The Curse of Night
- "It was a monster! The very thing he had stood watch for."
- Tongue Lash
Lashes out with its tongue, dealing extra damage to anything struck by its tip and releasing drops of blood. Collecting the blood will heal Blood Thief.
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- Shadow Form
Though briefly vulnerable while it changes form, the Blood Thief will meld with the shadows becoming invisible and gaining extra speed while hidden.
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Gulenstradd was, and for most still is, a city of no importance nestled in a forgotten crag of the Spine of the World, but for the rulers of the City of Night, that village has been a scourge to color their rule for generations. It began easily enough, Lord Falkren the seventy-first Lord of Night made war on the continent. With mighty Ulfberht in his hand, it seemed no power could stop him and soon his kingdom reached as far as Castegaul to the north and the swamps of Mephos, to the east. Even the Beastmen of Rodar fell to Falkren's armies and the flaming hell their master wielded in each battle. For a time. In truth, the beastmen are seldom conquered for long and it was no different in Falkren's time, though not perhaps, for reasons that would seem obvious. It was not beastmen, but the gnomes of the mountains that proved the end of the seventy-first Lord of Night.
When his armies began the march to take the mountain holds and delvings of the little men of the mountains, they were too numerous to count. Rank upon rank of warriors, each in black silks and wielding blackened blades, as was their custom, marched in a row that, the histories tell us, stretched from the City of Night itself all the way to the spine of the world. How terrifying such a sight must have been, but then of course, when the same army returned, it numbered less than one hundred souls. Not so terrifying then, eh?
Gulenstradd was the first town held by the mythical "gnomes" of the Spine of the World that Falkren's army set upon. It seemed so tiny, so inconsequential and yet for four solid months, its stone walls and the countless murderous traps hidden within held the tide of Night back. Falkren himself, was forced to deal with the "damned hamlet", wielding the Town Killer's magical fire to crack and batter the gates for a week until finally they fell, but when his legion of soldiers poured through the gates, they found the city deserted.
Not a soul remained behind to greet the soldiers. It was as if the city had never been populated, even the trinkets and trash of the little stonekin had been removed. Falkren cursed his army as he ordered them to secure Gulenstradd, thinking the time it took to break the town's defenses gave the little men time to retreat further into the mountains, to the greater delvings the Lord of Night knew were waiting to be plundered.
In his arrogance, Falkren had failed to understand his enemy. It was the mistake that doomed the Lords of Night forever more. Gulenstradd was the pride of the stokenkin, not a town, but a trap and contrary to what Lord Falkren had thought, he had not yet breached its defenses fully. The greater element of the trap waited to be sprung.
Snow, bitter blowing and cold, came in from the north heralding winter and Falkren realized his army could not mount a campaign in such cold. So, he took residence in Gulenstradd for, he thought, the winter. The first deaths occurred within a fortnight. It seemed nothing at first, patrols that failed to come back. Falkren dismissed them as fools lost in the cold or too clumsy to keep their footing on the treacherous mountain passes. Either way, he assumed them lost to incompetence. That a horror had come to stalk and devour his army had never occurred to the Lord of the City of Night, would be conqueror of the Lands Below.
No, in fact hundreds of his men died before the Lord of Night realized he was under siege. It was only when the first of his men standing the walls at Gulenstradd fell that the stories began of the black-winged horror, the blood drinker. Few caught glimpses of the beast, but even they could describe nothing but inky blackness and blood the color of darkened ruby. The victims, on the other hand, were another story altogether, one far more grisly.
The monster's victims were torn apart, as if gnawed upon by countless mouths and the blood, the blood was everywhere, as if the foul demon had reveled in extracting every last drop the soldiers had to spare and then, in orgiastic glee had used that foul humor to paint the gray stone of Gulenstradd a deep, blacked crimson.
Falkren began to grow fearful. What monster could do such a thing and escape into the night undetected? What other horrors awaited them in the dark delvings of the stonekin? Still, he was nobility, a Lord of Night, no less. His was the name spoken to instill fear in the night and he would not - could not - shy away from this monstrosity, whatever it may be. Demon, dragon or even a Titan itself, he would face it as was his destiny. So, with Ulfberht in hand, he stood watch on the wall himself one night. He would be the first of the Lords of Night to fall to the Blood Thief and its rider, the sole defender of Gulenstradd.
It was cold the night Falkren stood the wall. Colder than any night before. A thick mist, clouds passing around the mountains to bring rain to the west, had settled into the low places of the pass and left the stone city in a dim white haze. On any other night Lord Falkren would have cursed such a terrible damp, but on this night it extended his life; by moments, at any rate. It was only against the white of the fog that the Blood Thief was visible. At first, the Lord of Night wasn't even certain he had seen the beast. It was as if the shadows themselves suddenly detached from the stone walls and took on form against the mist. Slowly the shadow of a spire seemed to unfold revealing wicked wings and from its point, the neck of a serpentine creature unfolded. It was a monster! The very thing he had stood watch for. With a growl he drew Ulfberht and it hissed in the damp, its skin of fire snapping and dancing along the blade.
The creature answered the blade with a hiss of its own, suddenly snapping its neck forward. That was when Falkren saw the beast's tongue for the first time. It was massive, as long as the creature's neck itself and at its end was not the forked tongue of a dragon as Falkren expected, but instead what greeted him as it sped across the distance between monster and conqueror, was the grizzled and toothy maw of a demon! The tongue slavered and snapped as it opened wide, revealing snarled teeth, each razor sharp and dripping with saliva. With a start Falkren leapt aside, barely avoiding the wicked attack. He moved to strike back, raising Ulfberht high to cast a ball of fire at his enemy, but the beast was gone! Nothing but fog and shadows answered his scream of rage.
Still his cries were enough to rouse his army and soon hundreds more stood by him on the wall. When the beast attacked again, Falkren thought, they would pin it down and destroy it. Lord Falkren of the City of Night, conqueror of the west and scourge of fifteen cities, was wrong.
The beast materialized from nothing, suddenly appearing not on the other side of the wall but directly behind Lord Falkren. It roared and Falkren straighten with a groan, only to slump forward, a hole where his heart should have been. The drooling, fanged tongue of the monster wasted no time recoiling from its surprise attack and tore the now-dead monarch apart, sending rivulets and showers of blood and viscera across the wall. Countless arrows struck at the beast, the archers of the City of Night seeking vengeance, but even as the arrows sunk home the wounds they caused sealed and closed with each drop of the Lords Blood swallowed by the blackened beast's terrible red tongue.
Soon, the creature set upon the now-dead Falkren's army directly, stalking no more. Even for such a beast, the sheer size of the Army of Night was too much and eventually those few survivors managed to drive the beast off. Those survivors stacked the bodies, what was left of them, and set fire to them in the center of Gulenstradd before braving the winter to return to their desert city. They told their story to all who would listen and many included one startling fact: As they saw the beast for the last time, it was flying north along the ridge line, to the greater delvings of the gnomes. Many swore till their dying days that atop the beast was the figure of a tiny man in armor - a single gnome, a dragonlord atop the terrible Blood Thief.
Each descendent of Falkren's would make the same mistake and attempt to take Gulenstradd as Falkren had. Generation after generation, the lords of Night met their ends there in the "ruins" of Gulenstradd. It became known as Falkren's Folly. To the people of the City of Night, they called it the Curse of Night and each dreaded the moment their lord would call them to join the campaign. "To the Bloody End" became a commonly heard phrase in the Army of Night, but it did not symbolize loyalty or dedication, but rather resignation and the acceptance of fate. Perhaps that is why the shadow warriors of the City of Night are so fearless today - each joins their legion knowing they will die. If not here then on the stone walls of Gulenstradd, the Curse of Night.
But to the stonekin? Gulenstradd is an entirely different story. It is a story of the power of the people of the mountains. It is the story of how a single man can alter the course of history... if his dragon and his will be equals in strength and ingenuity.