The Eternal Sentinel
“No one goes through this door!”
The master's words resonated over and over in the animate's mind. All that it was and all that it had become was for this request. Many had tried to pass, but he had dispatched all of them. The door remained closed, its white marble surface undisturbed.
The animate took comfort in its armor. It was fashioned by master himself, a glorious relic of ancient times. Its massive, heavy blade was a special tool of destruction, and a constant reminder that the master was still watching to see if the door stayed shut.
The remains of the last foolish creature who tried to pry the door open, a cave sickle, lay dead at the warden's feet. It had struggled valiantly, thinking it could pry its frame through the small crack in the door. The warden had stood so still that perhaps the cave sickle didn’t even know it was alive, and not some kind of statue carved from stone. It must have been surprised when it died.
The master must have been pleased.
The warden stood still like always, vigilant. It wouldn’t let anything pass. It had sworn to the master, and it would never violate its duty. The stench of rotting bodies near the door drove the creatures of the vault away. It was a clever plan devised by the warden itself, and one the master seemed to be pleased with.
The master had called it by that name. It was a strong name and further inspired the animate to protect the door. Nearby, at the warden’s side, an old skeleton rotted away with the passage of time. Its frail form crumbled against an inlet in the rocks of the vault. The skull's empty eye sockets stared up at the warden. The warden shuffled almost imperceptibly, proud of its most recent accomplishment of protecting the door and killing the cave sickle. After all, the master was still watching.
For our Day 23 unlock, we will be adding a unique miniature to the KS2 Promo Box that thematically represents a moment (or more) in Unintentional Malum.
To be clear, this miniature is part of the KS2 Promo Box and is being given away for free as part of every pledge level at the "Through the Portal" level or higher
Populated by Demons, Witches, Creatures and their Minions, Neemoss is a world infused with magic and cruelty. Imagine the atrocities Girtiya must have committed to be imprisoned.
Virtually immortal, her punishment was to remain confined until she could escape. An easy task if she could access her powers, but the Demon-hide gag cut her off from her spoken magic.
Seething in her chains for uncountable decades, Girtiya finally found a way to grasp the magical essence of Neemoss through silent meditation. But just as she freed herself from one prison, she was sent to another: the Conjunction swept her away!
As a Day 23 unlock we're excited to announce our cross promotion with the mysterious and dedicated team over at Dark Gate Games. These folks were one of the earliest connections we made in the industry. After our first campaign ended they reached out with questions and together we decided to lend them our very own Nyx for their Kickstarter The Order of Vampire Hunters.
We've been excitedly waiting for the time when we could use one of their creations in Middara. Today, Dark Gate was finally able to tag us back with a wonderful design from their successful Kickstarter Dark Rituals: Malleus Maleficarum. They're accepting late pledges still, so don't hesitate to go check them out!
With The Order of Vampire Hunters under their belts, we can't wait to play Dark Rituals. The theme and narrative really captured our attention. And the Witch theme was a perfect candidate for the story we wanted to tell on this campaign.
The good people over at Dark Gate Games have always been willing to make time and chat whenever we reached out. We wanted to give them a huge shout out for all their feedback and time they've put into helping us anytime we needed it.
Trenchworx is hard at work making the Resin miniature for Girtiya as we speak. As soon as we have something to show we'll be posting pictures of the resin kit. (Hopefully in the next three weeks.)
Girtiya, The Imprisoned Witch Resin Kit comes with a beautiful Resin miniature (that will require assembly), an Initiative Card, two Item Cards, an Intelligent Combatant Card, and an Adventurer Card. This kit comes in all "With Swag" Pledge levels and can be added as an individual add-on for $20.
For those curious, the Intelligent Combatant card will come with rules to spice up Unintentional Malum by adding some variety to some of the spawn options during Encounters.
Now! On with Nyx's story!
They came. Nyx knew they would—there was no new bargain to strike here, no desperation. The Sardonic Vultures would come when she called and enjoy what taste of Middara she could give them. Even if that taste was fighting for their lives. She reached out, and they listened, and abruptly the bargain was struck.
For a moment, Nyx was somewhere else, seeing into a bleak corner of Arkalla where an angry sun ruled over the crystalline bones of slain monsters. Little grew here and even less lived to feed on it--but whenever something moved, predators would swoop in to devour.
They were exactly the sort of allies she would need, with claws that could tear easily at unprotected flesh, and no fear for the blood they would shed.
Then the moment of exchange was over, and Nyx’s vision returned to Middara. There was the armory, and the Incubi in their overwhelming numbers. At least until the first of the Vultures poked its hoary head through the ruined stone rafters, wedging through and tearing rock to break in. Another crawled through a broken window, ignoring the spears of glass that tore at its flesh.
Several tore through the door behind them, passing overhead and descending on the nearest Incubus with another shriek. He fell with a gurgle of pain, and several of his fellows retreated.
Nyx did her best to stay behind as many of her summoned esper as she could, where she could send silent commands and direct the battle. Assemblage was far more an intellectual school of magic than Curor or the marshal crafts. Before the battle came the research and the exploration, to find espers that might be friendly to an agreement.
But now, when the battle raged around her, her fight was tactical. She watched a dozen Vultures at once, directing each one with a thought or a shout when they grew distracted.
It was nothing like that for the others.
Christopher advanced on the witch, his massive blade clutched in both hands. He was a center of calm as Incubi and espers died around him, muttering a quiet prayer in Spanish. It looked as though an unseen light shone on him from above, getting brighter with each step. A white and gold breastplate settled over his chest, then a set of glowing pauldrons, linked by a fine weave of gold scales. The first Incubus to strike him lost his arm in a spray of sickly black blood. The rest backed away, letting him meet Girtiya near the center of the broken armory.
The witch lifted objects at random from around her, tossing wrecked stone and ripping iron sconces right off the walls, hurling at the knight like bullets.
I hope you’re as good at this as you say you are, Nyx thought, focusing on the others. She was losing espers fast, that was the disadvantage of a swarm. Though three Incubi had fallen before the rest could react, the ones still standing seemed like better fighters. When three Incubi came at an individual summoned vulture at once, they didn’t stand a chance. They swept across the battlefield in groups of two or three, and Nyx’s numbers were dwindling.
They were doing the same thing to their human opponents.
Ai had left a bloody trail back into a corner, with four Incubi surrounding her. She’s not healed yet. She can’t move as fast as before. Nyx took off, drawing the attention of at least two more Incubi as she curved down towards Ai.
“Get away!” Ai roared, shedding her gauntlets at her feet. Her arms sped up again, blurring as she yanked barbed daggers apparently from open air, throwing each one before reaching for the next and throwing it in turn.
Nyx landed in a crouch beside her, right as two of the Incubi dropped. Two more retreated together, back towards their mistress at the center of the room.
“You’re bleeding,” Nyx realized, eyes widening as she saw the red spreading from Ai’s belly. She’d taken another hit there, tearing open Nyx’s haphazard treatment. Ai slumped sideways, and Nyx caught her against the staff.
“No shit.” Ai used one arm, pressing the wound closed. “Got any juice left for more summons? Christopher needs us too.”
Nyx surveyed the battlefield. They’d killed or incapacitated over half the Incubi servants. But there were more, closing in around her and fighting Christopher.
The Spaniard’s summoned armor had taken a beating. Even as she watched, Girtiya slammed a rotten wooden shelf into him from one side, exploding it into splinters. He stood firm, wobbling for a few seconds and nearly dropping. Then his armor mended—and she suspected, so did the person underneath. “The archangel fights beside me, witch!” he roared. “What can demons and false gods do against the might of Michael?”
Nyx couldn’t magically heal Ai’s injuries, or she would’ve just done that the night before. But there was something else she could do. “Hold still.” She aimed her staff at one of the Incubi, just as he slung his fire axe down into the last of Nyx’s summoned vultures. Mist pooled at his feet, then reached up and connected to him. He wouldn’t see it, but Nyx could feel it. He’d been bonded to and he looked up, turning to face her and Ai.
Together with his companion, they blocked the path to Christopher, who was fighting more desperately by the second.
“Was that supposed to do something?” he asked, laughter in his voice. “You should’ve joined us instead. The Mother would give you power that I could never taste.” They began advancing.
Nyx gripped her staff a little tighter, settling her other hand on Ai’s shoulder. “You mean like this?” Nyx’s Soul Steal couldn’t bring back a corpse cut to pieces, but she didn’t have to. Ai was still alive.
The Incubus froze, dropping his axe. He screamed as his belly opened in a spray of blood, dropping weakly to the ground. “You can’t!” he croaked, looking between the two of them. Ai’s wound stitched closed again, though her own blood still smeared across her clothes and her skin was still pale.
“Couldn’t do that last night?” Ai asked, replacing her gauntlets. Without his companion, the uninjured Incubus didn’t put up as much of a fight. Ai slashed, and he parried, but he was too slow. Soon he fell bleeding, joining the other on the floor. “Myrtle was way worse than this.”
“And give it to who?” Nyx asked angrily. But there was no time to argue about something stupid—Christopher needed them.
Nyx took off again, flying towards the embattled knight. Two more of her Incubi companions had been “harvested” during the fight, but Girtiya herself seemed intact. Her human guise was far sturdier too—she hadn’t let Christopher batter her until she was a fleshy mass to be puppeted. Pocky also seemed intact, lurking near the edge of the fight. He stayed away from the others, warping to another part of the room whenever the enemy grew too close.
But there were only a few Incubi left now, all too injured to keep fighting.
Thick metal chains tore up from the dirt around Christopher’s armored boots, wrapping thickly around his arms and yanking him to his knees. He dropped his sword with a rough thunk, yanking against them and trying to struggle back to his feet. The witch didn’t even sweat. Her fingers moved through the air in wild, discordant patterns, leaving a trail of floating symbols around her. They were so thick that Nyx could barely even see her.
“I thought it was funny before. Walking right up here. Flew right to the gate, marked one is a boy. Stuck a soul in your dog. Not so funny anymore.” She glanced around, at the corpses and ruined bodies of the Incubi. “Not easy to replace. Maybe you want to take their place, paladin.”
“I’m not afraid of death, witch! My parents are waiting for me. Who waits for you in hell?” He laughed, but then she yanked the chains apart, causing his laugh to change into a scream.
Nyx reached him then, swinging her staff forward in a simple cleanse spell. Instead of ripping Christopher apart, the chains around him dissolved into smoke, and their heavy metal ends smashed against the walls, flung back with sudden force.
Christopher shuddered, then his broken armor lifted back into place, glowing almost as bright as before. He took her offered hand, then rose.
While she helped the Spaniard, Ai Chen darted past her in a blur of motion, ignoring them and going straight for the witch. Suddenly the two of them were a blur, dissolving the cloud of white symbols far faster than Nyx could follow. Nyx tightened her grip on her staff, hoping they would hold still long enough for her to fire off a gore-shot.
She saw the flash of Ai’s gauntlets, an occasional spray of blood. Then as soon as they had started fighting, they fell suddenly still. Nyx stared in horror as she saw why—Girtiya held Ai viciously by the hair with one hand, a dagger digging into her neck with the other. The witch was bloody herself, though whatever wounds Ai had inflicted weren’t enough to incapacitate her. “No more!” the witch yelled. “One more step, and your friend is dead! You wanted to see the Ziggurat? Fine. Open the gate with blood!”
“How about a trade?” Nyx settled one hand on Christopher’s shoulder, stopping him. “How about you let go of our friend, and we let you live? That seems fair.”
“More than she deserves,” he spat. “She’s too dangerous to let live, Nyx. She will bring suffering wherever she goes. Her sin soaks into the soil wherever she stands.”
Girtiya only laughed, digging the dagger deeper into Ai’s neck. Blood welled from the point. Ai’s eyes were wide and pleading, settling on Nyx. “No trusting, anymore. I obey the coven’s laws—sacrosanct, sworn. What oaths do you keep? Your paladin drips with hypocrisy. And you…” Her eyes settled on Nyx. “You are worse. Not so far from a sister yourself. Real reason you’re here, maybe? These others are an offering.” Her eyes were wide and unfocused. Magic billowed out from around her, but didn’t seem to be targeting anything. She left a dozen glowing runes in the air, spelling out nothing and apparently serving no purpose.
She’s completely lost her mind. We can’t reason with her. Nyx didn’t have any spells, or at least nothing that could disable a witch before she cut Ai’s throat.
Then Pocky appeared in front of her. His bright yellow eyes fixed on the witch, apparently unafraid to be standing so close.
“Pocky, no!” Ai had been still in the face of death, but now her face was white with pain. One arm twitched towards the dog, even as her movement let the dagger dig in deeper. “Run!”
Pocky didn’t run. He couldn’t speak, just stood there, meeting the witch’s eyes. Somehow, that seemed more effective communication than anything they’d said to her so far.
“It was your life that the coven demands,” Girtiya declared. She yanked Ai by the hair, until she finally stopped squirming. “Not your master. Your life for hers?”
“Or you could die,” Christopher said. “If you hurt either of them, you won’t leave here! You already deserve worse than death!”
Nyx wobbled on her feet, she caught herself on her staff, leaning forward as strange magic surrounded her. Some clever attack from the witch? Was she casting another spell after all?
It took her only a few seconds more to realize what was going on—another canine figure walked up beside her, watching. No one else moved—Christopher didn’t look up, even the insane witch didn’t see. Lymn sat on her haunches, and when she spoke it was with placid serenity. “You must not turn away now, Nyx. Do you feel it?”
She shook her head, without looking at the strange spirit. Not an esper, she was certain of that now. She could arrive without Nyx calling, without using her own connection to Middara to manifest.
“A terrible ritual has begun. It frays the fabric of your reality, widening the weft until something from Outside can reside here. The Mother will unmake all that she touches, starting with the marked child.”
Girtiya jerked suddenly, shoving Ai away to land in the dirt and taking Pocky around the neck in the same motion. Thin chains appeared from nowhere, binding him down. Nyx could feel the binding even from here—he wouldn’t be getting away.
Ai squeaked again, crawling towards them. “Pocky, no!” She didn’t get anywhere close. Girtiya gestured, and another thick chain emerged from the ground, wrapping around her ankles and binding her there.
“Wait!” Nyx called, her voice so sudden and urgent that everyone froze, watching her. “Everything you said about the Marked One,” she began, reaching down towards her satchel. “How important is she, really?”
Girtiya did stop, meeting Nyx’s eyes.
Christopher didn’t. He lurched suddenly forward, no longer contained now that Ai’s life wasn’t in immediate danger.
The witch didn’t have to fight Pocky the way she fought Ai—she gestured with her free hand, and more thick chains appeared, dragging Christopher to his knees. He roared in empty frustration, slashing at them with his impotent sword.
“There is no occasion more celebrated,” Girtiya declared. “Whoever discovers her would be a celebrated hero in our sisterhood until the end of time. I probably should kill all of you for lying about something so sacred, but…” She glanced around again. “I think this last life will be enough.”
“What if I had proof?” Nyx asked, reaching down inside. “What if I gave it to you? Would you let us into the Ziggurat, and leave the dog alone?”
“No!” Lymn was still only an apparition, but her single red eye fixed on Nyx, suddenly intense. “It was madness to bring that object here. Do not return it to them, no matter the price they ask.”
“Please…” Ai whispered again. She’d given up struggling, just hanging against the chains, reaching towards Pocky. “Anything but him.”
Nyx rested one hand on the smooth metal of the lockbox, feeling Girtiya’s gaze settle on her intensely. It was her decision to make.
Nyx could give up the lockbox and whatever it contained, saving the life of Pocky, earning his friendship, and hopefully gaining access to the Ziggurat.
Let Pocky sacrifice his life to get inside the Ziggurat, keeping the lockbox away from the Mother’s cultists.
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