Edmund found a rosy cheeked marionette on his bed the night before his ninth birthday. It was marvelously well crafted; a gift fit for a prince, and a surprise, from his father, he thought, as he clutched it under his arm and fell asleep with a smile on his face. But his sleep was uneasy, and he dreamed of the marionette hissing and spitting in his father’s face. His father turned to him to tell him everything would be ok, but it wasn’t. His father’s face was melting and collapsing in on itself. The words wouldn’t come…
When Edmund awoke the marionette was gone. He began to cry, sure that the doll was in his father’s chamber acting out his dream. Edmund blamed himself, thinking that his dream had brought about his father’s ruin. And so it was that when Duke Alysius came to his son without a face and told him to climb into a chest, Edmund did so, tears blurring his sight—he deserved worse, he thought, for what he’d done.
Alysius Adrian Loomet, son of the fair Duchess of Loomia, was indeed a magnanimous lord, though there was hardly a soul who lived within his realm in the last months of his reign who didn’t curse his name or spit at the passing of his aides. He had wantonly filled his dungeons with the lowest of his subjects, sold helpless hundreds to the Fek Lahr for dark gems, held servants of the wicked Iuz in his private counsel, and staged the kidnapping of his only son to conceal his very real, and hideous, act of murder. But, after the great keep at Tonsbridge was sacked and its surrounding hamlets burnt to ashes, everyone knew Iuz to be the true enemy of the people and the Duke a mere puppet. How such a noble soul was corrupted is a tale worth spinning, and one which our heroes saw unravel before their very eyes.
In the year following the Duke’s death, a darkness gathered heavy upon the land and kept darkening. The foul priests of Iuz were everywhere mongering death and lusting for blood. Word spread of a skull-paved road leading from Dorakaa, capitol of Iuz’s desolate fiefdom. Refugees from the far reaches of the vale and the outskirts of the Vesve Forest sought sanctuary behind the curtained walls of the stronghold at the base of the Clatspurs. There were champions there, hardy, battle-scarred liberators, keepers of the fort. They had wrested the hold from the enemy, an act which gave the people hope. There was still some courage and good left in the world. All was not lost.
Bands of orc marauders made a handful of attempts to reclaim the hold but were driven back at every turn. There was a moment of calm in the north as war broke out in Furyondy and The Shield Lands, drawing Iuz’s troops south and east. The refugees of the hold breathed sighs of relief—they could sleep now without starting awake at every snapping twig—they could begin to count and mourn their losses.
But the calm was short lived. A body was found in the southern bailey, mostly eaten, then another, stiff and dismembered, a day later and in another quarter. No one claimed to have heard so much as a cry or call for help.
Paranoia has gripped the residents of the hold and whispers everywhere are of Iuz and his spies…