The signs have been there for a while. Some have seen it and don't understand, some have seen and chosen to ignore it. Others... others still are blissfully clueless. The end of the year is approaching. The days grow shorter, the temperatures colder. And with the darkness of the longer nights, comes a different darkness altogether. Long ago, when the first Tribes were founded, a dark force was banished to the Netherrealm by the Guardians, ever watchful spirits and aspects of gods looking after the tribe. It was thought to be destroyed, torn into one thousand pieces before being banished. Everything to ensure the Evil One would never return and try to claim a place in the upper realms, ruling over mortals. Now, it seems, this dark force is slowly seeping into the world of men, corrupting the minds of several tribes, causing chaos. War is spreading, and it's one of the last things the Tribes can use when resources are scarce.
Until now, the Pale Wolf Tribe has been untouched by the approaching darkness. All they know are the tales of Anwald, a Trader and one of the right hand men of their Tribe's Chief Valis. But this is soon to change. For other than the darkness from the woods, the approaching winter, and the thread of war, something else is coming their way too. Soon, those who are left behind will have to make a stand and embark on a quest into the unknown. Facing against forces they don't know the extend of, ready to protect everything they care about. For if they fail, many souls will be devoured by the Evil One, destroying the souls of the departed and leaving the living Hollow, creatures with no soul, only capable of mindlessly serving their masters.
Hollow follows three storylines as they might intertwine and depart. They might have a common goal, but the characters couldn't be more different.
It is Fall, Winter is approaching fast. Leaves are falling, the temperature's chilling. But there's more in the air than just the chill of the late year. Tension, a sense of dread. You can sense it. It's a gift nobody knows you possess. To feel things. Souls are restless, raiders could be lurking everywhere in the woods, and an old enemy of the Tribes is preparing for its comeback that might well tear apart the world. You have seen the signs, but don't quite understand all of them. A fellow Tribe from far away calls for help, but can they truly be trusted? Perhaps it is them who will bring doom from across the sea to your lands. You are Keldian, a scout from the Pale Wolf tribe, one of the first to spot the signs that times are changing. Will you realize what is happening before it is too late?
Something is amiss. You've been feeling that for a while, but have simply refused to recognize it. Fairytales are nothing to be worried about. No, all that matters is your direct family and the people of your Tribe. With the winter approaching, people are bound to get sick. And a Last Hunt never takes place without someone getting hurt. For the past years, since you were old enough to work, you have done what you could to keep your people healthy and happy. It is all that matters to you. That, and that nobody ever learns of your secret. You are Sianni, a Healer from the Pale Wolf tribe. Can you save those you old dear from being harmed by ancient dangers?
You have faced an unspeakable danger, taking on shapes worse than your worst nightmare. You have lost most of your people, you have lost your home. But you haven't yet lost your hope and your honor. Setting out on a journey, you hope to find different lands, where the Evil cannot reach. Perhaps you can warn others of what is to come. Maybe you can even fight so that nobody else will have to suffer the fate of your people. But these are foreign lands with foreign people. Will they understand the warnings? Will they even be willing to listen to a stranger? Can they even be trusted, or do they work with the evil, and is their only plan to trap you and whatever people you have left, to make you suffer forever? You are Arkhaan, a warrior from the Ember Heart tribe. Will you find safety, or will danger follow you?
You don't particularly like scouting at night. As a matter of fact, you hate it. Especially in the later months of the year. In Summer it's not your favorite pastime, but you can tolerate it. But now, when the sun sets early, the nights get colder, and the leaves change color, you just want it to be over. You're not afraid of the dark, that's definitely not it. You just don't like the cold and dreary weather.
A soft rain has been falling for hours. It has completely drenched your fur coat. There's still an hour or two left in your shift, though. You could try and sneak back early, but that would mean leaving Yrsa, another scout and your senior, waiting at the meeting point. From there on you can head back to the village together and enjoy a flagon of honey-wine near the fire.
You pause for a moment, glancing up at the silver disk swimming between the clouds and watching your breath form small clouds in the air. It's chilly this night, and something is off. There's something in the air tonight. Now that you think of it you've felt it since your shift started. Your gut-feeling is telling you something is going to happen tonight. And your gut-feeling... is scarcely wrong.
What do you do?
> Head back to the village (and leave Yrsa on her own)
> Head to the meeting point to discuss your gut-feeling with Yrsa
> Stray from your route and investigate the feeling on your own
You continue grumbling to yourself as you press on. If you stay away for too long Yrsa would start to ask questions. You move towards the Overlook, a cliff nearby the sea and meeting point. As you come closer, you see the silhouette, huddled beneath the large willow bending over the cliff. You whistle. Three notes to alert her of your presence and more so to let her know it's a kinsman approaching and not a potential enemy lurking the woods at night. Yrsa hardly stirred, merely raising a hand in a quick sign of acknowledgement. She doesn't turn around to face you.
Odd. Normally she would have gotten to her feet by now, grinning at him, greeting him and/or jokingly scolding you for being late. But instead she's nearly motionless and keeps her back turned to you. This worries you. Already you had that gut-feeling that something was off, that something was going to happen tonight. And now the person you know as serious when needed but otherwise cheerful... Is serious. The last time you saw her like that was when...
That was when the stories started. Stories of omens and fire, stories of a darkness blacker than the night, of shadows moving on their own. Evil of old, fairytales from times long past. Your heart starts beating faster and silently you rush closer.
"Yrsa..." you begin, but again she silences you with a quick and simple gesture. Silently she points towards the sea. You follow your hand and see what she's ben looking at all this time.
There, moving lightly on the waves, where tiny specks of light. No reflections of the stars, but little yellow flickers. Flames of torches or lanterns. Something was approaching their shore from across the horizon.
What do you do?
> Urge Yrsa to head back to the village together, and quickly.
> Head to the beach to see the lights from up closer
> Stay on the Overlook and watch the lights for a while longer
The lights have caught your attention and interest. Sure, you've seen ships before. Many times even. Just little over a week ago you've seen a sight just like this. That was when Anwald and his men returned from their mission along the coast. But that's exactly the problem. Anwald and his men have returned. So then who...?
“We didn’t sent out any traders or explorers recently, did we?” you ask Yrsa in reply, just to be sure. She shakes her head, and for the first time this night she speaks up, albeit softly.
“But remember the stories Anwald told? Fires at the horizon and empty villages. Something’s been raiding, and I fear…”
“That now they’ve come for us?” Keldian finished Yrsa’s sentence. Once again the other scout nodded.
You have to be sure about this. Without saying another word you make your way towards the path down the cliff and rush down towards the beach.
"Keldian!" Yrsa shouts behind you. You feel her hand briefly grasp on you your soaked cloak, but you pull it loose and keep running. Behind you you're almost certain Yrsa curses underneath her breath. Or maybe she's speaking out loud. You're quick on your feet and already far away. The path down is slippery due to the rain, and you have to place one hand on the cliff beside you not to plummet down. Just a few more steps... a few more... And you're on the beach. The sand definitely slows you down, but you make your way to the shoreline as fast as you can. You squint your eyes and listen closely. You hear the sound of the waves, and watch the lights going up and down in just the same rhythm. A quick count tells you there's at least a dozen of ships.
Something... or rather someone makes their way through the sand. You feel a hand on your shoulder, and with a surprising strength you're turned around to gaze straight into a pair of blue eyes. Yrsa has caught up with you. She looks at you with that gaze of a mentor or older sister about to scold an unruly child. But whatever she want to tel you is cut off by a sound coming from the direction of the flickering lights. Screaming, wailing. As if whatever is out there isn't alone... and might not be human.
“Kel… head back to the village, now. You’re quicker than me. Warn Valis, have him gather the warriors. We need to be ready… for whatever is to come.”
You nod and hurl around, running back to the village as fast as your feet can carry you. Ignoring roots seemingly trying to trip you and branches hitting you in the face until it looks like you've been in a fight, you stumble yourway through the dark forest until at last the fires of the village came in sight.
What do you do?
> Blow your horn to alert the villagers of potential danger
> Run straight to the square and tell everyone to get up
> Head for Valis' longhouse and tell him what you've seen
You don't want to remember the horrors. Yet you do. In every waking moment, in every sleeping moment. There's always the faces. Stone cold, forever frozen in looks of terror of whatever had taken their lives away. For them it seemed as if they had died of sheer fright. And they were the lucky ones. Those who lives were never the same again. As if they were missing something. A part of their very being. Their eyes were empty and unseeing like a dead man's. But they shambled around, never to speak, only to eventually disappear into the woods as though they were answering an unheard call. Dead or alive, the eyes would forever haunt you. And when you were sure things couldn't get worse... well, of course the Gods proved you wrong. The Gods... they have abandoned you. How else would you explain the living shadows and the sounds from the woods? How else could you explain those who had become Hollow? And what else could have caused the fires other than a divine punishments of sorts? The Ember Heart Tribe was now... little more than just embers. Your own village lies in ruin, and nobody dared heading into the woods to search for the others. Out of fear for what was lurking there. Out of fear of being dragged down by the shadows, drowned in the darkness.
Instead those who survived have boarded the ships. But none of you are any better off here. The weather hasn't been kind, you have run out of supplies. Many are sick, even more are dead. By now you can't even tell the difference between those who are sleeping, have fainted, are simply unmoving, and those who are dead. Last night you were sure one of the men on your longship was dead. You had thrown him overboard to give him a sailor's grave, more worthy than dying of an illness. The moment he touched the freezing waters the man screamed, only to be quickly pulled under by the current. You watched him drown, partially unable to save him in shock, and partially because this simply was one less mouth to feed with whatever little bit is left. It is harsh, but there's little else you could do. You shudder in the cold wind. It's been a long time since your cloak provided you with any warmth. Sharing your bodyheat with others is of little use. Everyone is just as cold. And the small lights on the front of your boats... they're not enough to give any warmth.
You haven't been able to properly sleep in days. And to be fair nobody has. Whenever a few drift off, the nightmares start. Fueled by fever and the horrors you've all seen. Many end up screaming, wailing, crying. Some have already jumped overboard, no longer able to handle the darkness driving them insane. You wouldn't even know how many men are left. You're with twelve ships, each having had about ten men and women on them when you left your own lands. Your own ship is down to four men by now. All ghastly figures, mere husks of the men they were. Exhaustion and sickness is taking it's toll on all of you. Suddenly you perk up at a familiar sight. Silhouettes of rocks, a cliff, and trees, now clearly visible in the moonlight. Land! Maybe the Gods haven't abandoned you just yet? As you turn to tell your men, to shout it over to the other boats, your eye fall on Thorag. He's been one of your closest friends ever since the both of you were old enough to pick up a sword. He's pale, mouth foaming and eyes bulging. An inhuman wail starts from the depth of his throat.
"Please... No more... Don't..." he mumbled incoherently, face filled with fright. No. Not Thorag too of all people! You sink on your knees next to him. The fellow warrior looks your way, eyes already glazing over. "Please... end it. Don't let the shadow..." he gurgles, falling silent and unable to stop shivering.
You look at your friend, at the dark vastness of the ocean, and the knife on your belt. What do you do?
> A mercy stroke with your blade should quickly end his suffering
> There's land right ahead. Maybe there's someone there who can save him?
> Give him a sailor's grave like so many of the others
> Head for Valis' longhouse and tell him what you've seen
Past the fires lies the safety of the Pale Wolf Village. Small lanterns lit the paths, and the fire in the mead hall burns warm and bright. You really feel like you could use some honeywine and warmth, for the sounds from the sea have sent chills down your spine. Valis' longhouse is one of the closest to the mead hall. The perks of being a chief. You rush to the door, where you are stopped by one of his personal guards. "Where you do think you're going in this hour of the night?" the bulky man remarks.
"I came rushing here from my patrol past midnight. Do you think this is not an emergency?" you retort, briefly feeling much braver than you truly are. "I need to speak to Valis, and I need to do so now." There's a fire burning inside your soul. Yrsa told you to run back, and so you did. Now she is alone at the beach with the howling ships making their approach. The guard hesitates for a moment, then tells you to wait as he goes inside to wake up your chief. You hear mumbling coming from inside the longhouse, a muffled conversation between the guard and Valis.
"Come inside, Keldian," you hear Valis bellow, and so you push the door open and wander inside.
The hut is warm, much nicer than outside, and decorated with tapestries either bought of looted on various journeys around the shore. Valis is a wealthy chief, and this longhouse shows it. For a moment you are taken aback in amazement. You share your own longhouse with several families, and it if far from luxurious. You shake your head lightly. This isn't the time to gawk. Your people are in danger and you have to warn Valis. The broad man looks at you expectantly. "Tell me, boy, what have you seen?"
You take a deep breath, and suddenly the fires no longer seem to provide you with any warmth. There's a chill in the air, one you cannot place. It is as if something is drawing all the warmth out of the area, far worse than just the chill you felt when you saw and heard what you did. The moment you open your mouth to speak, everything just rolls out. You tell of what you've felt, that heavy dreadful feeling in the air. You tell of the ships and the lights, the wailing and howling and the shadows. You mention Yrsa, silent, keeping a watchful eye at the beach. Something is approaching, and it is almost there.
Valis seems uneasy after hearing your stories, as if debating with himself whether this is in line with Anwald's stories of raiders, or with the tales of the old ladies of ancient and dark powers. Perhaps a combination of both. Nevertheless, potential danger is making its way to your shores. "Sound the alarm," Valis says to his guard. "Have every able-bodied man and woman gather arms. We must be ready in case the raiders make landfall." He then turns back to you, a small but kind smile on his face. "Get yourself a horn of honeywine, Keldian. You could use a drink." As you turn to head back to the mead hall, you're certain you hear Valis mumble something else. We all do.
You head to the mead hall before the crowd has gathered and...
> Drink a few sips of honeywine
> Drink a full horn
> Drink until you feel less afraid
> A mercy stroke with your blade should quickly end his suffering
Your hand closes around the hilt of the belt knife. You're fearful. You do not want to kill your friend, but it would be the quickest and safest way to end the wailing before he too ends up like some of the others. Drained of a soul is no true way of living, and death by a knife wound is always more honorable than forever disappearing in the dark vastness of the sea. "We shall meet again at the gates, brother," you whisper before sliding the knife between his ribs. Thorag gurgles and lets out a last rasping breath before his eyes truly go unseeing. You sit motionless next to his body, blooded knife between your fingers. As a warrior you have slain many men and women alike, but never a brother. Those last words will haunt you until the last of your days. Don't let the shadow... what? Which shadow was he speaking of? Had the living shadows from their land followed them even here? You pray they had not. The darkness that had stirred on your lands had better stay there. You fled from it all to be safe, not to be followed.
The sooner you get to the land the better. It was high time to get out of these boats and burn them alongside the bodies of the deceased. No way back, no way for the darkness to follow them across the Great Sea. You close Thorag's eyes and move his body to a somewhat more respectful position before you wearily push yourself up and turn to face your people in the ships behind you. "There is land ahead!" you bellow. "Soon we can search for food and shelter. Soon we can leave our cursed lands behind us. We might not be with many, but the Ember Heart Tribe will prevail. We will rise from our ashes and rebuild to be stronger than before!" The wind howls strongly, likely scattering most of your words into the unknown, but your energy seems to get the message across. Shimmers of hope light up in the eyes of those who haven't yet grown weak. Land, warmth, safety. But first you have to navigate to the shore. It's been raining for hours already, and the strong wind seems to be a forebode for a storm. A final obstacle in the Ember Heart's quest for safety. A wave hits your ship, and you stumble to keep your balance. An obstacle indeed. You warily eye the other ships, some far less manned than yours. Even so close to safety it is not yet sure all of you will make it. The wind is growing stronger, and already some of the ships disappear underneath the waves or shatter on unseen rocks. Those who still can start to scream for help, pray to the gods that they might just survive this ordeal. You watch the shore filling with people, and as your boat is one of the few to come closer, the silhouette of a man the size of a bear barges into the water and grabs you tightly by the soaked cloak. He tries you pull you off the ship. You...
> Let him pull you along, He might drag you to the land
> Try to pull the man on board instead
What ungodly hour is it? You might wonder than to yourself as you're rudely awaken from your slumber by loud noises from outside. It takes you a few seconds to place the sound. And as you do you suddenly find yourself wide awake. The alarm. The last time you heard that sound you were just a little child, and you had been told to hide safely until one of the adults came for you. Now you were a child no more. A grown woman, a healer for the Pale Wolf and next in line to follow in your father's footsteps on the Council. A day that might some soon, given the raids and the amount of time your father spends trading along the shore.
You feel a tug on the hem of your nightgown. "Sianni, what's going on?" your little sister asks quietly. You run a hand through her hair and give her a reassuring smile. "I don't know, little bird. But we'll be safe here." You get out of bed and quickly slip in your day clothes, just on case. And besides, if trouble is afoot, you as a healer will be needed. You walk outside, your sister trotting behind you. Father and mother are already outside in the gathering crowd. Valis is gathering his people around them. Men seem agitated, and beside Valis stands the scrawny figure you recognize as Keldian, your childhood friend who's always been a little... skittish. Next to most warriors he looks like a boy still growing into his body, even those younger than him. Maybe that's why the two of you used to be so close. Most boys were too busy proving how tough and strong they were, but Keldian was always more than happy to come along with you and explore the forest. You're still good friends, but the time you spend together is significantly less than it used to be. You've been busy learning the craft of healing, and busy being groomed to take over your fathers place as head of the family and member of the Council. Keldian is busy scouting the area and keeping the village safe. Seeing him even more skittish than usually makes you fear for the worst.
Without even realizing it, you hold on to your sister's hand. Clinging closely together, your sister still in her nightgown, you listen to Valis as he speaks. " Sianni..." your sister speaks even softer than before. "I'm scared."
>Drink a few sips of honeywine
I'd be tentative to take in something to null the mind right now. With danger on the horizon and Elyse still not back yet, I'd want to be ready for anything. Speaking of her, maybe we should check and see if she's okay? Did she make it back? We should check!
He may be tired from whatever traumatic stuff happened, but surely this guy's guard is way up. No way he's letting this guy take hold of him!
>"We'll be fine."
As a healer, she will know this like clockwork; never indulge their fears and always direct them rationally, talk them out of it. Surely she'd be quick to reassure her little sister, wanting her to keep her head on straight.
Another tie, so I rolled the dice to decide. A six and a one meaning...
@PenBlade1326 's and @eldorado 's options have both been chosen. One for the one line, the other for the other
> Drink until you feel less afraid
You're cold. You're tired. You're afraid. And if you've heard Valis' words correctly, he is at the very least concerned about something. The safety of his people, no doubt. But there's more. You know your chief as calm and composed. Valis still keeps up that idea, but you can tell something has changed in the way he carries himself. You watch from the mead hall as he consults Sigrid, the Pale Wolf's shaman. From this distance you cannot hear what they're talking about, and you cannot make much sense of the gestures they make as they speak. But you know one thing for sure: the fact that he consuls the shaman means he's either asking the Gods' blessings for a war, or keeping some supernatural evil at bay. And you like neither option. You're a scout, not a warrior. Ever since you were a boy you have tried to stay away from the fighting as far as possible. You preferred hiding in trees or exploring the forests with Sianni.
You fill a horn nearly to the brim and drink it in a single breath. You're warmer, but still find yourself lightly trembling with all the worried haunting your mind. So you fill the horn again and down it once more. You want to grab yet another horn, but notice that the square is nearly full of people. You should be there with them right now. Not drinking in the mead hall and appear like a coward. So you stumble to the square, nearly tripping over your own feet as you do so. Why does the world seem hazy? And why do the cobblestones look like the sea, going all up and down in waves? The wine has numbed your mind a bit. But you're certain the wine has given you some new insights too. An insight that drains all color from your face...
> "We'll be fine."
You, too, are afraid. Or rather.... you're worried. But your little sister looks up to you, and you have all faith in the people of your tribe. You believe the Pale Wolf will prevail regardless of what is to come. So you look at your sister and get down to her height. You embrace her tightly. "Don't worry, little bird. Everything is going to be okay. Stay safely inside with mother. The warriors will protect you.
"But where are you going?" she asks.
"To the beach. Someone has to come and make sure nobody gets hurt. I'll come back soon, I promise," you tell her, kindly directing her back to your home. "Back inside you go. You'll catch a cold," you say, giving her another hug before heading back to the square, where everyone is listening closely to what Valis has to say. The man doesn't need much to silence the murmurs and get everybody's full attention.
"Keldian and Yrsa have spotted ships nearing our shore. There appear to be twelve of them with no idea how well-manned they are. It is safest to assume the danger we have all heard of has nearly reached us as well. Keldian has reported howling and wailing from the ships. This might merely be an attempt to frighten us, but we cannot be sure what we are dealing with. I want half of those who can fight to come with us to the beach. The rest of you are to stay here and keep our village safe." The murmurs start again, people shuffling around nervously, trying to decide who's to come and who shall stay behind.
Your gaze darts to Keldian, leaning against a wooden beam. One you see a chance you wander over to him. Looking him up and down, you see just how miserable he looks. Pale faced, wide-eyed, red-nosed. "Keldian... are you drunk?" you ask. The scout feverishly shakes his head and grabs your arm.
"Sianni..." he whispers. "They're everywhere." There's a hint of panic in his voice. "Crawling around in the darkness. Here, in the woods, on the sea. Everywhere."
> "Keldian, you're drunk. Sleep it off."
> Take him to Sigrid. If he's seeing things, there might be more going on than you as a healer can know off.
Apologies for the slight delay. I've got evening shifts this entire week... >_<
I didn't forget Arkhaan. I'll write his scene again in the next round when the storylines meet for the first time.