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Garden Of Bones

by Alec Worley

The man behind you slowly draws a dagger. With a single motion you sweep your sword from its sheath and strike the weapon from his hand with a ringing clang. The dagger spins high into the air. You kick the man hard in the chest and he topples onto his backside. A second later the dagger lands point-first in the ground between his legs.

He yelps in surprise and his brow glistens in the moonlight as you aim the point of your sword at his throat. "I'm sorry," he babbles. "B-b-but..."

You lower your sword and laugh. If it was gold he sought he only had to ask. You toss him a gold piece. In astonishment he studies its seal - that of Baron Sukumvit of Fang! "But these," he exclaims. "These are granted only to one who has survived the Trial..."

You laugh again and sheath your sword. The great riches that you recently acquired in Chiang Mai have indeed come in useful. Gold has bought you everything you ever wanted, except excitement.

Bored with your comfortable dwellings in Chiang Mai you travelled to the City of Thieves, Port Blacksand, in search of adventure. Of the many tales you heard in the Black Lobster tavern, one in particular caught your interest...

The next day you bought a leaky old boat and sailed down the ruddy waters of the Red River towards the Moonstone Hills. You stopped to buy supplies from the gruff Dwarfs of Stonebridge, along with a sharp new sword. Sailing on you passed the twisted trees of Darkwood Forest and the blood-red peak of Firetop Mountain, before coming to moor at the humble village of Barn.

The villagers were friendly enough, once they were satisfied you had not arrived on some wicked errand from nearby Darkwood. You quickly found a local man who could help you find what you were looking for. His eyes flashed at the mention of gold. But his look quickly turned to one of horror when you told him exactly what you were searching for. It took several more coins and several more mugs of ale before he agreed to act as your guide. As night fell the two of you crossed the ferry north and followed a seldom used path by lantern-light, with bleak and lonely hills stretching away on either side, shrouded in moonlit mist.

You stand now outside a neglected graveyard. The bright moon illuminates a pair of jagged iron gates and a low, crumbling stone wall. The church here apparently burnt down long ago. The broken headstones that remain have since become so overgrown with weeds and wildflowers that the place has long been known among the locals as, "The Garden of Bones".

The tale you heard in Port Blacksand concerned events that took place over half a century ago, when an ambitious warlock named Morbius Kane struck a bargain with a Demon Prince in exchange for a weapon that would make Kane as mighty on the field of battle as he was in the field of magic. Kane was a man of inhuman vanity and collected the skulls of his enemies so as to keep a total of the number of lives he had taken. The Demon knew this and promised Kane a weapon truly worthy of a harvester of lives such as he.

The Demon gave Morbius Kane a great scythe, its long blade carved with runes that glowed like hellfire. The weapon increased its master's ability in combat to such a degree that now not even the mightiest of Kane's warriors could best him. Thus Morbius Kane grew demented with a lust for conquest, seeking more and more skulls to add to his monstrous collection. He even swore upon his scythe that he would not rest until he had claimed one hundred thousand Allansian lives.

He gathered an army of undead beings - Zombies, Skeleton Warriors, Ghouls, Wights and Crypt Stalkers - and with them ravaged the outlying lands. After months of bloodshed, Kane was eventually defeated by the Dwarfs of Stonebridge. In a ferocious battle their hearty leader, Gillibran, smote Kane dead with a blow from his magical hammer. Gillibran brought the Scythe of Kane back to Stonebridge for examination. But the weapon was stolen in the night by Kane himself, who had returned from death to reclaim it, bound by his own dreadful oath to take a hundred thousand mortal lives.

In the following weeks the villagers of nearby Barn saw ghostly figures wandering the streets at night. Men were found dead, women and children disappeared and word finally reached the wizard Yaztromo in his great tower on the southern edge of Darkwood Forest. The old wizard arrived in Barn and invoked a spell that took three days and three nights to cast. He thus captured the undead Morbius Kane, along with every one of the warlock's followers. Needing a suitable prison in which to house these monsters, Yaztromo bound them within the nearby Garden of Bones, placing a spell around the graveyard that prevented anything inside from ever escaping.

Yet legend has it that whenever the full moon shines upon the Garden of Bones its gates creak open once more. Though the undead remain trapped inside, it is possible for the living to enter their shadow realm. Many an adventurer has entered the Garden in search of the fabled Scythe of Morbius Kane. None have returned - at least none alive.

The full moon now shines bright upon the Garden of Bones. A strange fog seems to billow from among the graves. You hear a metallic clink, followed by a slow, painful, grinding creak as the gates open to greet you. Your guide scrambles to his feet, gibbering in terror, and dashes back towards the village.

It is said that once a living person enters the Garden of Bones they may never again find their way out. The writhing mist inside has a way of confounding one's sense of direction. But during your visit to Stonebridge you took the precaution of purchasing an enchanted lantern, which will light your way back to the land of the living.

The cold mist now curling round your ankles casts a pale glow. What a tale you will have to tell when you return to Stonebridge holding the legendary Scythe of Kane. A sudden shiver ripples down your spine. Then again, it will not do to underestimate the task ahead of you. Gripping the hilt of your sword for reassurance you walk boldly into the Garden of Bones. The gates swing shut behind you like the iron jaws of death.
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