Yorick, Shepherd of Souls
“These isles… How they scream.”
The last survivor of a long-forgotten religious order, Yorick is both blessed and cursed with power over the dead. Trapped on the Shadow Isles, his only companions are the rotting corpses and shrieking spirits that he gathers to him. Yorick’s monstrous actions belie his noble purpose: to free his home from the curse of the Ruination.
Even as a child, Yorick’s life was never normal. Raised in a fishing village at the very edge of the Blessed Isles, he always struggled to find acceptance. While most children his age were playing hide-and-seek, young Yorick was making friends of a different kind—the spirits of the recently deceased.
At first, Yorick was terrified of his ability to see and hear the dead. Whenever someone in the village passed away, Yorick would lie awake all night, waiting for the chilling cry of a new visitor. He could not understand why they chose to haunt him, and why his parents believed the spirits to be nothing more than nightmares.
In time, he came to realize the souls were not there to harm him. They were simply lost and needed help finding their way to the beyond. Since only Yorick was able to see these spirits, he took it upon himself to be their guide, escorting them to whatever awaited in eternity.
The task was bittersweet. Yorick found that he enjoyed the company of ghosts, but each one he brought to rest meant saying farewell to another friend. To the dead, he was a savior, but to the living, he was a pariah. The villagers only saw a disturbed little boy who spoke to people who weren’t there.
Tales of Yorick’s visions soon spread beyond his village, and drew the attention of a small order of monks who dwelled at the heart of the Blessed Isles. Its envoys traveled to Yorick’s island, believing he could become an asset to their faith.
Yorick agreed to journey to their monastery, and there, he learned the ways of the Brethren of the Dusk and the true significance of their trappings. Every monk carried a spade as a symbol of their duty to conduct proper burial rites, which ensured souls would not lose their way. And each brother wore a vial of water drawn from the Blessed Isles’ sacred spring. These Tears of Life represented the monks’ duty to heal the living.
Yet, no matter how he tried, Yorick could never gain the acceptance of the other monks. To them, he was tangible proof of things that should only be known through faith. They resented his power to easily perceive what they themselves had struggled their entire lives to understand. Shunned by his brothers, Yorick found himself alone again.
One morning, as he tended to his duties in the cemetery, Yorick was interrupted by the sight of a pitch-black cloud roiling across the surface of the Blessed Isles, devouring everything in its path. Yorick tried to run, but the cloud quickly enveloped him and plunged him into shadow.
All around Yorick, living things began to writhe and contort, corrupted by the foul magic in the Black Mist. People, animals, even plants began to transform into vile, ghoulish mockeries of their former selves. Whispers emanated from the turbulent air around him, and his brothers began ripping the vials of healing water from their necks, as if the objects were causing them great anguish. A moment later, Yorick watched in abject horror as the monks’ souls were ripped from their bodies, leaving cold, pale corpses behind.
Among the quieting screams of his brethren, Yorick alone could hear voices within the mist.
“Remove it. Join us. We will become one.”
He felt his fingers grasping for the vial at his neck. Mustering all his resolve, Yorick forced his hands away from his throat and commanded the howling souls to stop. The Black Mist writhed violently, and darkness overtook him.
When Yorick awoke, the winds had calmed, and the once-fertile lands had transformed into the grotesque hellscape of the Shadow Isles. Isolated tendrils of the Black Mist clung to him, trying to overtake the one living thing not yet corrupted. As the Mist wrapped itself around him, Yorick saw it suddenly recoil from the vial at his neck. Yorick clutched the blessed water, realizing it was all that kept him alive.
In the days that followed, Yorick scoured the islands for survivors, but found only the twisted remnants of what once lived there. Everywhere he walked, he witnessed wretched spirits rising from the bodies of the dead.
As he searched, Yorick slowly pieced together the events that led to the cataclysm: A king had arrived seeking to resurrect his queen, but instead, had doomed the Isles and everything on them.
Yorick wished to find this “Ruined King” and undo the curse he had unleashed. But he felt powerless in the face of the seemingly endless death that surrounded him.
Almost lost within his grief, Yorick began to speak to the spirits around him, attempting to find solace with them as he had as a child. Instead, as he communed with the Mist, corpses left their graves, guided by his voice. He realized the bodies he once laid to rest were now his to command.
A glimmer of hope shone from the heart of his despair. To free the dead of the Shadow Isles, Yorick would wield their power and their strength.
In order to end the curse, he would be forced to use it.
“Help… me,” begged the shipwrecked man.
Yorick couldn’t say how long the survivor had been lying there, bones broken, bleeding into what remained of his wrecked sailing vessel. He had been moaning loudly, but his cries were drowned out by the multitude of wailing souls that haunted the isle. A maelstrom of spirits gathered around him, drawn to his flickering life force like a beacon, hungry to reap a fresh soul. The man’s eyes widened in horror.
He was right to be scared. Yorick had seen what happened to lost spirits taken by the Black Mist, and this—this was warm flesh, a rarity in the Shadow Isles. It had been how long—a hundred years?—since Yorick had seen a living being? He could feel the Mist on his back quivering, eager to wrap this stranger in its cold embrace. But the sight of the man stirred something in Yorick he had long forgotten, and whatever it was would not allow him to surrender this life. The burly monk heaved the damaged man onto his shoulders and carried him back up the hill to his old monastery.
Yorick studied the face of the injured man as he groaned in agonized protest with each step the monk took. Why did you come here, live one?
After completing the climb, Yorick carried his guest through several corridors in the abbey, before coming to a stop in an old infirmary. He eased the shipwrecked man onto a massive stone table and began to check his vitals. Most of the man’s ribs were shattered, and one of his lungs had collapsed.
“Why do you waste your time?” asked a chorus of voices, speaking in unison from the Mist on Yorick’s back.
Yorick remained silent. He left the table and made his way to a heavy door in the rear of the infirmary. The door resisted as he pushed, his hand doing little but leaving a print in the thick layer of dust. He pressed his shoulder against the wood and heaved his entire weight into it.
“So much effort for naught,” sneered the Mist. “Let us have him.”
Again, Yorick answered it with contemptuous silence as he finally forced the door open. The heavy oak dragged across the stone tiles of the monastery floor, revealing a chamber full of scrolls, herbs, and poultices. For a moment, Yorick stared at the artifacts of his former life, struggling to remember how to use them. He picked up a few that looked familiar—bandages, yellow and brittle with age, and some ointment that had long turned to crust—and returned to the man atop the stone table.
“Just leave him,” said the Mist. “He was ours the moment he came ashore.”
“Quiet!” snapped Yorick.
The man on the table was now gasping for breath. Knowing he had little time to save him, Yorick tried to bind his wounds, but the rotten bandages fell apart as quickly as he could apply them.
As his breath grew more ragged, the man convulsed. He grabbed the monk’s arm in agonized desperation. Yorick knew there was only one thing that could save the man’s life. He uncorked the crystal vial at his neck, and considered the life-giving water it contained. There was precious little left. Yorick was unsure if it was enough to save the man, and even if it did…
Yorick was forced to face the truth. In trying to save the man, he was just chasing the memory of his former life, when this cursed place was called the Blessed Isles. The souls in the Mist had taunted him, but they’d taunted him with the truth. This man was doomed, and if Yorick used the Tears of Life, he would be too. He closed the vial and let it rest against his neck.
Stepping back from the table, Yorick watched the man’s chest rise and fall one last time. The Black Mist filled the room, spirits clawing out from it in anticipation. The Mist shivered eagerly, then ripped the dead man’s soul from his body. It uttered a faint, feeble cry before it was devoured by its new host.
Yorick stood motionless in the room and uttered a barely remembered prayer. He looked at the soulless husk on the table, a bitter reminder of the task he had yet to complete. While the curse of the Ruination remained, anyone who came to these isles would suffer the same fate. He had to bring peace to these cursed islands, but after years of searching, all he had found were whispers about a ruined king.
He needed answers.
With a single motion of Yorick’s hand, a thin strand of Mist poured into the man’s body. A moment later, it rose from the table, barely sentient. But it could see, it could hear, and it could walk.
“Help me,” said Yorick.
The body shambled out the door of the infirmary, its sloughing footsteps echoing through the halls of the monastery. It continued out into the foul air of the cemetery, walking through the rows of emptied graves.
Yorick watched as the corpse trudged toward the center of the isles until it disappeared into the Mist. Perhaps this one would return with the answer.