Shornhelm, capital of Rivenspire; the morning sun shines scornfully upon a city divided. Even the sharp breath of High Rock cannot clear the sombre clouds that weigh oppressively upon the fretful streets below. Her street-lamps burn futilely on into the day, unable to penetrate the baleful gloom which slowly suffocates and benumbs the senses; yet the people of Shornhelm endure, just as they have always done.
There is a misconception about cities that suffer prolonged periods of upheaval and unrest, that travellers are somehow discouraged, unwelcome, or even shunned. But even here, where the locals intensely scrutinize each new visitor’s eyes and complexion before offering greeting, strangers are met with warmth and congeniality. For their arrival heartens the people that they have not yet been forgotten by the world outside their high walls and that the Shornhelm guard keeps the roads open still. They arrive with fresh news and tales of the world without, coins to spend, goods to trade and, perhaps most importantly, hope that help might soon arrive to finally bring peace and ballast to Rivenspire, so they might know optimism and ambition once more.
Shornhelm is indeed a bleak city; yet the people believe that if the sun could only break through the billowing gloom and shine freely upon her, she might just be a most glorious city.
Just two of the Hinault family made it safely to the old tower; my heart sunk at their terrified reaction to the appearance of the healer Heloise Menoit, but it was not a surprise. The page I found in her notes just confirmed what I had already suspected.
Once more I find myself having to stand in judgement over another, and yet I am neither an elected official, nor myself morally irreproachable. The Shornhelm healer Heloise Menoit has dedicated her entire life to saving others. But how many lives saved balance the scales ‘gainst a solitary life taken?
It is not however just about what is, but what may be. Is it not my duty as one capable and so armed, to shield those incapable of protecting themselves; else should not my apathy condemn me as guilty as the transgressor? I was always taught that to sit silently when witness to evil, is a greater evil still.
As I ponder the fate of Heloise, I recall the words of Jowan Hinault, “She knocked on the door. She sounded concerned, said … she was there to help.”
Heloise Menoit is already dead.
Nothing I have witnessed quite prepared me for the shock of seeing the shape of a man feasting upon the corpse of another. The bloodfiend was so intent upon its meal that it did not notice my initial approach and for a long while I stood unable to avert my eyes from the vile scene, entranced by my own revulsion. Eventually however the monster paused from its fervent glut, slowly lifted its blanched head and sniffed the air. An unnatural coldness began to course through my veins, and as the creature turned its ghastly gaze toward me, my heart froze as if bitten by an Ice Wraith. Blackness threatened to overcome me, but the spell was broken by the monsters own bloodthirsty scream as it charged towards me, and I raised my sword and shield to give battle.
These aren’t the cold, premeditating vampires’ spoke of almost romantically in bard song and campfire tale, these are savage animals whose uncontrollable lust for fresh blood and sinew has driven them beyond insanity. Much like the feral soul shriven of Coldharbor, they are blameless in their barbarity, yet cannot be allowed liberty, or existence, lest their affliction becomes epidemic.
I follow Heloise down to the farm to check on the Hinault family who have not been seen since the battle between the Shornhelm guard and Montclair soldiers descended like a tornado across their land. Locking themselves in their farmhouse has saved them, but Montclair’s soldiers have already begun to ransack the outbuildings.
Too late I return with weapons to find Heloise kneeling beside the body of the father, and the rest of the family fled. She warns me to burn the body lest he return as a bloodfiend! Another monster from campfire tales I thought but a fable to frighten children. As I torch the father’s corpse, I whisper a prayer to Arkey that it is but superstition has Heloise’s innocent eyes seeing monsters in the silhouette’s of men at their very worst.
On the ground floor of an old tower that overlooks the Hinault farm in the Eyebright Feld, Heloise Menoit does all she can with limited supplies to heal the wounded and comfort the dying. Meanwhile on a broken stairway above, Marnest Barclay a priest of Arkay gives final blessings over the bodies of soldiers who died fighting that day.
In a life before my escape from Coldharbor I may have berated the Priest for wasting his time on the dead whilst the living still suffered nearby. Yet the horrors I have witnessed force me to concede that the Priest will perhaps save far more lives with his blessing of corpses then the healer in her treatment of the living.