The citizens of Oldport tend to live out their nightly lives as if nothing had happened to their city. They know this to be a falsehood, even the youngest children of the city recognize that they are different than the rest of the world but they carry on with their endless games of hide-and-seek with hardly a care in the world. Or else they would if not for the annual ceremony to rededicate their loyalty to the Count of Copslin Vale.
On the day of the anniversary of the cities destruction the Count and his entourage will set up camp just outside of the cities boundary. As the sun sets and the city is remade, the Count will ask permission to enter the city gates. The city council has the option to refuse entry but it has never been considered in the past one hundred and fifty years. As the Count is allowed entry, he and his party make their way to the dais in the city center. Each and every citizen is there to greet their lord and inscribe their name into the wood that makes up this mystical object so that each name is as fresh and readable as the very first time it was carved.
Every single citizen has the option to carve their name or not, none are forced to agree to the ancient pact. Parents will always wait till after their children have signed before they themselves sign. Those that do not engrave their name slowly wander away to where their bones lie and wipe away the mushrooms that encase them, thereby causing their permanent and final death. A child that refuses to sign will nearly always consign their parents to this form of death as well since few of the parents wish to exist for eternity without their own children.
The final death of one of the citizens is remembered by the entire city for the rest of the night. Each name is whispered and scribed on a scroll that is sealed at the bottom of the city well for safe keeping. Their names are also added to two other scrolls kept in the separate temples for the god of death so that the citizens never forget the sacrifices that have been endured for the past one hundred and fifty years.
The Oath of Oldport
The carving of the name binds the citizen to an oath to protect the southern shoreline of Copslin Vale. Due to being dead they are unforgiving warriors in defense of the county and will gladly let a sword sink into their flesh to kill their opponent, only to rise up once again the following night as if nothing had happened.
Every citizen would be considered a veteran warrior, even the children. The city has fended off five attacks over the time of their oath, and only once has a raiding party made it past the city with nearly ninety percent of the raiders lying dead in the streets. Those that made it outside the city gates were quickly hunted down by the Dayguards and brought to justice.
The Benefits of Death
As the last name is re-carved into the wood of the dais, the Count's wizards and clerics start their ritual. Combining potent arcane and divine magic to bless the city for another year. This magic is what allows the city to rebuild itself each night. It is also one half of the pact that ensures the citizens that the Count will do whatever is possible to protect the city of Oldport. Once the ritual is complete, the Dayguards come forward and repeat their oath to protect the city during the day. No one will be allowed to disturb the dead or pillage the city for as long as they draw breath.
A unique side-effect of the citizens unlife actually affects the entire city and up to a half mile outside the gates. The citizens, while technically undead, are not affected by turning or commanding undead. None of the bones may be raised or made into skeletons. As a matter of fact necromantic magic ceases to function within the before mentioned boundary.
The City Council
Gemvar is the undisputed leader of the city, having helped found the original when it was just a port of little importance. Not the most suited for combat as his waist tends to jiggle in more directions than needed, he is none the less dedicated to maintaining the oath. He can regularly be found with his trusted judge's gavel hitting raiders over the head and yelling for reinforcements.
Igon is the exact opposite of Gemvar. One of the few that worked his way up from the docks to the city council, he has always been used to physical labor. When he enters into combat it is with a slight grin and a strong arm swinging a ten pound sledge hammer with the force of a titan. While he is proud of his status as a council member, combat lets him remember the days when honest work left him tired and glad to be alive.
U'ad is a dark-skinned warrior-merchant from the far west and one of the oddest of the council. He wears only furs and carries a wickedly curved dagger that he really seems to enjoy using on any raiders he can catch. His enjoyment of skinning his opponents alive makes even Loris pause in surprise during the fighting. Most of the citizens tend to avoid him and do not know that the skinning is ritualistic to his culture. His death and subsequent coming back to life confuses him greatly since his culture does not have necromantic spells to begin with. Once you die that is the end, there is no after life, and you most certainly do not come back each night. The only reason he continues to carve his name into the dais is to study this phenomenon.
Loris of the Half-Tooth is one of the most respected of all the warriors that call Oldport home. A Half-Orc from the far north, he wandered as a sell-sword for many years before settling down in the city as he neared the end of his prime. He spent nearly thirty years, a life time for a Half-Orc, as a warrior for hire and mastered his craft in some of the bloodiest battles known to the world. He is never seen without his magic warpick, Half-Tooth.
During combat he will coordinate the offensive push to destroy any raiders with his trusty band of skirmishers. His warpick is rumored to be able to pierce through any armor, even disrupting magical armor or spells with ease. Loris is also the winner of four out of the five wagers that the temple of wealth has put up. He has given each wager won to one of his skirmishers as a gift.
Captain Francen leads the band known as the Nightguards, all members of the Dayguard that died in defense of Oldport during the various attacks, and is also in charge of the cities night time defense. A tall, imposing figure in his gleaming plate armor, he is rather strict in his discipline and can generally be found pacing the city walls, inspecting his men and their equipment.
As a raid progresses he will direct his men to drive the raiders towards Loris and his skirmishers on the piers and to hold their lines to keep any from escaping. This has helped limit the amount of destruction the city has endured, though some have voiced a question about its necessity due to the magic that rebuilds the city each night. Captain Francen would rather not test the magic seeing as how he believes in the strength of his sword and armor more than spells.
Several other warriors are of notable importance. Partik, a former guardsman, has taken it upon himself to train a tenth of the town each month in weapons ranging from spears and pikes to swords and dock axes. Gillios, the former master of the thieves' guild, has turned his pick pockets and thugs into snipers that use their knowledge of the layout of the back alleys and windows into making the city a maze of death if need be. John the Blacksmith ensures that every citizen has at the very least a shortsword to call their own, replacing the ones that are destroyed in a fight or lost due to old age.
The mage, Aras, was just an old wizard looking to continue his studies into the death blossom mushrooms that grew in the area when the city was attacked. He killed many raiders that came for his tower before his spells started to run low and exhaustion finally overcame him. The raiders did not know he was near the end of his strength and decided to torch the entire tower instead of making one more push to gain entry. The resulting fire and destruction ruined several of the experiments he was working on, and released them into the soil. Aras has considered that it this very act that granted the city a second life, but until his study is complete he is loath to announce this to the rest of the citizens.
During times of combat Aras is known to resort to rather violent and area wide spells. Ice and hellfire are his favorite, after all the town will be rebuilt the next night no matter how much destruction is caused by his spells. As a rather formidable, and high level wizard, his vast knowledge of spells makes him one of the most dangerous of the combatants.
Bernard, the first of Aras' apprentices and the only one to stay until his own death, came to Oldport roughly five years after the first oath was sworn. An avid student of flora, he wanted to study the death blossom mushrooms and was nearly killed for his efforts by the Dayguard, who saw him as a thief. Aras took him in as an apprentice and taught the young man for thirty years before he died. His body was buried in the cemetery where it was consumed by the very mushrooms he spent his life studying. Within a week he was knocking on his master's door, once again asking to apprentice to the old wizard only this time for eternity.
With nearly one hundred and fifty years of training Bernard is a master of the magical arts. He tends to be a little more careful with his magic simply due to the respect he has for the city and to never repeat the history that almost killed him off the first time he set foot within. He has never once regretted carving his name into the dais and considers this city to be his only home.
Ciria is Aras' current apprentice and one of the few living souls that do not belong to the Dayguard that reside within the borders of Oldport. She tends to stay within the confines of the tower unless she is given a day off by her master. A shy and mousy woman, her magic falls under the more subtle approach. Illusions, enchantments, and some summoning are her specialties. She has not had to weather a raid on the city as of this time but she hopes that she will be able to hold her own if it ever happens. She is generally found playing with the children on the piers once the sun sets on her days away from the tower.
Father Taddeo runs the temple dedicated to the god of wealth. Having watched Oldport grow from a struggling town into a full-fledged port city, He ensured that the citizens had a place to give thanks for their fortune. His death and the looting of his temple nearly destroyed his faith. The oath and restoration of his temple gave him that faith back.
He tends to watch any raiders first to get a feel for what they are after before he will engage in combat. His magic tends to seep into the minds of the raiders, showing them a gleam of gold or the soft sheen of silks. He lets his magic lead the raiders into dead-end alleys where they can easily be defeated by the warriors of the city. A soft-spoken man with a jolly laugh, his eyes turn to cold diamonds when it is time to defend his oath. He also has a running wager with the city defenders, the temple will fund the armor and weapons for the warrior with the greatest number of kills after each attack. This wager is known to have driven some of the defenders to contemplate some rather suicidal plans just to win the armor and weapons.
Mother Maria of the Blessed Sea is a rather quiet woman, calm and gentle. It is when she becomes angry that she reminds the citizens that the sea is unforgiving of fools. The high priestess of the temple dedicated to the god of the sea, she ensures that the sailors and fishermen have a place to worship. She was rather fond of a drink or two while alive and can generally be found at The Boatman's Cup in the company of the Halfling, Savuros.
Her divine magic reminds everyone that the sea can take a life and dash it against the rocks in an instant. The winds and the sea are hers to command, as well as any creature found within. Several raider groups have been thwarted as their ships have been torn apart by reefs that did not exist just an hour earlier or crushed in the arms of a giant squid or far worse. Maria tends to grow quite solemn after each fight and retreats into her temple for several weeks at a time as she mourns the loss of any life to the waters.
The General Citizens
Most of the regular citizens fight as file and rank soldiers with pikes and spears. Swords and axes are nice and all but require some dedication to learn, even as undead. They generally group up according to the district they lived or worked in and set about to defend their areas as well as can be.
The Children of Oldport
Every child, from the oldest teen to youngest toddler, carries a knife made specifically for them by John the Blacksmith. The children are also the only group to have more kills and therefore win the wager from Father Taddeo instead of Loris. On the last raid against the city one of the children was playing with her hoop on the piers just as a ship came into view. She sent word to all the children and they met the ship just as it pulled up to the piers to release the raiders. Nearly a hundred children, knives in hand and sadistic grins on their faces met the shocked raiders.
The only one to survive the absolute slaughter was brought before the Captain of the Dayguard. Between bouts of screaming and whimpering he told a tale of toddlers that could barely walk wobbling up to the cannons and crawling inside as the crews fended off the other children, blocking the muzzles with their bodies and causing the weapons to explode in metal and body parts. Little girls barely nine years of age tearing the flesh from his companion's bodies as they were stabbed again and again to no avail. The boys of the city would stab and run away, acting as if the battle was a game of tag, all while his companions screamed. Then he recalled how the mothers and fathers just stood on the piers and smiled as their children destroyed a full party of nearly two hundred warriors and eight swift boats in the span of seven hours. The parents and even Loris of the Half-Tooth just stood on the piers in silent approval. The survivor was allowed to live and return to where he came from, it is assumed he spread the tale for no one has returned to attack Oldport since.
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? Responses (9)
Not only is this creative and pretty well fleshed out as an idea, it just begs to be used in a game. The opening pulled me in, the main content delivered, and there were some nice gems (like the vicious toddler attacks).
Well I do try :D
A couple of awkward phrasings, but overall very well written piece built around a very interesting idea. I'd love to see more about Oldport, its history, people and environs.
The awkward phrases... my bane, and also why I am so hard on my own writing. It takes me an hour to craft a sentence so that it makes sense to me... does not always work for others :(
Unique undead with personalities as complex as the living. 5/5
I think this is a great piece, and so glad that I read it because I enjoyed it immensely. I think this idea of the immortally indentured servants is a great one that I do not feel has been fully explored in speculative fiction. The basic concept here could be stretched to sci-fi and these people could be holograms or robots or something that get reload every year. What else I have to say about this is just the musing of an enthusiastic fan boy.
This write up really straddles the three way line between real literary fiction, cartoonish sophomoric fiction and banal table top RPG considerations. In the first four paragraphs I feel you very concisely and skillfully layout a relatively complex situation by allowing the reader to view the events and discern their meaning. You show it, don't say it and that show faith in your writing and your reader. I am impressed and feel like I could learn from it.
Then when you get into the next sections, you have asides that are obviously directed at the gamers: you note that all people should be seen as skilled warriors, and you discuss how very system specific concepts such turning undead and such might work. I get why you did this but it kind of pulls you out the story of these people. With some formatting changes I think you could condense all these gamer asides into one section. While the post still works, you just lose some of the rhythm and story telling strength with these asides.
Next you have the description of the towns people, and this is where you get into the cartoonish
'his waist tends to jiggle in more directions than needed, he is none the less dedicated to maintaining the oath. He can regularly be found with his trusted judge's gavel hitting raiders over the head and yelling for reinforcements.'
There is nothing wrong with cartoonish, but it changes the theme of the piece again. You have children longing for death and clear mushrooms of their corpses and then a goofy fat man swinging a gavel into people's heads and calling for help. Then you have Ua'd with his implied pontification on the nature of death, but you link that again to necromantic spells. I think a lot humans today wonder about death without the benefit or necromancy (unless you count the easter story as a necromantic event).
Yet there is an upside to these presentations. It presents the characters in a very accessible fashion. I can see everyone in my mind. Also by making them a little fun or cliché, you do cut into the morose themes, and I think that is necessary to explain why people keep up this process year after year.
Finally you descend again into sort of a darkly comic but horrific scene of children in battle, babies being blown apart, and young girls tearing the flesh off people's bodies. You link this again to the cold blood priest's bet. This is evocative stuff, and I would take this to mean that these people have been corrupted by years of war. But I can't tell from the tone of the piece what you were going for here. Still it is great imagery and I found the prose to be strong and clear.
Overall great post, and though I now why you did it, I feel like you blunted this piece by focusing on combat and tactics and not on the lives and relationships of these people. You leave us with seeds, particularly in the case of Maria, but what is life like when you live immortally for combat? Do people fearing death wish to join the town and write their name in the ledger? Who will be the last man standing after everyone chooses death? What is the raid's stop, will the count fail to arrive?
The fact that this piece raised these questions for me, made it a stronger and more enjoyable write-up for me.
Whoa, frigging awesome. Detailed and covers all the angles, also creepy!
Whoa, frigging awesome. Detailed and covers all the angles, also creepy! Don't know if I'd use it in my own setting, because it'd ding a couple bits of the cosmology, but yikes!
Well, this is a good one. Lots of possibilities here, though what happens to the non-attacking living in this city? I seemed to have missed that point.