by Jeff Blomquist

It all starts simply and innocently enough (for a Redcap). I will set my snares and ambushes, arrive at the Spirit Circle of Healing in the White Tower ruins early enough, and finally, once and for all, kill Fair Hair, the Witch, and the Ambulatory Corpse named Galen. Actually, since the Galen/Corpse is already dead, I will simply put him to rest, permanently.

It is not for hatred, Redcaps seldom bother with such a drainingly luxuriant emotion as hate. It is not for vengeance, one does not pursue vengeance against quarry and prey. If they harm you or make a getaway, it is due to one’s own sloppy technique. No, I will destroy them all finally because they are continually slipping between the snares I repeatedly set for them and, in all honesty, they are making me look inept. My brethren are watching, judging my performance here, and although lately I have done very well, claiming a great kill, these are loose ends that simply have to be tied up.

Now, near the circle I sit and wait. After the sun has risen to deplete the westerly shadows by two hands length, I hear them coming. I am ready, the Grumbling Axe and five bronze-headed throwing spears within easy reach. It should be only the three of them, I had gathered by eavesdropping the night before. The Ambulatory corpse, although his spirit essence chills my spine, is far too slow in reactions to pose any real problems unless I become careless. The Witch, having proved herself valiant on several occasions, cannot match me in one to one combat. And Fair Hair, though no mean weapons handler, has the goblin-like tendency to bolt and run at any boldly presented attack. I am less concerned with being able to outfight him than I am with outrunning him and bringing him to bay. A startled deer has nothing on this fellow’s skill at flight.

As it has been lately with the best laid plans, something has gone wrong. I should have known better. They have gotten past me and I have no real explanation for it. I am listening to their clumsy, lead-footed approach, then a scarlet haze floods my vision and the next thing I know they are approaching the circle and are well past me.

The Spirit of the Healing Circle has manifested to meet them. I try to get up to skulk up behind the three and realize that I cannot move a muscle. This is not encouraging. Many woodland beings would relish a chance at a paralyzed Redcap. It is a spell of an arcane nature not a hedgerow spell if it can bind a Redcap.

Other events are happening as well. I can sense another enchantment being cast in my direction and in a very short passage of time I realize that I can hear everything being said in the Healing Circle by the Spirit and the three now standing before it. My vision has become far more acute and I can see a gateway to the Spirit World being opened within the Spirit Circle. A gateway to the Spirit World, not the Faery other worlds, but the Spirit World. Such gates have been almost unheard of, except for the resurrection of last night, since the Great Devastation and the Time of Darkness.

The Spirit World is that great ethereal kingdom that connects and touches all of the other planes of existence and anchors them to one another. Although Mid Eurde and Faeryland has direct access points at certain arcane nexus points, it is through the Spirit World that one finds access to the Elemental Worlds and then further on, the kingdoms of the Afterlife and the Lands of the Dead. Beyond that lie the Worlds of the Immortals, also known as the Lower, Middle, and Higher planes.

The Great Devastation and Time of Darkness was a war across many planes of existence. Not only did the demons destroy the Immortals power by attacking their worshippers and their faith, they also closed off the nexus points which allowed passage of arcane and spiritual energies as well as passage of the spirits and the avatars themselves. So each planular world became isolated, and as mortals could not experience their Immortal leaders first hand and benefit from their guidance, belief in them diminished and as belief dropped, so did their powers and their abilities to reach their flocks and grant miracles. This explains the massive increase in undead and ghosts who cannot easily cross over to the Spirit World and are trapped here.

I am seeing all of this through a glowing crimson tint to the light which I perceive events in. Not an unpleasant color really, in fact its rather comforting. It’s like everything is backgrounded against a vivid pool of liquid blood.

I cease my idle gawking and concentrate upon the meeting occurring within the Spirit Healing Circle. The gate to the Spirit World is not yet fully formed. (Gate perhaps being the wrong word.) It is a preparation sphere, a place where one’s spirit and soul are bound to ones waking consciousness so that one can speak, think, and act in the Spirit World as on Mid Eurde. Other wise entrance to the Spirit World by the living is limited to fragmentary dream journeys fraught with illusion, allusions and three-dimensional metaphors. Fairly complex material; will power, thought and arcane energy are the keys in the Spirit World. Master them and you can manipulate matter, manufacture events, and wield powers that make Mid Eurde magic look paltry by comparison.

How does a butcherous Redcap know such esoteric occult lore? My kind, my people, are not stupid. We hunt, stalk, kill and murder in all types of terrains, all types of situations. Battle on the Spirit World Plane is exceptional for our kind; but not unheard of, so we train for the eventuality that we may be drawn into the Spirit World. We learn as much about it as possible so we are prepared for the hunt if it is presented to us.

Redcaps called Fearmongers have killed mortals from the Spirit World by entering their dreams and attacking and killing them, over and over. The mortal form is worn down by lack of rest, anxiety, and fear; soon his body succumbs and dies. Sometimes the Fearmongers will, after dream sending, appear in physical body and so panic his victim that he either dies of fright, flees randomly until exhausted or until is tracked down and finished. Such are skills, which I possess not at this time.

I wonder briefly, how and why I have such supernatural power of observation gifted to me at this time. Someone or something wants me to witness what is about to occur and I do not know who or why. Watch and learn now; question later.

The Witch is speaking to the Spirit of the Circle. She states that they have come to learn how they may obtain more ‘Holy Water.’ (At this I understand it to be water blessed or magicked by some Immortal.) They need this to resurrect the Galen/Corpse back to full mortal life. Infidels! Her words are far more eloquent than mine, but the result is the same. Unbalancing the scales of life and death once more.

The Spirit maintains that the only way for them to obtain more Holy Water is to enter the Spirit World in their dream spirit selves, merged with their day walking intellect and will power, and then undergo a series of tests to prove their worthiness. If they succeed, they will get their reward. If they fail, their spirits are rift away from their mortal bodies to wander the Spirit World until oblivion finds them.

Wait a moment! Though my lore is hazy on Immortals, I’m most sure that such is not the proscribed method of producing ‘holy water’! You can’t find it on the Spirit World or be given it. Nothing is material on this plane. Anything one attempts to bring back dissolves back into dreams and sunbeams. The Spirit of the Healing Circle is pulling some kind of confidence game here. They are being sent but ‘holy water’ is not the reason.

No matter, the quest is proceeding. I see the three of them lay down and their spirit dream selves form over their now comatose bodies. They look as they do in real life, like a projected illusion or dream vision. I should say that they all do except the Galen/Corpse. He appears as he must have in life, and I do say that it is a vast improvement. An obvious sword master, fairly young and cocksure, with a certain owl eyed-ness to his statement. Under other circumstances he would have made excellent prey. A good name for him at this point is Owl Eyes.

The Witches’ spirit is gazing upon him with such undisguised love, adoration and longing that it actually hurts for me to watch. I do mean it actually hurts. These immensely powerful emotions become the generators of enormous power on the Spirit World Plane and they also generate an unwholesome amount of attention from its’ denizens.

Fair Hair looks decidedly uncomfortable and his statement seems to say that he really doesn’t want to be here. He looks as a deer does before turning tail and fleeing. In fact, I can over hear the Witch murmur in Owl Eyes ear that he really shouldn’t be here. It should be Glan…no, Clam dip? Glandon? Glen…? Oh, I realize now. Two Bloods, the Elfling.

This much of the story I have gleamed together; spending many nights threatening goblins with torture so that they would eavesdrop for me. Crooked Grin was especially competent at this. I still wish I had killed him, though. He’s far too uppity for mere vermin. I digress. Owl Eyes, the Witch, Fair Hair, Two-Bloods and others were on a journey when ogres and undead skeleton apparitions attacked them. A lot of them. Owl Eyes fought valiantly defending his mate, the Heretical Witch, but was abandoned by the others. Two-Blood seems to figure prominently in this, and lead the cowardly retreat, abandoning his comrades to an especially ugly fate.

Owl Eyes sacrificed himself so that his mate could win free of the skeletal pack, and went down fighting heroically. The Witch escaped to live another day and was furious with Two-Bloods for his actions. So, thus, he became solicitous of her and served as her sometime protector, saving her from Golden Claws and thus starting a tenuous cease-fire with the Witch.

Obviously, they feel that it should be Two-Bloods on this quest in order to redeem himself and not Fair Hair. Personally, I feel it is a choice between getting beheaded or hung, either way you are dead. Especially with that kind of escort.

They make the necessary preparations to enter the Spirit World and I find myself following. Not in a spirit body form, but only my spiritual vision is following close behind them. A body would be far more exciting, but either way this promises to be a performance of high comedy.

The Spirit of the Healing Circle guides them through the disorientation between the planes, and then brings them to their Spirit World guide. He is a huge, hulking, Spectral Warrior clad in black and silver. His speech, when he does talk (which is seldom) is a harsh, whispering, rasp, which reminds one of deaths dry laughter on an autumn morning. He reminds me of someone, but I do not know whom. He gestures for them to follow and moves off without delay, the expectation being that they would follow. Is there any real choice in the matter?

The hulking shadowy menace of the Spectral Warrior accurately reflects the atmosphere of this Twilight Realm. The background that the Spirit World and its denizens have manufactured by conjuration for the three to interact in resembles a cross between a forest primreview on Mid Eurde and the sentient forestalls of the Faery World. It is strangely unfinished and silent, no birds, frog, or animal noises reach the ears or move through the ethereal underbrush. Yet, the very trees and bushes seem to be alive and watching the parties every move. At the far edges of ones’ vision shadows seem to dart independently of the angle of light cast upon them and anthropomorphic shades move and bend in an animate fashion. A gleeful, slightly malicious, anticipation seems to be the key watchword here and watch is the word, for everything seems to be watching. It is ironically humorous really, I am (for unknown reasons) watching the whomuns and unnamed other world spirits are watching me, who is watching the Watcher?

One thing that has to be kept in mind is that what we are seeing has been carefully constructed and maintained. All living things show a reflected essence on the Spirit World, yet it does not necessarily reflect the corporal vessel that is used on Mid Eurde. A thousand phantasmagoric shapes and figures are forming, dissolving and reshaping at the whim of its inhabitants. The careful construction of a rather mundane and pedestrian primal/faery forest denotes that certain forces are going to a lot of trouble and effort to orchestrate this scenario. Very intriguing.

The small group travels along the path behind the great dark Spectral Warrior. He is a combination of a great northern whomun and the black masked executioner the dwarf races employ.

All three of the party are staring about them with wonder, awe and trepidation. Owl Eyes is moving about in a free flowing, almost jubilant manner, his spirit now free from the imprisonment within the moldering rigor bound undead corpse of his once mortal shell. He is carrying a potent looking broadsword radiating some type of magical aura. He wears a soft doeskin tunic and trousers of a light tan color with a bright sash bound about his middle. He is wary, observant and careful.

The Witch is clad in her customary black silk blouse and pantaloons. A headband holds her long hair close to her head. She grasps her customary smooth-worn quarterstaff with a white-knuckle intensity. Her statement changes between antipathy and distrust towards the fantastic world about them to the ice melting looks of adoration and all consuming passion that radiates her love about her like the hateful rays of a rising sun. Every Spirit World denizen within visual sight will be attracted to this nova-like apparition.

Fair Hair occupies his customary tail end position, trailing slightly behind the first two. He wears his usual leather bracers studded with reinforced pieces of metal, and his leather armored vest looks the worse for wear, having suffered numerous cuts and slashes. The statement on his face is the most uncertain of the three as he scans the tree and brush line as if he is certain that scores of enemies are gathering there for the attack.

Being novices in the Spirit World, their spirit here simply reflects their appearance and bearing in the real world. A thousand different variations could be added and adopted simply with the power that resides within them, but they are too naïve and unschooled to utilize it. To them, this is a world as concrete and substantial as the world they came from. How wrong they are and how soon they are going to find out.

Their destination seems to be a small knoll that rises on the edge of an idealistic forest glade. A figure stands atop it, obviously waiting for them. A gasp of horror hisses out of the clenched teeth of the Witch’s mouth. “A Redcap!” she exclaims in fear, anger, and hatred.

A Redcap?! I cast my wizard vision about, wildly surveying the woodline. Has a Fearmonger made his way across to hunt on this plane? I neither spy his form nor sense his presence. It should be readily discernable. Has he come to end my existence here? Why? I should be in good standing, but why else would he be here? Only one as powerful as a Redcap Fearmonger can manifest on this world. What have I done?! WHERE is he?!

Owl Eyes squints somewhat nearsightedly in the twilight gloom at the figure waiting for them patiently, the one I have ignored up until now.

“I believe that you are mistaken, beloved. He has a red cap on, but he is not a Redcap.”

Stupid female whomun Witch! I wish I had a corporeal body on this plane, because right now I would cheerfully use it to gut her with a spoon, scoop out her eyeballs and then stuff them down her offending throat! How can one so blind live so long? That figure bears as much resemblance to a Redcap as a dandelion does to a Sycamore tree. She frightened me out of a years worth of spirit essence formation.

I review my last thoughts and begin to chuckle to my disembodied self. She frightened me! A Redcap! Fair is fair I guess. I’m positive that I’ve frightened her more than once. This is incredibly amusing. The only thing that could frighten a Redcap is a more powerful Redcap. Inadvertently she had done one of the few things possible to put a scare into me. Unbelievable!

As I ponder these last few moments the group moves on towards the grassy knoll. The great black Spectral Warrior stops and gestures the three on so as to come and stand in front of the figure that is patiently awaiting them.

He is a tall, somewhat gaunt figure, slightly stoop shouldered. He wears a red, pointed, wide brimmed hat that has the point bent over. (Astigmatic, color blind Witch! The cretiness didn’t even recognize the fact that it is the wrong shade of RED!) The face is lined with creases and scars, almost two thirds of the way obscured in a full beard and mustache that is neatly trimmed and shaped, gray-white in color. One eye is obscured by the shadowy brim of the battered wizards hat, while the other is as green as a yet to ripen hazel nut. He is dressed in flowing red robes like what a whomun scholar or holy man would wear. A large dark cloak with hood adorns his shoulders and is pulled close as if to ward off a night chill, except there is no chill. His head nods back and forth rhythmically, giving the impression of some doddering ancient, once of some standing but now well on his way to senility. For dramatic effect he leans upon a staff, yet it is less a walking stick than a runic carved artifact of arcane origins. The immense aura of power that surrounds him in a glowing golden halo that engulfs his entire body tells me that what he appears to be and what he really is are two different realities. The whomuns seem not to notice, however.

He is standing between two flaming, stick-mounted torches. He seems to expect them to walk around to the front of the knoll so he may address them from between the two flames. An impressive display, to be sure, but it does not work out that way. True to their unpredictable nature they come to him from the side and thus the ancient one is forced to totter over from his former position to face them unflanked by his fiery torches.

Unruffled by the change in agenda, he holds up a bony, liver spotted hand and declares “halt” in a firm but reedy voice with only the hint of a quaver. They stop, curious, observant, and not the slightest bit as confident as they try to appear. Apprehension clearly marked on each face.

The dusty old relic on the hillside clears his throat and begins. This time the words take on an oratory note, as in a speech which has been rehearsed over and over again. “We know why you have come here and what you ultimately seek. This goal is within your grasp, but lies on a difficult path fraught with peril.”

(Well, that is as illuminating as a cave-full of coal dust.) He phrases his words so carefully that they hear exactly what they expect and want to hear; but at the same time he says nothing of value. I wonder when he will get around to the real issue here. Directness does not seem to be one of his strong suits.

The Old One starts again after a significant pause. “Know that yee shall face four trials that shall test the depths of your character and reach deep in each of your own hearts! It shall be difficult and unpleasant. You shall know when you encounter each of the trials and it shall be up to you to decide what each of them mean and how each shall be overcome. Know that virtue is ever unfailing and how and why can be far more important than simple survival.”

By my bloody axe, did he even take a breath in between there anywhere? I realize that in the Spirit World you are not really breathing, but if you are going to keep up mundane appearances, you might as well pay attention to details. He certainly is in love with cryptic remarks. Oh, well.

“BE THEE WARNED!” He thunders in a stentorian voice, all pretenses at a reedy quaver forgotten. “If you fail here and your spirit is slain on this plane, you will be dead forever, your spirit consigned to oblivion and your corporal body rotting to dust on Mid Eurde.”

Well, that is direct and to the point. I wonder if this being could sense my sarcastic thoughts. He did seem more than a wee bit snippy in that last deliverance.

I reconsider his words. They ring false. Being slain on this world usually drives one back into one’s corporal body. Repeatedly doing so, such as a Redcap Fearmonger does to his victims, will wear one down as the victim gets no rest and the fear and anxiety sabotages his health and well-being. Then the Fearmonger stalks, and toys with him in the real world, stripping away his weapons, armor, possessions, courage, self- respect, and finally his will to live. Then, when he has nothing left, the Fearmonger takes his life.

But, eternal death on this world? Something is not right. It could happen but it would take an enormous concentration of arcane power and that will attract all types of unwholesome entities. This group is being fed a line, and they are swallowing it, hook, bait, and sinker.

The four trials to obtain holy water is bogus also. I am no great authority on whomun religious rituals, but usually it is a ceremony on Mid Eurde that creates the so- called holy water by it being blessed by their patron Immortal. The worshippers must enslave their thoughts and actions to the whims and desires of their patrons in order to be deemed worthy, but having to travel into the Spirit World to undergo potentially fatal trials seems to be a bit harsh on ones worshippers. By the law of averages alone within ten years they would be bereft of worshippers. To an Immortal, worshippers are food and drink, the more the better.

Now, my usually devious Redcap mind finally begins to think logically. If holy water can be provided, then ergo an Immortal (or Immortals) exist to be able to provide such. The stories that they and the denizens of the lower planes were destroyed in the Great Devastation were obviously exaggerated. Or were they simply lead to believe so?

On the other hand, if you destroy an Immortals' worshippers, you destroy the root of his/her/its power. Perhaps they were too weak to be able to open the nexus doors between the worlds to be able to contact their worshippers.

That is it! The Immortals could not reopen the doors from their side. It was up to some idiot mortal on Mid Eurda to find the Healing Circle. The Healing Circle is a nexus door. That’s why the power flows through so fluidly. It wasn’t arcane skill alone that performed the resurrection, it was a combination of that and the enormously malignant, corruptive power of love, desire and longing that summoned the power and thus focused it magically into one powerful key that unlocked the nexus doors and swung them open to summon the soul of the dwarf back from the netherworlds and drive it back into the body that has been restored to life. Now the gates are open once again. “WHAT HAVE THEY DONE?!”

Now I better understand why my spirit self has been summoned to witness this fiasco in progress. I have no idea who has sent me as of yet, but I do know why.

What I am witnessing now is a carefully crafted passion play complete with script and characters. (Redcaps have learned of theater from hunting elves, they are addicted to the craft.) Since I can do nothing but watch, I might as well settle back and enjoy the show.

By the time my attention has drifted back to the situation at hand, the ancient figure on the knoll has dismissed the three questors and they are following behind the huge dark Spectral Warrior. He motions them to proceed without him and suddenly he is beside the ancient red clad figure on the small knoll. The White Lady, the Spirit of the Healing Circle joins them, white, red and black. The symbolism is about a subtle as an ogre’s mating ritual signals. Creation, birth, and rebirth, beginnings for white; life, existence, passion, thought, sensations, and emotions for red; darkness, fear, death and endings for black (as well as the unknown.) The three primary colors of alchemy. These three are far more than simple spirits. As I focus in on them I can hear speech. It is the ancient one speaking. His words are now plain as day to me.

“I sense your unease, my great dark friend, yet a new generation must join us if we are to succeed. Our chance has finally come. Now let us see if these are the Chosen foretold.”

The dark one rumbles a question pitched too low for my ears to understand the words.

“Yes, you are correct,” the old one replies. “The third one is not destined for this world. If he survives, he will act as agent back on Mid Eurde. If he fails and perishes, then it simply must be accepted as collateral damage. Such is the way of things.”

The White Lady speaks softly with a musical, bell-like clarity. “They approach the first trial. Always inside a simple trivial action doth lurk motivations and intentions which reflect monumental repercussions.”

What was that all about? I wonder. No matter, the three are progressing down a well-worn path, a road really, and around the bend they spy two travelers ahead of them. They pay no heed to the three behind them and chat gaily amongst themselves. They appear to be two women, well-dressed merchant travelers from the look of them, but although they are armed and one is bedecked in leather-studded armor, they carry no packs of merchandise. Their clothing is richly bedecked with ornamentation and jewelry hangs from necks and ears, perhaps they are returning from a successful journey.

Wake up Redcap, I hiss at myself. This is an illusion of some sort. There is no past here, just a controlled, projected vision. It is well done though, and it is easy to loose yourself in it.

Just then a large, heavy purse dislodges itself from the belt of one of the two travelers and falls directly into the path of the three. Owl Eyes does not even hesitate. He sprints up to the purse, snatches it up with one hand and runs up after the two travelers. He didn’t even bother to look in the pouch. He runs up behind the two and they turn, grasping their weapons. He gestures that he means no harm, and offers up the purse with an out-stretched hand. “Pardon me, is this yours?” He asks with impeccable courtesy and manners. They smile “Thank you, yes.” One mumbles something about it being the money for a tournament, accepts the purse, and then they continue down the road.

Back on the hill the three ‘entities’ of the Spirit World are conferring (for lack of a better term.) The White Lady speaks. “That was well done, the first trial has been completed successfully. Rightness of thought and action has overcome the temptation of personal greed.”

That was it? How anticlimactic! I was expecting something more ostentatious. This ‘right action’ vs. ‘greed’ has me confused; yet Redcaps have no interest in purses full of shiny metal pieces and polished rocks, so I don’t really have a frame of reference to compare it to.

The dark Spectral Warrior rumbles forth a declaration. Again it is pitched too low. The Old One answers. “I know, I know, each of them should undergo a similar test on their own. Yet, we have precious little power and time to spare here. We are gambling much on one throw of the dice, but the rewards will be worth it.”

Whaaat? Okay, now I am really confused. The dark Spectral Warrior with the death mask and more than slight taint of evil is speaking again. (Yes, I know evil is too subjective of a term. This is a whomun definition. Perhaps violently hostile to ones self and all others is more appropriate as this is the way of the Redcap.) The old relic listens and then speaks. “I realize the other may have failed on his own. Yet, he is here in the most tertiary of roles. We have yet to see whether it is a boon or bane.”

That has to be Fair Hair they are talking about. Well, I certainly agree with that assessment. Left to his own devices, the two travelers would be missing their purse. I’ve watched him enough to get a good handle on how he will act.

The White Lady turns and says, “Great one, you are needed once more.” In a blink of an eye he is gone. I see him appear in front of the three questors, apparently ready to lead them to the next trial.

With the brief respite, I contemplate this what is right vs. personal greed. A memory surfaces, buried in the long gone past. A clan leader, pack master of the dread Slaughter Lords, once lead a large, many tiered pack from various ranks of status. Yet, he insisted that every hunt be his choice first, leaving only crumbs for the others. The Law of our kindred states that each Redcap deserves his season of testing (in murder and the hunt) every so many cycles. Yet, this Slaughter Lord flaunted and flouted this Law, wishing all the accolades and status won to be his alone. Rather than awe and adoration, he was vilified and cursed. He was cut down by the entire pack (after heavy casualties.) The sacred words were spoken to deny him rebirth and his spirit driven deep into the lower planes of the abyss. Is that what they mean? Is that greed? The Law is right, his greed was wrong!

The Spectral Warrior leads them to a new path and then disappears. He is quick rejoining the other two on the knoll. The White Lady speaks from ethereal lips. “Now begins the trial of compassion and pity.”

I understand pity. It is a useless, insulting, degrading emotion. Redcaps have no patience with anything that uses it. But what is compassion? I thought it meant the same as pity but I am assuming not if they so named it separately. I suppose that I will have to watch and see.

They come upon a small clearing and spy two figures, one large and bulky, one small and simpering. The big one is a mixed breed, human from the shape of his head and face, but with a bestial trace that is enhanced by small upward thrusting tusks and a huge, vaguely snout-like nose that twitches. He sniffs and snorts while he speaks. He is clad in red plate mail and chain armor, with a skull emblemed kettle helm adorning the top of his head. He is well over 6½ feet tall and appears to be very strong. He holds a large two-handed sword.

The other is a goblin, a simpering, tittering, and servile goblin. The vermin of the night and creepers in the dark type of goblin (as if there is any other kind.) The big one seems to be picking on the goblin. The three approach. I can see how this will turn out, all three will kill the goblin and once the pest is eliminated they will travel on with the half ogres thanks.

The goblin spies their approach and turns to the three. “Hellpp meee!” It squeals pathetically. Useless creature, have some dignity and kill yourself so as to spare others the trouble.

 Something happens to the Witches face. She rears up and shouts at the ogre. “You big bully, leave him alone!”

 The half ogre looks up from his taunting and appears confused. “Grimlock not like being yelled at. Grimlock not know you.” He approaches and sniffs the air around the witch.

“Ugh, get away from me!” She cries.

The other two close in, weapons at the ready. Owl Eyes begins reasonably, “No need for unpleasantness here, just leave us and the little one alone and we’ll be on our way. Perhaps an accommodation of some sort can be reached?”

Well spoken. I have no idea why they are interfering, but well spoken. They and their kind have butchered goblins by the score (a good side to whomuns that I sometimes fail to give merit to.) Yet, now they are risking the wrath of the half ogre by trying to save one, and its life wasn’t even being threatened.

The red garbed half ogre hunches over, his sable fur cape glistening black in the twilight. “Grimlock not know this accommodation, where is it so it can be reached?”

I chuckle to myself; let’s see them work their way out of that one!

Owl Eyes is up to the task. “No,” he says in a dead level tone. “An accommodation is that we give you something to make you leave the small one alone.”

Grimlock’s eyes light up. “Her?” he asks hopefully. He pants at the Witch. She begins to sputter indignantly.

“No!” states Owl Eyes. “I think not.”

“Oh,” says Grimlock. “Okay…YNAGAHHH..!!” With that blood-curdling cry, he rushes the three, swinging his huge weapon.

It is not much of a battle, for all his impressive proportions, the half ogre seems to be deliberately pulling his blow and fighting at half his ability. After the party wounds him slightly, he turns and flees into the underbrush. That is not like anything with ogre’s blood in its veins like I have encountered in the past.

The Spectral Warrior snorts from atop the knoll. “Yes, great one. We know, but this wasn’t a test of battle skill, it was a test of compassion.” The Old One says.

“Yes,” states the White Lady. “They had the compassion and pity to stand up for the weak and helpless against those far larger and stronger, even when the weak ones were not of their own kind and, in fact, is considered an enemy, albeit a weak one at that.”

“That is what compassion means?!” I wonder, thunderstruck. “That is supposed to be a virtue? How? Why?” I look at the grim visage of the Spectral Warrior. He certainly can’t see that as a virtue. Unless… unless it is considered not sporting of one so big and strong to be bothering with a mere goblin. That must be it. The Redcap Law of murder and the hunt clearly states that one should chase prey appropriate in challenge and danger level to their own skills and abilities. So one should have a prey that always has a chance, either to get away or to best you, for it to be a true test of one’s abilities.

This was not a challenge for the half ogre. The goblin had no chance against the half ogre so they showed compassion to the goblin by allowing it to get away so that it may be hunted and killed by one closer to it in skill and abilities. Just as one does not kill pregnant females or those with young, it is not sporting and it depletes the future herds.

My respect for these whomuns goes up a notch. I did not realize that they were this astute. Obviously, I misjudged them.

As I gaze upon the three on the knoll I am struck by a revelation. The three entities represent the three phases of whomun life. The White Lady represents the fertility, nurturing, and healing side that is necessary for them to raise their young and to act together as a group or community to protect their breeding stock and the resulting young. The Old One is life, itself. Life is simply the time between birth and death unless one learns to make it more. It needs passion, curiosity, and the desire to learn and gather knowledge. The ability to advance beyond what one is now, and leaves it a better place than what it was found as. The great Spectral Warrior is the violence and brutality inherent in whomuns so that they can survive in a tough world. It is Death. Death brings you game to eat, death slays an enemy, and your death is the final exit. It is a great revolving cycle, to survive one must kill and in the end one dies so that new life can come into the world. I see it now clearly.

If I had to choose, it would be the great Spectral Warrior, as I identify with death and serve his purpose, but these entities are of whomun concern and not associated with my kindred. Our essence is of similar age, for we are very old and we have little need for immortal Spirit World masters, when we finally prove ourselves and come into our own, each Redcap is his own master.

The White Lady turns to the Old One and the Spectral Warrior. “Hurry,” she says. “We must complete the trials. The forces of nature are already aware of the fact that something is happening, although I doubt if they know exactly what we are up to. Something else is watching our performance and I cannot detect who it is but we cannot rule out the possibility that it could be HIM!”

That ‘him’ sounded far to ominous if it can cause concern in these three. I wonder if it is I that they are sensing, and again I wonder what power has granted me the ability to see what is happening-could it be this him? No matter. I sense that another trial is in the making.

The Old One turns to the Spectral Warrior. “Go now, and prepare them. This should be more to your liking.” With a blink of the eye he is gone. Was that a hint of a smile that I saw on that grim visage? I wonder.

The three are lead by the Spectral Warrior to the entrance of a small clearing. He gestures them onward with an imperious wave. They move into the clearing. Tall grass reaches up past their knees and small gentle hillettes encircle the glade, which is wreathed by a smattering of pine trees. As they move into the glade, figures appear. A hobgoblin, tower shield and long sword with light armor rises up out of the grass. Another is beside him; he is Addertongue and yet is not Addertongue. A facsimile, perhaps? A goblin, the one being picked on by the half ogre, appears. Then the half ogre, resplendent in his furs and red armor rises up. Four against three, not good odds, but not impossible odds.

Owl Eyes speaks calmly, “Please let us pass, we mean you no harm!” It is answered by silence and the dark races moving closer. From across the clearing a fifth figure strides into view, all nine feet of him. An ogre. Not quite Old Custard Face but equal to his size, age, and brawn. The scales are tipping way out of balance.

“What do you want?” It is the Witch speaking; there is a slight edge to her voice with perhaps a hint of desperation.

“Your blood!” cries the hobgoblin with the tower shield.

The one next to him shouts out an inarticulate war cry, “Gharr!”

“Spirit blood we want.” The tower shield one continues. “We take your essence, destroy your form here, and suck your souls dry. Long have we waited.”

The one next to him repeats his war cry. “Narghh..”

“Well, I guess that answers that question.” Owl Eyes moves into a defensive stance with sword upright and raised over the shoulder, one hand out stretched, his head lowered. He is watching everyone moving out of the corners of his eye. “Watch over to the right. Move in closer, stay tight.”

The orders he snaps out are clear and concise. The Witch is ready. Fair Hair seems rather wild eyed. I’ve seen such looks before, on game just before bolting. He is almost ready to break and run. It will not take much.

The dark Spectral Warrior is back on the hillock with the White Lady and the Old One. Indistinct words rumble forth, like the threat of summer thunder in late afternoon. The Old One cocks his head; he seems to be listening intently. “Yes, his style definitely shows an eastern influence. The sword should be lighter, and of a better quality steel with a slight curve to the blade. Note the stance at the ‘ready guard’ position. Each move is carefully planned.”

“Enough,” speaks the White Lady. “This is not occurring so that you two can critique their weapon style performance. Old One, I can already hear the dissertation on fighting styles being written in your head.”

The Old One gets a sheepish look on his face, and then grins suddenly. “To true, my dear. My great friend finds this food and drink, and I appreciate the knowledge, discipline, and training that goes into so deadly an art. We must now look to the battle as it plays out.”

The dark races had closed and the fighting commenced. Again, the style of the attackers seems contrived. Something was holding them back. Owl Eyes and the Witch move against the ogre, half ogre, and a hobgoblin. Fair Hair is being pressed by the hobgoblin with the tower shield and the goblin.

The Witch shouts to the goblin that gazes at her occasionally. “We helped you, don’t you remember? You don’t really want to hurt us do you?”

I cannot tell if there is a response or not. I am watching Fair Hair. Wait for it, wait for it, anytime—NOW! As the half ogre turns toward Fair Hair, away from the others, Fair Hair suddenly bolts and runs away. The tower-shielded hobgoblin is right behind him and the goblin is attempting to get ahead of him to cut off his escape.

I feel disoriented for a moment, and then an effect that I find fascinating happens. My disembodied vision has split in two. One part of it follows the retreating Fair Hair and the other part watches Owl Eyes and the Witch.

Owl Eyes and the Witch are fighting a heroic, if outmatched battle. The half ogre and the ogre are more than a comfortable handful, the hobgoblin is the one that tilts the balance far out of their favor, and he is a canny veteran fighter with sword and shield.

The Witch moves slightly ahead of Owl Eyes’ sphere of defense to assault the snuffling, sniffing half ogre. A fatal flaw. The ogre’s great sword flicks out and pierces her in the side. She cries out once and falls. With a maniacal gleam in his eye, and a clenching of his jaw, Owl Eyes steps beside the dead or unconscious body of his mate and lays about him for all he is worth, holding all three at bay.

Fair Hair, mean while has out run his pursuers and is crashing through the underbrush, attempting to loop around, presumably to get back to the comrades he has abandoned, once again. He is taking to long, he will find only the images of corpses. He is breathing hard, sucking in great, ragged gasps of air. Then the tower-shielded hobgoblin steps out of the brush to confront him. The goblin is making his way towards them, having determined that Fair Hair has circled back.

“Please,” begs Fair Hair. “Just let me go. You can have everything that I own. I don’t want to fight you. My shineys, my sword, everything, just please let me go.”

How disgusting. I am glad that I am just a disembodied spectator-otherwise I would throw up. Whatever possessed Owl Eyes to take this sniveling wretch along? The Great Bear or the Young Lion would be far more useful, not to mention loyal and trustworthy. Hopefully, the hobgoblin will kill him and put an end to this pathetic display. The Old One and the White Lady did say that if your image is slain here you shall be forever dead.

The hobgoblin bellows once and charges, holding the great shield wide and away from his body! The sword is outstretched in a separate direction. What is he doing? It looks like he is going up to embrace Fair Hair rather than fight him. This must be part of the plan. He is not meant to die. Fair Hair dispatches him with relative ease and then turns and deals with the goblin, who has just appeared. It is a short fight and Fair Hair once more triumphs. He then sets down his sword and systematically begins to loot the bodies, stripping them of armor, pouches and anything appearing remotely of value. His comrades are in a battle for their lives and souls, yet he is stopping to pick up merchandise and souvenirs. He greedily grasps a leather pouch off of a weapons belt and impatiently fumbles with the tie. When it opens, he almost drops it with a cry of disgust. It is full of slimy, wiggling worms, leeches, and caterpillars. A lone copper piece is nestled into the bottom. I smile at that, someone here has a sense of humor.

My attention is brought back to Owl Eyes and the Witch. He is still standing over her body, defending her and determined to sell himself as dearly as possible. The Spectral Warrior appears and with a voice as cold and unyielding as glacial ice commands the dark races, “Go back!” They immediately withdraw. He then moves over to the Witches body. A hand passes three times over it. “Rise, be whole, hale and hearty.” She opens her eyes and surges to her feet, ready for battle.

The Old One looks over towards the White Lady with one eyebrow raised in question. “Our words were, Old One, that if you fail, you will be dead forever. The test was of courage. Both of these two passed without question, showing unbelievable courage. Thus, they did not fail and do not deserve eternal doom.”

“And of the third?” The Old One inquires.

“He is not the one being tested. He is simply along to bear witness and to serve as memory and storyteller. Failure on his part is of no consequence.” The Old One considers what she has said and then nods in agreement. “Your arguments are logical and sound. Disappointing as that display was, it is of no purpose. We shall move on to the last trial.”

The Spectral Warrior leads them onward once more and then points out the direction they should take. They already can hear a fairly loud commotion taking place. There are high-pitched goblinoid shrieks and screams of pain and fear, periodically interspersed between the sounds of a whip biting into flesh. A deep, gruff, inhumanly loud voice is cursing, swearing and making denigrating remarks between the sounds of the whip striking. “You are a useless goblin.” (Whack, Whack) The sounds of screams echo in the pines. “You are stupid, lazy, and never steal enough to justify your keep.” (Crack, snap) “You can’t even take your punishment properly.” (Whack, shriek) “Why do I even bother with a sniveling, pathetic, worthless scag like you?” (Snap, smack, yelp)

As they parted the bushes they found a somewhat familiar scene. A goblin was tied up and being beaten by an ogre. (A very articulate ogre.) This time though, it was not a half ogre, but a true ogre, all 9½ feet tall and 70 stone in weight. A magnificently ugly creature, he rivaled Old Custard Face in looks and bearing.

The Spectral Warrior guide turns to the Old One and rumbles forth a question, having returned to his spot on the hill. “Yes, dark one, it does seem to be a repetition of the second trial. The second was for pity and compassion, defending the weak from the brutally strong. Yet, now, they know it will gain them no advantage because the goblin will not thank them for it nor change his behavior because of it. If they intercede now the rightness of this action will be so for honor, regardless of the outcome or the motivation it is the action that is important because it is the honorable thing to do. If they intercede now, the intercession, be it base or pure, will be because it is the right thing to do and all that they may get out of it is a warm, pleasant feeling inside of themselves for having done the honorable thing.”

Incredible. He said more words in one statement than most Redcaps will say in an entire moons worth of passing. I hope this one actually is an immortal. He needs the extra time just to finish what he is saying. I puzzle over what he is saying. This ‘honor’ term has me ever more confused.

Events are happening, however. The Witch surges to the forefront and declares, “Stop that, leave him alone!” The other two sigh and shift their weapon stances accordingly.

The ogre looks up, bemused. “Why me stop? Him my goblin, I do with as I please!”

“But you’re bigger than him!” The Witch blurts out.

The ogre grunts in agreement. “That right, that why ogre in charge.” With that he sets down his whip and reaches for a great sword. At the same time the Grimlock half ogre appears and after declaring, “You smell bad!” attacks the party. Again the fighting capacity of the dark races seems diminished. The ogre is slain and the Grimlock half ogre runs away, not a very ogre-like thing to do. Fair Hair loots and scavenges what ever he can.

The Spectral Warrior once again appears to lead them back to the knoll. The appearance of each of the three is striking. Owl Eyes seems vastly amused, as if he was a prisoner who had just had an afternoon furlough. The Witches face is both relieved and triumphant. I would wager that she thinks they have won the right to their ‘holy water’ but since she didn’t know what each trial actually was for, she’s not sure. Fair Hair is comical to look at. He is straining under a huge load of looted equipment, a hobgoblin helmet sits askew upon his head, and a battered brigantine corselet is haphazardly wrapped about his torso. A shield is slung over his back and several weapons are clenched between his body and arms. He is also dragging a small sack.

The Old One is waiting alone at the top of the hill. This time the torches are positioned properly. He raises a hand for them to halt and then the Spectral Warrior walks up to confer with him. In a moment, the White Lady of the Healing Circle joins them. I wonder if the whomuns catch the significance. I doubt it.

The old, scarlet clad relic takes a deep breath. (Oh, this is going to be a windy one, I can tell.) His eyes narrow suspiciously for a moment and then he begins. “You have been challenged with four trials to overcome to prove yourself worthy. The first was the trial of Greed. Your honesty triumphed and in this trial, Greed was overcome,” a slight pause. (Was that directed at Fair Hair?) “The second trial was that of Pity and Compassion.” The Old One continues, “You defended the weak against the brutalizations of the ruthlessly strong, even though he was not of your kind and considered an enemy. You showed compassion and this trial you have, once again, overcome.” The Old One pauses for a moment and then continues. “The next trial was that of Courage.” I can see Fair Hair’s face crumple inward like a dried apple. “One of you has failed this trial.” “The last trial was of Honor, doing the right thing regardless of the motivation or consequences just because it was the Right thing to do. Of this you have passed.” The Old One looks directly at Owl Eyes. “Galen ‘the Owl’ Tremer. You have endured much. You have persevered in spirit and journeyed back to join those you love. You demonstrated the heart of a true hero, and for you, these four trials were presented, and you alone. Yet, even then you would not abandon those you love and they accompanied you through them.” The Old Ones face softened and smiled. The White Lady radiated an aura of pure white dazzling light. Even the face of the grim Spectral Warrior seemed friendly. “You have succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. Advance and join us, Galen the Owl and take your place amongst the ranks of the Immortals. You have proved yourself worthy!”

“WHATTT!!??!! NOO!!!!” The Witch shrieks, a soul wrenching sound of want, loss, and desire. (I noticed that she has a rather penetrating voice when excited.) “We came here to get Holy Water, not to search for immortality!” She stops and looks at him uncertainly, finally understanding what is being offered to him. Her lower lip trembles uncertainly. “I don’t want to lose you again!” She wails forlornly.

Now that is devotion! I may not understand much of what else has happened, but it finally dawns on me the power of whomun devotion and what it truly means. I am thunderstruck.

“My lady…Silence!” The Old One speaks commandingly.

I am not sure if he is using her proper name or imploring her to shut up. Either way the tactic works.

“My Lady, your unconquerable love has triumphed through unfathomable hardships. You have endured much and your devotion has given us the catalyst that has propelled us into a new era. For this you, too, are offered the chance to join the ranks of immortals and stand at Galen’s side. Or you may return to the corporal world of Mid Eurda and pass on the story of Galen the Owl and the return of the Immortals.” The Old One pauses momentarily. “Please make your choice.”

A short, hurried conversation ensues and then Owl Eyes steps forward. “What is your answer, Galen?” The Old One asks.

“I accept,” he says in a clear voice.

The Spectral Warrior turns his back to the group, and when he turns back he has a garment of glowing, shimmering cloth. “Behold and don the raiment of the Immortals. It is a tunic of the most absolute green.

Galen the Owl puts on the tunic and stops, posturing. He looks as if he is posing for a statue. He appears to be extremely pleased with himself. The Spectral Warrior turns and then turns back again. This time he is holding a sword and shield of glowing gold. “Behold the weapons of an immortal.” Owl Eyes grasps each and holds them up to the light, enthralled by the glowing golden nimbus of both.

The Spectral Warrior rumbles forth a question. The Old One turns to the group. “My Lady Silence,” she jumps slightly, somewhat startled. “Do you accept the offer?”

“I am not leaving him!” She declares resolutely.

“I will take that as a yes.” The Old One says with a slight smile.

She is then offered a too green garment of the Immortals. She puts it on and even I can see that it looks far better on her than on Owl Eyes. The Spectral Warrior turns, turns back with a quarterstaff of shimmering gold.

“Accept also the tools of the Immortals.” He pauses again for effect. “Know that both of ye have chosen a path strewn with great dangers and perils and equally great rewards. An Immortal is thus so because his memory and image has been kept alive by those who honor and cherish them. Thus you, Galen, were able to return imprisoned in your undead shell and now the both of you advance to be one with us. But, it is left to you (at this moment he is pointing at Fair Hair.) You must return and spread the word of the new immortals to Mid Eurda. You have much to learn, much to accomplish.” His eyes harden and narrow. “DO NOT FAIL THEM THIS TIME! Now, all the Spirit World welcome and rejoice at the coming of Galen the Owl and the Lady Silence into the halls of Immortality.” With this the applause about and around them swells and crests. The three original entities on the hill, applauding gently, the various Spirit World monster manifestations clapping, and it seems that the earth itself was applauding.

The Old One picked up a glittering goblet, “Drink the nectar of the gods, my friends.” Galen and Silence, once Owl Eyes and the Witch, move forward and partake. Fair Hair moves forward as to partake, also, but is stopped by the Old One. “Alas, you may not touch your lips to such liquid, for such drink is only for Immortals. You must return, but take this.” He hands Fair Hair a glowing blue stone and then one to the Lady Silence and Galen the Owl (the Witch and Owl Eyes). “This is a token of your trial and the link between you. Fair well and return to Mid Eurda to fulfill your mission successfully, for much depends on it.”

With that the vision fades and Fair Hair and my ethereal awareness return through the nexus gate to the Healing Circle at the ruins of the White Tower. Fair Hair reenters his body and slowly awakens. Needless to say, none of the booty he had plundered off of the corpses of the Spirit World came with him. He gets up, looks about, and slowly begins to make his way back to the base camp and then ultimately, the village of Shadowgrove. Owl Eyes and the Witch are, of course, gone.

He has been long gone before my ethereal vision/awareness reenters my body so that I may move again. Obviously, I was not meant to kill him today, curses.

I must return to my brethren immediately. I have knowledge of world-shaking implications. The return of Immortals must be heralded and then considered. What does this harken for our own kind? It must be brought before the council and discussed. What will we do? None may know for now. By my reckoning, an Immortal by its very name may not be killed, but its followers can be slain. This could present even more wondrous opportunities, by expanding my earlier thought. If we allow these cults of Immortals to flourish, we are breeding an even more potent quarry to murder and slay…How tempting.

I must be off. I find that with concentration I can far-see a hundred paces in front of myself and hear noises as well. A gift? From whom? I have no answers there. My new third eye, my Redcap eye will be put too good use. I look up and scan the skies. Clear, so far. I have heard of huge storms that swirl in a circle as they move, with a center of calm and stillness. That is where we are now, in the Eye of the Storm. The Great Devastation was the first side of the storm, now we are in its eye. The second part comes, Eye of the Storm, Eye of the Redcap, how fitting.


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