The tale of the paladin Alverad, and his noble adventures in a dark, ancient crypt.
Alverad had wanted this his entire life, but at this moment, all he could feel was the gripping terror of the situation he'd found himself in. His brow was lined with sweat; he wasn't sure if it was from exhaustion or from fear. His nostrils stung with the pungent smell of mildew and death, his lungs burned from the hot, putrid air of the ancient crypt he occupied. All the tales of heroes and champions of his youth had led him here, but he would have to muster every ounce of courage and will he had to evolve from the starry-eyed lad he'd been to the noble figure of valor he'd dreamed of becoming.
A laugh echoed through the halls of the catacombs, drifting from the walls like the scratching of old, decrepit nails on the rotted wood of a coffin. The scathing, hollow sound thundered in his ears, assaulting both his senses and his sanity. He steeled himself, planting a heavy gauntleted foot behind him and raising his large shield before him. Gritting his teeth, he hefted his large war hammer and stared down the monstrosity before him.
The lich grinned. Dark, arcane energy swirled around him. Alverad's companions had all fallen or had been detained, scattered across the chamber. Some were merely entangled, some ensorcelled, some far less fortunate. Alverad prayed that he would be given the strength to triumph, and rescue his companions before all hope to revive the fallen was lost.
The elf had regained consciousness, but was firmly constricted in rough, thorny vines. They were black and gnarled, corrupted by the evil and malice of the undead spellcaster that had conjured them. She shouted, the sound startling the lich as it turned, thinking she was staging an ambush. The moment of hesitation was all Alverad needed.
He charged forward, raising his hammer, infusing it with all the powers of his deity he could summon. It glowed fiercely, bright with the righteous fury he channeled, becoming a blessed weapon of divine will. The lich realized its mistake a moment too late, and attempted to brace itself for the impending attack. But Alverad was too quick. Fueled by his zeal, he swung the weapon in a wide arc, making direct contact with the creature.
The sound of cracking bones and the crumpling of ancient armor and rotted flesh replaced that of the sinister laughter. The creature reeled, and the point of impact sizzled and burned as the holy power imbued into the weapon seared it. It shrieked, a horrible, piercing sound. Alverad winced as the wave of fury washed past him, feeling a bit of blood trickling from his ears. He was stunned for a moment, but a moment was all the lich needed.
Conjuring more black, twisted vines, the lich reached its arm forward and constricted Alverad's legs. The paladin stumbled, trying to bash at the vines with the bottom edge of his tower shield. They were too numerous, too fast, and they quickly wrapped his limbs and pulled tight, causing him to tumble backwards into a supine position. They bound his arms and forced his hammer and shield from his gasp, as the lich floated near him.
Visibly strained and wounded, the lich was no longer laughing. It bore a look of pure hatred and malice, astonished that this warrior would have both the gall and ability to injure it. It hissed, clacking its skeletal teeth as it neared Alverad's face, the small embers of malignant magic in its otherwise empty eye sockets burning like pyres. Alverad struggled, but it was to no avail.
"Alverad!" He could hear the elf scream. She struggled against her restraints as well, the results equally futile. "Alverad!"
Alverad roared, struggling in vain against the magical tendrils that had ensnared him, ever-defiant, even in the face of impending doom. A small comfort lingered in the back of his mind that the blow he'd struck would prevent the monster from taking any enjoyment out of its victory. The elf continued to shout.
Alverad snapped awake. He'd fallen asleep once more in the course of his duties, and his surly dwarf employer seemed none too pleased.
"Alverad! I tell ye ta do one lousy task, and ye sneak to a corner and snooze! Worthless louse! I swear, if I haddn' promised yer folks I'd watch over ye, I'd tan yer hide and boot ye to the stones!"
"I-I'm sorry, Haldersen!" Alverad sheepishly replied. "I'll get right back to work, ! promise!"
"Ye'd better!" The dwarf snapped. "It's almost time to open the tavern, and ye know adventurers will be floodin' in here like rats to a pantry! No more lazin' about, lad, there's good coin in ales and tales!" Haldersen was a curmudgeon, even by dwarf standards, but he'd been a good provider and loyal guardian. Alverad felt a pang of guilt for disappointing him.
"Yes, sir. Right away, sir." Alverad replied, retrieving the broom he'd dropped when he'd nodded off. The dwarf grumbled and returned to the larder, gathering supplies for the dinner rush. Alverad sighed and returned to his chores, muttering to himself about heroes and adventures, wishing once more for the life he'd never seem to achieve.
He completed his sweep of the tavern floors and leaned the broom against the wall behind the bar. One day, perhaps, he told himself. By the gods, one day he'd have an adventure. He absently prayed to himself that one day he'd finally get that chance.
He turned to clean the mugs quickly, too quickly, as he just missed the faint, golden glow that had begun to emanate from his broom.