A Choice of Evils

A Choice of Evils

A Story by Mickey Christian Decicco

A paladin must make a desperate choice. A friend's life and a town's fate hang in the balance.



A Tale of Mordecai Von Mortay, Hunter of the Undead

by Mickey Christian DeCicco (mcd74)




Father Albert picked his way carefully through the graveyard in search of the paladin, Mordecai Von Mortay.  This portion of the graveyard was the oldest and little used, most of the family of the dead having passed on themselves and been buried in the newer annex.  It was early on a clear, starry night, on which the moon glowed bright and full.  The paladin, unless otherwise engaged, could always be found among the tombs and headstones at night.  Unlike most of the other paladins at the church complex, who rose with the sun, offered their prayers, ate and exercised before many folk even stirred, this one was different.  He rarely, if not pressed, stirred before dusk.  This was not because of laziness on his part but because of his calling.  He was a vigilant hunter of the undead and the necromancers who often called them to do their bidding.  Among those of his order, he was renowned as one of the best at what he did.  Some called him obsessive.  Many of the other paladins offered him only professional courtesy; they didn’t like him or trust him.

The common perception of paladins as tall, strong, handsome men whose tongues were honey and paraded around in shiny, ornate plate armor did not apply to this one.  Von Mortay was of average height and build, with rugged good looks.  He had close-cropped brown hair in a military style, and sported a goatee and moustache shaved close.  His angular face was often stubbly.  His most striking features, though, were his eyes.  Sunken, with dark circles under them, they were ash-gray.  They saw things that mortal eyes should never see, perceived things that would drive most men mad.  Many people who saw a walking skeleton simply saw a walking skeleton.  Von Mortay saw the dark energy that drove the abomination, saw the twisted wreck of a soul, or fragments thereof, that writhed and struggled to break free; he heard the screams and wails of the damned as they tried to escape from the horror of which they had become victims.  Although his eyes were intense, he often had to wear spectacles to read because his vision, from years of hunting in the dark, was poor.  He was only human, after all, and they could only see in one limited spectrum.

His gifts were not in his looks, physique, or charm.  Wise beyond his years and possessed of a keen intelligence, Von Mortay was a scholar as well as a warrior.  There was more to dealing with necromancers and their undead than a martial approach could address.  Dark mages who practiced the arts of death were often far more learned than those who practiced elemental or protective magics because of the precise processes and rituals involved in circumventing mortality.  They trespassed on the property of the gods, and as such, great care was necessary.  Because of his dedication to study and the apparent favor he had from the gods, Von Mortay was also a more accomplished spellcaster than his brethren, capable of wielding a greater number of and more powerful magics. 

Father Albert had an affinity for Von Mortay.  He didn’t prance or preen like the other paladins who called the church complex a home.  When he spoke, he spoke his mind with little heed for the convoluted proprieties of court veterans.  Albert found his candor refreshing and appreciated the wisdom and reason behind Von Mortay’s arguments.  Other paladins, especially those of the monarch orders, were mortified that Von Mortay was even a paladin, let alone one with such renown. 

Albert also felt sorry for Von Mortay.  A genuinely kind and compassionate individual who would sooner die for an innocent than see harm come to them, his was a tormented soul that knew great sorrow and pain.  Albert did not know why this was the case.  He often prayed to the gods for some insight but was met only with silence.  Apparently the gods were keeping their own counsel on this issue.  He never came right out and asked Von Mortay either; not only was it rude but, deep down, Albert didn’t want to know.  His curiosity was that of a mentor for his student, the concern of a friend for one he cared for.  Whatever trauma affected Von Mortay, it drove him and energized him.  His zeal for his calling and his missions was driven by his dark past, as if he were holding himself accountable for undeath itself.

Albert found Von Mortay in his usual spot.  Seated on the wide rail buttressing the steps of a large mausoleum, Von Mortay was studying one of the monastery’s tomes and transcribing notes into a journal.  He was dressed in a utilitarian manner, in dark grays and browns.  Shunning the usual plate armor, he wore light, mobile leather and chain armor.  He argued that while plate was fine for dealing with goblins and dragons, the howl of banshees and the touch of wights killed through armor, so why bother with the bulk?  His armor deflected the clumsy blows of uncoordinated, mindless undead well enough, and it was blessed.  Von Mortay also had an affinity for pouches and pockets, and had all manner of handy trinkets stuffed in them.  Although he tried not rob from the dead, opting to leave valuable and often powerful artifacts to lie with their former possessors, he often confiscated what he considered dangerous or useful from the necromancers he arrested or killed.  Placed next to him on the steps were his holy, treasured, multipurpose warhammer and shield.  Strapped protectively to his back, however, was a longsword.  Von Mortay didn’t demonstrate any great proficiency with that type of weapon, but he protected this particularly interesting specimen with almost paranoid care.  Albert could feel something vile emanating from the weapon, an energy that could only mean that the weapon was heavily enchanted, but by what he had no idea.  Von Mortay wouldn’t speak of it, only that he ‘came across it’ in his travels and that its enchantments had come in very handy in dealing with the undead.  Trusting Von Mortay completely, he let the matter drop.  In hindsight, after the nasty business he was about to send Von Mortay into, he would have forcibly confiscated the weapon then and there.

Although Albert approached quietly, a stealthy man who, in another life, had been an accomplished thief, he knew Von Mortay was aware of his presence.  The dead whispered to the paladin, this much Albert knew.  Most of the paladins of Von Mortay’s order were gifted; some would say cursed, with the ability to hear the dead.  Von Mortay’s “death perception”, however, was far keener than most.  Albert stopped and waited for Von Mortay to finish what he was working on.

“Evening, father,” Von Mortay said, not looking up from his work.  He paused to adjust the spectacles he was wearing and continued to read.  “What brings you to this grim venue this evening?”

The father approached, mounting the steps of the mausoleum to peer down at the tome Von Mortay was studying.

“Interesting reading,” Albert said, “Brushing up on your exorcism rites?”

The paladin looked up from his reading, his gray eyes barely discernable from the glare of the bright moon on the lenses of his spectacles.

Von Mortay frowned.  “Ever since that encounter with the ghost children and the spirit of their father, I figured there had to be a better way to exorcise a spirit than simply banishing it.  Perhaps a way for me to be able to allow the spirit to join those of his children in their rest.”

“But there is,” the Albert said, having performed similar rites several times.  “I’ve done it myself.”

Von Mortay cocked an eyebrow and pointed with his charcoal pencil to the shorthand in his journal.  “With all due respect, Father, you’ve never had to do it on the battlefield.  These incantations I’m working on will allow me to do your ritual quickly, efficiently, without all the pomp and circumstance,” he cleared his throat, clearly aware of his lack of subordination, “If it works, of course.”  He smiled, faintly.

“I’m sure it will.  You’re a bright lad; good at thinking on your feet while the undead are trying to kill you,” Albert joked.  Von Mortay took it as such and grunted a chuckle. 

“I think I’m done trying to figure it out tonight,” Von Mortay said.  Placing a marker in the tome and his pencil in his journal, he closed both.  “You have a dossier with you.  A mission?” Von Moray said, noting the satchel slung around the father’s shoulder.  The paladin stood, joints cracking from sitting in the uncomfortable position he was in while reading.  He took off his spectacles, wiped them with a tattered silk scrap, and put them away in one of his pockets behind the armor.

“Yes, a minor one but something suited to your particular skills.”  Albert produced a document from his dossier and looked it over.  He gave a copy of a map to Von Mortay, who studied it.  “This is quite a distance, to the mountains?”  he remarked.

“In the town of Marchland, here in the pass,” Albert pointed to the destination marked on the map.  “There’s an abandoned keep.  Some kind of murder occurred there; apparently the master of the keep went mad one night and slaughtered his wife, children, and most of his household staff, then he offed himself.  No one’s lived there since then,” Albert said.

“And…?” Von Mortay said expectantly.

Albert glanced at the dossier again, scanning it with his finger.

“The town itself is rather prosperous, despite its remote location.  Generations of brilliant jewelers and gemcutters have lived there, managed to circumvent the dwarves in both mining and gemology.  Some of the local dwarves actually work for them, strangely enough.  Apparently they’re impressed with whatever skills the gemsmiths there possess…” Albert looked at Von Mortay, who had crossed his arms and was frowning.  Evidently he was not interested in an economy lesson.

“Well, the crux of the matter is,” Albert continued, “The local keep is something of a fascination for the local youth.  Spending the night there is considered a coming-of-age ceremony among them, though the practice is forbidden by the constabulary.”

Von Mortay, still not impressed, yawned.

“During the most recent visit to the keep, three young men were butchered by some unknown force.  During the daylight hours, the local constabulary investigated and found pieces of bodies strewn all about the keep, blood smeared in impossible places.  They’ve been unable to establish a motive or a perpetrator.  One of the four young men who spent the night there is temporarily, perhaps permanently, insane.  He’s in a catatonic state, falling asleep and waking with horrid screams.  He keeps saying one word over and over again.” 

“And that word is?” Von Mortay said, his curiosity finally piqued.

“Black.  Over and over again.  Black.”

“So you want me to traipse halfway across the country to investigate a haunted house?”  Von Mortay said.  Albert looked at him with surprise, but then recognized that it was one of the paladin’s poor attempts at humor.

“Of course.  What else are you good for?” Albert shot back, glaring playfully at Von Mortay.

“Okay, I accept with honor, your Grace,” Von Mortay said, bowing.  “The details are in the dossier?”

“Well, I just have basic information.  According to the messenger, the local constable, a Dairn Markham, would not release anything but the most basic details out of concern for the family.  You are to go there and get specifics from him, investigate, and possibly deal with whatever force initiated the carnage,” Albert paused, considering.  “I think I’m going to send Braya with you.  She needs the practice.”

Von Mortay flushed, plainly embarrassed.  Braya was both a cleric and a mage, and was popular at the monastery.  She was a spry, easygoing woman, attractive and intelligent.  She was a half-elf, one of a rare breed of people left on the continent.  Although, because of her race, she was much older than Von Mortay in years, she was possessed of the youthful hope and naiveté of a human in her least 20s.  Because of her positive outlook, cheerful and approachable demeanor, and extraordinary compassion, she was practiced at ministering to the grief-stricken, which made her ideal for this mission.  The parents of the slain and the survivor would all benefit from her ministrations. 

She would also serve to act as a buffer for Von Mortay, hence the reason for his embarrassment.  The two were as different as night and day.  Because of his dour and taciturn nature, Braya often tried, unsuccessfully, to cheer the tormented Von Mortay up.  Some of the lighter hearts at the monastery often joked that the two were an “item”, although such relationships were rare for paladins, even forbidden in some orders.  When not studying or ministering, Braya could often be found nipping at Von Moray’s heels, offering amusing anecdotes or inspiring stories, trying to brighten the darkness that surrounded the paladin. 

Von Mortay tolerated her presence like a parent with its child, although the two could sometimes be found deep in serious conversation, poring over tomes in the library sipping carrobeet tea.  They both shared an intense interest in death magic and turning the tide of good against the scourge of necromancers.  Although she was not a warrior by any means, Von Mortay offered her rudimentary training in arms for self-defense when magic would or could not serve.  In return, Braya helped Von Mortay hone his spell casting ability, teaching him the proper incantations and prayers for magics geared toward turning or destroying undead.  However, sometimes, heated arguments could erupt between them, kindled and fueled by the dichotomies in their natures.

One of the reasons Braya appreciated and respected Von Mortay was that he harbored none of the racist feelings inherent in many humans toward elves and half-elves.  Elves and humans had historically hated each other intensely, the elves sealed off in their secretive nations deep in the sprawling forests, humans constantly raiding those forests for lumber.  Genetically compatible, circumstances often arose where half-elf children would be born.  For a brief time, there was a mass exile from the forests for reasons that are known only to the most studious loremasters.  Elves found themselves, desperate for refuge, fleeing from some unknown assailant, enslaved by the humans.  Although in rare circumstances love would blossom between elves and humans, most half-elves were products of violence. 

When slavery was abolished, the surviving elves fled back to the forests, the crises apparently settled by the warriors that remained.  Half-elves were not welcomed by the elves, and they found no haven among humans.  They became nomads, traveling in bands and surviving by thievery and deception, developing a knack for both genuine and disingenuous fortune telling.  Half-elves survived in this manner for several decades, until the horror.  Human hunters, thousands of them, began kidnapping half-elves and ensconcing them in secret, hidden camps.  Here the half-elves were forced into illegal slavery, being worked often times to death.  Great care was taken to either keep the camps hidden from the local governments, or hide the collusion by the same governments.  Eventually, most of the half-elf bands known to exist were spirited away to the camps.  No one seemed interested in helping them.

Worked day in and day out in various aspects of mining, logging and construction, the half-elves did not prove themselves to be proficient workers.  The speed and efficiency for which the camps were designed was not realized.  Angered and dismayed by their commodities not providing the paydays they had hoped, the administrators of the camps began to devise sadistic punishments to “encourage” their charges to be more efficient.  It didn’t work.  The camps’ investors began to pull their funding.  Faced with bankruptcy and the threat of the camps closing, the administrators began to fear reprisals from the public if the half-elves were released and spread the story of their ordeal.  Meetings were held, and it was determined that the half-elves would have to be executed.  Dwarven engineers were employed to create machinery that would facilitate mass executions and the subsequent disposal of remains.  As dwarves do, they created a frightening apparatus into which crowds of half-elves were forced.  Their screams were cut off by gas pumped into the facility, while their bodies met a grim and horribly efficient fate.

It was at this time that a veritable army of paladins of the Humanist order, who felt that half-elves were close enough to humans to be accorded the same respect, their followers, and fellow warriors consisting of good mercenaries and sellswords, raided the camps with holy fury, arresting and killing administrators and guards.  Rescued from their impending doom, but severely institutionalized, some of the half-elves even fought on behalf of the camps, but were subdued mainly without harm.  It took years for investigations and trials to be completed, by which time the surviving half-elves had successfully been accepted and integrated into human society.

Braya was one of the ones who had helped free one of the camps.  A student at the time at one Novelov’s more prestigious divination schools, she had been notified by an acquaintance of the existence of the camps.  She made inquiries and found out that the camps were to be liberated by the Humanist army, and quickly volunteered her services to the liberators.  She stayed out of the front lines, using her divination magic to help determine both offensive and defensive strategies for the siege coordinators.  When the camps were secure, she went in.  Although what she saw were scenes of unimaginable cruelty and horror, her spirit shone through like a beacon of light for those whom she helped counsel.  She was shaken and horrified, yes, but even the experience of liberating the camps did not destroy her spirit.

She sought the gods’ counsel regarding her place and her duty as a half-elf, and eventually was guided to the monastery where she met Von Mortay.  Her good nature and positive outlook was the result of years of self exploration and the absolute joy that she hadn’t been fed into the cursed dwarven-designed machinery that had consumed so many of her friends.  She felt that the gods had gifted her with her survival in order that she might serve others with compassion born of suffering.  Often regarded grudgingly by most humans, Von Mortay accepted her heritage.  Perhaps it was because he was simply free of the natural prejudice, or because his own past was as dark, or darker, than the one her fellow half-elves had experienced.  Like Albert, she had considered questioning Von Mortay about his past, but had thought better of it.  Some secrets were better left to those who kept them.




Mordecai Von Mortay sat astride his powerful warhorse Daybreak, crunching through a foot of frost crusted snow in the foothills of the Godfist Mountains.  He and Braya had traveled four days from the monastery, riding hard for the first two until they came to the colder lands north.  The snow impeded their progress, so they took it easy for the second two.  The going was especially difficult for Braya’s borrowed horse, for she hadn’t one of her own.  Further compounding their travel was the fact that she wasn’t an experienced rider, and that she had to ride sidesaddle because of her robes.  The urgency of their mission necessitated haste.  They rode along well-established roads between the monastery and the foothills of the mountains, where the hamlet was nestled.  They had little to be wary of and did not need to be surreptitious about themselves.  Mordecai had jurisdiction within the Andiron Territorial Protectorate country in which they traveled, and his shield, prominently displayed on his horse’s flank, bore the symbol of his order.  Himself and Braya both possessed official paperwork in case they were stopped and questioned.  Marauding bands of orcs, goblins, and the occasional lummox would scarce show themselves in ATP territory unless there was an easy mark.  There was no way they would bother a fully armed and armored knight, let alone a paladin, on a fearsome gray and black warhorse.  The only time they saw anyone on the road in the four days they’d traveled was a four-man ATP patrol, riding the opposite direction from Von Mortay.  They slowed a bit on approach.  The commander, seeing the crest on the paladin’s shield, simply nodded a salute.  He and his retinue continued onward.

It was early evening, but at this late season the moon was already out.  As usual, Braya was passing the time ruminating, loudly, on some subject or another.  Von Mortay paid her little heed.  He tuned her ceaseless prattling out with thoughts of his own.  Munching on a bit of jerked beef, he considered several things that had been bothering him about the mission.  He had accepted it, knowing the terms of the contract and his responsibilities as an undead hunter.  But there were numerous other outfits out there that could easily dispatch the entity Von Mortay suspected was behind the attack.  He was a member of the Holy Order of the Mourning Shroud, dedicated to dispatching undead, putting souls to rest, and destroying them outright when other possibilities were exhausted.  Other outfits included certified knights who wielded holy weapons and artifacts called the Noble Dawn, and less reputable ones like Death’s Hand.  That group was comprised of mercenaries who preyed on the fears and superstitions of simple folk, using mostly fake or stolen holy weapons and traps. 

Any of these and a dozen more could have been contacted for the job.  Mourning Shroud was the best, the elite.  Why, for what seemed a haunting gone terribly wrong, would they enlist the most expensive exorcism unit available?  While Mourning Shroud and the monastery out of which it was contracted were indeed, on the surface, charitable organizations, operational costs for such a unit were very high.  The monastery complex housed multiple orders, and some paladins, especially the monarchic orders, had expensive tastes.

But the contractors had paid well, excessive to the operating cost of the mission.  That struck a bell in Von Mortay’s head.  He didn’t have much of a head for economics, but it seemed odd that they hadn’t even bid the work.  They send little information and a lot of money, with no indication that any other agency had been contacted for the assignment.  Von Mortay did not bring this up to Father Albert because he doubted whether Albert knew either.  The paladin was an investigator at heart, so he would ask his questions when he arrived and draw his own conclusions.

As these thoughts bounced around his busy brain, it slowly dawned on him that Braya had, uncharacteristically, stopped talking.  She had drawn up next to him and was simply, casually, looking at him with those large, inquisitive green eyes.  She chewed thoughtfully on her lip.

“You’ve got that…vacant…look again,” she said.  “I was also wondering why we’ve stopped.  Are we making camp here the middle of, well, nothing?”

Von Mortay suddenly became aware that Daybreak had stopped.  His horse for some time now, Daybreak knew Von Mortay’s mood, and would stop when the paladin was too lost in thought to be vigilant of his surroundings.  Although his exceptional intelligence had its benefits, often Von Mortay would become so embroiled in his inner workings that the outside world simply blurred out.

He shook his head to clear it.  He frowned at Braya.  He knew that she would like nothing less, at times like this, to take an axe to his skull to cleave the secret musings out of his head.

“Well, are you going to share with the rest of the class?” she asked.  A gust of wind blew a lock of her hair into her face.  She rolled her violet eyes to look at it and blew it clear with her bottom lip.

Von Mortay knew that Braya would only harangue him if he gave her a cryptic answer.  He didn’t even quite know how to explain it.  So he just blurted it out.

“I think we’re walking into a trap,” he said.

Braya’s eyes lit up.  “A trap you say?  How delightful,” she said, leaning closer to him. 

He could have said that they were walking into a dragon’s mouth, drenched in carrobeet sauce, and that annoyingly unshakable spirit of hers would not falter.  “Please tell me what makes you think that.  Or are you just being paranoid as usual?”

Steeling himself, Von Mortay told her what he’d been thinking.  While she often set his nerves on edge, her mind was keen and her wisdom deep.  He’d learned to appreciate her insight.  While they approached life from two totally different angles, they often came to similar conclusions when after considering all the facts and angles.

The explanation took longer than he’d expected.   After several false starts and some stuttering at her quizzical looks, he managed to lay out the basics of what he suspected.  Braya took it in with a surprising lack of smart retorts.  In fact, the more he explained, the more introspective she began to look.

When Von Mortay finished, he exhaled deeply and looked ahead, waiting for her response.

“You’re right, it does sound fishy,” she said finally.

Von Mortay looked at her, and found himself saying, “I am?”

Braya spurred her horse on, prompting Von Mortay to do the same.  As they rode, Braya explained why she thought he was right, but also warned that if they betrayed their suspicions, whatever trap they were walking into would become more deadly.  Von Mortay agreed.

“Before every mission I’ve ever done,” Braya began, “I used my skill at divination to get some insight into what I was walking into.  We half-elves are known for that ability,” she smirked at Von Mortay.  “I didn’t want to addle your already overactive imagination with what I divined before we left, so I kept a lid on it.”

“What did you see?”  Von Mortay asked.  A light snow began to fall, spurred in all direction by a mild breeze. 

“Another reason I didn’t say anything.  I didn’t actually see anything.  I studied bones, dice, and crystals, but no visions came.  Just a feeling, a gut feeling, deep in those dark parts you know so well.  There wasn’t anything concrete, so I chalked it up to jitters.  Traveling with you is enough to give anyone the jitters.”  She smiled at Von Mortay, although what she felt was true. 

Von Mortay considered her words, and her feelings.  Braya was right not to say anything; Von Mortay would have factored that gut feeling into his own apprehensive analysis of the situation.  He already knew that she would have performed some type of divination rites before the mission, but he didn’t hold any confidence in fortune telling.  Too many variables affected the outcome of every situation, and even if the gods did have divine schemes, he didn’t believe that their plans were infallible.

“It does sound like jitters.  I tend to spook people, even Father Albert sometimes.  Spookiness seems to cling to undead specialists like a cloying odor; comes with the territory.”  Now it was his turn to smile.  His wasn’t a nice smile, but not unpleasant.  It was a simple, reassuring, self-confident smile.  Some of the tension that had built during their conversation, because of both the content and the cold, seemed to dissipate a degree in Braya.

“Well,” she said, “Let’s get ourselves into trouble, then, and figure our way out from there.  Unpredictability is something diviners don’t often get to enjoy.”




            They reached the hamlet of Marchland on the eve of the fourth day of travel.  It was well into the evening, and the sun had already set behind the mountains to the north.  The hamlet was nestled into the foothills of the mountains, straddling the pass that ran through them.  The pass began on the far side, in the territory of the northern frost shaman tribes, continued through the dwarf fiefdom of Taragazard, and ended at the gates of Marchland.  At those gates were two bored-looking dwarves, whose apathy didn’t wane when Von Mortay and Braya rode their beleaguered horses to the gates.  Mordecai signaled Braya to ride slowly to the gates, so that he may assess the guards.  He learned from his dwarf mentor, who trained him in underground survival, that the state of guards usually reflected the state of the guarded.  It was cold out, to be sure, the puffs of breath from beast and sentient crystallizing in the air.  Dwarfs didn’t care about cold.  Considering what had happened here, and the town’s considerable wealth, he’d expected more guards, or at least alert ones.  Spurring his horse slowly to the fire the dwarves lingered around, Mordecai noted the weapons these dwarves had.  Several apiece, including axes and hammers.  But both also wore sheathes that could only hold gilchach short swords, highly specialized and valuable ceramic weapons only dwarves, and people brazen enough to steal from them, used.  These weren’t any gate-grumblers, as his mentor called them.  It was a show to entice the unwary.  The dwarves were assassins, no doubt being compensated handsomely for their service to the wealthy hamlet.

            At their approach, the two stirred to their feet and did their best not to look concerned.  That is, until they noted that one of the riders was a half-elf.  Then they went rigid despite themselves.  Dwarves hated elves, as most men did, and held no love in their hearts for the half-breeds either.  Should a half-elf have approached alone, they would have been denied entry at best, mutilated at worst.  But in the company of a human paladin, armed to the teeth on a purebred war charger, they seemed inclined to stay their hands and mind their tongues.

            “Dismount, sar Knight, if you please,” the taller of the two said.  The other contented himself with glaring menacingly at Braya, who against anyone’s better judgment started making faces at him.

            Von Mortay dismounted, a sharp reprimand on his lips ready for Braya, but stilled himself.  Show no weakness in either oneself or an ally in the face of evident hostility.  Braya would never learn that lesson, no matter how many times she made faces to the wrong people.

            “I have business in the hamlet, here, sar?” Von Mortay said.

            “Knafk,” the dwarf spat out.  Von Mortay wasn’t sure if it was a name or the clearing of the throat.  “Papers?”

            Von Mortay handed the dwarf the papers Albert had provided him; the request for assistance from the town and his own identification.  They didn’t request anything of Braya, probably because if she rode with the paladin, she was his problem and not theirs. 

            “So yar the one the town sent for?  Bad business that.” The dwarf, presumably Knafk, said.  “Had the whole town in mourning for those kids.  The one that survived not doin twell.”

            “I’m sorry for the loss of the town’s youth and the suffering of the families.  May the Lady guide them safely their to their rest.” Von Mortay said, the common prayer for the dead of the Shrouded Lady.

            “Aye, may their passage be safe and swift,” intoned the dwarf in automatic response.  The dwarves did not have a god of Death, per say.  They believed that when a dwarf soul departed the body, he took up a position predestined for them supporting the Great Machinery, the Clockworks of the Universe.  Their mechanical, alchemical, crafting, blacksmithing, and all other dwarven pursuits, in the mortal life, were considered training for their afterlife working with the Great Machinery. 

            “Might I inquire, I’m assuming you’re a resident?” Von Mortay said.

            “No, I travel hereabouts from Taragazard, but I spend enough time in Marchland to know its business.  I’m protecting it after all,” the dwarf said.  The other had still said nothing, neither had Braya.  Von Mortay stole nervous glances at the other dwarf, whose face was reddening with anger as he was apparently now locked in a staring contest with the half-elf.  A fruitless endeavor; half-elves rarely needed to blink except to clear detritus out of their eyes.  Dwarves blinked all the time because their visual receptors weren’t nearly as keen as a human’s, let alone a half-elf’s. 

            “Of course,” Von Mortay continued, “what is the condition of the survivor?  You indicated he wasn’t doing so well; how bad is he?”

            “Hant seen em myself, but heard at tavern that he comatose all day and night.  Sometimes he start howling fierce, you can hear it over the tavern noise, only one word, high and wailing: black.”  The dwarf spat on the ground in front of him, then smeared a semicircle in front of him with his foot; a dwarf ward against evil (that didn’t work, Von Mortay knew first hand.)  “Hars yer papers back.  PRAAK!  Open the gate.”  Von Mortay went to retrieve his papers from the dwarf as the other trotted off to the gateworks.  Braya was sticking her tongue out at him behind his back.  Distracted, Von Mortay was caught at unawares when the dwarf, in one swift and potentially deadly motion, grabbed him by the wrist and forearm and yanked him down to dwarf-level.

            “Don’t even reach for a weapon, paladin.  I offer you a word of warning in respect for your station.  Mind the half-elf.  Not only is she rude and disrespectful, she’s unwelcome in these parts, ye ken?”  The fire flickered in the dwarf’s intense eyes.  Von Mortay that right now discretion was the better part of valor, and fought the fighting response instinct rising in his blood.  He was well aware of the still-extant prejudice against half-elves, especially this far north.  Although they were all granted citizenship under the Andiron Territorial Protectorate, this was border country, straddling the ATP, the dwarf kingdoms, the witch-lords of the tundra, and only the gods knew what else that lurked up here.

            Von Mortay inclined his head as a sign of submission. “Of course, sar Dwarf.  I understand and will mind your warning.”  The dwarf released him and handed his papers back. 

            “See that you do.  I don’t know why you weren’t told so in the letter.” 

            “An oversight, to be sure.  They’d no way of knowing I’d bring my companion.”

            Not at all satisfied but powerless to do anything (legal) about it, the dwarf waved them on.  The gate was slowly cranking open as Von Mortay mounted his horse.  He rode in, Braya close by his side.

            “What was his problem?” Braya asked.

            Von Mortay looked to her, reminding himself of the warning and also of her value to him and to this mission.

            “You, apparently,”  he said, as the gates to Marchland closed behind them.

© 2011 Mickey Christian Decicco

Author's Note

Mickey Christian Decicco
The story is a work in progress and is so far incomplete. I had the whole thing planned out but it seems to be taking on a life of its own. But that's what makes the best stories!

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This story has just one problem that I can see. These days it's daunting to see so much verbiage with little or white space. If you could put a bit of space between your paragraphs it would be easier to read. (I say this because I'm old and decrepit and my eyes are craping out on me)

As to the contents of those paragraphs... I loved it! I'm especially drawn to the woman, Braya. Despite her companions' usual male contempt of her, she's still of worth to them. Besides she has some great zingers! "are you going to share with the rest of the class?" Go Braya!

About this: "Daybreak... ...would stop when the paladin was too lost in thought... " I'm not sure I could tell when someone was too lost in thought. How could the horse tell?

And about this: "Sunken, with dark circles under them, they were ash-gray. They saw things that mortal eyes should never see, perceived things that would drive most men mad." A shorter way of saying this would be to say his eyes were haunted.

One more and I'll stop: "his lack of subordination" That word subordination worries me. It has connotations of disrespect being glossed over or --if he's serious-- a servile, debased attitude. I'm thinking you were trying to go for something more like: consideration, estimation, regard, or respect.

This is a really fun story and very much in the style I love the most. I'm a fan!

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 15 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


This story has just one problem that I can see. These days it's daunting to see so much verbiage with little or white space. If you could put a bit of space between your paragraphs it would be easier to read. (I say this because I'm old and decrepit and my eyes are craping out on me)

As to the contents of those paragraphs... I loved it! I'm especially drawn to the woman, Braya. Despite her companions' usual male contempt of her, she's still of worth to them. Besides she has some great zingers! "are you going to share with the rest of the class?" Go Braya!

About this: "Daybreak... ...would stop when the paladin was too lost in thought... " I'm not sure I could tell when someone was too lost in thought. How could the horse tell?

And about this: "Sunken, with dark circles under them, they were ash-gray. They saw things that mortal eyes should never see, perceived things that would drive most men mad." A shorter way of saying this would be to say his eyes were haunted.

One more and I'll stop: "his lack of subordination" That word subordination worries me. It has connotations of disrespect being glossed over or --if he's serious-- a servile, debased attitude. I'm thinking you were trying to go for something more like: consideration, estimation, regard, or respect.

This is a really fun story and very much in the style I love the most. I'm a fan!

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 15 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

I was entertained at the least. It was an engrossing write. But something tells me it needs more details. I'm not really sure what those are but I don't really think they matter. It's a solid work of art, I must say. Keep on writing!

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 15 Years Ago

Oh, so far this is really interesting, and it seems a bit different from standard, run-of-the-mill fantasy, which is exciting. I know exactly what you mean by things taking on a life of their own, but it is true that this can lead to the best stories. I hope you post some more as you finish.

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 15 Years Ago

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3 Reviews
Shelved in 1 Library
Added on February 24, 2008
Last Updated on September 26, 2011
Tags: fantasy, undead, paladin, horror, dark fantasy, hunter, mystery, spooky, haunted
Previous Versions


Mickey Christian Decicco
Mickey Christian Decicco

Gotham, NJ

I like to write in a genre that bridges horror and fantasy with science fiction and the real world (whatever that is). You'll find a lot of my work involves sociological and Lovecraftian themes. In .. more..