Monday, October 26, 2009

The Lay Of The Death Of Ademar

I had no idea what I was walking into that day. We had been in the cave such an extended time that I no longer had any recollection of day or night or even what day it was. My companions and I were weary of being beneath the ground but there was one more unexplored corridor, with one more unknown cavern beyond. We had to make sure that we would not be attacked from that direction before we rested, hopefully for the last time in this sinister subterranean world. Raell, the ranger trapped within a hulking barbarian body, had set off to explore the passage but I had stopped him. I knew that I was better suited to the task. Sneaking around in the quiet darkness had become my area of comfort, the one thing I seemed to excel at. “Go rest, I’m sure there is nothing down there.” I told him. “I’ll go have a peek and be back before you get your rations out of your pack.” With that I moved off silently down the passage.

It was just like many of the other passages we had encountered in the complex. It seemed to have been carved into the stone by the underground river which raced nearby. The roar of that river could be heard faintly still, and the slight tremor caused by its passing pulsed below my feet. Though the corridor was dark there was just enough residual light from my companions in the other chamber that my keen eyesight had no trouble guiding me. ‘Another reason for the elf to do the scouting.’ I thought to myself, imagining Raell groping around blindly in the darkness.

It did not take long to reach the end of the corridor which opened up into a very large chamber. The ceiling rose quickly out of sight and the floor was only visible through half of the room before it dropped over a ledge at the far end. The room appeared to be empty at first. I was ready to turn around and call it a day when I spotted something near the lip of the ridge, it looked like a body. They say that curiosity killed the cat, well, it has certainly brought me my share of hardship yet, I could not resist.

Onward I crept across the bare stone floor, my eyes were darting everywhere looking for danger, the hair on the back of my neck was on end, what a rush! As I neared the body, that of a mutilated and obviously dead ogre, the smooth floor gave way to a surface covered in small broken stones and lose gravel. Just as I reached the rim of the gorge my foot slipped on the gravel surface ever so slightly. I cursed myself silently as a few small stones rushed over the edge to fall with a soft clatter to the floor below. After a few tense seconds where my heart remained still no danger came so I turned to examine the ogre corpse.

That is when I heard it, the sound of something very large moving very fast, the sound of air rushing over scales and horns. The sound of my doom. I turned immediately back to the ridge just in time to see a massive head lift over the ledge. Covered in white and frost-blue scales with multifaceted, black eyes, the beast rose up even with my face to stare at me. I do not claim to be worldly in my knowledge of dangerous dungeon beasts but in that fraction of a second a barrage of information flooded my mind about this particular creature. Remorhaz! My blood turned cold even though I could feel the heat of the creature radiating over my body. My mind screamed for me to run but my legs were frozen in fear, it seemed even more terrifying than the dragon we had faced only hours ago!

Without hesitation the monster reared back to attack. Hunger burned in its eyes and its ruddy back plates glowed red hot in anticipation of this morsel before it. With blinding speed the remorhaz snapped forward, jaws gaping wide and full of jagged fangs. I had never felt pain like what was inflicted upon me that day. When those massive jaws clamped down around my torso it felt as if a hundred glowing hot swords had pierced my leathers. At least one of those teeth pushed through my lung and many others crushed ribs and pelvic bone but that was just the beginning. As I screamed in anguish the creature continued its assault and I realized in horror that there was nobody around to help me. Not about to release me it rose up again, its neck stretched out straight as I was lifted high into the air. In desperation I punched at the beasts’ eye, the only thing I could reach, but it was a vain attempt. The pain was unbearable at this point and, as the monsters’ teeth ground against my broken bones my world began to fade into a red haze.

Throwing back its head, the beast eased up its grip on my body and I thought for a fleeting moment that it was losing interest in me and perhaps I could escape. I was wrong. Revulsion filled me as I felt the creatures’ throat opening up below me, its jaw hinged like that of a massive snake and I could feel my legs sliding down its open throat as I no longer had control of or feeling in them. The remorhazs’ neck muscles constricted hard as the monster began to swallow. Extreme heat rolled up around me and I silently prayed to Sanasarus for a quick end while screaming in agony. I watched as I sank slowly, deeper and deeper into the creatures’ gullet. I tried several times to reach for one of my daggers, that I might inflict some sort of damage to the thing to make it release me but they were out of reach and my arms were held tight within the beasts’ esophagus. As my head passed below those massive jaws the thing swallowed again and I was pulled deeper down while I watched helplessly the closing of those jaws and the falling of complete darkness upon me. Again I screamed in pain as the heat flared up and the monsters’ insides began to squeeze. When I tried to take in a breath there was no air, in panic I tried again to punch, claw, even bite my way out of the disgusting, slime covered tomb but it was too late. I had lost too much blood, I had no control of my lower extremities and my upper body was held immobile. The red haze faded to black as I finally succumbed to my wounds.
I don’t know how long it was but after my meeting with the remorhaz I awoke seemingly from a night terror. I found myself in a familiar though, strange location. I was back in my room at Loomis’ Frostbit Inn. ‘How could this be? This place no longer exists, I’ve seen its ashes and bare foundation!’ Strangely, this scene seemed more surreal than the remorhaz cave. I looked about the room for a moment, seeing my equipment in a heap and Est’Perolyne, that magnificent bow, leaning against the wall next to it. Everything seemed in place but something was not right. Slowly I stood up from the bed and walked to the small mirror sitting atop the changing table. Within its reflective surface I noticed with a start that my face and hands were completely unblemished! I dropped the mirror and it shattered into jagged shards. Looking at the broken facets brought a hundred different reflections of myself, some were versions of me as an old man, others showed my scarred face, many showed my childhood staring back at me curiously, none of them were the same.

I turned away from the mirror and walked to the window, this had to be a dream, this could not be real! Looking outside I could see the town of Snoam-Schlabach in flames. Men lay everywhere in impossibly deep piles their dead eyes seeming to be looking directly at me. Women ran about frantically and children screamed relentlessly as orcs and worgs stormed the streets, viciously hacking down their helpless victims with bloody swords and axes. The streets ran red with innocent blood which pooled around the inn and reflected the flickering orange flames that towered in the smoky sky.

One particularly large orc stalked into view, he was covered head to toe in armor and thick black dreadlocks hung about his shoulders. His malevolent yellow eyes looked straight at me and his tusked mouth split into a wicked smile as he took notice of me.

“No, you’re dead.” I heard myself say. “I watched you fall, you cannot live.”
Tonguescum's smile spread even wider as I spoke and he lifted a massive scimitar, the one Cor’Nal had claimed as his own, in one hand, it was dripping with dark blood. In his other hand he raised a disembodied head by its thick red and gray hair. The features of Pieter MacBrady were unmistakable despite the ashen skin tone and blank milky eyes which seemed to bore into my soul.

I wanted to scream at the orc chieftain, wanted to curse him and damn his wicked actions but found that I had no voice. Another figure walked up next to the beast, this one was squat and stout, a dwarf! This dwarf was also armored and with sickening realization I saw it for what it was; the MacBrady ancestral armor. Patch looked up at me as he stood next to Tonguescum and sneered at me from beneath the ornate helm which was a bit too large for his head.
“Like me boots elf?” He asked sarcastically as he lifted one foot from the bloody ground to afford me a better view. They were rotten, tattered, and ill fitting yet he wore them like a badge of honor. I felt bile rising into the back of my throat.
One by one, over a dozen individuals emerged from the burning town and stood outside my window. They were the evil of my past, the wrongs I had committed, the consequences of my actions. The mob outside began screaming at me, taunting me, cursing my name. They wanted my soul, wanted me to burn with them in hell. All the while the blood deepened around me, began seeping into my room over the window sill. I had to get out of here! Turning to my gear, I plucked up Est’Perolyne and a quiver of well made arrows slinging them over my shoulder. As I was strapping on my sword belt something began pounding at the door. The wall holding the portal shook violently, the pinewood door was no match for the force on the other side. In a splintering explosion the door flew inward. Through the opening came a pair of gigantic blue-white hands which gripped the upper lip of the opening and proceeded to tear the roof right off of poor Loomis’ inn. I found myself staring up at a frost giant, the very same giant my companions and I had defeated not so long ago!

Knowing that this particular monster was vulnerable to fire I pulled an arrow from my quiver and knocked it against the steel-like black string of Est’Perolyne. I smiled as the triangular tip of my arrow began glowing then, as the fletching reached my cheek and I sighted the arrow it burst into flame. Finally something in this situation was working properly. I held my breath for a heartbeat to steady my hand then let fly my flaming missile. I watched in anticipation of the hit while reaching for another arrow. The arrow never made it, several feet before the giant the flame went out. When it finally reached the monster the missile bounced off as if I had fired it into a stone wall.
The giant laughed loudly at my failure and a massive club appeared in its hand. Wasting no time it swung the business end of the crude weapon in an overhand chop at my head. I dodged to the side missing the strike but stumbling to fall on the blood soaked floor. Again the giant struck and again I dodged, for several moments this went on all the while the chanting outside continued in a dark and foreboding tone and blood began to rush into the room with frightening speed. It was not long before I was out of breath and bogged down in the warm, sticky, now knee-deep, pooling blood. I had no where to run, no help, and no hope of escaping. Fear gripped me tightly like a snake would squeeze a mouse. I found it impossible to breath, impossible to move.
“Sanastarus forgive me!” I cried out to the smoke choked sky. “Please, help me!”

The mob outside began laughing hysterically at my petition for help from a god who obviously was not listening. The maniacal cackling filled my ears and my heart grew heavy as I realized what they already knew, I had been abandoned. Turning back to the giant, I looked up into its cold eyes, the club was poised for another strike. My hand went limp around Est’Perolyne and the glorious bow splashed wetly into the pool of blood. I watched as the giants’ massive arm pumped forward but this time I did not move, this time, my world went mercifully black.


For a long while all I knew was the darkness but slowly, as the sun creeps forth in the predawn, a gray mist rose up about me. I felt no warmth within the lazily swirling mist but neither did I feel cold. Actually there was no sensation at all, no pain, no touch, no scent, I could not even tell what direction was 'up'. For a long while I floated there in the mist, unsure of what horror I would face next. I felt strangely at peace despite the disturbing thought which crept into my mind. What if this was my fate? What if I were destined to float in this gray nothingness for all eternity? Would this be any better than the torture I would find in the pits of hell?

Before the thought could take root, a sensation came over me, the feeling that I was being watched or perhaps someone, or some thing, was seeking me out. This impression lingered and I turned about in the mist straining to see what might be out there. All I found was the swirling gray mist.

Without warning something brushed over my shoulder startling me from my contemplation. Seconds later it returned, fleeting at first, it became a soothing and firm caress. Warmth washed over me and a sense of urgency filled my being, an urgency which I did not understand. I realized that I had closed my eyes but I quickly opened them as I sensed myself moving swiftly through the mist, being pulled along by this unknown force. The vapor parted before me and swirled madly in my wake as I hurtled through the emptiness like a ship cutting through the sea at full sail.

Before I knew it the mist was gone and I found myself soaring like a bird over a vast, verdant, forest. With alarming speed which I could not control I hurtled lower and lower until my feet dangled dangerously close to the treetops. A small clearing appeared in the boughs ahead of me and, with a neck snapping change of direction that should have put my stomach in my throat (but strangely, did not), my being plunged downward toward the ground a hundred feet below. For reasons beyond my understanding, I remained calm as I plummeted toward the ground. Just before smashing back to the earth my momentum broke and I landed softly, my booted feet greeted by soft, fragrant, clover. Instantly the force which had been tugging me along dissipated allowing me free will.

It took me many heartbeats to notice but, I realized that this peaceful glade was very familiar to me. I was back in Kemmermere, a place which was a days hike outside the city of my childhood where my friends and I spent many a day in dalliance. It was strangely quiet now though, no bird song issued forth from the treetops; no rustling of small animals in the brush; not even a breeze to shake the foliage. The lack of life in this familiar place sent a shiver down my spine. Movement caught my eye just at my periphery. Turning to my left I found the only animated thing within the clearing. A dragonfly flitted about a few paces away from me, it's green jewel-like body glinted in the soft light as silvery, iridescent, wings beat furiously at the still air. Once I noticed the creature it began circling me then darted off toward the treeline. When I did not follow it wheeled around and returned to circle me again before dashing once more toward the trees.

I did not see the significance at first but, finally, sunlight revealed an old and long forgotten tale to my minds-eye. A tale which my grandmother had spun for me in my early childhood about the views of the elves before they had left the wild and moved into their great forest-cities. It was the belief of the ancient fey that dragonflies were messengers, carrying important information across the world and delivering it to those who knew how to gather it. Unfortunately the tale mentioned nothing of how to procure information from insects. At this point the dragonfly had given up on flying out toward the trees and settled on flying rings around me as I stood there in contemplation. Having no better plan I decided to follow the creature and see where fate would steer me.

"Lead on little one." I said to the bug, somehow feeling that the creature could understand my words.

In a flash of jade and a vigorous hum of beating wings the dragonfly made it's way up a small rise and toward the trees. I vaguely remember following for a short time before encountering a building just over the rise at the very edge of the trees nestled between two sprawling oaks it was a building very much out of place, which I knew had never existed there before. As we approached I made note of the details of the domicile. It was of sturdy design using stone for the walls with a high peaked, slate roof. The shutters were open showing real glass in the window frames. The dragonfly lead me right to the front of the building. I was not prepared for what I found when I approached those windows.

The building was apparently a tavern. It abounded with men and women sitting about large mahogany tables in tall chairs eating, laughing, singing, and of course, drinking. The one individual which did not belong was at a small table by himself, a hulking figure who's olive skin and broad, almost animalistic features instantly set him apart from the rest. An oft used greatsword leaned against the table in it's sheath and he sat with his back to the door, almost sullenly taking long pulls from his tankard.

"Vrock?" I whispered to myself in surprise. Seeing one of my past companions filled me with hope that I would not spend eternity alone. Without a second thought I moved to the front door and threw it wide before stepping inside. I began to move toward the half-orc but, for the second time in as many moments I was caught off guard. Magda Dervish stood before me blocking my path. A strange, mixed look of happiness and grief was stamped upon her face. I opened my mouth to speak but she placed her index finger over pursed lips and snatched my arm with her free hand leading me quickly behind the bar and into a back room. Once inside she glanced back into the taproom before closing the door behind us.

When Magda turned back to me her expression was stern, a look I had seen often in times past when there was work to be done. "Ademar," she began "we've been expecting you I'm afraid."

"Expecting?" I asked. "What is Vrock-" I began, becoming thoroughly confused at how she knew I would be arriving and why the half-orc had not passed on to someplace other than what appeared to be Magda's ideal version of Homebound.

"Yes dear, expecting." The plump barmaid cut in before I could run on. "I was warned that you would be stopping at Homebound on your way. Don't you fret, I'll do me best to explain what I can." It was then that I noticed the dragonfly which had led me here was perched upon Magda's shoulder. Noting my deepening confusion she pressed on. "I haven't much time so, I'll get to the point. You are no longer among the living as I'm sure you know by now. I'm not knowing what brings you here- just as I'm unsure why Vrock was brought here. But, I do know that this is not where either of you belong. I'm knowing that you have two paths before you now and that you have very little time to make your choice." She glanced over her shoulder again seeming to be unsure of exactly how short her time for explanation might be. "You can continue on your path to a final rest, where'er that may be, or you can find your way back to the land of the living. I'm told that Cor'Nal is even now trying to guide your spirit with the aid of Kutenai, no doubt you've felt his touch already. This is a rare opportunity you have before you Ademar."

I stood there for several moments as the weight of what Magda had said sank in. To her credit she stood by, quietly awaiting my response. The pressure of this one decision pressed heavily upon me. Did I truly want to return to the corporeal world and the trials which awaited me there or, would I be content to remain- where? What was my option? Back to the swirling gray mists, a descent into the nine hells, something else? I did not belong here with Magda and Vrock, I had been told as much already. My head swam with the possibilities and I longed for a glass of wine to sooth my troubled mind.

I believe that Magda knew what was best for me that day and she could see my internal struggle plainly. Feigning that her work awaited her she interrupted my mental struggle.
"Ademar," she said softly "might you do me a favor before you make your decision?"

Being deep in thought, I merely nodded, giving her words and manner little thought.

"There are several racks of lamb out back in my storage shed, would you mind bringing them in while you think on your fate. It would be most helpful."

I should have paid more consideration to her reddening eyes and nose or the forced calm in her voice but I was oblivious to all those things, not seeing them clearly until it was too late for it to matter. Nodding my head again I walked toward the door leading out the back of her storeroom.

When I emerged from Magda's tavern the sun was bright in a cloudless sky. The rickety old storage shed stood directly across from the door just as I remembered it in Snoam'Schlabach. The door was slightly ajar bringing back dark memories of my past. I shuddered involuntarily at the thought of the snake creature that nearly ended my life. Looking beyond the outbuilding I noticed that the forest was vibrant and alive. Birds sang, insects fluttered about on the breeze, and small animals scurried through the undergrowth. In a word, it was perfect, a place I could have remained in for all time.

Faintly I heard Magda call out behind me. "May the gods smile upon you Ademar." The comment seemed horribly out of place to me and I turned to ask why she had said such a thing but I found that the tavern was no longer there as if it had never been. It should not have surprised me but it did.

For a moment I stood quietly in the glade at the edge of the forest taking in the purity and beauty of the place. I longed to remain in this place, comfortable warm and safe. At the back of my consciousness I felt an incessant tug upon my being. I now knew it for what it was, Cor'Nal was reaching out to me, imploring me to return to my physical being.

For a long while I tried to ignore the call. I stood among the ancient trees of my youth breathing deep the sweet scent of wildflowers and damp earth underfoot. The summons, a constant tugging at my soul, did not subside. I though of all those who I could be with again if I were to stay. Old friends, my grandparents, Deedra... Her aged face and bright eyes came clearly to my mind and the thought of her nearly buckled my knees. How could I have been so selfish, how could I have forgotten my oath?!

With a great sigh I turned back to the shed at my back, it stood there still with it's door cracked open, barely. I still had purpose on the face of Atalanxia, I still had a task to complete and whether Sanastarus gave me his blessing or not I needed to see that work to it's end. Before I could change my mind I strode forward to the rickety shed and opened the door wide. Blackness greeted me there, impenetrable and frightening. The call to return strengthened, nearly pulling me into the void but I resisted. Perched upon the very precipice of my return to the living I paused and took one more look around at what could be a peaceful eternity.

"I will always have another chance at death." I said to any who might be listening. With a wry smile I scanned the scene once more trying to commit it all to memory before I succumbed to the call of my druid friend and walked again into the darkness.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Scholar and The Opportunist

Gaen Baliol was once a scholar of magic and history who was schooled at a secret School of Wizardy in northern Eystlund. Being the sort who was just as interested in magic history as he was in magic itself Gaen spent as many nights reading history texts as he did studying his spellbook. Eventually, his thirst for knowledge led to the forbidden. Though Gaen was uninterested in learning the dark arts for personal use he was greatly concerned with learning of the rise and fall of those who did so in the past.

Over the course of many years Gaen "borrowed" many forbidden texts that were locked and hidden away by his masters. He squirreled them within his own quarters until they became too cumbersome for his tiny dormitory. Eventually, Gaen took the lot of them to a nearby cave to study them, devouring them nightly by candlelight.

Gaen's comings and goings eventually led to his discovery by an elf of the name Ji'Seera. Ji'Seera was an elf of wicked nature and took her opportunity upon discovering Gaen's theft to force him to take more from the masters, lest she expose him for a thief. Ji'Seera however was not interested by the history of the magic that was forbidden to the understudies of the school, but the potential power that knowledge could bring, and so forced Gaen to remove old tomes that explained how one could conjure the power forbidden them.

Fearing expulsion and possibly worse, Gaen obliged. Over several weeks he carefully took what books he could under the noses of the schoolmasters, but Ji'Seera was never satisfied. Eventually, when Gaen could no longer abide the guilt of his crimes he refused Ji'Seera when she demanded more. Defiantly he told her that he would throw himself upon the mercy of the mages council before taking any more and would quickly implicate her extortion if she were to attempt to force him into doing so.

This enraged Ji'Seera. Over the next year and a half she studied and copied every relevant spell and ritual that she found worthy of the texts taken by Gaen. When she finished the exhaustive work she made a final attempt at swaying Baliol at procuring more of the forbidden magical tomes for her. Although Ji'Seera had grown exponentially more powerful than before, Gaen steadfastly refused but stated that as long as she left the situation alone, he would keep her secret if she kept his. Ji'Seera was visibly disappointed but seemed to understand, much to Gaen's surprise, and she left his dormitory without further incident.

The following day a senior member of the mage's council was found dead. It was believed that a spell of necromancy was used to sap the councilman's lifeforce. The spell, it was determined, was one found in a tome of a forbidden nature. One that had been locked away in the deepest depths of the school's basement library centuries ago. A place where only the most senior instructors and the most advanced students were allowed to enter, only now, that tome was missing.

Ji'Seera reported to the council that she had found Gaen Baliol to be keeping odd hours and leaving the school grounds for a small cave to the west. The council investigated, and that day found within the cave Ji'Seera led them to every tome and history book that Gaen had squirreled away for himself, as well as all those spellbooks and tomes of dark ritual that he had stolen for Ji'Seera at her demand.

Word quickly spread through the university that a cave had been discovered near the school with countless stolen spellbooks. Gaen knew it was a matter of time before he would be arrested. He knew that he'd be found guilty and at best be executed, and at worst have his hands cut off and his tongue torn out as punishment. He knew Ji'Seera's word would be accepted over his and so he fled. Leaving all things he loved and all people he knew behind.

20 years passed as Gaen Baliol roamed the northern continent. He had heard word at one time that the noted bounty hunter Windfall was even contracted to find him at one point. Flattered as he might've been if he had in fact been guilty of what he was wanted for, Gaen supposed that it was only fitting. Indirectly, it was his fault after all that a senior councilman was killed, even if he himself didn't cast the spell. Regardless, the threat of one with prowess such as Windfall after him meant that now, more than ever, he needed to find a place of permanent refuge, or die a fugitive.

Eventually, the legend of a village of outlaws was discovered by Baliol to be in fact a reality. A tower, though a very small one, was already within the town and currently empty. Perfect. He immediately bought it from Baron Von Strohm and has been there for the last decade. He has not been harassed since his arrival, and likely would've forgotten all about the troubles of his past if he hadn't received a message by courier, five years after his arrival, that Ji'Seera De'Logue, elven mage, had been made a senior member of the council he had fled from 25 years ago.

The letter, left under his door and delivered to him by a courier he never saw, was unsigned, though at the bottom, where a signature would normally be were the words...

I will keep your secret, if you keep mine.