Thursday, 2 March 2017

Fifty Word Fiction: The Burnt Skull

Welcome wonderful reader to the next installment of Fifty Word Fiction. Again we visit The Gift, but today we learn about some ne'er do wells who seek nothing but ill will upon the settlers of the Borderlands.

The Ashen Folk
The Ashen Folk are a relatively small cult within the larger organisations of the worshippers of Elemental Evil. The Ashen Folk don’t devote themselves to following a single Element but instead have a pantheonistic approach, blending rituals and beliefs from each of the four powers.

The membership of the Ashen Folk is similarly not drawn from one racial group; their numbers contain cultists from all sorts of racial stocks; goblinoids, orcs, giants, evil humans and demi humans as well as more unusual creatures. 

The Ashen Folk pride themselves as warriors, assassins and thieves. Ostracised by many of the mainstream Elemental Evil devotees, the Ashen Folk are self-sufficient but will work for other groups for wealth and power.

When at war cultists daub their faces with grey ash before battle. All cultists are marked with a brand or tattoo somewhere on their body so as be recognisable to fellow Ashen Folk.

Detailed below is a small war band of the Ashen Folk known as the Burnt Skull, sent to spy upon the residents and locals of The Gift.

The Burning Skull

The Burnt Skull
The Burnt Skull are a well organised, capable and talented group of cultists. While their appearance to outsiders would seem as a rag tag, disparate group of individuals the members of the Burnt Skull are more akin to a group of adventurers; aware of each others skills and capable of working together to defeat serious opposition.

The Burnt Skull have set up base in a set of caverns within the woods approximately a days travel from the edges of The Gift. From here they set out on spying and scouting missions seeking to learn all they can about the settlers and their defences for their paymasters.

The following individuals make up this war band.

He’Lis is the undisputed leader of the Burnt Skull. He’Lis is a rare member amongst a rare species, being one of a small number of Earth Naga. These spell casting serpents are particularly attuned to the etheric cycles of elemental earth and can cast spells from these spiritual domains as well as their own innate arcane incantations.

He’Lis is approximately fifteen feet in length and weighs over two hundred pounds. His glistening scales are the colours of bright precious stones and his eyes are a brilliant emerald green. Whilst he relies on his comrades for physical services and protection, he is a master strategist and provides most of the planning, strategy and direction for the band.

Atop his brow he wears a crudely beaten golden circlet; this is an old item handed down (or taken) from generations of servants of elemental evil that enhances the spell casting powers of the wearer.

Onyx is He'Lis's familiar and an unusual one at that. Named for the deep black colour of his form, Onyx is an earth elemental, approximately 4' in height and bound in a roughly humanoid form. It appears to have simple features; a crevice for a mouth and deep recesses that burn with a green light for eyes.

Although Onyx is a proficient combatant He'Lis does not use his servant for such purposes if at all possible. It is far too valuable serving as a pair of hands for his serpentine lord.

The Masque
The enigmatic assassin known as the Masque is one of the Ashen Folk’s most feared killers. An expert in stealth in both urban and wilderness environments her victims rarely know they are being hunted before being struck by one of her trademark envenomed arrows.

When seen the Masque is usually dressed in soft leathers including a cover for her face and a short hooded cloak. The mask worn may vary but each is typically etched with a screaming woman’s face, one side of which will be daubed with ash. She normally carries a curved masterwork bow and a sheaf of black fetched arrows, along with a gladius style blade.

The Masque operates as part of the Burnt Skull war band but typically acts as a solo agent, either scouting for the group or tracking their prey. What is not known outside of her small group of acquaintances is that her facial disguise is as much for their protection as it is to conceal her identity. The assassin is in fact a medusa and the mask ensures that victims are petrified only when she intends it. The poisonous snakes that reside where her hair should be provide a ready supply of fresh venom for her arrows.

The Masque
Garesh is a male hobgoblin; he is tall for one of his kind standing at 6’ 9” in height. He has the wiry frame associated with his race with knotted cord like muscles. Garesh has very distinctive facial features; brown hair he wears in tight braids which matches his short beard and a long scar which runs down the left hand side of his face. This side bears the grey ash worn by the cult in battle.

He wears rough leathers with metal plates sown over the jerkin and sleeves and in combat carries a spiked flail and large shield.
Garesh is a solid brawler; he lacks the imagination for leadership but loves the thrill of battle and is happy to be directed to combat by cult leaders. Among his effects is a silvered dagger taken from a cleric of Pelor; the blade seems to keep a sharp edge and Garesh has never needed to take a whetstone to it.

Gazbug & Muzbug
Gazbug and Muzbug are a pair of very unusual goblins. They are surviving twins from the same litter, and they are both larger and more intelligent than is the norm for their race. Realising that their lot within the normal hierarchy of the followers of Elemental Evil was very limited and likely to be very short they sought out membership of the Ashen Folk. This show of initiative was enough to pique the interest of the Ashen leadership, and when the brothers passed the initiation tests set for them they were taken into the cult.

The twins are almost identical save for a few details. Firstly Gazbug is right handed and an injury to his left leg when he was a pup has left him with a slight limp when he walks or runs.  He also wears his mop of black hair in a set of messy braids in imitation of the fearsome Garesh.

Gazbug dresses in a rag tag mix of furs, leathers and scraps of chainmail which he has scavenged from various battlefields. He fights with a hatchet and shield taken from a long dead guardsman; these weapons appear overly large for a goblin but he has the strength and ability to wield them effectively. He is very fond of the ornate shaving mirror he found on the same corpse, and uses it when fussing over his hair!  

His brother Muzbug is left handed and has a crude flame tattoo on the right side of his face. Like Gazbug he has coarse black hair which he wears in a simple top knot bound with rawhide.

Muzbug has scavenged a chain shirt which is overly large for him; it sits like a full length set of mail on his frame, tied at the waist with a length of rope. In combat he uses a vicious pole axe; when fighting in partnership with his brother he stands behind Gazbug and uses the spiked end as a spear to reach over his comrade’s shield. When fighting alone he uses the axe with brutal efficiency.

Muzbug has a fondness for semi-precious stones; the favourite amongst his possession is a small piece of red scroll stone which he wears on a simple chain around his neck.

Gazbug. Or is it Muzbug?


The human residents of the Gift use trained hounds to act as sentries and trackers. The Burnt Skull are lucky to have a gnoll under their command who acts as their skilled and intelligent tracker. Crackfang has been gifted with a sense of smell which rivals a bloodhound and he is capable of following many creatures by their scent alone.

Crackfang is named after his prominent broken tooth which protrudes from his lower jaw. He has the size and stature typical for an adult gnoll male, with matted brown fur, and bloodshot yellow eyes. He wears studded leather armour, repaired in several places but still serviceable, and usually carries his favoured weapons of long bow and hand and a half sword.

His comrades usually give Crackfang something of a wide berth; he is not overly fastidious and is a home for ticks and fleas. These make him itch and hence he can be somewhat short tempered; however his abilities as a tracker more than make up for his shortcomings as a companion.

Crackfang the tracker

Yagrat Windtalker
The last member of Burnt Skull is Yagrat Windtalker, otherwise known as Yagrat the Crone. She is an elderly goblin, stick thin, wrinkle skinned with thread thin grey hair and apparently senile as she constantly appears to be distracted in conversation with no one at all! While the physical description is correct, his apparent mental state is not dementia or confusion but simply the fact she is in conversation! She listens to the chatter of the sylphs and other air spirits and often talks back to them, thus her name of Windtalker.

The Crone is a shaman of Elemental Evil, mistress of the wind spirits and a spell caster of no small power. She is the war band’s conduit to the elemental powers and provides the groups religious guidance.

Yagrat pays little heed to her appearance or apparel, wearing a tattered over-sized hooded robe over which she carries a leather satchel filled with her runes, powders and other items of power. Among her prized possessions is her Holy Symbol; enchanted to enable the owner to wield greater control over elementals than an Elementalist may normally command.

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