Battle Skull: Wolfblane’s Tooth 

Wolfgrey had been wandering from town to town along the Kraggen Coast in its characteristically hard weather for weeks before arriving at the small city of Kilgorn. The rain poured that evening as it had every other evening and most days along his journey, soaking through his tattered garments to his greying fur. Seeking warmth and rest, The Wolfren elder came upon Wescott’s Tavern. It seemed like an establishment that might provide some comforts but more importantly it was one within the bounds of his exceedingly meager budget.

Wescott’s was a gathering place for the lowly, reviled and criminally inclined. All manner of rogues, miscreants and ne’er-do-wells could be observed throughout its raucous barroom engaging in varying levels of merriment and illicit activity. Despite his financial limitations there was yet another appealing attribute to this place. Wolfgrey sought daring adventurers who might be willing to quest on his behalf for a price. The old wolf had little of anything of value on his person to make such bargains with. However, he had the promise of “riches beyond imagining” to offer his would be mercenaries should they return successfully from the errand on which he hoped to send them. Surprisingly enough, he had found no takers in all his weeks of wandering the coastal towns. Despite an increasingly grim outlook, he felt there was something different in the ale-scented air that night at Wescott’s.

Wolfgrey took a seat at the bar and ordered a Thornglade, the house grog of course, that being nearly free of charge. Before he could quite settle in and enjoy a moments respite before seeking potential business partners, he was impacted from behind by a hulking Rammorian. The horned Rammorian crashed to the floor at Wolfgrey’s feet after causing him to spill his ale all over the bar top. A red haired Hillman had pummeled the Rammorian, for reasons Wolfgrey cared not to know, and was swiftly making his way across the barroom floor to finish what he had started. At this point there was a whistling sound akin to battlefield artillery fire and the thud of a heavy impact and cracking wood. The Hillman had stopped in his tracks as a massive mace lodged itself into a supporting beam near the center of the barroom, plucking a small tuft from his beard and nearly decapitating him. The brutish Hillman spun into a defensive stance, drew his sword and beheld a truly unnatural looking warrior standing in the doorway of Wescott’s. Rain dripped from the new arrival’s horned helm, shield and body armor. The green bones that were his arms, legs and face glistened in the tavern light and were locked in a firm upright positioning. Many in the room knew this to be Battle Skull, the both feared and loved, storied wanderer.

“I would prefer to drink in peace tonight.” said Battle Skull to the Hillman. The bearded oaf, refusing this olive branch, lunged toward Battle Skull. As he charged full speed, Battle Skull stepped aside and butted him on the head with his heavy shield. The Hillman tumbled through the doorway out into the rain and took his bed in the mud. The barroom exploded with laughter. Battle Skull walked across the floor to reclaim his mace, patrons patting him on the back sporadically. He took a seat at the bar next to Wolfgrey and ordered a drink.

Wolfgrey marveled at the warrior. He had seen many strange things in his time but never a fully animated speaking skeleton. Battle Skull’s startling appearance aside, Wolfgrey wondered how this fellow could enjoy the drink he had just ordered as he did not appear to possess a tongue or throat. Wolfgrey suspected, even sensed, that the warrior frequented taverns, ordering food and drink only as an attempt to reconnect to some long lost, more common life.

“I’d rather not be stared at, Wolfren.” said Battle Skull sternly without looking at Wolfgrey. Wolfgrey returned to his grog, curiosity burning on his tongue. “I apologize, friend, but I wonder if you might entertain the whimsies of an old salt for a moment or two?” inquired Wolfgrey abruptly. Battle Skull replied, “The whimsies of the elderly seldom cost a mere moment or two.” Wolfgrey laughed at the quip and continued, “Quite right, friend, quite right. However, you strike me as a man of great talents and one with a thirst for adventure and fortune. I believe you might find interest in what I have to say.” Battle Skull turned toward the soggy old traveler, “Well, I’m comfortable in this seat and I can tell I’ll have no peace until you’ve unburdened yourself. Let’s hear it.” said Battle Skull. The truth was, though he had little use for fortune, Battle Skull did have an appetite for adventure and he was not entirely disinterested in what Wolfgrey might have to say.

Wolfgrey imparted the story of his people, the coastal Wolfren clan called Moon Song. Battle Skull had heard of them, it was said they were once an honorable, thriving people but had fallen upon disaster many years ago. Battle Skull’s prior knowledge was reaffirmed and enriched by Wolfgrey’s tale. The Wolfren elder spoke of how the Moon Song clan had built a beautiful, thriving city called Nocturne. They flourished there for many generations before a people called Muskoths conquered them and claimed Nocturne for their own. The Muskoths were a tribe of barbarous mountain dwellers, descendants of the ancient Ox Clan of the plains. They drove the Moon Song people from Nocturne with merciless brutality. Wolfgrey’s people had since been scattered throughout the realm with no one place to call their home.

Battle Skull continued to listen, feigning apathy. Wolfgrey related that a small group of Moon Song elders, himself among them, had a plan to reunite their people. They sought to recover Wolfbane’s Tooth, the legendary sword wielded by their founder and greatest military leader, Wolfbane of Dark Lake. Wolfgrey believed that if this sword could be recovered from the temple at Nocturne, it would serve as a powerful symbol to help reunite and reinvigorate his people. The sword was housed in a subterranean chamber within the Wolfren’s temple that the Muskoths certainly had no knowledge of.  Wolfgrey explained that the Muskoths were gone from Nocturne and the time had come to retrieve the blade.

“This all sounds well and good, old one. Now, let’s have the whole truth. Why do you not go and retrieve the blade yourself?” asked Battle Skull. “Can you not see? I am feeble, whittled down by time. I can no longer endure such adventure.” replied Wolfgrey. “Yet, you have endured the Kraggen coast for weeks. There is something you are not telling me, wolf.” said Battle Skull, his patience thinning. “Very well, if you’re to trust me enough to take on this adventure, I must share all there is to know.” continued Wolfgrey. “The Muskoths did not simply abandon Nocturne, they were eradicated. A curse of pestilence and rot was cast upon them by a powerful mage called Templus who served an opposing warlord’s forces. The Muskoths were obliterated and all the riches of Nocturne were stolen. There is nothing left save for our sacred treasures hidden deep in the temple vault. The city is believed to still be under the taint of the curse, no man who values his life will go there.” said Wolfgrey with a slight shudder.

“Unfortunately I am intimately familiar with Templus’ handiwork.” Battle Skull paused after saying this, clearly troubled. He refocused and continued with a light laugh, “It’s hardly any wonder you’ve had such luck finding a willing party to quest for you.” “It is true, I am an honest wolf, I cannot keep this knowledge from those I solicit.” Said Wolfgrey. “I suppose I’m holding out hope that there is someone in the realm who is not fearful of magic and curses, someone who values the thrill of death defying adventure above all.” he continued.

Despite his outward scoffing, Battle Skull was intrigued by the old Wolfren’s proposition. The cause seemed just and the quest perilous enough to sate Battle Skulls hunger for such things. Battle Skull also knew that his very nature was supernatural and granted by dark magic, protecting him from curses like the one that loomed over Nocturne. Though he cared little for material gain, he asked Wolfgrey what he was offering should one complete the quest. Wolfgrey described the riches housed in the secret temple chamber alongside the sword. He told Battle Skull he was welcome to all he could carry, so long as he brought back the sword. This appeared fair enough to Battle Skull and he took the old one up on his offer. His journey to the accursed city of Nocturne would begin at dawn.

Battle Skull purchased a steed and rode for a day, following a map provided by his Wolfren employer. He reached the city of Nocturne just as evening began to claim the sky. It was indeed a desolate place. The specter of death hung over its every inch. Battle Skull’s horse trotted hesitantly through the city’s main gate. There was a silence, cold, still and seemingly lifeless, then the horse reeled back in terror neighing with panic. A pack of Drumdar Dragons, wingless, primordial beasts known to devour anything that crossed their paths, lumbered out on all fours from some crumbled ruins. The creatures roared, their long, scaly spiked tails whipping up clouds of rubble and bone. They were clearly starving and voracious for meat. Battle Skull dismounted and sent his horse running free out of the city. He engaged the beasts, swinging his mace, swiftly dealing lethal blows. After two or three Drumdars lay slain, the remainder of the pack scattered, returning to their dank hiding places. Battle Skull continued down what remained of Nocturne’s streets toward the ancient temple where his query lay.

The Wolfren Temple was in ruins but echoes of its former glory remained.  Busts of great Wolfren warriors, depictions of epic battles and conquests adorned the temple’s ragged exterior, attempting to immortalize the society’s greatest achievements in finely executed relief.  Battle Skull entered the temple, mace in hand, shield half raised against whatever may lay waiting in the murky shadows. His eyes glowed with an otherworldly warm green as they always did when he entered darkness, allowing him to see clearly despite the utter lack of light. Finally, Battle Skull came to a large open space in the temple. This had most likely been a public gathering place, perhaps a marketplace or arena. Now, it was dark, desolate and still. A statue stood in the center of this open hall. Wolfgrey had told Battle Skull that it was originally a statue of the hero of his people, Wolfbane, but had been altered by the conquering Muskoths. Battle Skull paid little attention to its design, he was more interested in what lay beneath it. Wolfgrey had revealed that the entrance to the vault which contained the precious sword was underneath this statue. Battle Skull pressed the toes of the statue in the sequence indicated to him by Wolfgrey. The statue began to slide back, filling the massive hall with the sound of grinding stone. An entrance and long descending staircase were revealed. Torches began to alight, illuminating the staircase, as the statue slid into its final position. Battle Skull entered, pulling the third torch from its holder on his way down. Wolfgray had assured him that the traps that lay between the secret entrance and the sword chamber would be disarmed by this action.

Battle Skull soon arrived at the sword chamber door. It was made of stone and featured sculptures and writings expounding the glories of the heroic Wolfbane. Battle Skull arranged the series of combination amulets that adorned the ornate portal. The door slid open, revealing a vast chamber filled with rolling hills of gold coins, gems and all manner of riches. At its center, a sword stood, held within a massive stone base. It’s time-worn blade ran up to a finely crafted hilt of gold accented by a precious stone.  Battle Skull approached the blade, arranged more amulet locking mechanisms as instructed by Wolfgrey and the sword was freed. Battle Skull reflected that this was all going rather smoothly.

Soon he was back in the great hall of the temple. He had taken only a small satchel’s worth of gold and stones as he had little use for such things. He carried the sacred sword in a simple loop of leather and iron at his waist. A dim light came from an entryway to the hall. There appeared to be some minute measure of daylight that may have signaled a quicker route to exit the temple than the way by which he had entered. Battle Skull marched toward the light. He came into a shadowy hallway, lined with pillars and the crumbling busts of long gone heroes and politicians. Before he could get very far, the silence of the hallway was disturbed by the heavy footfalls and bestial breathing of some mammoth creature. Battle Skull tucked himself behind a time bitten pillar. His mace and shield upon his back, he drew Wolfbane’s Tooth and peered cautiously around the edge of the pillar. Battle Skull’s enhanced sight revealed a ten foot tall, potbellied beast wearing a loin cloth and dragging a massive spiked club at its side. The creature was grotesque, possessing grey, warty flesh, a featureless face lined with massive teeth and no lips to conceal them. This walking mountain of muscle and bone was topped off with an unkempt, lavender Mohawk adding to its abrasive appearance. It was a member of the Sloggroth race, a species given to thievery and brutality. It appeared to have wandered into the temple and was scavenging for loot.

A fiery urge to strike down the beast welled up inside of Battle Skull. His encounter with the Drumdar Dragons had awakened his craving for combat. This vicious lust for violence had plagued him since his transformation from a man to a prisoner of necromancy. He had struggled for years to master it, knowing that controlling the impulse was his only chance at true redemption. He repeated the fact in his mind that the creature had not detected him and conflict was not yet necessary. Battle Skull remained poised behind the pillar, logic and caution warring to stay his hand. After a few moments, finding nothing of interest in that part of the temple, The Sloggroth lumbered into the shadows and out of sight. Battle Skull, half relieved, half disappointed, sheathed the sword and made his way out of the temple.

Evening had fallen completely now. Battle Skull walked along a rocky ridge on the outskirts of Nocturne. He had completed his mission and was setting forth to return Wolfbane’s Tooth to Wolfgrey. He felt a hint of pride and the even scarcer feeling of hope emerging inside his soul as he reflected on his resistance against the urge to assault the Sloggroth. Suddenly, his contemplation and the calm of the newborn night were ripped asunder by a howling the likes of which Battle Skull had never heard before. A shadowy mass was headed Battle Skull’s way.

The Sloggroth was roaring at the top of its lungs and charging down the ridge, spike lined club waving in the air. It had been stalking Battle Skull since spotting him leaving the temple with that very valuable looking blade in his possession. Battle Skull sprang to action, pulling his shield and mace off the back of his armor and preparing for impact with the Sloggroth.

He noticed the raging monstrosity starting to stumble, its roar losing vigor. The creature’s skin began to writhe and bubble. Bones and muscle seemed to loosen and lose all natural composition and relation to one another. Finally, the Sloggroth collapsed with a whimper at Battle Skull’s feet before a single blow could be exchanged. Battle Skull looked on in bewilderment as the beast putrefied in the most grotesque fashion before his eyes. Before long, all that remained was a steaming pile of sludge with blackened bones protruding from it. “Templus’ curse.” Battle Skull said to himself before continuing on his way.

Battle Skull arrived at Wescott’s Tavern in Kilgorn early the next morning. The seemingly endless rains had ceased briefly, though the sky was still thick with clouds. He and Wolfgrey sat at a private booth in the tavern. Wolfgrey marveled at the glorious sword of Wolfbane. He was beyond pleased with Battle Skull’s work, having had returned to him a most precious heirloom of his people. The sword was safely squirrelled away in Wolfgrey’s meager luggage. “Thank you, my friend. This sword will serve as a catalyst for a new glorious era for my scattered people.” Said Wolfgrey to Battle Skull. “I’m glad to hear it. I wish you the best.” Battle Skull replied. “Just be sure that once you’ve gathered your clan again, you don’t set paw within a thousand leagues of Nocturne.” With that, Battle Skull and Wolfgrey parted ways, their separate roads leading them wherever they may.

THE END

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