Ur-Delth

Leaving Sinarthaax

Gin’s Journal, Day 42, Page 117

Sensing through Malum, I saw as my companions rushed into the dining hall and charged towards the vile creature inside. Malum followed them to give what little help she could. During the battle, Theren found what he was looking for – an ancient bow crafted by the Sinarthaax elves of old, and used it against their opponent as his weapon of choice. There were casualties in the fight.

As my companions and Malum surrounded the vile creature, it let out a putrid stench that affected Malum and “killed” her. “Killed” is a word for mortals, and Malum is far from being “mortal.” Her corporal form was destroyed but her spirit returned to the realm of her origins, whatever that truly was. My psychic connection with her broke and I lost contact with my companions.

I sighed in resignation at the fact that I would have to give time and effort to re-summon Malum again, but I did not have time at that moment. I only hoped my friends finished off the vile creature without further incident and would quickly return to the portal. Without Malum on the other side, I knew I had to pass through myself once more.

Again, with effort, I recalled the words to open the portal and stepped through. My companions had not arrived back at the portal yet, so I took the time to write down on parchment the runes from the broken mirror-portal along with the partial runes from the scroll I found at the Starwind Monastery; no more having to recall the activation words from memory.

Thankfully, in time, my companions arrived. They obviously defeated the vile creature without further trouble. Using my newly inscribed parchment, I opened the portal and sent Tamar through first. And unsurprisingly, the portal closed behind her. Again, I used the command words to open the portal and sent Theren through. Next I sent Merrill through, followed by Balor. Finally, I opened the portal one last time and stepped through myself.

My companions stood around the portal, shocked and bewildered at the place around them. Like me, they had never seen a place such as this. This place felt…wrong. The walls, floor and ceiling were all made of metal, like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The air was stale and old, and the floor was covered in dust and debris, untouched for generations.

We cautiously searched the room. On the far side of the room were shelves with strange mechanical devices that interested Merrill, but, even he found them strange and puzzling. There were metal doors to our right and left. We discovered what appeared to be another portal next to the portal we came through, but this one larger. I wondered if the activation command I had would work on the newly discovered portal when Merrill announced that one of the doors close to him had opened and he thought he saw someone.

Balor quickly took point, with me following behind, and we approached the door. The door was closed and it had no keyhole or handle. Balor used his immense strength to pry the door open and it slid to the side, inside the wall. On the other side of the door was another room with more shelves with strange mechanical devices but also three gray-colored dwarves with dirty white hair aiming crossbows at Balor.

I cast a darkness spell in the room and the battle began…

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Jumping Through the Portal

Long into the future in a land far far away…
Gin, Tamar, Balor, and Theren stood among the bloody masses of horrendous aberrated undead they recently killed and absorbed the new information Gin relayed about his ancestry. With their next steps uncertain, Balor and Theren searched the area. They found a variety of coins, gems, potions and a magical pair of crystal lenses. Tamar stood by Gin as he examined a staff he procured from an undead elf maiden. Theren tried hacking through the tentacles that wove through the chamber to no avail. He then ordered Sasha to bite them. When she did, acid sprayed from the wounds, barely missing her.

After the area was searched, Gin approached the black mirror on the far side of the room. Part of the mystical runes on the bottom was missing, but he remembered he had a scroll with partial activation commands he found in the Starwind Monastery. He recited the words and the mirror swirled purple and black. Malum went into the mirror and found herself on the other side of a portal. She was in an abandoned metallic chamber with bizarre doors and cabinets. Gin yelled out, “This is it!” And jumped through to the shock of the rest of the group. The portal darkened.

Theren suggested that those remaining behind search Sinarthaax for the missing runes to reactivate the portal. The trio killed a strange tusked jellyfish creature and scared another off. Meanwhile, Gin was able to remember the command words to the portal and managed to open it from the other side. He sent Malum through and connected his senses to her. She flew to catch up with the group and Gin asked through her why the group abandoned him.

Theren admitted that in addition to trying to find the missing runes, he was also seeking a magic bow in a dining hall the the banshee told him of. Gin applauded Theren’s deception and they continued to a large building. Theren opened the door and discovered it to be the dining hall. But inside was a grotesque, obese creature with glowing eyes. It stood at the table and turned its gaze toward him…

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We Are All Doomed

Gin’s Journal, Day 42, Page 115

We rushed up the stairs with Balor leading the charge. With fury in his eyes, he bellowed out a war cry and hell followed him. Balor was lost in the dark seas of devastation, satisfying his lust for blood and slaughter; Tamar boiled with righteous fury of the angelic demons; Sasha slithered, pounced, and snapped like a devil with purpose; and Theren danced around the foul creatures, keeping them at bay as he released bolts of destruction from his crossbow of death. Even Merrill took part in the festival of annihilation. Tentacle heads exploded in gore all around us and the shambling ghouls fell to their final death.

The giant tentacle head, in the center of the room, hovered towards us and had nearly grappled me in its vise of tentacles. But not even the Umbra could stand against the trio of deathly retribution that stood before the horrid head and it fell to its demise.

“The Sentinel must die?!” Tamar shouted as she fought on. “What’s the Sentinel?”

“You heard it too?” Balor yelled out as he split another tentacle head in two. “It was like before – in my head.”

“Never heard of the Sentinel,” Theren said, leaping back away from another tentacle head and releasing a bolt to pierce the thing in-between its eyes.

I had heard nothing and my ring twitched on my finger.

“What is that thing?” Theren shouted as he pointed to the black shrouded skull with tusks. Its body was made of purplish-black smoke. It had no legs but long, ebony skeleton arms that ended in long, clawed hands.

“Another undead that will meet its final end,” Tamar roared.

“No,” Theren retorted. “That’s no undead or any I’ve sensed before. That’s something wholly different – something that shouldn’t be.”

The shrouded skull flew towards Tamar and swiped at the half-orc holy avenger with its claws. She parried and took a step back to guard herself and studied her new opponent. The creature turned and locked eyes on me. I had never seen such an abomination before but it felt disquietly familiar and I was afraid.

In that moment of fear, I summoned the power of the Umbra and released its arms of oblivion upon this realm. But something went wrong – horribly wrong. Nothing happened. Something had prevented me from using my power, as if I had been denied my curse of the Umbra from the source. I looked at my hands in shock. Why was I denied?

“Who’s Daciana?!” Balor yelled. “I’m hearing voices again!”

“Never heard of her,” Theren yelled back, firing his cross bow at another head. “But I heard it too.”

“Daciana’s kin will suffer in death?” Tamar said as she swung her great sword at the shrouded skull, but did little to hurt it. “Who’s Daciana’s kin!”

The shrouded skull flew toward me.

“Gin! Watch out!” I heard Balor shouted, but it was too late. I was caught unawares, still perplexed by the denial of my spell, and the shrouded skull hovered behind me and impaled a clawed arm through my chest, lifting me off the ground. I looked down and saw the bony claw twitch as pieces of my flesh and clothes dripped off from its bony tips. I felt cold and wet and all went black.

‘The time is not yet,’ I heard a woman’s voice. ‘You must live and finish it.’

I awoke with my head in Theren’s lap, him looking down at me.

“Well, this is embarrassing,” I moaned.

“While I think you’re an asshole,” Theren said, “I don’t think you deserve to die. We need you. Now, get up and move.” Theren stood up and shot a bolt at the shrouded skull.

I was weak and in pain. I tried to pull myself up but only slipped on my own gore. I heard the Trinity of Destruction battle the shrouded abomination. Again, I tried to force myself up and succeed, but the shrouded skull took notice of me once more. It ignored the Trinity of Destruction and sought only me.

I had no time to move or react and all went black once again.

‘Boy!’ I heard the voice again. ‘What is the meaning of this? Enough of this! Stop trying to die and fulfill your destiny! Trust your friends and they will be your savior and in turn, you shall be theirs. Now WAKE UP!’

My eyes opened and I saw Tamar’s wide-tusked grin, her face covered in black blood.

“Hello, sweetie,” she said.

“Tamar! That was awesome! You took that thing out in one hit!” Balor bellowed out in laughter. “Again, you’ve outdone me, but next time, it’ll be me.”

“What happened?” I asked as I pulled myself up to sit and leaned against the wall. I felt my chest and the gaping hole was gone. My clothes were in tatters.

“Oh, nothing much really,” Tamar said. “That thing tried to kill you and nearly did, but I had enough. I took it out by the vengeance of the fire god. And then I healed you.”

“So we won?” I asked, rubbing my chest. Even though the wound was gone, I could still feel the phantom pain in my chest and wondered if it would ever go away or if I had to bear another pain in life – first my eyes and now my chest.

Balor let out a loud belly laugh. “Ho, ho, my friend! We slaughtered them like bugs. I haven’t had that much fun since my wedding night. Ha ha ha!”

“Gin, this is important,” Theren said as he kneeled next to me. “Who is the Sentinel? Who is Daciana? I believe you know.”

I sighed and closed my eyes.

“Gin, are you the Sentinel that thing spoke of?”

“It spoke?” I asked.

“Yes,” Theren replied, “in our heads. So, are you the Sentinel?”

“Yes.”

“What does that mean?”

“Nothing. It’s a dead title that means nothing anymore. It’s all dead and meaningless now,” I spat.

“Enough of this, Gin!” Theren yelled. “What is the Sentinel? Who is Daciana? What is going on here? You know and we need to know. Why are they here? What did they want with you? Tell us the truth.”

“Gin,” I felt Tamar’s gentle hand on my arm, “those things use tentacles. You use tentacles. Are you related?”

“Gods, no!” I sneered.

“Then why are your powers like theirs?” she asked.

“It’s complicated.”

“Try us,” Theren said.

“Think of me as a thief in the light, permitted to steal from the entropic system a source of nothingness and to use it for my own means to in order to stop its means, always being watched.”

“I don’t understand,” Tamar tilted her head.

“Of course you wouldn’t. But it’s the only way I can explain it.” My chest tightened in pain and I moaned.

“Gin,” Theren interjected. “Tell us who you are. What does any of this mean? You owe us this.”

“I am Gin Okami, last of the Okami and last of the Sentinels of the Umbra and last of the bloodline of Daciana. My people were the Sentinels of the Umbra, small and secretive peoples who were the wardens against the Umbra, an ancient and unknowable being that dwells beyond the fabric of all Creation.”

“I’ve never heard of your peoples before,” Theren said.

“Of course you wouldn’t have,” I said. “It’s not like we advertised ourselves. You may have met my clan once before, but to you, we were mere traveling entertainers and performers – bards, actors, painters, dancers, storytellers, and the like – wandering the countryside bringing joy and pleasures to any who sought it. It was our protection, our disguise. If the world knew who we really were, all the greedy and power-hungry of this realm would seek us out and demand our servitude, to use our grave power to their own ends, something that could never happen, lest the world would end.”

I paused for a moment and thought on what I had just confessed. Sighing, I shook my head and continued.

“And yet, through our arts, that is where our power came from. For the Umbra was contained through our stories, songs, dances, and other arts, or at least for a while. But my family is dead now, gone, slaughtered by a roaming herd of undead, and there is no one to sing the door shut against the Umbra. ”

“You? Being a bard?” Theren scoffed. “I can’t picture that.”

“The flute was my weapon of choice. But as I was saying, I was to be the new leader of my clan. I was to go through the dark ritual of bonding and begin my training as a Sentinel and its head. But before I could wear that mantle, we were attacked. But during the attack, my grandfather forced the bonding of the Umbra upon me and helped me escaped, but only I was able to live that day. A week later, that is when you met me, Tamar. Remember?”

Tamar grunted. “But with this fight, we can stop this Umbra thing and send it back!” she roared cheerfully.

“My clan is gone, Tamar and only I remain! Don’t you understand?!” I spat. “The taint of the Umbra courses through my veins and I am cursed. It slowly eats away and distorts my body, mind, and soul. It corrupts me with each waking moment of my existence and I cannot stop it! I don’t know how. My family is dead! The Sentinels are gone forever! There is no one to teach me the ways and I stumble along in this world – alone, afraid, and in the dark.”

“You are not alone, Gin, my friend,” Balor said.

“You still don’t understand,” I sighed. “The more I fight and resist its encroaching embrace, the more I feel it taking me over! This is its true curse of my clan. You see the world in colors, lights, and hopes, but I can only see in shades, darkness, and nothingness. And when I see people, including you, I see nothing more than a mere appetite for the Umbra. And what frightens me more than anything else is that there is a part of me, a small sliver of darkness in the deepest recesses of my soul, which relishes the idea of you disappearing in that nothingness and never existing.”

“No, Gin,” Balor said gently, “You do not understand. You are not alone. You will never be alone in that dark because we are your friends and will always stand by you, holding up our light to fight back your darkness. You will never be alone as long we breathe.”

Tamar grinned and grunted.

“Oh,” I moaned, touched and sadden by Balor statement. “You do not know what you are saying, my friends. It has always been with us, always surrounding us. It is there to welcome us at our birth and numbers our days of light. It travels with us, watching us, creeping beside, behind and in front us, but always at the edges of our sight. It hides within our forgotten dreams, whispering to us our greatest fears. It lurks behind the letters of a text, waiting to corrupt the mind of the reader. It lingers within the off note of a song, ruining the bliss of joy. It resides in the shadow of a tombstone, relishing the painful tears of a crying mother. I see it everywhere. Through it all, it has always been the Sentinels that held the Umbra back, preventing a full scale embrace. And I realize now, if the Umbra had anything to do with the calamity of our world, then, without the Sentinels, we are all doomed.”

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Defilers of Sinarthaax

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

Gin, Tamar, Balor and Theren continued to strike blows against the decrepit ghouls that poured from the entrance of a step pyramid in the ancient elven enclave of Sinarthaax. As the heroes battled, Merrill warned the companions of movement in the moat behind them. Tentacles emerged from the foul water, but the group managed to slip away as a giant squid monstrosity appeared. Once inside, Theren closed the door on the creature, preventing its appendages from reaching them.

Now inside the pyramid, the companions turned their full attention to their other foes. As they battled the ghouls, small tentacle masses descended from the staircases, each incorporating a desiccated elvish head. To Theren’s chagrin, more of these masses appeared than his primeval senses initially warned. Knowing that the female elven ghoul Gin banished would return shortly, the warriors huddled around the space where she would reappear. As soon as she did, the group unleashed an onslaught that quickly killed her.

Meanwhile, Malum was ordered up the stairs to examine the top chamber. Inside, she discovered a strange frame encircling black glass that had large tentacles emerging from it. The tentacles twisted through the room and descended through a hole in the floor. In addition, there was a larger tentacle mass in the room as well as additional small tentacle masses being reproduced from heads placed throughout the room. And in front of the glass was a black shrouded skull with tusks sitting atop a glowing purplish black, smoky torso that faded into a black cloud. Tamar, Balor and Theren all heard a dread voice in their minds bellow:

“Defilers of great Kingdom of Sinarthaax! Disruptors of the Elvish Lifeblood! You are enemies of the Void Glass! You are the next feast!”

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Undead Pyramid

Gin’s Journal, Day 42, Page 113

“What did she say to you?” I asked Theren as he walked back towards us, away from the banshee.

“We can rest in the small chamber,” he replied. “Nothing will bother us in there.”

“That’s it? Nothing more?” I asked.

“There’s more, but I’ll tell you about in the chamber.”

“Wait,” I said. “All three of you have been pushing me to hurry us through this place and now you want to stop and rest? Make up your minds.”

“I don’t know about the others, but I’ve been trying to find a safe place,” Theren said, “A room where we can catch our breath and heal our wounds.”

“Fine,” I relented. “Have it your way.”

We went back to the sleeping quarters and settled in. Tamar crashed onto the bed and Balor sat on one of the chairs.

“And what of the other thing she said to you?” I asked, turning to Theren, who began to settle himself into a lotus position in a corner of the room.

“Not much, really,” Theren said. “She only mentioned that I would find something very useful in a dining room, to the northwest of here. She didn’t say what it was or how it’d be useful, but I think we should check it out.” He closed his eyes and readied himself to enter into his meditative trance.

I stopped pushing him for more information. He was either telling the truth or lying. In either case, I would get nothing else from Theren.

We all agreed to rest for over a day in the room, and yet, I was not tired at the time. I wanted to continue our exploration and discover more layers of truth about this world, but my companions were exhausted and quickly fell asleep.

I leaned against the wall, watching them sleep and thought of our next course of action. It was then, that the Umbra came upon me once again in full force: the silent echo of screams; the piercing brightness of the darkness; the ravenous appetite of oblivion – all of it consumed and overwhelmed my being. The burning pain had, once more, returned to my eyes and it took all my strength to prevent myself from crying out in agony. I closed my eyes and rubbed them. I focused my thoughts on my sister – her life, her tenderness, her love – to distract myself from thinking on the pain; a trick I had learned when the gaze of the Umbra had infused itself onto my eyes before. When the pain became tolerable for me to function, I opened them and saw that the darkness in the room around me was gone, and I saw everything as if it was daylight. The Umbra had granted me once more with more power. Some might of thought of it as a boon, but I knew it as a curse and there was nothing I could do.

And then I thought of Merrill. I psychically communicated to Malum my intentions.

Harnessing my new powers, I envisioned the spire’s waterfall entrance and I teleported myself just outside it, and before I could fall, I cast my fly spell and flew down to the Water Bug. Merrill was shocked to see my arrival (and my new eyes), and questioned why I had returned. I quickly explained to him that we were abandoning the Water Bug to the tide and that Merrill would have to travel with us through Vod’s Spire. I confessed that I believed there was a teleporter within the spire that would send us somewhere far away.

“Where exactly?” Merrill asked.

“To the source of the world’s calamity,” I answered. I instructed Merrill to prepare himself and mentioned that we would leave in an hour’s time.

Knowing that it would have been difficult to carry both Merrill and Malum with me, I dismissed the familiar. When Merrill was ready, I cast fly again and, carrying the Halfling up into the air and in front of the spire’s waterfall entrance, from where I had teleported before. I envisioned the sleeping chambers of my companions and teleported there.

In the center of the room, I began to assemble my summoning ritual. I told Merrill to stay in the corner of the room and not disturb me. It took me a long hour and all my reserved Umbra energy to summon Malum back to this pocket of reality, and she returned in the form of a shrike. I was tired then, so I curled up on the floor, and fell asleep.

I awoke to the sounds of my companions getting up. They were surprised to see Merrill in the room and asked him how he got there. He told them his story and how I had retrieved and teleported him to the room, and how excited he was to investigate an ancient teleporter. This surprised the three companions and I realized I had never told them what I had learned through my research about a teleporter in Sinarthaax and that it was a reason why I insisted that we explore Vod’s Spire.

Theren seemed miffed by the revelation of my teleporting power. “You had the power to do that and, yet, you let me go up to the waterfall by myself? Hell, if you can teleport, why you need a teleporter?”

“It doesn’t work that way,” I replied.

It was then that he noticed my eyes.

“What the…?” he said, taking a step away from me. “What’s wrong with your eyes?”

“A gift from the Umbra – a painful gift,” I said, rubbing my eyes.

“A gift? What do you mean?”

“Leave him alone,” Tamar interjected. “He’s had those eyes before. Nothing you should be worried about. It’s Gin.”

“Nothing I should be worried about, eh? I’ll be the judge of that,” Theren said under his breath.

My companions and I agreed that Malum should go out and scout the area before we traveled any further into Sinarthaax, or Vod’s Spire. Malum turned invisible and flew down the corridors. I closed my eyes and attuned my senses to Malum so that I could see, hear, and smell what he saw, heard, and smelled. Malum flew towards the large area with the pyramid-like building that I had discovered before and explored the area. The wyvern was still there.

A streaming river surrounded the pyramid-like complex. There were bridges that crossed over the stream that lead to passageways, continuing onwards to the north and west of it. The northern passageway was a bridge that led to a dead-end and appeared to be occupied by giant tentacles from the waters below– a place I thought best to avoid. The western passageway opened up to a small chamber with a large statue of a regal elven warrior in the center. But what concerned me were the two giant, floating octopus-like creatures moving about in the chamber. They had horns on top of their jelly-like translucent bubble-bodies and tentacles that dangled underneath their bodies, scraping the stone floor. I couldn’t tell which side was the front or back, or if they had eyes, ears, or a mouth. I instructed Malum to stop and return. Even though she was invisible, I did not trust those things.

I relayed all this information to the others and we agreed to try and sneak past the wyvern and reach the western passageway.

The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry and the wyvern took notice of us as we tried to sneak across the eastern-side bridge. The fight was unmemorable, at least for me. But I did acquire a wyvern’s tail. Maybe it could sell at a good price to the right person.

As we walked along the outside of the pyramid-like building, we came upon what appeared to be its entrance, double doors of fine metal.

“Gin, you want to go in or keep going?” Theren asked.

“This building looks important,” I said. “You think this could be the place the banshee mentioned?"

“I have no idea,” he said.

“It might be where the teleporter is,” I said.

“If there’s a teleporter at all,” Theren mumbled under his breath.

“We really shouldn’t pass it up,” I said.

Theren checked the doors to discover that it was not locked. He slowly and silently opened them and saw inside a large, open area with stone pillars along the side walls. Hanging from the center of the chamber’s ceiling, dangled a mass of giant black tentacles that slithered and twisted about on themselves. Scattered about the room were shambling undead. They turned and saw the elf.

Theren quickly closed the door. “Nothing but undead in there. Let’s go.”

“Wait,” I said. “What exactly did you see?”

“Undead and a bunch of tentacles hanging from the ceiling in the center of the room. We should just keep going.”

“What about the far end?” I asked.

“I couldn’t see that far.”

“We need to check it out,” I said. “Did the undead see you?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. Hard to say,” Theren replied. “If you want to check it out, then by all means, you can go in first.”

“I’ll do it,” Balor said.

“We’ll bottleneck them,” I said. “We don’t go in, but let them come to us, one at a time.”

Balor opened the door and the undead slowly approached us. Malum, still invisible, flew in as the scout for further into the room.

‘There is someone here,’ Malum said to my mind. ‘A woman. Elven.’

“Is she hot?” I said out loud. My companions turned towards me.

‘For an elf, I suppose,’ Malum replied.

“There’s more in there,” I said to the others. “An elven woman.”

“I think I see her,” Theren said, releasing an arrow into one of the undead.

From out of the shadows of the far end of the room, an armored, elven woman stepped forward. Her skin was ice-pale and her hair, long and black. She wore a flowing skirt with a crown of thorns and wielded a wicked looking staff. She was beautiful, but undead.

The elven undead cast a spell and a gust of wind nearly pushed Balor and Sasha away from the door and down into the stream of water, but they held on.

“Ha!” Balor bellowed. “I’m not gonna let a wind bag of a pasty elven zombie princess push me around!”

The other undead converged on the door and began to attack Balor, who was blocking them from exiting.

The wind spell continued to assail us and I knew we had to stop the woman elf quickly, lest one of us slip and let the wind push us off the floor and into the moat below.

I took a step back away from the door to get a better angle of sight to the elven woman. I stared into her undead eyes – black like her hair, and for the briefest of moments, she enraptured me. (Beauty has always been a weakness of mine and it was most unsettling that that this beauty came from something I abhorred.) I held my breath, whispered into the void of nothingness, and prepared the way for a new guest to the Umbra.

I winked and blew her a kiss. Within the blink of an eye, four massive, black tentacles appeared and wrapped themselves around the undead elf and then, “poof,” the tentacles and the woman were gone.

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The Cursed Chapel

Gin’s Journal, Day 42, Page 110

We continued exploring Vod’s Spire and continued to encounter more of the strange undead. Of course, we easily dispatched them as we went. Yet, the more we encountered the malformed undead, the more I felt uncomfortable. They were unnatural in every sense of the word. Odd to think of them as unnatural, as the undead are already unnatural by definition. But these undead we encountered were odd…different, and I could not explain why.

The nuggets of lore I found throughout our exploration compelled me to stop and investigate. Such knowledge and history at our fingertips, ready to be reaped, exposed, and shared amongst all peoples. But my companions did not care. They were only interested in getting out and as such, forced my hand to rush through the corridors and chambers. I realized they were forgetting why we were here – to find truth; to find the answers to the question few people asked anymore. Why?

In our travels, we came upon a large hallway with massive pillars that reached up into the dark above. While the others explored a different passageway, I, with my lit Staff of the Umbra, crept down the large hallway, alone.

The pillars had pictographs etched on the stonework with descriptions of elves riding great flying beasts and such, similar to those I saw in the room with the dilapidated fountain. But one image caught my attention – a single elf maiden, riding a wyvern with her long hair flowing like a cloak around her, wielding a wicked-looking staff of power and wearing an odd-looking circlet upon her head. There were no linguistic symbols to aid in interpreting her identity, nor did I really have the time to stay and figure out her mystery. She looked noble and powerful. She looked beautiful. She looked important.

I heard something further down the dark corridor and I crept onwards, alone, to investigate. I came upon a large stone bridge and beyond that, a stone building like a fortress. And for a brief moment, I saw movement within the darkness that surrounded the fortress – and what I saw reminded me of the beasts etched on the pillars.

I quickly hurried back to the others and found that they discovered a tightly locked, or more likely, sealed, door. With some effort, and caution, we broke through to discover old sleeping quarters that had not been disturbed for a very long time. But what made the room even more interesting was the presence of an elven ghost before us. We couldn’t determine its intentions towards us, but fortunately it made no hostile gestures.

The elven ghost saw us and passed through the door on the other side of the room. With caution, we followed and entered into another corridor with several dilapidated crates and sacks. There were more ghosts. Unlike all of the other undead we faced here, these ghosts did not have the same malformations of Vod Sickness on their incorporeal forms. But they did seem similar, in race, to the elves of Domtoch Kreeg.

With my clan’s gift (or curse), I communicated with one of the ghosts.

“Are you a servant of Qor’Targen?” I asked.

The ghost responded with a snarl.

“Right,” I said to my companions,” I think these fellows were part of the attempted coup against Qor’targen, if I’m putting the puzzle together correctly.”

“But who are they, exactly, and why are they here?” Theren asked.

“I suppose they were cursed upon their death,” I said.

One of the ghosts pointed down the corridor.

“I think he’s trying to tell us to go that way,” I said.

I walked down the hallways and discovered an elaborate double door. My companions stayed behind me.

“Here we go,” I said, slowly opening the door. Behind the door was a chapel of sorts. There were decrepit pews and statues, with a ramshackle altar at the far end. There were more ghosts among the pews, but what caught my immediate attention was the single wispy form of an elven woman floating in front of the altar. She was surrounded by a dark light that suggested agony and despair. Her ethereal hair drifted and half-covered her twisted face, even though there was no breeze. Her once-splendid robes were tattered and ragged, flowing around her visage as if they were alive and protecting their mistress. She was horrifying and yet beautiful to behold. I did not step into the chapel.

“A banshee!” Theren whispered in terror. He quickly covered his ears.

“This could be bad,” Balor whispered under his breath. “Real bad.” He tightly gripped his battleaxe.

Tamar looked at the ghosts around us and readied herself for battle. But the ghosts ignored us, as if indifferent to us. For a moment, Tamar appeared to be in deep thought and concentration, but then she ever so slightly relaxed her tense posture. My half-orc companion told us that she sensed the ghosts were neither evil, nor good in nature. At least, it seemed, they were not interested in attacking us.

“Who are you?” the banshee said to me. Her voice exuded sweetness overlaid with the near-sensation of a needle piercing my eardrums. Not only did she seem grotesquely exquisite to my eyes, but also to my ears.

“We are guests,” I said, taking the lead, “visitors from a faraway land. We come in peace and mean no harm.”

“What land?” she asked.

“If I am assuming correctly, you would probably know our land to be Urdelthia, but that is not what we call it anymore.”

“Urdelthia? Why are you here?”

“To find lost answers to forgotten questions,” I replied.

“And what questions are those?”

“’What happened to our world?’ and ‘Who did this to us and our families?’ They must be avenged.”

The banshee was silent.

“If you could forgive my indulgence,” I said, “who are you and why are you here?”

“I am Myra’Tinall and we are cursed. When the Heaven Rock came, so too did the tentacled-ones. They brought with them strange goods from extraordinary worlds, wondrous treasures of untold legends, and a promise of lucrative trade and wealth. They brought us power and glory, and our king fell for their temptations. I and my followers saw through deception of the tentacled-ones and tried to convince our king of their true intentions, but he was blinded by ambition and refused to heed us. We tried to convince his son, Qor’Targen, but he too was caught in the temptations and would not listen. We knew we had to fight against the tentacled-ones, but Qor’Targen found out about our plans. And so we failed. We failed our kingdom, our peoples, and our king. And as a result, we are cursed.”

I was disturbed at the mention of the tentacled-ones.

Suddenly, Mya’Tinall changed the subject. “Is that an elf?” she asked, gazing in my general direction.

I was confused at first. I, being half-elven, wasn’t sure if she was referring to me or Theren.

“Let him step forward,” she said, holding her gaze.

I turned to Theren and gestured for him to pull his hands away from his ears. “She wants to talk to you, I think.”

“Me?” the ranger asked, “Why me?”

“Maybe she wants to whisper lovely sweet-nothings in your ear,” I smirked.

“Shut up,” he whispered as he courageously stepped into the chapel and stood before the banshee.

The banshee hovered above Theren and gazed into his eyes. Her robes spread out and wrapped around his body.

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Dangerous Explorations

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

Gin, Tamar, Balor and Theren continued exploring [[Vod’s Spire]] in the desolate lands of Domtoch Kreeg. After resting, the companions ventured through the spire with Theren leading the way into several abandoned living chambers. In one chamber, Theren found a scrap of parchment with a message about making a stand against Qor’Targen. Krallak told Gin that Qor’Targen was a prince among the ancient elves of Sinarthaax.

In another chamber, a strange tentacled beast emerged from the stones to fly toward the group and attack. Its sharp beak snapped at the heroes until they were eventually able to bring it down. Impatient with Theren’s slow, silent and thoughtful progress, the companions headed out on their own. With some moving silently and others turned magically invisible, the heroes had a hard time keeping track of each other in the dark spire.

Gin found a room containing a fountain with putrid water in a chamber decorated with crumbling frescoes depicting the ascension of Sinarthaax elves by a god named Bel’Eill. The group reconvened outside a room they knew to house several undead and methodically attacked the ghouls inside.

Per Gin’s instruction, they left one alive, stuffed it inside Theren’s bag of holding, carried to the green fountain and dumped it inside to see what would happen. The ghoul stood up and began attacking with no apparent ill effects.

With the experiment failed, they slaughtered the pitiful creature before making their next move…

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A Gloom Settles

Gin’s Journal, Day 41, Page 100

Currently, we are on the move and I do not have time to write about the details of our first encounter within Vod’s Spire. To say the least, we were victorious in battle but at a cost. The skeletal hound proved to be a difficult foe along with the strange ghouls that fought alongside it. Theren was crippled in fear from the undead hound and was not as effective in his martial abilities. Balor was severely injured and Tamar nearly died in the fight. We expected to face the undead, but we never anticipated such powerful abominations. These things were different than the undead we were used to back home.

The chamber we hid ourselves in was dark and I feared sinister things could emerge from that dark. We rested for an hour, bandaging our wounds and egos. I collected the bones of the skeleton hound and placed them in the strange sack Theren found in the giant hovel. The bones were black and sleek to the touch. Tamar had nearly passed through the door of death once more and used her divine powers to heal herself, but her scars remained as reminders of how close she was to seeing her god. Balor dressed his own injuries and gathered his throwing implement, Sever. The gruff dwarf looked tired and worn. Theren, I could tell, seemed frustrated and angry with himself for succumbing to his fear of the skeletal hound. I wondered if he had ever experienced such fear before.

As we rested, Theren tapped into his senses and extended his awareness, a skill I had seen other solus peregriner perform in my days with my people. He sensed the undead and I saw goose bumps form on his skin. He told us there were dozens upon dozens of abominations, if not more, all around us. He described an army. I saw a faint tinge of apprehension in his eyes.

It made sense. The elves of Domtoch Kreeg had untold generations of their sick folk abducted by Vod and taken to the spire to be twisted and malformed into the abominable undead that we face now. I expected we would face such a force, but I failed communicate this to my companions. I could tell their morale was low and their resolve was waning. I read from their faces that they questioned why they followed me to this damnable place.

This place was wrong and I, too, began to doubt.

I knew why I came – to find the truth of the world’s calamity; to set things right and bring back life and beauty into the world; to exact resolute vengeance upon those who had done this to my home and my family – to all the innocent families; and most of all, to uncover the shroud of the Umbra, which I know had a hand in the world’s blight, and to expose it to the light, and to destroy it once and for all! But what of my companions? Tamar? Why did she follow me? Did she have a sense of unknown divine duty? What duty and for whom? Or was she truly as crazy as a loon following delusional omens and teachings? Balor? Did his grief and guilt drive him away from his home? Was this his pathetic attempt to run away from the reality of his wife’s death? And what of Theren? He claims he joined us to explore the world, but to me, that is a shallow explanation. Theren was a solus peregriner, and I knew that all such lone wanderers hunted for a path, be it well-traveled or less so; a destination they sought with an end in sight, and nothing would stop them to achieve that end. But what was his destination? Of the three, Theren was the most enigmatic to me in his reasons and the one that could hinder my desires.

We were in a dangerous place; perhaps too dangerous. But our resolve was set and our fate predetermined by unknown forces. A weak man would have turned and ran away, perhaps to live another day, but would have gained no knowledge, truth, or power. Only the bold take risks to achieve their desire, and we were truly bold.

Once we had finished resting, we moved forward, into the dark labyrinthine chambers of Vod’s spire.

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Second Attempt Into Vod's Spire

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

Gin, Tamar, Balor and Theren regrouped on the Water Bug in the face of their failure to enter Vod’s Spire through the entry tunnel Malum had initially scouted. Theren sought retribution for Gin’s reluctance to save him from the face of the spire, increasing the crew’s dour mood. In frustration, Gin chugged a Potion of Water Breathing and plunged into the dark water of The Serpent in search of another entry into the spire. As the duration of the potion began to wane, he felt a shift in the current indicating an entry below.

Gin returned to the surface and encouraged the rest of the group to imbibe in their additional potions to find his hypothetical entrance. Luckily, he was right and the heroes entered Vod’s Spire through an underwater tunnel. They bypassed a large pump at the top of the tunnel and Theren opened an access hatch leading into a stone room. He immediately came under attack by several decaying ghouls, as well as an armored ghoul wielding a crossbow.

Gin, Tamar and Balor slipped past Theren into the room to confront the attackers, slaying several of the pitiful creatures. But then a skeletal hound enshrouded in purple flames suddenly appeared, raised its muzzle and pierced the air with a hideous howl. Theren and Sasha cowered in fear of the beast as the undead continued their assault…

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First Attempt Into Vod's Spire

Gin’s Journal, Day 40, Page 95

So, we left the resurrected mother giant with her baby and continued on our journey.

As we traveled, I took the time to investigate the small globe Theren found amongst the giant’s cache. It was a small sphere made of thick glass and I realized it to be magical in nature. I figured out its power word and discovered that it could emit a magical light, either an artificial illumination, such as a lantern, or mimic the light of a sun. I had never seen true and pure sunlight, unobscured from the dark clouds above. It also had the ability to hover five feet off the ground and follow its master. This globe was truly a wonder.

Tamar, meanwhile, investigated Vod’s armor and realized that it was made of the mystical and rare mithril. She would be well protected if she wore it.

By late evening, we arrived at Vod’s spire. It stood ominously amongst the other giant stone crags in the still waters; its pinnacle disappearing into the darkness above. A waterfall mist surrounded us, moistening our hair, skin, and clothes, but it felt sticky and heavy. We saw no vegetation or animal life anywhere as we approached and only the cascading sounds of crashing waters from the spire’s waterfall could be heard. There was a bitter chill in the stagnant air, gnawing at our skin, and a pungent, foul odor assaulted our senses, giving us a slight burn to our eyes and a turn in our stomachs. We felt a sense of dread, despair, and doom… we felt as if we were back home.

“So, what’s the plan, Gin?” Tamar asked. “Where’s the door? How’re we getting in?”

“That is a good question,” I replied, and, based on the information Malum had gathered, put my plan into action.

It was a multi-step operation. First, we would need Tamar’s flying fey steed, the giant bat. She would carry one of us up into the cavern above and drop, whomever chose to ride with her, into the running waters of the cavern. That person would dive into the water and swim beneath the great door; the same pathway Malum used to escape. Once on the other side, the person would pull the latch, which hopefully would open the door. Then Tamar would fly in, pick up the swimmer and carry them down the left passageway that Malum discovered further inward. I advised against the right passageway as that most likely would lead to a dead end, or so I thought. Once through the left passageway, Tamar would drop off the first person and return to the boat. Then it would have been a simple caravan service, with Tamar picking one of us up, one at a time, and carrying us through the cavern and to the designated gathering spot. The first person dropped off would obviously have to hide until the rest arrived.

Theren insisted that he perform the first part of the operation. At first, I thought he wanted to ride with Tamar, but he said he felt comfortable enough to ride by himself along with Sasha. He said that Sasha would be the best candidate to swim under the door and pull the lever. Tamar and Balor seemed comfortable enough with the idea, so I shrugged and consented.

Theren, and his giant snake, saddled the giant bat, and off they went.

I had a sense of déjà vu at that moment, but I couldn’t quite place it.

Five minutes later, Tamar’s steed came crashing down into the plunge pool of the waterfall. Its motionless body emerged to the surface and floated up against the hull of the ship, disappearing with a fizzle of fey magic
.
“That didn’t look good,” I said.

“Gin, something’s wrong. I think Theren’s in trouble,” Balor said.

“You think so, Balor?” I said, rolling my eyes.

“You better fly up and see what’s going on up there.”

“Balor, you think I can simply fly whenever and wherever at my whim?”

“Yeah.”

I rolled my eyes again, but this time in frustration. If only they knew. I evoked the power of the Umbra and took flight, following the waterfall up.

The cavern entrance was a thousand feet above. Water poured out of its entrance with pure power, and though I was several feet away from it, I could still feel its force. I saw Theren and his snake, outside entrance, clinging onto the side of the stony spire, just outside of the entrance, hanging on for dear life. He was wet and shivering.

“Well, hello there,” I said, hovering next to Theren.

“Gin!” He shouted. “Get me out of here!”

“Now how did you get yourself in this predicament?” I asked.

“You didn’t tell me about the hairy man-beast things! They had these tentacles and they nearly killed us. Now get…me…DOWN!”

“Hair man-beast things? Malum never saw them. Interesting.”

“Interesting?! That’s all you have to say?! You almost got me killed and that’s all you have to say?! Get me out of here.”

“Hang on,” I said. I flew towards the entrance and hovered several feet out away from the opening.

“Gin!!” Theren shouted. He said something extraordinarily offensive in the elvish tongue and made a rude gesture towards me. I don’t believe he realized that I understood him and I could only smirk in response.

It was too dark in the cave and I could not see anything inside. I pulled out a small string that was attached to one of my pouches and tied it around the small, magical globe I examined earlier. With the other end of the sting, I tied it around Malum’s tiny bird leg. I said the command word and the globe erupted in magnificent sun light. After giving Malum instructions, the invisible bird flew into the cavern, pulling the floating orb behind her.

The darkness of the cavern melted away with the sunlight, exposing the running waters beneath and all the nooks, crannies, and shards of the cave, including the three beasts Theren mentioned, hanging along the walls and ceiling. They were large, hairy beasts with huge mouths full of razor-sharp teeth and wicked tentacles for limbs. They roared at the light and lashed out with their long limbs. I released my Umbra tendrils upon them.

“Gin!” I heard Theren shout again. I continued to fire my tendrils into the cavern. “Get me out of here!”

With one last lash from a tentacle, the creatures shattered the floating orb, ending its light source. They roared in triumph, but I continued to release the power of the Umbra upon them, hovering out of the cavern and out of their reach.

Two of them escaped further into the cavern, disappearing in the darkness. The third one, the most confident of the three, rushed towards the edge of the entrance. We locked eyes. I released another tendril, but missed. Yet, the force of my miscalculation forced me to fly back several feet. The beast latched its tentacle on a nook in the ceiling of the entrance and swung out towards me, and its other tentacle reached out towards me.

“What are you doing?!” I heard Theren shout. In the corner of my eye, I saw him pull something out of his pocket.

Either it was blasphemous intervention of the Umbra, my sub-conscience, or blind luck that protected me. The tentacle missed me, but only by a couple inches. Had I not flown back those few feet, I would have most likely been entangled by the tentacle and things would have gotten much more interesting.

In frustration, the beast swung back and hurled itself along the ceiling of the cavern to disappear in the darkness. I ordered Malum, who was still invisible, to follow. It was difficult for Malum to keep an eye on them, as their dark bodies blended with the dark cavern, but she followed them to the end where the large, stone door was located. The three took defensive positions in front of the stone structure. Malum noticed the head of Sasha dive into the dark waters, and what appeared to be towards underneath the door.

I flew towards Theren, but he wasn’t there.

“Theren, where are you?”

“I’m right here.” He had turned invisible.

“Oh?”

I felt him grab me and latch himself onto my back.

As I flew down to the boat, with Theren gripping me like a vise, I began to think that perhaps it was a good idea that he went in first. Now we knew what we were dealing with and could plan accordingly. And down below, I saw Tamar flying up the face of the spire.

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