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Near the End of the World: RuneQuest Fiction by Greg Stafford

Posted by Michael O'Brien on

Worlds of Wonder

NEAR THE END OF THE WORLD

RuneQuest™ Fiction by Greg Stafford 

Introduction by James Lowder

Greg Stafford

Greg Stafford’s mythic tales of Glorantha began as short stories and novels during late nights in his freshman year at college. “I had run out of mythology books and stories to read, and began my own to fill the gap,” he said in 2008. “This was before I discovered Tolkien, Moorcock, or any fantasy or science fiction at all. I naively thought I was the first person to create an entire fantasy world.”

Stafford created a considerable background for the world over the years, slowed only by lacks of time or energy to work. Glorantha became a game setting in 1975 with the publication of White Bear & Red Moon, the first professional fantasy board wargame. Stafford described the project as a “do-it-yourself novel,” where the game provides the setting and characters, and each play of the game determines the plot. A few years later Glorantha became the setting for the revolutionary roleplaying game RuneQuest (1978), and the two have been associated ever since. Glorantha has been the subject of other board games and roleplaying games, as well as a highly regarded computer game, 1999’s King of Dragon Pass. “Near the End of the World” was first published in issue #43 of the semiprozine Space & Time, released by Gordon Linzner in 1977. It appeared again in Book of Drastic Resolutions, Chaos in 1998, and in this current version in the 2008 anthology Worlds of Their Own.

Stafford was always quick to note how the participation of other creative people had been vital to Glorantha’s growth and success. “I am one of the luckiest guys alive,” he explained. “Hundreds of people have helped to facilitate the manifestation of my vision. Even at the time I wrote the first Glorantha short story, back in 1966, I thought it’d be great to eventually have a whole bunch of people working on the world. I saw that it might be too big for just me.” The RuneQuest RPG provided the opportune vehicle for this participation, and Gloranthan popularity has benefited from the material contributed by an impressive roster of authors over the years. Stafford saw the positive impact of this collaboration on his own writing, as well: “Working with others’ creativity has proved to be a learning experience. I held tight rein on Glorantha at first because I wanted the basic ‘mythic ways’ of the world to be established and understood. Now I have pulled back and allow the creators more free rein, as long as they are within the general bounds and specific dates of history.”

Stafford was one of the key publishers and authors during the earliest days of the roleplaying game industry. He was the designer, co-designer, or developer for five groundbreaking RPGs—RuneQuest, King Arthur Pendragon (1985), Ghostbusters (1986), Prince Valiant: The Storytelling Game (1989), and HeroQuest (2003)—the computer game King of Dragon Pass, five board games, and innumerable supplements, including Cults of Prax (1979) and Trolkpak (1982). He founded and led the seminal game company Chaosium Inc. during the height of its early creativity, when it first published Call of Cthulhu, Thieves’ World, Stormbringer, Elfquest, and many other trendsetting titles. He left the company in 1998, but returned in 2015 to oversee Chaosium’s rebirth, including the 2018 publication of a new edition of RuneQuest, tied once again to Glorantha. Greg Stafford passed away unexpectedly in October 2018, just a few months after the release of RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.

Near the End of the World

The Slime Deer

The prayerman was on his way to help the Old Lady when he discovered the slime deer. He heard a peculiar barking sound up ahead, an alien noise like nothing he’d heard before, and cautiously made his way forward. He fingered his holybeads and said the proper prayers as he went, aware that he was sweating, that his cloak itched, and that his knuckles were white from clutching his prayerstick. But he went on, for facing the unknown was part of his calling. He topped a knoll and looked down at the fight.

Slime Deer

They appeared to be headless, but the prayerman noticed the hunk of rotted flesh and bone hanging from the shoulders, where a neck should have been; instead, in that place, was an opening that barked out a jet of greasy slime when the creatures attacked. They knelt with their front legs, rumps raised high, and exposed the neck valve to aim. There were up to a dozen kneeling at a time, with dozens of others circling clumsily on their decaying legs.

They fought a red man who was no easy prey. He was surrounded by a ruddy aura, which meant that the fire gods were among his ancestors. When the slime touched this flame it sizzled and made a thick green smoke that slid down the aural shield. Clumps of this smoke dotted the hollow like poisonous ghosts of dead bushes. Along with butchered pieces of the slime deer, they marked the path of the fight.

The prayerman was fascinated with the perfection of the fighting man’s attack. He had several short spears made of pure fire metal. These were threaded like needles to a rack of spools about his belt, and unwound perfectly or wound back up again at the man’s cast or pull. A thrown spear passed through is target, but the barbed tip embedded in the ground behind the deer. As the man leapt around, the spools kept the wires taut so that the thin, jerking thread cut the slime deer to pieces.

The prayerman looked upon the innards of the dead animals. The whole body had been changed, and its organs were now made of the same sickening slime that covered its once-sleek coat. A shudder of disgust and horror shook the prayerman. But he had little time to dwell on his reaction.

From the knoll he could see that the warrior was being contained to a small area. His attacks were successful, leaving many pieces and puddles of slime behind. But these fragments were not more dead than alive, and continued to move as if possessed of some grotesque intelligence. They formed a mass, a rolling marsh of decaying, corrosive green-black slime. It moved, like a giant melted slug, to encircle the fighter.

That was how Chaos had looked when the prayerman encountered it before. Despite the thing’s familiarity, he knew he would never get used to the sight. It was never easy to look upon something that would sear your soul with the touch of the Abyss, then swallow even that tainted remnant. But the prayerman looked, for he had chosen that calling, and he acted.

He ignored the bushes that tore at his ragged cloak as he made his way closer to the mass and the slime deer. One of the beasts stumbled in trying to turn and reach him, and spewed a puddle of ooze over itself and the ground. The prayerman decided he was close enough and held his prayerstick above his head with both hands as he yelled. Fear, as well as faith, added to his voice.

“This is the Cloak of the Law! This is the Standard of Being! I am the Order, and this is the Way! All Chaos fades before me.”

The quivering mass did not slow, nor turn away. Necrotic heads loomed from the mass in meaningless inquiry. Shattered bones thrashed wildly as it crept closer. The prayerman stood his ground. Off to the side the slime deer fell back from him, and the fiery warrior began carefully making his way toward the newcomer.

The deer crept to within a foot of the prayerman; they stank like the offal of the demon gods. He trembled and prayed and held on to his faith. The forward edge of the glob seemed to gel. By the time the warrior reached his side the quivering mass was covered with a thin shell of gum, like a bubble of pus. The men looked at each other once, then turned and ran. Behind them the bag burst as a slime deer stumbled into it, and spread a widening pool of thick yellow tar.

The men ran together, the warrior in the lead. They were no longer strangers, but comrades in war. They didn’t speak until they reached a muddy stream, where they washed off their fear and the dirt, and decided to spend the night.

The Left Arm of Dehore

“What were those things?” asked the warrior. He was red, as if he’d lingered in the sun too long, and completely hairless. Over his armor he wore a fine embroidered shirt, which was faded by age, but untorn.

“Part of Chaos, though I don’t know their origin,” said he prayerman. “I’d hoped you would know.”

“I know nothing of this,” said the other. “I was a recluse in my mountain before the increasing snows drove me out. I hunted the mountain deer, until one day they were all, every one of them, blotched by that slime.”

“There were certainly many,” said the prayerman. “Perhaps that herd ate some corrupt bushes, for it is certain that creatures do not just become part of Chaos by themselves.”

“Then all the deer food in this country is tainted,” said the warrior. “I have not seen one, not a white-tail or black-tail or four-horned deer that was not slowly turning to grease.”

The red man looked uneasily about him, at the seemingly normal rush of life on the riverbank. The prayerman looked, too, finding an immense calm in the minute details of each perfect leaf. He knew they might be the last ones in the world, and so he loved them as if they were.

“It makes me feel ill at the prospect of eating,” continued the warrior. “Can a man know what is tainted when a beast of the wild does not?”

“I can ease that pain for you,” said the prayerman. “Refresh yourself in the water; it is pure, I assure you. I know that poisoned water is unable to stay in its bed and drifts as much up into the air and as down to the ocean. While you do that, I must pray.”

The prayerman had few tools, but his skill with them was great. He placed the prayerstick upright on the ground and laid his newly scrubbed cloak over it. Then he knelt, praying and giving his word, heart, and all to the gods. The warriors sat, watching and soaking his feet in the stream. Finally the prayerman was done, refreshed and cleansed deeper than any water can touch. He picked up his cloak and revealed a dozen assorted bottles of various liquors. The warrior looked amazed and pleased.

“I never hoped to fall in with a drinking man,” he said, smiling.

“This is not for me,” said the prayerman. “I need no drink or food, but when the gods can, they deliver what is needed by others.” He looked at the bottles and the warrior, then allowed himself a small smile, too. “Although you are the first man I’ve met who needs liquor before food.”

“It must have been Dehore, my god, who determined my needs,” said the warrior. “The battle has left me cold and sober, and I wish to drink and forget what I’ve seen today.”

“I am a prayerman,” said the other, “but I have yet to learn of this god Dehore. Is he numbered among the gods of drunkenness, as are many others?” He watched the warrior nearly finish the first bottle, which took only a moment.

“Have you tried this Uxoriag beer?” The red-skinned man offered the bottle to the prayerman, who shook his head. The warrior smiled and finished the last drops himself.

“You’re a smart one,” he said as he opened a second bottle. “Most men would grab the first drink that came their way, but that was the worst-tasting beer in the world. I can see that you’re going to wait for the better brews, despite those horrors we fought.”

He didn’t seem especially pleased with this, but ungrudgingly offered the prayerman a mouthful from the second bottle.

“As I said, I don’t drink.” At this the warrior grew unbelieving. “I swear it,” said the prayerman. “I enjoyed it once, but simple discipline helps give me inner strength.”

Convinced at last, the warrior smiled broadly, sending wrinkles around his bald head and over his scalp.

“I’m glad,” he said, hefting the container. “This gives me my inner strength. And somehow, I’ve got a feeling I’ll need every bit of that I can manage for the days ahead.” He finished the second bottle, opened a third.

“It’s truth enough, though,” he added sadly, “that I’ve always needed all the booze I could get a hold of, and it still wasn’t enough to hide the sorrow.” He turned his glazing eyes to his friend. “I’ve seen more sorrow than a sea of wine could drown. I don’t need to see any more.”

“It is up to the gods,” said the prayerman softly. “Surely you have faith in the gods.”

“How could I not? All of us Dehori are gods. Don’t you know of our legends? We haven’t been extinct that long.”

“I know little of the ways of men. I am of the gods.”

“As am I. I am the left arm of Dehore, who carved himself to pieces in the War of Creation, and thusly saved himself from his enemies.” He opened a fourth bottle. “Dehore, with the knowledge of the Trickster, carved his limbs from his torso. Thus there were five of us to meet the foes, and the one holy temple of the body. I was the left arm, the shield arm, and so the military. The right arm was the artisans, while the legs were workers and farmers. We were ruled by the heads, and we reproduced by the body.” He finished the fourth, opened another.

“You were many?”

“Me? Thousands, a head once told me. I never counted, of course. We were many, yet one. But a head told me once that just us lefts numbered in the thousands.”

“And what happened?”

“You men took us. Your type: you with the sexes. We were prized for our mental abilities. Men treasured our mindspeak, just as they prized us for our blood, which many of them relished.” For the first time anger crossed his face. “A man once kept me, this flesh, in his cellar for special occasions. He opened my veins to impress his intoxicated guests. He called me Dehori Rosé.” He spat and opened another bottle. “After I freed myself my right hand sewed the copulator to the bottom of a wave, then left him adrift in the sky. We Dehori naturally fought back, and because of our mindspeak, we could outfight three times our opponents.

“But you got us all eventually. We, like fools, would try to gather and perform the sacred Rite of Sewing, hoping to reunite ourselves with our god. But sworn enemies joined hands to cut us from ourselves forever. They formed the Alliance of Scissors, which destroyed the holy torso. We could not replace ourselves again.” He opened another and wiped a tear from his cheek. He was flushed even darker now, like a man about to burst from blood. But his speech was still clear. “That was the end. We died, one by one. I am the last.” He opened another bottle, a clay jug, and was nearly weeping when he faced the prayerman. “For a thousand turns I have cursed your type. You are unique, prayerman, in helping me. And in being my friend.”

“Perhaps,” said the prayerman, “it would have been better to join your spirit sooner.” His tone was guarded, testing. “Just end your wretched life.”

“I cannot, any more than you would cut off an arm because of a splinter. I am in perfect health, and that is the curse of my loneliness.”

“I am glad to hear that you will not give in,” said the prayerman. He watched the warrior empty the clay jug and pick up his ninth bottle. “These are evil times, and each small surrender takes us closer to Chaos.” He held the Dehori’s shoulder to comfort the drunken man. “The gods move in strange ways. We must put our faith in their wisdom, for it is plain that the ways of men are inadequate.” The warrior opened the tenth flask, whose odor nearly broke the prayerman’s sober discipline. The warrior smiled, stuck the neck in his mouth, then fell on his back to guzzle it. Shortly afterward, he prayerman knelt over his unconscious friend.

“I shall pray for you.”

The Old Lady

The nearest ocean was a thousand miles away, but the land looked like it had been washed by a tidal wave. Debris was scattered everywhere. Only the stoutest of life remained, surrounded by pools of yellow pus or green filth.

Only corpses that were surrounded by their own blood had remained intact. Gray powder made a line where blood and slime touched. Men and horses lay in heaps, covered by flies and condors. The prayerman watched attentively as a condor, bloated from its meal, lumbered along to get aloft. But the air was still, as if even the sylphs had been crushed, and it ran far beyond the circle of dried blood.

“Let us hurry,” said the Dehori. “I don’t want to spend the night in the open.”

“Wait,” said the prayerman. “Look.”

The condor’s feet were dissolving into stumps, and the tips of its wings smoked where they had brushed the slime. It slipped, shrieking in terror as it rolled and flopped about. Its cries were audible even over the distance. Upon a closer look the men saw that there were several corpses of birds, taken over by the slime as the deer had been, thrashing about and moving toward them. The whole lake of filth, in fact, seemed to be pulsing and moving slowly in their direction, drawn the way opposites are always drawn together.

“I am glad those poisoned condors cannot fly,” said the warrior. “Let us be off from here.” They began trotting then, but everywhere they went were corpses and slime, making their path very difficult. The gruesome sight and smell seemed to shake the Dehori from his surliness. The prayerman, too, was shaken enough to crack his enigmatic shell with an attempt at joking.

“I’m certainly glad,” he said, “that I believe in all the gods. It is plain to see what happens when you believe in none.”

“One is enough,” answered the warrior, “when you are his only worshiper and body.”

“That’s how it has been with the Old Lady,” said the prayerman. “She worships a deity called the Hell Terror, a thing from the Pits. When the Sword Kings took over they outlawed its worship and turned the last heretics into stone. Except for the Old Lady. Yet rather than ask that god’s help, men said they’d prefer to die.” He gestured about them. “She sent me word that she is its last worshiper.”

“From the looks of the land hereabouts,” said the Dehori dryly, “she must certainly be the only one nearby.”

“Not with me here,” said the prayerman. His beads, each a part of a god, clattered and clacked as he walked. He felt one obsidian bead start to warm as they closed with a distant ruin.

The black tower, which had withstood gods and men since the instant when time was born, looked as though it had exploded. Chunks of stone lay scattered about in the dirt. But there was no slime there, and the interior of the temple was intact. Its heart was an altar on the brink of a pit, surrounded by a ring of ten-foot statues, the petrified remains of the Hell Terror’s former worshipers.

The Old Lady greeted them at her broken doorway. For the first time in history she looked her age. For centuries she had thrived, stealing sacrifices when they were not given. Thus, she was eternally young and powerful, even after the Sword Kings began worshiping their weapons instead of the fickle gods. But since the people had fallen to Chaos there were no more sacrifices and the Old Lady had to feed the Hell Terror with her own being.

She was a skinny mummy of a woman, with ragged hair and a toothless mouth. But her eyes were as black as the obsidian tower and as sharp as the broken fragments of the ruins. They flashed with excitement and hope at the arrival of the two men.

“Welcome,” she said. Her voice was like grinding glass between your teeth, and she moved her hand toward them as if for support. “The Hell Terror welcomes you. I welcome you…”

“And I thank you for it,” said the prayerman as he pulled the Dehori back. “But don’t try to fool me with your old tricks. I know the ways of the gods, and I know you will steal from us and kill for your god. It won’t work.”

The Old Lady’s face fell, and little brown flakes of skin dropped from her wrinkles.

“You have,” she noted, “brought a victim. That is good.” The warrior, whose steady gaze hadn’t shifted from her yet, slid his eyes sideways to watch his new friend.

“No,” said the prayerman. “That is not the way for the faithful, though I might think differently if we had a godless Sword King here.”

“A sacrifice is the only way to appease the Hell Terror,” whined the lady. “Last night I sent him two skinny children that had been entrusted to my care. He was weak, though, and you can see what the slime things did to us.” She gestured toward the open sky. “But with the strength of a warrior like this—”

“No.”

“Perhaps,” said the warrior slowly, “she is right. With your prayers my soul would go to Dehore.…”

“No,” repeated the prayerman. “The world is a being, just as each being is a world. You cannot sacrifice yourself, even to yourself, any more than we can sacrifice the world to itself to fight Chaos.” He stared into his friend’s bloodshot eyes. “I am sure that is not the fate your god has planned for you.”

“We need some god present,” said the warrior. “It grows darker even now, and you yourself said we can’t withstand Chaos alone.” The Old Lady smiled wickedly.

“We must pray,” said the prayerman, “each to his own god.”

“The Hell Terror will not come. Pray yourself immortal, but he will still need a body to materialize here.”

She eyed the men coldly. “I will not sacrifice myself to save you, either.”

“Then we will find another,” said the Dehori. “We must do as the war god’s children do—sacrifice an enemy. When the attackers come we will give one of them to the god.”

“I know the gods’ ways,” smiled the prayerman. “They will thrive, and grow, if Chaos is slaughtered for them, just as Chaos grows upon devouring us.”

They all agreed that the Dehori’s was the best plan, and the Old Lady’s stooped gait straightened as she crooned happily to the statues of her friends.

The Hell Terror

The slime deer approached as night, lit by a few dim stars, closed down. The corrupted animals had a mobility denied to more degenerate forms and so led the attack for the Chaos thing. The prayerman knelt behind a stone, mumbling need-prayers for the coming fight, hoping some god could spare a blessing or luck for them. The Dehori half frightened the prayerman to death when he screeched his battle cry and leapt at an enemy scout that had come creeping.

The slime deer halted and bowed, then barked a jet of slime at its target. The warrior burst into flame and the slime crackled into green smoke. The thing tried to leap away, even after the spear passed where its heart had been.

The Dehori pulled gently on the wire so he wouldn’t slice up his prey, but the animal stumbled and the hulk of its head, which dangled between its forelegs, got caught on a rock. The creature’s delicate balance, never secure, was lost. It stumbled, and the wire cut itself loose. The warrior cursed its escape.

Then the prayerman leapt atop the retreating slime deer. He held his cloak out for protection and encircled the beast with the magical garment. The Dehori joined him as the animal struggled, and used his weapons to sew the cloak tightly closed. Still struggling, the animal was carried into the temple.

“Your prayers were of little help,” said the warrior. “But your bravery is undisputed. As is the quality of your cloak.”

“My need-prayers only produced those barrels of wine,” said the prayerman, gesturing to a stack of casks out in the temple’s yard. “And in the end, there is only one god I rely on: that one within me. The garment, as my oath states, is truly the Cloak of Law. Even this atrocity can’t break it.”

“Then let’s bring in those barrels,” said the warrior, “and have a drink while there is still time.”

“You’re going to get drunk now?” said the prayerman, incredulous. “Now, before the mass of our foes strike? I swear, even with this sacrifice and my prayers, this Hell Terror will need help against Chaos tonight.”

“The wine is my fuel. It makes me burn,” said the man, then added, “and even if it weren’t, I’d rather be drunk than not tonight.”

The prayerman used his sacred chant, calling upon the Cloak and Standard of Law, to clear a path between the barrels and the temple. As the warrior rolled the casks to the interior, he watched the horizon, where the sickly green-purple glow of the Chaos forces heaved slowly toward them. To the three people in the temple it seemed that all the world had fallen, save them. The warrior sat and drank, while the naked prayerman knelt and prayed his strength to the god who would materialize before them. The Old Lady danced and knifed out her ritual on the sacrifice, screeching in joy as her youth returned. The Dehori felt himself sobering, despite his best efforts, as her ritual ended. With a shout of triumph she pushed the wrapped corpse into the pit at the temple’s heart. A hoarse bellow answered. The warrior leapt to his feet in surprise as the statues all about them moved.

The Old Lady screamed. The warrior cursed, snatching at his weapons. The prayerman opened his eyes and looked up. He had seen hellish things before. He was ready for the bloody claws and the gaping maws that had appeared on the now-animate statues of the old worshipers. But he was not ready for the dripping ooze of their faces, or for the gout of slime that one of the statues retched up as it closed on him.

Before the statue could reach the prayerman, a spear pierced its legs and cut them off. As the huge body fell, the wire sang back and forth, slicing it to pieces. The prayerman rose and ran to the warrior’s side, calling for the Old Lady. Ice filled his bones. He thought his heart would burst with the agony of his realization.

“Chaos overtook the old god,” he said.

The Dehori lashed out at another pair of the things, already sliding into piles of mush, and cut them to immobile chunks that slowly melted into a slithering mess. The Old Lady pinioned one statue temporarily with a stone, and tried to make her way to the men. She was still human, fighting her god and the already-corrupted parts of herself, to remain free of Chaos.

“She’s a strong woman,” said the prayerman. “We can save her.” Then a gout of greasy fog bellowed from the pit behind the altar, enveloping her. She screamed, trying to tear herself loose. But it clung to her, thickening. The Dehori hurled three spears into the smoke, and the prayerman threw his staff. It struck her head with the liquid sound of a melon dropped in a tunnel. There was a white flash, then more green smoke swirled within the fog. A tentacle writhed over the altar, while others secured a grip on the edge of the pit.

“Even Death is a god of ours, and better than Chaos,” said the prayerman. He thought the Old Lady lucky and almost hoped for the same fate himself. But he fought on.

The statues that had survived the warrior’s attack now joined the grotesque parade of creatures that surrounded the temple in an undulating wave. The mass grew higher with every moment. The prayerman spun his beads over his head as a weapon and faced the nauseating thing rising from the pit. The Dehori, his eyes glazed with drink but still somehow sharp, grinned with clenched teeth and spoke: “Dehore laughed as he dismembered himself!”

The prayerman wanted to reply, but the best the man could manage was a ghastly smile.

Looking the prayerman in the eye, the warrior lifted a short dagger to his own armpit. “Do as I say. Knock holes in the kegs and let the wine flow all about. Leave one full and climb in. Hold your breath and pray, friend.”

“I won’t desert you,” said the prayerman through clattering teeth. “Not to Chaos.”

But the warrior seemed not to hear. “Hold something for me, would you?” he asked with surprising calm. With the dagger he cut his left arm from his body, and thrust it into the prayerman’s hands. As if he did not notice the loss, the Dehori kicked over some barrels and advanced toward the thing rising from the pit. It slobbered over the edge now, making a sloshing sound as its unstable body oozed out.

The prayerman watched, stunned. The arm in his hand flexed, making mystic signs over a barrel. The prayerman stared stupidly at the limb, even as the Dehori warrior leapt at the monster, shouting defiance in his old secret language. The arm grabbed the barrel rim. The warrior’s yell stopped, absorbed into his being. The arm pulled itself and the prayerman into the barrel, submerging them, even as the prayerman caught a glimpse of slime overhead; he held his breath and prayed to Dehore. An instant later, the warrior detonated his own body. The concussion split the keg’s seams, but the prayerman kept his head under the leaking wine, even though he thought his lungs would burst with pain. At last he blinked wine from his eyes, licked his lips with a parched tongue, and emerged.

A dull gray powder covered everything, save for the space around him. Wine, the color of a rich rosé, still dripped from the limb in his hands. Everywhere else the liquor had been changed, as always happened when living blood met the slime. The arm had consecrated the wine, and the furious self-ignition of the warrior had scattered blood and Chaos everywhere. It had spread far, or else had been strong enough to set off a chain reaction. The lands all around were the same gray under the dim starlight.

The prayerman reconsecrated the altar, and as the dim sun rose he burned the warrior’s arm. Only the arm, the seat of the man’s soul, was important to Dehore. The prayerman made certain it reached the god properly. He watched, praying softly, as pieces of flesh peeled off like burning paper and drifted languidly upward with the wind sylphs.

At the edge of the ash-clogged pit he threw the black stone bead from his string away, followed by a part of a deer’s antler. He knew that both were worthless now, their gods destroyed.

He knew where the slime had come from, too. The mystery had been solved for him when the Hell Terror accepted Chaos and was transformed by it, then passed on the evil to its followers. It was plain then to the prayerman, who was knowing in the ways of the gods, that the great god Deer, the soul of all deer, had succumbed and passed on its evil to its followers, too.

He walked away slowly, praying that the whole world might turn to ash rather than Chaos. But he knew it would not be so. The gods themselves were falling, as were their mortal cousins, men.

“But there is something I am doing right,” said the prayerman aloud. “There is something, and so I must continue.” He prayed aloud as he walked, fondling the new bead on his chain: a single red thumb joint of an otherwise forgotten deity. Cloakless and staffless, he shivered under the cold sun. But his voice was strong, and that was all he needed that morning as he traveled, filling the world with his strength.


“Near the End of the World” by Greg Stafford. Copyright © 1977 by Greg Stafford, 2019 by Moon Design Publications. First published in a different form in Space & Time #43, July 1977. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Introduction copyright © 2008, 2019 by James Lowder. First published in a different form in Worlds of Their Own, Paizo, 2008. Reprinted by permission of the author.

"Slime Deer" illustration by Merle Insinga. Copyright © 2019 by Moon Design Publications. First published in Dorastor: Land of Doom, The Avalon Hill Game Company, 1993.

RuneQuest® is a registered trademark of Moon Design Publications, and a trademark for fiction of Moon Design Publications. All rights reserved.

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