There's more to the Dembraava Wilds than just deformed beasts and unicorn husks. In that place there are also men--or something very similar to men--and no one has ever recovered one of their corpses.
The Dembraava Wilds were not always so dark. It was once a place of birdsong and hidden streams. But after King Oberfel committed his disgusting blasphemy, it fell under a deep shadow. You only have to cross the waters of the Shunatula to see where the leaves have grown thick and dark as the trees strive to fill the forests with gloom. The animals grew large and fierce, and lost their fear of men. And after the slain unicorns returned, it became abundantly clear that we were not welcome in the forest any longer. The forest--and everything in it--had fallen under the influence of the Mordanfey, or perhaps under whatever influences them. But their dominion does not end with beasts. There are men and women who also follow the will of that dark place, and they are what we call Deathwalkers.
Deathwalkers are men, or something very like men. Perhaps they once were no different from us. But now they run alongside the husks of dead unicorns, and drink from poisonous waters. They leap from dark boughs and sprint along lightless trails, carrying a spear and wearing only a loincloth made from the skin of a wild boar, or from a man.
Their hair is long and tangled, and dirt cakes the spaces between their teeth. Their bodies are covered with filth and matted leaves, so much that it seems as if they were sculpted from the forest floor itself, or burst from it full-grown and already filled with a black hatred.
Their spears are quick, and the traps they devise are as well-made as any of mine. They attack in ambushes--fast, heavy battles that never last more than a few seconds. I have heard of all sorts of supernatural powers ascribed to them, but there is only one ability that I have seen with my own eyes, and in my opinion, it is enough.
Deathwalkers can dive into the earth as if it were water--easier than water, for there is no splash. A few dead leaves kick up around the location, but that is all. A Deathwalker will simply turn and throw himself into the dirt as a man dives from a boat, but facefirst and with his arms at his side, like this. And he simply vanishes into it, and the with nary a misplaced clod of soil. And they can emerge from the ground just as suddenly.
Dark foes from dark earth.
They've carried off many of our own. Pulled them down into that filty loam right with 'em. But they can't pull you down until you're dead. They can only carry off corpses. But they are so damn good at it, that most of the time we don't have anything to bring back to the widows. Just our condolences. They can jump up, slay a honest man, and carry him under before a slob like you could even nock an arrow. They carry away their own dead, too, or else the earth swallows them. None of my rangers has ever brought back one of their corpses.
But they aren't spectres and they aren't fey. I've seen them bleed and I've found their camps. And I've seen what's in their cookpots.
Iasu damn every last one of them.
-Captain Hendof Menagrand, Scout First Class of Braava
The Deathwalkers are the men (and less frequently women or non-humans) who have fallen under the influence of the Dembraava Wilds. They are mortals with the potent power to travel through earth, excellent skills with traps, and perfect knowledge of the Wilds. They travel with the warped animals that call the Dembraava Wilds home, and have no fear of the Mordanfey (and in truth, have nothing to fear). They are the first experience most visitors have with the supernatural elements of the Dembraava Wilds, and in many cases, the last.
They are the human element in the forest's equation--they are the ones that cut down the trees that block the roads, and they are the ones that seed the Dendrognaths in the trunks of trees. And when a town is destroyed by the Breath of Flies, they are the ones that arrive to scavenge and raze.
Secret DM Notes
The Dembraava Wilds are one of my favorite zones in my campaign, but out of all the stuff in the Wilds the Deathwalkers are one of the most mundane. Cannibal savages with a grudge and a single magic power. But they have great flavor, and mesh perfectly with the other elements of the place. They are the ones that set up the Dendrognaths, serve under the extremely powerful Mordanfey, and they are the ones that lead the mobs of mismatched animals against the humans who trespass in the Wilds. And when you are caught between the two-headed, charging deer and the leprous bear, they are the ones that pop up from the ground to make things worse. But as the human element of that place, they are also the ones that talk, beg, plot, sleep, and make mistakes--even if the rangers don't see their human actions very often.
Here are their abilities.
Burrow: As well as a good ol' earth elemental, except only in soft soil.
Property of the Earth: If they die, the magic in their bodies uses their Burrow ability to automatically entomb them 40' in the soil. Then they're just a corpse--nothing supernatural about them anymore.
Servant of the Dembraava: They are completely under the sway of the forest. Defying it is as easy as turning away food when you are starving, or slitting your wrists when you love life. This same influence also gives them a supernatural ability to track, hunt, construct traps, create poisons and cures, and know the lay of the land. Anything a master huntsman could do, but they do it instinctively. A captured Deathwalker doesn't know how to make the poisons he creates, he just pockets an herb until he finds another one that he feels should be mixed with the first, and then rubbed on his spear. He can't even draw a very good map of the place.
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? Responses (4)-4
I agree with the author with the underlying idea of these creatures being somewhat 'mundane' but still, the write-up is excellent. I especially like the blockquote, it sets the tone for the piece really well.
Can't think of anything to add to what Moonlake said. I share his view.
It's very hard to create new forms of undead, they're such generic creatures. Undead who make cures for poisons, in the settings I know of, undead are normally immune to poison anyways, so why would they need cures?
The subject wasn't all that original, reminds me of Harry Potter in some ways. It did however earn an extra .5 because it was well-written.