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 –

Purple Easter Egg

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Tree of Endings


It was as bad as anything I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot of bad. In some ways, it was worse. I mean … they were just people. Hanging in the dark. Picked apart. Left to the vultures and the worms. They weren’t warriors. Their deaths had no meaning. Their executions had no value … other than to warn any travelers away.

But that wasn’t the worst we would see.

– Gretchen Milafried Holzapfel, Sargent –

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She Stands Between


She looked no different dead than she did alive. Always a beautiful woman. And tall. She had a grace about her and a kindness. The serenity of one who lives with love.

I guess it wasn’t all that odd she didn’t remember that she had died. After all, she looked as whole as you or me. You could touch her, and she could touch you. She laughed, she cried, she seemed to breathe. There was nothing of the grave about her — except when she turned insubstantial and walked through walls or vanished and reappeared.

Nothing of that registered with her. And she had that smile … so oblivious and unsettling. Like a grin on a leper’s face, doped to the pain.

I think she’d been trapped in a dream. The world had become such horror that she utterly denied reality, not even realizing that was what she did. In the end, she even denied death. She saw her world as she wished to see it, and in doing so she was forsaken.

Living in the past, she surrendered her future. She lost whatever it is that lies beyond and all the mysteries that might be answered and all the wonders she might behold.

I think she will always stand between, neither here nor there, seeing what she would, rewriting her history, trapped till time comes to an end.

I don’t know what to feel about her. Pity? Yes. But when I think of her, I feel sorrow more than anything. Of all the cruelties she may have suffered, she was cruelest to herself.

And my love for her makes it hurt that much more.

– Götling Hans Velsing, Apprentice of Ulm –

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No Longer Dead

Snow mountains 2

They marched from beyond the world’s edge, from across the glacial plains where the White Wastes stretch without end.

Dread Army in Snow 2

To the northern borders of the farthest kingdom, the invaders came fast and silent, as if they’d been a part of the gathering mist. We’d almost no word of their advance before they surrounded the hallowed walls of Hammerhall.

march to war

Knowing not the identity of our enemy but only that a spread of legions upon our borders boded no good, our armies charged to greet them.

Undead Army

We were not prepared for the horror that we would find.

Medieval Zombie 2

From forgotten armies of ages past, the Piper raised his abominations.

Zombie Knight 6

Some more dreadful than others.

Undead knight 3

The worst were those of our warriors who fell before the fury of the opposition–and rose to join the ranks of the living dead. None of us took well to facing the resurrected remains of our brothers-in-arms, brothers who should have found their way to Valhalla, carried in honor upon their shields and lamented by their kin.

Zombie Knight

Champions appeared on the field. Whereas the common rank and file of the Dread Lord’s legions possessed no mind or will of their own, we spied the officers of the undead controlling their lines. The undead did not speak, they did not cry out, and they had no concern for their lives or flesh.


Our Field Marshal rode out for parley when our enemy raised the flag of truce.

Horse in Snow

He never returned.


And our enemy mocked us.

Tree General

My master, the Tree General, led a valiant assault at the heart of the opposition.

Ent Eye

His walking forest wrought more destruction than could be done by a score of trebuchet.

Battle Ends

But we were overwhelmed.

Bloody Snow 2

In the battle, the Empire’s most revered wizard was vanquished. There wasn’t enough left of him to bury.

Mounted Knights 2

I assembled the last of the Tree General’s Hedge Men. We charged for redemption, a final bid to avenge our beloved master.

Fire Explosion

We rode right into it.

Harbin's Charge

There was no turning back.

Man on fire

To a man, we burned. The Hedge Men died in that conflagration.


Even I died. Though I yet draw breath.


In shame, I continue, living without honor. My blade has no purpose. I atone by looking after my master’s widow. Every tear her Romani pride keeps from falling, I cry for her. But I am only half a man. I am not the warrior I was. Hammerhall is taken. The north is conquered. The living dead have claimed their territory.

Evil Tree

The signs are certain. As Tsura has foretold in her witching ways, the Awakened march again. Soon, they shall be at our gates.


And they shall bring him to us.

Burning village 2

Living or dead … he comes for all of us.

Blood River

As sure as winter brings the cold, the Piper comes.

– Sargent Harbin Herzog, Last of the Tree General’s Hedge Men –

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His Wicked Brood

Demon child 7

I knew most of them. I knew their names. I knew their families. I’d heard them chatter and laugh and sing. I’d seen them chase one another and dally away the hours. I’d seen them dance and tussle and squeal and hug and cry and live their uncomplicated lives, exuding the purity of innocence that only the very young can express. It doesn’t last long for any of us: that innocence. But they lost it far too soon.

Demon child 10

Some had been my friends. Others had been acquaintances. Still others had often called upon my little brother to play games or hike or go fishing or to make some minor mischief. Months before the children changed, they no longer bothered coming around. As of a year before, Mathÿs never went outside without me or my mother or father. For no reason he would explain, he had grown withdrawn. And my home was a place of sadness.

Demon child 8

Some I’d seen around the village or working the fields or when they came to celebrate at harvest. I knew them at market and at worship and walking the country roads. They came from all around. They had the simple faces of peasant stock — honest, hardworking, and unspoiled.

Normal Children

They were just kids. Ordinary kids. Like any other. There was no clue to any weakness. There was no sign of evil. All that made them unique was how trusting they were, and how naive. But they could have been the beloved sons and cherished daughters of any parent.

wicked children 4

I still see them in my dreams. Leaping out of the dark. Black eyes swirling. Mouths open. Their teeth … spiked rows of fangs.

Wicked child 2

I don’t know what happened to them. I don’t think I’ll ever really know or understand. I doubt anyone can.

But what they became … and what they did … I can never forget. I can never really forgive.

I remind myself that they weren’t what they were. They weren’t even who they were.

So, I pray for them.

May the gods grant the wicked brood the mercy that their master never did.

I believe that the children of Schönfelden were the first victims of the invasion. At least, I think they were the first to be damned.

– Clarisse, Daughter of the Gypsy Queen, Chovihanis-in-training

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Cometh The Shadow Queen

Shadow Queen

She doesn’t come in darkness. She IS the darkness

Shadow Queen 2

Sensual as a slice of cold steel drawn across the throat.


Her every wish is murder.

Picture of a woman in shadow

Mother to mayhem, she is yet alone,


Breathing terror into those who but think her name.


Trapped in her hidden world, she plots, waging her secret campaign to re-claim all that has been taken from her.


In nightmares, she bides her time.


But her patience is not equal to the millenia of her imprisonment.


Her hour draws nigh. Beware, my child. The Shadow Queen cometh.

– Tsura di Iacopo Ritagliatore compassionevole, Witch

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