Short Story

Maidenfall

As published  on Wattpad, December 24, 2017.

Who’s the girl, then?  Come now…It must be someone here in Eskivik sent you trekking all the way up that mountain to Maidenfall. The lovely Vigdis, maybe?  Or dark-haired Ragnhild?  You’ve fancied her ever since I can remember. Ah, the peddler’s daughter, is it? Esja’s her name, right?  Aye, a pretty one, that.  I can see how she stole your heart.  By the look of you, I’m guessing you feel your tribute to Itaia was successful then? You’ll find out soon enough, I’m sure—she usually comes ‘round to the tavern this time of day with her wares.

Tell me, Aegir, did your ma or fa ever tell you why the people of Eskivik have always gone to the mountain when love seemed out of reach?  Or how those peaks came to be known as Maidenfall in the first place?  I’ll tell you what—while you wait for your lady love to pop ‘round, I’ll fill you in on the story and you finish that flagon of mead.  What do you say?

The story, as told to me by my own fa, goes like so.  The shrine to Itaia is a relatively new addition, just a few centuries old.  Before that, the place was sacred to none save those wildling spirits of stone and tree that still call it home. But there came a day when all that changed as Graethas, God of Lust, looked down upon the world of mortals bored out of his wits and seeking distraction.  Always possessed of a wandering eye, his current lover, the mortal Alfhild of Hravnklif, had lost her appeal for him and, though he could hear her sobbing pleas for attention as they echoed through the planes, he had little desire to return to her.  Alfhild was too familiar—he wanted something new, something different.  It was only by chance that a gleaming stone of giant’s size caught his gaze as it perched high atop the mountains. Polished by rain and sculpted by wind, it was so reminiscent of a woman’s form that the wanton god found himself smirking as he thought of what he could do with such a voluptuous partner, were she not made entirely of lifeless rock.

Now, many a man, myself included, might smile and chuckle at the suggestive shape of the rock before moving on to find a willing friend of flesh and blood…but not Graethas.  Instead of moving on to a living lover, an idea took root within his mind.  Using the magical tools with which the goddess Lilne sculpted the gnomes and goblins, Graethas set to work perfecting the stone’s form, tailoring every curve and line to his liking.

But the stone maiden did not live.

Stealthy as a serpent, Graethas crept into the marble-columned halls of his grandmother Dionea, who bestows the breath of life on mortals, and stole from her mouth a single breath as she slept.  Next, he pilfered a spark from the brazier of his grandfather Nenzir, who gifts to mortals an active mind.  These he then placed within the heart and head of the stone maiden.

Yet still she did not live.

For a long time, Graethas sulked. Why, he was a god, after all!  What he wills should come to be, should it not?  How dare this lump of stone refuse to come to life as he commanded it? Angry and sullen, he wandered the gods’ home of Elethine and many other worlds, lamenting his failure and hurt pride while ignoring all else.  Like a spoiled child, he continued this way until the day he stumbled across his cousin Sitri as she brought into being a new flower.  At first, he regarded her with bitterness and no small amount of jealousy as she wove the seed into being but, as he watched, he noticed something peculiar and his rancor turned to joy. As she held the sleeping seed in the palm of her hand, Sitri blew upon it, thereby gifting it some of her own divine essence.  The seed immediately leapt to life and sprouted. As Sitri gently placed it on the ground, its new roots dug eagerly into the soil.

This was the key Graethas had overlooked.  You see, my boy, he had always been a selfish god.  He never cared to know the ins and outs of creation so therefore he had no idea that, at birth, the gods give to all living things a trinity of gifts.  He had given the stone maiden the first two, breath and consciousness, but it was the most precious one of all that he had missed, the one without which you and I would be naught more than a lump of dead flesh: the divine spark, that which awakens and propels life forward.

Returning to the maiden, he stood before her and kissed her passionately, willing some of his own essence into her form. Within moments, he felt her stir. Her body rose to his kiss and her flesh warmed to his touch.  When their lips parted, the stone maiden smiled and looked demurely away.

From the moment she awoke, Graethas was enamored of her beauty and named her Kanai, meaning “comely one” in the ancient tongue.  And a sight to see she was indeed! Her honey-brown skin sparkled in the sunlight; her hair fell about her shoulders in ebony waves.  Beautiful and kind, gracious and graceful, the testament of Kanai’s divine origins was proclaimed through her every movement.  And for a time, it seemed as though Kanai had calmed Graethas’ roving spirit as he whiled away countless hours in the giantess’ arms, losing himself within the sparkling depths of her dark eyes. He had found his new plaything, pleased that she was there as he desired her to be and his boredom was at last appeased by her willing flesh.

Kanai, for her part, truly loved Graethas and her love grew with each encounter. She adored him wholly and, in her innocence, believed the sweet words he whispered as they lay entwined. As he had often told her was the case, she lived for him and each time he took his leave, she sat forlorn and lonely until his return.

Now that’s not to say that he neglected her.  Quite the contrary, actually!  He showered her with gifts, with mead and meat and exotic fruits.  But Lust, my friend, hides a fickle heart and it was only a matter of time before Graethas once again grew bored and unhappy with Kanai.  Unlike his other lovers, mortals the lot of them, Kanai required tending to, which was not something he had anticipated. Kanai may have looked like a grown woman but was really a new born creation.  Like a young child, she looked to Graethas to be her teacher. Sheltered on the mountain top, she knew nothing of the world around her, aware only of her home and her love. Graethas, on the other hand, had no desire to teach her about the rest of Creation or her place in it—all of which he considered to be subjects of too little consequence for a god—and shrugged off any questions she posed with a kiss.

This tactic served to distract her for a time but, as children are wont to do, Kanai eventually started to challenge him in this regard, turning her head when he tried to kiss her.  She begged him to show her the world and tell her of the things in it. When she showed no sign of giving up her desire for knowledge, Graethas decided that it was time to move on.  None of his other lovers had made such demands of him. He had wanted a lover, not a student or a child. And so he once more cast his eye about in search of something new, spending less and less time with Kanai until he finally stopped visiting her all together. Having found entertainment in the bed of another, Graethas forgot the stone maiden to whom he had once promised eternity.

Alone, Kanai wept.  And as she wept, the divine essence Graethas had bestowed upon her began to slip away.  Why? Because, boy, a creator must tend to his creation like a parent. Like Sitri cares for nature, Graethas should have cared for Kanai, teaching and guiding her so she could one day provide for herself.  He should have nurtured the divine spark within her, which would have allowed her to become a new living being in her own right.  But because Graethas did not nurture it, the divine spark he gave her never truly became her own. So, it slipped away with her grief, carried to the foot the mountain by her teardrops, which pooled and formed the lake we call Líf’kelda, the “life well.”

Revenge?  No, that thought never crossed her mind.  Too kind and sweet, she was. Too like a lost child. Instead, heartbroken and weakened, Kanai welcomed the end she knew was drawing near.  Months and years passed as she lay down upon the mountain while the last of her essence trickled away.  It was in the early spring that the world around her began to fade away forever as her breath and consciousness fell back to sleep and she returned to stone. The crisp scent of wet earth and pine clung to the air.  Just before the final breath seeped from her lungs, Kanai became aware of a sound near her feet.

It was a shepherd from our very village, his footsteps crunching on the melting snow as he called to Itaia, lamenting the unrequited love he felt for a young maiden.  His sheep nibbled on fresh green shoots, looking curiously at their master as he spoke aloud his prayer to the goddess.  On hearing this, Kanai’s broken heart gave one final beat and with her last breath, she called to him, bestowing upon him a blessing so that he could obtain the love that she never would.  And the shepherd?  Attributing the blessing to the goddess he’d begged for favor, he returned to the village and married his love.

Not long after, Itaia herself sent a priest to Eskivik who told of the sacrifice made by Kanai and called for a shrine to be built at her feet.  People have been going there to ask Itaia’s assistance in love ever since.  The mountains themselves soon became known as the Place of the Maiden’s Fall, or Maidenfall as we say now.

Why did Itaia send the priest?  Well, it is said that that final outpouring of essence on behalf of the shepherd made Itaia take pity on the maiden and claim the site as sacred to herself.  But perhaps she knew of her son’s actions all along and wanted to atone for his mistreatment of poor Kanai.  Or perhaps her heart, moved by the many lovelorn pleas uttered there, urged her to take heed…

But I suppose only the gods know why they do what they do. All that matters is, for centuries, many a man and woman have uttered a prayer to the holy Lady at that spot, just as you done, and it worked out all right for them.  Besides, don’t look now but you’re about to find out just how well it works first hand. Esja’s just walked in the door, smiling wider than the Askfjord and heading straight for you.

Worldbuilding

What’s in a Name – World Building Basics Part I

A rose with raindrops
“A rose by any other name…”

“What’s in a name?” When Shakespeare penned that infamous question so many centuries ago, he was speaking of the idea that the essence of an object or person remains the same regardless of what it’s called. Indeed, the rose of which Juliet spoke during her not-so-secret thoughts on the nature of Romeo has many names — a different one in each human language, for starters. So what does this mean for us as writers or in terms of world building in general?

World of Verdin

Setting the Stage in Raven’s Deep

A lot of authors use their own names as the title of their author’s website.  George R.R. Martin has www.georgerrmartin.com. Stephen King has www.stephenking.com, and so on and so forth.  So it’s only natural that you may find yourself wondering why in the world I’ve called this site “Raven’s Deep?”  Well, it all has to do with setting.

Blogging

A Fantasy Writer’s First Step into the Blogosphere…

Writing a first blog post. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?  At least, that’s what I thought when I first decided to do it.

When I sat down to write this, I was excited, eager, and ready to connect to the “interwebs” through my very first blog post.  I was confident that the words would be flowing the moment I opened my laptop…but that didn’t happen.  Instead, I found myself staring at an empty page that screamed “You have no idea what you’re doing!”

Short Story

A Fairy Tale: Black Aghy

Originally published in The Magikal Rite, October 2017.
Revised on November 11, 2017.

Take heed, children, and be mindful of your ma and fa lest you be lost like so many before you. Scoff if you will, you little skelpie-limmer, but there’s strange and terrifying creatures afoot in this wide world of our’n. In fact, it wasn’t so long ago that such a terrible thing happened at the edge of our own Umgol Forest, deep and dense. ‘Twas three young brothers—Joreth the eldest, Jochen the youngest, and Jofrey in the middle between the two—that lived along the tree line in a small cottage with their mother and father.

Their father, whose name was Firman, was a woodsman and a hunter, tall and strong like an oak tree. Their mother, Cwen, was a clever and pretty lass. She often sold eggs from their hens and butter from their cows at the market right here in our small town of Umgol’fen. True, true, they were poor, to be sure, but they were happy. Together, Firman and Cwen earned just enough to provide the family with what they needed. There were always plenty of candles to sew by and wood enough to keep them warm on cold winter nights and that was enough for them.

Now, these brave folk made their home on the edge of the forest, which was just as dark and dangerous a place as it is now, being home to all sorts of terrifying creatures as many forests are—creatures like the Bucabogie that stalks the underbrush and lays in wait listening for the sound of little feet alone on the path that might make a good slave. And then, o’ course, there is Owd Goggie who, as everyone knows, likes to steal naughty children and then pinches them black and blue and pricks them with needles until they die. Wisps, too, are known to haunt the woods. Aye, they appear friendly at first, but they’ve led many a traveler to their deaths. The most frightening of all the forest fiends, however, to this day remains Black Aghy, for she loves the taste of young and tender flesh.

Sometimes at night when the wind howled through the trees and rattled the latches on the shutters, Firman would eagerly spin fanciful stories to entertain his family, reveling in the telling.  Often the stories were lighthearted and humorous but sometimes they took a darker, more threatening turn. Joreth, Jochen, and Jofrey would squeal in gleeful horror when their fa regaled them with tales of lost youngsters forced to spend their lives enslaved to a nightmare or of the peculiar leather girdles that were favored by Black Aghy. When Firman had finished his tale, the boys would be bundled off to bed where they would giggle nervously and remind each other that it was just a story. After all, monsters didn’t really dwell in the cool darkness of the forest just beyond their shuttered window…did they?

While Firman may have taken such stories with a grain of salt, their ma felt quite differently. Cwen believed in the tales her husband told for she had lost a sister to the forest’s darkness. Fear of losing one of her precious sons to these terrible beings worried her something terrible and she often warned them to stay close and not to go playing in the woods. Yet despite her warnings, each day once chores were done they’d play their favorite game, Knights and Ogres, until the sun sank below the horizon. The rules of the game, invented by the eldest brother, required them to venture a short distance past the forest’s edge to test their knightliness. They would take turns sneaking beyond the tree line when they thought Cwen wasn’t looking. She would catch them, of course, ending the game and they would grumpily trudge back to the cottage.

One day as evening fell and Firman had not yet returned home from the hunt, the three boys were busy at play and being particularly rambunctious, as children can be. They darted in and out of the tree line, much to Cwen’s chagrin.

“Stay out of those woods or Black Aghy will get you!” she scolded them.

But no matter how many times she yelled, nor how horrible a punishment she threatened, they would begin the game anew once Cwen went back to her housework. Joreth, of course, led his two younger siblings in this revolt. After all, Black Aghy was just a story their father told them on windy nights.

This went on for some time until it happened one day that a young boy appeared in the forest, watching them closely with dark twinkling eyes as they went about their chores. He called himself Wyne, which means simply “friend” in the old tongue. So remote and removed from the activity of the town they were that Joreth, Jochen, and Joffrey rarely saw another child unless they went visiting or accompanied their ma into town, so they were delighted to have a new friend with which to play and for the next few days, everything went on as it always had.

On the sixth day, however, everything changed. As he had been wont to do since he first appeared, Wyne teased the young lads for doing as their mother bade them.

“I never do chores!” he said. “That’s for lesser folk than the likes of me. I thought you were knights but every morning I find you wading through pig’s mud, milking cows, and taking orders from your ma!”

“We are knights!” Joreth protested.

“Prove it, then,” said Wyne with a sly, toothy smile.

And with that, they were off. The three boys ran into the woods, following their strange friend, intoxicated by this new idea of freedom and ignoring nagging thoughts of what trouble might await them when they finally went home, chores undone. For a long time, they played, not realizing just how deep they had gone into the forest nor how late it had become. It was starting to get dark now that the dying sunlight was too weak to penetrate the canopy. Yet still deeper they followed Wyne as he weaved and bobbed through the trees, seemingly dead set on proving that the three “knights” were not clever enough to catch him.

Deeper and deeper into the forest they went as they followed the retreating sound of Wyne’s laughter while the sun set ever lower. Darker and darker the forest became until the three boys finally realized that they had lost their way. The comforting candlelight shining from the window of their parents’ cottage could not be seen and they could no longer hear their mother calling to them. To make matters worse, there was no trail for them to follow either as Wyne had led them far from any path a traveler might take. Not knowing what else to do, Joreth, Jofrey, and Jochen began to walk, hoping against hope that they might stumble across a trail or, better yet, a traveler that might be able to help them find their way.

After what seemed like hours, Jofrey saw a light up ahead. “It’s a house, I think! Perhaps they’ll give us a place to sleep tonight. Tomorrow, we can find the trail home,” he said excitedly.

“What if it’s a wisp?” whispered Jochen, afraid to speak too loudly lest his voice catch the attention of something unpleasant. The darkness here felt heavier than it had before.

“Nonsense!” hissed Joreth. He, too, felt a bit uneasy but hunger and exhaustion made it easy to push those feelings aside. “It’s nothing more than firelight from a hearth…and I’m starving! Maybe they’ll have something to eat.”

The sense of uncanniness increased as they made their way towards the soft glowing light. As they got closer, they were able to make out the outline of a small cabin of hewn logs. Out of the darkness, the faint sound of a boy’s laugh broke the silence.

“Wyne!” called Joreth but no response came from the blackness of the forest.

Drawing nearer to the house, they passed frames like those their father often built to tan the hides of the animals he caught. Most were empty but one was stretched with the skin of some strange, pale creature. The low porch creaked as the brothers stepped on to its planks. Candles burned in all of the windows, their shutters open and hanging at odd angles. Gathering up all of his courage, Joreth knocked on the ancient door but no living soul stirred within. When a second attempt roused no response, he pushed on the door, which swung soundlessly open. He tentatively stepped inside as his brothers huddled at his back.

“Hello? Is anyone home?” Joreth called out, but no one replied—just silence.

Taking in the strange surroundings, the brothers began to look around the cabin for signs of its owner or at least something to eat. They found nothing. Though candles were lit, it appeared as though no one had lived in the one room shack for a long time and there was little in the way of furnishings. A rusted set of leatherworker’s tools lay on a roughhewn table beside a rickety old chair. Spider webs and thick dust blanketed everything and the smell of rotten wood clung to stale air. The loft above was dark and the hearth was cold, its embers having shed their final warmth centuries ago. As they looked over the empty room, a new more terrifying feeling settled over the three but though they were frightened, they knew there was no hope of finding their way home in the dark, and so they decided to stay the night despite their fears.

“Whoever lit the candles will come back,” Joreth reassured his younger siblings. “When they do, we will just tell them what has happened. Surely, they will let us stay until morning. In the meantime, we should rest.”

“What do you think happened to Wyne?” Jochen asked quietly as he and Jofrey looked to Joreth for an answer. Joreth could only shrug and look at the floor—he couldn’t bring himself to tell them of the suspicions that had begun to grow in his heart or of his sorrow at having brought about what might likely be the death of them all. Why had he not listened to his mother? As the eldest, it had been his responsibility to protect them.

Resolutely, he led his brothers up the creaky old stairs into the shadowy loft where they found an ancient straw mattress and ragged woolen blanket. The same thick dust covered these too, creating a choking cloud as the brothers lifted the blanket from its resting place and huddled beneath it. Hungry and frightened, they tried to calm each other’s fears. They would feel better when the sun rose, they told themselves. All of their worries would seem silly in the warm light of dawn, they reasoned and, after a while, slumber soon overtook them.

BANG! The sound of a slamming door startled all three boys awake. Too terrified to move, they listened as heavy footsteps shambled slowly across the floor below. Every so often, the newcomer would stop and sniff the air. Then, speaking in a low, dry rasp, a voice said, “Who is in my house?” Silence followed briefly.

Gradually, the footsteps shuffled towards the steps to the loft. The sound of sniffing was followed by the first step groaning loudly under the weight of the creature. “I am Black Aghy. I can smell you, children, and I am so very hungry.”

The second step creaked…then the third…then the fourth. The boys cowered under the blanket, trembling and afraid to breathe. The final step creaked and within moments, a great shadow loomed above them. They could smell the fetid breath of the creature. The boys watched in terror as the shadow of a clawed hand reached for the blanket.

CRASH! The cabin door below swung open violently.

“Joreth! Jochen! Jofrey! Are you here?” It was their father!

Quick as lightning, Joreth threw the moldy coverlet towards the vile creature. He used all of his might to launch his younger brothers off the mattress and towards the stairs before quickly scrambling down after them, not caring if the monster was standing there ready to snatch them up and gobble them down.

Running straight to their fa, they buried their faces in his cloak, sobbing. As they clung to him, they began to explain everything that had happened but his gaze remained locked on the loft, his ears trained on the low moan that came from the inky shadows there. Horror stricken, they too turned to look up at the loft. The low moan soon became a piercing scream of anger. The windows shook in their panes as Black Aghy vented her fury at this unexpected interruption. And then, it was quiet.

Firman pulled himself free of his young sons. Drawing his skinning knife, he made his way to the foot of the steps. Shaking off the slivers of ice that had slipped into his veins, he climbed to the loft.  On reaching the top, he found nothing—just silence.

The first rays of dawn began to seep through the trees. The light in the cabin began to die as one by one the candles in the windows began to flicker out. Terrified, Firman swiftly descended the steps to his children. With a strange edge to his voice, he scolded them half-heartedly for their disobedience as he shoved them out the door. Had they not been warned, after all? Crying, the boys swore that they would never disobey like that again and Joreth made a silent vow to himself that he would always protect his siblings.

Aye, listen well, little ones, and mind your ma and fa…lest you be lost to the likes of Black Aghy.

Short Story

The Naera

As published on Creepypasta.org on July 25, 2016

‘Tis a fine house, lad, to be sure, and well built. And ’tis sure I am that you and young Maglyn will be more than happy here till the end of your days. But I’ve said it afore and I’ll say it again—I wish I knew what possessed you to build so close to the cairn of Draugs Teigh and so far from me and your ma.

Now, calm yourself, lad! Calm yourself! I meant no harm! But you are my son and I am your father. You can’t blame your old da for worrying now, can ye? You know as well as I the stories about those old stones and the darkness that lives there. And with that evil place being home to no less a nightmare than the Naera himself, well…

What’s that you say? You, twenty years of age last winter, and I never told you the tale of the Naera? Well, I suppose there’s no surprise there. Sure, ’tis a dark tale of twisted magic and betrayal—and one I am loath to tell. Wise folk make a point of avoiding it for fear of attracting his attention. ‘Tis said even the saying of his name will bring the fiend who stalks that hill to knocking.

You want to hear it, do ye? Well, I suppose ’tis best to be forewarned or so ’tis said. Go on, then, and bring your da some fresh ale afore I get to the telling. There’s a good lad.

Now, let’s see… ‘Twas some time back when Faeral committed the deed that cursed that place—almost three hundred year ago now, or so the story goes. Took the lives of many of the townsfolk, he did. Aye, Faeral was a wicked man to be sure—a summoner of the dead. No one knew from whence he came, really. Come here from some land far away where such things are more commonplace, I suppose. The folk here in the valley never took too well to his dark ways. Feared him, they did. All over the countryside, they avoided him as if he were the grim specter of Dathruk himself. ‘Course there were no denying that he resembled one of the death god’s harbingers with his thin, hawkish face and boney limbs.

Indeed, it weren’t far from here that he practiced his terrible arts—built a great tower of stone deep in the forest not more than three leagues from this very spot. Oh, a monstrous place it was, with great stone faces glowering down at passers-by from a parapet that ringed the uppermost floor, their eyes aglow with unhallowed light that froze your blood right in your veins. ‘Tis said they were watchers of some sort, guardians who alerted their master of any foolish enough to get too close. That tower has long since crumbled to ruin, no longer held together by the arcane forces that built it, but folks say they can still hear the ghosts of Faeral’s victims a-crying and a-wailing through the hills.

Now, the first one to come upon that eyesore were the miller. Out looking for one of his mules run off from the mill, he was. ‘Course chasing green fairies was probably more like it, if you take my meaning. He was known to be a bit too fond of the drink. Still there he was, tramping through the brush, brambles tearing his britches and ripping at his legs as he stumbled into the clearing. Run straight into the tower, he did!

‘Twas then that a strange cry above him caught his ear, a sound unlike any bird he’d ever heard. Glancing upward, his eyes caught a line of foreign symbols etched into the stone before his gaze settled on one of those ghastly faces. Sure as I live and breathe, there it was scowling down at him, its eyes shimmering with malice. Afore the full realization of what he was seeing could set in, the thing let loose another cry like a cat being murdered. Scared the living daylight out of the miller! What could he do but shite himself and run?

Straight to the tavern he went, legs aquiver and naught but gibberish pouring from his pallid gob. Took a full four pints afore they could calm him down enough to understand what he were saying…and even then not a soul believed him. They laughed at his crazy story, figured he’d had a bit too much of that barley brew he was so fond of… But they didn’t scoff for long. The necromancer would soon make his way to the village.

In the beginning, Faeral kept to himself mostly. A homely, disagreeable man he was and rarely seen—which was all right by the townsfolk. Once in a great while, he came to town and spent a bit of coin at one of the merchants but the rest of the time, he remained locked away in his tower. What he did up there was anybody’s guess, though everyone had a good idea. You see, shortly after his arrival, folks started noticing great gaping holes in the cemetery—graves with nothing left in them but a broken pine box!

One evening as the sun slipped into its bed, the temple priest set out to perform his nightly duty to Dathruk—the pouring of libations on his shrine and asking the Lord of the Grave to look after the souls in his care. As he walked down the path to the shrine at the cemetery’s center, he noticed something strange in the distance. From where he stood, it looked as though someone had piled a heap of broken wood and earth near one of the graves. As he got closer, though, he could see that was not the case at all. The grave was fully opened, the dirt thrown roundabout as though the perpetrator were in a great hurry! The wood he’d seen were really the broken planks of the coffin laying littered about the place.

The body, buried only days before, was nowhere to be found. Puzzled, the priest stared in disbelief, not knowing what to think. He’d performed the service that laid the poor bugger to rest himself! As he stood there scratching his head, he noticed another pile several graves over, and then another further on still. Shaken, he began slowly to turn about, looking around in all directions and seeing more and more of the telltale mounds—a full score, at least!

Well, everyone knew who were responsible, didn’t they? Faeral the Necromancer! How he’d managed to steal so many bodies in but one night no one could figure. And ‘course that weren’t the most exasperating part of the whole ordeal. The people were outraged that he’d desecrated the remains of their kin but none had the courage to stop him. Not a one wanted to end up on his butcher’s block, that’s for certain. So they let him be, grudgingly allowing him to carry on whatever gruesome endeavors he got up to. At least he were only taking the dead, they reasoned, and not the living. If only they’d known what horror was to come, they’d have burnt him up in his tower as soon as the first sign of grave robbing occurred. But as things were, he hadn’t harmed a living soul and so they left him to himself.

Things went on this way for some time until the day that Faeral met young Maeve. Hair the color of summer wheat, eyes like emeralds, and skin the color of fresh milk. Oh, a beautiful lass, she was, but wild! Nary a drop of modesty nor honor in her at all!

Maeve came from good, solid stock, she did. Her parents were honest, hardworking folk. Her da was the town blacksmith and her ma…her ma was a master weaver. I tell ye, lad, you never saw such things as came from that woman’s loom! Her skill, a gift straight from the goddess of the arts herself, was widely celebrated. Many a prince and noble house commissioned her services to weave wonders for their estates. Aye, and they paid her well for it, too. Magical things, she made—the characters in her tapestries were so real they moved of their own accord, playing out their scenes over and over to the delight of all who laid eyes on them. She tried to pass her knowledge on to Maeve but the girl had no interest in the art of weaving. Her interest lay solely in the art of seduction. ‘Tis true she spent her days doing chores for her ma as any dutiful daughter does but her nights… oh, her nights were another matter altogether.

To the shame of her parents, Maeve prowled the tavern at night, taking a new lover as often as a man takes a breath. Discretion was never her concern. Husband or bachelor, it mattered not to Maeve. She flitted from man to man as a hummingbird darts from flower to flower, taking a sip of each but landing on none, if you take my meaning. She left many a suitor in shambles, promising eternal love to one even as she slipped into the bed of another.

Her folks tried to reel her in, to tame the wild streak in her, but she’d have none of it. And when she caught sight of Faeral in the shops, saw how the townspeople recoiled from him… well, there was no stopping her. They tried to convince her, to warn her of what often comes of those who share the bed of evil but she wouldn’t listen. They reminded her how ugly he was, how much like a gargoyle he looked, but nothing mattered to Maeve. True, a handsome man Faeral was not—he was too thin of body and his face was pinched—but Maeve didn’t want him for his looks. ‘Twas his sinister reputation that enticed her.

Maeve cared not a whit that everyone despised the foul necromancer or that he’d defiled the graves of her friends and ancestors. She reveled in the scandal it caused and her beauty wove a spell of lust over the lanky mage. Oh, he resisted at first, turned his nose up and snorted derisively at her brazen attempts to seduce him but she soon wore him down. No matter how warped his nature was, Faeral was a man still! With each passing meeting, Maeve’s charm snaked its way into his blackened heart and sank its fangs in deep. Aye, caught in her web, he was—enthralled and in love.

What’s that? Did he not know of her reputation? I suppose he did—gossip traveled just as fast and as far in those days as it does now and she made no bones about what she got up to in the wee hours. Maybe it were his own arrogance made him believe she’d not cross him as she had the others, but who can guess? A body in love can convince themselves of any number of fictions and Faeral was a man obsessed. What I do know is that as his love for her grew stronger, his desire for her grew in a most twisted way.

He lavished her with expensive gifts, some clearly from the corpses he stole and others from lands unknown. She accepted all with squeal of glee, smothering him with kisses and other favors. But no matter what promises she made him, no matter what gifts he brought, her dalliances continued. Day by day, he became more covetous, more jealous of her not-so-secret trysts until one night he caught her in the arms of yet another man.

‘Twas the night of a dark moon. The sun had set with a bloody hue. The townsfolk, taking it as an ill omen, had locked themselves in their homes and barred their shutters. Only two people took no heed. Maeve and her newest plaything, a traveling peddler, lay tucked away in a tavern room, delighting in each other’s caresses. Outside in the darkness stood an indignant Faeral, his eyes locked on an open second-story window from which slithered the soft sounds of lovemaking. As he listened, every oath of fidelity she’d taken, every time she’d sworn that she’d never again take another lover but him came flooding to the fore of his mind. Each moan of betrayal from above drove a nail through his withered heart.

His very soul aching, he whispered a few strange words and the tavern doors swung open before him without making a sound. Silently, he slipped inside and made his way to the room where his inconstant love and her latest conquest lay spent and covered in sweat. With a wave of his hand, the door splintered and burst afore an enraged Faeral stepped across the threshold.

The room was lit by a single lamp—its small flame guttering in the breeze from the open window. Without a word, Faeral crossed the floor and gutted Maeve’s stunned lover like a trout before he was even free of the coverlet. Turning on Maeve, Faeral demanded that she be loyal to himself alone from that night forward on pain of death. Yet, as he stood there recounting to her the many oaths she’d sworn to him, the steam of the peddler’s newly liberated entrails rising at his feet, what do you think the stupid girl did? Why, she laughed at him! And a cold, callous sound it was. The gods never made a woman of colder stuff than Maeve! Why, said she as she clutched the bed sheets to her chest, would he think that she could love a wretch such as him? Did he think he was the first she’d made such promises to? He was naught more than a passing fancy, a frivolity that brought her pretty baubles. As she mocked him, his anger built with each scathing word. Finally, her venom spent, she glared at him haughty as a queen, contempt written on her face.

Faeral stared at Maeve in agonized silence, an inferno of pain and treachery raging in his belly. “You and I shall be one, Maeve, one way or another,” he vowed, a malicious grin spreading across his face as he took his leave amidst her ringing laughter.

For several weeks after, no one saw nor heard from Faeral. He did not come to visit the merchants; he did not come to see Maeve. A few of the braver sort tried to organize a search for him in his tower, intent on hanging him for the murder of the peddler, but fear of the necromancer’s power quelled their fervor. The townsfolk hoped he had died of a broken heart or had gone back in disgrace to the place of his birth. Most were just relieved that he was gone. For her part, Maeve thought that it would be only a matter of time afore he returned as all the others had, bearing gifts and begging her forgiveness. By the gods, how wrong she was. How wrong they all were.

You see, ’tis not a love of death that consumes a necromancer but a love of life! He lusts for mastery over death to prolong his own existence! ‘Twas this search for immortality that kept Faeral going and he had come very close to this aim through his grisly work. For years, he had worked toward his goal of unending life and god-like powers… but a gift demands a gift. To obtain the boons he sought, Faeral willingly had to give of the one thing he held most dear. All his life, the only thing that held that place in his heart was his necromantic endeavors but that had changed when he met Maeve. Until that fateful night in the tavern, the love burning in his breast had kept him from sacrificing her to his thirst for eternal life but now…now that she had rejected him, and in so humiliating a manner, what reason had he to stay his hand? He would complete his great work, he reasoned, and keep Maeve with him forever through this final act.

‘Twas in short order that the townsfolk found their hopes of Faeral’s departure dashed. Rumors of missing travelers began trickling in from around the countryside. Tales were whispered through trembling lips of a demonic figure ambushing groups of grown men in the dark and dragging them screaming into the shadows. Hunters would return from the wild shaken and pale, terrified by horrific cries heard echoing through the wood in every direction. Folks walking home from the tavern at night vanished. Everyone knew it to be the handiwork of Faeral but not one of them was brave enough to hunt him down.

Finally, it happened one morning that young Maeve did not return home. As I said, ’twas no secret that she often shared a late night with whatever man had caught her fancy. But when the sun had reached its mid-point in the sky and there had been no sign of Maeve still, her mother began to worry. From home to home, from tavern to shop she went, searching in vain for her daughter.

Immediately, the townsfolk’s thoughts ran to the necromancer Faeral and the tale Maeve had told of their last encounter. The final straw had broken. Fear gave way to fury. Grabbing whatever they could to arm themselves, the men of the village marched to the tower, intent on bringing the girl home if indeed she was captive there. Long and hard, they searched but found nothing. By all appearances, it seemed as though Faeral’s tower had been abandoned for some time so they fanned out, searching the surrounding hills.

And that, my boy, is where they found them; there, where the cairn now stands. Through dark magic, the power-mad wizard had set up a circle of stones. In the center stood a great stone altar, black and slick with the blood of his many victims. The stench of decaying flesh rose from piles of half-eaten corpses—some still recognizable as the missing men from the village. Upon the altar, Faeral crouched over the lifeless body of Maeve, her throat torn. The gathered men were stunned at his transformation. His skin was taut and pale, his eyes sunken into his skull—so much so that his face resembled a death’s head! In his hands hung bloody strips of flesh, wrenched from Maeve’s body with his own clawed fingers. Turning to the sickened crowd, he grimaced and then, as if in defiance, he gobbled it down in a frenzy before tearing even more meat from her corpse.

It took several moments for the shock of this horrific scene to wear off the menfolk, but wear off it did. Clubs and plowshares held high, they rushed at the lunatic. The fear they had felt for so long came spilling forth in a wave of primal fury. Like men possessed, they attacked him. Oh, he fought back all right, and with an unnatural strength at that, but I don’t think any force in the Heavens or the Hells could’ve saved him from the wrath of those men. It weren’t long afore he was overcome.

When their rage finally abated, they looked down on the vanquished body of Faeral, bashed and broken on that vile altar. Figuring him not deserving of proper burial rites, they interred him with the very stones of his accursed circle. Pulled them down, they did. They got ropes and horses and leveled the place right on top of him!

He’s up there still… but the old villain doesn’t rest in peace, oh no! How could the townsfolk have known that that their actions served to consummate a pact made between the necromancer and the dark god Faruk? By killing him, they brought about the beginning of a terrible curse. Faruk the Corrupt, son of the death god Dathruk and the goddess Isenea, he who sowed the first seeds of corruption into the world, gave Faeral forbidden knowledge, promising him eternal life in return for his devotion and sacrifice. The murder of Maeve, Faeral’s only-ever love, sealed this pact and remanded her broken soul to unending slavery in Faruk’s realm. As for the necromancer, the foul god kept his promise and gave him eternal life through undeath. But Faeral did not rise as the lich he had hoped to become. Instead, he was transformed into a ravening ghoul—the Naera, or Night Caller, as they’ve come to name him—driven by an insatiable appetite for living flesh. To this very day, when hunger or some other force calls him forth from his tomb, he pulls himself free of the rocks and roams the countryside peeking through windows and knocking on doors trying to flush out a bit of fresh meat.

Now, my boy, pay special heed to what I’m about to tell ye. I’ve spoken his name enough times in the telling of this story so as to wake the creature ten times over. That in mind, you listen to your ol’ da and you listen well. If you wake from sleep to the sound of rapping at the door, let it be. He always comes a-calling in the darkest hours of night. The wind may blow, the snow may fall, and still he’ll come a-banging on the doors and a-tapping on the shutters. But don’t you make a sound—not a peep! And he hears but a pin drop, you and all your house will be lost! Family and friends who call on ye next morning will find naught but gnawed bone and blood. He leaves no flesh behind, the hellish glutton. ‘Course, that’s not all…

Oh, he’s a sly one, that old ghoul, and he’s got a bag of tricks as can help him gratify his bedeviling hunger. He can mimic the very voices of the gods themselves, or so they say. Many a man has lost his life and loved ones to Faeral’s trickery, thinking ’twas his own children crying for help outside in the darkness. No matter what you hear, even if ’tis my own voice calling ye out from your bed pleading with ye to save me life, you just lay yourself back down and cover your ears.

Are you feeling all right, lad? It’s that you’re looking a bit pale is all. Oh, now don’t you go fretting about old Faeral. You just remember what I’ve said and you’ll be fine. As for me, I’d best be getting on. Your ma will be looking for me and I’ll not keep her waiting much longer. Besides, night will be falling shortly and I don’t like the look of that fog settling up on the cairn.