Ur-Delth

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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New Allies and Enemies

Gin’s Journal Entry, Day 33, Page 58

The fight didn’t last long. Balor aptly brought the creature down and pinned it to the ground. Several of the Osmarren guards rushed the restrained creature and attempted their own form of attack, if a bit clumsy. But it was Tamar who, having summoned her so-called divine power into her sword, struck the vile beast and killed it. The body exploded into green putrid gas.

And once again, we saved Osmarren.

As the dust settled and we investigated the creature, I learned that the thing was speaking telepathically to everyone else but me.

“It was screaming for us to give it the heretic or everyone was doomed,” Tamar said.

“Do we know who this heretic is?” Dosha Marl, the Dragonborn deputy, asked.

I rolled my eyes.

“Insane creatures do insane things,” Tamar said, looking at me. “Who knows what it really wanted.”

“Well, it’s dead now, so we can’t question it,” I said. “I suppose the best thing to do is get rid of this body before it starts to stink up the whole town.”

Balor, Tamar, and a handful of guards dragged the carcass out of the town, and to, what my clan used to call a Grim Holocaust – a massive and unending pyre for the dead.

I took this opportunity to speak privately with Hannah Truebeard in her office.

“You know it was looking for me, right?” I asked.

“That is what I assumed,” she said, sitting down at her desk. “And you still didn’t hear it, then?”

“No,” I replied, fiddling with my ring.

“Just like what happened with Ormak,” Hannah said, rubbing her eyes.

“I hope I’m not to the only one that sees the connection,” I said.

“You think Ormak was behind this?”

“It that a question?

Hannah slammed her fist on the desk. “Damnit. I knew there was something off about that giant.”

“What? The whole speaking into everyone’s head didn’t give you a clue?” I smirked.

“What are we to do then?”

“Well, I’ve considered going out and hunting him down…” I starting saying.

“But he is the voice of the Blank God.”

I sighed. “I seriously doubt he speaks for whatever god you people follow. He is a prevaricator. He speaks for himself. But I don’t know if looking for him right now would be the best course of action. I plan on starting the expedition in a few days.”

“Oh. Already?”

“Yes. So, maybe if we leave, Ormak will leave Osmarren alone. I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it and discuss it with Tamar.”

“Do what you think is best, Gin.”

Gin’s Journal Entry, Day 34, Page 60

The day after the attack, Osmarren had another visitor.

Hannah Truebeard summoned me to her office. Standing next to the dwarven constable was an elf. My clan would have called him a solus peregriner – a lone wanderer of the wilds. His hair was pulled back into a tail and his eyes showed that he had seen much torment. His clothes were dirty and his instruments of death appeared well-used. He had the look of a traveler who had been out under the green sky for far too long. At his feet was a giant snake. Neither he nor Hannah seemed to be bothered by its presence.

“Gin, this is Theren Nailo. He is one of our rangers who have just arrived. He’s been out in the wilderness for a long time and I think he has a story you might be interested in hearing,” Hannah said.

Theren bowed his head. “It is an honor,” he said. “Hannah told me what you and your friend have done for Osmarren. The people here are truly in your debt.”

For all his ruggedness, he was quite charming in his tone.

“A debt they will not have to pay back,” I said. “What is this story, then?”

“Yes. Hannah told me, also, that yesterday, Osmarren was attacked by a mysterious creature.”

“Some sort of undead beasty,” I added, “Never seen anything like it before.”

“That is what she said as well,” Theren continued. “A couple of days ago, I had rescued a mother and her children from the evils of the land. Their father had been killed and they were being preyed upon by the abominable undead. I took them under my charge and began to lead them back to safety – back to Osmarren.”

“That’s mighty nice of you,” I said. “Don’t see that type of altruism too often in people.”

“It is who I am. It is what I do.”

I had to resist a fit of laughter.

“As we traveled,” Theren continued, “We came upon a cave, perhaps a day’s travel from here. We heard strange sounds and lights coming from this cave. It first sounded like chanting and humming, and there were sounds of chimes and drums. Strange colored lights would flash forth from the entrance of the cave. Because of my charge, I feared to approach and investigate. I did not want to put them in any unnecessary danger.”

“That’s sensible,” I said.

“I tried to hurry my charge past the cave in silence, but then we heard a most vile and horrid scream. It sounded like a great beast in the throes of death. It was night at the time, but I saw that something had flown out of the cave and into the darkness of the sky. It was quick and nimble, and I could not tell what it was. But I did note that it appeared to fly towards the same direction I and my charge were heading towards – to Osmarren.”

“Ah, yes,” I grinned, “And you think this thing was the same creature that attacked us yesterday?”

“It is too coincidental to be a coincidence.”

I liked this elf already.

“And you say this cave is a day’s march from here?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“And you can lead me to this cave?”

“Of course.”

“Good,” I gripped my staff. “Hannah, Tamar and I will go to this cave. I can’t, in good conscience, leave Osmarren with the idea that there is a dark necromancer priest on the edge of this city.”

“Take Balor as well,” she said.

“As you wish.”

“But, he’s the voice of the Blank God,” Hannah whispered in disbelief.

“More like the voice of the undead,” I said.

“You mean Ormak?” Theren interjected. “Hannah told me of him and about his presence here. So you do believe it was him then?”

“Only one way to find out.”

“Yes, that is true. But it truly is disturbing that a holy man would perform such a sacrilegious act.”

“He’s capable of many other things,” I added

“You mean his ability to speak to the minds of those around him? Yes, that is disturbing too.”

‘_Like this_,’ I said to Theren, in his mind.

That jolted the solus peregriner into a bit of a shock response. He stared at me with wide eyes, with a bit of malice. His snake hissed.

“I apologize,” I said with a smirk. “It was not meant to offend, but show that Ormak is not unique. Anyway, when can you be ready to leave?”

“I can leave now, if need be.”

“Then we leave in an hour.”

I left the tent office and gathered Tamar and Balor to inform them of our next adventure.

I realized Tamar and I couldn’t leave, not yet. My very presence here had caused more trouble for these people than what the Sahuagin had. Even if I left, I believe Ormak and his cronies would attack Osmarren and who knew what he would do to the people he felt were heretics. And based on yesterday’s attack, the Osmarren guard would be no match for Ormak’s dark magic. The expedition would have to wait a couple more days. We were off to slaughter a cult. My grandfather would be so proud.

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A New Beginning?

Gin’s Journal Entry, Day 33, Page 51

We continued marching along the coast line without further incident and, by mid-afternoon, we arrived at the slippery flight of steps chiseled into the cliff walls that led up to Osmarren. After some difficulty climbing the stairs and entering the city proper, we were greeted by Constable Hannah Truebeard. She was overjoyed to see that we had returned and more so when she saw Balor in our company.

“But weren’t there two others with you?” she asked.

“They’re dead,” I replied, almost callously.

“My kitty is dead!” Tamar bellowed, on the verge of tears.

“Well, Eki, the cat fellow, is most certainly dead,” I mumbled, “but at least we have that dagger he took from us.”

“And the pretty elf girl?” Hannah asked.

“Not really sure, exactly,” I continued. “She disappeared in the chaos and we never saw her again. I can only assume she was crushed under the ship.”

“She turned into a toad,” Tamar added.

“A toad?” Hannah was confused.

“It’s a long story,” I said, “but rest assured, the Sahuagin are no more.”

“The Sahuagin are gone?” Hannah asked, excitement in her voice.

“They shouldn’t be bothering Osmarren anytime soon,” I said. “Their leader, along with their nest, is destroyed.”

“That’s wonderful news!” Hannah cheered. “Please, come with me. You must tell me everything.”

She led us through the city and to her private office. There I gave a recounting of our adventure with Merrill, the exploration of the giant ship, the battles that ensued with the Sahuagin, and the aftermath.

“Incredible,” Hannah said. “All of Osmarren will now have a good reason to celebrate the Blank God’s Blessing Day. Although the priestess Nathairue is lost to us, this news of the Sahuagin will revive the people’s morale.”

“The Blank God’s Blessing Day?” I asked. I had forgotten.

“Yes, our yearly festival to encourage Amenoth to awaken and return to us.”

I was never proficiently familiar with Amenoth and the common people’s belief in that unknown deity. My clan had no concern for such a god. My clan were Sentinels of the Umbra. We had concerns far greater than worrying about some silent god that seemed to have no care for world.

Hannah continued and told us that a new priest, Ormak, would be arriving in Osmarren within the hour, to replace Nathairue and begin the official celebration. She invited us to witness the new priest’s arrival and partake in the festival.

Tamar and Balor were eager to participate, but Happi declined, saying she had private business to attend to. I had no real interest in seeing another silly little man, pretending that he knew the will of his god, and force that made-up will on the simple minds of the common folk. But I had other tasks at hand and I didn’t want to be impolite. I agreed to come.

The whole community came to see the new priest. The road through the city and to the temple was clear and the people stood, knelt, or lay flat on their face on the curb, in silence and prayer in anticipation of their new priest.

I could sense a slight discomfort from Tamar. This was not the same god she had devoted her life to. Balor seemed to fit in with the people. But that was no surprise as he was from this city. I, on the other hand, was mildly interested and bemused by the entire hubbub, my only reaction being to roll my eyes.

The great gates of Osmarren opened and a procession of men robed in black marched through the gates, their arms locked at their chests and heads bowed. They made no sound as they slowly walked the road to the temple. The community was silent as they watched in reverence. At the end of the procession, four robed men pulled a small, wooden cart, gilded in shiny, white stones and sea shells. Standing on the cart was a huge, ten-foot tall man, of the goliath race, dressed in a red robe, covered in jewelry made of sea shells, and had a thick hide mask that wrapped around his bald head and covered his mouth. His eyes were black and all continued to be silent, expect for the barely audible sounds of the cart moving along the road. This was Ormak.

Once the goliath arrived at the temple, followed by the community, he turned to the people and gave a speech.

“Listen and live … We are not alone…”

I placed my hand in my pocket and slipped my ring on my finger. All went silent. Ormak, the goliath priest, had spoken to my mind and I did not give him permission. The priest moved his arms and head as if he continued speaking and all the people looked to him in reverence. I realized then that he was speaking to all of them telepathically. This felt wrong.

“Can you hear him, Tamar,” I asked. She only grunted.

“What’s he saying? I can’t hear a thing.”

“Be quiet,” she said. “He’s talking to me in my head.”

“And you think that’s normal,” I mumbled.

I had enough.

“Hey!” I shouted, breaking the silence in the city. “I can’t hear you!”

Everyone turned to look at me. The goliath’s body movements stopped and his eyes turned toward me.

“What are you saying?!” I continued shouting. “You have something around your mouth! That could be you’re problem there! Or is that some sort of sign language you’re using?! I don’t understand sign language!”

The goliath continued with his hand motions and a couple of the black-robed men began to walk towards me.

“What’s he saying, Tamar?” I asked her again.

“He’s talking about his god and how everyone shouldn’t drink and dance and stuff. Now be quiet.”

“What?!” I shouted. “He’s telling everyone to be chaste? I didn’t hear him!”

The robed men finally approached me and whispered, “His Reverence is speaking. Please be silent.”

“But I can’t hear him,” I said. “He’s not saying anything. He has something over his mouth.”

“His reverence will speak to you in private, once he is finished. But in the meantime, please, show some respect and be silent.”

I shrugged, continuing to fake my ignorance, and stayed silent. The robed men walked back to their priest.

Later in the day, I learned from Tamar what exactly Ormak said in his telepathic speech:

" Listen and live … We are not alone here on Ur-Delth. The Blank God is always with us. He always has been and he always will be. He is the only one left that believes in us. The only one that believes we are worthy of the paradise stripped from us. But you have been lied to by those before me that claimed to know the will of Amenoth. Yes, he does not hear our words. Yes, he does not answer our cries for help. Words and cries have no meaning to him. But he does know our thoughts. He does know our minds. And he does know our spirits. And he is our judge. No matter what words we say, no matter what we do in our lives to regain the humility needed for the Blank God to deem us worthy of approval, he can see deep into each of us. He knows if a man who helps another secretly covets that man’s wife. He knows if a woman who speaks kindly to another secretly despises that woman. Festivals, loud praise and revelry will not awaken the Blank God. Amenoth is already awake. He always has been. Your Blank God’s Blessing Day is a farce. A lie all the others before me have been telling you. A lie that has kept Ur-Delth from regaining Amenoth’s blessing. If you truly want the Blank God to hear you, you must embrace his silence. You must clear your thoughts and your spirit from the darkness of Ur-Delth. You must accept the way of The Blank God’s Voice. We begin today. On this new Blessing Day, you should not participate in festivities. You should not participate in loud revelry. You should all spend the day in contemplation, looking inward. Asking yourselves… are you truly following a path of humility worthy of The Blank God’s Blessing? Are you contributing to the return of the gods to Ur-Delth? Or are you keeping them away? Because if you are repulsive to Amenoth, you are repulsive to the other gods, repulsive to me and everybody else around you. Listen and live… it will be a new day soon on Ur-Delth. Whether you witness it or not is your choice. I am Ormak, The Blank God’s Voice, and I am done speaking."

After Ormak had finished his sermon, his entourage once again approached me and Tamar and asked us to follow them to temple. We were to have an audience with Ormak. They led us to a small sanctum to the side of the main chapel within the tent temple. There, Ormak stood in the center of what looked to be a small study, surrounded by his robed men. Ormak was still gagged and his eyes closed.

“Hello,” I said with a smile. “I’m Gin Okami of the Okami Clan and this giant of a woman, is my friend, Tamar.”

One of the robed men spoke, in a low monotone voice: “This is his reverence, Ormak, Voice of the Blank God. He would like to know why you disturbed his most holy of sermons?”

“Well,” I said, “I couldn’t hear him.” I kept my eyes on Ormak. I had a feeling the goliath was using the robed man as a medium to speak through. I pitied these fools following the giant. They were nothing but empty shells and puppets to him.

“And why couldn’t you hear him?”

“I have no idea,” I shrugged. “Maybe I’m special.”

“All are the same in the eyes of the Blank God.”

“Apparently not,” I added, “My friend here says you spoke to her in her head. But I didn’t hear anything. I guess your god doesn’t like me.”

“If you cannot hear the words of the Blank God, there is a reason, and we would like to know that reason.”

“As would I,” I lied. Again I shrugged. “Like I said, I heard nothing. Whatever power you or your god has, it has no effect on me.”

“It is not Ormak’s power, but a gift from the Blank God.”

“Yes, yes. But it is a neat trick you have there. “

“It is no trick.”

“Still, all the same, I’m curious how exactly you learned to tap into the heads of a whole community. That’s not an easy thing to do.”

“It is not a trick. It is the power of the Blank God, the one and true god of Ur-Delth.”

“Not my god,” Tamar huffed. “I serve the great Fire God who will vanquish all evil!”

The robed man replied, “The Fire God is a servant of Amenoth and obeys his authority.”

Tamar didn’t look convinced.

“While this theological debate is amusing, I’m not sure we’re getting anywhere with this,” I chuckled.

“Gin Okami, of the Okami Clan, and Tamar, you may leave now. But know this, the Blank God is always watching you and knows all.”

Tamar left the room abruptly. As I was about to leave, I turned my head to Ormak.

‘So your Blank God likes seeing me when I touch myself?’ This, I said telepathically to the mind of Ormak.

That got his attention. He immediately opened his eyes and bustled in, furrowing his brow in what appeared to be disgust.

I finally made eye contact with the giant, then winked, smirked, and quickly left the temple.

The majority of Osmarrenites didn’t heed Ormak’s ominous sermon and proceeded to commence with the festival as planned. Music filled the air. Games were played. People laughed and cheered. Food and drinks were aplenty. Had I not been so exhausted from the past few days, hell, few months, I would have enjoyed the festival much more. But I decided to sleep, heading to the Sea Inn. It was nice to see Tallalia doing well for herself and living in safety.

Tamar and Balor decided to enjoy the festival. Tamar took advantage of the pleasures of the flesh at the local brothel, choosing a somewhat rough-looking brunette elf women to cavort with indoors and out. Balor, for his part, gambled and drank himself into oblivion to ease the pain of the loss of his wife.

All of us have lost so much….and it was time for that to end.

I awoke the next morning with one of Ormak’s robed men standing in my room. I slowly reached to my side and gripped my Staff of the Umbra. He pulled out a scroll from within his robe and placed it on the vanity table. He bowed his head and disappeared in a puff of smoke.

Jumping out of bed, I ran to the door and saw no one in the hallway. Walking back into my room, I read the scroll:

Gin Okami, of the Okami Clan.

You are a Heretic and will be treated as such. Osmarren is in danger while you remain here. Your deafness to the Blank God’s Voice will herald doom for you and those around you. Amenoth knows your thoughts no matter how well you think you keep them hidden and he will punish you for them.

Yours in silence, Ormak, The Blank God’s Voice

I sighed, shoving the scroll in one of my sacks.

That morning, I met with the leaders of Osmarren: Galen, Hannah Truebeard, and Dosha Marl. I explained every detail of my plan and tried to convince them that it was in the best interest of Osmarren to sponsor the expedition. I told them that for three weeks, we would need to gather supplies such as food, water, clothes, and whatever else that would be needed. During that time, Merrill would complete his ship alterations and we would ready ourselves for the trip. I even showed them the strange vegetation Merrill found as proof that the expedition could be worthwhile. They were at first hesitant, but once Balor offered himself to act as liaison on Osmarren’s behalf, they agreed to sponsor us.

The next step was to convince the Osmarrenite merchants to support us by offering the supplies we would need. Oddly enough, that task was much easier than I originally thought. Something came over me and I masterfully persuaded the merchants to support us and the expedition.

Everything was in motion, and now, all we had to do was wait.

For three weeks, Tamar, Balor and I were to get a much needed holiday. I spent most of my time befriending the people of Osmarren with my stories, music, and magic. It was nice retelling the tales of my people and the legends of the Sentinels. It had been so long since I had done such things, I feared I might have forgotten the stories passed down to me. But those stories do not come from the memory of my people but are a part of our blood. Tamar and Balor, on the other hand, took those weeks to help train the Osmarren guards in martial combat.

During those weeks, once a day, I would reconnect with Malum to get a status update. Near the end of the third week, Malum found a discovery and I ran to find Tamar and Balor. I found them in the mess hall for the soldiers.

“You were on fire,” Balor said to the half-orc. They were sitting at a table, finished with their meal. “But you were not burning. I tried to pull you out, but the flames were too hot. How did you survive? What happened?”

“My god spoke to me,” Tamar said.

“What did your god say?”

“I feel we will be leaving soon and my god said there is a place I need to go.”

“Tamar! Balor!” I shouted as I entered the mess hall. “Malum found land!”

“Really? What did she find?” Balor asked.

“It wasn’t what I had originally hoped, but I guess beggars can’t be choosers. What she saw was a land mass filled with giant jagged rocks along the shore, as high as towers and sharp as swords. Hundreds of them shielded the coast line. But growing on those rocks were plants I have never seen. And all around were birds, flying to and fro from those rocks. There was light. The sky was green, but not as dark as here.”

“That sounds familiar,” Tamar interjected.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“It is nothing. Continue.”

“Anyway, Malum went further inland and saw a massive man-made tower amongst the rocks. Flying around the tower was a great beast that reminded me of dragons from the legends I’ve read in my people’s story books.”

“A dragon?!” Balor exclaimed. “Nonsense.”

“I saw it with my own eyes, Balor. It was real. And riding the great, flying beast, like someone riding a horse, was a person clad in armor. It flew down in the mist of the jagged rocks and Malum followed. The dragon and rider went into a waterfall and disappeared before Malum could catch up. But she found, behind the waterfall, a massive stone door as big as ten Tamars. But sadly, it was shut and Malum could not pass through. But do you know what this means?”

“Merrill was right then,” Balor said, “there is land out there.”

“More than that,” I said, “there is life out there – a world of people beyond our own. There are other people, other communities, and cities, surviving. I did not see any undead.”

“What was that?!” Tamar spat. She stood up and drew her great sword.

“What’s wrong, Tamar?” I was shocked by her sudden outburst.

Balor stood up and took his weapon in hand as well. “Someone doesn’t like you, Gin.”

“What are you talking about?”

Tamar and Balor ran out of the mess hall, ready for battle.

“What in the Nine Hells is going on?” I followed my companions out. On top of the crushed tent temple was a giant man-like creature. It had the body of a man or woman but the head of a goat’s skull. It had black feathered wings and long, gnarly clawed hands. Putrid green smoke surrounded its body.

“I suppose the holiday is over now…”

View
A Glimmer of Hope

Gin’s Journal Entry, Day 32, Page 44

Merrill led us into his cavern where he had a fire pit and food ready for us. Scattered about the cavern were shelves, tables, and boxes of odd tools, metal scraps, and mechanical instruments of unknown purpose. Happi and Tamar ate greedily while Balor wept and only nibbled at his food. The news of his wife’s death had only begun to sink in for the dwarf. Badell comforted his dwarven friend as best as he could – in silence. I was tired, but wasn’t hungry and politely refused Merrill’s generous offer of food. I had too many other things on my mind to worry about eating.

‘Are we returning to the monastery now?’ a voice said in my mind. It was Krallak, the crazy wizard whom we met at the Starwind Monastery a while ago who now took up residence within my skull.

I grunted and shook my head in agitation. Tamar noticed me, shrugged and kept eating.

‘You’re finished here,’ Krallak continued. ‘You promised to return and repair my telescope. We must return.’

“Maybe,” I mumbled. I opened my sack and took out all of the scrolls and books I had collected during my travels.

‘But we must return. You promised. What about the halfling? He looks like he could fix my telescope.’

“Enough,” I hissed a bit too loudly. The others stopped and turned to me, expecting me to talk. I ignored them and continued to file through my books and scrolls. Again Tamar shrugged and kept eating.

“Ignore him,” she said to the others. “He’s like that.”

I got up and walked away from the group, finding myself a secluded corner of the cavern. I needed peace and quiet while I studied.

‘We must go back to the monastery. We must observe the Heaven Rock.’

‘What year do you think it is?’ I finally asked Krallak, mentally.

‘What year? That’s a silly question.’

‘Just answer the question,’ I said, a bit forcefully.

‘Why, it’s year 47-3 of Chiron.’

‘And was the sky pale green and cloaked with thick clouds of darkness?’ I asked.

‘What nonsense are you talking about?’ Krallak seemed indignant.

‘And did you have a fabled sun high above your heads during the day and see legions of stars at night? Was there a blue sky that mirrored a blue ocean?’ I continued.

‘What kind of questions are these. Of course. The sun and star…’

‘Krallak,’ I interrupted, ‘You’ve been dead for a very long time. The sun, the stars, and a blue sky are myths to my people; only stories passed on from generation to the next generation. There is no sun, no stars, and the sky only glows sickly pale or dark green to show the passing of the day.’

‘Gobbledygook!’ Krallak hissed.

‘That year you gave me means nothing to me. My people have no sense of time anymore, only periods of ages from one generation to next. We follow no numbered years anymore.’

‘You make no sense, Gin. You’re mad.’

‘That, I won’t argue with, but you’re further along the road of madness than me.’

‘I’m not mad. We must return to the monastery at once. It will all make sense. We just need to repair…’

‘Enough!’ I shouted in my mind. ‘You are dead, Krallak. I’m not the most intelligent man of my clan, but any person with two stones in their head would know that you’ve been dead for a very long time from an age long forgotten. You are a myth.’

‘Stop this, Gin. You’re insane. I’m not dead. I’m not a myth. I’m talking to you right now. Proof I’m not dead. We must return…’

‘And fix that blasted machine of yours?’

‘Yes.’

‘It is beyond repair, you fool. From what I saw, it lay shattered into a thousand pieces about that big room and probably out into the countryside where thieves plundered it and the undead dragged it. There is nothing left of it except for a husk.’

‘And that’s why we need that halfling. He could fix…’

I removed the ring. I had enough of the pointless argument. For whatever reason, Krallak’s mind was trapped; frozen in a single state of space and time. There was nothing I could do to convince him. I then began to study the various books and scrolls I had collected.

One particular book, Krallak’s personal journal, was of interest. It recounted his studies at the monastery. The first two-thirds of the journal was dull and boring; writings about what he ate, notes on his telescope project, philosophical disagreements with fellow monks, his struggle with celibacy, painful urination and bowel movements, and skin rashes and warts. He wasn’t the most interesting person in life.

It wasn’t until I had reached the last third of the journal that his story piqued my interest. He wrote about a new object in the sky he discovered, something he called the Heaven Rock:

‘I saw a new white dot in the sky tonight. I swear it wasn’t there before. I have no record of it in any of my maps or catalogues. It is not much bigger than the tip of a pin. It must be a new star and nothing more. Peculiar, but nothing of profound note. I’m sure Ardamus would find it interesting. I recorded the finding and shuffled it away.’

Four months later:

‘Tonight, I noticed that odd dot I had discovered four months ago has a subtle purple hue around the circumference. I do not think it to be a star anymore. A meteor or a comet? It has captured my attention now.’

Three months later:

‘That same dot has grown ten times its original size now. Incredible! It now glows purple! Purple! It’s a purple meteor! My brothers and I have never seen anything like it before and none of our records have anything similar to it. What a time to be alive.’

The journal skips to two months later:

‘Each day that damn purple rock has grown ever larger. I am convinced it is heading towards us, like a speeding arrow in the night. Ardamus disagrees and believes it to be a simple comet that will pass by us like a gentle wind. The common people are starting to create religious ideas about the purple rock, forming pockets of cults and sects all across the land. They believe it to be a blessed omen from the gods to bring in a new age of prosperity and wealth. I am not convinced. Truth be told, I am beginning to be disturbed by the rock.’

A month later:

‘Something is wrong. No. Everything is wrong. The people have given the purple rock a name: the Heaven Rock. To them, it is not just an omen anymore, but the hand of the gods in physical form, coming to bring everyone eternal life, or some such rabble. It’s nonsense, all of it. Even my brothers are now caught up in the fervor. People are giving their wealth and homes away, and living in mud huts to sanctify their bodies with nature. Some people have formed flagellation cults, whipping and piercing themselves on sensitive parts of their bodies to experience their last moments of pain in life. And others have formed cults of sexual debauchery the likes of which I do not want to recall. The world has gone mad and that damn Heaven Rock comes ever closer. It is almost as big as the moon. How can it move as such speed? Less than half a year ago, it was only a tiny dot.’

A week later:

‘My brothers are calling me a heretic. Why? Because I question the Heaven Rock and the sanity of the people’s behavior? One of my brothers, who still likes me, told me that a few mayors and lords are petitioning to the king to have me executed. What madness! What have I done except pose a contrary question to their belief? The sky is purple now.’

The last entry recorded no date:

‘We are all in danger. The Heaven Rock is not a blessing or eternal life. It is death and I cannot convince anyone. It is not slowing down. My brothers refuse to look through the telescope to see what I see. They think me a heretic and blasphemer. I have sinned by looking at the Heaven Rock with my sinful telescope. If it was not for Forshenill, I would be dead by now; hanged and my entrails wrapped around a tree. (Forshenill does not believe as the others do, but he is not as vocal about it as I am. I told him he should leave the monastery as soon as possible and find somewhere safe, before the Heaven Rock arrives.) To appease the gods and the Heaven Rock, my monk brothers have decided to break apart the telescope. It is almost worse than death. They have locked me in the observation tower with the broken remains of my life project, and I am helpless to stop them. But I fear it is all meaningless now. What I saw…. What were those flying horrifying monsters around the rock? The Heaven Rock will hit Delthrand in two days. I believe the coordinates will be 65.16/-0.57, between Syrill and Pyrenesse.’

I quickly grabbed my map of Delthrand and found the coordinates. Then I took out another scroll I had found in my travels. This one spoke about a teleportation device that took travelers to the site of the Heaven Rock’s landing. It gave the coordinates of 133.75/-12.32, which pointed to a place called Doomtooth Crags. It was close to the Kingdom of Selz.

All of this was interesting, but pointless. What good was any of this information? And then I noticed the part of the map called Urdelthia.

I replaced the ring on my finger.

‘…And that is why we must return.’ Krallak said. Apparently he never realized I had taken the ring off and continued talking.

‘Krallak, quick question.’

‘Another question? Pertaining to the Heaven Rock?’

‘Of sorts. Krallak, what are the coordinates of the monastery according to this Delthrand map I found at your observation?’

‘What do you need that…’

‘Just answer the question, damn you.”

‘Very well, it is 140/25.’

‘Thank you,’ I slipped the ring off and put it in my pocket.

“Merrill,” I said, standing up and out of my corner.

Merrill stopped his tinkering and pulled off his spectacles to peer at me. “Yes, yes, Gin. You looked so intent with your notes, I didn’t want to disturb you. Your friends went up and are sleeping. How can I help? This is so exciting, isn’t it? We’re off on a grand adventure. Yes, yes.”

“Merrill, let me ask you, how exactly do you know there are lands beyond ours? What evidence do you have?”

Merrill jumped up off his stool, clapping his hands in glee. “Oh, oh, oh. I have these.” He grabbed a small sack from a shelf and pulled out strange fruits of the like I have never seen. They were red, orange, and blue in color and were soft and ball-like.

“There’s nothing like ’em here on Ur-Delth. So they must be from a different land, yes?” Merrill smiled.

“But how did you get these things?”

“Oh, I sent out my flying devices.”

“Eh?” I tilted my head.

“These things,” Merrill grabbed another sack from a shelf and took out a small metal sphere with two wiry wings, and tiny metal claw. From a distance, it could look like a bird.

“It took three weeks, but it came back with these things. I sent 15 of them out, and only two of them came back.”

I held the small contraption and examined it closely. It was impressive.

“Question for you Merrill. Would you be able to send this thing out again, following its previous flight path?”

Merrill thought for a moment, rubbing his chin. “I don’t know. I’m not sure where it went or how it came back. Like I said, 13 of them never returned.”

“But do you think you can try?” I asked.

“Well, I suppose. But why?”

“Merrill, I know you’re excited about traveling to a different part of the world, but we need to prepare first.”

“What are you talking about?” Merrill scoffed. “I can get these binding discs on by morning and we can…”

“No,” I interrupted. “Merrill, we can’t do that. We’re not ready.”

“What do you mean?”

“First, we need to know where exactly we’re going.”

“That doesn’t…”

“Which direction, Merrill?” I interrupted again, with a bit more force in my voice. “North? South? East? West? Are we just going to follow The Serpent and hope for the best? What if this bird-thing of yours never followed the Serpent? What if the others followed the Serpent and got themselves caught and eaten?”

“Well, um, I guess…” Merrill seemed disappointed.

“Plus, you just said it took three weeks for your bird-thing to return. Do you have enough food and water to be on your boat for that long? Enough for me, Tamar, and yourself? Is your ship big enough for that much food, water, and sleeping quarters?”

“Oh, well, I never really thought about it that way.” Merrill admitted.

“No, we must prepare. First, I want you to work this bird-thing and try to get it to follow the same flight path it took before.”

“But why?”

“When you release it, I will have Malum follow it.”

“Malum?”

The small shrike appeared on my shoulder.

“Oh,” Merrill gasped.

“Malum will stay in contact with me and when they return, we will have an idea of where to go and how to get there.”

“I see, that, that, could work,” again Merrill admitted.

“So, for the next three weeks, while your mechanical bird and Malum are gone, this is what we need to do: first, you will finish your binding disc task, but also you will need to refit the ship to make it bigger so that we can haul at least three weeks worth of rations and water for at least five people, and a place for people to sleep and be out of the danger from the wilds of nature.”

“But where are we going to get that much food?”

“I will talk to the mayor or leader of Osmarren and convince them to sponsor us. But don’t worry about that. You focus on your end and I’ll work on mine. First, get your bird-thing working again.”

“Right, right. I’ll have it ready by morning.”

I went up to the sleep quarters to speak with Tamar. Balor was grieving outside the room. I motioned for him to follow me. With everyone awake, I explained my plan.

“We have a glimmer of hope,” I said. “A chance to find a new world for ourselves – for everyone. A world where the dead stay dead and the living live on in peace. Where the myths are true – a sun in the sea of blue sky and a dark night not covered in a cloak of clouds but littered with the legions of sprinkling dots called stars. A world where fruit grows above ground – plentiful, fresh, and healthy, and only need be plucked by fingers. A world where children can run and play in the fields and forests, without fear of being torn apart by a lich and its undead minions. Is that worth a chance? All we need do is try and fight for it.”

Tamar agreed with my plan. Balor even agreed, wanting to come on the expedition. He even suggested that he could act as a liaison for Osmarren to help convince the mayor to sponsor us. Happi wasn’t exactly sure she wanted to risk her life in a crazy scheme such as mine. But I reminded her that we would wait for three weeks, and if she wanted to come, she was welcome.

In the morning, Merrill released the newly programmed bird-thing and I instructed Malum to follow in pursuit, invisible. The sphere went up and up and up, disappearing in the thick green, clouds above.

Tamar, Balor, Happi, Badell, and I headed back to Osmarren….and of course we had to bump into a bunch of undead fish monsters that wanted us for lunch…

My resolve to save the people of Ur-Delth grew.

View
Fighting the Current

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

Gin, Tamar, Happi and Baylor continued on their way toward the shore of Ur-Delth after destroying the Sahuagin stronghold and retrieving the binding discs housed in an ancient ship. Tamar drove Merrill’s mechanical walker and towed the pinnace containing Gin, Happi and Balor through The Serpent.

Gin began questioning the two they had helped rescue from the Sahuagin. Baylor related that he was part of the Osmarren guard and was captured by the Sahuagin during a raid. Happi told a tale about searching for her friend, Kymos, before being captured by the same devil fish. Happi then reported that she spotted something in the water that seemed to be following them.

Still a ways from the shore, the walker finally gasped, spilled a dark fluid into the water and began smoking. Tamar, Happi and Balor jumped into the water, while Gin flew into the air. As soon as they entered the water, strange ray-like creatures attacked. Tamar took her sword to the creatures as Baylor and Happi did their best to maintain footing in the swift current of The Serpent while battling. Gin rained down tendril blasts from his perch above the fray and eventually all the beasts were destroyed. Happi and Baylor eventually overcame the current and everybody made it back to shore.

Once there, they were greeted by an overjoyed Merrill. The old halfling lamented the loss of Eki and Rein, but was glad to have the binding discs and pleased when Tamar trudged into The Serpent’s Lair to retrieve his pinnace. Gin suggested food and rest and Merrill began leading them all to his abode…

View
A Sinking Ship

Gin’s Journal Entry, Day 32, Page 43

The sound of thunder echoed. Peering out of the hull, we saw that an elemental storm had approached and would be upon us soon. An elemental storm was not what I expected nor wanted at the time. While they tend to be quick and passing within minutes, they are destructive and dangerous. And if you were unlucky, an Elemental would take form and cause more havoc. My clan called them blight storms. When we saw them approach our encampment, the clan would all gather together in a circle with the clan leader, the Ecclesiastic, in the center. The Ecclesiastic would summon a force field that would encase the clan and protect them from the storm and Elementals. That would have been one of the many roles I would have performed as the future clan leader, but all of that was gone now.

So, not only did we have to attend with a deteriorating ship, possible undead rising from the recently killed fish buggers, and perhaps hidden fish buggers still lingering around, but now we also had an approaching storm blight.

The side of the hull continued to deteriorate and crumple apart. A flash of green lightening blinded me for a moment, only to be followed by a deafening sound of thunder. The ship shook and tipped once more. I lost my footing and fell to the floor, and began to slide towards the huge opening in the hull. I had the presence of mind to grip my feet to the floor and stopped myself from falling through. The dwarf wasn’t so lucky. He fell to the ground along with me and slid down through the hole, disappearing in the darkness below. More debris fell from the floors above, following the dwarf.

Balor!” the horned woman screamed. The dwarf did not reply.

Again, the ship rumbled and I used that momentum to lift myself up and flip back onto my feet.

“We need to get out of here now!” I shouted.

“What about Balor and Rein?” Tamar asked.

“We have no time, Tamar,” I said. “We need to think of ourselves.”

“Take this,” I said, tossing a flask filled with cloudy green liquid to the horned woman. “You’ll need it to breathe underwater.”

She grabbed it midair, still looking down into the hole of darkness. “Balor,” she whispered.

“Come with us and live,” I said to her, uncorking a flask of my own and swallowing the contents. “Or wallow in your pity for your friend and die with him; your choice.”

“Meet up on the sand bar!” I yelled to Tamar. I ran and dove through the hull’s hole and into the ocean. Tamar and the horned woman followed.

Multiple bolts of green lightening lit the bleak sky, illuminating the dark waters below. The waves splashed and churned with such force that even the strongest of swimmers would have been overpowered. The flask I drank gave me the ability to breathe underwater and I dove deep into The Serpent’s Lair, but instead of fighting against waves and wind, I had to contend with The Serpent itself. Strength was what was needed to push through what felt like a stone wall pressing against me. For every yard I swam, I felt like I was pushed two yards back. Every inch of my muscles were used to press through the current. My will to survive forced me forward.

Tamar had the most difficulty swimming through the harsh current. While underwater, I turned around and saw that she was slowly being sucked out into the ocean proper. I swam to her, grabbed a hold of her arm, and helped her swim to the barge. Having to swim through the deadly current for myself was hard enough, but having to help a giant like Tamar was a whole other experience that would give the strongest man in Ur-Delth a run for his money. But somehow, I was able to help and save her.

The dark waters and rain had nearly swallowed the sand bar and the ship continued to crumble and tip to its side, but we saw the water walker and the pinnace were still intact. Some of the ship’s debris had fallen and pinned down one of the water walker’s legs, preventing the winds and waves from pulling it out into the sea.

We struggled to swim and crawl on the sand bar with the wind and rain biting us like a thousand knives. I pulled myself into the pinnace and the horned woman followed me into the boat. Tamar swam to the water walker and lifted the debris that pinned it. She pulled the large walker to the sand bar and walked onto what was left of the sandy surface desperately looking around through the wind, rain, and lightning.

“Where are Balor and Rein?!” she shouted.

“I don’t know, Tamar,” I replied, “but we need to leave!”

“No!” the half-orc yelled. “I will not leave friends behind.”

“Friends?!” I snapped back. The ship moaned and toppled over and thunder echoed around us. “I don’t know this dwarf and neither do you. If the dwarf is still alive, he’s on his own. We don’t have time. And I don’t know where Rein is. Right now, we need to go before more trouble…” And before I could finish, trouble arrived.

Bolts of green lightening struck from the sky, illuminating two huge crab-like creatures with massive pincers for arms emerging from the ocean and crawling onto the sand bar. Tamar growled, baring her short tusks at the creatures and rushed towards them. The horned woman jumped out of the boat and joined Tamar.

In the rain and wind, Tamar and the horned woman fought the crab creatures, slashing their blades through the walls of water around them. But their weapons barely scratched the hard shell surface of the beasts. The crab creatures took a hold of the women and pinned them with their giant pincers. Tamar and the horned woman found themselves grappled and unable to move. They felt the pincers slowly crushing the life out of them.

“By the Nine Hells!” I exclaimed. I opened the portal to the Umbra and released the green tendrils of force upon the creatures, but it did nothing to help the women. And then I saw a third body slowly emerge from the sea. I was ready to release more tendrils on this third visitor, thinking it was another crab creature. My eyes focused on the churning waters through the harsh rain and wind. For a moment, I began to think that everything we had done thus far was all for nothing, only to be bested by two insignificant giant crabs.

And with a mighty roar, a vigorous and angry dwarf burst out of the surface of the waters; rain and wind pelting against his bare chest and as lightning flashed in the sky, illuminating his glinting skin. His wet hair blew in the wind and his black eyes revealed his intent to bring death and destruction. He looked like a dwarven god of war of legend that had emerged from the realm of the dead. It was Balor.

The angry dwarf roared again, lifting his giant stone axe above his head, and rushed to the crab creature that held the horned woman. He swung the axe down upon the crab creature with such force and fury like none I have ever seen. The impact of the axe against the crab’s shell back cracked and echoed as loud as the thunder around us. The shell split in two, exposing the creature’s flesh. The shock of pain forced it to release the horned woman and I took the opportunity to release more tendrils upon the beast. The green flash of tendrils struck the exposed flesh, splashing blood, muscles, and entrails onto the raging dwarf, killing the crab creature.

The last crab creature, seeing its companion killed, ran

In a single continuous motion, Balor used his momentum to swing his axe to the side and bash it against the leg of the other crab creature that held Tamar, involuntarily releasing Tamar from its grip. The crab creature spun around to face its new opponent and Balor roared in its face. I released more tendrils at the beast while Tamar and the horned woman attacked from the rear. With the intense pain of the assaults from its back, the creature stopped for a moment, in shock, and that gave Balor the opening to swing his mighty axe once more and cracked open its head. Blood, chitin, and brain matter oozed splattered across the dwarf’s face and chest, and I saw a hint of a smirk on his lips.

The blight storm had passed and, with a loud crash, the ship had finally toppled onto its side and stopped its self destruction.

I leaned back on the edge of the pinnace and gave out a long sigh.

“Can we go now?” I asked, not so much as a question but more of an expectation.

The horned woman hugged her dwarven friend, joyous that he wasn’t lost or dead.

“I’m alright,” Balor reassured her, beating his chest. “Not even a giant steel ship can take me down,” he bellowed out with a laugh.

Tamar continued to look around the sand bar, almost in a panic.

“Where’s Rein?!” she yelled.

“Tamar, I don’t know,” I sighed, exhausted and beaten. “Maybe she’s back on the shore. She can change into a toad, you know. That’s all I can say. We need to go.”

Tamar managed to get the doused walker moving while the rest of us climbed into the pinnace for the trip back to Merrill. But I had a sinking feeling that Rein was gone and that we would never see her again, but I didn’t have the heart or energy to tell Tamar at that time. Whether Rein was still alive or not, I did not know. If she did survive, I could only hope that the Fates would grant her mercy and allow her to find a new home and friends where she could live in peace and harmony, away from the horrors of this broken world.

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The Umbra Creeps

Gin’s Journal Entry, Day 32, Page 41

Hanging upside down on the ladder, I continued to watch Tamar engage in mortal combat with a sahuagin soldier. In front of me was the other sahuagin, half way up the ladder, spearing and biting me. Between her and myself was the fat sahuagin, leading and healing the two soldiers. I was covered in the cold moisture of my own blood and more continued to ooze out of my shoulder. The pain was intense. My breathing became labored. My vision was blurred. I was losing consciousness.

And then I heard the voices: “Come brother! Embrace the darkness. Release your hatred. Set us upon the world you abhor. Open the door and let all of Creation be devoured into the nothingness and show all the pathetic, delusional souls who deem themselves worthy of life the true power of terror, despair, and pain.” For the first time in my life, I felt utter fear.

The Umbra slowly began to creep forth from the deep recesses of my twisted spirit, enveloping my thoughts, emotions, and soul. I realized the contract of my clan was beginning to break and the alien force would soon be released upon the world. My existence was turning into oblivion and all would join me, soon. With all my will, I tried to fight back that urge. But my eyes rolled into the back of my head and all went silent and dark. I feared I had failed.

Then I heard Tamar grunt and yell her orcish war cry. My eyes opened and I saw the giant half-orc woman loom over the fat sahuagin and swing her massive sword down upon the sahuagin’s head, splitting the fish humanoid from head to mid-torso. She slowly pulled her sword out of the sahuagin’s body with a smirk. For the briefest of moments, there was silence in the hull and everyone stood still. The fat sahuagin’s loud release of gas broke the silence, and then came the squishy sounds of flesh gradually peeling apart followed by the rushing sounds of bodily fluids needing to escape its container. The one half of the fat sahuagin’s body began tear itself apart from its other half. Green blood showered the half-orc paladin, followed by guts and internal organs plopping out of the body and onto Tamar’s feet. The fat sahuagin’s body fell backwards and continued to squirt its blood and entrails onto the hard floor.

I later learned that during my unconscious state, I had somehow mentally communicated with Tamar and desperately beseeched her help. She heard the call, realized that the fat sahuagin was the greatest threat, and took action that was needed to eliminate that threat. How she bypassed the sahuagin solider she was previously engaged with, I do not know. Magic? Divine magic? I cannot say. All I know was the aftereffect and I was most pleased.

But what was most curious during my moment with the Umbra was what I had done. At some point, I had cast a spell upon the sahuagin in front of me. Tamar said that, for a brief moment, she saw multi-colored, translucent tendrils that reminded her of ribbons or snake, spin and wrap around the fish bugger and then disappear. Whatever I had done made the sahuagin completely passive. It simply stood there, motionless and staring off into nothingness. What had I done to the poor beast? A part of me pitied the thing for I feared I had forced it to witness something terrible.

“Hello there,” I heard a woman’s voice say above me. Her voice was sweet and curious. I looked and saw a horned woman. “You alright? Who are you? You need help?”

My blood still boiled from the adrenaline coursing through my body. I looked into her eyes and spoke to her mind: “Who are you? Are you with them? Back away or I’ll melt your brain and slurp it up like soup.” I may have reacted poorly.

The horned woman backed away and disappeared from view.

I turned back and saw the last sahuagin across the hull. It mumbled something as it surveyed the carnage of its master and ran towards the open floor in the center of the hull and leapt down below. I could tell Tamar wanted to eviscerate the fish bugger and was disappointed that it escaped.

Still prideful in her recent kill, Tamar turned to me with a puffed up chest, albeit covered in green, slimy blood, and asked me if I was alright.

“I’ll be fine,” I groaned, pulling myself up from the ladder. I still bled and felt woozy.

“What about this one,” she pointed to the motionless sahuagin near me.

“Put him out of his misery,” I responded.

Tamar’s need to eviscerate was sated.

Tamar, Rein, and I regrouped. Rein had found prisoners within the ship – a dwarf and the horned woman I saw earlier. But introductions were short lived. The fire spell I had cast before had ramifications. The ship was falling apart and we did not have much time. The one side of the ship was crumpling about and began to tip, taking Rein into The Serpent. But we had to collect two binding discs. Tamar and I had noticed them attached to the floor of the third level.

With the help of the dwarf, Tamar and I were able to secure the both of them and wrapped the discs in cloth. All the while, the ship continued to tip to one side and the floors above us deteriorated and fell apart.

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Where's Rein?

Gin’s Journal Entry, Day 32, Page 39

With six dead bodies and a handful of living fish buggers below deck, we needed to move quickly.

“You two,” I said to Rein and Tamar, “Burn the big body. We need to move fast and now.” Of all the bodies that could come back from the dead at any moment, the giant fish bugger was not the one I felt like dealing with.

Rein tried to set the slimy, wet giant fish bugger ablaze with one of her fire spells but failed. She thought for a moment, and then came up with a rather smart idea. She summoned forth the power of nature and conjured giant weeds and vines from out of the metal walls, ceiling, and staircase. The plants entangled around the body, creating a cocoon. Then she cast her fire spell again and torched the plants, which in turn, torched the body. It was one less thing we had to worry about.

“Follow me,” I said, leading the two of them to one of the hatches on the deck.

I slowly, and quietly, opened one of them and instructed Malum, who was invisible, to fly down and scout the deck below. Oddly, she saw nothing. I was concerned. Where were the other fish buggers? Were they hiding? Were they laying a trap for us? Or were they trying to escape and flee?

I instructed Tamar and Rein to go down the ladder and I followed behind. Once inside the first level of the hull, I, again, commanded Malum to fly down to the next level. It was there Malum saw three fish buggers, particularly a fat sahuagin that I had seen before. The other two fish buggers looked to be mere foot soldiers. The fat one led the other two. One of the soldiers carried an overflowing sack of what appeared to be giant embryos, not too different from frogspawns I had seen when I was young. The solider gave the sack to the fat sahuagin. The three of them spoke in their gross language. If I had to guess based on their body motions and the intensity of their voices, I would guess they were afraid. Good.

In a whisper, I instructed Tamar and Rein to go to the other side of the ship’s hull and climb down a ladder from that end. Malum was still down the lower level, watching the fish buggers. I wanted to create a distraction while Tamar and Rein climbed down and would attack them from behind. We would out flank them, slaughtering their bodies and crushing their souls.

Looking down the ladder, I cast my dark gift and created an image of my little sister, Circe in her purple and brown dress and red ribbon in her blonde hair. (She was only 11 when I remembered her like that. Had it only been a few months? It’s felt like years now. I miss her.) Following that, I had cast another spell to complement the illusion – this one would create sounds. I almost went insane when I saw the image of my sister with her voice. I hadn’t heard her voice since the massacre. What was I thinking? Why would I do this?

The illusion climbed down the ladder and the fish buggers immediately took notice. She danced, twirled, and wiggled her buttocks at the sahuagin all the while giggling and laughing in her most obnoxious way that I remembered when she was still alive. The fish buggers just stood there, shocked and confused. And then Circe blew a raspberry at them. That apparently set them off. One of the soldiers rushed to attack the image. Malum, who was still invisible and flying around somewhere down on that floor, told me that Tamar had climbed down the ladder on the other end of the hull and was sneaking up towards the sahuagins. No mention of Rein.

Then I heard the fish buggers yelling at each other. They had spotted Tamar. Malum told me that the second soldier had raced over to engage in the giant paladin. The fish bugger that went to attack Circe was shocked and sorely disappointed as its trident passed through the illusion.

I had to react quickly. I wrapped my legs around one the steps and allowed my body to fall backwards. I lay vertically, upside down, and with my head popping out to the third floor of the ship, I pulled out a scroll and read the incantations.

With the sound of a thousand thunder roars and the light of a thousand suns followed by the heat of a thousand bonfires, I had let loose a massive fire spell in the midst of the fish buggers. The ship shook and the force of magic blew off a large portion of the hull’s side, exposing it to the open, green sky. I had hoped the floor would have given way, but it didn’t. Worse yet, the flames didn’t kill the sahuagin. Pity. I had hoped for some grilled salmon.

The fish bugger that had attacked my illusion saw me and climbed up the ladder to attack. It stabbed me in the shoulder and then bit me. I needed help. Death was, once again, close.

All the while, I saw Tamar across the other side of the hull engaged with the other fish bugger. The fat sahuagin had cast some healing magic on the other fish buggers. I was in trouble.

And where was Rein? Where, indeed. She was off on the level above, socializing with prisoners while her companions struggled for their survival.

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Dichotomy of Battle

Gin’s Journal Entry, Day 32, Page 37

We live in a violent world and peace is only a dream for the weak. Everyone is born in blood and steel, and death looms over all. Only those who accept this fact live; those who do not become someone’s lunch. I grew up with this philosophy and, to this day, I have never questioned it. It is what has kept me alive. So when I find myself in a fight, I pity the fools who see me as a tasty morsel. For when the day comes, when I become someone’s meal, I will be ripping, tearing, and exploding down their gullet. I will not be a pleasant meal. Life is too important to live and let die.

But it saddens me that we live in such a reality. My great-grandmother told me the stories of Daciana and the times of peace, and I find myself fighting back tears of remorse. What have we done? What crime have we committed? Why must we teach children to kill or be killed? Why must we live in such an evil world?

Creation is a bitch.

One interesting thing I’ve discovered about fighting is how memory warps and alters reality. When you’re in the middle of fighting for your life, time seems to move slowly and yet, everything goes by so quickly. One moment you are in a fight for your life that feels like eternity, and within what feels like only seconds, it is over. It is an experience of dichotomy for every fighter. When you are a trained fighter, you perceive your own motions and contemplate the movements of your enemies. And yet, in a battle for life, you are not consciously thinking of these things. You don’t have time. To the trained, it is an instinctual reaction of thought processing itself in the deep recesses of your mind. The subconscious part of the brain controls those aspects and you act merely like a puppet, only hoping that you have been taught properly how to survive in a fight. And when all is said and done, and you stand victorious over your enemies, your recollection of the fight quickly tears apart and disappears in a cloud of misty memory. It is your unconscious thoughts that took over during the fight because your conscious mind had little time to process and record the event. And thus, you begin to create your own experiences from imagination that may not have occurred during the fight, just so you can fill in the missing holes in your memory. This is how stories of legends and myths are created. Is that a bad thing? No. It is the only thing and the single greatest force in all of Creation.

At any rate….

The ambush was set and they took the bait. The three of us hid behind an illusionary wall I had created, waiting for whom ever to come up the stairs, and come they did. Malum dispelled her invisibility and appeared at the top of the stairs to the oncoming fish buggers. Such fools. It was a like a slaughterhouse. Malum disappeared and Tamar jumped out of the illusion, roaring and swinging her great sword. Rein cast her Moonbeam spell right in the middle of the staircase, encasing the poor buggers in light and pain. I was in the back, casting my dark magic. With Tamar towering over the top of the stairs, Rein’s light of pain in the midst of the attackers, and me slinging Sentinel tentacles, we had bottlenecked the fools and they had no chance. A part of me pitied them and another part of me relished in their torment and fear.

But then their giant leader came, and it was stupid. It attempted to climb the stairs only to get itself stuck. It was too big and barely squeezed through the stairwell. Of course, the three of us took that as an opportunity. It went too fast. My memory couldn’t keep up. But I know we slaughtered the giant beast like a fish in barrel.

A couple fish buggers did have the presence of mind not to come up the stairs. They actually tried to ambush us by sneaking up on us from deck hatches and flanking us. Little did they know, Malum was watching the deck and warned me of their coming. I easily and joyfully exterminated them with my Sentinel tentacles.

But is that how this fight actually happened? Probably not. There are too many holes. It’s not a great story in this form, but I will fill in the gaps with vicious violence and glorious victory. The people of Osmarren would remember this tale for generations to come.

But the battle was not over. There was still a handful more of the fish buggers in the ship, waiting to be skinned and gutted.

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