The Bagman


The forest temple was crumbling. Stone walls had long since given way to creeping vines and crushing tree roots that upended the floor tiles and crushed the worn old stone benches surrounding the altar.

The altar itself was hewn out of dark wood and surrounded by thorns. The tips of the thorns were covered in the blood of sacrifices long since forgotten. Piles of bones littered the floor and coated everything in fine white dust that clung to the tongue and choked the lungs.

Erowyn stood in the crumbling entrance of the temple, her mouth dry. The druid elder said this was the only place left where her soul could be cleansed. She needed the power the druids had to offer. Soon, the lich king would send his armies to the east and destroy the last stronghold of civilization. The druids held the power to overcome the lich king’s armies, but they would not part with it easily.

She stepped forward into the temple and unseen energy hummed. It was as if the walls themselves could peer into her soul. They knew her. They’d counted her every breath, seen to the heart of every thought. Erowyn’s skin pricked and the hair on her arms raised on end. Every instinct told her to flee this ungodly place.

One foot carefully stepped forward between a pair of vines. The other foot followed, just a baby step ahead. The altar came closer, bit by bit. Erowyn took a shaky breath. She could do this.

As she approached, wary of traps hidden among the thick vines and undergrowth that marred the temple floor, she noticed a simple bag perched at the center of the thorn-covered altar. It was made of worn, bare leather, but every stitch thrummed with power. It lay open on its side where she could see the distinctive ochre drawstring tipped with a golden feather. She stopped moving. Her breath hitched.

“Oh gods.” She rushed forward, snatching the bag of holding from the table. Tears poured down her face as she held the bag carefully so as not to jostle it too much. “Telor?”

She hadn’t uttered his name in months. The pain of his memory was too great for her to bear. But here it was, at last: the very bag of holding in which her best friend had escaped when their party had been overcome by the Lich King’s scouting party in the Marshes of Everden. The bag had been ripped from Erowyn’s hands and carried away, her friend along with it.

“Telor, I’m so sorry,” she cried into the open mouth of the bag. “Please come out. Please be alive. I need you.” She dropped to her knees. “Telor, please come to me. Follow my voice. It’s all my fault. We could have saved you. I should have saved you. Telor!”

A hand shot out of the bag. Erowyn dropped it, startled, and scrabbled away.

“Telor?” she asked. Hope and dread sank into her chest, warring with one another as whatever creature had answered her call scratched and clawed, trying to gain purchase on the crumbling stone floor of the temple.

The skin of the hand was pale like death, waxy and bloodless. The bones protruded, starved as the creature was. It hefted itself out of the bag, inch by inch. The arms were sickly thin. The hair on its head was long and filthy. The creature’s cheeks were sunken and its eyes were milky white. Clothes hung off of its emaciated body, faded and tattered.

He still wore the chainmail that Hildegard of Nighttown sold him. It had her sigil on the chest. And the tunic shirt he wore under it was a gift that Erowyn had woven from the fibers of healing herbs. His favorite dagger hung from the beat-up belt that still adorned his waist.

Erowyn sobbed and scrabbled to pull her yew wand off of her belt. “Telor. No. Please, no.”

Telor, or the creature that used to be Telor, was still only halfway out of the bag. His sightless eyes swiveled in her direction and he growled. He clawed his hands over the floor, dragging himself toward Erowyn.

Her hands shook. Every spell, every cantrip she’d ever memorized, was gone from her head as if they had never been. “Telor, please stop. I can’t do this.”

The creature was already halfway across the temple floor, his grunts of effort increasing the closer he came to the terrified woman.

“What happened to you?” she asked desperately. Her back was against the wall. There was nowhere she could go to escape him.

Pale white fingers closed around her ankle and his mouth dropped open as if to scream. Instead, a string of sounds issued from his throat as if spoken from far away.

“With me. Come with me. Join me.” He yanked at Erowyn’s ankle and she slid away from the wall.

“No!” Erowyn screamed, trying to yank her ankle free. “Telor, no! Please!”

His grip was too strong. She slid across the floor, going ever closer to the bag from which he was not able to fully escape.

It was her fault. If she had only been strong enough. If she hadn’t been so reckless in seeking out the Lich King, none of this would have ever happened. Erowyn wept and leaned forward to place her hand over Telor’s cold fingers.

“I know I deserve this,” she whispered. “I left you to die. I would do anything to take it back.”

“Then come,” he groaned. “Be with me.”

Erowyn smiled through her tears. “I wish I could, Telor. But there is more that must be done.” She raised her yew wand and released a spell that blasted Telor back into the bag of holding. Tears spilling down her cheeks, she crawled forward and cinched the drawstring tight, closing her friend inside forever.

“Forgive me, Telor,” she begged, holding the bag to her forehead. “One day, I promise I will free you for good. Wait for me.”

Erowyn tied the pouch to her belt and climbed up from the floor. All the mysterious energy from the druidic temple had fled, and she was at last alone. She allowed herself a moment of silence in the quiet forest. At last, with the final vestiges of fear drained away, she left the temple. It was time to seek the druid elders and receive the power for which she was due.

It was time to end the Lich King’s reign. She had a promise to keep.

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