``So, you`re finally here.`` Seran spoke in his regular arrogant tone ``Welcome to the `Lucky Horseshoe`! he laughed and some spittle flew across the square wooden table and unto my tunic ``And you`re still wearing your dark leather uniform… Ha ha ha hah, you`ll never change will you, Glai?`` he then shouted. Noise was all around us but not enough for him to have to shout. He seemed drunk… Very, very drunk ``Look towards the bar for a second, will you? The man with the waxed moustache and the gigantic gut is the chef, he makes an awesome dish of pork, fit for a king! That mesmerizing maiden to his right is his daughter and our current innkeeper. Go ask her for a room, I don`t want your luggage cluttering our table! It`s not… dignified.``
Seran was indeed drunk but that did not improve or diminish his personality. Vulgar, barbaric, rash, reckless, he was all these things. It was this charismatic demeanor of his along with his insatiable bloodlust that got him the position of leader of the Rusty Whore, the most ill-reputed mercenary squad any military had the pleasure of hearing of. My mercenary squad. Conscripts, bounty hunters, pirates, we were all of this and Seran was the worst and vilest of us all. But wars came and wars passed and the skirmishes that now occurred were rare and far away from each other. The Whore quickly came apart, ripped into shreds by greed and what skeptics would call un-natural deaths. We were once nine. One by one we all fell prey to the shadows and from the nine we quickly became the two. I had vanished for years, while Seran disposed of anyone sent after him. Rumors of his cannibalism were more often these days and they all stated that he ate alive those that dared hunt him down. Those rumors were so innocent…
The `Lucky Horseshoe` was one of those places that had its own history. Once, it had been a small farmer`s house placed at the center of a crossroads, its crops not too far away from here. As trade amplified, a merchant bought the house and expanded it into his manor. He expanded the crops, adding orchards, a vineyard and even livestock. The merchant`s sons and daughters soon transformed the large grand floor into a tavern, the basement into a meat and wine cellar, and the above two floors into lodging for weary travelers or artists looking for a secluded place. Times passed and the inn`s popularity grew. In a matter of decades, the entire landscape became populated by small houses which grew in inhabitants and size each year. The inn gave birth to an entire town in a matter of a few centuries. The story of the `Lucky Horseshoe`, however, is too old… to be remembered. As I make my way back to him, Seran is surrounded by color, by noise, by smells.
``I still don`t understand how you managed to track me down, Warglaive. Don`t get me wrong, we`ve known each other for years but I never thought of you as the seeker type.`` he shouted and then sank his teeth into what looked as a roasted boar`s hind leg. I took my seat on the chair across from his own and said nothing ``When the innkeeper in the last town told me a letter was left for me, I thought another dumb assassin was trying his luck… Still, I could barely recognize your hand writing, Glai. It was all wavy and circley. Well, I came all the way here so can you tell me what this is all about?`` his spittle, mixed with drops of blood from his meal, was hitting my face now and the only way to stop that was by stopping him from talking.
``Do you like stories, Seran? Because in the years I`ve vanished from the face of Eberron I`ve lived a quite interesting story. I wished to meet with you here today because I wish to share that story…``
~ ~ ~
Soon after the Rusty Whore disbanded I went on my merry way. The name of Warglaive had enough bloody reputation to stop any amateurish treasure hunters to come after me. After all, the squad would have been nothing without me and you. I travelled from village to village, from town to town and I soon discovered that I had no place to call my own.
In a small village, very far from where we are now, I heard two local children talk about a century old house on top of a hill that was haunted by the spirit of its last inhabitant. As cliché as that sounds, places like this do exist. Not one soul in the village dared go 60 yards near that house and when asked why they all told ghost stories and other rural superstitious tales. The house was visible from any point in the village and it seemed to mysteriously leer over the fears of everybody. However, it also seemed to beckon me to it.
In the middle of the night, I left the village and darted straight for the house. Of course I would find no haunting spirit there. Of course there wouldn`t be any curse. And of course, finders keepers! I would have a whole house all to myself. The hill was quite far off from the village and the more I neared it, the more I came to see that the house was in fact a very large and sumptuous and old mansion. My satisfaction had never been this great. I had found my pot of gold.
I had spent what was left of the first night there sleeping with one eye open. Every nook and cranny cracked and moaned like many old houses do but of course there was no ghost to spook me out. The mansion a total of 20 rooms, most of which were individual sleeping quarters. It seemed to have been the house of a very large family. The library was also very impressive, hosting a large number of old and arcane tomes. I soon came to the conclusion that the former owners were not magic users but collectors of an odd sort. I spent my days in that library and each of my nights sleeping in a different room. It was all perfect… until my ninth night…
I had just prepared to sleep in one of the rooms on the above floor when a strange sound seemed to echo throughout the entire house. At first I ignored it thinking it was some sort of dying animal outside but only a few moments later a similar and amplified sound echoed again and the entire house seemed to go along with it.
For a second I actually considered there was a spirit. I got on my feet and slowly went downstairs. The odd thing was that the entire house seemed to slowly shiver. I got downstairs and I saw that the main doors were opened wide. The wind was howling from outside and it was cloudy night. No moon. No stars. Perhaps rain would soon come as well. How silly of me to believe that the howling wind could be mistook for a wailing spirit. As I shut the doors, I could see small rain spots on the ground. It was time to see how this house acted during bad weather. I used the old locks as best as I could to make sure the wind won`t open the doors again and as I was turning away from the entrance with the thought of going back to bed, lightning struck and instantly thunder shook the house`s old walls. And in that exact heartbeat or, better said, half of heartbeat… I came face to face with the ghost…
~ ~ ~
``Who are you and what are you doing in my home?`` her voice boomed into my ears. Whenever her mouth opened the entire house seemed to speak along with her ``I know you`re there, don`t pretend that you`re not! I can feel you`re there.`` she then said and I couldn`t understand why she said that. Her voice was old and the dark silhouette that stood in front of me was skeletal thin. But the night was so oddly dark that I could not in fact see that the woman in front of me had empty eye sockets.
``Y-your home? What are you talking about? Nobody has lived here for years!`` I replied ``How is this your home?``
``This… This is my home! I`ve… lived… here! I`ve built this home so very long ago and you… you are not welcome here!`` the old woman said and her voice echoed ``Leave… leave you! I can see you have a good soul so if you leave now, I… I won`t harm you. So leave! Leave and let me be… and tell no one what you saw and heard here…`` she went on and her voice kept trembling, kept losing strength as if she…
``Are you alright, granny? Are you crying?`` I asked. As odd as the situation was, I wasn`t about to leave and there was something about this woman that was supernatural. Was I really talking to a ghost?
``What is it to you if I am? Who are you to care?``
``You say you built this house? This mansion is at least a century old? How old does that make you granny? And for how long have you been here, all alone?`` I asked the woman, genuinely interested in every answer ``I mean you no harm, I promise. I came here because I thought this house was empty. I didn`t take anything and I didn`t break anything. I was just looking for a place to live. Nobody knows you`re alive anymore and if I knew the truth, I wouldn`t have come here.``
``Well… Now, you know… So get out! Leave!``
``But… But it`s raining outside. I have no money, I have nowhere to go! No family, no friends. Everybody I ever knew is probably dead by now, killed in the Last War. I have nobody.``
``You… You`re saying the truth! You`re alone… Alone… I know what it is to feel alone. You may spend the night here. And… And tomorrow, we`ll see what the dawn brings. Forgive me for my outburst, I have lost the track of time, caged in this house all alone. I`ve forgotten all about hospitality and how it is to have guests. You are welcome for the night and no harm shall come to you.``
``I sincerely thank you for your hospitality. I will humbly accept it and hope to be able to somehow repay you tomorrow.``
``Repay me? You can start by telling me your name, stranger.``
``My name is Warglaive, but those that knew me called me Glai. May I ask what is my host`s name?``
``My, that`s an unusual name… My name… It`s been so long since anyone has said it that I`ve forgotten it. The only name I can still remember is… is… that of my daughter`` she said and began to cry.
~ ~ ~
``So, let me get this straight. The old lady, that by the way is so old she can`t even remember her own name, confronts you and you talk her into letting you stay the night there? What kind of a Whore are you, Glai? I`d have split that biddy in two the moment I`d have laid eyes on her and ate her tender parts medium rare, just like this succulent boar here.``
``Well, Seran, you do tend to slay and devour and ask questions later. Or at least that`s what I hear you`ve been doing.``
``You don`t know the half of it!`` he smiled with two rows of teeth, natural and metallic, all bloody.
``Anyway, as scaaary as the whole little ghost tale was… I`m bored and I feel awfully tired, must be all the booze and swine, he he he! So make the story short. I`ll retreat to my quarters and sleep soon. Heck, if not for the great food, I`d even be tempted to kill you for dragging me all the way out here. Please make the rest of your story somewhat shorter, will you?``
``My apologies, young Master Seran. I did not know my story was boring. You want the short story? Fine, here it is. I saw for myself the very next morning that the old lady was blind. I convinced her through honesty and diplomacy alone to let me stay. I offered to repay her by repairing the older and ore crooked parts of the house but all she really needed was somebody to talk to. Days passed. They turned into weeks, that turned into months which became years. I spent all this time at that old woman`s house, sleeping in a room, reading books in the library and chatting with her. A few months ago she finally passed away and I left the house and came looking for you. The end.``
``Why what, Seran?``
``Why did you leave? Why did you come looking for me after all this time? Why didn`t you kill her?``
``Well, now you see. To answer that, I need to retell the story.``
``Oh, for the love of-``
``You could say that I did in fact kill her. You could say she was really a ghost. You see, she couldn`t remember her name and her age, she could only remember a few things about her past and the only clear thing she did remember was her daughter`s name and how she died. There were some nights in which she would sigh, or sob and weep. There were nights in which she would cry her daughter`s name in her sleep. She would always apologize the second morning… One day, I found her daughter`s room. It was a normal room with a normal door, I just never felt like going inside. But that day I thought I heard something in that room. Inside, I found nobody. Some very beautiful clothes, a wooden staff and some magic books. And her Journal. And I read it. And that`s how I learned who, or better said what, the old woman really was and how the house was built…``
``Heeere we go.``
``Don`t worry, Seran, I don`t have much time left so I`ll keep this short. The Journal was written in a beautiful handwriting. That handwriting is the reason I actually read it. I liked it and wanted to make it my own. It was too beautiful to go to waste after all. But I digress… ``
~ ~ ~
Over a century ago, a necromancer had died on that hill by the hands of his very daughter, then by the age of twelve. She killed her father because he ate her mother. However, strangely enough, the moment she delivered the killing blow, her father cursed her to inherit all his powers tenfold. This, to many of a magician was no curse but to her it was, because his powers fed on evil and death.
The girl however learned to use the curse for its better part. She learned to commune with the earth and to use all the death and decay within it instead of creating new death to feed her powers. She could cleanse the earth of all death within it and by doing so, the earth would sprout something similar to large dark bones. She called herself an Ossumancer or a Bonecrafter because she could actually shape the way the dark bones grew from the ground. The idea of making a house for her to live in came soon after and what was at first a modest abode grew over the years into a large manor and then an entire mansion.
Soon after, she fell in love and got married to one of the young men from a village nearby. They had a daughter. As the daughter grew older she lacked nothing. She was never spoiled but instead quite bright and educated. She desired to pursue a career in magic and so her parents began to get her all the books they could find on the subject. They were a very happy family.
~ ~ ~
``I… I don`t feel so well… `` Seran interrupted me all of a sudden with an almost whispered, shaky voice. His face looked white as flour, his lips were black and dry, a small trickles of blood pouring out of his mouth from either side.
``Oh dear…`` I sighed looking straight into his eyes ``It seems that the illusion is starting to wear off…``
~ ~ ~
``Granny, I hope you don`t mind… I found your girl`s Journal and when I opened it I saw what beautiful handwriting she had.``
``My… My daughter`s Journal…``
``So… I read it and she wrote of the powers you had when you were young. I`m sorry to say it doesn`t say your name at least once… but it did say how much she loved-``
``My daughter… My powers... I… I remember. I was the daughter of an evil man and then I did… a bad thing and he punished me.`` she wailed ``Hooo, I am an evil, evil woman. I have… raised death from the earth…``
``You`re not evil, granny! Well, I don`t think you are. And neither did your daughter and neither did your husband I`m sure! They both loved you very much, I just know it!``
``Both… Loved…`` she sighed and panted for air. She could never cry only wail and sob and make weeping sounds. Ever since I got to live there, she covered the lack of her eyes with a white satin blindfold and it was the fact that she no longer had eyes, that stopped her for shedding tears ``Poor, poor Bill.``
``Bill?!?`` I shouted ``Granny, you… you remember!``
``I told him, to lock the doors at night. I told him. Not all strangers have a good heart, Bill. I always told him that. He never had my instinct. I never had my instinct either, it came with all of daddy`s powers. And then that man came in the middle of the day. He pretended to be wounded so Bill would take him in… Poor Bill! The bastard stabbed him, so, so many times. Countless times. He didn`t steal anything, he killed my poor Bill just because he wanted to kill… And then we girls got home. I saw Bill on the floor… He was in a dark red puddle with this monster of a man. Oh, the red look in his eyes… And I, I screamed! Oh, how stupid I was… I could have ran away, I could have called a dead bone from the earth and kill that beast! But I screamed and he looked our way…``
``Oh no…`` I sighed and helped granny sit down on a chair. She was trembling from all her skinny joints.
``He caught us easily. He tied me to a tree outside and he made me watch… He… He…`` she paused and took a deep breath ``When he was done with her, he took a knife and cut a piece of her skin. He looked at me and smiled and said that my baby was… that she looked good enough to eat… And… And so he did. And the monster, the monster made me watch, while he cut every bit and piece of my baby and ate her raw!`` silence… I dared not break it. I didn`t want to hear more. The house echoed each of her words, just like always. The house wouldn`t be silent. The house wouldn`t let me forget what I had just heard ``When he was done with her, he came to me. My hands were covered in blood, the rope had dug bone deep… When he was done with me, he said my eyes had seen enough of his beauty and that he liked them too much to not take them… He charred the blade of his knife and stabbed me in each of my eyes and then ate them… And then… I died.``
``He took the knife and I felt the burning cut on my chest and I felt his monstrous claw grab my heart and rip it out… And I died… But the earth wouldn`t let me die. The house wouldn`t let me die. Daddy wouldn`t let me die. Bit by bit my heart grew back, slowly. The house wouldn`t let me die. But now I remember… and you, you`re here… and I can die now.`` she said and embraced me ``These few years have been a second life and I love you as I did my daughter. I know you have a good heart but I know you have spilled blood. I cannot do this for her but you must. I beg you! After I am gone, take a bit of my skin, take my blood and take my heart. I will tell you where to go and what to do. But please, swear that you will find the monster. Swear that you will find the beast. Swear that I shall at last find justice and peace… Swear that you will find Seran Rynn!``
~ ~ ~
``Illusion...`` Seran could barely speak ``Whaaat illusion?``
``Do you know the story of this place, Seran? Do you know the real story?``
``Yes, I think I`ll tell you one last story before you go, Seran…
~ ~ ~
Once, this was nothing but a small farmer`s house placed at the center of a crossroads, its crops not too far away from here.
As trade amplified, a merchant offered to buy the house for his own but the peasant said no. The merchant was greedy and selfish and so he killed the peasant in his sleep with just a sharp rock. Imagine the merchant`s surprise when in a small wooden dresser he found a very old book. It was a spellbook that held several ancient and forbidden spells that could raise the dead and force them to do anything you wanted them to, including telling you where their riches were buried.
The peasant used it to find fertile plots of land because he wasn`t greedy, he just wanted to grow his crops. The merchant used it to his fullest, raiding graveyard after graveyard. He expanded the house into his manor and he expanded the crops, adding orchards, a vineyard and even livestock.
The merchant`s sons and daughters also found the book and saw its potential. The killed the merchant and then used his corpse to find out where he had buried the rest of his treasures. It was also his sons and daughters that, just like you, developed a fondness for the flesh of their own species. They soon transformed the large grand floor into a tavern, the basement into a meat and wine cellar, and the above two floors into lodging for weary travelers or artists looking for a secluded place. Some of these people would disappear mysteriously never to be heard from again.
Times passed and the inn`s popularity grew. Its owners form a necromantic and cannibalistic cult. In a matter of decades, the entire landscape became populated by small houses which grew in inhabitants and size each year. The inn gave birth to an entire town in a matter of a few centuries and all its inhabitants were cultists.
A couple of years before the Rusty Whore was formed, a group of Silver Flame Paladins learned of this place and burned it all to the ground. When I say all, I also mean all the people that were living here. The smell of burning flesh was so wide spread that all the carnivorous wildlife was lured here. After the fire dosed, they devoured the remains of the cultists. This story of the `Lucky Horseshoe`, however, is too old and much too ghastly to be remembered.
One cultist escaped and took the book with him, learned its secrets and had a daughter… I think you already know that story though…
~ ~ ~
``I… You…`` Seran tried to talk but he couldn`t.
``Save your energies for the few moments of life you have. I didn`t tell you all these stories because I wanted to. I told you all these stories because THEY wanted me to!`` the tavern was entirely silent and everyone present stared at Seran. The playful candlelight was waning and everything was slowly becoming translucent. The illusion would dispell soon ``Don`t you recognize them, Seran? Not even one of them? All these people are the people you`ve killed, murdered, slain, assassinated. Don`t you know what happens in places like this? Places cleansed and purged by Paladins? All their evil dies and only the redeemable souls remain. This is where granny sent me. The letter I sent you was not a parchment but her skin, the ink was her blood and her heart… her heart was powerful enough to power an illusion that started from that moment and is waning just about now!``
``Don`t you remember me, Seran?`` the woman Seran said was the innkeeper spoke from behind me ``Don`t you remember what you did to my daughter? TO MY BABY?`` she wailed and ground seemed to echo. Granny`s ghost retained a younger persona but her power in this forsaken place was just the same ``Well, even so… I do hope you enjoyed your meal. You of all people should have enjoyed eating yourself!`` she screamed.
The inn and its people were gone. Instead of it were burnt ruins. A black and ashen version of the table now separated me from an armless legless stump with Seran`s head. The Illusion had numbed all his senses while the ghosts slowly removed his arms and his legs. Most of his abdomen had also been sliced in a horrifying manner. In their mad revenge, they had served Seran his own body, raw bit by raw bit. He would soon be dead.
``Whyyy?`` he barely whimpered.
``Because I hate you!`` I answered ``Because they hate you! Because you are a murderer! You killed all of them and desecrated them just because you liked it. You are a monster!``
``A-and… you`re… li-ike… me-e… Gla-ai``
``How dare you say that about her?`` the younger ghost of granny said giving it her all not to disappear like everything else ``She is NOTHING like you! I know because I can see her soul, and I can see that you have none! She is like my daughter to me, I love her just as much! Warglaive died with the Last War and the last bits of her will die now, with you. She… She will have my daughter`s name: Amber.`` granny`s ghost said and one of her half-ethereal
As Seran took his last breath I couldn`t help but hate me for the part I took in his demise. He was a monster, but this revenge had made me feel like one myself. As I rose from the chair and looked behind me, I could see my mother disappear, tears flooding her face. Warglaive was the monster, not Amber. And Warglaive was dead.
My life had just begun. A whole chance to prove Seran that he was wrong. Warforged or not, I am more Human than he would have ever been.