Learn ye, reader, of the wrath of our Lord Xeric.
Learn ye of the punishment that awaits those who fail him.
Learn ye of the Judgement of the Vanguard.
Our Lord Xeric forgives not, nor does he forget; learn ye to serve him with fear!
The penalty for failure is immense; do not risk suffering the same fate as the Vanguard.
In our time in Kourend, along with his own magical power, Lord Xeric had a mighty army at his command, enforcing his rule over the people.
Whenever traitors muttered against our Lord, his troops would ravage their homes in the dead of night, arresting anyone suspected of disloyalty or rebellion.
Under questioning by the commanders, who were empowered to use any interrogation techniques they deemed necessary in Lord Xeric's service, the traitors would inevitably reveal more suspects for the troops to arrest.
Thus the power of our Lord Xeric was maintained over his people.
The most prominent commanders of Lord Xeric's army were known as the Vanguard, three elite officers who rose quickly through the ranks. Their cunning on the battlefield, their ruthlessness in the interrogation chambers and their loyalty to our Lord were exemplary.
Each of the Vanguard was proficient in a different form of combat, and when the three stood together, none could prevail against their united power because they would share their strength to protect each other. For their successes in his service, Lord Xeric rewarded them with the command of his army.
Then came the fall. A proletarian uprising caught the army by surprise. Had the Vanguard performed their duty, perhaps disaster would have been averted, and Lord Xeric would have remained on the throne of Kourend. However, even the legendary Vanguard were frail.
As their troops were slaughtered around them by the rage of the proletariat, the Vanguard fled the city to protect their own skins.
Lord Xeric took note of their retreat, and I witnessed him vow that their fate would be worse than if they had stayed to die serving him.
Lord Xeric's word is not given lightly; I shuddered to think what would befall the Vanguard when we found them.
Even as we marched away from Kourend ourselves, I was sure he would carry out his word and exact vengeance on the Vanguard.
In time, Lord Xeric led us to Mount Quidamortem, and we established our new settlement within its caverns.
As our Lord studied the secrets of the mountain, and the crystals within its depths, his power increased, bringing great cheer to those of us who still survived to serve him.
Then, one day, our sentinels reported movement on the flanks of the mountain. It was the Vanguard. They had heard of our new settlement on Mount Quidamortem, and had come to re-pledge their allegiance to our Lord.
Their apology was abject, I will admit. They admitted that they had fled the battle, abandoning their duty to Lord Xeric. They pledged that they would never fail him again, if he would take them back into his service.
I waited for Lord Xeric to vent his wrath upon them. But he did not. Instead he welcomed the Vanguard, letting them approach his presence - an honour granted only to his most trusted servants. He bade us deck them in fine clothes and set out a feast in their honour, as though they were his long-lost kin rather than traitors who had failed him.
I confess I almost came to doubt the wisdom of Lord Xeric - how could he stomach the presence of such craven turncoats, let alone grant them such honour?
But the wisdom of Lord Xeric had not failed, nor had his memory.
Lord Xeric invited the Vanguard to enter the caverns with him, so that he could imbue them with the same power that he could now draw from the crystals of the mountain. He allowed me to follow, as a witness.
We travelled through the caverns to a fiery chamber, where glowing lava reflected off the facets of a hundred orange crystals. Once there, Lord Xeric invited the Vanguard to lower their defences so he could instil into them the power of the crystals.
I watched in distaste as the traitors reached out to accept the power - power that had never been offered to me.
Instead, I saw our Lord's expression change. The sickly benevolence in his eyes was replaced with bloodshot wrath, and his face contorted into a sneer of derision. The Vanguard realised that they had been tricked - but it was too late.
Their grasping hands twisted. Their legs buckled. Their skin glowed, as if the heat of the chamber's lava had set their blood to boiling. From their mouths came a ghastly bubbling scream that rapidly died away as their ruined bodies collapsed to the ground. But that was not the end.
Lord Xeric waved a hand in a curious gesture, and I felt a magical wave emanating from the crystals of the chamber. Writhing on the ground, the Vanguard began to melt and re-form into new shapes.
Soon three lumpen figures lay, hunching on the ground at Lord Xeric's feet. There was no light of intelligence in their eyes; their souls had clearly been destroyed.
And then, in tones of the coldest malice, Lord Xeric addressed them:
You failed me.
You crawled away from my service to save your skins.
Know, now, that I do not forgive such failure. I do not forget such failure.
Had you fled to the ends of the world, my vengeance would have pursued you.
Had you taken your own sorry lives to escape my wrath, even beyond the gates of death my revenge would have come upon you.
Instead you came to grovel at my feet, snivelling and begging to be taken back.
Your apology is not accepted.
Now you can serve me in your new forms.
In life you stood united, and you betrayed me. Now I grant you an un-life, standing united as before, but bound to the crystals of my caverns so you cannot fail me again.
Guard my chambers, protect my secrets until the end of time.
Lord Xeric led me away from that terrible place. I could not speak. I could hardly walk, but I dared not show weakness before my Lord.
But Lord Xeric spoke to me. He knew of the doubts I had harboured, he knew how I had felt when I believed he was welcoming the Vanguard back.
And my Lord understood. He knew I would not doubt him again. (I never have.)
That day, Lord Xeric bade me record all that I had seen of the Judgement of the Vanguard. My record is to stand as a testimonial to his wrath and his vengeance. I have written it down faithfully.
So now you have read to the end, reader, learn ye from what I have recorded here.
Learn ye that, if you must choose between serving Lord Xeric and saving your own skin, our Lord will not forgive those who choose poorly.
Learn ye from the fate of the Vanguard.
And, if ye fail to learn... upon your own head be your fate.
• • • • •