One: Ordered by Gods
Ancient & Unspeakable
Cuthberta Umberdakarday, Umbermoraday & Umberfreeday
Alone in the Heart of Darkness – An account by Thalazzar
Thalazzar stood alone in the darkness watching the final flickers of his companion’s torch light disappear. Cloaked in a magical aura of invisibility, he felt little unease. Thalazzar had spent most of his life alone in a darkened underground surrounded by evil. The only difference, he mused, was that this evil felt somehow older and deeper. The Khi’Ganad and their demonic conjurations were certainly evil but their world had been understandable and predictable to a certain extent. Something here was drawing the wizard into the darkness and away from his companions. They would likely assume that he was quietly following and he would, eventually. Something, or perhaps someone, was behind them in the depths and Thalazzar began moving towards it. Feeling his way in the dark through the chamber of Drugoshii records, Thalazzar moved towards the door that Tiberio had bolted closed.
Once through the portal, Thalazzar decided to risk some light. Drawing forth his old lantern, he lit the wick. While still invisible, the wizard realized his light would draw attention and so moved forward with great caution, his eyes scanning the silent shadows ahead. He decided to move down the hall from where the goblin’s fiery arcane attack had come, periodically setting down his lantern and scouting ahead so as to not always be in the centre of the light.
Emerging into a triangular chamber, Thalazzar found what appeared to be sacrificial altar with grooves in the floor. Perhaps, he thought darkly, they were for draining blood away from the centre of the room. As he approached, the darkness began to move. Incorporeal wraiths began to swirl about him as he backed away, quickly casting a protective abjuration against evil surrounding himself. He had set his lantern on the floor, close to the entrance, and he moved backwards towards it. The wraiths whispered in his ear and flew about the edge of his light, but none came any closer – save one. Coalescing from the darkness, a spectral wraith pushed forward into the light bent on draining the life from the wizard. Backing off, Thalazzar called out once more to the gremlins of Gnarrgyn and their multitudinous, bumbling masses surged forth from the void to rip and tear at the spirit before him. The wraith hesitated, distracted by the gremlins ripping at its dark fabric with their planar claws, but still managed to rake an icy cold, incorporeal claw through the wizard. In silent, still-invisible concentration, Thalazzar left his minions to their revelry and soon the wraith dissipated back into the shadows from where it had come.
Although that wraith had dispersed, Thalazzar continued concentrating to maintain his gremlins on that plane of existence. Still invisible, the gremlins could sense Thalazzar’s presence and swarmed all over the spherical abjuration surrounding him attempting to feast on him as well. Like the tale of a piper leading his rats, Thalazzar, shielded in his cloak of gremlins, continued forward into the underground depths, daring further wraiths to approach him. The spectral beings continued to test the light, but until the gremlins expired Thalazzar would not be seriously threatened again. And he did not linger long enough for that to happen.
Standing on the edge of a crevasse, Thalazzar considered his options. His companions would by now be far ahead of him in the darkened underground halls and finding them would risk him getting hopelessly lost. Something continued to call him forward though, and despite its being several feet wide Thalazzar looked for a place where he could perhaps jump across. The depth was considerable and if he missed the far side and fell, he would be invisible, badly wounded and beyond the reach of his companions. And so he jumped, finding himself on the other side of a darkened hall filled with rubble and cobwebs. Large cobwebs.
A quick glance through the room found a creature trapped in webs, struggling on the floor. The wizard had seen footprints in the dust, assumed they were from the goblin necromancer, but now understood that they led to this creature. He had a sense that this was why he had been lured away from his companions and so began to free it. Speaking to it in his native draconic, Thalazzar quickly learned that the small lizard-like humanoid was named Janarl and seemed to be searching for Domaldi or perhaps Domaldi’s father. Yet another layer, he thought, in layer upon layers of mystery surrounding his companions. The conjuror played the fool for the moment, saying only that he was a powerful wizard searching for arcane artifacts – more a partial truth than a lie given the ring of invisibility he now bore. As Janarl’s intentions seemed innocent enough, Thalazzar decided he did not need to burden himself further with the complexities of Domaldi’s personal tragedy and that he would bring the lizard back to them. Thalazzar no longer felt drawn away and decided it was time to return to the grove and await his companions rather than risk losing his way.
Turning to leave the pair were suddenly confronted by the spider that had trapped Janarl as it descended from the vaulted ceiling above. As if that were not enough, the spider’s former prey, reanimated by the evil of the place, chose that moment to attack as well confronting the wizard with not one, but four enemies. Janarl, it seemed, was some sort of tracker amongst his people and fought well. It was the wizard though who defeated their foes in a rare display of physical aggression that surprised even him. For those few minutes, he was no longer the wizard and was again the Unj’Kaltigmag who had clawed, broken and crushed his away to supremacy amongst the underdark he was subjected to by the Khi’Ganad for the better part of his life. Unlike those days when his only weapon had been the rocks around him and the blessing of his massive strength, Thalazzar now held in his hands the staff Kalthanalas infused with powerful sylvan magic. Blow after powerful blow, the wizard reemerged relatively unscathed after a few moments and re-crossed the crevasse with Janarl in search of his companions.
Smoking a packet of Dakare pipeweed did little to cleanse the grime that covered Thalazzar or clear the taint that slowly ebbed out of him. He was also not sure what to make of the whiteness of his formerly fine, black beard. Apparently his brief physical encounter with the wraith had drained something from him. He was slightly concerned that he might now look more different from his namesake but, then again he thought with a smile, he was different. The wizard sat on a moss covered rock, just out of sight of Folha’s grove, awaiting his companions return. In fact, the only thing that was in sight was the grey puffs of smoke periodically drifting away from his invisible hiding place. Janarl had decided to wait nearer the grove, despite the dryad’s warnings, so eager was he to meet up with the knight. They had been unable to find them leaving the Drugoshii depths and so had emerged thinking to wait for them with Pelu the donkey. Thalazzar grew increasingly uneasy, however, as dusk turned to night and his companions did not emerge from the underground.
He had much to contemplate. He also had much to study, some of which he wished to remain secret from his companions, and so he took advantage of an evening of solitude in the marsh. One source of study was the Last Book from which Thalazzar had quickly gained a functional grasp of the Yithic language. Only fluent pronunciation now eluded him. He was learning as much as he could about life, faith, geography and magic on the other side of the Wall of the Righteous. The wizard also spent time continuing his own arcane research, focusing a little on counter-spells and deciphering some references to obscure planar realms and their calling incantations. What eluded him, he concluded, was the ability to decipher Yithic magic and the pile of scrolls he had obtained. He decided that this finding a way to read this magic would be a priority for him once they left the Federation.
Several hours after midnight, Tyconderoga finally found him again and put an end to his study. He sputtered a draconic curse in the bird’s direction but received only a condescending hoot in response. Yet again, the owl reinforced Thalazzar’s decision that when the time came to call his own familiar, it would not be some mundane irritating animal. Reminded, however, of Janarl’s existence Thalazzar checked on the lizard only to find him maintaining his vigil over Folha’s grove, Pelu and the cave entrance. Thalazzar grew more concerned that his companions might not emerge at all and decided that he would rest, wait until mid-morning and if they had not come forth he would return to the coast. For someone who had spent little time in civilization, he was curious as to how much he missed the urban bustle of Riot’s Gate. He found himself thinking of replacing his now completely soiled robe with something finer – a premise that seemed bizarrely foreign yet appealing to someone who had lived most of his life in rags underground. Thalazzar wondered what he would do if all his companions were slain. He decided that he would proceed onwards regardless. If everyone save him and the owl were slain, it became that much more important to find Tallim, the Red Rider, and the hidden connections behind the Dream of Horrors.
Thalazzar was more disappointed than truly sad upon learning of Domaldi’s fate from his reemerged companions the following morning. He had learned early in life that emotional attachment only made it harder when people were eaten. He thought, as he often did, of a certain beautiful Gallantish girl who had met her tragic end in the maw of a one-eyed ogre. Domaldi had been brave and a beacon for virtue. His loss, however, was notable. Perhaps his heroics had been a pull towards good for the wizard as much as his upbringing had been a pull towards evil. In a few moments in their time together, Thalazzar had found himself wishing he could be more like him. Without Domaldi, the weight of being burdened with ass, gnome and beggar would be that much heavier. Without Domaldi’s influence, Thalazzar was again back to hovering in the shadows of morality. This was the second time in the past week when Domaldi had been taken from them, first by lizards and now by this Keeper, Lokiyar (DM - Lokiyar is not a Keeper, he is a High Inquisitor of Heironeous), and he had a funny feeling that the knight’s part in this tale was not yet finished. In fact, Domaldi had been replaced by not one, but two companions – the lizard and an old friend knighthood friend named Gunther. This warrior had apparently been searching for Domaldi as well but was beaten to it by yet another faction. Regardless, his body was taken and all that was left for the companions to care for was his spirit, tied to the evil of the Drugoshii depths. This Gunther seemed determined to ensure his friend was free to join Heronious and so, they decided the fallen knight was worth one more trip into the cavern’s darkness, one more attempt to end the evil that lurked beneath. The owl could wait one more day.
The final trials of what they learned was called the Devourer were violent and dark. Unspeakable creatures had been found at the heart of the place, and by the grace of some powers, good or evil, they had been defeated and the companions emerged victorious. Thalazzar’s role had been crucial in the fight as the largest and vilest of the evil they faced had been sent back to the void by his magic alone. His prize had been a tome of necromantic magic plundered from the goblin’s lair. Domaldi’s soul was now free to whatever fate became of it and for now, his body borne far away, he would need to be left to that fate. Also freed from its pain was one of the elder beings called a Nephilium that they had seen flying over Riot’s Gate. Its eternal torture had been the ultimate source of evil in the Devourer and now that it had ended, perhaps light would return to these lands.
On a more practical level, another interesting twist had been further evidence of the sophisticated Brutish plot against the Federation. The companions had found recent remnants of a gnoll outpost, all slain by the denizens of the Devourer, close to a defunct magic portal much like they found in the Saltwater Barrows (DM - the portal in question was found hidden in the Caves of Göesse) where Domaldi’s father had met his end. The connections between the Order, the Brutes, and the Federation remained unrevealed, but the answers it seemed remained in the south. It was now time for the party to turn to the Monotheocratic Order and the rescue of Tallim. If in doing so the answers to the threat against the Federation were revealed, that much the better. Domaldi’s quest had been a journey into the heart of darkness. Whether by the compulsion to do good, a desire for vengeance, or for patriotic loyalty to the Federation, his quest had been the end of him. Thalazzar was not driven by such things and with Domaldi’s passing, that quest had ended. Thalazzar’s own heart of darkness remained hidden, but he was sure that it lay in the road south of Telemar.
Frankie fixes Calibre...