"Leaves are falling all around, it's time I was on my way,
Thanks to you I'm much obliged, for such a pleasant stay,
But now it's time for me to go, the autumn moon lights my way
For now I smell the rain, and with it pain, and it's headed my way..."
It was no secret the death of the Empress Drusella Sathir was a devastating blow to her betrothed, Venril Sathir, leader of the mighty Iksar Empire. With the five Iksar tribes recently united under their rule, the couple's dominion over Kunark seemed inevitable - until her sudden and unexpected death. After receiving the news of her death, it is said the emperor disappeared for several days, wandering off alone into the ruins of the old Combine Empire in the Lost Valley of the Dreadlands. Nobody knew what he was thinking, or who he talked with, not even his closest advisors - but they do know that he returned a different lizard - free, almost untethered, from reality.
"Ah, sometimes I grow so tired. But I know I've got one thing I got to do..."
Upon the Emperor's return to his native city of Charasis, where Drusella had died, he ordered funeral preparations to begin immediately. Every inch of the city was to be cleaned and polished, and the great hall was to be lavishly decorated for a banquet to honor their beloved dead empress, the likes of which had never been seen in Kunark. No expense was spared - the finest fruits and game were brought in from all over the kingdom, while the royal baker tirelessly churned out hundreds of honey berry pies, the empress's favorite, for the celebration. While some of the citizens quietly whispered about the emperor's bizarre and profligate spending, for a banquet more befitting a wedding rather than a funeral, none dared to openly question their seemingly unhinged ruler. But nothing could have prepared them for the fate of their city which lied ahead.
"Got no time for spreading roots. The time has come to be gone. And though our health we drank a thousand times, it's time to ramble on..."
An eerie silence blanketed the city that morning - strangely, none of the citizens had actually received formal invitations to the banquet, and nobody knew when it would begin. There are accounts that Venril himself, normally dark and brooding, was seen dancing, singing and talking to himself as he wandered through the emptied corridors of the city - moments before the his royal guards arrived en masse, violently dragging and rounding all the residents to be expelled permanently from the city. Families were separated, and those that protested or tried to return to retrieve their possessions were summarily executed on the spot. With only his loyal servants now remaining inside the city, the guards soon realized the honey berry pies that they would partake in would be their last meal, as their leader called forth undead minions that sprang up from the crypts below to guard the final resting place of his beloved Drusella. Venril placed an enchantment at the entrance to the city, barring all others except himself from getting in... or out. Those that witnessed these events would never have believed their ruler would so callously turn his back on his people, his own loyal guards, and on his own city... and to this day the tortured screams of the undead trapped inside can be heard from the rock carved edifice outside, thus the name "Howling Stones".
"Ramble on, and now's the time, the time is now to sing my song, I'm going 'round the world, I got to find my girl... On my way, I've been this way ten years to the day, I gotta ramble on, I gotta find the queen of all my dreams..."
Following those dark days, Venril Sathir wandered the lands of Kunark, delving deeper and deeper into the dark arts and into madness, as he continued his quest to cheat death and to one day bring his beloved bride Drusella back to this realm. While he would return occasionally to the entombed city of Charasis, he vowed never to consider it his home again, until the day he has mastered the dark arts, to bring Drusella back from the dead, to reign with him in immortality.
But questions remained whether the emperor was ever in full possession of his faculties, or if he truly loved his wife. Drusella had been largely neglected and abandoned by the emperor while she was alive, as he secretively sought ways to attain his own immortality using the dark arts. With the mysterious circumstances surrounding her death, and the emperor's strange behavior in the days following - was it possible that Venril himself was behind all of this, as some sort of excuse to conduct an unholy sacrifice or rite? The anger from such doubts festered in the mind of their eldest son Rile Sathir, and would drive him to kill his own father in an act of revenge for his mother, interrupting Venril right at the verge of completing the unholy ritual that would finally turn him into an undead lich-king - thus locking his soul inside his cursed amulet. One can only speculate if a soul trapped in a phylactery would experience torment - or maybe in his trapped thoughts, Venril is still searching for that day when he is reunited with his bride.
This fabled story of Venril Sathir's descent into madness is still passed down among the Iksar of New Cabilis, both in song and story, as a warning of the dangers of unbridled power coupled with such dark ambitions. However, with the growing rumors of the return of the lich-king, the leaders of the Iksar city commissioned Decible the human bard to compose a song-play titled the "The Ballad of Drusella" to further discredit the legitimacy of the disgraced emperor. Grand Master Glox of the Swifttail monks tasked Sillik the monk with the charge of recruiting a traveling troupe of acrobatic actors called the "Floppy Tailed Friends", who regularly rehearsed at the entrance to Karnor's Castle.
"Thwacky, you okay? You're dragging your feet a bit, and that death scene isn't all that convincing", Sillik said to his friend. "If you're going to play the part of Venril, you have to show a bit more craziness and bounce in your step, just before you flop after you're attacked by me playing Rile." The rehearsals were indeed going a bit long, and Sillik was beginning to get a bit sleepy himself.
Albieturas, the understudy, immediately jumped in, "Look here, your tail needs to flail a little bit, right after you fall down. Nobody is going to believe your dead if you just fall down like that!" Thwacky, looking slightly annoyed, got up again and retorted, "Hey not all of us come from rich families like you, Albieturas - most of us are tired and starving artists. I can't afford a fancy rune-branded girdle, or silver chitin gloves like you - and like Arkwright over there, I have to work a few jobs, just to be able to continue this acting gig." Their shaman friend Arkwright continued making alchemy potions on the side, in between rehearsal breaks.
Sillik stopped the rehearsal, "Okay fellas, let's take a break - and have some of these pies that Pihole the druid set up at the refreshment stand - nobody's going to eat these anyway. I think this show is going to be a bust, unless we can attract a crowd." Decible started strumming the final verse of the ballad and the entire troupe forgot their fatigue, bickering, and troubles for a sublime moment, as they began grooving in sync to the words about the final torment of Venril Sathir, trapped in his phylactery:
"I guess I keep on rambling, I'm gonna sing that song...I gotta ramble on, sing my song... Gotta work my way around the world baby,
Ramble on, yeah, I gotta keep searching for my baby...
I can't find my bluebird, I listen to my bluebird sing,
I can't find my bluebird, I keep rambling, baby, I keep rambling, baby..."
Just then, the mightiest warriors from all of Norrath began to pour into Karnor's Castle. "We heard Venril Sathir was playing here!" they whispered to one another excitedly as they raced into the fortress. The Floppy Tailed Friends rushed to get in position - Arkwright immediately put on his vendor's hat, advertising in his loudest voice, "Step right up, get your pies and potions here, before the show starts!" This could be the big break for the reptilian thespians - as they were reminded, there is no business like show business... or the pie and potion business, for the budding entrepreneur.
Lyrics by Jimmy "the Lizard" Page and Robert Plant "Your Feet Firmly".
Special thanks to LevelupLarry's awesome Howling Stones video.