Tobias swigged from his hip flask, the burning sensation of the whiskey down his throat doing little to assuage the dull pain in his chest. He stared emptily at the little headstone, swallowing dryly at the memory. Twelve years. How old would he be now? A man by now. Tobias tried to picture him as he might be today, working in the fields. A young, strong man, following in the footsteps of his father. Scything the wheat, driving the wagon to the haymarket. He could see him now, laughing with friends around the fire at the Pot and Nail in Alverthorpe. He meets a girl, they talk shyly to the jeering of his comrades. They get to know each other better with time. They have their first kiss at the winter festival, lit by the great bonfire. In the spring they are married, by the next year they bear a son. Their own son. He looks so proud, the child wrapped in his arms-
Tobias clutched his chest, shuddering with the tears. That had brought it all back. Six years. Six wonderful years, how they had gone by so quickly. He wiped his brow, looking back up to the tiny stone. He would always have that picture in his mind as he last saw him. His boy. Blonde, scruffy hair. Rosy cheeks. His favourite shirt with the rabbit picture his mother had sewn into it. That brought another bout of choking and another swig from the flask. She had never been the same since. He had never been the same since. She never came to the grave any more. He cursed himself for coming every year on the day. What did he hope to achieve? Every year he would sit and gaze, wonder about how he would be if he were this age, what sort of things he'd be doing, what sort of games he'd learn to play. For twelve years, once a year, he had lived out the life he could never have had with his son. She had called him delusional and he believed it but did not care. The gods had taken him, he would take back the life he had lost, even if only in little ways.
Curse you! he cried silently to the heavens, balling his fists in rage. Curse you, all of you! You who took my son, my boy, who left me here as nothing but a shell! You who broke my soul and spirit, who stole my life, my marriage, my love, my boy! I curse your names for a thousand years, o impotent gods! For twelve years I have prayed and pleaded, called to you for some sign and for twelve years you have been deaf to my cries! He grabbed a heavy stone from the ground and espying a holy symbol atop a nearby gravestone, cast it at the sign with all the strength he could muster. The stone cracked satisfyingly. He sank to his knees before the grave.
If you could grant me that single wish, he cursed, to see my boy again, then I would worship you for all my days. Yet you will not. You cannot. So I have cursed you, ye gods, with all the power of a father's love. Let the world ring out with my blasphemy, for I have spoken it! With that he fell to his hands, sobbing in wretched despair. He continued for a time before finally dredging himself up, wiping his eyes and turning around.
A little boy stood at the entrance to the graveyard, a little boy with scruffy blonde hair and rosy cheeks, barely six years old. Tobias' throat cracked in hoarseness. There, at the corner of the shirt, was the rabbit. He tried to speak, rasping. Swallowing, he managed a single word.
The child ran forth, swinging his arms around the long-suffering father with the exuberance and enthusiasm that only a child's love can provide. Tobias froze for a moment. Something told him deep in his mind that it was wrong, that it could not be true. Tobias ignored that voice and hugged the child with all the love pent up from twelve years of grieving. Perhaps this was illusion. Perhaps this was madness. It mattered not, he could see his son.
For two blissful weeks he lived with them, Tobias and his wife. They treated him with such care and attention, doting over him with such long-held love. He laughed and played and went to bed after supper and did all the things a good six year old should do and for two wonderful weeks they were happy. Even as they found themselves getting more and more tired, losing more and more focus the old couple continued to work for the happiness of their own, beautiful child. By the end, even as they lay in bed, weakened to perpetual drowsiness by the strange sleeping sickness that seemed to overwhelm them, Tobias cried tears of joy. He told the child that he would love him always, his dear Matthew. He told him that the last two weeks were more than worth another twenty years without him and that he regretted nothing. He held his child's hand as the sleep washed over him and smiled as he drifted, for the final time, into the murky depths of dreams.
The next few months changed everything for the sleepy village of Morlinsley. Much rumour and mistrust surrounded the deaths of farmer Tobias and his wife, apparently by natural causes in their sleep, but so soon after the arrival of the child. Some of the village claimed it to be some sort of changeling, whilst others believed it a poor runaway the couple had adopted, having gone mad and presuming it to be their long-lost son. The child was taken in by a young couple with their own son, much the same age. Within a week the family seemed to contract the same illness Tobias and his wife had gained, although the orphan child seemed immune.
A week later, even though his parents were deathly ill, the son seemed to make a full recovery. He insisted on going out to play with his friends, other children, whilst the child stayed to care for his adoptive parents in their sickness. Not long after, they too fell into a deep sleep and passed away, their son orphaned and adopted by neighbours. Soon cries of plague began to call as the village's children began to show signs of the illness, as well as the families that had adopted the child and the new orphan. The sherriff ordered the village closed and quarantined, that nobody should try to leave to any of the nearby towns.
As the village children seemed to grow more and more ill, yet the child and his new friend remained perfectly immune, rumours and mistrust grew more and more prevalent amongst the inhabitants of the village. One man, Peterson Jack, proclaimed angrily that this changeling was the source of the disease and threatened that he would take matters into his own hands. Not long after, his body was found curled up in the alley behind the home of the child's new foster parents, his expression contorted into indescribable terror around his glassy eyes.
Suddenly, the village children all seemed to recover. They began playing with their parents and families with great fervour, acting as perfect young children and playmates. All save young Mathilda, who soon found herself in need of adoptive parents. Her father, long rumoured to be a drunken and abusive man, was found dead in his porch chair by the village priest, having apparently clawed his own eyes out in fear. Unrest continued as the remaining residents of the village began to grow ill. Too late the people realised what was happening and tried to strike back against the monstrous plague. As they tried to raise hands against the children of the town horrible visions began to manifest around them, the very town itself turning into a nightmarish landscape of unspeakable horror.
As the village of Morlinsley tore itself apart in the valley below, the child watched it with a sort of accepting sadness. He turned and trudged down the road, headed in the direction of Alverthorpe.
"All I want is to love you."
Hit Dice: 8d8-64 (8hp)
AC: 11 (+1 size)
Full Attack: +6 touch
Special Attacks: Spell-like abilities
Special Qualities: Universal Child, Detect Fears, Friend
Saves: -4 Fort, +9 Will, +2 Ref
Abilities: Str 6, Dex 10, Con 2, Int 10, Wis 16, Cha 20
Skills: Move Silently +8, Hide +8, Bluff +9, Disguise +7, Diplomacy +9
Feats: Weapon Finesse, Improved Initiative, Run
Environment: Any Settled
Challenge Rating: 12
Alignment: Always True Neutral
The Child is an entity whose sole drive in existence is to love. It desperately wants friends and to be part of a family, to be loved. It wants love and it will quite willingly destroy the whole world to get it. Completely unaware of the consequences of its actions (beyond the vaguest of notions) the Child finds families who have lost children of their own and takes the form of their long-lost progeny. For the briefest of times they are allowed to live the illusion, to spend a few precious days with their beautiful child before the strange, inky sleep they feel begins to consume them. Eventually, after doting upon their child for several days, they sink into that sleep once and for all. The Child accepts what has happened and wishes them goodbye, moving on as another family takes them in. They too, sink into inky blackness along with their own children. A week later the parents are gone and the Child and his new playmates, all orphans, depart in search of new families to love.
The Child is not evil. If anything, it wishes nothing more than to love its family and its new friends. It is, however, utterly selfish. It will continue to love its surrogate families even though it does vaguely realise what it is doing to them. If confronted by those seeking to destroy it the Child will show a different side, slipping into the shadows and picking off its attackers one by one, tearing apart their minds with the manifestations of their own fears.
Universal Child (Su): The Child can assume other forms as per the polymorph self spell at will, except that these forms can only be the immature versions of any species it assumes (the children). If the Child learns the identity of a lost child through use of his detect fears ability, he can adopt the form and mannerisms of the child in question to provide a +10 bonus to Disguise and Bluff checks.
Detect Fears (Su): At will, the Child can learn the nature of the innermost fears of any creature within 30ft through telepathy, but no other information. This can be resisted with a Will save (DC 20). On a successful save, a subject cannot be affected by that Child's same ability for the next 24 hours. There is one exception - the Child can learn the face, name and behaviour of a child who has been lost, gone missing or died and was close to the subject.
Spell-Like Abilities: The Child can use charm monster and confusion at will, as well as hallucinatory terrain and phantasmal killer but only after it has discerned the fears of those who seek to harm it through its detect fears ability. It usually uses these spell-like abilities to turn the surrounding environment into an effective nightmare realm, then pick off its opponents with phantasmal killers until it is safe. It can only use phantasmal killer on a target whose mind it has successfully read. These spells are cast as a 12th-level Sorcerer.
Friend (Su): Anybody who agrees to be the Child's friend will be offered a gift, a little touch on the forehead. 1 day later they will begin to slowly lose their sense of identity, taking 1d4 Cha damage each day unless they succeed at a Will save (DC 20). This condition can only be cured with a remove curse spell or stronger. If a subject is reduced to 0 Charisma their own personality submerges permanently. Adults will drift into comas and eventually die of thirst or starvation. Children who have not yet reached puberty will instead become a new Child. The Child requires a successful touch attack to deliver the curse, although generally does not attempt to give it to those it considers its enemies.