t back down when starving.”

“I, . . .thank you for saving me but where is my guide. He was right beside me.”

The man paused, a cruel smile tickling his lips. But no, my mottled mind and the queer light must have been playing tricks on me, he answered with a heartfelt sigh, “I am sorry, he did not survive. The wolves dragged him off. Nothing was left.”

He turned back to his task urging the horses to a gallop as we rode higher up to the castle, his hunched shoulders telling me the conversation was over.

I fear that sleep is already trying to claim me so I must bid goodnight my beloved. I hope tomorrow will finally bring some answers and no one else will pay for anymore of my mistakes.

Your Love,
Ser Halen

***

Dear Sweet Adomina,

My night was such an adventure I did not find myself stumbling into a bed until the earliest rose of dawn was cresting across the mountains. Yet I find myself needing to tell you of all that transpired before I can test out the bed.

The jarring halt of the black carriage arriving at the castle woke me out of my dreamless slumber. Jumping down the driver unhooked the horses and vanished into the night. My body was still tender from the wolf attack so I gently lowered myself out of the crumbling carriage and approached the looming doors.

I must have passed out for most of the approach of the castle, which surely appears as any other ancient castle dotting the Free Marches landscape. But up close, peering over my nose with my neck craned it looked as though the castles turrets threatened to pierce the very heavens themselves.

The doors had such ancient carvings they could be barely discerned through the caked patina. Across the pair of doors the largest design, the familiar curling script outlining what seemed to be a pair of wings attached to a young woman. But there was none of the typical Elvish beauty one finds in these old relics, it reeked of pain and suffering and anger.

If I were more of a religious man I’d fear I was about to step through the gates unto the Black City itself. The pressing night air and the howl of the wolves reminded me that time was pressing. I knocked upon the “gates of hell.”

The door swung open freely the hinges surprisingly recently oiled. Unsheathing my poor battered sword I walked into the gloom of the castle chasing the cure and leaving almost all hope behind.

“Hello?”

Muddied candlelight barely broke into the creeping shadows of the foyer. Deep shadows greeted me to the left and the right but in front another ogre door barred which judging by the dust had not been broken for decades.

“You were lucky to survive the forest.”

I spun to find a man, no an Elf, hovering behind me, the candlelight dancing across his face giving him a rotating demonic and bemused countenance. He only came up to my chin and was so thin his moth eaten robes drooped off his shoulders as if they were trying to consume him. Yet still there was a power in the limbs, a knowledge that he could dispatch me with only a flick of his wrist that nonplused me.

“I am Ser Halen, a knight of Arl Eamon of Redcliffe.”

He smirked at me delighting in the brave Ser Knight dressed in his Tunic with a mangled sword, needing to be saved by his servant, “You are in my castle, Ser Knight. I am Lord Diabul.”

I never was very good at holding back my emotions as you and those Diamondback players I lost my heirloom axe to. I am certain I radiated my shock at meeting my first Elven Lord. I did not know Elves were allowed to hold land much less rule over it.

Savoring in my distress Lord Diabul chuckled, his deep voice echoing through the hall “I regret to inform you that it is Sister Stephanys Day and all my servants have left me. We should have a change of clothes in a guest room but your blade shall have to remain in its current state.”

Judging by the dust caked in the corners it must have been Sister Stephanys Day for a few years. The Lord showed me to a guest room cleared of age that haunted the rest of the castle with a sweet night breeze sifting through the shutters leaving me to change into a doublet my great grandfather felt at home in.

I found a basin of cool water to clear myself off on but no mirrors. A large bruise bloomed on my ribs and I could feel a goose egg on the back of my head but no major injuries. It’s a wonder I escaped so easily and my guide paid with his life, perhaps the Maker smiles upon my quest more than I first believed.

Picking my way slowly down the hall, I found every door closed and latched tight save one leading to a warm and domineering study. Lord Diabul thumbed through a book, his back turned to me.

“This is quite a collection of books. I haven’t seen so many in my life.” My feeble small talk died in my throat as he turned his eerie yellow Elven eyes upon me, just a hint of a smile on the edge of his mouth.

“I have always held a fascination with the written word be it Tevinter, Orlesian, Rivanin or your Ferelden. There is an ageless power to a book a captured tale and history pinned down to be examined and shared, something every Elf secretly lusts for.”

“Is that how you know the King’s Tongue? From these books.”

The Lord motioned to an ornate chair for me and sat himself upon something much simpler but with an elegant frame, “The King’s Tongue? Here it is called Ferelease or to the plebs the Dogstongue. Peasants always work to embarrass the rest of Thedas so they may forget their own place. But no, I did not learn to speak your language from these books. I visited your homeland in the time of Dane.”

“Dane? The Slayer of Werewolves? The Dane of Legend? But that was centuries ago.”

“Then clearly it must have been another Dane,” He caressed his book cover ignoring the questions hanging over my head, “Oh but I forget myself. Please, I brought food and drink for you after your perilous journey to my gates. I have already supped myself but please partake of whatever you wish.”

For all the servants being gone the table was covered in quite a spread, mostly of roasted game and a carafe of crimson wine. Lord Diabul returned to his book chuckling to himself over a paragraph here or there as I dove into the feast before me.

“Now that you have satiated yourself perhaps we can discuss why you have braved the formidable forest to visit my castle.”

The warm glow the spirits and meat placed upon my heart evaporated, “I am on a mission most grave.”

“Most grave you say, it must be to lead you this far from your home and hounds.”

“My Lord, Sir, he is ill. Of what we do not know, he cried out for water but his thirst was never slaked.”

He returned his attention back to his closed book. His burning eyes caressing over the hard green cover he asked like a physic, “I assume magic was tried.”

“Tried and failed, Sir. As a final effort the Arlessa sent some of the good knights in search of a cure. Many stayed behind in Ferelden to try to find the Ashes of Andraste,” Diabul snorted, “But I’d heard tales from Free March merchants of a man with the power to raise people from the dead.”

He turned to look at me, his eyes bright with amusement, “And so you came to find me.”

My cheeks burned as the stupidity of the situation crashed upon my brain, “It was suggested that a man in this castle had such a power but,” I gulped the room seemed almost unbearably hot, “but that it would come at great cost.”

The Lord stood in a swift motion pacing over to the window, his book resting upon his chair. I could make out the crest of a Mabari locked in battle with a Werewolf and some form of writing. “Sadly, I can no longer travel to your beloved Ferelden. There was an incident many years back that you would neither care nor understand but I found myself banished from your lands. However,” he turned upon me a moment of heart breaking sadness in those cat eyes, “if you’d like I can give you the skills to save your precious Arl.”

“I am no mage. . .” I began suspecting the malediction of magic to be involved in something shrouded in such secrecy.

He waved a hand at me, “That does not matter. It shall take a few days and then you can return to your Arl and do what you can to save him. Dawn is nearly upon us, surely after such a night you could use a long rest. I trust you can find your own way back to your room, there is much I must prepare.”

I bid a goodnight to the Lord planning to sleep but the perturbation of the day weighed heavily on my mind so I took to writing it all down for you, Sweetheart. I am filled with hope that I shall be back in your loving arms with an answer for my Lord.

Forever and Always,
Ser Halen

***
I woke to the dying light to find a tray piled high with a generous meal of which I could only stomach a bit of the bread and some butter. A slight buzzing in my head muddled up my thoughts, urging me to sleep for a few more hours til the last of the natural light was gone but my duty pushed me forward.

Surely my host was already awake and waiting for me. I dressed in such a hurry with my attention drifting back to dreams last night of home and you and something I couldn’t materialize nibbling at my brain I must have snagged my arm upon an errant pin. Not to worry, sweet Mina, it was a small scratch on my arm, barely any blood loss at all.

Once I was dressed and presentable I left my room and again finding only the study open to me. Alas I found no sign of my host, only a few open books each with a sickly sweet yet slightly metallic smell wafting off the pages.

Not sure what to make of it all, I flipped through a few of the books but finding the writing to be nothing but gibberish I set back to my room and began my letter to you. The moon has risen against Lady Sun and I dare say my letter to you has whetted my focus. As long as I have you in my heart I shall never need the service of a healer.

I hear a soft thud outside my door. I think I shall see if my host is around and ready to get to work. Goodnight my love.

***
This section of the letter is written in a jarring script, the careful hand has given way to lost letters and lines that impact each other. Missing words have been filled in by the translator.

I . . . I can’t focus, my throat burns and my head screams as though a wasps nest replaced my brain. But I must tell you warn you about what I saw, heard . . . what I did. Oh Maker, help me! What have I done?!

I found the fiend, Lord Diabul, sitting upon his chair buried nose deep in a new book. His cheeks looked a bit ruddier and there was an aura of excitement around him. I assumed it related to whatever we were to undertake that night to help save the Arl. Ha, I suppose I was right but so very wrong.

“I trust you slept well.” It was not a question. “There is more food here if your appetite is still raving.”

Seeing another round of roasted pig and goose turned me green, “No, I fear my stomach is not my own today. I may have come down with something.”

“I see,” he half smiled, pleased to see me turn down the food. “Now, we come to the marrow of your journey. You wish to save your Arl and I can give you the tools to accomplish that, but I need you to do a few things for me. First,” He walked towards me in such a manner I fought back an instinct to raise my arms in defense, “you remove that feckless charm around your neck.”

“What feckless . . . you mean the Dalish necklace? But I’d have thought, well with you being Elven and all.”

He snarled, his face transforming into that of an angry wolf, “Those gods have no place here.” I took off the charm the old woman had gave me, weighing it in my hand, before passing it to Diabul who tossed it straight into the fire.

“Now,” his face brightened as the moon goddess melted into a red river of tin, “I need only one more thing from you, your life serum.”

“My life serum? I . . . blood? You want my blood,” The cat eyes grew brighter, as I thought I realized the monster I promised myself to, “You’re a blood mage!”

I though him to recoil, to deny me vehemently, or even to conjure a fireball, but I never expected him to step back a bit and smile broadly a chuckle scraping its way out of that ancient throat. His laugh grew until a tear fell from his eye, he wiped it away staring at it as an illiterate man does a scroll.

“I shall have no part in your spells Blood Mage!”

Before I could turn he was upon me, his hands steel talons wrapped around my shirt slowly lifting me off the ground; his face a horrifying mixture of hatred, joy and lust, “Oh Boy, there are worse monsters than Blood Mages in the world. And you, you sold your soul to the worst of them all.”

His face transformed once again into a wolf about to make the kill, I struggled against him my toes scraping the ground but it was too late. He must have used a spell on me as I slipped into blackness. All I could remember was an intense pain then the oblivion.

I awoke hours later my body draped across the bed, my arm wound jagged and still oozing. Pain wracked my whole frame as though I’d been dragged from a horse. Gritting my teeth and fighting off nausea I crawled to the door to find it barred tight and a small note shoved beneath the entryway with only one sentence scrawled in an ancient hand “Avoid the sunlight.”

Fear of what that monster could do to me if I fall asleep again grips my mind and freezes my heart but even writing this letter has drained me. I can no longer fight off the spirit of dreams.

Mina, the fog is claiming me but by Andraste’s blood I swear to you I will use my last ounce of strength to put a stop to the Lord’s plans.

***
How many days have passed since last I wrote to you? Time has become immaterial as my life forms into a horrifying routine.

Each day I wake to a buzzing in my head that subsides with the burn of the sun and an impenetrable thirst. There is nothing to quench it, do I suffer from the same illness as the Arl? I . . . I can’t remember when I was last given food. Why am I not hungry?!

At night the fiend returns. He no longer wears the mask of an aging Elven Lord, he is a demon an abomination that each night steals a piece of my soul and leaves behind a growing infection. My love, no I mustn’t think of you. Not like that. I have to forget you in case I . . . I get ahead of myself.

Every night it is the same, Diabul appears a goblet in hand and casts some spell over me so I fall into a waking sleep. I know that I’m awake experiencing the unmitigated horrors his damnable spells are playing upon me but upon waking the next day I remember nothing except the buzzing in my head, the burning in my throat and the pain in my arm, but no even now the wound doesn’t hurt. My whole body has gone numb from the daily pain.

Only once did the script take a different turn. I fought through the haze of his spell after he’d finished his machinations and left me in a pile on the floor, through clenched teeth I breathed, “What monster are you?”

He smiled, his ruby lips turning up as his pushed his face into mine. I gasped in horror and ache as I realized what coated the edges of his mouth, “I am that which your people created, that which you humans called into being when you destroyed my homeland. I am vengeance in its most terrifying form. Only blood can satisfy me and nothing your maker created can resist me.”

He drew back, smoothing down his silver hair and rearranging his cloak, his eyes never leaving me as I struggled to move, “And you, my dear boy, will soon know what Vengeance thirsts for all too well.”

Mina, you must listen to me; please, I am no longer the man you fell in love with. That you gave your hand to. Something is happening to me; I feel it growing each day, a hunger for things . . . for something best left unsaid.

I used the last of my strength to compose this letter, the Halen you knew will be dead come morning. What will replace me, my body is a demon, a demon you must destroy at any cost. Warn the Arl, oh Maker, I have failed and doomed us all!

All of my letters shall be sealed tightly in my last potions bottle and tossed out my only window into the river running beneath. I pray to Andraste and the Maker that they keep them safe and somehow deliver them to your waiting hand.

Beautiful Mina know that I died grateful for having the chance to love you and praying somehow you can right this demon I’ve unleashed upon Ferleden.

For the Last,
Ser Halen

The letters stop here – though there is a mysterious crimson thumbprint on the back of the last page.

1 comment:

petitechablis said...

Great story! I can't wait for the next installment of Dragon Age, what I've heard about it sounds really cool.