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When the Dead Won’t Stay Dead…

20 May
Some people have been asking what does Shade fear? Given that he is the world’s most legendary assassin, he seems at many times capable of overcoming anything in Shade One. However, he is not above fear. In the scene above, a black and white illustration included in Chapter Four, we see Shade knocked on his rump. The scene paints a stark contrast to his ordinarily cocky self. A towering undead Minotaur raises his mallet over him. The Minotaur stands close to ten feet tall. Its nostrils spew shoots of steam as it charges trampling everything in its path, an untiring mass of steaming rage. Shade is surrounded by undead, hopelessly cut off and alone. The undead stagger closer, salivating mouths hungering for the taste of his warm flesh.

Shade’s passage through the Ruins of Garrlohan in Shade One is actually one of the most telling chapters of the entire book about Shade’s deepest, darkest fears He fears the mysterious otherworldly forces of Covent. He fears powers beyond his understanding or more so he fears powers that befuddle his comprehension and render him powerless. You see Shade is a practically minded Dark Elf. His thinking is very grounded in the natural world. As he said to the Shamite in Chapter One of Shade Two, “Slide an acute piece of metal into a vital organ and the victim will die quick and without much fuss.” The assassin makes a living sending people to grave and so to see undead crawling back from the grave is a grim reversal of the natural order of things. Shade believes in no god, but here dozens of death’s horrible heralds speak of a supernatural world beyond his understanding and that deep down scares him more than anything.

Worse, the way to kill undead is largely unknown at this time in Covent. There are no magical blades, no holy weapons to put them down. Clerics, and those who profess the silver robes, have lost the art of healing. All a mortal can do is run. Shade is forced to cripple them in the Ruins of Garllohan, but even then he barely escapes with his life. The physical bodies of zombies, ghouls, skeletons or various other undead can be maimed by physical blows, but you will never kill their restless spirits. You cut off their legs and they’ll crawl after you. You cut off their hands and the fingers will crawl after you. You cut off their heads and the headless body will still stalk you. You crush their bones into powder and they’ll body jump into a fresh corpse reanimating new nightmares. And if they have no physical body, what are you supposed to do with the likes of a ghost, but run?

I’m particularly excited about some of our new twisted forms of undead, the first of which we shall introduce in Shade Two. There is one such entity Shade fears in all the Ice Marshes…the Ooelm. The Ooelm, pronounced just like Doelm, but without the “d” is an undead monster that defies Shade’s understanding. The Ooelm wanders the south marshes feasting on the brains of any living creature unfortunate enough to fall into its hands. The Ooelm is one of the many abominations of ancient Gorgloth who wander the lands feeding off their restless hunger. Many saw these abominations are worse than undead, because they come out of their haunts and ruins of Covent. They are drawn to dark places of historic tragedy and magic, but have even been known to wander into towns.

You can think of the Ooelm has a monstrous hunchbacked Frankenstein, though its spirit remains a mystery. Its body has been warped and twisted, which can barely contain the monstrous spirit that has crawled up inside a once withering corpse. Shade can sense this spirit behind the Ooelm’s massive warped form, but he is unsure what to make of it. The Ooelm’s mind is numb, greatly dumbed down, as if its unending hunger has also consumed a far greater identity. Its mind has been reduced to an animalistic instinct to feed, rivaling that of any other undead, but its powers are frightening to behold.

I’ve included an excerpt from Shade Two for the blog, which includes the second half of Chapter Three of Shade Two. Shade has headed south through the Ice Marshes on his way to Doljinaar, City of Kings. Given he has to foil another assassination attempt, he has chanced the Mudline to save time. The Mudline is an old lost road that had been, up until now, swallowed by the watery southern swamps. The waters had appeared low on Shade’s departure, but he has been trapped in a floodplain close to the Ruins of Azranool. He is being stalked…


An Excerpt from Chapter Three:
Never Trust the Mudline

A horrible horselike squeal pierced the air.

Shade snapped back around. And then he saw it. An all too familiar monstrous form towered over the rise where he had left his horse.

Shade held his breath. His horse squirmed and flailed wildly like a small rodent in the monster’s oafish hands. The Ooelm. The fat twenty-foot monster stared back at him with solid black eyeballs. It seemed to remember him. He could see the huge tree-sized club it dragged behind by its nearly useless left arm. The Ooelm stared at the Dark Elf with a festering hatred. Shade had severed several exposed ligaments on the monster’s left arm on their last chance encounter. He had rendered that arm useless though he could see that the monster still managed to grip its club.

The Ooelm shrugged its huge shoulder and swung its dead arm around its body. The club hit the ground with a devastating force.

The earth shook.

The Ooelm seemed to have waited for the moment Shade turned around. The monster stared at him and lifted his once proud steed up to its flabby black lips. It roared, a noxious green mist sprayed the air. The horse winnowed in terror, its legs flailing wildly. The animal eyed the Ooelm’s immense wriggling maw as its jaws opened. The horses took one blast of the ghoulish breath and went suddenly limp.

“NO!” Shade shouted. He sprinted forward in a vain attempt to save his horse. He would be stranded without it and the Ooelm could surely run him down.

The Ooelm moved slowly, as if baiting the Dark Elf.

The horse’s head hung limply as the monster slowly lowered it into its huge writhing pallet.

Shade cursed and headed back up the rise. He drew his blades, but his mind leafed through a list of reckless battle plans, all of which spelled suicide. His breaths puffed out in desperate huffs. He could smell the Ooelm’s putrefying stench as he drew near. He could feel the Ooelm’s chilling air filling his veins with needlelike fear. His limbs iced over and his body trembled uncontrollably. His joints stiffened and he was suddenly paralyzed with dread. He stared up and up at his towering foe.

The Ooelm stood upright on two legs, but his entire body was covered in mud, muck and bits of dead plant matter. The twigs and dead weeds that stuck out of the layers of grime strangely resembled hair. Small patches of dead white skin showed bleakly, marred by grotesque malformed contusions and dead boils. The Ooelm resembled some manner of mutant Gorum, but it more than quadrupled their impressive size. It was a jumbled mass of bones, muscles, organs and dead tissues, like a dragon had crawled inside a Gorum corpse and wore him like a cloak.

Shade did not understand by what powers such monsters existed. The Dwarves claimed long ago that Ooelms were abominations birthed by the black arts of ancient Gorgloth. They reported having problems with Ooelms desecrating their catacombs and feeding on the brains of the dead. The name Ooelm suggested that these rumors held a grain of truth, but he had never heard of a tale of an Ooelm as large as this one.

The assassin could do nothing, but stare in wide-eyed horror.

The Ooelm’s leech black lips closed around the horse’s head. Shade heard a horrible sucking noise. The horse’s legs writhed and went suddenly limp. The animal’s limp head popped out of the Ooelm’s horrible mouth. The monster threw the horse’s body at Shade.

The assassin rolled to the side. The horse’s weighty body hit the mud and flopped like a giant dead fish. It nearly landed on him. He had to make two more evasive rolls to completely avoid the comatose projectile. He lost a dagger. The horse’s corpse finally came to a rest.

Shade rolled right into the horse’s rib cage. He hit the animal’s chest hard and stood up in horror. He stared at his mount’s lifeless face. The horse’s eyes and brains had been sucked out through its eye sockets. The assassin fell on his bottom and scrambled backward, reeling in shock and revulsion. He could see the flecks of brain matter oozing out of the horse’s snout. Worms, maggots and beetles crawled out of the animal’s lifeless head, as if swarms of saprobes had eaten his mount from the inside out into a rapid decay.

A tree-sized object rose overhead

Shade snapped out of his shock.

The Ooelm gripped its enormous dead arm and raised the club.

The assassin dove forward.

The Ooelm brought its club down.

Shade closed his eyes. He could only pray he dove far enough.

Thud!

The earth shook and mud splattered, but Shade could still feel his legs. He scrambled to his feet. He saw the Ooelm lift its giant club again. The nimble assassin darted through the monster’s fat legs. He looked desperately for a place to hide, but bogs cut him off in every direction. The only way out was through the Muckhog path and the only way back to that path lay through the Ooelm.

Shade spun around and gaped up the Ooelm’s huge knobby back.

The Ooelm started to turn around, but it was so immense it turned slowly.

The assassin retrieved another blade. He dashed towards the Ooelm and leapt at its huge calf. He drove his right dagger deep into the Ooelm’s giant muscle and held on. The stab made a shucking noise, but broke into dust as easily as a husk. Worms and maggots came spilling out of the hole in the monster’s dusty leg. Shade nearly slipped off. He jammed his left dagger in and pulled himself up. The assassin felt cold slimy wriggling bodies hit his lips. Shade turned his face to the side and spit. More worms!

The Ooelm howled in pain. It loosed a horrible sound that resembled the tortured song of a dying whale. The wretched sound, the unbearable stench caused insects and leeches to come writhing out of the mud.

Shade ground his teeth and regained his concentration. He pulled his right dagger out and thrust it into the Ooelm’s back thigh. And then his left. He scaled the monster’ spine rippled back ice pick style.

More worms and maggots poured of the Ooelm. The monster dropped its club. It yowled in rage and made grabs for the nimble assassin, but he evaded them. He nearly reached the creature’s fiendish shoulder. His eyes remained focused on his goal. The Ooelm’s dead arm hung by a signal ligament. If he could finish what he had started months back, perhaps the putrid monster would retreat.

The Ooelm flailed.

Shade’s right dagger flew from his hand. He grabbed his parrying dagger with both hands and held on for dear life. He glanced down. He dangled thirteen feet up in the air. Almost there. Just another foot.

The Ooelm made another grab for him.

He quickly pulled himself upward and grabbed a protruding bone sticking out of the monster’s dead flesh. He pulled himself up on its broad shoulder. He reached the ligament. The Ooelm tried to shake him off, but he fell to his knees to stabilize his balance. He raised his dagger up prepared to cut the arm clean off.

Shade felt gigantic fingers close around his waist. The assassin tried to slip away, but the Ooelm caught him fast in its clasp. He wanted to stab the monster, but his arms were pinned to his waist. He felt like a little ragdoll as he was pulled away from his target.

The Ooelm brought him back around its front. The monster glared at him, its horribly white skin drooped off its warped skull, giving it an expression of pure furious, freakish horror.

Shade trembled. For the first time since his youth, he had the sudden overwhelming urge to lose his bladder. He felt reduced, reduced to that once terrified boy time had widdled away.

The Ooelm raised him and stared straight into his terror-filled eyes. He stared back into those deathly black eyeballs. It was like staring into a vacant hungering abyss, devoid of soul or conscience. He felt like his spirit suddenly froze solid, but the hatred and envy in those eyes was unnerving. Lathers of drool oozed out of the Ooelm’s black lips. It dribbled down its huge sagging cheeks and oozed into pools of saliva on its hill-sized potbelly. The Ooelm brought him close to its huge horrible face. Its terrible lips parted.

Shade closed his eyes and meditated on a sacred discipline of the Kuula. A stomach-turning blast of death and decay blew back his hair. His nostrils burned, but his discipline saved him from passing out. The stench was like being sealed off in an airtight Dwarven tomb, the dead freshly rotting. He nearly lost consciousness.

The Ooelm loosened its grasp. Shade slide down, but the Ooelm caught him by the heel.

The assassin cursed himself for the missed opportunity. He opened his eyes just as he was dangled over the monster’s huge gaping maw.

The Dark Elf gaped into the untold horrors that stirred within. The Ooelm’s mouth was toothless, tongueless and yet it writhed and moved like a sea of squirming tissues. Not tissues he realized, but a wriggling bed of maggots, worms and carrion beetles. He was mere seconds away from being dropped into that horrible writhing maw which would no doubt devour him from the inside out like his poor horse.

Shade stole a glance at the monster’s weak point. The bad ligament lay eight feet away. He gripped the dagger in his hand. He had only one shot at this. He struggled to focus on his target. The blood rushed to his head as he dangled upsidedown. He felt disoriented. The world spun around in his head. He tried to focus on the one ligament that looked like three, no six.

The Ooelm dropped him.

Shade threw the dagger as he fell downward. It whisked through the air. The world spun around and around, but then he heard the ligament snap.

The Ooelm’s arm fell clean off. The monster roared. Saprobes spewed everywhere. The Ooelm leered to the side and unwittingly moved Shade.

Shade slipped from its fingers. He landed hard in the mud, but allowed his knees to absorb the impact. It took the wind out of him, but he scrambled upward. He stared up at the Ooelm who clutched its shoulder and was still roaring with a terrible unclouded rage. The assassin had no time to catch his breath. He turned and ran.

The Ooelm beat its huge fists against the mud.

Shade’s lungs screamed in protest, but he pushed on. He darted for the Muckhog path. His lungs felt sore, as if every breath dragged across his ribs, but he refused to quit. He reached the reeds and stumbled through. He could hear the Ooelm’s huge footsteps behind him.

Boom. Boom. Boom.

The assassin glanced back behind him.

The Ooelm charged after him, wielding not its club, but its severed arm. The enraged monster’s frothing spittle sprayed the air. The Ooelm was only thirty paces back, just six monstrous strides away.

He heard even more monstrous footsteps.

Boom. Boom. Boom. The ground shook.

He doubled his pace.

Shade felt the Ooelm’s scalding ice breath blow down the back of his hood. He ducked. The arm whiffed overhead just as he sighted the gully. He kept his eyes focused on the log, if he could only get across… He veered to the side on pure instinct.

The Ooelm slammed the arm down right next to him. He heard bones snap and crack, but it missed him by but hair.

Shade reached the log at last. He sprinted across it and spun around. He stared up at his awesome foe.

The Ooelm charged forward. Its huge foot stepped onto the log. Snap! The monster plunged into the gully. It hit the water with a giant splash.

Shade saw the Ooelm go under, but the muddy cliffsides were not far off the ground. The monster sprung from the water and made one last grab for him. The Ooelm was too far away. The muddy banks crumbled under its huge weight and it slipped back under. The Ooelm tried again and again, but the mud could not handle its mass. The Ooelm slid back into the water and then the waters went finally still. Shade fled down the path, a crack of a smile dawning on his cheeks. He owed those pigs a big sloppy wet kiss.

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