Tirlanolir/D'nemy's Tales of Turgos: The Heroes of Goldfire Glen (UPDATE 7/26)





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    Tirlanolir/D'nemy's Tales of Turgos: The Heroes of Goldfire Glen (UPDATE 7/26)

    This story is mainly told in journal format from the perspective of one of the PCs in my homebrew Kingdom of Turgos campaign. The narrative is occasionally punctuated by other letters or journals of NPCs and other PCs. Turgos is a kingdom in my campaign world, which uses some Sep-inspired concepts and constructs (particularly its religious concepts), while maintaining its own originality. The PCs started at 1st level. They are currently beyond epic. Evora Faro, the journal-writing pc, will provide the background on the characters within the context of the journal. I will drop footnotes from time to time to explain things in the story to give context that can be absent from a journal-based story.

    Feedback is, of course, appreciated. It gives us the drive to continue on. This is a collaborative effort between me (the DM) and one of my players (who plays the journal writing PC). So, sit back, relax and enjoy the tale!

    P.S. This thread was reposted after the “big crash,” but without reader commentary.

    P.S.S. This campaign is taken from several adventures, morphing them into what I needed for the campaign. It's great fun doing it this way, but some of the adventures have been so modified that they are not even recognizable. Can anyone guess them all?

    Chapter 30: 1430
    Chapter 31: 1661
    Chapter 32: 1910
    Chapter 33: 2241
    Chapter 34: 2363
    Chapter 35: 2613
    Chapter 36: 3805
    Chapter Interlude: 3896
    Last edited by Canaan; Sunday, 27th July, 2008 at 03:23 AM. Reason: Update 7/26/08

 

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    Tales of Turgos: Introduction

    As I am not by trade a scribe or poet, the reader shall please forgive the often less than graceful means by which I comment this tale to parchment in an effort to ensure my hopeful message shall not be lost in antiquity within a fortnight of the passing from my mortal coil.

    My name is Evora Faro and I am a priest of Canaan. Devout, loyal to His Word, but at odds with the inhuman machine which so cynically, fearfully, rigorously and imperiously controls chosen aspects of His Word in implacable and arrogantly feigned service to the masses of His good-willed, hungry and innocent faithful. They, the Curia, the elite, self proclaimed High Priests of Canaan are the true enemies of mankind. No demon lord, no warlock, no succubus, no ravenous, incensed dragon, can burn such a trail of destruction and desolation as that wretched, cloistered vestibule of corrupted vermin. As I write this I wrestle with the horrifying truth that I have become a hero to some, a role and title with which I am not at all comfortable, a beacon, perhaps, to many, and a pariah to those I once revered and trusted. I tremble at the knowledge that I am but a scant few incendiary sermons away from being labeled a heretic and hunted down for my crimes. Shall the eyes of the Curia ever fall on these pages, my fate shall be sealed.

    So be it. I am not a servant of Man. I have nothing to fear from Man. I am a servant of Canaan, the Father, Lord of Light, Master of Justice, Mercy and Forgiveness, and His estranged consort, Sankari, the Mother, Guardian of Life, Keeper of the Hearth, Mistress of the Seasons, the one known to her devotees as simply The Green.

    I write this over a rare interval of rest, such as it is. We are at sea, sequestered in a dank, unseemly merchant’s vessel sailing for yet another troubling destination. A bleak isle branded “Demon Claw.” My hands tremble from fear and the chill of the ocean wind that splits through the thin layer of water stained wood that surrounds me. A pitiful defense now that I think of it. A paltry wisp of a shield which keeps that throng of opaque, churning waters at bay. The weather has been most unkind to us for most of this scrap of our trek, but I trust in Canaan’s will and I do not fear. I endure, though my battered stomach bleats for solace.

    Where shall I begin? I have seen so much. Great heroism. Great foolishness. Great sacrifice. Death that comes of anger. Death that comes of selflessness. Rebirth and renewal. Miracles and wonders bestowed by both Canaan and The Green. Evil most foul and goodness most humbling. In the months I have traveled with this unorthodox congregation of fated brethren, my faith has, in turn, been shook, it has atrophied, it has strengthened and, finally, it has solidified.

    Turgos is changing and I find myself changing with it. I fear that those who condemn change as anathema are doomed. Thresholds of revelation that were once obscured by pride and fear of those who seek to control them, have been at long last revealed to me and those I call my friends. We have no choice. Our path is not one of victory, of glory and honor. It is a path of healing and we have long since past the point of no return. Our fates are sealed. Our journey has just begun.

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    Chapter 1: Reunion (part 1)

    I will not lie that it first came as a great surprise to me that this disparate band of colleagues were all childhood friends. Before I joined their ranks and earned their trust, they had known each other for most of their lives. They had all grown up in the protective bosom of the agricultural barony of Goldfire Glen. Peaceful as any small town could be, well protected by Underhill Keep, with its high walls and humble assemblage of well-meaning, if not hearty, soldiers, unflappably loyal to their lord, the Baron Derren Underhill, Goldfire Glen had earned a solid reputation as prosperous and welcoming. Even the High Priest of Canaan, the rotund and sweet natured, Father Nimitz held views of heterodoxy that fit perfectly with the city’s diverse population of farmers and smiths.

    Devotees to Canaan and The Green lived in peace there. Respect between the two religions was unquestioned and unwavering. Alas, had such enlightened views survived on such a grand scale after the first wave of horrors befell Turgos. Fear is a mighty weapon. Fear of the unknown can carry a man to the bottommost pits of insanity, but fear of the known, of the other, of the different; it is not gold and jewels which bring the roots of all evil to simmer, it is this fear given face, given flesh and blood that can be smote with a righteous hammer that gives the purveyors of evil the most delight. How effortlessly we are all corrupted.

    But I digress.

    Lilian and Gabriel Evenshire were orphaned siblings raised by the Church of Canaan in Goldfire Glen. The fate of their parents was unresolved. They had vanished while on a mission of the Church in a far off place called Rappan’Athuk. (The elders never spoke of it directly. I had heard whispers of this dread place in my days at seminary. It is a stronghold of evil in Turgos, somewhere in, or beyond, The Wildlands.) Having no other family to claim them, the Church had little choice but to nurture the children themselves.

    Both had grown into healthy young adults. Both took to the artistry of combat. Lilian’s path balanced humble, divine supplication to Canaan’s Will with the skills of the blade and shield. She became a champion of Canaan and was well respected by both the Baron and the Church. Gabriel’s anger and impatience made him ill-suited for devotional work. But he was strong of heart and muscle and became an adept brawler.

    Four more friends rounded out this group. Jordan Gunderson, an erratic eccentric entranced by the arcane arts. Shale, a dedicated priest of the Green. Boots, a soldier, who had been kicked out of the baron’s brigade for reasons he refused to discuss, and finally Aesendel, a bartender who was also a talented sorcerer. It was at the Feisty Fox, a seedy tavern and inn that catered to all kinds of transients and vagabonds, where Aesendel worked and Gabriel called home. It was also at this watering hole where our story truly began.

    Days before, each of these cohorts received an unexpected invitation which read:

    “My dear friends, please do me the honor of joining me one day hence at the Feisty Fox to celebrate my achievement of reaching the First Valence. Thank you. The Acolyte Hu-Li in Residence at the Tower of Balian, the Ever-Watchful.”

    Each recipient, in turn, all agreed that it must be Jordan. He was always a bit off, and they all knew he had gone off several months prior to study with the elusive, enigmatic Arch Mage, despite several of their protests that doing so was a mistake. Balian lived a day’s journey from Goldfire Glen, within the foreboding walls perched upon an outcrop of granite, that was known far and wide as the Tower of Balian the Ever-Watchful. It’s façade was covered with ivy and surrounded by a decrepit stone curtain wall that Balian, more concerned with perusing dusty tomes than aesthetically pleasing landscaping, had never quite gotten around to repairing. It rose from the precipitous northern flank of the hill. It teetered improbably above a cliff, but has successfully withstood harsh assaults from both, the weather, and several years previously, a large gang of irate Hill Giants. As the story goes, Balian was so angered at being jostled from his studies by rocks pounding the outer walls of the curtain, that he stormed to a window and uttered a tremendous incantation turning all of the Hill Giants permanently into ducks. The ducks remained and populated the moat surrounding the wizard’s tower defecating with abandon on absolutely everything. Locals were often warned not to mention the ducks if ever in the wizard’s presence as it remains, for whatever reason, a troubling memory and is likely to put the prickly prestidigitator in a dangerous mood.

    It was under tutelage of this volatile temperament that Jordan’s already fragile conscience was molded. I met this Balian, and fell under his spell for time. I still, though the thought of it sends icy shards dancing up and down my whole countenance, bear his mark. Perhaps the residents of where we are headed will have the means by which to extract this scar on my soul.

    Forgive me. Back to the story at hand.

    Upon receiving the letter, the fair warrior maiden, Lilian, decided to procure a gift for her longtime friend. Unsure exactly what suited Jordan’s tastes, she ventured into the market district of Goldfire Glen and found herself in the cloud filled shop of Menion, The Herbalist. Entranced by the overwhelming collage of scents that filled the small store, Lilian fought the growing urge to breathe deeper and allow herself to be intoxicated by thick, dry mists. Menion greeted her with his usual preternatural serene demeanor.

    “How may I help you, great champion of Canaan.” He slowly breathed at her. Lilian was known in every corner of the town and she was used to being recognized, even when out of her armor.

    “I am looking for a gift.” She replied, trying hard not to take in too much of the sweet smelling air. “For Jordan… that is… the…” and she unfolded the note she had received to make sure she was correct. “The Acolyte Hu-Li.”

    “Jordan? He’s coming back?” Menion’s nearly closed eyes flickered for a moment at the sound of the name.

    “Yes.” Answered Lilian. “He has reached some milestone in his studies and wishes to celebrate. I want to offer up some token of congratulations but I am a bit flummoxed as to…”

    “Token?” Menion came around from behind his counter. “Token, you say?” His gait was relaxed, but something in his arms, some excited energy took hold and forced them to suddenly flit about like drunken gnats. He maneuvered through the tight maze of pillars that held the regions finest examples of dried herbs and seasonings and suddenly knelt down next to a shelf that held an impressive collection of glass vials. His trembling hands grasped one of the larger vials and, in an instant, his fingers relaxed. He turned to Lilian. “If you’re looking for a token for the likes of Jordan, you will not fail with this.”

    Lilian took care to mark the strangeness of the vial’s shape. The bottom was round, a perfect sphere from which grew two cylindrically shaped protrusions. One was very small, but an aperture on one side of the globe, while the second was wider, and cocked at a slight angle as it rose nearly a full foot and a half from the round base.
    “What is this?” Lilian innocently inquired.

    “'Tis a device…” Menion looked around, making sure no one else was about, and lowered both his voice and his head. “… that in the hands of someone like Jordan, can, with but a small pool of water, some specially chosen dried herbs, and a wisp of a flame, open up visions of the distant past and the near future. Trust me. It’s precisely what Jordan needs.”

    “Herbs?” asked Lilian, strangely intrigued “What sort of herbs?”

    “Let me show you.”

    As Menion bagged up the necessary herbs to be used in the divination device, he asked Lilian if she knew of his old friend Jazzad, a ranger who visits every year around this time. Lilian simply shook her head. “I’m afraid I do not.”

    Menion went on while carefully measuring the herbs. “He lives in the Wildlands and, well, he’s a few weeks late for his usual rendezvous with me and a few other friends and, quite frankly, I’m a bit worried about him. I even went to Captain Tiberon about this and he reminded me that it was against the law for anyone to be sent into the Wildlands, so it was forbidden for the city guards to assist in locating Jazzad.”

    He tied the small bag and handed it over to Lilian and finished his story.

    “But then with a wink an a nod, old Tiberon told me that there was nothing preventing a person from going out into the Wildlands on their own. But I’m just a simple herb peddler. I can’t go out there. That would be suicide!”

    “Are you asking me to go look for your friend?” Lilian knew the question and the answer before Menion did. His face turned ashen and his heavy eyes blinked silently for a long moment.

    “Oh, Miss. If you only would. You’re a champion of Canaan. You’re not officially connected with the Baron or the Duke of Auros. I know you still live in the Temple and that comes with some strings to be leery of, but I’m at a loss for what to do. Your brother Gabriel’s a tough bloke. I’m sure the two of you could…”

    Lilian held up a hand. She offered Menion, whose face had dissolved into a pleading gape, a compassionate smile. “I have a party to go to.” She said at last. “I will be more than happy to ask my friends if they would be willing to help.”

    Moments later, Lilian left the shop with the glass vial, a small bag full of herbs, and a smile that did little to hide how giddy she felt at the choice of her gift. She wore a simple dark gray tunic and pants that scrunched up at the tops of her knee high leather laced boots. A long blade hung sheathed at her side. Her golden hair was wrapped in a tight braid that circled the back of her head like a halo. Her emerald eyes squinted as the sun hung low in the West, its sharp yellow rays bouncing off the cobblestones.

    She would have been loathe at the time to admit it, but the chance to leave Goldfire Glen on some adventure, albeit a small one, was also filling her with a sense of excitement. With a spring in her step, she skipped across the cobblestone streets making her way to the Feisty Fox.

    Save for Shale, they were all waiting for her when she arrived. Hu Li and Gabriel had already been drinking and were in the midst of a raging debate over the nature of life, the universe and every other fleeting, contentious whisper of an idea that floated up out of either of their mead-drowned mouths.

    * * *

    Hu Li was a towering figure, standing nearly seven feet tall and draped in a bone white robe. His frame was frail, thin, like young branches on a sapling. His flesh was almost colorless, not quite white, more like the top layers of ash that remained after a fire consumes its wooden fuel. His dark, deep eyes were ringed with crimson as he leaned into Gabriel for the latest retort.

    Gabriel listened, but remained tense, ready for an equally violent reply when his friend had finally finished his rant. Like his sister, Gabriel’s hair was the color of the sun at its zenith. His blue eyes were fixed on Hu Li. His muscled arms and hands were clinched with frustration, his veins popping out like tributaries.

    Talon looked on stoically as the argument mounted, deflated, reheated and looped into a new topic. His large, calm brown eyes stared through the row. He was clothed in a simple, loose fitting brown robe and his feet were bare.

    Boots sat at the bar, clad in faded, patched up leather armor, a crossbow set on the stool to his left and a sword, wrapped in a torn sheath on the stool to the right. His eyes and knuckles clinched and whitened at the onslaught of rejoinders behind him.

    Aesendel, youthful, lean and normally effervescent, kept himself distracted by continuously cleaning and refilling Boot’s mug from behind the bar. Both of them had always loathed being privy to these pointless arguments before Jordan went off to Balian’s Tower and now dreaded their return. He and Boots shared several quick, voiceless, irritated glances.

    “Give it a rest, guys.” Aesendel finally said. “We get it. You’re both smart, you’re both passionate. You’re both deep thinkers. You’re both…”

    “Silence!” commanded Hu Li.

    Talon snorted, his mouth pulled back in a smirk.

    Gabriel pounced. “Your assertion, then is that because we have the power to do something, we not only have the right to do it, no matter how heinous others may think it to be, but we have the moral imperative to do...”

    “You are not listening!” cursed Hu Li “Morals are irrelevant!”

    “But you’re wrong, Jordan…”

    “That’s the Acolyte Hu Li!”

    Lilian entered the Fiesty Fox to the sound of laughter. Everyone was shaking their heads and scoffing at the flustered young mage. He folded his arms and with a great pout, planted himself on a stool opposite Gabriel.

    “I regret inviting any of you to my party.” He scowled.

    The laughter only grew. Jordan always had a thin skin and was quick to lose his temper, but in truth he relished any opportunity to give his friends a good dose of petulant silence. It was a test of wills and he always won. One of them, without fail, at some lusciously somber moment would allow their pride to fracture just enough to offer Jordan an apology. Through a perfectly executed grumble, he would humble himself enough to accept and then all would be well.

    “Hello, Jordan. Welcome back.”

    “That’s the Acolyte Hu…”

    He had suddenly stood and turned to face the infidel, but stopped his torrent short when he saw, framed in the doorway, bathed in an aura of orange sunlight, was the stunningly fair Lilian, holding out her gifts for him.

    “Oh, my dear. I did not know it was you.” He managed to sputter.

    Everyone else let out muted groans. They all knew Jordan’s infatuation with Lilian. The matter of her being chaste, as was the custom of her order, only fueled his unseemly desires. She wisely maintained a suitable distance.

    Hu Li nabbed the gift with a mixture of sheepishness and aplomb and wasted no time in giving his puzzled friends a demonstration of the devices subtle magicks.

    After several minutes of fighting off the effects of an ever growing green cloud that being coughed up from the vial, Lilian told her story about Menion and the missing ranger, Jazzad. Bored with their provincial lives, it took very little convincing.

    “A quest!” shouted Hu Li. “Master Balian will be so proud. Yes.”

    * * *

    The following cloudless morning, the band, loaded down with armor, weapons, and the usual assortment of traveling gear, left the comforts of Goldfire Glen behind them and headed into the Wildlands.

    Hu Li was uncharacteristically quiet. Talon asked him if there was anything bothering him. “Shale.” He said. “He wasn’t at my party.”

    “Oh, yes.” Said Talon in a smooth, calm voice. “I failed to tell you. I received word from Master Baern, Shale’s mentor, that they were off to a remote village to assist in a birthing ritual.”

    “Bah!” said Hu Li. “A birthing ritual? For that he misses my party? Detestable! The customs surrounding birth and death should be reversed. Birth should be mourned and death should be celebrated, for, at last, the soul is released from torment to be consumed by the Eyeless Hollow Ones! It is the fate of all. And a glorious fate it is! Yes!”

    For a long time after, no one spoke a word. Soon Hu Li was leading the rest of the party who had drifted further behind him.

    “I don’t like it.” Gabriel whispered to his sister. “He’s changed, and not for the better. That madman Balian is corrupting him, I know it.”

    “I agree.” Answered Lilian. “But there is little we can do about it at the moment.”

    “He should have never been allowed to go to that accursed tower,” Gabriel added.

    Boots and Asendel, having overheard the conversation closed in around Gabriel.
    “I agree.” Whispered Boots. Gabriel gave them both a sidelong glance. “He’s lost half his mind being exposed to those… unnatural arts.”

    “It’s not the arts we should be worried about.” Said Aesendel, a bit offended. “It’s the artist about whom we should be concerned, and... his particular vision.”

    “If we have to, I’m willing to…” started Boots.

    “No.” said Gabriel. “We can’t just kill him. He’s our friend. He’s not beyond redemption. His new found certainties mask a profound confusion. One thing is clear, we can’t allow him to go back to Balian alone.”

    * * *

    Three days into their travels, they came upon a familiar site. The small acreage of their longtime friend Farmer Jed and his family. Under their simple thatched roof home, Jed’s sweet, ample wife Betsy, his two straw haired, browned eyed children, Jimmy and Carrie, entertained their guests with a silly ditty about their milk cow, Bessie. Betsy played on a slightly out of tune mandolin as Jimmy, a darling faun of only eight years, kept time by striking a wooden spoon against the bottom of a milk bucket and little Carrie, six and overflowing with innocence, sang:

    Bessie has a big wet nose
    That once caught up a fly
    She sneezed and shook
    Dipped it in a brook
    But that fly just would not die

    She mooed so loud so pa would hear
    And he came runnin’ quick.
    He dug and dug
    Said “Relax. I’ll tug.
    This fly is mighty slick!”

    Bessie tried to stand quite still
    Despite the awful itches.
    She gasped and wheezed
    And finally sneezed
    All over pa’s new britches

    As Pa cleaned off his soiled pants
    The fly, at last, flew off
    “How will this look?
    Me at this brook
    Oh, how Betsy will scoff!”

    Quicker than a hunted fox
    He ran back to the house
    He changed his clothes
    Picked a wild red rose
    And placed it in a blouse.

    When Ma came back into the house
    And smelled the rose’s scent
    She hugged her Jed
    “I love you.” She said
    “You’re such the perfect gent!”


    After a lovely, soothing evening of the simple family’s hospitality, they spent a quiet, comfortable night, each slumbering in their own straw bed gathered in the farm’s only barn. At dawn, awoken by the shrill cries of one of the Jed’s roosters, they packed their gear and met Jed at the border of his home. Betsy had, the night before, packed a parcel full of cheese and jerky for each of them.

    “Been having some troubles of my own.” He told them as they thanked him for the rations. “Sheep gone missing. Darndest thing. Not a trace of them. Could be bandits. Best be on the look out.”

    After another round of thanks, the group headed out. After a few hours, they finally came to the Granite Bridge which marked the official end of the Duchy of Auros and the beginning of the formidable Wildlands. The old bridge yawned over a dried out ravine. As the adventures passed, each flung a pinch of salt over their left shoulder, as was custom to the wise.

    An ancient tale told of a spirit that haunted the bridge and if an offering of salt was not given by anyone attempting to pass, the spirit would appear and eat the offender. No one dared to test the verity of the story.

    After a long, peaceful day of travel over gentle sloping hills awash with tall yellowish green grass, the sun sunk under the Westward horizon and night unfurled a sea of stars that surrounded a lonely moon which clung to the velvety blackness.
    Camp was set. Everyone soon fell into a deep sleep, though Gabriel kept a close eye on Jordan and refused to allow himself to sleep until the wizard was snoring.
    Lilian kept watch as the others slumbered. The half moon above glittered with the brilliance of newly minted breastplate. Save for the gentle, lulling chirps of countless, invisible crickets, all was quiet.

    Then, without much warning, Lillian spotted what she at first thought were fireflies, blinking between the thick, tall blades of grass. She grabbed her blade and gave a shout when she realized they were eyes. Several feral snorts emanated from the shadows.

    Everyone awoke and reached for their weapons.

    Hu Li began chanting.

    Aesendel took in an inhumanly deep breath.

    Moonlight reflected off gray spittle that sheathed jagged ivory tusks. Thick chunks of dirt kicked up around the perimeter of the camp as a sounder of wild boars hungrily charged.

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    Chapter 1: Reunion (part 2)

    Lilian cut the air with her blade. Boots, Talon and Gabriel were on their feet. Boots brandished a sword of his own while Talon and Gabriel both balled their hands into white knuckled fists.

    In a flash, the ravenous boars closed in. One leapt at Lilian, but she was ready for it. Her blade expertly met the mangy-haired hide of the animal and cut deep. It let out a short squeal as its side opened up and its blood gushed freely. It slammed into Lilian, knocking her down. But it was dead.

    Aesendel completed his abnormally deep breath, waiting a moment, then exhaled, hurling forth a massive stream of green acid that caught two of the boars in its path. So drowned were they by the toxic torrent, they simply bowled over silently as noxious fumes bellowed from their charred hides. The acid swiftly consumed their flesh.

    Never breaking his complex, indecipherable chant, The Acolyte Hu-Li moved behind the wall that Boots, Talon and Gabriel had unknowingly created. Gabriel, worried about his sister’s well being, plunged into the fray. Several boars had already surrounded Lilian, and as she struggled to get up, the animals head butted her and tried to tear through her chainmail shirt with their tusks. Gabriel sprung forward, entangling one of them in a head lock and pulling it away from his sister in a violent roll.

    Talon followed suit, performing the same maneuver with equally effective results.

    There was the dull sound of a bone crack where Gabriel struggled with his boar. It’s back legs let out a short spasm, then it died.

    Gabriel sprang up only to see a heap of boars where his sister once lay. She was buried under them.

    “Why are they all focused on her?” he cried to the night air.

    Boots rushed toward the writhing pile of boars and slashed at the hides of those on the edge, but a split second before he managed to scurry into range, his toes struck an errant log and he fell into dry dirt with a dull thud. His hand lost its grip on the sword.

    Three of the boars detached from the pile and pounced onto the fallen Boots.

    Hu-Li’s chant ended. There was a flash and a sudden zephyr of warm air that wafted over the chaos. A dog, wrapped in a silvery aura, shot from the ether and raced toward one of the boars smothering Lilian. It’s mouth was pulled back into a toothy sneer as it snapped and barked at the wild beast. The boar turned to meet the intruder only to have its throat caught in the celestial dog’s powerful jaws. Blood seeped out between the hound’s teeth as the boar’s life shook away. The dog wasted no time. It flung the carcass aside and lunged for the next one.

    Boots let out a cry that was grotesquely cut short by the gurgling of his own blood as a boar sunk its tusks into the warrior’s throat. Two other boar tore through his flimsy leather armor and shredded the exposed flesh around his abdomen until it was lost under a thick sheet of pooling crimson.

    Aesendel sent a morning blue missile hurtling from his outstretched hand and it smashed into one of the boars that had been feasting on Boots. It was thrown back and hit the ground with an ugly crack, and moved no more.

    Talon flung the broken body of the boar he had been wrestling into the tall grass that surrounded him when three more of beasts suddenly leapt from the shadows and bowled him over.

    Gabriel let out a shout and hurtled himself toward his sister. He grabbed and yanked at the heavy boars, trying to get them off her. The glittering dog aided the frantic brawler by tearing chunks of flesh off any boar that got near either one of them.

    Aesendel spanned the field and quickly heard the scuffle with Talon and the three boars in the tall grass.

    Hu-Li began another chant.

    The sorcerer took in a deep breath as he raced for the spot where the tall grass swayed violently from the battle it masked.

    A boar’s head shot out from the grass, baring its tusks and barring Aesendel’s way. Out of panic and simply by reflex, he vomited out another horrid green stream. The boar’s face was instantly devoured by the acid.

    Behind Aesendel, Gabriel let out a howl of pain. The sorcerer turned and saw his childhood friend being knocked over by two of the boars. All the other beasts were dead. The dog and its reassuring glow, vanished, only to be replaced by a second, summoned by Hu Li’s mastery.

    The hound ripped into the flesh of the two remaining boars with abandon.

    Aesendel held up a hand and a white light flickered in his palm, then wrapped around the whole of his hand, covering it in an orb of bright light as the light spell did its trick. He pushed his way into the tall grass, racing toward the sounds of Talon’s fight.

    Hu-Li looked on at the carnage, swallowing down an urge to vomit.

    “This is most unpleasant.” He muttered.

    His second summoned dog dispatched the remaining boar with an efficient tear at the back of the animal’s neck, severing its spine and instantly killing it. It turned to the one who called it, wagged its tail, panted sweetly, its snout smothered in blood and gore, then vanished.

    Talon lay in the midst of the tall grass. His knees where knocked out from behind by a boar’s head. The suddenness of the unbalancing maneuver, as well as the shock of pain, sent the monk instantly to his knees where the same boar hit him again in the back, knocking him face forward onto the ground. Talon tried to roll over, but the beast was on his back. The other two were dead, battered by Talon’s fists and feet.

    He tried to wriggle out from under the beast, but it was no use. It was too big, too heavy and it had him pinned right below the shoulder blades. It butted the back of Talon’s head. The monk lost consciousness.

    The boar snorted once, dripping thick globules of gray spittle all over Talon’s back. It opened it maw, ready to scoop out a chunk of flesh with its powerful tusks, when the grass crunched nearby. It looked up and saw nothing else but pure, blinding radiance as the light spell surrounding Aesendel's hand, engulfing the Boar's vision.

    Aesendel pushed his glowing hand into the beast’s face. It reeled back, snorted and squealed with shock, leapt off the prone Talon and clumsily scurried away. It was some time before its angry screams faded off entirely.

    * * *

    Aesendel dragged Talon’s unconscious body back to the camp where he found Hu Li had pulled Lilian and Gabriel’s bodies together, so the siblings lay side by side. He had covered Boot’s corpse in his own blanket.

    Upon seeing what remained of Boots, Aesendel let go of Talon and hurried over to the blood stained blanket. He knelt to his knees and sobbed.

    Behind him Hu Li rolled his eyes, but out of custom allowed the sorcerer a moment to grieve.

    “He’s not the one you need to be worrying about.” The wizard finally said. “He’s gone. Lilian, Gabriel and Talon all hang to life by a weakening strand, and if we do not make haste, the Eyeless Hollow Ones will consume them as well.”

    “You sicken me, Jordan.” Aesendel coldly stated.

    Hu Li opened his mouth, ready to correct the boy as to his name, but given the circumstances thought better of it.

    “I shall hurry back to the Farmer Jed’s and procure from him a horse and cart. When I return we shall bury our dear friend Boots and carry those three back to the man’s provincial cottage where they can recover in some semblance of comfort. We should never have come out here. This was a mistake. I was wrong. Balian will not be pleased with this foolishness. Look after them. I will return by this time tomorrow.”

    And with that Hu Li hurried off, leaving Aesendel alone. The sorcerer looked up at the half moon. He hummed to himself and uttered a strange ode:

    Look after us
    Oh, my fathers
    Have pity on us
    Oh, my mothers
    Void of wing
    Void of scale
    Void of claw
    Void of breath
    We beseech, thee
    Most ancient
    Most powerful
    Look after us
    Your children lost.

    For the remainder of the night, and the next day, Aesendel quietly watched over his friends. All was peaceful until the last, thin beam of orange sunlight flickered away and the stars popped out of the black dome that loomed over the camp.

    Aesendel stood, hungry after forgoing any sustenance, too mournful to pay any attention to the churning in his empty stomach, and moved over to his backpack and bent down beside it. He reached in a dug out a sliver of jerky. When he stood back up to take a bite, his eyes met those of the wild boar he had blinded the night previous.

    Red rings still wreathed the beady eyes of the animal, and they narrowed at the site of its prey. Aesendel threw the treat he held into the tall grass.

    “Go! Get it!” he yelled.

    The boar looked to where the sorcerer had thrown the jerky. For a moment, he thought the ruse might work, but when the boar turned back and let out an irritated snort, those hopes instantly dwindled.

    The animal kicked its hind legs back and hurtled itself forward. Aesendel started to take in another long breath, but it was cut short, the spell interrupted, when the animal smashed into the sorcerer’s side, knocking him into the earth.

    His body throbbed as he tried to rouse back to his feet. His left side, numb, refused to move at all. The throbbing faded on his right and was replaced by a stabbing, disorientating sting. He tried to roll over, to get to his knees, anything other than remain there prone to serve as a meal to some wild animal.

    It was no use, though. All his struggles were cut short by the pain on his right and the numbness on his left. He laid there and waited. The boar gave a pleased snort, and began pacing, taking in the prize, the victory.

    Aesendel closed his eyes and waited.

    The boar climbed up on the sorcerer. Hooves dug shallow crevices into Aesendel’s chest. Its toothy jaws opened.

  • #5
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    ø Ignore Canaan

    Chapter 1: Reunion (part 3)

    The back two hooves of the boar climbed onto Aesendal’s thighs. The full weight of the beast burrowed into the sorcerer’s flesh. In the retelling of this moment, he could not recall with any certainty if it was the pain of the tusks in their attempt to render his flesh apart, or the instinctual urge to survive that provided the sudden rush of potency that billowed through him, but whichever the cause, Aesendal’s eyes popped open, and he gasped in as deep a breath as he could muster. The boar ceased its attempts at the sound and turned to face the prone sorcerer.

    It was a fatal error. A torrent of acid arced from Aesendal’s mouth and crashed into the boar’s bulbous face. It was flung clear of the sorcerer’s body, letting loose horrid screams as its flesh was eaten away, exposing its skull behind thick, dangling wedges of curling hide.

    Pain and fatigue finally overtook Aesendal and he fell into unconsciousness. The final sound that reached him before Oblivion dragged him into its bosom, was of horse hooves tearing through the grass, followed closely by the squeaks of wooden wheels, and Hu Li’s shrill voice uttering, with what Aesendal thought was an altogether inappropriate jollity, “Ah! Smells like breakfast.”


    Aesendal awoke to the sting of a pungent, hot liquid being poured down his parched throat. The flavor was not at all unpleasant, and after the initial shock, he found the tonic quite soothing. At least, he noted, he wasn’t in any pain. Diminutive, soft hands gently guided his head onto a soft pillow. His eyes fluttered open and he took in the smiling, but worried gaze of young Carrie, Farmer Jed’s six year old daughter. He reached his hand up and took hold of her wrist. “The others…” he managed to scratch out as she pulled her arm free of his grasp.

    “They are… fine.” She said, with some hesitation. “All but the one. The one you call Boots. I’m very sorry.” She fought back an innocent tear and Aesendal lowered his head back on his pillow, staring up at the ceiling.

    “I see,” was all he said.

    “You need to rest,” she chirped.

    “Where is Boots?” asked Aesendal.

    “Lilian, Gabriel, Talon and Hu Li buried him in our family plot. His body would not have lasted a trip back to Goldfire Glen.”

    “He had no family there anyway. At least here, he’ll be tended to.” The sorcerer said.

    “Yes. It’s our honor.”

    Aesendal closed his eyes. Hearing a little girl say “honor” unnerved him. She was far too young to understand such a lofty ideal. However, whatever was in that draught she gave him began its embrace. Sleep came instantly.

    When he awoke, the sun was low in the sky, bleeding deep oranges and reds through the room’s single, small window. He was in the Farmer’s master bedroom, and despite the comfort of the bed upon which he lay, the room was sparsely decorated. These were simple people and not given to the vulgarities of custom that so consume civilized society.

    He noted the writhing sprig of holly berries and leaves that hung above the doorway. This was a house devoted to the Green.

    He recognized voices from another room, muffled by the closed door, but distinct, nonetheless. Lilian, Gabriel and Hu Li were locked in yet another duel of words. Feeling stronger, he rolled out of bed and proceeded to slide on the clothing that was left for him on a chair.

    Moments later he emerged from the bedroom and into the main sitting area, where Hu Li, Talon, Gabriel and Lilian all sat at a table. Warm, succulent scents filled the cottage. Empty bowls lay scattered about the table top. Conversation ended with Aesendal’s emergence from the bedroom.

    Talon, Gabriel and Lilian greeted and hugged their friend heartily and lead him to a stool at the table. Only Hu Li remained unmoved. In fact, his countenance was one of apprehension. Aesendal caught wise to the glare.

    “What is it, Hu Li, that troubles you?”

    “That spittle. That putrid, olive viscous that vomited from you.”

    “He just woke up.” Said Lilian. “Let the man recover.”

    “No.” spat Hu Li. “It will give time to concoct a tale so perfectly feasible, the truth of his—“

    “It was a spell.” Asendal flatly replied. “That is all. The common variant is an acid orb, which I am sure the great Balian, at the very least, informed you of. I simply altered its shape and the means by which it is evoked.”

    “Ah…” said Hu Li, seemingly perplexed, disappointed and intrigued all at once. “Tailored evocations. Fascinating. I must ask my Master of that when I return to his tower. Yes.” Hu Li wandered off, lost in his own befuddled mutterings.

    Aesendal finally noticed all the healing bruises that riddled his companion’s heads and necks. He felt as if he should say something, but stayed his tongue. What good will it do, he thought. Reminding them all of what had happened.

    And then he remembered Boots.

    After a moment alone at the grave site of his friend, Aesendal returned to the farmer’s cottage. The whole family had returned from the day’s chores and were joined by Lilian, Talon and Gabriel in laughter at young Jimmy’s story about Hu Li.

    “He asked how one retrieved milk from Bessie.” He said with a snort. “I told him, well, you first wrap your mouth about one of the udders and suckle like you would a wedge of an orange!”

    The little house erupted with laughter. Aesendal saw for what the child was attempting to do, and allowed himself a good laugh at the boy’s wit. Hu Li entered a moment later, his robe stained with a circle of raw milk.

    “I believe I have yet to master this art.” He said to the boy with a grimace. The laughter only rose.

    After a short, but restful sleep, Lilian roused the others before the sun arose. Bruised as they were, she insisted they continue the search for the missing Jazzad. Farmer Jed had provided them with waterskins and rations enough to last them two full weeks in the Wildlands. He had returned from a nearby hamlet in the evening with the supplies purchased by the stock of boar meat Hu Li had returned with when he rescued his friends.

    Hu Li made as many inferences to the fact that it was by his actions alone that they all still walked on Turgos. “Though I could have kept on running, and have been completely justified in my actions, as it was within my power to do so, I chose to aid you. May history be the final arbiter in determining the wisdom of my actions.”

    His assertions were met with profound silence. Whenever Gabriel moved in for a retort, he was quietly, but firmly subdued by the others.

    Several days passed. The Wildlands opened up to them. Untamed, sparsely mapped, this was a natural world, a world mostly untouched by the oppressive hand of civilization. Great forests grew freely over rolling, grassy hillsides. The air was thick with swarming gnats.

    In the night, as they camped, boars continued to torment them, but they had learned how to combat the beasts with a greater efficiency, and although the beasts managed to let some blood of the companions, not a one fell to their tusks again.

    The following morning, as they ate a breakfast of hard bread and dried boar meat, Talon revealed that he had found tracks during his watch. After breakfast he showed them. Everyone gathered about where he stood. He pushed aside a clump of tall grass and revealed a patch of mud. Small footed tracks were stamped into the wet ground. Humanoid, but smaller, like a child’s.

    “Hold on a moment.” Said Lilian. “I think I see something.”

    She pushed through the grass and stopped a few feet in. She dug at the ground with her foot and suddenly lunged forward. Gabriel ran up beside her. She was sprawled on the ground. The others were soon helping her up. Under her foot there was a narrow hole covered in loose grass. It was large enough only to trip a passerby.

    “I thought so.” Talon uttered.

    “You thought what?” answered Hu Li.

    “There is an intelligence at work here. It seemed with each boar attack, they became more… organized.”

    At that, Hu Li scoffed and retorted, “Well, then, Talon, master tactician, disciple of the martial arts, can you devise by these meager clues what sort of intelligence may be in control?”

    Talon was used to Hu Li’s outbursts and not prone to bristle at such sophomoric jibes. Nonetheless, Hu Li’s manner of late had become quite irksome. “Perhaps Jordan, with some further investigation, I ca—“

    “That’s THE ACOLYTE HU LI!” Hu Li cut him off, annoyed.

    Talon merely turned and continued looking for clues as to the nature of the intelligence at work in The Wildlands, but this time, with a slight unnoticed, satisfied smile.

    Meanwhile, Gabriel, Aesendal and Lilian had begun a search around the area, crawling through the tall grass, looking for any more pitfalls. With a short, sharp shout, Lilian vanished. A moment after she screamed in agony. Everyone rushed to the spot where she disappeared to find a massive pit, dug out of the soft ground and covered by now disturbed blades of tall grass. Lilian lay at the bottom. The floor was lined with wooden spikes. Most were broken or merely bent by her impact, but one shot clean through one of her legs.

    Gabriel immediately reached for whatever rope they had with them and lowered it down to her. She gritted her teeth as she pushed her leg up over the spike and tied the rope about her waist. With a great heave, the rest of them pulled her up out of the hole.

    They decided to rest here until the leg was sufficiently healed. As the sun set and they began to ingest portions of their rations Gabriel shook his head and sighed. “Hu Li was right.” Hu Li’s head sprang up and locked on Gabriel’s eyes. “We should never have come out here.”

    “Quite right.” Answered Hu Li. “I am glad someone is listening.”

    “At least…” continued Gabriel “…without Shale. It was foolishness. He is the only one we know who has ever been in the Wildlands. He could guide us through safely. Without him, I fear we are all doomed.”

    The sun set over the eastern horizon. Darkness spread and soon sleep took them all, but Gabriel, who kept watch over his sleeping comrades and his sister.

    The peace of the evening was cut short, however when bolts shot out of the shadows and pummeled the ground around the camp. Gabriel roused them all with a shout as, once again, they found themselves surrounded, only this time it was by strange, three foot tall, gray faced humanoids wearing thick layers of skins and carrying crude axes and swords.

    Talon counted twenty of them. With a shout from one of the creatures, they closed in.

  • #6
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    ø Ignore Canaan

    Interlude: Balian's Letter to Helena

    Interlude: Balian's First Letter To Helena

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    My Dearest Helena,

    I hope this correspondence finds you deep in discussion with a bound Pit Fiend. Their enraged harangues always prove amusing afternoon fare. So much time has passed since last we spoke, that I feared as I began to scribe this letter, I would not recall your name, your likeness, your sublime beauty of wisdom as well as countenance. You will be delighted to know that my ridiculous fears were completely unwarranted. At the first dab of my quill into the awaiting vial of ink, every luscious detail of your brilliance flooded back to me with the veracity of a menstruating harpy.

    Over the last century you alone have remained true to the cause I laid before the assembled wizards. In addition, you have become a trusted friend. Since the imprisonment of Kharas’Vhoories (to this day I am loath to utter his name, let alone commit it to writing)* and the passing of the Grand Injunction** things have been, for us, sedate. The last one hundred years have been, where not quite a halcyon period for Arcanists, for the most part, a peaceful one. The Cannanite Fundamentalists have let us be, save for that impulsive, uncouth and clumsy Madrigal, and we have stayed our hand in their petty squabbles as lay forth in the treaty. Though, at times, I shudder to think at what cost we have secured peace. Have we merely assured the ascendancy of the current regime over another? Throwing our lot in with the Canaanites against one of our own was dastardly business. But I sense fear on the wind and it is coming from the golden spires of Soliel.*** Something is amiss there.

    I write to you to admit, with detestable humility, that I feel stretched. To live with one eye in this world and the other beyond the capacity of mortal ken has taken me to the precarious precipices of sanity. Something stirs on the edge of reality. It lays waiting in the deepest of shadows, just beyond the periphery of my dreams, and when I awake I have but a vague ethereal memory of encountering anything untoward at all. When in its presence, the oppression is ancient, esoteric, seemingly liberated of all trappings of time or place. Is it here? Was it here? Will it come? What is will? What is was? What is now? What is then?

    You see, my dear, I am becoming unhinged.

    Despite my waking mind’s devotion to unearthing the meaning of these omens, I feel compelled to wander beyond the Threshold into That Which Should Not Be.***** I long to fly in the Amoebic Sea. To breathe light and touch music. This ancient presence is pulling me to itself. I must pursue it. I will be putting my affairs in order, and I call upon your assistance to tend to my mortal frame while my spirit journeys to the edges of reality. Should you be willing to humor the whims of an old man, I shall be eternally grateful.

    You will be delighted to know that I have procured an apprentice who has just recently graduated to the First Valence. He is a promising pupil, albeit an arrogant and obstinate one. He refuses to perform even the simplest of duties, such as licking clean the soars that spew and cake upon my back, without first attempting to engage in an aggravating and utterly futile debate over his flawed perception that such a duty is somehow demeaning or pointless. Of course it is both! But that does not excuse him of executing it! His name, as he demands to be addressed, is the Acolyte Hu Li, but I, in keeping with the strictest of tradition, address him only as “apprentice.” I have great hopes for this one, though a tire of his insolence and lack of focus. Perhaps he needs more time in the Tentacle Room. In my absence you may address him in any fashion you deem warranted. The harsher the better.

    Orolde sends his regards. I do believe that his mood is brightening. I dare say he stopped frowning for about a second once last month.

    I await your reply.

    Ever your servant,

    Balian


    * Kharas’Vhoorhies was the most powerful Arch Mage in Turgos. He worshipped a chthonic being, named Orcus, who in turn granted him immortality as a lich. He sucked the life out of an entire city to fuel his gambit for godhood.

    ** The Grand Injunction is a pact among all of the wizards of Turgos not to interfere in matters of religion within the bounds of Turgos. It was passed after the most powerful wizards in Turgos, led by Balian, agreed to assist the Church of Canaan in destroying Kharas’Vhoories, who was intent on challenging Canaan directly once he obtained enough followers. It is not clear whether the wizards could not bring themselves to destroy Kharas’Vhoories (as one of their own) or they lacked the power to do any more than imprison him.

    ***Soliel is the capital of Turgos and the home of The Great Temple, the seat of Canaanism in Turgos.

    **** The Threshold is the doorway between this reality and the next.

    ***** Balian is a fully transcended Alienist and Arch Mage. This is Balian’s understanding of The Far Realm. It’s in line with Lovecraftian concepts.

  • #7
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    ø Ignore Canaan

    Chapter 2: In Exile

    The nadir of my standing in the religious order of Canaan, and, thus the Curia, is forever tethered to the beginning of my true spiritual quest. For many months I had been toiling over dusty tomes locked away in the most esoteric corners of the temple library in Soliel, the spiritual and political center of Canaanism. Unbeknownst to my superiors, I had been delving in forbidden lore. It was Archbishop Tagavarius, the skeletal, pale, heartless eyes of the Curia for the school I attended who discovered me. He brought me before the order. The trial was swift. I was to be banished. That evening, as I awaited extradition, kneeling in a frigid, rancorous, windless cell, my faith in Canaan blossomed. Ideas that long slumbered awoke and the Endlessness, the Eternal, the Boundless, poured into me like a bloated river pours over parched winter-scorched land in the first days of Spring. I was liberated from fear of the Curia. They were bound to the Rules of the Church. Not to Canaan. I also felt the presence of Canaan all around me. His miracles were not taken from me. All the ceremony of the earthly, pawing Curia that were meant to sever my bindings to His Almighty failed. Canaan had not abandoned me!

    Deep in the embrace of His Most Profound, I knelt in sublime bliss. The hard stone of the floor dug into my knees, and I felt no pain. But as with all things save Him Who Must Be Adored, the bliss ended, abruptly.

    I was shaken by the sound of keys digging into the lock of my cell. The large wooden door creaked open and I caught only a glimpse of the tongue-less, hunchbacked unfortunate that served as the Curia’s dungeon keeper. He swiftly stepped into a shadow beyond the door to allow four armored soldiers to enter. I knew by the Canaan Cross on their coats that they were Justicars, the muscle of the Curia. They stood in a square, each one taking up a corner, leaving space before me for the entrance of Archbishop Tagavarius. His white, lipless mouth was bent down in its usual deep scowl.

    “Heathen!” he roared. “Stand!”

    I obeyed.

    “I thought I was to be….” I began, my eyes staring at his blue slippers. He was adorned in the typical conspicuous fineries befitting his standing in the Church. Gold and purple lacing that surrounded a brilliant cross the color of the sun at its zenith.

    “Silence!” He commanded. I must say, despite my solid disdain for the man, he had a voice that demanded attention. His icy eyes bore into me. “Yes. There has been a change in the schedule. Despite my protests, the Curia has voted to allow you to begin your sentence as Soliel sleeps. They feel it is better for the city if your disgrace remains discreet. I feel your punishment is far too genteel. You forayed into the taboo without the wisdom or spiritual clarity to handle the knowledge you gleaned. Left unchecked, you could have lost your very soul with such dabbling! Worse yet, in your naiveté you could have summoned up Unspeakables that reside on the very edges of sanity itself!”

    I stood quietly, listening to his shallow accusations. I heard them many times before in my arrest, my arraignment, my trial and my sentencing.

    I knew this sudden change had nothing to do shielding me from scandal, but to prevent the city itself from asking questions about me being defrocked. If they were to answer with the truth, it would uncover the Curia’s most staunchly guarded secret, that such knowledge existed under their protection. Such a revelation would shake the foundations of the Curia and test their stranglehold over Turgos.

    I was lead in silence to the gates of Soliel. By night, the looming, marble buildings seemed to soak up the darkness. Tall, implacable black monoliths looking on with scorn. The streets where quiet. The only sound was the soldiers’ gait and the click of the Archbishop’s staff striking the cobblestones. At last we arrived at the south gate. The ten foot tall doors yawned open. Archbishop Tagavarius silently passed me a small bag of gold and silver. He turned and walked away. The soldiers remained. They did not move until I cleared the gate and the doors portcullis fell behind me.

    My path lay before me, and I was ecstatic.

    In the month that followed, I journeyed south. I passed through many small villages where I used the money left for me to procure a suit of studded leather and a mace so I would have some means to defend myself. I also purchased a small donkey and various traveling sundries to survive my travels. I had nowhere in particular to go, and trusted in Canaan to lighten my path.

    I even purchased a new Canaan Cross, blessed it one cloudless dawn and wore it even as I slept, as I do to this day. Canaan has never left me, nor shall he ever. Wherever I went, I introduced myself as a Priest of Canaan, and no one ever questioned my claims. My suspicions regarding the Curia’s reasons for keeping my crimes covert were only strengthened.

    As I traveled, I had much time to reflect on the course of events that brought me to where I was.

    My family was farmers. We all bore fiery red hair and light, sapphire hued eyes. We worshiped the Green.

    Nestled in a Northern wilderness, protected on all sides by high mountains and thick forests, my earliest memories were collecting eggs in cramped, odorous chicken houses, dragging baskets laden with freshly shorn wheat, carrots and beans at Harvest, and helping my father mend holes in our thatched roof under heavy rainfalls. The smell of pitch instantly carries me back to those times and to that place.

    My childhood was not easy, but it was pleasant, loving, safe, caring, and secure. But it never felt entirely whole. I silently harbored a deep longing. There was something missing from my life, something the tales and promises of the Green could not fill.

    It was not until a group of strangely attired foreigners tread upon our land one cool autumn evening that I discovered my true calling. I was eleven years old and I recall my father’s rancor at that site of the men. I was stacking barrels of dried beans in our barn when I first heard their songs of praise dancing on a strong, northern wind that blew into the barn through the cracks in the boarded walls.

    I was enraptured. The entire time they spent in our midst, I held close, learning the stories of Canaan, how He created the world from His love and how all he asked in return was that His Creation love him in return.

    I converted.

    Crushed by my new found certainties, my family privately disowned me, but in the presence of the missionaries, so as not to offend them and threaten the wrath of the Church, they remained placid, and even feigned joy when the missionaries announced my conversion.

    I returned to Soliel with the missionaries and began my tutelage under the stoic glares of Father Donner. He was a round man, short and plain. Small eyes under thin spectacles that bridged an oblong, mole spattered nose, which twitched whenever he spoke not unlike a squirrel’s. He was an academic and made soft in frame from years of intellectual pursuits at the expense of fitness. His tales of the Will of Canaan were far different than those of the missionaries. He taught us that Canaan is a vengeful God, a jealous God, a God that demands strict adherents to the Law He set forth. This Law, the good Father claimed, was governed with Divine Authority by the Church of Soliel and the Curia, Canaan’s Eyes, Voice and Hand on Turgos.

    The Arcane arts were forbidden. Their power was derived from the guidance of demons, devils and other unmentionables. Worshippers of the Green were heathens, wild and barbaric, performing blood rituals of sacrifice, just as evil and decrepit as any abomination.

    Father Donner was speaking of my family. I could not believe what I was hearing. I began to question him, but was soon quieted with threats of punishment. I held my tongue. Over the years I studied dutifully. I excelled at every course and learned to channel Canaan’s Will through the power of prayer and perform simple miracles designed to aid those in need. But I quietly looked for any opportunity to refute the claims of the Church that all deviations from the Path of Canaan were to be unilaterally condemned.

    It was then that I discovered the secreted store of hidden knowledge. Buried deep under the halls of the temple was a library filled with dusty tomes detailing the levels of Hell and the Abyss. The wastelands of Tarterus and the burning deserts of Gehenna. I read of the fates of those who were condemned to reside in such horrific abodes and the incessant wars demons and devils waged against one another.

    I learned too a path that combined the Divine with the Arcane. Specialized Priests with the wisdom to bridge the powers and remain in the service of Canaan. They were called Urgic Mystics and I knew upon reading those words that there lay my fate.

    And then I was discovered.

    I traveled alone for many weeks, my donkey my only companion. I found myself along a tree covered forest path when my donkey let out a snarl. I turned to see he was walking with a limp. I stopped and examined his hoof to find that somehow he had managed to wedge a long, sharp stone into a hoof. Blood circled the edge of stone that jutted out from the hoof. It was in deep.

    I struggled for some time in a futile attempt to dislodge the offending rock and only managed to make my already irritated beast of burden downright livid. He whinnied angrily at me and even tried to bite me, but I managed to stay out of reach of those big, raking teeth.

    I had all but given up when out of the thick foliage on the side of the road came a tall, gaunt man dressed in a long green robe. His auburn hair lay about his face, framing large, quizzically calm brown eyes.

    “I see you’re having trouble with your donkey.” He kindly uttered.

    “Yes.” I answered, exasperated, exhausted and embarrassed.

    “Hmm…” said the man as he came around and examined the damaged hoof on his own. “I see. That’s quite a rock he’s got in there.”

    “I’ve tried everything short of cutting off the leg.” I said. The donkey huffed.

    The man smiled.

    “There will be no need of that.” He said and reached down, touched the hoof and all the green that surrounded me grew even more brilliantly verdant. The man quietly muttered some soothing words and my donkey remained still.

    A moment later the man was standing in front of me, the stone in his hand.

    “There we have it.” He said. “Best you do what you can to steer clear of sharp stones.”

    “Yes.” I replied as he tossed the stone into the foliage. I was too appreciative to take offence to the criticism. He held out a hand. I took it.

    “My name is Shale.” He said.

    “I am Evora Faro. Priest of Canaan.”

    “Ahh!” he answered and pulled his hand away. “A servant of Soliel, and of the Curia.” He voice did not mask his distrust.

    “No.” I assured him. “A Priest of Canaan. And that is all. I serve no constructs of mankind.”

    Surprisingly, he eyed me with even more suspicion.

    “And you are a Druid.” I plainly said.

    “Yes.” He replied and began to walk away. “You are in her realm.”

    “Where are you headed?” I asked.

    “To Goldfire Glen. I am delayed. I am meeting old friends.”

    “May I accompany you? I feel I owe it to you. I have a mace. I can be of some use. You can never be too careful.”

    It was a pitiful argument to be sure, and Shale stopped, turned back to me and smiled, knowing full well even I did not believe I would be of much use if there ever was trouble. Even so, he nodded and with a wave of a hand, signaled me over. I pulled my donkey to him and we walked down the path together. We discussed many things. I told him of my past, my family and how I am no longer welcomed in Soliel. He told me of his master and mentor, the great Baern, a high priest of the Green and the steward of a great forest to the North.

    He told me the village of Goldfire Glen was two days travel from where we were and that the reunion with his friends was a celebration for one of them who had recently become a novice arcanist.

    Naturally, I was intrigued.

    By the end of the day we had cleared the forest and a wide, flat browning plain lay before us. He told me the path widened into a well traveled road some miles ahead, but with night’s spreading darkness we decided to make camp.

    Shale told me he would keep watch for a while, allowing me time to rest. No sooner had I spread out my traveling blanket, lay down and closed my eyes that a violent stirring erupted from the forest behind us.

    I grabbed my mace and sprang to my feet as rabid boars leapt from the trees and charged.

    Without thinking I swung at one as it closed in on me. My mace struck its jaw. I could hear the bones shattering under the blow. The boar rolled to his side, screaming and snorting madly. It shook its head, reeling from the pain. Blood and bits of bone sprayed everywhere.

    Shale was standing quite still. The grass upon which he stood curled around his feet, and despite it being in the thick of night, the blades of grass shimmered with the brilliance of the finest emerald.

    Three other boars circled him. He was speaking calmly in a language I could not understand.

    The boars seemed to be answering him with angry snorts and growls. Spittle dripped from their foaming maws.

    The one I had struck barreled at me. I stepped aside at the last moment, evading its attack. I struck down with my mace, striking the head, and caving in its skull.

    I then turned my attention on Shale. The other three boars had stopped their circling. They kicked up dirt as they hurtled themselves at the Druid, but he did not move. He gave a quick flicker of his hand and a group of trees suddenly bent down, the branches reaching out like great arms that wrapped around the boars. They screamed and howled, but to no avail. They were entangled.

    Shale turned to me, took note of my blood soaked mace, and sadly uttered with a tear in his eye, “Please. Put them out of their misery.”

  • #8
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    ø Ignore Canaan

    Chapter 3: Unnatural Instincts

    For nearly two days following the puzzling boar attack, Shale spoke very little. Once we had disposed of the rabid beasts, Shale gathered their carcasses in a short pile and burned them. I would have protested, arguing the ensuing scent of cooking meat would attract other, more fearsome predators, but the druid was so quick in his duty, I barely realized what he was doing before the flames sprang up and began consuming the creatures’ flesh.

    Shale stood silently before the fire, his eyes drying out from the billowing, gray smoke, but he did not blink. He kept his vigil, uttering a somber prayer in some ancient, sacred language. At last he turned away and went over to his traveling blanket. He bent over and began rolling it up. I hurriedly followed suit, packing up my supplies and fastening them to my annoyed donkey. Shale helped me after he finished with his own meager belongings.

    We walked on, heading further up the road in silence and darkness. We did not sleep until long after the light of a new day crept over the undulating, grassy hills to the east. Chill winds tore through my meager traveling clothes and stabbed at my flesh, keeping my growing fatigue at bay. Exhausted as I was, Shale kept up an urgent stride down the south bound, wide and well-worn road. He seemed unaffected by either the icy morning gusts or our rapid pace.

    My donkey began to falter. His gait slowed to a standstill. I gave the reins a solitary yank and the donkey refused to move.

    “We must rest” I hoarsely called out to Shale who had stridden ahead several paces. He did not stop.

    “Shale!” I yelled. “Please! I cannot take much more of this without a moment’s respite!”

    He turned around. Upon seeing my predicament with the donkey, he nodded.

    * * * *

    After a few hours of light, restless sleep, Shale gently kicked at my leg arousing me and we continued on down the road. Sometime later, in the early hours of the afternoon, I spotted a gleaming, thin spire of what I thought at first was a Canaanite church. Moments later, the small village that it overshadowed came into view: Goldfire Glen. It was then I realized that it was atop the village’s small keep on which the Canaanite spire was perched.

    Shale, myself and the donkey breezed into the cobblestone streets of Goldfire Glen. He led me to the Feisty Fox tavern and inn. I maneuvered my donkey over to a post and proceeded to tether him to it as Shale disappeared through the tavern’s entrance. I had completed my slipknot when Shale broke through the doorway and hurried down the road, deeper into the village. I left my donkey behind and managed to catch up to him.

    “What is it?” I asked. He did not answer me. He simply strode on, betraying no indication that neither my question nor even my very presence mattered in the least. We soon came upon Menion, the Herbalist’s shop. Shale stormed in. I followed, trying not to make a sound.

    The air in the shop was thick with a sweet smelling cloud that tickled my temples and caressed my already tired head. I held onto the door jam to remain standing.

    Menion’s soft, sing-song voice welcomed Shale. “Shale! My old friend!” He cooed. “You look… terrible…”

    Shale took a deep breath. His cheeks purpled as he drove down a growing rage. “Why did you send my friends out into the Wildlands? If this has to do with replenishing your stock of illicit materials…”

    “Shale… friend… I would never put anyone in danger for something criminal. What kind of person do you think I am?” Menion’s voice was soothing, ethereal and distant. But it did little to squelch the growing fires that were about to consume Shale.

    “Answer me!” he roared. “Why?” The wrath of Shale’s mood broke Menion’s spell. His eyes slammed open and he took in the full frame of Shale’s enraged countenance and cowered.

    “I asked Lilian, I begged her, really. My friend, the Ranger Jazzad, he was due to arrive in Goldfire Glen nearly two weeks ago. I was worried for him. I still am. I asked Lilian to look for him.”

    * * * *

    By the time the sun had set on that day, Shale, myself and my donkey had long since left Goldfire Glen far behind and we made camp by the side of the road. Over the flickers of the dying campfire, Shale finally broke his silence.

    “The fools!” he said “They should have never gone out into the Wildlands without me.”

    I let a silence set in. Shale finally locked eyes with me. He sighed. “Forgive me, Evora. I have been distracted, preoccupied these last few days. Such dire portents have put me in a foul state. You do not have to journey any further. Thank you for your companionship. I do appreciate it.”

    “What was afflicting the boars?” I asked, wanting to distract the point of conversation. There was no way under the Gaze of Canaan that I was going to part ways now.

    Shale sighed again. His face hardened for a moment, perhaps taken aback by my sudden conversational hubris, but then he gently nodded and poked at the dying fire with a stick.

    “Something wholly unnatural has taken hold of them. It has twisted their instincts. I spoke with them, I tried to calm them, to inform them that we were neither food nor predators. All they could say was ‘She commands. She is vile. We kill for her.’ Something powerful has been awoken. My master Baern has the power to free them of this possession. I, however, do not. Given the time I had, death was a far better fate.”

    “I am sorry, Shale.” A pathetic attempt at comfort, but in the moment it was all I had. “I will stay with you. I will help you and your friends find this Jazzad. I will help you lift this curse from the boars. Canaan has led me here for a reason. I cannot deny His will.”

    After the first full night of rest in what seemed like weeks, we continued onward, Shale always leading the way.

    Around sunset, a tall, wide, ivy encrusted tower came into view. It scarred the horizon like a boney finger. As we approached it, we could hear the splashing and quacks of a sizable family of ducks that made the black moat that surrounded the tower their home. A gust of wind brought with it the noxious odor of untold years of defecation. Both Shale and I averted our nostrils.

    “What is this horrible place?” I inquired.

    “The Tower of Balian, the Ever Watchful. It is under his tutelage that Jordan learned the arcane arts.”

    The sun was setting. The air was growing cold. Knowing, too, that this foreboding abode housed a powerful wizard, the awful smells seemed to subside for a moment.

    “Perhaps, then” I began “We could request a room from this wizard. If he is the master of a friend of yours that should warrant his hospitality. And the chance to sleep in an actual bed is enough reason to chance it.”

    Shale nodded and we strode forward. A great shadow leaned forward from the tower and engulfed the winding path that lead up to the raised drawbridge. The moment we broke the edge of the shadow, a great weight slammed down on me. My movements were sluggish. It was as though I was underwater, yet I was dry. Fear clung to me like icy water as I began to suffocate. I turned to Shale and he, too, showed signs of dread. His eyes where wide, his mouth agape, his hands reached forward, pushing back some invisible threat. With all the strength afforded to us, we turned away and broke the threshold of the shadow and emerged into the dying orange light of the setting sun.

    “Perhaps not.” I managed to utter between a gasp.

    “Yes.” Answered Shale. “Clearly he is in no mood for visitors.”

    We hastened away.

    * * * *

    I cannot recall with any accuracy how many days we traveled passed Balian’s Tower. I remember being further accosted by the rabid, possessed boars. Shale and I did everything in our power to avoid any direct confrontations with them, but we did not always succeed. Thus, many had to be slain. We had little choice. With each subsequent skirmish, Shale became even more agitated. He would wince whenever I performed the killing blow, but we both knew it was better than the alternative. Even so, it did not make the gruesome task any easier.

    We came across Farmer Jed’s home. He told Shale that his friends left a few days ago, after recuperating from a deadly boar attack. He showed Shale and I Boots’s grave. Shale knelt down and touched the simple grave marker. He said nothing. In the dying light of the day, Shale’s usually hearty, smoothed, tanned features were sallow and creased with lines of fatigue. This journey was truly taking its toll on the Druid.

    I uttered a short prayer to Canaan, asking Him to take Boots into His care.

    Farmer Jed’s offers of hospitality were rebuffed by Shale, as he wished to continue moving.

    “They’re in danger out there without me.” He said. “I need to find them. Something very strange is happening and I fear if our journey is delayed much longer, they will be lost.”

    Deep in the night we came to the granite bridge that stretched over the steep cliff and dried out ravine which served as the official border between Turgos and the Wildlands. The darkness under the bridge looked solid, as if it were simply a floor anyone could walk across. Shale informed me of the tradition of tossing salt over the edge of the bridge to appease the spirit which, legend had it, resided there. Not wishing to tempt fate, I obliged the tradition and fed the spirit a pinch’s worth of salt.

    We crossed the bridge and headed into the Wildlands.

    More days passed. We were unmolested, but even so, the shifting landscape, turning from twisting hills, vast, featureless plains and dense, opaque forests, I was glad to be in the presence of someone accustomed to such terrain. Shale remained focused. He studied every blade of tall grass, every overturned rock, every chipped, low hanging branch for evidence of his friends’ passage.

    He would say very little, making amendments to our course and direction with a point of the finger, a wave of the hand, or a nod of the head.

    “We are gaining ground. But we must hurry.” He would say and quicken his pace. I did my best to keep up, but pulling a stubborn, constantly famished donkey along at the speed Shale moved proved impossible. With a growing frustration, Shale was forced to match our pace or leave us behind.

    Several days later, Shale, a good hundred paces ahead of us, suddenly stopped. He turned back to us and bounded up to me.

    “Careful.” He said. “Up ahead. There are bodies.”

    “More boars?” I asked.

    “No.”

    “Your friends?”

    “No. Thank the Green. It is something else entirely. Follow me, but stay alert.”

    I obeyed. The two of us, my donkey in tow, made our way up a slightly rising hill and I stopped short at the crest and gasped.

    There, tucked in a neat pile, were what at first appeared to be the corpses of small children, only they were all clad in primitive, poorly hewn, coats of hide. Crude weapons, axes, knives and swords, were arranged next to the heap.

    “Who could have done such a thing?” I fought back a growing urge to openly sob.

    Shale turned to me, his eyes bent in a look of utter incomprehension.

    “They were… children…” I said between huffs. Shale put a hand on my shoulder.

    “No, Evora.” He said. “These were no children. Come. Let me show you.” He led me down the hill to the pile. The stench of decay clung to the air. I gagged. Shale lifted one of the corpse’s faces and showed me.

    It was gray. The features were flat, the lifeless eyes but slits. Its mouth was full of broken, oversized, yellow fangs. I recoiled at the sight of them. Then I recalled something I had read in my taboo studies under the hallowed halls of the Temple of Canaan in Soliel. A tome on magical creatures known as “fey.”

    “Goblins.” I uttered in realization.

    “Yes.” Answered Shale. “And there will be more of them. There always are.”

    Just then we heard a rustling in the tall grass to the North. Something was moving toward us, something shielded by shadow and the wall of grass.

    I took hold of my mace. Shale began to incant.

    We readied ourselves for the ambush.

  • #9
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    ø Ignore Canaan

    Chapter 4: The Circle

    Chapter 4: The Circle

    Save for Shale’s quiet incantation, and the soft humming of countless invisible crickets, all was quiet. I tightened my grip on the hilt of my mace and tried to relax enough to land a clear strike to the first goblin or boar head that showed itself.

    The tall grass shimmered as if latticed with dew and began to twist and curl under Shale’s command. A voice, parched and hoarse, cried out from the overgrowth.

    “Shale!” it called. “It’s me! Gabriel!”

    Shale fell out of his trance. He stepped forward, his eyes fixed on the direction of the sound, alert and tense.

    “Gabriel?” he asked with more than a hint of suspiciousness. He moved closer to the source of the sound. I moved up just a pace or two closer the Druid, my mace pulled up over my head. Shale pulled the grass aside. Tied up in dozens of warped green and yellow strands sat a very annoyed, blonde haired, blue-eyed man, garbed in simple brown traveling clothes. Shale immediately smiled at the sight, uttered a single word and the grass released him.

    Gabriel stood, his scowl vanished and he fell into Shale with a big, warm, fraternal embrace. Shale returned the hug, but added in a whisper.

    “Why did you come out here without me?”

    Gabriel sighed. “It was Lilian. She believed time was of the essence.”

    “Then I will have words with her.” Answered Shale.

    The reunion was cut short by a shout.

    “Damn!” Gabriel growled. “More of them!”

    Eerie, high pitched chattering and shouts filled the air. It was followed swiftly by the telltale clash of metal against metal.

    Gabriel ran ahead. I left my donkey tethered as I followed him and Shale into the tall grass. The sounds of battle drew nearer with every step. My palms and brow dripped thin tributaries of anxious sweat. Boars were frightening enough, now we were about to face a hoard of rampaging goblins!

    I fought down my mind’s every attempt to swallow me up with fear and I plunged forward through the grass, Shale and Gabriel but a few paces ahead of me. We emerged into a clearing that was alive with the chaos of a violent skirmish.

    I was instantly beset by four of the gray-hued, flat-faced creatures bearing horrid gray fangs and crude axes, clubs and swords. I called upon Canaan to show me his Divine Favor, and my mace glowed with His Eternal Justice as I struck down the first goblin to cross my path.

    Round, mystical bolts of energy flew from the hands of frail Aesendal. They leveled two of the marauding creatures.

    The pale frame of Hu Li chanted on the edge of the clearing, his hands and fingers writhing in complicated contortions. A moment later, a haloed hound appeared in the middle of three of the goblins, snapping and pawing at them. It caught one by the throat and wrestled it down to the ground.

    Lilian’s long, golden hair, reflected the soft blue moonlight as she limped toward a clump of goblins, deftly brandishing her sword. Her leg, still bandaged from the impaling, was stiffly dragged along. If she was in any pain, her face showed none of it. An aura of hope emanated from her like the first spring thaw after a dreadful winter.

    Talon and Gabriel effortlessly grappled and flung several goblins into each other. The ghastly cracks of shattering bones combined with the goblin’s high-pitched battle cries.

    Shale appeared beside me, readying his own weapon, a weapon I had never seen him use until this moment. Though it remained sheathed at his belt, I scantly recall even taking notice of it. It reflected moonlight as it cleaved a hapless goblin in twain. The blade, slightly curved at the end, was brandished with the same eloquence and poetry of Lilian’s impressive swordsmanship.

    A moment later, those few goblins who had survived the initial fray, dropped their weapons and fled.

    The blazing, enchanted hound vanished, its celestial light along with it, and the clearing was plunged into the dim blues of moon and star light.

    Shale was met with gracious, brotherly embraces from everyone, even Hu Li.

    Finally, with an outstretched hand, Shale introduced me, “This is Evora Faro.” Lilian’s eyes fell on my symbol of Canaan.

    “You’re a priest of Canaan?” She asked, hope pouring from her voice.

    “Yes.” I simply replied.

    “Good!” Snapped Hu Li. “Then you can call upon your beloved deity to mend her bum leg! Just, please, don’t start preaching. It’s been bad enough out here.”

    A fire was stoked. The travelers sat around it, warming themselves as they could. Tales of travels, of Jazzad, of the rabid boars and the hoard of goblins were shared as I prayed to Canaan, asking for his healing grace to smile upon his champion, the fair, the chaste and the beautiful Lilian Evenshire. His Wonderfulness answered and her bones mended, her flesh healed and she could once again walk without any added exertion.

    I did what I could to salve the scrapes and bruises suffered by the others in the battle.

    Talon refused any aid from me, insisting that his faith in the Green would suffice. He folded into a lotus position, closed his eyes and became very still. For the remainder of the evening, he did not utter a single word. He remained perfectly still, warmed and lit by the small fire, his eyes and soul shut away from the world.

    Gabriel suffered numerous wounds from the goblins’ fanatical attack. When I first approached him, he, like Talon, wished no help, but his sister convinced him otherwise.

    “He is a Priest.” She told him. “He is here to help. That is the only thing that concerns him. This has nothing to do with you, Gabriel. Cease your stubbornness and accept his aid.”

    Gabriel acquiesced. I bound his wounds and lay a simple blessing upon him that went but a small way toward entirely relieving his pain. He remained tense in my presence, as if standing in wait for some horrible blow to befall him that he must be ready to parry. I refrained from inquiring why my presence so upset him. I simply let him be.

    Both Arcanists, The Acolyte Hu Li and Aesendal emerged from the skirmish unscathed, having spent its entirety lobbing their evocations from a distance. Though the two shared a talent for the Art, I quickly learned that evening that their outlooks, approaches, and theoretical foundations were diametrically opposed.

    “Lore!” Hu Li preached “That is where the truth lies. All that is known is already known and has been committed by those who have the capacity to understand the true nature of reality in esoteric tomes….”

    “But that does not explain me.” Aesendal interrupted. “I learned nothing from ancient, dusty books. My talents come… naturally. Yes, my magic may not be as versatile as yours, Hu Li, but…”

    “That is because you practice… polluted… magics!” Hu Li scolded.

    Everyone laughed. Hu Li harrumphed and retreated to his rolled out blanket. He crossed his legs, took up one of his thick, cumbersome books and read. The outburst failed to disturb Talon, who continued his meditation unabated before the dwindling fire.

    I found myself staring at Hu Li. My curiosity had been tweaked. Perhaps he would be able to lead me through the first steps toward becoming an Urgic Mystic. I thanked Canaan for bringing me to this eccentric, belligerent, spirit.

    A hand on my shoulder broke the enchantment. Lilian’s verdant eyes smiled at me. “I am glad you are here.” She said. “Where Shale has the knowledge to show us the way through the Wildlands, you have the faith that will insure we will arrive safely.”

    I swallowed at the thought. Such faith she should have in a total stranger, but I fought down the idea until it was crushed into dust and scattered to the four winds. She was a champion of Canaan, and I was His earthly emissary. I had a duty to perform which had nothing to do with me. Canaan had brought me here. That was all either one of us needed to accept.

    Lilian blessed me with the story of her and Gabriel’s childhood. Their father, Lord Eladrin Evenshire, was as devout and pure as a champion of Canaan could be. He spent his many years in service to the Church seeking servants of the Adversary and routing out its wicked schemes. It was said that Canaan so blessed Lord Evenshire that a Holy Emissary of Canaan, one of His Celestial Host personally watched over him. That Emissary, Cilestrial, saw in the young champion, a pure and gentle heart, a compassionate disposition, a just will, and a righteous fury.

    When Eladrin’s wife, Lady Amila Evenshire, became pregnant, Cilestrial came to him, an ethereal angel dressed in white and enshrouded in a shimmering halo. Her golden celestial wings spread and unfurled encompassing the whole of the Champion’s vision. The Angel gave him this message:

    “I come bearing glad tidings! You have been gifted with a family! Care for them for they will be champions of Canaan. Watch and guide them for they are mortal and possess free will. Though the path of good comes naturally they shall not be immune to the intoxicating calls of corruption. They shall be blessed with strength, wisdom and beauty, but such virtues are quickly sullied in the absence of unending vigilance.”

    Shortly thereafter, Lord Evenshire retired from campaigning and spent his days at his estate, taking a more academic position with the Church. Lord and Lady Evenshire taught the children well and were not surprised that good, honesty and selflessness came naturally to them. Still, a little dishonesty and a tantrum or two reminded them that they indeed were possessed of a mortal spirit and were not infallible. Eladrin was content. Canaan had blessed him with a good and loving family.

    “When we were still very young....” Lilian began, her voice weakening slightly.

    Gabriel looked over to her, and then to me.

    “Lilian, please.” He interrupted. “You have said enough. Let the Priest be. And let our past be.”

    His voice trailed off on the last utterance. Lilian’s features hardened, but remained kind. Gabriel turned away, shaking his head. He dug at the ground with a finger. Lilian continued her story.

    “When we were but six, our parents left us. My father told us he and my mother had something very important to do for the Church. They never returned.”

    “How awful.” It was all I could think of to say in the silence that followed.

    “Indeed, it was.” She answered. Her voice was both breathy and weighted. “They are presumed dead. We were raised in the Church in Soliel, then I was transferred to serve at Goldfire Glen, within the walls of Underhill Keep. Gabriel came with me. Our birthright, our family’s estate, was turned over to the Church. One day I will reclaim it. I will command an army of Canaanite champions and we will protect Turgos from any and all machinations of the Adversary.”

    Her voice was as crisp and clear as the air after a warm spring rain. It was not difficult to imagine her commanding great, gleaming waves of armored men who stand in opposition to voracious malevolence.

    “I wish only to be at your side when such a day comes.” I told her, awed by the vision her story awoke in me.

    Gabriel turned back around. Their eyes locked for a long, silent moment. At last, Gabriel nodded and smiled. She returned it.

    “Welcome, Evora.” Gabriel said, eyes still on his sister. “Welcome, Priest of Canaan.” He stood and moved over to his blanket and lay down. Lilian looked over to me.

    “He likes very few.” She said with a smirk. “I can tell he likes you.”

    Without any official word or ceremony, I was invited into the circle. I never felt more welcomed anywhere in my life.


    * * * *

    As I sit on this rocky ship heading to the dreadful isle of Demon Claw, I just now realize it has been several weeks since the events I am committing to paper. So much has happened that I find it hard to recall every detail. The whole of their tale, up to that point was told from each their own limited and fractured points of view.

    Writing it all down is proving to be an effective means to unlock the bound doors of memory and flooding in the light of recollection, illuminating much of the details previously confined to enshrouding mists.

    While this is a minor point and has little relevance to the rest of this tale, I now recall that Shale and I tried to visit Balian's Tower before we went to Goldfire Glen.

    As I said, it matters not, but for geography, for Balian's Tower is a full day's journey South of Goldfire Glen, while the road one takes from Goldfire Glen to get near The Wildlands, which winds along the river that feeds that village, is due West of Goldfire Glen. Perhaps senility is setting in, even at my tender age, or perhaps it is merely the oppressive stresses of my recent trials and tribulations.

    No matter. But while on the subject of geography, I suppose this would be a good time to inform the reader, you, a bit about Turgos as it existed at the time of this writing.

    Goldfire Glen is a small but significant agricultural community in what many citizens refer to as the "breadbasket of Turgos." Farms abound among the rolling hills and plains near Goldfire Glen. More than a mere village, Goldfire Glen is in fact a Barony, one of many in the County of Auros, the capital of which is the Town of Auros, where Duke and Duchess Devonhilt reside.

    The County of Auros is one of seven counties that make up the Kingdom of Turgos, the capital of which is Soliel. Auros lies to the North of Goldfire Glen about a week's journey and Soliel lies to the East and North of Auros about a week's journey. Soliel is a port city with the vast Altisanum Sea (Sea of Unknown Depth) to the East of it.

    Far to the south of Goldfire Glen, beyond the southernmost edge of the County of Auros, and the southern counties below that, is the Kingdom of Shuuth. Shuuth is an arid, desert land populated with demon worshipping pagans. Its harsh, stoic and exotic peoples bear skin the color of tree bark and, it is said, shamelessly attire themselves in thin, translucent, billowing silks that reveal far more flesh than they obscure. Some say their harshness is merely a shield hiding a delightful and jovial race. I find that hard to believe given the powers they worship. It is written that the deities of Shuuth are the corrupted, enslaving Sleeping Gods who Canaan banished long ago. Most horrid, most foul, most unwise for these people to take refuge in such depravity!

    The North of Turgos is a mountainous land, rumored to be a place of succor for outlaws and other unfortunates, where profiteers mine iron, gold, silver and precious stones. It is said that whole nations of a people referred to as Dwarves reside in those mountains. Though I have known men and women of diminutive stature, to claim they are an entirely foreign race is preposterous and insulting. They are still human. They are still the beloved Creation of Canaan!

    The Wildlands, the vast, untamed wilderness where Shale, myself and the others are traveling in the part of our story that this journal currently records, runs along the western border of Turgos and is bordered on the north by the foothills of the Blackrock Mountains and on the south by Mistmarsh Lake. It remains unclear what lies to the west of The Wildlands. Nobody has journeyed all the way through The Wildlands and returned. It is a land devoted to The Green and it separates the civilized lands of Turgos from what lays beyond it.

    It is somewhere near the heart of these stunningly beautiful and serene land that the ancient temple of destruction and evil, Rappan’Athuk, rests.

    Rappan’Athuk is a blight on the land, a place so vile that it gives pause to the heartiest warrior. It is a place of nightmares, the subject of bedtime stories told to keep children on their best behavior. Dark rituals dedicated to the most depraved of beings are said to have been performed at this place long, long ago. When the church of Canaan learned of its presence, it convinced then King George III of Turgos to join his armies with those of the church to cleanse this abomination. Thousands of soldiers entered The Wildlands. Only three returned.

    No coherent report could be gleaned from the survivors as they had all been driven mad by whatever unspeakable horrors they witnessed. Had the Voice and Will of Canaan not informed the Curia that the raid was a total failure, none would have ever known.

    I have since been privy to truths of that doomed crusade that the Curia would prefer to be left unknown. The Wildlands was trampled under the weight of the armies of Soliel. The wound they left has yet to fully heal. In that time, the Curia ordered and carried out a vicious and cruel oppression of all denizens of the Green in the name of Canaan. Countless innocents were mercilessly burned at the stake for heresy and other preposterous unfounded transgressions.

    Much later in this tale, Shale, returned to us after his untimely death, reincarnated as a creature unlike any I have ever seen, was granted the vision of the horrors of which I just wrote. He now calls himself Shallahai. He bears a scimitar infused with the power of the Green. He professes to be the Green’s Answer. I have no reason to doubt him. It was his very vision that set me on the path I now fully embrace.

    Forgive the digression. Let us return to the story at hand.

  • #10
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    Acolyte (Lvl 2)

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    ø Ignore Canaan

    Chapter 5: The Boar King

    I awoke the following morning to the sounds of Hu Li mumbling incoherently over an opened book. I was tempted to peer over his shoulder, but I wished not to be rude, and the sun was just peeking over the Eastern Horizon and it was the traditional time for me to Commune with my Lord and Life. I found an appropriately secluded spot a few paces from the camp and performed my morning prayers. By the time the sun had cleared the horizon and shone its full glory over the vast plains, Canaan’s Grace was once again granted to me for the day.

    Hu Li’s irritated, shrill voice tripped over the air as I returned to the camp.

    “And I reiterate…” he huffed “tracking down these creatures will earn us nothing but our deaths. Their tracks will lead us nowhere else but to their lair where hundreds will be laying in wait. It’s the same as trying to stomp a roach with a rock, only to release one hundred other roaches that were hiding under said rock.”

    When I returned to the campsite, I saw that Hu Li was pacing about, his arms flailing as if swatting away gnats.

    The rest of the travelers had rolled up their blankets and slid their backpacks over their shoulders. Their eyes looked in every direction but the one where Hu Li paced. Talon sighed. The sound stopped Hu Li in his tracks. In fact, everyone else turned their head toward the monk.

    “We have already been through all this.” He quietly announced, giving away no hint of emotion. “We track the goblins. We believe that their presence in the Wildlands is linked with both the rabid boars and the missing Jazzad.”

    “Jazzad?!” shrieked Hu Li. “I keep forgetting! That’s right! We’re tracking down some lost ranger that none of us neither know nor have even ever seen! All based on the ramblings of a perpetually smashed weed peddler!”

    “We are keeping a promise.” Lilian said.

    “You may leave at any time.” Gabriel added.

    “Bah!” Hu Li said after a short silence, flinging his hands up in utter exasperation. He bent down and grabbed up his backpack. He stopped when he spotted me at the edge of the camp. He shot up, then took a few steps toward me, a pale, crooked finger bent toward me.

    “What say you, Priest?” I could feel all eyes on me. “Do we track down the goblins in sketchy hope they will lead us to our goal, or do we continue our search by circumventing their stomping grounds and avoiding more raids?”

    “We have already decided…” Aesendal began, taking a step closer to me. “Leave Evora alone.”

    “NO!” shrilled Hu Li. “I want to hear his counsel! Tell us, oh Disciple of Canaan. Which way shall we go?”

    I looked toward the others. They averted my glances. Only Hu Li held my gaze. I considered the argument for a short time.

    “If a Ranger is lost where he is most at home,” I began “Then it is clear that some harm has befallen him. If these goblins and boars are acting out of accordance to their natures, we must believe that the disappearance of the Ranger Jazzad is connected to what has been happening. We have little choice. Until some new evidence compels us to amend this, we must track the goblins.”

    “Fine.” Said Hu Li. He was silent for the remainder of the morning.

    Shale led us in following the goblin footprints. “I am no Ranger” he would say when the evidence of their passing grew scarce. “But I am doing what I can.”

    Late in the day, we had come to a standstill. Shale scoured the ground, bent over, pushing the tall grass aside, checking every blade with extreme diligence. At last he stood and scratched his head.

    “They are gone.” Shale said, perplexed.

    “No.” Snapped Hu Li. “You have lost them. Which is just as well. This was a fool’s errand. I suggest, no, I demand we give up this folly and attempt… ”

    Gabriel growled. “Enough, Jordan.”

    “That is the Acolyte Hu Li!!!”

    Talon calmly approached Shale.

    “If I may suggest...” He began. “Does not the Green grant you the power to converse with natural beasts?”

    Shale put his hand to his forehead and sighed. “Of course! I’m such a fool!”

    Moments later a small blue and yellow feathered bird was fluttering in front of Shale. The grass around him seemed to catch the rays of the low hanging sun, causing each and every blade to shine brilliantly.

    The two shared chirps for a few moments, and then the bird turned and fluttered away.

    “She has seen the goblins. She knows where they are.” Shale said to the rest of us.

    “And we’re going the other way, yes?” Hu Li asked.

    He was dutifully ignored.

    Shale took off running after the small bird. Lilian and Gabriel were right behind him. Aesendal and Shale strode side by side. Hu Li stomped incredulously a few paces in front of me. I struggled to keep up, pulling my encumbered, fatigued donkey with as much firmness and compassion as I could.

    I realized around this time that I had failed to give my poor beast of burden a name. I made myself a promise to rectify that by the day’s end. Unfortunately for my donkey, the bizarre events of the remainder of the day would force me to delay that promise.

    The little bird led us to a cave at the top of a vast canyon that split the landscape for such a length it could not be measured by a mere glance.

    The cave’s narrow opening yawned up from an otherwise nondescript grassy mound. Had it not been for the bird excitingly hovering over it, we would have never taken notice. Once Shale had led us to the opening, the bird immediately flew away. The canyon was alive with rich, echoing sounds of life; bird caws, splashes and even a few roars.

    Hu Li pushed his way past Shale and stood atop the mound. He looked straight down. “The cliffs are sheer and over one hundred feet to the floor. Much of the floor is broken with marsh land. There’s also a strange rock formation jetting out at the far end on the canyon. Hm.” He turned back to us. “Who here can climb?”

    No one answered.

    “Just as I thought!” He remained up top the mound, his already tall, narrow, bone white frame back lit by the setting sun. His face was featureless and blackened by deep shadows that fell over his head.

    “Lilian, you know I am not one to judge, nor do I wish to cause any fraying of morale in what is already a tense situation.” Hu Li’s usually high pitched squeal was deadened, lowered, darkened.

    “But you have led us to nothing. We are stopped here and can go no further. Jazzad is dead. He is fodder for the Eyeless Hollow Ones. We must accept this and return to Goldfire Glen immediately. We will inform Menion and have a swift but appropriately emotional funeral for the fallen Ranger. We have already lost Boots to this madness! I demand we turn around and return to civilization immediately!”

    “We could climb down the cave opening.” Said Lilian, who had listened patiently to everything Hu Li spewed, but, clearly, refused to bestow any real credence to his words.

    “Do we have rope?” Asked Talon, moving over to her.

    The two peered down the hole.

    “It’s quite dark.” Said Lilian.

    I took the wound up hemp rope off of the saddle of my donkey and headed over to the cave opening. I could feel Hu Li’s eyes following me disapprovingly.

    “Fine!” he spat. “Fine! If we all wish to die, then so be it! Just remember that I warned you all!”

    I handed the rope to Lilian. “I was told it was fifty feet in length when I purchased it. But, I must admit, I have little skill with tying knots.” I told her.

    The rope was quickly yanked out of her hands by Gabriel who had suddenly sprung up beside her. He and Talon went to work, securing one end of the rope to a rock near the edge of the cliff. Finished, Gabriel moved back to his sister. Aesendal stepped forward, a lit torch in his hand. He turned to me.

    “Sorry, Evora. I got it from your donkey. I figured we needed it.” I only shrugged and stepped aside as he moved up to the cave opening. He winked at Lilian and dropped the torch down the opening. We jostled for position to get a good view of the show.

    The torch struck a landing some thirty feet down and bounced out of sight. It’s glow lit the jagged landing enough for us to see. Lilian nodded and turned to Gabriel.

    “You stay up here and keep the rope taut. Be ready to pull.” She said, then turned to Talon. “You go down first. Stay close to the rope and if there is danger, let us know and we’ll pull you up.” Then, looking at me, she added, “Evora, I’m sorry, but your donkey will have to stay up here.”

    “Canaan will watch and protect him.” I said.

    Talon grabbed hold of the rope and began his climb down.

    Within a few minutes we were all down in the cave. Talon had assured us that there was no immediate danger and Lilian hastened us on. Hu Li protested as one after another we all scaled down to the landing.

    “This is madness!” he repeated. “Jazzad is dead! And soon we’ll all be!”

    No one listened.

    Beyond the landing, a stony corridor declined slightly into darkness. The original torch was stuck about half way down. Aesendal sprang forward and grabbed it. He and Hu Li spoke a few quick arcane words. A sparkling, translucent field of mage armor floated around each of them.

    We crept along through the darkness, Lilian leading us, her blade thrust forward. Aesendal was just behind her. Next was Gabriel, then myself, Shale, Hu Li and finally Talon.

    The floor of the cave was covered with a soft, pungent slime. Hu Li chirped with excitement.

    “Bat guano! And in such abundance! Had I access to the evocations of the Third Valence, I would be able to conjure up endless exploding balls of fire!”

    Suddenly, drops of shadow began to rain down over us. It struck Aesendal’s torch and the light was immediately snuffed out. Lilian froze.

    “There is evil here.” She said.

    Aesendal muttered “Lumos!” But the darkness only grew.

    Fear seized me. I prayed to Canaan to grant me sanctuary. He heard my cry, for I felt dark, fleshy tendrils reaching out, trying to grab me, but they passed by me and I remained unharmed.

    Hu Li screamed. “This is most unpleasant!”

    I heard him fall to the floor.

    There were shouts and Lilian let loose a battle cry.

    A moment later, a ball of light emanated from Aesendal’s palm and the cavern was flooded with light. Hu Li lay unconscious on the floor along side a fleshy, black, tendriled horror.

    “A darkmantle.” Sighed Shale. “Hu Li is paralyzed and will be for some time.”

    I hurried over to Hu Li. He was still alive, but was fading fast. His breathing was labored and erratic. I called upon Canaan’s Grace and placed my hands upon Hu Li. He remained unconscious, but his breathing relaxed and normalized.

    Talon and Gabriel lifted his tall frame and we all made haste down the cave. The ground became damp with muddied, moss clogged water.

    The last dying rays of the day’s sun poured through an opening up ahead. We emerged in a thick, wet, mass of grass far taller than even Hu Li.

    Before I knew it, all sense of direction was lost to me. I called out for help. Soon all of us were yelling for each other.

    Lilian cried out. “Everyone stop moving! Just keep calling out.”

    I obeyed.

    The grass rustled behind me. I turned and hands grabbed me. I was pulled into the grass by Gabriel. He let me go and yelled.

    “Lilian! We’re over here! I have Evora, Hu Li and Talon!”

    After several minutes of yelling out to each other, we were all together, but the grass still walled us in on all sides. Water was seeping through my boots. The sun set. Night closed in and we stood there staring at each other, at a loss.

    “We can’t make camp here.” Said Lilian. “It’s too wet.”

    “What was that?” Shale asked.

    We all got very quiet.

    “I heard it, too.” Said Aesendal. “Sounds like a dog barking.”

    That’s when I heard it. A dog’s urgent barks, and they were coming closer. We heard splashes and a second later, a beautiful, yellow furred hound broke through the grass walls. It wagged its tail and disappeared back into the overgrowth.

    Without a word, we all followed. Talon and Gabriel carried Hu Li.

    The moist ground finally began to give way to dry ground.

    Exhausted, spent, and feeling a little foolhardy, we all collapsed into a hasty camp. The dog kept watch over us the entire night.

    The following morning, immediately after my morning prayers, I called upon Canaan’s healing grace for Hu Li. This time, his eyes fluttered open. He looked at me, began to smile, but then sighed and frowned.

    “Damn. It’s you.” He said.

    The dog began to bark incessantly, urgently.

    “What is that horrible noise?” Hu Li asked, holding his head. “What happened to me?”

    There was no time to explain. Gabriel pulled the wizard to his feet and we were off, chasing after the hound, who would often stop and look back to us, making sure we were still following.

    The dog finally stopped at a short mound. We all came to a sudden halt. I grabbed hold of my mace and Lilian unsheathed her sword.

    There on the mound was a naked, mud caked man, wearing the severed, hollowed out head of a boar over his face.

    The dog bounded up next to him. The man reached out a hand and the dog licked it, excitedly.

    “I am the Boar King!” The man shouted.

    Lilian stepped forward. “We are looking for a Ranger, Jazzad. Do you know of him?”

    “I am the Boar King!” The man repeated.

    “I am the Acolyte, Hu Li!” Hu Li shouted back.

    The man became agitated. He began to dance around.

    “I am the Boar King!” The man repeated.

    “I am the Acolyte, Hu Li!”

    “I am the Boar King!”

    “I am the Acolyte, Hu Li!”

    “I am the Boar King!”

    “I am the Acolyte, Hu Li!”

    “I am the Boar King!”

    “I am the Acolyte, Hu Li!”

    “I am the Boar King!”

    “Enough of this!” Hu Li said. “Domiere!”

    The wild man stopped his dance and fell onto his face, fast asleep.

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