Welcome back to Diary of Death. This series takes thematic approach to narrating a campaign of the board game Kingdom Death: Monster. If you’d like to know more about the game, you can watch our interview with the game’s creator, Adam Poots, and if you’d like to see how the monster showdowns play out, you can check out our gameplay demo from GenCon 2015. The previous part of Diary of Death can be found here.
As the White Speaker disappeared into the swirling green mists, Resolve, Calm, Surly, and Sorrow moved away from the fountain, heading in the direction she had pointed.
A mere dozen steps took them out of the mist. In the near distance the sky still blazed with light, the epicenter of the spectacle centered over Forlorn.
A lion stood directly between the survivors and their home. They dispatched the beast without breaking a sweat.
Finally home, arriving again awash in the swirling colors and dancing shadows cast by the sky-lights, the survivors embraced the others that had waited so long for their return. Never before had a party been gone so long, and the relief that washed over the whole settlement was palpable but, before they could get settled in, the Hooded Knight returned.
The man seemed agitated, distractedly checking each survivor as before and, just like his prior visits, he failed to find what he sought. He turned to leave, but two of the survivors stood in his way, intent on training with him, expecting him to offer to teach them technique as he always had.
His claymore hummed as it sliced through the air, decapitating the first survivor and disemboweling the second. In one fluid motion he sprang over the bodies, moving away from the colony with a strained, voice cracking promise to return again.
Many in the settlement wanted to chase the man down, but Resolve stopped them, knowing that it would only end in more death for Forlorn. Instead, he helped to channel their energy into creating permanent mementos of the fallen, as a reminder to each of their own mortality, and Calm began to paint stylized pictographs representing those fallen.
As time passed, another lion fell to Calm, Surly, Tragedy, and Despair. The beast had ambushed them on the hunt, but they had bested the monster easily enough.
The sky-lights had passed while they were hunting, yet a shadow remained.
Shortly after their return, the shadow unfolded itself from the ground, resolving into a roughly-man sized shape covered in a ragged black cloak.
In a raspy voice, the sound like chains dragged over stone, the stranger in the dark spoke an inexorable command.
"I am the Lamplighter, give me your light."
Still geared for the hunt, Calm, Surly, Tragedy, and Despair approached the stranger, a lantern held out in front of each of them.
He instantly dismissed Calm, Surly, and Despair with a flick of his hand and a strange ticking noise. As he did, their lanterns dimmed slightly, and each felt like their body dimmed as well, as if some of their strength fled them.
He moved to Tragedy and held out his hand. Tragedy offered over his lantern without pause. The stranger stared deeply into the flickering flame, which seemed to burst forth with a warm, orange light. As the shapeless man handed the lantern back, the sparkle from the lantern seemed to move into Tragedy's eyes, his chest swelling, his body filling with vitality, just as it had flowed out of the others.
With a wink and a smile, the man melted back into the shadows around them.
Resolve encouraged the others to take heart. No lives had been lost this lantern year, and he told them that was reason enough to celebrate. Tragedy was quick to lend his voice to Resolve's and, drained as they were, Calm, Surly, and Despair followed suit. Soon, the entire settlement was back in high spirits.
Warmth began to pound out a rhythm on a hollow skull nearby, joined by others in her drumming while Burden experimented with holding skewers of lion mean near the lantern oven until it charred, cooking the meat through, and improving the taste.
Calm and Surly, ever eager to sneak off and share intimate moments, gave birth to a baby named Bliss, and another zanbato was fashioned to replace the one that Calm had shattered.
A herd of screaming antelope thundered by in the distance, and Tragedy, filled with energy, begged Resolve's blessing to lead a hunting party after one of the beasts.
Triumph joined her twin brother, as did Tragedy's lover Sorrow, convincing Resolve that they would be able to handle the hunt without the guidance of the elder hunters.
Despair soon added his voice to theirs, and Resolve relented, giving his permission to the four young survivors.
Excitedly, the four gathered their gear quickly, fairly racing out of the settlement to catch the trail of the antelope.
Spirits were high as they quickly found the path the antelope had taken. Trampled acanthus plants littered the ground everywhere, and the hunters happily chewed what few fresh leaves they could find that had been passed over by the animals.
Their joviality lapsed, however, when a great thundering crack boomed from the dark overhead. The sky opened into a downpour of cloying, stinging acid rain that burned their skin wherever it touched them.
Tragedy was determined to prove to Resolve and the others that he could lead a successful hunt, and he convinced the other three to press on, leading them towards a nightmare tree that they could take shelter beneath.
Through the steadily falling drops, they noticed a large, misshapen lump at the base of the tree, a pair of floating, glittering orbs hovering in the air behind it.
They slowed as they neared the tree. The lump was the body of a massive antelope, torn open, with teeth and claw marks covering its body.
A face took shape around the strange, glittering, golden orbs. A lion the likes of which they'd never even dreamed of stood from behind the dead antelope, stretching immense claws the length of daggers. The great beast's eyes mirrored Tragedy's and held an ominous, bloodthirsty intelligence.
The survivors dove quickly into the long grass near the tree, but the great terror had seen them, and they knew they were in grave danger.
Triumph dashed around the tree to flank the monster, while Sorrow quickly strummed the whisker harp he was carrying, hoping to distract the beast as he moved to hide behind the large stone face nearby. Surprisingly, the look of blood-thirst disappeared from the lion's face, replaced by a savage curiosity.
Taking advantage of the distraction, Triumph moved behind the great cat and brought her axe down on the monster. The blade of her axe bit into the lion, but it leaped forward with startling speed before she could deal it any serious damage.
Tragedy barely managed to roll out of the way as the gigantic beast nearly collided with him.
Despair moved to attack the lion from behind, but could not muster the strength to damage the monster, merely dragging his zanbato across the beasts legs ineffectually.
Instead of moving directly next to the beast, Tragedy attempted to use the reach of the Lantern Halberd he carried to strike the enormous lion. His eyes locked with the lion's as he swung, and he felt a searing pain in his mind, causing his blow to fall wide.
The lion dropped its head to lick the wound that Triumph had dealt it. Despair and Tragedy both surged forward to attack again, but the cat was too lithe, too agile, and it stepped away from them while continuing to lick its wound. As it turned to face them all, its piercing gaze sent icy terror down their spines.
With a coiling of its powerful muscles, the monster rushed towards Triumph, who dashed just out of range of the monster's reaching claws. Terrified, Triumph ducked out of sight behind the tree.
Again, moving into the lion's blind spot, Despair struck at the beast twice yet, as before, his strikes found no purchase.
Tragedy fared better, slamming his halberd into the lion's ribs and raking the blade across the beast's knee.
Sorrow fired his Hollow Point arrow, but, like Tragedy, locked eyes with the lion, causing him to experience a surge of pain behind his eyes. His arrow flew off into the dark as he jerked at the pain and fired blindly.
Despair and Tragedy quickly dashed away from the lion, diving into the shelter of the clumps of tall grass.
Angered by the damage they'd done, the lion suddenly seemed more alert, ready to pounce if anyone approached.
Sorrow thrashed his hand across his harp, sending out a sour chord through the air that distracted the lion.
Despair took advantage of the lapse in the lion's attention, thrusting his zanbato with all of his might. The blade bit into the lion's chest, carving off a chunk of the great cat's bone, sinking deep but stopping just short of the beast's heart. The lion slumped forward, weakening visibly.
Tragedy moved in next, believing the lion to be close to death. The lion spun around, easily sidestepping Tragedy's attack, raking one of its giant claws across Tragedy's head in a burst of dried acanthus leaves.
Triumph shouted encouragement to her twin brother, who regained his feet before moving in to strike the lion, wounding the beast's flank.
The lion's laser focus honed in on Triumph, who made a mad dash away from the beast, knowing that it would be coming after her to repay the wound she'd just inflicted upon it.
Its all too human hands reached out for Triumph as she sprinted as fast as she could. The beast came up just short of catching her.
Taking advantage of the lion's focus on Triumph, Despair slammed his zanbato against the lion's temple, cutting the giant cat before dashing away from it, followed by Triumph, who swung at, but missed, the lion.
The beast grew enraged, putting its weight behind a hay-maker aimed at Despair, who raised his shield just in time to turn the blow away from his body.
The force of the blow knocked the wind out of Despair. Desperate for some respite, he dashed towards the tree, getting tangled in the roots and falling to the ground at the base of its trunk.
Knowing the lion was nearly unable to resist the notes played on the harp, Sorrow carefully strummed out a soft melody, soothing the raging beast.
Ducking behind the monster, Triumph cut it again, and then jumped back, expecting retaliation.
Instead, the lion flopped onto its side, taunting the hunters to come near.
Sorrow moved to help Despair, but became tangled in the roots as well, falling to the ground next to him.
As he untangled himself and climbed back to his feet, Despair noticed a strange lonely ant crawling across the exposed roots. He reached down and caught the ant, quickly popping it into his mouth. A rush of menthol and scorching spice flavors burst across his tongue, throat and sinuses as his teeth crunched down through the ant's abdomen—the sensation sharpened his mind, snapping him back to reality. As his mind cleared, his body caught a second wind as the ant bits slid down his throat into his stomach.
Tragedy moved cautiously towards their enemy as Triumph continued to assault the beast.
She swung back and forth at the creature, who merely flicked its tail, easily avoiding all but one of her attacks.
Sorrow launched his claw headed arrow, this time prepared for the burning mind-pain from those incredible golden eyes, overcoming it just long enough to see the arrow strike true.
Following his partner's lead, Tragedy too attacked from a distance, prepared for the assault on his mind.
The lion was ready for him though, striking before his weapon could complete its deadly arc, clawing him across the body and waist. It caught Tragedy's arm in its powerful jaws, crushing the bones of his upper arm.
Desperate to save her brother, Triumph shouted encouragement to him as she struck true with her counter-weighted axe, scoring wounds to the monster's soft belly and brow.
Snarling, the nightmarish monster pressed its attack on Tragedy, raking its deadly claws across his torso, waist and arm before catching his head in its mouth.
With a sickeningly wet crunch, its powerful jaws closed, sending an explosion of gore and grey matter from between its teeth.
Tragedy's decapitated torso hit the ground with a moist thump. As his heart slowed, small spurts of blood shot from his neck stump to soak the ground at the lion's feet.
Sorrow began to wail, screaming in pain, panic, and terror as the life sped from the body of his love.
Despair slammed the blade of his zanbato against the lion's temple, intent on taking the head from the beast as it had taken Tragedy's.
The nightmare cat staggered as it fought to remain standing, dizzily swaying back and forth.
Triumph and Despair moved to press the attack, but the lion had recovered enough to smoothly escape injury.
Focusing, the beast renewed its alert, extending its claws and catching hold of Despair, who, despite gaining a second wind, was too slow to avoid them.
The lion dragged him away from the others, attempting to isolate Despair from any help they might offer.
His grief nearly overwhelming him, Sorrow thrashed on the strings of the harp until his fingers bled. The cacophony of sound was enough to distract the beast long enough for Despair to stand and strike out weakly.
Triumph managed to close the distance, slicing the beast cleanly two times.
The lion turned towards the sobbing Sorrow, and easily leaped up onto the stone face, moving towards the distracting sound of the harp.
Despair climbed up behind the lion and raised his zanbato yet missed as he couldn't find steady footing.
The lion let out a triumphant roar as it caught sight of Sorrow.
Knowing the lion was coming for him, Sorrow ducked into the tall grass and raised his shield weakly.
The monster pounced on him, easily batting his shield aside and chomping down on the top of Sorrow's head. Sorrow let out one final sob.
With a clench of its jaws and a sharp flick of its neck, the lion shattered Sorrow's skull.
Sorrow's body fell backwards into the tall grass as he joined Tragedy in death.
Despair and Triumph rushed the lion, dealing a wound to its fleshy gut.
Weakening, the lion shook its head, momentarily dazed again because of the wound it had taken to its temple.
The beast recovered quickly though, avoiding the next series of attacks that both hunters threw at it before catching Despair in its grasp yet again.
As the beast prepared to drag Despair away from her, Triumph drew on the last of her strength, cutting it across the back, but not hitting it hard enough to force it to drop the savior.
Claws raked Despair's head, arms, legs, and waist as the lion took his head in the grip of its life stealing jaws. His leather helmet held true, and Despair rolled away, leaping back to his feet, bloodied, but alive.
Despair dove beneath the lion, coming up behind the beast as Triumph cracked their enemy's ribs with a great swing of her axe.
The gigantic lion shook its head back and forth, again hindered by the wound it had taken to its head. Despair jumped out of its reach, but the cunning lion merely shifted focus to Triumph, slamming her to the ground, shattering her jaw.
Triumph stood. This beast had taken her twin brother, it had taken her friend Sorrow, and she'd be damned if she let it live one more moment.
She raised her axe with the last of her strength, and her eyes met the lion's just as the murderous beast's jaws closed on her face.
As Triumph's gore spattered, headless body fell, Despair put all he had behind the weight of his zanbato. His weapon smashed into the lion's brow, caving in the cat's skull where it had been weakened near the temple, smashing down into its eye, which burst in a spray of fluids.
As the lion's body lay twitching, Despair dug the other glittering, golden eye out of its skull. He stared into the eye for a few heartbeats before putting it into his mouth and grinding it with his teeth, chewing for a few moments before swallowing.
He then fell to his knees and wept.