Ur-Delth

VOD

Gin’s Journal, Day 39, Page 81

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah. Both of them were,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

“Makes sense to me,” Tamar interjected.

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

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

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

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

“About an hour.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, but I have a quick question.”

‘But you promised we would return…’

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

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

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

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

“Krallak, what else can you tell me?”

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

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

“Is Gin alright?” Theren asked Tamar.

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

“His way to madness?” Theren whispered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have my doubts,” I said.

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

“Shazam.”

“Shazam? What kind of word is that?”

“Just don’t attack until I say so.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And where was Tamar?

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

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

Balor roared in frustration.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theren shot with his arrow again but missed.

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

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

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

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

“That didn’t hurt you?” Theren asked.

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

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

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

Vod was dead.

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

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

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

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Bait and Switch

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

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

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

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

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

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The Domtoch Kreeg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New Lands and New Enemies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Serpents in The Serpent

Gin’s Journal, Day 37, Page 70

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Fat chance,” she sneered.

Something was coming up from the ripples and foam.

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

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

“Ladies first,” Tamar whispered.

Balor scowled.

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

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

“What is it?” Merrill shouted.

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

I rolled my eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Plan Moves Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Routing a Cult

Gin’s Journal Entry, Day 33, Page 62

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Malum tweeted again.

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

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

Malum tweeted once more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The robed man kicked the other two sleeping men awake.

‘Now! Before he corrupts your friends!’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Balor huffed covered his eyes with his hands.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silence.

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

Again, silence.

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

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

Tamar lifted her sword.

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

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

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

View
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…”

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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.

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