Verminard had years ago taken up residence deep in a cave in the Daggernasty Mountains and slept for uncounted years. Now he was awakened by the inevitable summons of his master, the evil Lord Doden. Verminard had no choice but to heed this call on the ether. To make the long journey however, he would need to feed and replenish his strength. He was a hideous monstrosity, half man and half spider and had been transformed thus by Doden years previous in a diabolical plot to keep from having to share power with Verminard and gain total control over the Earthlands.
Verminard was powerless to fight the will of his former confederate and must eventually heed the summons but he would take whatever time he required, to gain the strength for the long journey to Fryktholde, far to the north.
Now he was following the scent of smoke that emanated from the southeast and probably meant campfires or chimney smoke. Verminard was no picky eater. Anything with warm blood and guts would do and he was famished. Someone or something would be dying an unimaginably horrific death this night.
Verminard was a nightmare to all who encountered him. As he shook off the lethargy that had accompanied him for decades in his torpor, he realized that he was a monster even to himself now and that even the simple act of feeding, as necessary as it was, was an act of sheer disgust.
Verminard thought about his years as a young wizard. He was so full of hope and idealism. What had changed? When had it changed? He realized that it had been so many years ago, that it was hard to put into perspective.
Magic and those who wielded it were once things to be admired and sought after. Humans had always been less inclined to or adept at the use of magic. In fact it had been unheard of in humans except for those of the Nibelung race. Because men reproduce at a much faster and more prolific rate than their cousins the Elves and Dwarves, men began to out-populate the other races of the Earthlands. Consequently, magic and those who could wield it began to fall out of favor and be held suspect among those not proficient in its use.
So it was that Verminard and his family came to be shunned and ostracized and were eventually driven off to the wilds to join or form their own Nibelung communities. This was a subject of mixed emotions among the Nibelunga. Two schools of thought and consequently two factions emerged among them.
One philosophy was to live and let live. To understand that magic and all its trappings were misunderstood by those who could not use it and that their misunderstanding and distrust of it were understandable and, in the end, inevitable. These people considered that they were the ones taking the higher ground. This faction was known as the Leideform Nibelunga.
On the other side of the coin were the Unrecht Nibelunga. These folks, it was recognized, were those who’d by and large, suffered the most at the hands of those who’d driven them out and, subsequently, were less likely to forgive. It was from these people that Verminard and Doden had sprung. These shamans and wizards were by no means evil in essence but were far more susceptible to the dark underpinnings that were part of the magical balance. Obviously, if not kept in check this could manifest in someone giving over entirely to that dark and malignant calling.
Verminard had always admired Doden’s ease with which he mastered the use of magic in all its manifestations and was frankly a bit envious. He gave his studies his all and sometimes, fell short while Doden’s mastery seemed so effortless. In essence, when first taking his studies in earnest, Verminard was a kind-hearted and attentive student with a well-honed sense of right and wrong. Alas, his heart had been broken when Anna, the only girl he had ever loved was captured while gathering herbs by members of the infamous Hedsall tribe, raped and burned for her ability to wield magic.
When Darvod of Hedsall was captured and questioned about the incident he gloated that he’d been the one to come upon her gathering herbs at the northwestern end of Noname Lake. “I buggered that witch over and over and she went to the stake beggin’ fer more, she did”, he spat. Darvod was the first man Verminard had ever killed. He came away from the interrogation sick of heart and hating for the first time in his life. Doden saw his chance for an ally in evil and pounced on the opportunity by inciting Verminard to take his revenge.
“You well know what will be the judgment of these Leideformers. They will likely slap him in chains and bury him away somewhere to rot his life away in irons. Or worse, turn him over to the Hedsalls themselves and rely upon their judgment, and we both know how that will fare. I say, ‘where was mercy when this Darvod and his cronies were beating and raping and burning poor Anna?’ Nay, my friend, it is your right as her lover and intended husband, to take your revenge. I daresay justice demands it.”
That night with Doden’s aid they drugged the guard and opened the cell. Doden stood guard while Verminard worked very painful magic indeed upon the hapless Darvod. Very, very slowly he cooked the criminal from within after carefully charring his vocal chords so that he could not even cry out in his agony. He made it last for hours. In the early morning murk of the cell, all that was left of Darvod was a swollen, charred and rat-gnawed carcass that was completely unrecognizable. The guard was dead as well because Doden had poisoned, rather than drugged him in a ploy to be sure that when they left, they would never be able to return.
Before he’d known it, Verminard had allowed his pain and hatred to be used against him until evil became easier to recognize in all things than the good that life had to offer. It became the way they thought about all things and sealed their fates. They traveled far to the north and grew strong together. They subjugated the trull race that dwelt in Trullwood and even some goblins and through the labor of these, constructed Fryktholde. The fortress was immense and its every facet was a monument to evil magic and all that they could accomplish with it. Verminad’s fate was etched in stone, literally, for he would never be as strong or as corrupt as Doden. Then came the day when, in the small hours of morning, Doden crept into his bed chamber and bewitched him, transforming him into the monster that was now no longer Verminard of the Nibelungar, but Verminard the dire.
Laboriously, he searched for a fordable way across the River Alfmorgen, likely tracing the very steps his beloved Anna had seen as her last, so long ago. Now he stood on a precipice overlooking the valley of Heldahl. What he remembered as a lush and idyllic farming valley was now a charred and trampled morass as ruined as his heart and dreams.
Here he discovered the source of the smoke-filled atmosphere. Before him in the predawn gloom, the landscape was dotted with a galaxy of campfires. Dundermann Pass and Krawnholde within were under siege. “What has Blothe done now?” was his immediate thought. Regardless, an army meant food and if he didn’t eat soon he would wither and die for certain. He slung his sickle sword by the strap over his shoulder, hefted his spear and scrambled over the precipice to the valley floor below.