A long time ago the world was torn asunder by war, and life itself was almost snuffed out. Cities crumbled, forests burned, death and misery was all the eye could see. But it endured. Once it is created, life is incredibly hard to get rid of. If even a small part of it still exists, a small animal in the prairie, a fish in the sea, a worthless insect in the depths of the earth, it will return, repopulate, rebuild.
Such was the fortune of life that one of its most resourceful creations survived, man. Civilizations may have fallen, knowledge forgotten and hope lost, but all these did not matter, survival was the crucial element. And when it was certain, when man adapted to his new desolate habitat, it was time to rebuild.
Some of them seem to have come out of nowhere. Great leaders that possessed powers beyond any mortal, the power to restore life to the land, hope to the sorrowful, civilization to a savage world, order to chaos. But the danger was not over, man was not alone.
Years ago the village of Brena was an empty plot in a wasteland. The only remarkable thing about it was a deposit of iron in a hill nearby. That is what drew him there, the channeler, the Sovereign. He used a part of his own essence to breath life back into the land, to make it whole. And when the grass was again blowing in the wind, he built a shelter, a small sanctuary where man would be safe.
It's almost like they were drawn there by instinct, the people. Men came from the wastes, marveling at something they had rarely seen, the color green. They were amazed at how the sun didn't seem to burn anymore, the dust storms never touched this place and food was plentiful. To them, this was paradise. The Sovereign welcomed them all with open arms, he gave them a home, the promise that here they would be safe. In return he asked for loyalty, obedience, and a steady supply of metal once the mine was finished. He then left, promising to send a few troops sometime later, to guard the outpost from the dangers of the wastes. The soldiers would also ensure that the people remain in line and uphold their end of the bargain.
Day by day the outpost grew, until it became a village. A small community of people working to a common goal, cooperating and living in peace. What soldiers the Sovereign sent had little to do, no one caused any trouble, and seldom did anything bad crawl in from the outside world. Brena was as prosperous as a small human settlement could be for that time, in that desolate place. Then things changed.
It started out with a message received by the soldiers to ship out, they were needed somewhere else, badly, since they left with no word. After a while even the caravans that regularly collected iron stopped coming. No reason was given.
Brena was essentially isolated, it had no contact with the rest of the Sovereigns realm. Occasionally travelers would come from distant towns, but none of them knew much about what was going on. People had tried to go west, to where the caravans came from, but none of them returned. They say one night the sky turned pitch black, the moon and stars seemed to be swallowed by the darkness. It lasted for only moments and was considered an omen. The villagers became worried, there was no direct threat that they knew of, but each and everyone felt it. A lingering feeling in the back of the mind, telling them not wander far from the walls, not to go out at night, even lock their doors when the sun goes down.
The one place where there was still a cheerful atmosphere day and night was a tavern. The proximity of alcohol made people forget about their troubles for a while. It was also one of the main sources of income for Brena.
One evening an old haggard man came to the village. He seemed harmless, but people avoided. It may have been due to the fact he was dressed in rags and smelled like putrid flesh, or because he was mumbling to himself and twitching constantly. The man entered the tavern, sat down at a table and asked for a drink. He overheard two of the villagers talking about what was happening.
“Do you think the Sovereign will ever come back here?”
“Why would he? He's a god compared to us. If you could command the earth to come back to life would you take the time to visit every village in the wasteland. He gave us Brena, that's more than enough.”
“But the troops, the caravans, they're all gone. He must notice we can't pay tribute to him anymore.”
“What tribute did we pay? Iron? I've heard tales of metals so strong that a slim shard could pierce trough the hardest iron armor, even steel. Maybe he found some of it and thinks we are useless.”
“But we had a bargain with him, we remained loyal.”
“Again, if you were a god would you care about remaining loyal to insects?”
“I won't believe that, he'll return, he promised to keep us safe, and he will.”
The old man started to laugh maniacally and then spoke with a mean tone and a rough voice.
“You fools, he's not coming back, he can't.”
The eyes and ears of everyone in the tavern were pointed at him, waiting to hear an explanation, maybe even a word of comfort. He noticed this and displayed a sinister smile. It looked like he wanted to say something, but he was hesitating. Not from fear, he seemed to want to savor the moment.
“He can't because he's dead”, he screamed laughing.
One of the tavern patrons got up, evidently furious at what the old man said. He approached him with a mean look. The old man clutched his bottle of ale and growled like a lunatic. Another man got up from his table and the two picked him up and carried him by force out of the tavern, causing him to drop his bottle in the process. More people got up and followed them to the village gate. They tossed the old man out and he started cursing them.
“He's dead, and soon you'll be too. It will come for you.”
“Be off with you, drunken fool.”, a villager shouted and threw a bottle at him.
They closed the gate behind him and actually started to cheer. After that they returned to the tavern and began drinking again. Ale made them forget about the old man, but his words lingered.
Days passed since the incident at the tavern and things began to stir around Brena. At first it came in the form of echoed noise from the mine in the hill. No one could discern what the sounds were, or where exactly they came from. The mine wasn't very deep, there were no unexplored passages where some wild animal could have become trapped. Rumors said it may be a ghost, one of the miners having died early on in the excavation. That idea was put aside when similar sounds started coming from the nearby forest. Without the distortion of the echo it had in the mine, the sound became a lot more clear. It was a loud growl that turned into a scream. The villagers had a good knowledge of all the creatures nearby. None of them made that sound. They thought it may have been a pack, or maybe a pair of creatures fighting. In the day time they went to investigate, armed. Finding out what made the noise, maybe even killing the source and parading it in front of everyone else, would lift the spirits of the villagers. But they found nothing, and the noise grew closer each night. Fear began to spread to the point where people went to sleep with a pitchfork nearby, or an axe under the bed. Even the tavern started to close early, and for good reason.
One moonless night the village was awakened from its uncomfortable sleep by a scream of terror and pain. The people grabbed torches, lanterns, weapons and ran out to see what had happened. What they found had horrified them. A pool of blood surrounded the body of a man. No one could tell who he was, because his face was more or less riped off. An eyelid was left and half a lip. What had been done to his face was the least of the their concern. A wolf could have done that, even a mad dog. But no creature they knew of could have ripped his chest apart, leaving the ribs unbroken and feasted on his heart in the time between the scream and their arrival.
All that fear that built up in their hearts over the past few days suddenly came bursting out in a fit of panic, driving them to flee back to their homes screaming, trembling, hiding beneath the cover. No one came out until the morning, when the sun was high above the horizon. They came out slowly and fearful, most of them didn't shut their eyes. The fear and the lack of sleep combined with the cool morning breeze made a few of them shiver to the point where they would lose their balance and fall to the ground. The impact shook something loose in the brain. For a second it seemed like everything had been a dream, a nightmare that had just ended. A spark of relief, of hope materialized at that point, but looking around, seeing the rest of the villagers gathered around the body and the blood seeped into the ground brought reality back like a hammer striking an anvil. No hope, no relief.
They stared at the corpse, motionless, silent. The night had not diminished the shock factor, and seeing a buzzard plucking away at what was left of the face didn't help.
Eventually the body was picked up by a few villagers that could muster up the courage, placed on a cart and taken to the cemetery a short walk outside the walls to be buried. After that everyone returned to their homes. Brena had little in the way of an organized hierarchy, the general rule was to follow the instructions left by the Sovereign, but he left none that involved defending themselves against something that can eat a man's heart out. How could they fight something that they have never seen? Never heard of, never faced before. Even the villagers that grew up in the wastes couldn't imagine what this creature was. They were afraid that the same thing will happen to them, more so since realizing there would be no help from their leader.
“He's dead, and soon you'll be too. It will come for you.”, words spoken by the old man they threw out. Whatever it was, it had come for them and one of them was dead. If that was so they thought, then what the old man said first must have also been true, the Sovereign is dead. Fear was in everyones heart, the one place they were safe was now as dangerous as the waste it was reclaimed from. More so, since here they were not prepared to face against such a challenge. In the wasteland life is a constant struggle, death was a given, but not here, not torn to pieces by some beast.
The villagers remained in their homes until nightfall, mostly resting, sleeping, compensating for a night of terror. And they chose wisely, because after sundown it would begin again.
It's growl could be heard trough the village, this time quieter, but no less frightening. The crescent moon cast a very dim light on the Brena, just enough for the villagers to notice trough the cracks in their walls, doors and wooden windows that there was something outside. A large figure, walking on two legs with long curled arms and claws that shined in the moonlight, growling, panting, searching. Any light they had in their homes was put out, fearing the creature would be drawn to it. Some people hid under their covers, trembling in fright, forcing their eyes closed with the terror that when they would open them the beast would be glaring at them with its jaws wide open.
One of the villagers thought to himself to wait until the creature walks past his home, grab his axe, burst out and hit it with all his strength while its back was turned. He was determined to not live in fear anymore, so he waited and indeed the creature went past his house. He clutched the axe and readied his mind for the attack, but just as he was about to go trough with it, trough a crack in the window he saw the creature stopping, turning its head towards him. Its eyes shined in the darkness. At that moment he froze. His heart was beating so fast it nearly gave up. Life in fear suddenly seamed fair compared to no life at all. He put away the axe, laid down and started breathing slowly, enjoying every breath.
There is a point to which you can push a man into submission, into depression, into terror before he stops being a man. It was reached that very night, when the beast showed itself trough the gloom of night. Past that point there is instinct, the instinct of all things living, the thing that makes life endure in the face of all odds. It's not something you learn, it's not something gain, it's not something you find, it's something every piece of you knows to be true, the only thing that matters, survival.
Early next morning, the first ray of the sun came over Brena like an embrace of warmth and conforth. The nightmare was over for now. No scream was heard, so perhaps this time no one died, but it was not so. Another body was found in the same place as the last, defiled and devoured in the same way. Another grave was dug, another buried, and again with no name on the tombstone. Even though Brena was a small community no one could identify the bodies, and try as they might, no one could be sure who was missing. Whoever they were they would be avenged before the next sunrise.
One man with an axe may falter, but 20 will act on the instinct of the pack, and won't give up until the enemy is dead.
Trough the day weapons were sharpened, makeshift armor was sown and poles for torches were crafted, many of them. The creature only attacked at night, so it must not like the light and if that was the case, then it would fear fire like all wild beasts. Torches were placed all along the village so the moon would not be the only source of light. The plan was to leave the gate open, let the creature in and lure it come to the center of the village. Once it was there people would run trough the village lighting the torches evenly, forming a ring that expanded from the outside within. The creature would have nowhere to run, and when the villagers reached the center, they would ignite the oil and mounds of wood placed around the area, forming a cage of fire. Then the beast would either try to flee trough the fire and be burned alive, or it would face the savagery of the villagers. It is said that when a creature is cornered it is more dangerous than ever before. That is what the plan was based on, but with the addition that many backed into a corner would defeat a single one.
Once the plan was set, the villagers began to practice lighting the fires. In their minds they were preparing for victory, because while the beast lived there would be only death, and death needs no preparation.
The sun was setting again, the stars shined, the moon greeted the braves. Everyone retreated back into the houses, but not their own. They arranged themselves in such a way that in the houses near the center there would be two people, one to watch for the beast and another one to tap on the wall facing the house behind it. In that house there would be someone else sending the signal back again, and again until it reached the last houses, where the torchbearers were.
It came as they had hoped. The beast entered the village trough the open gate, and slowly made its way to the center. This very scene frightened the people greatly the night before, but that part of the mind that could sense fear was now tired from lack of sleep. They managed to remain focused and waited for the right time to act. The beast had reached the center, the signal was given and out men wielding fire ran out of the houses, lighting the torches all around the village. The oil used to coat the torches was intentionally spilled between them, and across, turning Brena into a web of fire that was quickly nearing completion, all that was left was the center.
When the torchbearers got there, and all the other armed villagers were in place, the last fires were set, revealing the beast. A grand monster with a long snout, sharp teeth and claws, long ears, black ayes and black fur. It looked around and saw it was trapped. Fortune favored the villagers for it did seem to fear the flame.
All that was left now was to slay it. They rushed at it with axes, pickaxes, pitchforks, makeshift spears, shovels, torches and anything else they could get their hands on. Even to a beast the sight of a mob of armed savages charging at it in a cage was enough to make it falter. The villagers hit and slashed and poked an bashed. They hit it with all the rage a man can muster and brought it to its knees, and they kept on hitting. No one would stop until the beast was in pieces, that was the original plan. But in their haze of suppressed fear, rage and lack of sleep, they continued to strike until the web of fire burned itself out. The single sided battle lasted until the dawn awakened them from their savage trance. They all took a step back and look at the ground, where the body of the beast should lay broken. Shock filled them, just as much as on the first night. There was no beast.
What they saw was the same body they buried the day before, and the day before that. One by one they wondered in their minds if all this was just a dream, if they just stood over the body this whole time, making up the fantasy that they had killed the beast. They remained in place until one man dropped to his knees and started to cry. That broke the silence, it made everyone aware of where they were. In the center of Brena, surrounded by smoldering wood and a web of ashes.
“We didn't dream it.”, said one of the villagers.
“No. You did not.”, echoed a powerful voice coming from the gate.
The people were in awe of what they saw. The Sovereign had returned, leading vast army behind him. He approached the village center, pleased with what he saw.
“I am proud of you all. With all that has happened you have remained loyal, you have remained strong.”, he said.
“My lord, what has happened? Was this a test?”, asked one of the villagers with fear in his voice.
“No. You must know that there is a war going on, between my kind and the civilizations we have built. I had to abandon this region for a while because of a greater threat in the east. But now that threat no longer exists. A new one has appeared.”, said the Sovereign.
“What threat my lord.”, another villager asked.
“Someone like me, but who draws his powers from death itself. You have seen his work first hand, that corpse, the monster that no doubt has terrorized you. They are all his doing, toying with your fear, bringing your nightmares to life. But fear not more, for I as long as I am here, his dark magics will not dare return. This I promise, now and till forever”, the Sovereign said raising his hand and making a shimmering, transparent shell appear over Brena. The body disappeared, the hearts of the villagers were suddenly lighter and they realized that none of them had died, all they had buried were illusions.
“Now arise, there is work to be done. Brena will expand to support my army. Let us prepare for war.”
Nightmare beast: When cast on a settlement Nighmare beast will decrease production of any kind to a standstill for one turn. It will continue to do so unless it is dispelled by the player, or if the settlement does not pass a check. Each turn after the first turn there is an x% chance of the spell being dispelled by itself, where x is based on the population score.