Ur-Delth

Giant Bugs and Babies

A Long time ago, in a land far, far away…

Gin, Tamar, Balor and Theren stood among the pinnacles of Domtoch Kreeg with the echoes of a baby’s wail and the stench of its hill giant parents surrounding them. Theren and Sasha quickly made their way to the hill giant cavern. Inside, Theren found the giant baby as well as a ratty sack that turned out to be much more than it seemed.

As the rest of the companions began making their way up, a Tosculi warrior arrived at the cave entrance. It emitted a pheromone to alert its nearby companions that it had located a tasty elf. Theren dashed to hide behind the crying baby and Sasha lashed out to attack. Balor soon arrived to help Sasha block the cave entrance. Gin and Tamar soon joined the fray as more Tosculi buzzed in to feed. Luckily, the creatures could not get to their desired prey and were soon swatted from the skies.

As Gin consulted with Krallak about the unknown town of Habannen that was engraved on a statuette in the bag, the companions debated what to do about the baby. Tamar despised the thought of carrying out Gin’s idea of beheading it and decided to climb down the pinnacle to attempt using her powers to revive the hill giant momma. She called upon her unknown fire god and the powers of her Medallion of Surrel in the faint hope to raise the vile creature. To her surprise, and the surprise of her companions, her prayers were answered.

As the agitated mother quickly climbed up to claim her baby, the rest of the heroes quickly exited the cave and regrouped on the Water Bug, determined to continue on to Vod’s spire.

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Daciana’s Lost

Gin’s Journal, Day 40, Page 93

With Domtoch Kreeg behind us and no more soldiers giving chase, we had escaped the primitive community. That was our first encounter with a people outside our own preconceived world and it ended in bloodshed. Our hands were forced to act as we could not tolerate communion with the undead, as these new people did. In their ignorance and foolishness, they had fallen into the dark side and allied themselves with a force that I and my companions fight against. Thus, it saddened me to know that the world outside of Ur-Delth was not the world I was hoping for. It was the same world of the corruption and malevolence that the people of Ur-Delth lived in, only in a different form.

So, we sailed away from our hopes and dreams, and onward into the bleak darkness of the future, filled with more doubts and despair.

Tamar, Balor, and Theren took respite in the sleeping quarters of the pinnace while Merrill helmed the ship through the dark channels of the craggy spires. I stayed up on deck. I needed time to myself and to think. I took out my flute and began to quietly play a soft melancholy tune – ‘Daciana’s Lost.’ It was song about Daciana’s love, Hideaki Gin Okami, his death, her sadness, and the tragedy that followed her despair.

Long ago, when the world was still young and the races of all Men lived in peace and prosperity, Daciana fell in love with a son of an empress. This empress, Gina Kiyomi Okami, ruled over the lands of all the races. She was kind, benevolent, and wise in all her decisions. All the people loved her and sought her counsel in all things, and the lands lived in serenity and harmony. But when it came to her son, she was jealous, possessive, and manipulative. Few people ever saw him as she kept him behind closed doors. She would tell Hideaki that his seclusion was for his protection. He was a sick young man, plagued with white skin, shortness of breath, bloody eyes, and seizures. Only strange robed men were allowed to see Hideaki. They would give the young man drugs and incense every night, claiming that it would cure him as he grew older.

It was not until a young, beautiful, servant girl named Daciana, a daughter of the royal guard, who, on a random night, accidently snuck into his private bedchambers, that Hideaki began to realize how ignorant he was of the world around him. She was full of life, energy, curiosity, and happiness. The two were just friends at first, agreeing to meet in private to play games, sneak wine and cake, and to talk of all things long into the night. Hideaki loved to hear this young servant girl’s voice, especially when she sang for him. For her song calmed him in ways none of the drugs or incense could and he began to doubt his mother and robed men.

As time went on, the two young friends began to fall in love. Hideaki fell in love with Daciana’s innocence, joy, energy, and courage. She, in turn, fell in love with his wisdom, his intelligence, and his humorous wit. One night, the two snuck out of the palace, found a wandering priest in the city and secretly married. That night, the moon shone bright with not a cloud in the sky and a golden dragon was seen flying above the city – a sign of good fortune and blessing.

In her benevolent greatness, Gina Kiyomi Okami had a great weakness – she sought immortality by any means. There was a reason why Gina had no husband or suitors, and why Hideaki never knew his father. For Gina conceived her son in an unholy union with the being of the Umbra and raised him to be a sacrificial lamb at the altar of the Umbra. In turn, the Umbra would grant Gina eternal life and power over all the worlds.

So, one night when the moon and stars turned black and the winds stilled in the night and all the beasts of the land sat in silence, Gina Kiyomi Okami, with her robed men, abducted her son and tied him to the altar to be slaughtered in sacrifice to the great Umbra. But, unbeknownst to Gina or Hideaki, Daciana snuck into the palace, as she always did, but this time to surprise her secret husband of wonderful news. But she quickly realized all was not as it should be.

Daciana took up her sword and shield and sought her husband, lover, and friend. Down in the depths of forgotten tunnels of the palace, she found the empress and the robed men in the middle of their dark and evil ritual. She leapt in the midst of them, swinging her sword with great fury. Nothing mattered to her except to rescue her beloved. The battle was fierce. The robed men cast magical fires and lights down upon Daciana, but that would not stop her. They summoned horrifying demons and devils, even opened the earth at her feet to a portal of a different world, but that would not stop her. And when all the robed men were dead, Daciana stood face-to-face with the empress. She held the dagger, named Intuneric Eternal, high above Hideaki and and then forced it downward, piercing his heart.

Daciana rushed to her lover, but it was too late. The Umbra had taken hold of Hideaki and he had transformed into the dark force of beyond. Gina controlled her Umbra-induced son and forced the two lovers to fight. Daciana was no match against the new creation. The creature beat and thrashed the young servant girl without mercy. Daciana was near death and the creature was close to killing her.

As Hideaki rose to strike her down with the finishing blow, Daciana whispered a single phrase that only reached the ears of her husband. The creature froze and the empress screamed for it to kill Daciana. But it would not move. Daciana looked up and saw the eyes of her lover one last time and heard his voice: “Kill me,” he said as his chest opened to expose his black heart. “Kill me now and live, and know that my love will always be with you. Do it now before I lose control again!”

With those words, through tears, Daciana thrust her sword through the heart of her lover. She howled with such sorrow and pain, that the Umbra took notice. A black doorway with tentacles oozing out of its darkness, opened behind the empress. In Daciana’s mind, she heard her secret husband’s voice once more, “Send her through and finish it.” And with a yell of vengeance, she leapt at the empress and the two went through the dark doorway to the Umbra.

I finished playing ‘Daciana’s Lost’ and wept. I missed my sister, Circe. She would have sung the song that came with the music. Oh how I missed her sweet, angelic voice…but the undead horde made sure her voice would never be heard again. I began to wonder about what I was doing. Why was I out here? Where was I going? What was the purpose of it all? Everywhere I went and everything I did brought nothing but pain and death all around me. I was cursed. Perhaps, I wondered, I should end my own life? Would that bring a sliver of peace somewhere to someone on this world?

As the sun began to rise, my three companions awoke from their rest and came on deck. We continued onward…that is until we encountered two giants who had made a home on one of the pinnacles. They threatened us with huge boulders and wanted our food. We tried to parley a peaceful resolution, but to no avail. They were hungry and stupid, and that is what got them killed. None of us wanted to kill them, but in this vile world we live in, we were forced to do what had to be done in order for our own survival. Madness has taken hold of this world and I am beginning to believe there is no real hope.

After the fight, we heard the sound of a crying baby high above us, from where the two giants had come, and my heart sunk even lower with the realization of what we were probably going to do.

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Flight From Domtoch Kreeg

Gin’s Journal, Day 39, Page 89

Vod was dead and we needed to act quickly.

As Vod’s body fell, we heard the primal scream of an elderly woman.

Theren, his snake, and Balor stood by the eastern edge of the plateau looking down.

“Gin, hurry over here,” Theren said.

I rushed to their side and looked down to see two Domtoch Kreeg soldiers escorting Si Matuk up the pinnacle. They stood there, watching the fall of their savior.

Si Matuk screamed again, holding her head as her skull split open. Her eyes exploded with tiny tentacles emerging out of her sockets. Her jaw unnaturally stretched out and tiny spider-like legs emerged out of the gapping maw. The flesh of her legs ripped open as large bulbous tumors burst out and her arms exploded into large, thick tentacles. Her chest boiled and enlarged with more tumors with greenish-black pus squirting out onto her own body. Blood, pus, and gore sprayed the two soldiers as they backed away from their leader and ran up the pinnacle in fear.

“That doesn’t look good,” Theren commented.

“You think?” I smirked. “We need to leave now. Deal with those guards. Here comes Tamar.”

Tamar appeared overhead with the body of Vod in tow. At twenty feet up, she pushed the body off the back of her mount and into the air. It landed next to me with a sickening thud. After she landed her giant vulture onto the center of the plateau, the half-orc dismounted as I knelt down to examine our recent fallen foe.

“What was that thing I saw on the side of the pinnacle,” Tamar asked. “It looked…bubbly.”

“Si Matuk,” I replied. “It’s probably that time of month for her.”

Tamar raised an eyebrow. “If that’s what these elven women go through each month, I’d hate to see them in childbirth.”

As I searched the body of Vod, I found an ornamented dagger with jewels and strange ancient runes engraved on the blade. I pocketed it and examined the dark plate armor. I looked at the armor and then back at Tamar. An idea came to fruition.

“Where’d she go?” Balor asked, looking over the edge of the plateau.

“I don’t know,” Theren said. “She just disappeared.”

“Well, never mind that now,” Balor said. “We got guests.”

The two soldiers climbed up to the plateau, exhausted and terrified.

“Cahds!” Balor blurted out towards one of them. “It’s me, Balor! You remember? We played card games on our boat yesterday.”

Cahds stopped and stared at the dwarf. The other solider continued forward with his weapon drawn. Cahds tried to say something to his comrade, but Sasha sprung and snapped at the approaching solider. He was caught off guard, took a step back in defense and tripped over the edge of the pinnacle, falling to his death.

Cahds yelled as he watched his comrade fall. He turned back towards the Theren and Balor; vengeance in his eyes.

“It’s doesn’t have to be this way,” Balor said. “Your friend didn’t give us much of a choice. I’m sorry. Just turn around and leave.”

“He doesn’t understand you,” Theren said to Balor.

“Well, maybe this will make him understand,” Balor said, holding his great battleaxe up. He stepped towards Cahds and aggressively grunted.

I could tell Cahds wanted to fight, but he knew he was outnumbered and outmatched. He slowly backed away down the pinnacle keeping his eyes on the dwarf until he reached the bottom. Then he turned and ran.

“Cahds!” Balor bellowed. “Cahds! I’m sorry!”

“Theren!” I shouted. “Get over here. I need your help.”

“What is it, Gin,” Theren knelt down with me next to the corpse of Vod.

“You know a lot about the undead, right? What can you tell me about this one?” I asked as I removed the helmet – underneath was the head of rotting flesh dripping off of its skull. Its eyes were sunken, its teeth chipped and black, and its matted hair sprouted from patches on its scalp.

“It looks like a ghoul, if nothing else,” Theren said. “But that doesn’t make any sense.”

“How do you mean?” I asked, knowing the answer.

“Ghouls are mindless shambling husks of decaying flesh, driven by the need to devour fresh, soft tissue of the living. They don’t use magic.”

“Exactly!” I exclaimed. “So what do you make of this abomination?”

“I don’t know.”

“I’ve heard legends of powerful wizards turning themselves into the undead,” I said. “Seeking immortality and being able to retain their own soul and magic. But this…?”

“Liches,” Theren whispered under his breath.

“Is this one of them?”

“No,” Theren replied. “This is something different. Something I’ve never seen before.”

“Are we leaving or what?” Tamar interjected.

“Yes,” I responded. “But we’re taking this armor. How much can your vulture carry?”

“Only one at a time,” she said.

“Alright, Theren, you go first. Ride the vulture down to the boat. And then, Tamar, you ride down next and be sure the take this armor.”

“Why?” Tamar asked. “What do we need that for?”

“It’s for you, you big lug,” I smiled.

Tamar grimaced at the sight of the ghoul’s decomposing head.

“What about me?” Balor asked.

“You and I will fly down with the help of the Umbra,” I said.

Balor’s eyes widened with excitement. “Alright then! I’ve always wanted to fly.”

Balor rushed over to the ledge, extended his arms outwards, and primed himself to leap off.

“Just tell me when,” he said.

Tamar saw the twinkle in my eye.

“Don’t you dare,” Tamar growled.

“Oh, you’re no fun anymore,” I smirked.

Theren mounted the giant vulture and flew down to the Water Bug. He saw Merrill standing at the helm, nervous but bored as he waited for our return.

“Merrill!” Theren shouted. “Start up the boat. We need to get out of here!” He unhitched himself off the giant vulture, landed on the boat, and creature began to fly back up the pinnacle.

“What’s going on?” Merrill asked.

“Let’s just say Gin has made quite the impression.”

“What do you mean?”

“Gin isn’t the most likable person and these elves have just found that out.”

“Well, Gin does take a while to warm up to. But where are they? What happened up there? I’m not leaving…”

“We don’t have to time for that now,” Theren snapped. “The others are coming, but we need…"

A spear impaled itself on the wooden deck between Merrill’s feet. The two of them looked up and saw two Domtoch Kreeg soliders led by Soran Nobik rushing down the pinnacle towards the boat, all wielding throwing spears.

“Say no more!” Merrill yelled. He started up the Water Bug and began to steer it away from the dock of the pinnacle.

Another spear nearly impaled Theren in the head as he moved to find cover. He notched his bow with an arrow, took aim, and fired. The arrow struck true – piercing through the neck of one of the soldiers; his body falling down the pinnacle and into the waters below.

Soran Nobik held her arm up to halt her last soldier, said something in her tongue, and the two of them retreated back up the pinnacle.

Up on top of the pinnacle, I cast my fly spell, picked up Balor, and the two of us flew down.

“You need to lose some weight there, little man,” I observed.

“Shut your pie hole, Gin!” Balor said, enjoying the wind in his beard as I carried him. “I’m the perfect weight for my height. Tamira said so.”

“Yeah, when she was alive…”

“Don’t you dare say anything about Tamira,” Balor growled.

“Fine, fine. I’m just saying, I think you’ve eaten enough grief food.”

As we flew down, two spears soared past us. Three Domtoch Kreeg soliders were rushing up to the top of the pinnacle and had spotted us.

“Balor,” I said, “hold on as I maneuver myself.” I repositioned my hold on Balor such that it allowed me to release forth the tendrils of the Umbra from my hands. One had hit the solider in the front of the trio and the second pelted the soldier behind him. It wasn’t meant to kill them, only to harm them enough that it would divert them away from their path toward the top where Tamar still waited for her returning vulture.

“My turn,” Balor said. He repositioned himself from my hold and threw Sever. The throwing axe split open the skull of the third solider in the rear of the trio. Balor laughed. “One for me, and none for you, Gin,” he said.

I grimaced at the fact that he did not know what I was really trying to do, by sparing the ignorant soldiers. They stopped their ascent to find cover.

We continued our flight down the pinnacle and saw the giant vulture fly past us, up toward the top. I dropped Balor onto the deck of the ship and stayed floating in the air as we waited for Tamar. Merrill was slowly steering the ship through the canal.

“Where’s Tamar!?” Merrill shouted.

“Don’t know,” Theren said. “Gin, you see anything?”

I peered through the darkness, hovering over the ship and waited. Had the two soldiers that Balor and I passed, reached the top of the pinnacle? Was Tamar forced to defend herself, alone? Did we abandon her in her time of need? Did they kill her? Retribution would not be a strong enough word for what I would do to these ignorant fools if they did anything to my friend!

In the distance I saw a shape, in the shadow of darkness, take form. I extended my arms ready to release the power of the Umbra. The image of Tamar’s dying body – blood covered, gasping for life, and alone, on top of the pinnacle – infected my thoughts. My blood boiled with the hatred of vengeance and my eyes flared the dark flames of the Umbra. Death and oblivion consumed me. I needed my friend.

“There!” Theren shouted. “There she is! I see her!”

Out of the shadow of darkness emerged the giant vulture, and riding the great beast was Tamar with the helm of Vod upon her head. The vulture cawed. Its cry echoed among the tall pinnacles. Behind her, four gliders followed the giant vulture, each with a Domtoch Kreeg rider.

“Enough of this child’s play,” I spat. “If they want to play, then let the game end now!” I released the tendrils of the Umbra without mercy. They speared through the darkness together and then split apart to impale two of the riders – one through his chest and the other through his face. The gliders went spiraling down into the waters below.

Theren shot an arrow and hit another rider through the eye, killing him instantly. Balor, not to be out-matched, threw Sever. The small throwing axe whizzed past Tamar and directly through the arm of the last surviving pursuing Domtoch Kreeg rider directly behind her. It severed his arm clean off. He screamed his death rattle and fell into water.

Theren hurried to the bow of the ship to look ahead. He saw something in the water. It bubbled and moved. He thought he saw a tentacle surface the water and dive back down.

“That can’t be good,” he said.

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VOD

Gin’s Journal, Day 39, Page 81

Rua Matuk, Theren, Tamar, and Balor hung on to the rope on the side of the rocky pinnacle while I hovered in the air next to Rua and Theren. I realized we were in no position to converse with Vod (if he came), let alone do battle if need be. We could not wait in this position, exposed for all to see on the side of the pinnacle.

On top of the flat surface pinnacle, Rua’s betrothed, Tov Gark, sat in silence, waiting for his fate to arrive.

‘Can you convince him that we mean him no harm,’ I said to Rua’s mind.

“You cure Tov Gark, first?” she said. Theren listened to the one-sided conversation.

‘I cannot cure him until we meet Vod,’ I replied.

“But you cure yourself. You cure Tov Gark.”

‘In time, but we must meet with Vod before I do anything. But we can’t hang here until Vod arrives. We need to be on the plateau and to ready ourselves. Will Tov Gark alert the others if we climb up? Can you speak with him and tell him we are here to help?’

“Tov Gark has Vod Sickness and waits for Vod. Vod will take him. You cure him so Vod does not take.”

It became apparent that her interpretation of why we came to the meeting place of Vod was drastically different than my own. I had enough and flew up and landed on the plateau.

Tov Gark stood up, surprised by my presence. He was about to say something when he saw Rua climb over the pinnacle edge followed by my friends.

“Rua! Why you here?” Tov Gark said. “I have Vod sickness and Vod will come soon. You must leave.”

“Tov Gark, I bring ones that can heal you. Vod need not take you. This one here,” Rua pointed to me, “Can cure you. He cure himself of Vod sickness.”

“Not so,” Tov Gark said. “No cure for Vod sickness. Vod comes soon. All you must leave, now.”

“But he can,” Rua rushed to her lover. “He is powerful. He can cure you so Vod does not take you away from me.”

‘Talk to him, Rua,’ I said to her mind. ‘Convince him to be quiet. Tell him we will help him.’

“No,” Tov Gark said, pushing Rua away. “This is our way. Vod must take me. I have sickness. These strangers are not friends. I must tell Si Matuk and others.”

“Please, Tov Gark,” Rua pleaded. “Let them heal you. Gin Okami, you heal him now. You said you would.”

‘I said after we met with Vod.’ I looked to Tamar and gestured towards the sick male elf. She nodded and grunted in confirmation. She walked up to the elf and knocked him unconscious with the butt of her pommel.

“What you do?” Rua screeched. She knelt down to her fallen lover. “Why you do this? You not cure Vod sickness. You killed Tov Gark. I must…” Balor came up behind her and knocked out the elf woman.

“Good work, you two,” I congratulated the dwarf and half-orc.

“What are you doing?” Theren said. “You didn’t have to do that. You could’ve killed them.” He rushed over to examine the two young elves.

“They compromised our situation,” I said. “It’s better this way.”

“But you didn’t have to hurt them,” Theren sneered.

“It was the quickest way to remove a liability. Besides, they’re fine. Tamar knows how to hurt and leave no marks, and I’m assuming Balor too.”

The half-orc grunted. “I am guessing they were about to warn the others?”

“Yeah. Both of them were,” I said.

“We could’ve stayed hidden on the cliff wall and waited,” Theren said, bandaging the wounds on the two elves. “We didn’t have to do this.”

“No, Theren, we did,” I said. “We need to prepare ourselves and make sure the terrain is to our advantage. Hanging there on the cliff face, Vod would be able to pick you off one by one.”

“Looks like the wounds will heal in time, Theren said, “No major damage.”

“Good, now tie them up and gag them,” I said.

“You’re sick, Gin,” Theren said. “You want to tie them up after you’ve beaten them unconscious?”

“Makes sense to me,” Tamar interjected.

“Can’t have them ruining our endeavors if they wake up in the middle of everything,’ I said.

“Fine, whatever,” Theren said, “But I’m not sure if I can trust you anymore.”

“It’s a bit late for that now,” I said with a smirk. “Balor and Tamar, hide Rua in those bushes. Leave Tov Gark’s body in the center. We want Vod to think there’s nothing out of place.”

“How long do we have before Vod comes?” Balor asked.

“About an hour.”

Malum flew in the darkness and I watched through her eyes. The cavern was gigantic.

Up ahead, two massive openings continued into darkness and in between was another colossal structured door, similar to the entrance into the cavern, only a bit bigger.

Malum flew down the cavern opening on the right and found herself in a large open area with piles of litter on the ground and a large double door to the far end. The doors were of stone and had intricate carvings, albeit worn and deteriorated. On the right side door was the design of a regal and noble male elf clad in heavy armor and wielding a large shield and two-pronged spear. On left side door was the design of a robed female elf holding a sphere and serpentine-shaped staff. There was no way for Malum to pass through the door and so she left.

Upon returning to the open cavern, Malum flew down the left opening. She found herself in a graveyard with tombstones scattered about. The air was thick and cold, and a greenish mist, that gave an ever so slight illumination, coated the ground. And then she heard a moan.

Malum perched herself on top of a tall headstone and saw a rotting corpse lumber slowly amongst the rows of tombstones. Its grayish flesh sagged and dripped from its bones and black ooze seeped out of its multiple lesions and bodily openings. What was more interesting was that the ghoul had odd growths and malformations all over its body like that I had seen on victims of the Vod sickness. This ghoul was an elf that had the sickness!

The ghoul moaned and gargled. It had been almost a week since I had last heard that sound – the sound of the undead seeking live flesh to devour, and it sent shivers down my spine. What were they doing here? – In Vod’s spire? Was Vod a necromancer? Were these undead his pets? Did he control them? Was he really as benevolent as the elves described him to be? I began to doubt and realized that, perhaps, we were dealing with a malevolent force.

‘Fly away!’ I ordered Malum. ‘Leave now!’

She flew back to the main cavern and up to the colossal door in between the two smaller caves. There I saw the faint engravings of a phrase upon the entrance of giants – Behold Sinarthaax.

I quickly pulled out my pack and all of my ancient scrolls and documents to find that single map. I placed my hand in my pocket and slipped the ring on to my finger.

“Old man! I have a question for you,” I said audibly. In my excitement, I didn’t realize I was speaking out loud, loud enough for my friends to hear me.

‘Are we back? Have we returned to Starwind Monastery?’

“No, but I have a quick question.”

‘But you promised we would return…’

“Not right now. First, tell me about Sinarthaax.”

‘Sinarthaax? That place is unimportant. You must return…’

Krallak, humor me. Tell me now or we will never return to Starwind Monastery.”

‘Very well. It’s a nation of elves located in the Doomtooth Crags on the western mountain range of Delthrand, close to the Kingdom of Selz. It’s where Forshenill found the portal. You know this already. This is unimportant.’

“Krallak, what else can you tell me?”

‘The elves are xenophobic and paranoid. I don’t know very much about them. They keep to themselves and are typically hostile to outsiders. Forshenill had difficulty dealing with them, but I can’t remember how he handled them. But I do remember that he didn’t really like them all too much and didn’t want to talk about his experience with them. I read rumors that they interbreed within their family, believing that it keeps their bloodline pure and strong. And that they perform rituals of cannibalism, not just on their enemies but that also they eat their own kind, even children, if they find any weakness or sickness in them. But then again, what do I know. I never met them nor care to. They are unimportant. We must return to Starwind Monastery and watch for the Heaven Rock.’

“Krallak, show me on this map where Doomtooth Crag is located.”

“Is Gin alright?” Theren asked Tamar.

“Oh, just ignore him. I told you before, he gets like that sometimes. It’s his way.”

“His way to madness?” Theren whispered.

“I’ve found it!” I shouted. “I know our location. I know exactly where we are.”

“Good for you, Gin,” Balor said, “But you might want to pack up there and hide with me. Look up. I think our guest has arrived.”

High above us, and flying closer, was a giant, winged lizard-like creature with a long tail that had an enormous stinger at its tip. On top of the beast rode a single rider, clad in dark armor, covering his whole body from head to toe. Vod had arrived.

I quickly took cover behind a bush with Balor. Theren hid behind another bush across from us. I did not see Tamar anywhere.

“Now don’t do anything aggressive unless I give the word,” I whispered to the dwarf.

“I thought you wanted to talk to him?” Balor asked.

“I have my doubts,” I said.

“Doubts? Now? And what is this word of action?”

“Shazam.”

“Shazam? What kind of word is that?”

“Just don’t attack until I say so.”

The flying beast hovered over the body of Tov Gark and descended with talons extended.

I waited and watched. Time slowed to a crawl as the beast’s talons reached closer and closer to the prone body of the elf.

‘Ready your arrow,’ I mentally communicated to Theren.

I could feel the raging heat of Balor’s breath next to me. The mere presence of Vod made Balor eager to fight.

‘Hold,’ I mentally said to Balor. ‘A few more seconds…’

I looked over and saw Theren with his bow ready and his arrow needing to fly. I could see the hateful expression on his face. He did not like the look of Vod, to say the least.

Balor’s breath stopped and his body turned rigid and shivered in anticipation. He was ready to spring.

And where was Tamar?

The talons were inches from the elf…and I shouted, “SHAZAM!”

Balor leapt from his hiding spot and rushed the flying beast. An arrow flew and struck Vod in the shoulder. The armor-clad rider yelled in pain. The flying beast halted its descent and began to fly up, away from the Plateau, and out of Balor’s reach with his great battleaxe.

Balor roared in frustration.

“He’s not mortal!” Theren shouted. “He is evil! He is undead!”

I extended my arms and opened my palms to release the tentacles of the Umbra. They struck true and nearly threw Vod off the beast. But he still steered his flying steed away from the pinnacle.

“Don’t let him get away!” Theren shouted. “He must be stopped.”

Vod reached out with his arm towards Theren. Crackling bolts of lightning surged around his arm, pulsating and growing in strength. The light took shape into javelin in his hand and he threw it at the elf.

Theren was thrown back by the strike of lightening to his chest, almost pushing him over and off the edge of the pinnacle. His hair smoldered and his clothes were scorched. Blood dribbled out of his mouth.

“Evil one! Hear me now! By the Fire God, I shall smite thee down!” Tamar hollered.

A giant vulture flew over me, its wings a bright yellow and red and its eyes smoked as if they were ablaze. And to my utter surprise, riding the giant bird was Tamar. She held her great sword, Solemn, in one hand above her head and the reins encircling the giant vulture with the other. Her face was etched with righteous fury and uncompromising vengeance. For a moment, she looked like a hero of legend upon that giant creature, ready to destroy a great evil of the world, a story that is told many times but one that never gets old.

She swung down but missed Vod’s flying beast. Yet, with her downward momentum, she swung back up and struck Vod at his side, cracking his armor. Flames sparked and spread across the two flying mounted warriors. The sword’s impart burnt Vod’s armor, but the flame’s heat only seemed to invigorate Tamar that much more. The half-orc laughed hysterically in her triumph.

But Vod and his mount were not defeated. He began to fly away, wounded and smart to avoid a battle he knew he could not win.

Theren shot with his arrow again but missed.

Balor, not to be out done by Tamar, ran across the plateau and threw his trident and, like Theren with his arrow, missed. Balor roared once more in frustration but would not give up. He grabbed his throwing axe, Sever, from his belt, and hurled it in pure hatred. The magic axe slashed against the head of the flying beast, nearly severing its eye in two. The beast wavered in its escape. The axe continued its flight path back to Balor’s hand and the dwarf, this time, roared in victory.

Vod turned around from his seat and extended his arm towards Balor and a bolt of lightning struck the tough, stout man.

Balor got back up, dusting himself off and dousing the flames from his beard.

“Ha! Is that all you got! Weak! You gotta do more than that to bring down Balor Windhelm! You hear me, you coward!”

“That didn’t hurt you?” Theren asked.

Balor snorted. “I’d rather get neutered with a rusty knife than be hit by that again, but I ain’t gonna tell him that.”

Theren tried, once again, to fire off another arrow, this time hitting Vod in the crack at his side, piercing through his dark armor. I saw the subtle grin of sadistic pleasure on Theren’s face.

“Enough of this,” I said. One more time, I released the tentacles of the Umbra upon this reality and shot them towards Vod and his beast. The first tentacle hit the beast in the same open wound Balor’s axe inflicted. The tentacle burrowed into the open wound and drilled itself into the poor beast’s brain, killing it. And as Vod began to spiral downward on his mount, the second tentacle struck the armor-clad rider at the opening Theren and Tamar made, and tunneled underneath. Like a worm excavating through dirt, the tentacle dug its way through the body of Vod, eviscerating whatever flesh and bones he had underneath his armor.

Vod was dead.

“Tamar!” I shouted. “Hurry. Grab his body! Don’t let it fall!”

Theren stared down at the cliff face that led up to the plateau.

“I think we have more guests coming,” he said.

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Bait and Switch

Long into the future, in a land far, far away…

Gin, Tamar, Balor and Theren retired to the Water Bug after discovering that Domtoch Kreeg was not the paradise they had hoped. Gin and Theren, who finally began to grasp the Domtoch Kreeg language, decided to further explore the village to find out information about the tribe and Vod. They discovered pictographs of daily village life, as well as images of Vod and a young Si Matuk performing what they assumed was a pledge. Gin used his powers to make it look like he was infected with Vod Sickness, which alarmed their guide, Soran Nobik.

Back at the boat, Tamar and Balor convinced a Kreeg elf and Merrill to join them for drinks. The companions were merrily intoxicated by the time Gin and Theren returned. However, they soon were visited by a stern Kreeg elf, Rua Matuk. She commanded them to take the tribe to Ur-Delth, but the group refused. They learned that Rua was the daughter of Si Matuk and that her betrothed, Tov Gark, had recently returned from a hunting trip and was now infected with Vod Sickness. He was to be offered to Vod tonight.

Gin dropped his illusion and convinced Rua that he could heal her betrothed. But first, they needed to meet with Vod, using Tov as bait. Rua reluctantly agreed to the plan with a promise that Tov would be healed once the heroes had a chance to speak with Vod. During the night, Rua led the companions quietly up the pinnacle where Tov sat. They hid just below the edge and awaited Vod’s arrival.

Meanwhile, Malum flew to Vod’s cave. She alerted Gin when the stone door opened and Vod flew out on his wyvern. Malum then flew inside the cavern to further explore…

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The Domtoch Kreeg

A long time ago in a land far, far away…

Gin, Tamar, Balor and Theren continued swatting at the giant insectoids that swarmed their boat in the new lands they had discovered. As Theren stayed below deck to mend his considerable wounds, four of the creatures turned their mandibles on Gin. One released pheromones into the air, alerting the rest of the insects that a new target had been identified. Gin eventually fell to his adversaries, but Tamar was able to call upon her fire god to bring him back from death’s grasp. Once awakened, Gin used the power of the Umbra to open a portal that transported him to the raft attached to the ship.

Meanwhile, Tamar and Balor hacked and slashed at the insects as they clamored toward Gin. As the large insectoid jumped to attack Gin, Sasha lunged at it to deliver the final blow and make a meal of the creature. The companions took a much needed breather before heading further into the strange new land.

Eventually, a female voice called out to them in an archaic elven tongue. Gin was able to use his magic to understand the language, but no matter how hard he tried, Theren could not grasp the dialect. The voice belonged to a tribal elf named Soran Nobik, who questioned the heroes about who they were, where they came from and how they got to Domtoch Kreeg. The companions followed the tribe to their village where they met with their leader, Si Matuk. They discovered that a plague called Vod Sickness ravaged the pinnacles of Domtoch Kreeg which caused sores, pustules, tumors and dermatoid cysts. All creatures, with the exception of Si Matuk, eventually succumbed to the disease.

The Domtoch Kreeg elves tried to keep the plague from spreading in their tribe by offering anybody afflicted to Vod. Riding his dragon, Vod would take away any sick tribe member placed at the top of their pinnacle. When the companions asked to meet Vod, Si Matuk refused, saying that only she had ever met Vod and that was centuries ago. The old elf seemed most interested in convincing the group to take her and her tribe back to Ur-Delth.

Frustrated that these new lands did not present the respite from the cursed land of Ur-Delth that they hoped, the heroes retreated to the Water Bug to plot their next move…

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New Lands and New Enemies

Long into the future in a land far, far away…

Gin, Tamar, Balor and Theren basked in the glory of defeating the hydra that attacked the Water Bug on their voyage to unknown lands on Ur-Delth. Merrill thanked Theren for saving his life and the companions again headed into the green mists, fighting against the swift currents of The Serpent.

After a few more days of travel, the dark green mists of Ur-Delth brightened noticeably and huge rock formations appeared before them. The immense grey rocks thrusted up from the water and out of sight into the mists above. They had jagged, razor sharp edges with unknown vegetation growing among the many cracks and pockets. The group heard the calls of birds and other animals they could not identify, and noticed that much of the fauna appeared sick with open sores, tumorous growths and even horrible extra appendages. All the creatures fled upon their approach. Gin sent Malum ahead to scout the tall rock spire she had seen previously where a dragon rider flew into a cave.

After Malum had been gone a couple hours, they heard a strange buzzing sound that grew louder. Two large insectoid creatures were flying toward them. To their horror, they saw that each creature was carrying three additional insectoids. All dropped from the sky to approach the boat. Gin did not hesitate to act against what he perceived as a sure threat and attacked the oncoming creatures, dropping four of them from the sky by opening a brief portal to the Umbra.

However, the insects soon swarmed the boat and seemed to specifically target Theren, who eventually fell paralyzed by the venomous sting of the attackers. Tamar was able to call upon the power of her fire god to remove the poison and Theren scrambled below deck with Merrill to regroup and mend his wounds.

Meanwhile, Tamar and Balor continued battling the creatures above, and Gin found himself face to face with four insectoids that managed to climb from The Serpent onto the Water Bug….

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Serpents in The Serpent

Gin’s Journal, Day 37, Page 70

All of Osmarren came to watch and wish us luck. I saw the faces of men, women, and children, covered in dirt, grim, and desperation. Their lives consisted of sorrow, pain, and death. And I realized, for the first time in their lives, as they watched us prepare our supplies and ready ourselves for the journey, they saw hope.

Once we were finished with our preparation and all our supplies were secure, Hannah Truebeard inaugurated the ship, The Water Bug, and gave us her blessing and the Osmarrenites cheered and watched us in awe as we sailed away. Malum, in her shrike form, took point to lead the way while Merrill steered the ship.

And so we were off, sailing through uncharted seas toward an unknown land; an expedition only madmen would attempt.

None of us were prepared for sea travel. Well, at least not me. No one ever told me the particular two things that were paramount in traversing the great open waters.

First, traveling by sea is very uncomfortable; the boat is always moving and never stops. On land, if you get dizzy, you can stop, hold your head and sit down until the feeling passes. But at sea, there is no opportunity to steady yourself. If you stand motionlessly on the boat, you sway back and forth; if you try to hold your head, you are merely pushing your own head back and forth; and if you sit, the movements seem to get worse as you futilely believe the boat will balance your body. It is a form of travel that is in perpetual motion and I was not ready for it. For the first few days, I got sick. The others did not seem as affected by the boat’s motions and I envied them.

Second, sea travel is very dull. As a passenger on a small ship, there is very little to do or see. For as far as the eyes can see, there was nothing but dark waters and bleak skies. No forests, no mountains, no rivers, no trails, no cliffs – nothing. And everything always looks the same. For the first day, I tried to use the monotonous surroundings as a form of meditation – but with the ship’s motions and my sickness, I found it to be a fruitless endeavor. So, for most of my time, I studied the old tomes, books, and scrolls I had gathered through my adventures as well as the ones Merrill had gathered from traders.

The others seemed to find it just as difficult as me to preoccupy their time. Tamar and Balor spent most of their time playing card games with each other while Theren meditated and communed with the ever-present sea. Merrill, on the other hand, seemed absolutely content as the pilot of the ship and consistently kept his morale and energy high.

After a few days, we were all going a bit stir crazy. I had looked through my books and tomes multiple times and found myself daydreaming for hours as I looked out at the open expanse of the sea. Tamar and Balor continued to play card games and tried to invent new ones, but I could tell they were getting frustrated and bored with their games and each other. Even Theren found himself in such an uncomfortable state of mind with nothing to do that he tried to play with the two warriors. At one point, they invented a staring game, where they sat in front of each other in silence and stared at one another. I didn’t understand how the game was played, nor did I care to know.

It was during one of those staring games that a new guest arrived.

‘Gatekeeper,’ Malum said to me in my mind, ‘I believe we may have a guest. Rear, starboard side.’

I walked over to the railing of right side of the boat and saw and large, unusual ripple formation with foam. It moved closer to the ship.

“You might want to stop playing your game,” I shouted to the three shipmates. “There’s something out there.”

Theren was the first to break his stare and stood next to me.

“Ha!” Balor bellowed. “Theren lost. Now your turn, Tamar.”

“Fat chance,” she sneered.

Something was coming up from the ripples and foam.

“Enough!” I snapped at them. “It’s coming.”

“By all means, Tamar, go take a look,” Balor said.

“Ladies first,” Tamar whispered.

Balor scowled.

A long, glistening, serpentine shape emerged from the waters and kept pace along the side of the ship.

“Quit playing your stupid game, you two, and get over here!” I yelled, backing away from the railing.

“What is it?” Merrill shouted.

“It must be some sort of fish,” Theren said. “Perhaps I can commune with it.” He held out his hands in a peaceful gesture and spoke, “We mean you no harm, child of the great waters. We are the Great Mother’s servants and are only passing through. May the Great Mother bless you and flourish your kin by generations.”

I rolled my eyes.

“Go ahead and take a look, Tamar, it might be a giant dragon!” Balor chuckled.

“If it is, then it’ll have to eat me first before I break.”

“Gin!” Theren shouted. “Something’s wrong. This thing is not of the Great Mother. It’s not natural!” He readied his bow and notched an arrow.

“What is it?! What is it?!” Merrill screeched, jumping up and down in front of his steering wheel.

“You two!” I screamed, “Stop playing…” But it was too late. A fifteen foot long neck with a massive snake-head surfaced above the water, then another head surfaced, then another head, and another, and another – a total of five serpentine necks and heads hovered over us.

Tamar’s eyes widened at the giant beast; Balor did not see it, as he was facing the opposite direction. The half-orc quickly stood up, grabbed her sword and leapt toward the great beast to stand in front of Theren.

“Ha! I won!” Balor bellowed. Then he heard the growl of the great beast behind him. He slowly turned around, then his eyes also widened in surprise. “Tamar, you lied! You didn’t let that thing eat you!” He stood and unleashed his throwing axe.

“Couldn’t let it eat Theren,” Tamar shouted. She swung her great sword, empowered by her will and so-called prayers and lopped off one of the heads. Thunder roared across the deck and sea waters. But as quickly as she severed one of the heads, two heads emerged from the empty stump.

“What is this devilry?!” Tamar shouted and continued to defend herself against the massive serpentine heads.

“Giant snakes that grow heads?!” Balor yelled. “Guess we have to chop them all off at the same time!” He threw his magically inspired throwing axe and hit one of the heads but failed to sever it.

“Better luck next time, but you’ll never be as good as me,” Tamar spat, bashing her sword against another head, almost severing another one. She growled in frustration.

“Next throw will get it,” Balor responded, holding out his hand to catch his returning axe. But it didn’t return. Well, not as expected. Instead of it returning to his hand, the impact of the axe against the creature’s head had forced the weapon off course, only to impale the wooden hull of the ship. The impact was so powerful that it breached the ship, and she began to slowly take on water.

“Balor!” I yelled, “You’re doing more damage to the boat than the beast!” I took flight – sixty feet high and out of the beast’s range. The wind was harsh and my cloak whipped to my left. I extended my arms and whispered the dark incantation of the Umbra: “Ad mortem te, et tenebrae vobis!” Two-inch slits ripped open within my palms and black-greenish light shown through. Out of each slit flew 5-feet tendrils, fluorescent greenish-black in color and covered by foul suckers, dripping a putrid greenish ooze as they flew towards the beast.

The hydra howled in pain as it felt the dark force of the Umbra. Two of its heads looked up at me, but realized they could do nothing. Instead, they attacked Merrill. They snapped and chomped on the little man, his body covered in his own blood and his limbs almost torn apart. The two heads brought him to death’s door.

Theren tried to help with fighting the beast, but he knew at that moment his action was better spent defending Merrill and stabilizing him. So the elf ordered his giant snake, Sasha, to attack the great beast.

The beast pulled away from the ship, away from Tamar’s sword reach. But its necks continued to be able to reach us.

“I’ve had enough of this!” Tamar roared at the sight of Merrill’s crumpled body. She whipped out her crossbow and aimed. “By the will of Fire God, I declare fiery vengeance with this strike and send thee back to the dark place from whence you came!”

The crossbow bolt flew and struck one of the heads right between the eyes. The hydra’s head made no sound and fell in the water, dead. And then another head fell, and another, and another, until all of them fell into the sea water, dead.

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The Plan Moves Forward

Long into the future, in a land far, far away…

Gin, Tamar, Balor and Theren confronted Ormak, the Blank God’s Voice, in a cavern occupied by his adherents. With his followers slain or captured, Ormak used telepathic powers to frighten the heroes and counteract their spells, all to no avail. Gin used his own powers to delve into the priest’s mind. He discovered that Ormak was nothing but a charlatan using his natural psionic gifts to gain followers and privilege. Gin called to his companions to finish off Ormak and the captured cultist outside. They heartily complied.

Once back in Osmarren, the group met with Hannah Truebeard to relate what they had discovered. Tamar proudly plunked down the Ormak’s head but did not expect the nervous reaction of Hannah. She told them that many in Osmarren believed in the false priest and that mentioning his beheading could provoke unwanted hostilities. The village was already straining from the heroes’ request to secure three weeks’ worth of supplies from the townsfolk. The group agreed to keep the death of Ormak quiet, however Balor had already told Gappy at the Drunk Tank. Hannah then spoke privately with Balor, giving the dwarf an enchanted hand-axe heirloom named Sever.

With the meeting adjourned, Tamar, Balor and Theren went about the business of drinking and whoring while Gin saw to the current status of their supply request. Legbo told Gin that he had two weeks’ worth of supplies secured, but coming up with anything additional would be difficult considering the current scarcity of resources. Gin offered Legbo a valuable ring he discovered on Ormak’s body as payment and thanks. He then went to visit Merrill to check on his progress.

Merrill had completed his modifications of the pinnace by attaching the binding discs and chaining a raft with a retractable shark skin cover to the back. With the pinnace complete and supplies secured, Gin and Merrill decided to board the pinnace and conjure the water elemental that would power the boat through The Serpent. Merrill first tried to read the conjuration scroll, but Gin realized the crazed Halfling was getting many of the words incorrect and took over. With the scroll completed, it crumbled into the wind as an enraged water elemental appeared. It jumped between the binding discs at Gin’s command, then braided and twisted itself into a ring spinning around the mid-section of the pinnace.

Meanwhile, back at the village, Tamar realized that sending Gin alone to Merrill’s might be a terrible idea. She communed with her god to summon a fiery horse and took off down the beach to find Gin. To her amazement, she saw a pinnace coming toward her in The Serpent. Merrill was gleefully at the wheel with Gin standing by on the deck…

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Routing a Cult

Gin’s Journal Entry, Day 33, Page 62

We arrived at the cave in the middle of the night. Theren led the way. The sky was dark with a slight hint of the perpetual greenish hue that shrouded Ur-Delth – a reminder of the land’s blight.

A high cliff quarry of rocks surrounded the cave with the opening to the east. With a spell of silence that Theren cast upon us earlier, we snuck to the edge of the cliff from the southwest and crouched in the shadow to spy on our prey. In front of the cave’s entrance were three, half-naked men sleeping around a small campfire with a single robed man keeping watch.

“That’s the cave,” Theren whispered. “Those men weren’t there before.”

I ordered my three companions to step away from the edge and keep an eye on the four men below. I needed to prepare. Within the span of ten minutes, I summoned an invisible spirit of servitude – a minor familiar spirit from the Umbra. It could not speak or really have independent thought of its own. Its sole purpose was to serve its conjuror as best as it could, though all it could really do was to carry items or perform simple tasks such as cook, set fires, or clean messes. But I had other, more imaginative tasks for the spirit. With a shield I had procured before we left, I ordered it to hold the iron-laden, wooden block in front of its formless body and then covered its invisible form with a large bed sheet.

“What by the fire god is that?” Tamar asked.

“That’s not supposed to be a ghost, is it? Do you plan on scaring them with that?” Balor gruffed.

“Of course not,” I said. “It is merely another possible tool for us to use. It may not be of any use, but I would rather be prepared for anything than not. Let’s sneak around and surprise them.”

We continued to sneak along the cliff edge with the floating bed sheet following behind me.

Rubble and stones rolled down the cliff edge. I turned around and saw that Tamar had slipped and would have fallen if it hadn’t been for Balor’s quick reaction to grab and steady the half-orc. But the damage was already done.

The robed man from below looked toward our direction and stood up. The four of us stopped moving and crouched there in complete silence. He took a step toward us, attempting to peer through the darkness. I quickly had cast an illusion around the four of us in the form of large rock formations that matched the cliff edge and side.

Malum,’ I spoke mentally to my familiar, ‘change into a bird, quickly, and distract them.’ Malum, in cat form, leapt off my shoulders and morphed into a tiny shrike and flew towards the opposite side of the quarry.

The robed man took another step towards our direction and saw the rock illusion and continued to peer along the cliff edges, ignoring us. He did not seem satisfied and went back to the campfire where he kicked awake one of the sleeping men.

The tweeting sounds of a bird echoed in the quarry depths. More rubble crumbled down the cliff side – this time from the opposite side from where we were. The robed man looked all around while the waking half-naked man stood up, rubbing his eyes.

I heard Tamar mumble a small prayer next to me. Her eyes glowed for a moment and fixed on the robed man. His body began to twitch and moved with deliberate intensity – like a small rodent that knows it’s being hunted by a dangerous predator but is unable to see its impending doom. He looked all around himself, not out of curiosity but what appeared to be more like fear.

“Do you hear that?” the robed man asked his companion. “Something is out there. Something is going to get us. Something dangerous.”

Malum tweeted again.

The half-naked man, still rubbing his eyes, asked, “What are you talking about?”

“Wake the others,” the robed man said. “We’re in danger. It’s going to eat us.”

Malum tweeted once more.

“It’s just a….” the half-naked man began to say.

From where I hid, I reached out with my mind.

‘Your friend is a traitor,” I said, psychically, to the half-naked man. ‘He is a blasphemer and has betrayed the Blank God. He has heard the voice and rejects its blessing. He is afraid because he knows what he has done and what must be done to him. He is evil.’

With intense eyes on the robed man, the half-naked man knelt down and picked up a large rock.

Malum, once again, tweeted her sweet bird song within the quarry.

“There it is again,” the robed man said. “It’s evil.”

‘He hears the voice,’ the half-naked man heard in his head, ‘the voice of the Blank God, but he is corrupted. He hears only his own voice. He only hears what he wants to hear and not the sweet, blessed voice of the Blank God. He will corrupt you and your fellow, blessed followers if he continues to live. He must die. Evil must be destroyed. Fulfill your destiny and protect your fellow followers from the voice of corrupted lies from this evil. Kill him.’

Theren slowly walked out of my illusion and continued to stalk along the cliff edge – an arrow notched to his bow, ready to be released. His giant snake slithered alongside him. Balor stood at the edge of the cliff and the illusion – his battle axe ready to drink blood.

The robed man kicked the other two sleeping men awake.

‘Now! Before he corrupts your friends!’

“I hear the voice! I have been chosen!” the half-naked man shouted, holding his rock over his head. “You are deaf to the voice and will be punished!” He rushed forward and brought the rock down onto the robed man’s head. Blood sprayed the other two men and the robed man fell to his knees, holding his head.

“What are you doing!” the robed man shouted.

The half-naked man held up his rock once more, ready to strike – blind fanatical fury in his eyes reflected off the fire light.

More blood sprayed the two other men, not from the blow of a rock, but from the piecing hit of an arrow through the robed man’s gullet. The robed man’s eyes widened in shock and horror. He reached up to touch the tip of the bloodied arrow and pricked his finger. Blood oozed out of his mouth and nose like a river. He had a brief, painful moment of knowing he was going to die, and then fell on his face into the camp fire. The half-naked man stood still, stunned and bewildered at what just happened in front of him, his rock still over his head. The other two men looked up towards were the arrow came from.

“It’s about time!” Balor roared. With a single hand, he threw two throwing axes. One of the men was hit between the eyes, killing him instantly. The second axe stuck the other man in the chest, forcing him to keel over, throw up blood and die within seconds. The half-naked man dropped his rock in horror and turned around to run, only to be struck and bitten in the groin by the giant snake that slithered in silence behind him. Balor and Tamar rushed down the cliff side towards the campsite. I and my spirit familiar followed behind them.

“What the…” said a voice from inside the cave. But he didn’t have time to finish his thought as Theren’s giant snake, Sasha, reared up and bit the man in the face, killing him within seconds.

The four of us gathered around the campfire carnage. I instructed Malum to turn invisible and explore the cave.

‘Two more just ran past me towards you,’ Malum said, as she flew into the cave.

“Close your eyes!” I shouted, extending my arm to the cave. I began the vile incantation of my forefathers; the same language spoken by my ancestor, Daciana, who had learned it from the malicious forces of the dark side.

“Better do what he says,” Tamar said, turning her head and shutting her eyes tight.

Balor huffed covered his eyes with his hands.

“What do you mean…oh!” Theren saw the cloud of dark magic come forth from my hand and quickly closed his eyes.

I had pulled back the curtain of reality within the cave and allowed those inside a brief glimpse of the Umbra.

After a few seconds, Theren opened his eyes and entered the cave. He encountered two robed men, standing motionlessly and euphoric as if entranced by an invisible nymph of beauty. They ignored the elf in their state of bliss.

“What did you do to them?” Theren whispered, as he closely examined the two men.

‘There is someone else in here,’ I heard Malum say in my head. ‘But I cannot see him.’

“Watch out!” I shouted to Theren. “Something else is inside.”

Theren slit the throat of one of the frozen men and called for Balor. The two of them carefully carried the other petrified man out of the cave and hog tied him. For added security, Theren’s giant snake wrapped its body around the poor fool.

The four of us entered the cave together, ready for whatever was hidden.

Tamar started a chemical fire in one corner of the cave, hoping to root out whoever was hiding but nothing happened.

“By the god of fire, show yourself and face me!” Tamar bellowed.

Silence.

“Show yourself, friend,” I said. “We will not harm you. We only wish to talk.”

Again, silence.

“Coward. Your spell is too powerful, Gin. Whatever you did to him, he won’t break it,” Tamar growled. She moved further into the cave and stopped herself, as if she hit a wall.

Shimmering lights appeared in front of her and slowly flowed away like running water in a stream, revealing a giant of a man – Ormak. He stood there like the other two men, motionlessly and in a euphoric state of mind.

Tamar lifted her sword.

“Tamar! Wait! No!” I shouted but it was too late.

Her sword struck the giant and my spell was broken. Ormak woke to find himself surrounded by Tamar and Balor. I could feel a sense of doom that came from Ormak’s spirit. I wasn’t certain if I was genuinely intimidated and fearful of his presence or whether there was something else at play.

While the half-orc and dwarf fought the giant, I entered Ormak’s mind. I needed information. The first impression I got was his desire to escape. He didn’t want to fight. Whether he realized he was outmatched or had other pressing issues to attend to, I was not certain, but he desperately wanted out of the cave and to flee to the Mourntin Bogs. I needed more.

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