What Plays The Piper When Skies Run Red?

Lich 3

(Excerpt from the personal journal of the Stone Wizard, Ottnand Bulstrich, Deceased)

We had no notice of him. Even rumors arrived late. History does not clearly mark his entrance to the Empire prior to his invasion. We do not know from what land or even realm he hails. The Council suspects that several skirmishes on the borders of the Dwergen kingdoms might be attributed to our enemy. Freshly emptied graves at an ancient site, the reports of a trapper gone missing, and the disappearance of several patrols might be the earliest events recorded in our loathsome adversary’s rise to power.

Because even the dead cannot resist his call, the woodsmen local to the borders of the northern wastes dubbed our mysterious foe “the Piper.” The designation stuck.

He tortures his captives for information. He also tortures them just to hear their cries. Few have escaped his clutches. Others have been returned to us, laid upon our doorstep, disfigured and crippled and often only within moments before their passing — just long enough to relay a word of command or a quick threat or even a gibe to demoralize us.

Messages and graffiti have appeared throughout the Empire in strange places and often by inexplicable means reading, “The Piper comes.”

But we believe that he is already here.

His cult grows. Fearful masses have sworn allegiance to his cause. Sabotage and vandalism often occur as acts of devotion and to demonstrate fealty in hope of future favors. But we have no evidence of any direct connection between the cult and the enemy himself.

The Royal Court of His Imperial Majesty refers to our foe as “the Dread Lord.” It is as apt an appellation as any. We simply have no proper name for him nor do we have any reliable information as to his lineage. It is quite possible that he is not even human. If he is a demon, as many have suggested, he would well guard his true name. Therein lies the power for a demon’s control. Some have claimed that he is a banished member of the peerage or that he is a wizard who has fallen to madness.

We just don’t know.

He is a necromancer. That much is certain. Where he acquired his knowledge of the forbidden arts, we can only conjecture.

However, it has been suggested that as the Piper is so powerful, he must be a lich — a necromancer who by virtue of his ability has risen to such eminence that he has utterly vanquished death and so persists in the land of the living even after his body has expired.

What we know most of him is by way of the reputation that he has won from his prolonged military campaign upon our northern front. He is a brilliant and devious tactician. He shows no moral compulsion. He is patient, always willing to wait for his advantage. When he attacks, it is to take a strategic objective. Otherwise, his only actions are intended to test the strength of our forces and to expose the thinking and responses of our military leaders. At all times, his forces are controlled under an enviable degree of discipline. When not engaged, his troops stand as steadfast as the trees of a petrified forest.

We also know his character from the aftermath of his attacks and from the testimony of certain individuals subjected to the depravities of his Undead horde or from the witness of our soldiers to such savagery.

He is singularly cruel and without compassion.

No one has seen him, at least no one living. We have no description for him. His resurrected General is his spokesman on the battlefield — for what little speaking has ever occurred.

He has given us no demands.

We have much overwhich to be concerned. His armies grow. Our fallen feed his ranks. The threat rises. And, of course, the return of the dead and their attack is one of the early signs of Ragnarok as foretold in prophecy. We fear that shortly the gods shall wage the final battle and destroy creation. Yggdrasil shall bear no more fruit, the boughs shall wither and die, and the roots shall rot under a blood red sky. Woden shall go into hiding and whatever is left won’t be fit to live upon.

There is little we can do so far other than probe for the weaknesses of the Piper’s forces. Our war mages, the Tolemists of the Academies, keep careful accounts of the engagements between the Army of the Awakened and our imperial forces. Much of that could not be believed were it not witnessed by so many.

Clerics have disclosed what little they know of dealing with this kind of evil. The annals of the churches have not revealed much as to how or where such sorcery might arise. What is described isn’t more than allusions to contracts with malevolent entities or a reference to a “natural” skill given unavoidable expression. Like any other kind of wizard, necromancers merely demonstrate an innate talent. Theirs is simply a proclivity for the dark arts rather than any of the sanctioned disciplines of magic. And like any other mage, a necromancer shapes magic as much as magic shapes him. The quality of the magic predicates the quality of the transformation. What he does is what he becomes.

I would have laughed it all off as ridiculous had I not been sent north to investigate. I have not discovered much, but what I have discovered has changed my understanding of men, magic, and the universe.

I have beheld a host dark as night that stretched to the horizon.

I have seen dead men walk.

I have seen things told of in legends shamble and rush into battle, and I have seen things never named and indescribable.

I have witnessed evil made manifest.

I have seen the Dark.

And I can assert with confidence: The Piper Comes. He but bides his time for a moment of his choosing for reasons we do not know.

But when he makes his move, it shall be terrible. Whether or not we can survive is a question I’d care not to contemplate or give opinion.

– Ottnand, Master Wizard, Advisor to the Council of Twelve –

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