Category Archives: Fantasy

Chloe the Rat

This is a tale of two women; one, a loner, a creature of the wild; with but one friend in the world. The other: a princess, cruel and spoiled, with no friends at all.

The girl Chloe was a child of the forest, a foundling. She was raised in the ways of the Pathfinder by Keeler the Guide, a ranger of Rowanwood; and Sarapen Moonsilver, the Barkwarden. Chloe was a peculiar child who grew into a peculiar woman. She took to the teachings of the ranger and druid well enough, but neither could call her daughter or friend. Something was different about her. It was as if she felt no kinship to the forest at all, or to those who lived within. Except for one.

Chloe met the dryad Briarose one day while traversing the Rowanwood alone. Eager for company, the dryad invited Chloe to stay for a while and trade news of Rowanwood, for Briarose could not venture far from her ancient oak and wanted to hear of the forest beyond her reach. Chloe obliged, more from a sense of boredom than anything else; but she soon found herself returning to the dryad’s tree more often, sometimes planning her travels to include Briarose’s grove as a stop along the way. The two became friends, though they could not be more different.

Chloe’s travels took her far throughout the Rowanwood, and she was only able to meet with her friend Briarose once every few months or so. It was during one of these meetings that the dryad told Chloe she had met another girl from the land outside the forest. Her name was Circa, and she was a princess. Princess Circa had stumbled into her grove while hiding from her royal guard, who had accompanied her on what she called a “terribly boring” hunting trip. They spoke for a while and Circa told her how hers was a life of luxury and privilege. She had many servants and everyone obeyed her commands. She invited Briarose to come visit her in her castle. Of course, Briarose had to refuse, as she could not leave her tree. When she told Circa this, the princess got a strange look on her face. A few minutes later, the two heard the sounds of the princess’s hunting party calling for her. Circa left to join them, but told Briarose that they would see each other again soon.

Something about this made Chloe uneasy, but she said nothing. When she returned to the grove several weeks later, she found it uprooted and destroyed. Briarose’s tree lay on the ground. The ancient oak had been ravaged for lumber. She found the body of her friend beneath it, still clinging to the trunk, and she imagined the scene as her friend must have begged and pleaded with those responsible to stop hurting her tree. To stop murdering her.

Chloe knew who was responsible, of course: the spoiled princess, Circa. She wanted Briarose and did not care that the dryad could not come to her court even if she wanted to, for she was bound to the tree. Bring the tree, then, Chloe imagined her saying. Chloe followed the tracks of the princess’s guards to the edge of the forest, where they passed into the plains beyond. She tracked them all the way to Malfort, the capital of Evalaux; and could have tracked them to the castle itself, but there was no need. Chloe knew she could not get to the princess directly. Better to spend her efforts elsewhere.

And she did. Chloe had no friends in Malfort. She had no friends at all, since the death of Briarose. Her first task, then, was to make some. She did not like people, so instead she made friends with the rats of Malfort. All of them.

Within months, Chloe and her rats controlled the entire underworld of Malfort; easily wresting it from the grip of the Thieves’ Guild that operated in the sewers and shadows. Chloe’s legend grew. Rats bred unchecked, spreading disease and pestilence in the city above, spoiling foodstuffs and fouling wells. The people of Montfort cried out to the palace for help. They were suffering. They were dying. Unrest stirred, and the power of the royal family began to shake. Surely the king would do something?

The king could do nothing, because the king was dead. His seneschal found him in his chambers one morning, or what was left of him, anyway. He had been devoured by rats in his sleep. There seemed nowhere Chloe’s rats could not reach.

Princess Circa found herself suddenly in charge in a palace overrun by rats. She barricaded herself inside and hired as many rat catchers as she could from the surrounding towns and cities of Evalaux. She paid them extravagant sums to ply their trade, with promises of riches untold to the one who could rid the palace and the city of the rats. The rat catchers all died horribly; some devoured by rat swarms like the king, some made to ingest the very poisons they employed in their trade. They died, the people despaired, and Chloe’s grip tightened around the princess’s throat.

Over the course of the next several months, Chloe squeezed.

Today, Princess Circa still lives in the ruined palace, though her servants and guards fled long ago. She wanders the halls, incoherent and bedraggled and quite mad, attended only by rats. Outside, life has returned to normal for the people of Malfort. The tides of vermin no longer plague the city as they did. The disease has been checked, commerce and trade has resumed. The wells run clean and the storehouses are safe. All is well again.

But the people know, and they will not forget. Chloe the Rat is now princess of Malfort, and her palace is below the streets.

September’s Character of the Month is a Ranger; albeit a pretty unconventional one. This project has been pretty light on evil characters so far (only Rafinphel the Adored is expressly evil, and he’s not MY character), so I thought it was time. I imagined a ranger so obsessed with vengeance that she usurped nature for her own ends. This is the result.

For Chloe, I used Reaper’s Vermina, the Rat Queen, from their Chronoscope line. There are two versions of this character. This one, sculpted by Werner Klocke, has an anime-vibe to it. The other one is much more Victorian-looking and is sculpted by Patrick Keith. I’ve had this one for many years. She was supposed to be a non-player character in a D&D 3.5 campaign; but the game fell apart before I had a chance to paint her and she’s languished under chipped black primer ever since.

Since it’s obviously not September anymore, Chloe is late. But that’s ok. I have another Character of the Month for October coming by the end of the month; and hopefully more Star Wars, too.

Product Reviews: Wargames Atlantic Halfling Militia and the “Big Three” Wargaming Magazines that aren’t White Dwarf

Been a long time since I did a product review. This time I thought I’d share my thoughts on the “Big Three” wargaming mags: Miniature Wargames; Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy; and Wargames Illustrated; as well as some cool plastic miniatures: Halfling Militia from Wargames Atlantic.

I didn’t buy these, I got five of them for FREEEEEEEEEEEEE! with my copy of Miniature Wargames magazine. MW has taken to attaching free sprues of miniatures with some issues, which makes the $15 per issue price tag a bit more bearable for me. (Skip down below to read my thoughts on the “Big Three” Wargaming magazines.)

These halflings look pretty cool, as you can see. They have a nice level of detail, come with several options for heads and weapons (bows, halberds, spears and a sword), and fit together nicely. They’re versatile, too. You could easily use them for any fantasy game; or, if you still play Warhammer Fantasy Battle, they’d fit right into an Empire army as a spearman regiment or archer unit. (These guys are from Stirland!) They’re also fun to paint.

The one quibble I have is the length (and strength) of the spears and halberds. They’re too long. Don’t get me wrong: if I was keeping a huge spider at bay (as pictured on the cover), I’d want my spear to be as long as possible; but they’re a disaster in the making, as they stick so far out they’re easy to snag. So far they’re bendy enough not to snap, but I’m not what you’d call an optimist. They’re also somewhat inconvenient to store and ship because of the length of the spears. Other than this relatively minor complaint, color me impressed with this set, considering I hate assembling plastic miniatures.

Onto the gaming magazines.

First off, I’m not including White Dwarf, because White Dwarf is not a wargaming magazine. It’s a Games Workshop house engine that only covers GW products and has been primarily functioning as a product catalog for the last twenty years. Also, I don’t buy it.

The actual wargaming magazines–Miniature Wargames; Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy and Wargames Illustrated–have quite a bit in common. They cover a wide variety of wargaming and hobby news, they’re all very well-produced and pretty, they’re all published in the UK, and they all cost $15 here in the States. So what are the differences, at least the ones that matter to me?

Wargames Illustrated is fantastic to look at. It has a good variety of wargaming articles for all genres; showcases new games regularly, and sometimes comes with free sprues of miniatures. (I got most of my Cruel Seas ships from this magazine.) It has some good modeling and painting articles, too. It also devotes a lot of pages to covering game shows and conventions in the UK and Europe; which, although cool, is not something I really give a shit about, considering I don’t live there and am not likely to attend any of them. I would rather have more articles and scenarios for games I like.

Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy is another beautiful magazine that is heavily weighted towards the historical wargamer, which makes it of limited use to me. I rarely buy this magazine as a result; but the issues I do own are very nice. WS&S generally focuses on a monthly theme (The Carlist Wars, for example) and then devotes several articles and scenarios to the topic, including a compendium of miniatures for the period/conflict in question, presented in a variety of scales by different manufacturers. It’s a wonderful reference, and also regularly features articles by some big names in wargaming (Rick Priestly, Henry Hyde, etc…) What it does it does very well; but it’s just not for me.

Miniature Wargames, finally, is my UK wargaming mag of choice. I’ve collected it for a couple of years and it’s always been good; but since John Treadaway took over as editor it’s really been great to see the shift from a traditional historical focus to include other genres of wargames. Now, there is a center section devoted specifically to fantasy and sci-fi wargaming in each issue, which is much appreciated. MW also features product reviews, modeling and painting articles and occasional convention and wargame show coverage that doesn’t monopolize the pages. It often gives away free sprues of miniatures, too (like the halflings above). For me, Miniature Wargames is the best fit.

Here in the States, we get all of these magazines a month or two after they are published in the UK. COVID-19 disrupted the shipping schedule and so now I have months of missed issues. Print publishing is getting insanely expensive at $15 a pop and it may just be time to cut the cord. (MW doesn’t offer discounted subscription rates in the States, so I’m stuck paying full cover price.) Since I hate reading electronic media, I will likely just learn to live without it rather than purchase an online subscription.

Star Wars stuff coming soon!

Reverend Mother Mara, Sisterhood of Calucia

For August’s Character of the Month, I chose to do a Paladin.

When Mother Helen, Preceptress of Cobbage, opened her schoolhouse door to find the abandoned infant on her step, she did not hesitate; for Helen had once served the Sisterhood of Calucia, Guardian of Lost Travelers. Though Helen was a sister no longer and the Sisterhood was no more, she took the child in and cared for her as her own daughter; for what was this poor child if not a lost soul? Helen named the child Mara, who grew to be beloved by all in the small village. She was kind, helpful, charitable and humble. She could also lift a bushel of apples at arms’ length by the age of nine; and by fourteen, she could fully drive a fencepost into hard-packed clay with one swing of her hammer.

Despite (or perhaps because of) her great strength, Mara did not lack suitors when she reached the traditional age of marriage two years later; but Mara had no interest in marrying anyone from the village. These were the same boys who were her playmates for the last sixteen years, and she could not see them now as men. Besides, she needed to care for Mother Helen, who had grown infirm with age, and to assume the duties of Preceptress in her stead; for Mara was easily as wise as she was strong, much wiser than a girl of sixteen years should be.

Towards the end of her life, Mother Helen told Mara her own story; how she left the Sisterhood and came to be Preceptress of the small village of Cobbage. Helen was once a novitiate at Glenstrae Abbey, seat of the Sisterhood of Calucia in far-off Dunlaig. The folk of Dunlaig were a superstitious lot who had no use for magic that was not divine, and the Abbess of Glenstrae, Gertrude, was no exception. One dark and moonless night, an elf maiden sought sanctuary at the Abbey. She was in flight from lawless men who wished her harm; yet the Abbess denied her safety. She was fey, after all; and the Abbess decreed that she would find no comfort among the Sisterhood. When they found her body the next morning on the very grounds of the Abbey itself, the Abbess was unmoved. She ordered the corpse buried in the garden, where “at least it would do some good as fertilizer.”

The sisters were in shock. They felt immediately the loss of their Guardian’s favor, for who was more wayward and in need of aid than the poor elf maiden who begged for help and received only scorn? Still, Gertrude was unrepentant and prideful. She would hear no dissent on the matter, though she felt the loss of communion with Calucia more strongly than most.

A fortnight later, the keening started. The elf maiden had risen as a bean sidhe; and she was not done with the Sisterhood of Calucia. Each night for a month she circled the Abbey, keening and wailing; a horrid sight to behold. The sisters pleaded with the Abbess to repent; but Gertrude remained defiant, poisoned by her deep-rooted hatred of all things fey. With no divine magic to hold it at bay, it was only a matter of time before Glenstrae Abbey’s protections failed and the bean sidhe was able to enter what was once consecrated ground. When she did, her unbridled wrath broke fully upon Gertrude most horribly, but left none alive among the Sisterhood.

None but Helen. Cornered by the bean sidhe among the white and silent corpses of her sisters, Helen closed her eyes and called out to Calucia for deliverance. When she opened them, she found the horrid visage of the undead elf mere inches away, staring at her with an expression the young sister couldn’t comprehend. She blinked, and the thing was gone. Mother Helen told Mara she did not know why the creature let her live, if not to tell the tale of what had become of the fallen Sisterhood and of the once-holy Abbey, now fallen to evil and ruin.

Helen died a few nights later. Mara saw to her burial. Over her grave, Mara vowed that she would do what Helen could not. She would atone for the Abbess’s transgressions. She would rebuild Glenstrae Abbey. She would redeem the Sisterhood of Calucia, or she would die in the attempt.

Mara made her intentions known to the village. The blacksmith provided her with armor and a sword; but Mara did not know how to wield a sword; rather, she knew how to swing a hammer. So the smith forged her a hammer instead, a true weapon of war, not a tool for driving fenceposts. Mara accepted it gratefully, and named it “Correction” in honor of the switch Mother Helen occasionally used to chastise pupils who misbehaved.

The road to Dunlaig was long, and Mara encountered many who needed her help along the way. She fixed wagon-wheels for the stranded; planted and plowed for the infirm; defended the weak and powerless; and clothed and fed the needy as best she could, often going without comfort herself. She did this without complaint or recompense as service to the Guardian Calucia in memory of Mother Helen, the woman who cared for her when no one else would.

When she finally reached Glenstrae Abbey, she found it to be a cursed and bleak ruin shunned by all. In the years since the Sisterhood’s destruction others had come here in search of adventure or to loot the valuables of the vaults. All of them perished when the heard the keening wail of the bean sidhe; for the undead creature spared no one foolish enough to willingly enter the Abbey grounds. Now, these cursed souls had risen and become evil things themselves. They surrounded Mara as she strode boldly up to the gates of the Abbey, whispering foul promises of eternal torment; but Mara was unafraid. She shouted her defiance and commanded the undead horde to leave the Abbey, that this would once again be sacred ground. She invoked the name of Calucia, and something wondrous happened.

The undead hordes shrieked in fear and pain. Many of them simply ceased to exist as the power of Mara’s prayer banished their evil forever. Those that remained quailed in fury and terror; but they soon rallied and leapt to the attack. Mara met them head-on with Correction. Within minutes, she was the only thing moving on the grounds of Glenstrae Abbey. The bean sidhe’s minions were utterly destroyed, shattered into oblivion by the holy power of her warhammer.

Mara knelt in prayer and waited. She did not wait long. The restless spirit of the elf maiden appeared, and let out a keening so horrible that Mara felt all of the rage, humiliation and pain of maiden’s death all at once. She could feel the unbridled evil of the scream as a chill upon her soul and knew that she survived only by Calucia’s grace; for it was more than anyone could bear, and Mara knew that all who had heard it before had died on the spot. In the span of one moment, the scream of the bean sidhe aged Mara a full score years; yet Mara, shaken to her core, still stood, somehow alive.

The undead thing rushed at her, furious. Mara did not raise her weapon in defense. She only watched as the hooked claws reached to tear her limb from limb, and she spoke only two words. “I’m sorry.”

The bean sidhe stopped. For a moment, the two women stared at each other; for the undead elf maiden looked then much as she did in life: beautiful and fey. Mara stepped forward and embraced her. The bean sidhe slumped and let out a sigh. Then it vanished.

Mara found herself Abbess of Glenstrae. She spent the next several years rebuilding the convent, doing much of the physical labor herself. She exhumed the bones of the elf maiden and reburied them in a place of honor alongside Mother Helen, whose remains she brought back from Cobbage to rest on Abbey grounds. Her good and charitable deeds regained the favor of Calucia, and the Abbey was soon home to novitiates once more. The Sisterhood of Calucia was born anew.

Reverend Mother Mara is Reaper’s Mother Superior, sculpted by Werner Klocke. I was wondering what miniature I was going to use for a paladin. I seem to have picked up this one in a trade and forgot all about it, which only goes to show that (surprise) I have too many miniatures. She was fun to paint, if not particularly challenging.

Up next: My Season of Scenery submissions! Then on to STAR WARS!!!!!

Sarapen Moonsilver, Druid

For July’s Character of the Month, I chose to do one of my least favorite character classes: the Druid.

Loan the Barkwarden first came upon the girl in a glade deep in the Rowanwood, a basket of mushrooms nearby and a dead fox cradled in her lap. He knew who she was, of course; her silvery-white hair and slightly pointed ears made that much obvious. She was Sarapen, the herbalist’s daughter. That explained the mushrooms; but not the fox. Nor did it explain why the girl was so deep in the wood. No young girl should venture this far into the wild, dark and ancient Rowanwood unaccompanied, for Loan knew of at least a dozen creatures and plants within a stone’s throw that could easily kill her as dead as the fox in her lap. It was unlikely she was lost, though; she seemed unconcerned and unafraid. In fact, she was humming softly.

Sarapen Moonsilver looked up as Loan strode out of the surrounding wood to tower above her. The Barkwarden was huge, a head taller than most men, with tangled brown hair and deep, cobalt blue eyes. His matted and filthy beard hung to his waist, home to all manner of woodland vermin. Various crystals, dried herbs and roots dangled from his tattered robes and from the crooked blackthorn staff he bore. His hands and nails were black with dirt and he stank of the forest. Most children would have screamed and cowered in terror of such a man, but Sarapen Moonsilver did not.

Loan the Barkwarden gazed upon her with blue eyes ablaze. She stared back. “That fox is dead,” he said. The girl nodded. “Did you kill her?”

“No. She was my friend,” said Sarapen Moonsilver. “She was dying and asked me to stay with her.” Gently, she lifted the fox from her lap and lay it down next to her on the grass. She smoothed her skirt, retrieved her basket, and stood.

She shrugged. “It was her time.” Loan watched her in silence. A strange girl to be sure, but nothing simple about her. Suddenly, she gave the Barkwarden a penetrating look. “Are you my father?”

Loan the Barkwarden would have laughed, but it had been so long he had forgotten how to do so. “No,” he said gruffly. “I am not your father, child. Your father was a vain elf stooge named Veril who cared nothing for your mother and cared even less about you, if he knew of you at all.”

If she was hurt by his brutal words, she gave no sign. “You know him?”

“Knew of him, yes. He’s dead now; and no great loss, that. He tried to kill a troll that was minding its own business, simply being a troll. It wanted no trouble, but Veril, pompous ass that he was, decided he would kill the troll, and was killed by it instead.”

“Oh,” said Sarapen Moonsilver.

Loan snorted in derision. “Another fool dead, and never has there been a race more riddled with fools than the elves. Elves live long, and they are the biggest fools of all, because they are fools who think they are wise. In truth, no elf has had a single original thought or come up with a new way of doing anything for thousands of years. What do they do instead? They sit around and sing. How much fucking singing can you do in a thousand years, child?”

Sarapen Moonsilver said she didn’t know.

“Yes, the elves are old,” continued Loan the Barkwarden. “That is why they fear humans, and that is why humans fear elves. And why humans and elves alike fear you.”

“Fear me?” asked Sarapen Moonsilver. “Why should anyone fear me?”

“Because you half-elven, and half-human. You are too much the human for the elves, and too much the elf for the humans. It is no accident you and your mother live apart from both; ignored by the elves while giving out stomach remedies, love potions and hedge-cures for the superstitious folk in the village. Your ears and hair mark you as elvish: fey, magical and exotic, everything humans hate. Your wide hips and strong arms mark you as human: impulsive, brash and new, everything elves despise. Both see in you what they fear the most in each other.”

He had not spoken so many words aloud since before she was born. Loan the Barkwarden turned and walked away into the woods. Sarapen Moonsilver watched him go.

Over the next few years he kept a watchful eye on her secretly, or so he thought at first. She always seemed to sense him, whether he wore his own form or that of a beast or tree of the Rowanwood. She grew to into a beautiful young woman and a fine herbalist in her own right; but it was obvious she was much more than a mere hedge-witch.

Unlike with the fox, Sarapen did weep when, several winters later, it was her mother’s time to die. Sarapen had not encountered Loan the Barkwarden since their first meeting in the clearing years ago; so she was surprised to find him at her mother’s cairn a week after her passing. He had swept the snow from the stone and there was a great number of her mother’s favorite summer flowers and blossoms surrounding the grave. Sarapen knew it was Loan’s magic that caused them to bloom out of season. She knew then, too that Loan the Barkwarden had known her mother well and cared for her in his own way, yet neither had ever spoken of the other.

She approached the old man in the company of her friend and protector, a great bear named Sharn. Loan knew this wise and fierce bear, and he nodded in satisfaction that these two had formed a bond. It meant she was farther along the path than he had realized. He reached out and absently scratched the bear’s muzzle, heedless of any danger; for no creature of the forest held any danger to the Barkwarden of Rowanwood.

“So,” said Loan the Barkwarden, “Your mother’s time of dying has come and gone. You are herbalist now.”

“I suppose that’s true, for now,” she answered. “But it will not soon be so. The trees have spoken to me.”

“What did the trees say, Sarapen Moonsilver?” Loan asked. His voice was uncharacteristically soft. Was she so skilled already?

“They told me that I will be Barkwarden one day,” she said.

“I am the Barkwarden of Rowanwood,” the old man said. “I have been such since many of these trees were saplings.”

“But you will not be forever. All things have their time of dying, Loan.” Sarapen Moonsilver turned from the grave and smiled up at the Grand Druid. “Even you.”

“Yes. Even me.” Loan the Barkwarden nodded, his own smile lost in his great beard.

He suddenly remembered how to laugh.

Sarapen Moonsilver is Reaper’s Juliana, Herbalist; a new sculpt by Bobby Jackson from the Reaper Bones Black line.

As soon as I looked at this miniature I knew I wanted to paint her hair white, so I thought that should be the most striking part of the model, not her clothing. I opted to paint her in subdued colors, in simple clothes that a woman who walks through the forest foraging for herbs and mushrooms would likely wear. Once again, I knew I was going to do a lot of base-work on this one, so I thought her plain clothing would also contrast well with all the color on the base.

I can’t resist using this Vallejo Water Effect stuff since Roger introduced me to it, so I sculpted a pool of water for her to kneel by. I used some railroad-scale flowering bushes to finish it off, and I think it looks pretty darn good.

Fun fact if you want to use this Vallejo stuff: it interacts poorly with super glue. I know this because I was applying drops to the base to affix the flowers, when I discovered there was a little bit of air in the glue nozzle. It spit a small glob of glue directly onto my perfect, shiny and pristine water effect that I had spent two days waiting to dry. Five minutes later, the water effect was clouded and the glue had encapsulated. I had to take it out with a pair of tweezers; but it continued to react to the water effect for about 10 minutes.

My name is The Angry Piper, so can probably guess how I reacted to this development. Afterwards, I applied another layer of the water effect. It seems to be ok now. As am I.

Coming soon, in no particular order: another Battle Report, this time for some Super Mission Force; but don’t worry. The Green Hornet and Kato will return soon…

Also, it’s the Season of Scenery over at Dave Stone’s place; and I ain’t done shit yet. I have a bunch of small pieces I want to get done this year. Things that have been sitting undone for far too long.

And finally, I’m almost done with my Aliens: Another Glorious Day in the Corps miniatures. Once they’re done I will, of course, post them here. Then it’s on to Imperial Assault; if for no reason than to justify my crazed purchases of that discontinued franchise.

Berjotr Skaldisson, Monster Slayer

For June’s Character of the Month, I decided to do a Barbarian.

From the night Berjotr Skaldisson was born, it was assumed he would follow in the footsteps of his father Gilvi and become a skald; but by the time he reached his tenth winter, it became apparent that Berjotr had no skill for it. He could not sing, nor could he compose poetry. He could not remember the lineage of his own Jarl, never mind the lines of the Kings of Old. Berjotr could not so much as keep time with a drum while his father sang. He was a disappointment, that was certain; the son of a skald who had none of his father’s skill. But before long, Berjotr Skaldisson discovered where his true skills lay: he was very strong, and he was very good at killing things.

The Winter of Despair is remembered well by the people of Thord. Many died that year, not as warriors, but of starvation; for the summer raiding parties had not returned with plunder enough to last beyond the first snows. To make matters worse, that was the winter of Vargyr, the Great Bear; who devoured livestock and men equally and had no fear of Jarl Hranulf’s warriors.

One night, one of Hranulf’s thanes burst into the hall, bloodied and raving. He told of how Vargyr the Great Bear had devoured his family, after first crashing through the heavy oak door of his house. The warrior had no chance to even fetch his sword before the bear was upon them. He was lucky to escape at all. While the Jarl’s men listened to the thane’s tale in fear and awe, young Berjotr took up a greataxe and quietly left the mead hall. He set out into the cold darkness, pausing only long enough to retrieve two things from a nearby hut: a shovel and a young pig. When he judged himself far enough away from Hranulf’s hall, Berjotr used the shovel to dig a shallow ditch in the frozen ground, big enough for him to lie in. Then he used his greataxe to kill the pig, splitting its body in twain. He pulled the bloody corpse of the pig over him as he lay in the ditch and waited. Vargyr scented the kill and came before the pig’s blood had time to freeze. As the beast began to drag the pig’s corpse away, Berjotr sprang up and–in the time it takes for a man to draw a single breath–killed Vargyr, the Great Bear. The beast didn’t even have time to bellow in pain.

Thus Berjotr, son of Gilvi, decided that if he could not sing the songs of the skalds, he would instead give them songs to sing.

In his twelfth winter, already bigger and stronger than any of Hranulf’s warriors, Berjotr hunted and killed a pair of mated Thunderwyrms. The year after, he killed a snow spider that had built a nest too close to the settlement. Jarl Hranulf began to worry for his throne as Berjotr Skaldisson’s legend began to grow, so Hranulf sent the boy south with raiding parties for the next three years in the hopes he would not come back. Always Berjotr returned.

Unlike the others, Berjotr did not enjoy raiding. He felt always apart from his fellows and though he fought beside them, he called no man friend. He cared nothing for loot. He killed men easily enough, but his heart wasn’t in it. After three years of raiding, he decided he would go no more. He craved more of a challenge than plundering villages could provide, and besides, the longboats made him seasick.

The raiding party returned to Thord to find Hranulf’s mead hall destroyed, the Jarl dead, and most of the villagers gone; taken by trolls several weeks earlier. Berjotr followed the trolls’ trail into the mountains, entered their cave lair, rescued what remained of the villagers, and killed every male, female and young troll he found. Over several more years, he killed countless ogres, serpents, wolves, draugr, tree-men, cold ones, ice toads, and of course, men; for Berjotr Skaldisson’s legend had grown, and always there were those foolish enough to believe the legends untrue. There seemed to be nothing and no one Berjotr Skaldisson could not kill.

Berjotr was known throughout Thord by the time songs of his deeds finally reached the ears of the ice giant Brynnga, who flew to the settlement on his great frost dragon, Orl. From high above the mead hall, the enraged Brynnga bellowed his challenge to Berjotr Skaldisson: meet him in battle or he would lay waste to the hall and slay all the people within. So, Berjotr took up his greataxe once again and strode out to meet the giant, wearing the skin of Vargyr, the Great Bear he killed in the Winter of Despair.

Striding fearlessly into the plumes of Orl’s icy breath, Berjotr killed the dragon. Then, one arm frozen to his side and half his face burned black with frostbite, he killed the giant.

The people of Thord wanted Berjotr to be Jarl, but Berjotr had no interest in sitting in a mead hall while his warriors brought him treasure. Likewise he had no interest settling down and taking a wife. Although he swore he was finished with raiding, he did embark on a longboat once again, this time for lands unknown; for by the age of twenty-one, Berjotr Skaldisson had killed everything he could kill in Thord, and the skalds were hoarse from singing the songs of his deeds. It was time for him to move on.

Berjotr Skaldisson is Reaper’s “Barbarian Axeman of Icingstead” (14620), from their Warlord line. While the backstory is different and the miniature no doubt looks nothing like what he imagines, this Character of the Month is based loosely on my friend’s character in our current D&D 5E game.

Monster May(hem) 2021: Blacksting, Wyvern

This is one of Owen’s miniatures: Blacksting, the Wyvern; from Reaper. It’s all metal and retails for $34.99 nowadays, but Owen bought it years ago when metal was much cheaper. It’s a very early Reaper miniature sculpted by Kevin Contos.

I don’t even like it, and I would never have purchased it myself. Not to shit all over Kevin Contos’s sculpting. It’s fine. It’s just a weird pose, and I hate miniatures with bases like this. They look stupid in my opinion, which means I have to change them, which means more work for me.

Of course, I’m not painting Blacksting for me. Not really. I’m painting it for Monster May(hem), and I’m painting it in my continued effort to entreat Owen into taking his pile of lead back and returning to the hobby. I’ve tried this before and met with failure; but since Owen had already assembled this beastie years ago, and it IS Monster May(hem), I decided to go ahead with it.

Fingers crossed.

The first thing was to do something about this stupid base, so I decided to go scenic and made it even bigger. I decided this wyvern was hanging out in a swamp, so I used most of what was left of the Model Magic and sculpted some pools, then I stuck some rocks into the Model Magic and let it dry. After that I primed the whole shebang with some Vallejo black surface primer.

I had some plastic foliage I use for big terrain pieces. I figured I could add some to the base after I primed it black and highlighted it with sickly green. Seems to have worked out ok (see below).

Here’s the finished product. I went with a fairly simple blue-black color scheme. The wings were a pain. They’re pretty flat and not very well textured, so highlighting them was not easy and I think it shows. (This is an early Reaper miniature, for better or worse.)

I wrapped the rock he’s squatting on in Army Painter Poison Ivy, and used the plastic foliage as swamp weeds. I used some Vallejo water effects mixed with craft paint for the pools of swamp water. This stuff is awesome! Roger introduced me to it, and I used it last year in Dave’s Summer of Scenery challenge when I did my Sludge Pool. I still had some left over so I used it!

I put a dab of model glue on his stinger, to make it look like it’s dripping venom.

The one thing I’m not wild about is the eyes. I wanted some colors to contrast sharply with the black-blue of Blacksting himself, but I’m not sure I got the effect I wanted. He has yellow orbs with orange irises and a black slit for a pupil. I considered painting them green. Maybe I’ll revisit the eyes at some point, but TBH I’m glad he’s done and I never really wanted to paint him anyway…so maybe not.

Monster Mayhem was amazing this year, with more participants and more submissions than ever before. Thanks so much to everyone who took part and who helped encourage other hobbyists in our community. You guys are an inspiration and I continue to be in awe of the talent and support you all exhibit. What started as a personal challenge several years ago has grown into something I hope to continue every year!

Once more, here is the blogroll:

Roger from Rantings from Under the Wargames Table returned and did some Prehistoric Cats, then sculpted a horrible Creeping Eye named S’eye’mon (in honor of Blax the Kleric)! It’s all painted now and I can think of a dozen uses for it for all kinds of games; including running a scenario based on the 1958 movie that inspired Roger: The Trollenberg Terror!

Dave from Wargames Terrain Workshop went full-on “Galaxy Far, Far Away” this year and sculpted a Krayt Dragon, Joopa, some Denizens of Jabba’s Palace, and a Wort (that big Tatooine toad!). His sculpting and painting are truly awesome. Wonderful work, Dave!

Carrion Crow also came back this year and did a Wendigo miniature from ParagonStar, and it looks creepy as hell. Definitely not something you want to see in your headlights on a winter’s night…

Matt from PM Painting really went all-out this month, using Monster May(hem) as an excuse to crank out a ton of miniatures from the Cthulhu: Death May Die board game: an Elder Thing, a Shoggoth, a Byakhee, some Ghouls and Deep Ones, a Star-Spawn of Cthulhu , some Hunting Horrors, a CthonianYog-Sothoth, some Fire Vampires, Cthulhu and some Cultists, the Dunwich Horror himself, Wilbur Whately, and he even managed to get a start on the King in Yellow, Hastur! Sadly, Matt went incurably insane; but way to bring it, Matt!

In addition to the usual suspects above, it was great to welcome some new participants this year.

A newcomer to the Monster May(hem) challenge (but definitely not to the blogosphere), Azazel painted a Coral Golem, an Umber Hulk; a Sand Kraken, a Harbinger and some Void Hounds from Shadows of Brimstone; and his own Balor demon. Then went Mesozoic on us and did a Dire Crocodile, A Raptor Pack and two more dinosaurs: a Carnotaurus and a Hornslasher. Then, just to show us he could, he did a Carrion Crawler, some Goliaths, and to finish things up, a T-Rex! Talk about a debut! A truly astounding output for one month, and some marvelous painting!

Azazel and Matt, I can’t keep up! You guys put me to shame!

Another first-timer, Tom from The Good Ground painted a Red Slaad, a (new to me) creepy cryptid named Siren Head, and a Balor Demon! Not bad for your first painting challenge, Tom! I’ll warn you: it gets addictive!

The man, the myth, the legend! Mark A. Morin jumped in this year and promptly redefined the word “monster”. He painted two scary structures: an Aztec Temple Sacrificial Altar; and a High Throne! Welcome, Mark! Come back next year!

Mike, aka @sasquatchminis from Instagram, couldn’t make it this year after all; but his IG account is awesome and he’s a friend. So check out his stuff forthwith!

That’s an end to Monster May(hem) 2021 (unless Azazel or Matt has another submission I didn’t see yet). No time to rest! Tomorrow is June, and that means it’s all about Carrion Crow and his annual Forgotten Heroes challenge! I look forward to this challenge every year; and although I might not be as prolific this time around, I’ll have two submissions for sure. If you want to take part, just let the Crow know. He’s pretty cool about that!

Thanks once again to everyone who made Monster May(hem) so much fun this year!

Monster May(hem) 2021: The Baba Yaga

Lately I have become fascinated with the many tales of The Baba Yaga. I’m not sure why. I have no Slavic or Russian heritage of which I am aware; and I’m not particularly into folklore. In fact, the first I ever heard of the Baba Yaga was in the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide, by Gary Gygax; in which her Dancing Hut appeared as an artifact of great power. For many years, this was all I knew of her. She was a witch. She had a hut. It walked around on chicken legs, and it was much bigger on the inside than on the outside.

The Baba Yaga featured prominently in the backstory of last month’s Character of the Month, Doval Lakatos, right around the time I became aware that Reaper miniatures makes a Baba Yaga’s Hut kit in the Bones Black line. It retails for $60.00, which is pretty fucking steep considering it does not include the Baba Yaga herself. (She’s a metal miniature sold separately.) I did not pay the 60 bucks; I paid a third of that on eBay from a guy who must have bought it, assembled it and then decided it was too much of a pain in the ass to deal with. I sympathize. It IS a pain in the ass, that’s for sure. I have some significant problems with this model.

First, it doesn’t stand up straight. When assembled the house leans so far forward you can’t see the front, and the chicken legs don’t sit level. I assumed this was because the guy I bought it from assembled it incorrectly, but that’s not the case. A quick look online shows that that’s how it’s supposed to look. Well, I wasn’t having that. I figured I would sculpt a base so the hut could stand up. Normally I use Magic Sculpt for that, but on a base this size, that’s a lot of Magic Sculpt, and it’s not cheap. I needed another solution.

This is Crayola Model Magic. It’s kind of like clay, but it’s spongy and a little weird. It comes in different colors (which doesn’t matter since I was going to paint over it anyway) and dries without baking. I picked up this package at the dollar store for a dollar (surprise) and smeared it all over a square base big enough to fit the hut, let it dry partially; then stood the hut into the stuff, creating these footprints. Then I let it dry fully. It cracked a little, so I filled the crack with some Magic Sculpt.

As you can see, it stands up just fine now, and it fits so snugly I don’t even need to glue it down. Being able to remove it allowed me easy access to work on the base, so that’s what I did; coating it with craft paint and sand, adding a Nolzur’s wood pile, a campfire from Johnny Borg and a stump sculpted from leftover Magic Sculpt.

With the base out of the way, I was free to concentrate on the hut. I’ve seen some pretty amazing paintjobs on this kit over on Instagram; one in particular by @lyresforhire is really cool with the light streaming out from the windows and cracks in the door. But I wanted the hut to look abandoned and run-down; the kind of place a hag would live.

I decided on a pretty straightforward brownish-gray to represent the weathering of the wood slats and shingles. I used mostly craft paint. I added a little green here and there to represent the damp mold and fungus that has taken root in the wood. I painted the glass panes a few shades of gray before giving them a final highlight of white.

The chicken legs were based in GW’s XV-88, then highlighted with some Tau Light Ochre before a final highlight of Golden Yellow. Believe it or not, I had a hard time deciding how to paint the legs. I found out way more than I ever thought I would about chicken legs while researching this. Turns out they come in all kinds of colors.

So, what are my other problems with the hut? Well, I’m not an expert on her by any means, but I have read a fair bit about the Baba Yaga and her hut; and this doesn’t look like Baba Yaga’s hut. This looks more like Baba Yaga’s dilapidated condo. In traditional folkore, Baba Yaga’s hut is circular, about 10-15 feet in diameter (on the outside), and has no windows or doors (unless she wants it to). This thing here has eleven windows, two doors, a side porch with an enclosed balcony, a cupola and front steps. That’s some hut!

Finally, the kit comes with a skeleton in a cage that I didn’t use. I gather it’s supposed to hang from the eave to the right (our view) of the door. The problem is the scale. The skeleton in the cage is so big that if he was standing up straight he’d be significantly taller than the front door of the hut. I opted not to use it, and I forgot to take a picture. You can see it online if you care to look for it.

What about the hag herself? The Baba Yaga miniature is ok. Baba Yaga is often described as an ogress, so the miniature seems a bit small to me. When she’s not in her hut, she flies around in a magical mortar she steers with a pestle. It might have been nice to have that instead of a skull-headed broom and a bundle of sticks.

Anyway, now you can see why I couldn’t very well tell Mark A. Morin that his sacrificial temple didn’t count as a monster when I planned on submitting a house on chicken legs myself!

Monster May(hem) has been HUGE this year and there are still 9 days left! Here is the blogroll:

Matt from PM Painting continues to dominate the submission list. So far he’s done a ton of miniatures from the Cthulhu: Death May Die board game: an Elder Thing, a Shoggoth, a Byakhee, some Ghouls and Deep Ones, a Star-Spawn of Cthulhu , some Hunting Horrors, a Cthonian, Yog-Sothoth itself, and some Fire Vampires! The man is unstoppable!

Roger from Rantings from Under the Wargames Table did some Prehistoric Cats, then sculpted a horrible Creeping Eye from a 1958 horror film! If you want to see how to sculpt a monster from a ping-pong ball and Roger’s trademarked “support sausages”, check it out! Can’t wait to see it painted!

Carrion Crow has started his Wendigo miniature from ParagonStar, and he may just change my opinion of 3D printed models!

Dave from Wargames Terrain Workshop sculpted a Krayt Dragon (seen on The Mandalorian) and a Joopa (from Star Wars: rebels) from scratch and painted them both. Guys like Roger and Dave who scratch-sculpt their own stuff really blow me away. Fantastic work!

Azazel painted a Coral Golem, an Umber Hulk, a Sand Kraken and a Harbinger (truly terrifying beasts from Shadows of Brimstone), and a Balor demon! Azazel’s painting is out of this world.

Tom from The Good Ground has jumped in this year and painted a Red Slaad and Siren Head, a cryptid I’d never heard of before! Tom’s just kicking his new blog off, so drop by if you haven’t done so already!

As stated before, Mark A. Morin painted this amazing Aztec Temple Sacrificial Altar; and now he’s added another terrible monstrous Aztec structure: the High Throne! Mark’s hobby project focus is the stuff of legend; the dude never seems to get distracted by anything else. Check out his current Aztec project on his blog!

I’m hoping to get one more miniature done before the end, but it’s also a big one with a lot of base work. At least I found a use for the rest of the Model Magic!

Darl Mandos, “Mandos the Magnificent”; and a Monster May(hem) Update!

Unlike most of those taking part (see below), I’ve been making slow progress on my Monster May(hem) projects this month. I recently hit a wall where I’m doing more staring than painting, so to give myself a kickstart I decided to crank out my Character of the Month for May. This month I decided to do a sorcerer.

(If you don’t care about my sorcerer and are just here for Monster May(hem), scroll down below.)

Even as a youth, Darl Mandos always stood out among the citizens of Snakehollow; renowned as the fattest and laziest halfling any of the village elders could recall. Darl’s appetite and corresponding gluttony was already legendary by the time he reached the age of 55, the so-called prime of his life. There seemed to be nothing he would not eat or drink if it was offered (and often when it was not); nor would he stop until every last morsel was gone. “Enough” was not a word that Darl Mandos ever understood.

When not eating, he was content to while away his days doing nothing, sleeping, or looking for more food. Although he was tolerated by the folk of Snakehollow he pushed the limits of their hospitality on more than one occasion. It turns out that there is such thing as a Halfling who eats too much and does too little, after all.

Put simply, Darl didn’t feel he should do anything he didn’t enjoy. He didn’t enjoy farming. He didn’t enjoy brewing. He didn’t enjoy baking. He DID enjoy meats and vegetables, good beer and fresh bread and pies, though; so he decided he would occupy his time with eating, along with his beloved companion and the one thing able to eat just as much as Darl Mandos: his goat, Mingo.

Darl would have lived a life remarkable only for its idleness had not Tom the Winker moved into a farm on the outskirst of Snakehollow. Tom the Winker was a miserable sort who rebuffed all attempts at friendship and good-neighborly-ness. He got his nickname among the halflings of Snakehollow because of his seemingly uncontrollable habit of winking, a tic he picked up, unbeknownst to them, because a mule he was beating decided to beat back. When Mingo wandered onto his land, Tom the Winker took that to mean Mingo was now his property. He threw the goat into a pen and promptly forgot all about it.

Mingo was likely to starve before he was butchered by Tom the Winker; but, much to the amazement of the people of Snakehollow, Darl Mandos decided to do something he had never even considered before in his life. He decided to act.

When Tom the Winker saw the obese halfling on his doorstep, he laughed aloud. When Darl asked politely for the return of his friend, Mingo, Tom the Winker grabbed a threshing flail and shook it in Darl’s face, threatening to use it on him if he didn’t leave immediately. That’s the last thing Tom the Winker remembers about the encounter. When he awoke from a peaceful slumber several hours later, he found Mingo gone. He also found the half-wheel of cheese that was in his sideboard missing, along with half a dozen eggs and a smoked ham.

The residents of Snakehollow expected Darl to return from Tom the Winker’s farm bruised, bloodied and without a goat. Instead, they discovered something about Darl that he already knew about himself. Darl Mandos was a sorcerer, born with an innate talent for magic. Through magic, he was able to put people to sleep and produce other effects as well, such as opening locked pantry doors and entrances to preserve cellars. While Darl found his abilities more convenient than, say, finding a key first; he didn’t like to use them overmuch because doing so required effort.

Since the folk of Snakehollow learned of Darl’s talents, he has become of service to his people, whether he likes it or not. In truth, he has warmed to his role a bit. He likes to yell things like “Presto!” and “Alakazam!” whenever he pulls off a big spell.

Darl’s familiar is the enormous goat named Mingo who is much like his master: fat, well-fed, good-natured and somewhat lazy. Mingo takes frequent naps.  Most afternoons, Darl joins Mingo if he has nothing else to do (and he rarely does). Darl accepts payment for his magical services in baked goods and beer. He doesn’t want to go adventuring (too much effort); but he does enjoy the feeling that he is contributing something to his community for a change.

The miniature I used for Darl Mandos is Reaper’s Del Brairberry, Halfling Wizard; sculpted by Glenn Harris. The Carrion Crawler is a previous Monster May(hem) submission by Nolzur’s Marvelous Miniatures, painted in 2019.

Just because I’m dragging ass this month doesn’t mean everyone else is. There are some truly awesome Monster May(hem) submissions already, with more to come. Here’s the blogroll!

And here are some links to the submissions so far!

Matt from PM Painting has outdone us all so far. He got his hands on Cthulhu: Death May Die and has used Monster May(hem) as an excuse to plow through the awesome miniatures in the game! Good on you, Matt! So far he’s done an Elder Thing, a Shoggoth, a Byakhee, some Ghouls and Deep Ones, and a Star-Spawn of Cthulhu! No way does Matt have all his Sanity anymore; you can paint that many blasphemous horrors and not expect a rubber room in your future!

Roger from Rantings from Under the Wargames Table has jumped in with two Prehistoric Cats, with a possible scratch-build to come! (I love that guy!)

The dread Carrion Crow has started his submission, and all I can say is…“WEN-DIIIIII-GOOOOO!” Happy to see the Crow is back!

Dave from Wargames Terrain Workshop sculpted a Krayt Dragon (seen on The Mandalorian) from scratch and painted it, and man, does it look awesome! You continue to amaze me, Dave!

Azazel is KILLING IT!! He painted a Coral Golem, an Umber Hulk and a Sand Kraken (which is a truly terrifying beast from Shadows of Brimstone)!! HIs painting skills are insaaaane!!!

Tom (no relation to Tom the Winker; wink, wink) from The Good Ground has jumped in this year and painted a Red Slaad! Tom’s the only person I “met” on Instagram who already knew me from this blog, so I’m thrilled he’s on board this year! (To my knowledge, he has never beaten a mule.)

Mark A. Morin painted this amazing Aztec Temple Sacrificial Altar! I know, it’s not technically a monster; but Mark asked if he could include it and it looks so great I couldn’t say no! (Plus, I’d be a hypocrite if I said HIS building doesn’t count as a monster…stay tuned to see why…) Check out Mark’s Aztec project he’s been plugging away at; it’s truly inspiring!

You guys are putting me to shame with the quality and frequency of your submissions. I haven’t had a chance to swing by your respective blogs long enough to leave comments, but I’ll be there shortly! Thanks again for making this so much fun!

Monster May(hem) 2021 Begins!

It’s May 1st! Time for Monster May(hem), so get painting! Those monsters aren’t gonna paint themselves!

Here’s a list of all the current participants, along with links to their blogs (where applicable):

Don’t see your name here yet? No problem! Just email me at angrypiper@angrypiper.com or drop a comment below and let me know you want to participate! It’s never too late to paint a monster!

(Unless it’s June; it which case it’s technically too late.)

Here’s what’s happening so far:

We have our first submission! Matt from PM Painting is Johnny-on-the-spot already! Check out his awesome-looking Lovecraftian Elder Thing!

Although technically not submissions for this year, Dave from Wargames Terrain Workshop is showcasing some amazing Dragons he sculpted AND painted (both masterfully) over on his site right now!

Tom from The Good Ground jumped into the pool with a very cool Red Slaad!

And Azazel painted this beautiful Coral Golem! I love it!

I’m running behind already; and I’m the guy hosting this challenge! It’s the same every year…

Gonna go start mine…

Doval Lakatos, The Silent Piper

For April’s Character of the Month, I decided to do a Bard. Naturally, being me, I chose a piper. I’ve had this particular miniature for at least ten years, sitting quietly in a box with far too many other miniatures that I may or may not ever get to. We only have so many heartbeats, after all…

This miniature is Rhupert Carvolo, Piper of Ord; a Warmachine miniature from Privateer Press. His bagpipes are truly legendary…they look more like a portable calliope or pipe organ than a traditional bagpipe set. In other words, they’re fucking awesome; so I needed a cool backstory. This is what I came up with:

Doval Lakatos was a man of celebration; a minstrel and dancer who could lift even the lowest spirits with just a few notes from his flute or thumps of his drum. As a troubadour, he travelled the roads and byways of Volskad with his people; singing, dancing, and selling the instruments of music he created as only a master craftsman could; often throwing in free lessons for pretty girls. In time, one of these girls, Karin, became his wife; and in time, she bore him a daughter, Mahala, who was his truest joy.

Many winters passed, as, sadly, did Karin; leaving Doval and Mahala to go on together. Mahala grew to be a lovely young woman; blessed with a voice like the sweetest birdsong and a laugh that could chase away storms. It was no surprise when she began to attract the attentions of men. Tragically, one of these men was Baron Drammen Stahl.

Doval Lakatos’s people knew that Stahlmark was a place to be traversed quickly, or better yet, avoided altogether. The people there did not laugh. They had no use for travelers and songs and music; as these were things for other places, places where the Baron did not rule. The Baron was not one to countenance joy in his subjects, only obedience and tribute. He took this tribute in the form of maiden girls, one each year; supposedly to be his brides, yet none were ever seen again. Although Doval Lakatos tried to attract as little attention as possible while travelling through Stahlmark, Mahala was seen by the Baron’s men, and she was taken to him.

Doval Lakatos tried to resist, but how could an old man fight so many of the Baron’s soldiers? Frantic, he cast about for men of courage, anyone who would go with him to bring Mahala back from the Baron. But men of courage were in short supply, especially where Baron Drammen Stahl was concerned. Doval Lakatos raged. He begged and pleaded. And finally, he despaired.

Only a fool or one with nothing to live for would willingly venture into the dark woods to seek The Baba Yaga; but that is what Doval Lakatos did. He found her easily. Why should she make it difficult? The hag always welcomed visitors. And so it was that in a dark clearing lit only by a weak fire, under the watchful, glittering eyes of The Baba Yaga, Doval Lakatos told the hag his story and made his plea. The hag listened while the flickering shadows cast by her obscene, dancing hut played across her hideous visage. The Baba Yaga listened, and she smiled. At the sight of those terrible iron fangs, Doval Lakatos knew real fear.

The Baba Yaga told him that Baron Drammen Stahl was more than a man; that he was a vorvalaka; one of the undead who reveled in cruelty and fed upon the blood of innocents. As such, Mahala was already dead; there was nothing to be done. The Baba Yaga laughed, then; her fetid breath stinking of decayed things and enveloping him like a wet blanket. She told him that she had eaten already this night; but that didn’t mean she was sated. She advised Doval Lakatos should leave her clearing while he still could, and turned her back on him.

But he did not leave. Mahala was all he cared for; all he would ever care for. He told the hag what she wanted to hear: that he would give anything to ensure Mahala lived and the Baron died. The Baba Yaga slowly turned. If he was willing to give that which he loved dearly, then the hag could help him. Doval said he loved nothing more than Mahala; the hag could have anything else. She smiled again, and agreed. And then she told him what he must do.

Doval Lakatos constructed a set of bagpipes according to The Baba Yaga’s instructions, using the finger bones of dead men that she gave him. Instead of dry cane, these hollow bones would serve as bagpipe reeds. She warned him not to play the pipes once they were complete. There could be no testing and tuning of this instrument. These pipes could be played only once, and only in the presence of the Baron. If done correctly, they would provide Doval Lakatos with the opportunity he would need to free Mahala from the Baron’s bondage. Once his daughter was freed, though, Doval Lakatos must present himself to The Baba Yaga so that she could collect payment for her services.

On the night he finished the bagpipes, Doval Lakatos took a pony and rode to the gates of the Baron’s castle in the rain. The Baron’s men mocked him and made to turn him away; until one of them recognized him as the father of the Baron’s newest plaything. Doval Lakatos begged the men to be allowed to perform for the Baron; to see his daughter one last time. Although they knew the Baron had no interest in music, these men were cruel; and thought the Baron would enjoy tormenting the old man for a while before killing him. They let Doval Lakatos into the main ballroom where a feast was laid in front of a roaring fire. The Baron sat upon his throne, and Mahala sat next to him, eyes wide with fear; for she knew that by coming here her father had sealed his own fate.

The Baron Drammen Stahl fixed his gaze upon him and demanded to know his business. Doval Lakatos returned the Baron’s stare without flinching, and asked if he could play his pipes for him and for his daughter one last time, before she ceased to be his daughter and became instead the Baron’s wife. The Baron agreed with a laugh. After all, he said, it would most certainly be the last time. At this, his men laughed, too; anticipating Doval Lakatos’s imminent imprisonment, torture and death.

Doval Lakatos placed the chanter to his lips and blew air into the bellows. It inflated slowly, and the drones began to hum. When all three were in unison, everyone in the Baron’s hall began to feel uneasy. Smiles vanished. Laughter died. Heads began to swim. Bones began to vibrate. Then Doval Lakatos began to play, and the screaming started.

The Baron could feel the power of the pipes. He realized too late that he made a huge mistake. He tried to move, but was powerless to lift even a finger. He could only stare in dawning horror at the old minstrel, the man whose hair was turning white before the Baron’s eyes as he continued to play his deadly tune. Everyone in the hall save Mahala and Doval Lakatos clapped their hands to their ears, desperately trying to drown out the sound. Like the Baron, they stood transfixed, rooted to the spot as blood began to seep from their ruined ears through their fingers and down their cheeks.

Beneath the discordant melody of the pipes other sounds could be heard: screaming, bestial snarls and mad laughter coming from deep below the castle, from the catacombs, where the Baron’s previous wives were interred; a fate surely intended for Mahala, once the Baron tired of her. They burst into the room a short time later; undead things, haggard, filthy and hungry for blood and vengeance. They fell upon the guards and the Baron’s guests, shrieking and tearing into them with ragged claws and broken teeth. The room was soon awash with blood. But they ignored Doval Lakatos and his daughter, who shut her eyes tightly and cowered beneath her chair.

When there were none but he and Mahala left alive in the room, Doval Lakatos finished his tune. He unhooked the pipes from their harness and let the instrument fall to the ground. Then he calmly picked up a fallen sword and approached the Baron, still rooted to his chair, unable to move. With a deft stroke, he cut the Baron’s head from his shoulders and tossed it into the roaring fireplace. Then, he took his daughter by the hand and led her from the castle, through the carnage and the cackling, feasting ghouls, to the pony that waited outside the gates. He kissed and embraced her, then sent her on her way with a heavy heart; for he had a meeting with The Baba Yaga he had to keep, and he did not think he would return.

Once again, the hag was not difficult to find. She was stirring her great mortar and pestle in the shadows of her dancing hut. At the sight of Doval Lakatos, she smiled her terrible grin and beckoned him close. She had felt the passing of the Baron and knew that her evil magic had worked. As such she had the right to claim payment, and claim it she would.

Briefly, The Baba Yaga considered simply swallowing Doval Lakatos whole, as she was hungry again; and he no doubt expected nothing less. But that was not the bargain that was made. No, Doval Lakatos had to lose that which he loved dearly. If not his precious daughter, it could be only one thing.

The Baba Yaga’s curse was powerful, and final. No more would Doval Lakatos compose melodies. No more would he perform with pipe, string or drum. No more could he dance or lift his voice in song; for the price of Mahala’s freedom was Doval Lakatos’s love of music. From that day until the day he died a bitter, miserable man, Doval Lakatos could no longer bear to hear music; every tune, reel, jig or dirge was torture to his ears. He could be a man of celebration no longer; the zils on his tambourine would be forever silent.

Doval Lakatos never regretted the bargain he made to save Mahala, for she was his truest joy; but there were many times he wished that The Baba Yaga had simply swallowed him whole.

Monster Month starts in five days, and there’s still time to get in on the fun! Just drop me a comment here or email me at angrypiper@angrypiper.com and let me know you want to participate! As of now, we have some of the usual suspects as well as some new faces! Check them out below:

I have a big project planned, and some stuff left over from last year that I need to get off my desk (yes, really!). Looking forward to seeing what everyone else does!