Realms of the Dead is an anthology of short stories from the Forgotten Realms, and the last published anthology of original tales to date. It accompanied the trilogy, The Haunted Lands, by Richard Lee Byers, and had stories spanning both sides of the setting-changing Spellplague.
Every creature on Faerûn has its dark mirror in the undead—from the ghosts of ancient warriors to the rune-scribed skeletons of dragons. And in a world with as rich and bloody a history as the Forgotten Realms, they are legion—outshining the living in variety and number.Here are a dozen of the most terrifying tales of the haunted Realms.
This story follows Bareris Anskuld and Mirror as they try to rejoin the resistance movement against Szass Tam. In the city of Amruthar, they discover the body of Urmas Sethdem, whom they question with the aid of Bareris's bardic necromancy magic. From him, they learn that he answered to Chon Vrael, an influential Kossuthan priest in the city who detests undead for the pain they've caused his family.
When they approach Vrael after one of his sermons and tell him about the death of his subordinate, he doesn't believe them; not only are Bareris and Mirror both undead, but Urmas Sethdem is alive and has been advising him! During the course of a conversation between Vrael and Sethdem, Bareris learns that the impostor is psychically dominating the priest and that it is using that influence to have Vrael call a meeting of his closest allies.
During the course of the meeting, a necromancer under Vrael's command magically questions Bareris, forcing him to answer truthfully. When the council discovers he has been telling the truth and that someone was indeed impersonating Sethdem, they discover he is missing. Seconds later, a small group of skeletons and an ulgurstasta—a huge, worm-like undead thing—burst in to the chamber, killing three council members and mortally wounding Chon Vrael.
Though Bareris manages to escape his imprisonment and defeat the impostor (who turned out to be a visage) and his summoned ulgurstasta, it is too late for the resistance leader. With his dying breath, he asks Bareris and his necromancer to raise him as a free-willed undead. Though they do their best, Mirror and Bareris agree that they did something terrible.
By Lisa Smedman
Set on the 21st of Uktar in the Year of the Private Tears, 1204 DR, "Soul Steel" follows the story of Trelwyn Vithannis as she seeks vengeance for the death of her brother, Rollan, who was executed two days previously, supposedly for killing the pet jaguar of Queen Bethilde of the Forest of Amtar, though it wasn't wearing its collar at the time. When Trelwyn searched her brother's home, however, she found his journal, which contained memories of his having witnessed the queen having an affair with someone other than the king, and later a note about the queen giving birth. That same day, Rollan was executed.
Seeking vengeance, Trelwyn meets with a drow lich by the name of Valek, asking him to enchant her sword with a dweomer powerful enough to pierce the queen's magical protections. The lich did so, telling her that anyone killed by the blade would have their soul absorbed into the sword until the sword killed again, at which point the previous soul would be destroyed. As part of the ritual, according to Valek, the sword needed to be used to kill someone. The dwarf Spinnel, who had been caught prospecting ore in the forest, was sentenced to death by the queen, and Trelwyn offered to be the executioner. A moment before the blade would have pierced the dwarf's chest, Valek stepped in front of it (though he made it appear as if the dwarf had dodged) and his soul was absorbed into the sword.
Spinnel made a deal with Trelwyn: in return for killing the queen, Trelwyn would allow him to go free. Agreeing to this, the two traveled to the royal court, with Spinnel acting as her prisoner. When the guards demanded to know why she was returning with a still-living prisoner, Trelwyn told them that the dwarf had information about a traitor among the queen's guards, producing the collar of the jaguar her brother had slain, which she found not far from the spot where it had died. Knowing that Trelwyn knew of the part she played in Rollan's death, the queen dismissed her guards to deal with the two privately.
Seeing her chance, Trelwyn threw her sword to Spinnel, but Bethilde reacted instantly and used magic to force the blade into Spinnel's chest. Enraged that she was not going to get her revenge, Trelwyn quickly retrieved her weapon and lunged at the queen. The queen temporarily blinded her with a quick spell, but Trelwyn kept swinging, and Spinnel's soul guided the sword, and she managed to wound the queen before the guards knocked her unconscious.
When she woke up, Trelwyn found herself locked up, but Bethilde had her released. When the two were together again, the queen revealed that she was actually Spinnel in the queen's body, the sword having released his soul into her body. The two decided that the drow lich had planned it so that he would take over Bethilde's body and rule the elves there. They hatched a plan where they would escape the forest under the guise of the queen renewing her spells in a sacred grove. The original plan was for Spinnel to then go his own way and find a wizard to polymorph him back to his original form, but he decided he'd rather be polymorphed into another—male—elf form, and Trelwyn decided to go with him.
The Resurrection Agent
Set over a two-day period in early Eleasias in the Year of the Reborn Hero, 1463 DR, "The Resurrection Agent" follows the life and death of a woman known as the Harlot, who is a "resurrection agent" — someone hired to spy on people and intentionally be caught and killed, and later resurrected to give testimony. Viridi, the woman who recruited her, has been killed, and she and a man known as the Shepherd (the Selûnite priest who does the resurrecting) go to retrieve the body.
However, before they can escort the body to a place suitable for resurrecting Viridi, they are attacked by a vampire named Reshka and her minions, a pack of gravehounds and a wight named Na, both of whom are familiar to the Harlot; the vampire was a woman the Harlot was hired by Saestra Karanok to find, and Na is one of the Harlot's dead bodies. The Harlot and Shepherd fight them off, but not before Reshka steals the body of Viridi.
To prevent Viridi from being raised as a minion and spilling all her secrets, the two track Reshka back to her resting ground, a cave they are eventually forced to pull down on their own heads to defeat their enemy and bury Viridi. The Harlot is mortally wounded in the process, but the Shepherd escapes, and the Harlot manages to convince Saestra Karanok to let him go.
Set in early Eleasias of the Year of the Ageless One, 1479 DR, "Wandering Stones" follows the adventure of Jada as she tries to discover who she really is. The man she thought was her father, Shander Harimdor, has recently died and has left her a chest containing within it a journal. This journal, entitled Dragonheir Clans, contains the history and known genealogy of Dragonheirs—those who are rumored to be able to control dragons. It also mentions that Jada is the only known survivor of the Marlserpent clan, who have been known to produce heirs with similar abilities, and that Shander adopted Jada when she was less than a year old.
The journal also contains directions to a place known as the Wandering Stones, a city of slaves who have escaped from the tyranny of the Empress Dragon of Skelkor, and the only place within the Empress Dragon's domain where dragons cannot go. However, before venturing to this supposed sanctum, Jada decides to test her new abilities against a brown dragon named Thovantareth. Instead of becoming subdued as hoped, the dragon becomes enraged at her impudence and at even the possibility that she might one day come into her full abilities. It chases her from Eskorn to the mountains along the Skelkor's southern mountains before Jada finally makes it to the sanctuary.
The Wandering Stones, as she comes to learn, is a town protected from dragon attacks by a field of stones that change position and configuration each night, and that spirits from all over Toril roam the areas between the rocks at night. These, according to one of the spirits, and the danger to dragons, is a remnant of the primordial Arambar, who died where the Stones now lie when his mount, a dragon, betrayed him. Despite the rumors of the protection offered by the Stones, Thovantareth attacks the village. Jada manages to figure out how to use her ability to some extent, but not enough to repel the dragon. However, before it can kill her, the spirit of Arambar manifests itself, literally picking up and throwing the dragon away from the village. With the village protected again, Jada decides to stay and try to increase her abilities.
The Bone Bird
Set in the village of Lendris in early Mirtul of the Year of the Ageless One, 1479 DR, "The Bone Bird" follows the story of Bromar, an experienced cleric of Chauntea. He and his mentor are sent a request for aid by the village of Lendris, who were having problems with an undead monster of some sort attacking each night. Though the village isn't far from their home in Baldur's Gate, it takes them nearly a tenday to make the journey due to the failing health of the older Chauntean, Relwin, who dies less than a day from the town.
After burying his teacher, Relwin heads into town to its sole inn, The Bone Bird, where he meets the innkeeper, Amon, and his sons, Ralt and Toran. He also meets a woman named Milra, a thief who stole Relwin's holy symbol when the exhausted Bromar slept, and later steels Bromar's own when he confronts her. Forced to back down from an all-out fight by Amon, he recovers his symbol that same night, after Milra confronts the creature attacking the village and is slain.
At the end of the fight, the monster—which Bromar identifies as an entomber—attacks and kidnaps Toran when it senses the boy has come into contact with the item it sought: a roc egg its master desired. After working out its goal and recovering the egg himself, Bromar tracks it into the Cloak Wood and does battle with it. He fails to kill the entomber, and it takes the egg, but Bromar believes it will not return, now that it has what it came for. He returns Toran to his father.
Feast of the Moon
Set on the first day of Nightal in the Year of the Plagued Lords, 1471 DR, "Feast of the Moon" follows Jaeg Felidae, a Malar-worshiping weretiger from the plains of Dambrath. Each year, the Malarites here hunt down the most dangerous foe in the area, and the story opens with the initiation of the ritual to receive that vision, the death and desecration of a wild boar. Jaeg receives a vision from the Beastlord of an opened tomb in the Hills of the Dead Kings. The vision shows him a party of halflings entering the tomb, and it is accompanied with the scent of his prey.
He travels there immediately, but by the time he reaches the tomb the halflings are dead, looking as if they had been killed weeks ago. Before he can investigate, he spies a pair of twin halflings approaching and hides, hoping to learn something. After the hin bless the corpses of their dead but before they can enter the tomb, a rot angel attacks them, though they manage to evade its attacks. Realizing this is his prey, and not wanting the halflings to steal his sacrifice to Malar, he immediately attacks but is forced to flee.
After recovering, he begins tracking the creature again, catching up to it again beside a hill where the halflings trapped it using a landslide. After chasing the two off, he frees the rot angel, knowing Malar would prefer he give his prey a sporting chance. This time he was more seriously wounded, as the corrupted creature immediately attacked him.
Refusing to give up, he caught up to the angel again, this time fighting the halflings in a clearing consecrated by whichever god they worshiped. Though the angel was sorely wounded, it managed to mortally wound both halflings and debilitate Jaeg. Instead of continuing with a fight he knew he could not win or abandoning his faith by fleeing, Jaeg picked up one of the silvered swords the halflings had dropped and killed himself with it, offering himself as a sacrifice.
A Prayer for Brother Robert
Set in mid-Nightal in the Year of the Ageless One, 1479 DR, "A Prayer for Brother Robert" follows the story of Jillea, a recently returned native of Dagger Falls, and Brother Robert, an Amaunatori cleric from the House of the Keeper there. With her daughter, Jillea fled the home she inherited from her grandfather to the temple after her daughter was attacked by a swarm of dismembered hands. The frightened but duty-bound priest returned with her to her home, only to discover that she lived in what the inhabitants of the town called the Northwall Deathhouse for its reputation as a haunted house.
Rather than venture into the building, the two visited several taverns in the town, seeking someone who knew Jillea's grandfather and could possibly shed some light on the story of the house. They learned that the grandfather, Vathriss Koll, was a dangerous man rumored to belong to the Zhentarim and who was fond of clean, sharp knives and cutting off his enemies' hands. After learning what they could and after Brother Robert donning his armor, they returned to the Northwall Deathhouse, but found nothing.
Given that the hands attacked Jillea's daughter at night, they speculated that the creatures wouldn't appear during the day, and so they settled down to wait. Brother Robert accidentally fell asleep, and when he awakened to screaming several hours later, he found Jillea in the house's cellar, covered in and surrounded by hundreds of scratching, disembodied hands. After freeing Jillea from them, the two tried to escape, but hundreds more were blocking the front door. They finally barred themselves in one of the upper bedrooms, though unfortunately one without a window.
The hands eventually broke through, but they didn't attack immediately. Several dozen of the hands interlocked their fingers to form the rough shape of a humanoid body who, through a conversation with Jillea, implied that he was the spirit of Vathriss Koll. Invoking the power of Amaunator, Brother Robert destroyed dozens of the hands and Koll's "body". He and Jillea quickly escaped out a window across the hall.
The King in Copper
Set in and around Hulburg in the years between its repeated sackings and its rebuilding, "The King in Copper" follows the story of Angar Hulmaster, the harmach (lord) of Hulburg. Hekman Odelmor and Kindon Marstel, two former mercenary captains forced to flee Hillsfar when the Zhentarim invaded, had arrived in Hulburg two years previously. With their combined mercenary might, they force the young harmach to host them while they scour the ruins for anything of value.
After two years and having run out of worthwhile leads to treasure troves, they finally force Angar to lead them to the crypts of Hammerbold Alley, a ruined Tyrran temple where the city's first harmachs were buried. They find little of value, but in the crypt of Rivan Hulmaster Angar finds an amulet called the sigil of Aesperus, which the two lords allow him to keep, not realizing its value and planning to kill him soon anyway.
Bargaining his life for the promise of more treasure, Angar next leads them to the Wailing Tower, Aesperus's last stronghold before he was defeated, and where (according to the Company of the Black Griffon) the King in Copper kept his treasure hoard. Guiding the two lords and their mercenaries to the secret chambers beneath the tower using the information provided by the adventuring company, Aesperus finds them before they even find the vault. The lich kills both Odelmor and Marstel, leaving only Angar and a handful of mercenaries alive.
Angar bargains for his life with the amulet he had found, believing it to be Aesperus's phylactery, and promises that he will make the opening of barrows illegal. Aesperus makes him vow that he and his descendants will follow this promise and allows Angar to leave. With the two lords' mercenaries without a leader, Angar begins making plans to take back his city.
Set in the City of the Dead in Waterdeep, "Dusty Bones" follows a day in the life of Leaplow Carver. His family had been in charge of maintaining the city's graveyards for centuries, and Leaplow had been left in charge of surveying the grounds for needed repairs and monitoring his cousin Fitnor Carver, who had only recently connected with his family and joined the family business.
During one of their sweeps, Fitnor expresses the desire to see the inside of one of the crypts. Seeing no harm and expecting only a quick peek, Leaplow consents. However, while examining the tomb, Fitnor begins ranting about a scroll written by the magelord Archlis and the treasures it would lead him to. When Leaplow tries to stop him, fearful of unleashing some sort of undead creature or fell magic, Fitnor expels him from the crypt using arcane magic of some sort. This failed to stop Leaplow for long, however, and he is again forced to unleash his magic. This time Leaplow is knocked unconscious, falling upon the tomb as he blacks out.
When Leaplow wakes, a ghostly woman who identifies herself as Ash appears and explains to him that she had been sealed in with a being she identifies as Dusty Bones, sworn to guard it and a map. She tells him that when Fitnor opened the tomb, he stole the map and Dusty Bones, identified later as a dust wight, began chasing him, trying to recover the map.
Ash gives Leaplow a silver feather enchanted to protect its wearer from the wight's ability to turn people to stone, and the two give chase. They track its scent to the Hall of Heroes, where Fitnor had been altering the building's portal to escape. Leaplow has other ideas and attacks him, smudging the chalk-drawn runes and unintentionally altering the portal's destination. When Fitnor falls through it several punches later, it is somewhere completely unintended. Leaplow then helps Ash subdue Dusty Bones.
After identifying the portal's destination as "not a good place," and understanding that the crypt was no longer a safe place to store the wight, Ash pushes it through the portal. Her energy spent and the seal she had been surviving in broken, Ash fades from the mortal world. Leaplow returns to his family's home, giving the recovered map to one of his uncles for safe keeping.
The Many Murders of Manshoon
By Ed Greenwood
A Body in a Bag
- The anthology was originally titled Realms of the Undead, until changed by Wizards of the Coast.