Author Archives: Andy

Raven’s Keep: A Surfeit of Ghouls

20 Gersmoan 57234

As related by Allesson

AllessonI am a bard, but most bards travel, and in Raven’s Keep there was nowhere to go, those who leave are most often exiled like Jack Girth, John Raven, and Arcturus Rann. Bards are also professional story tellers, verse-makers and music composers, employed by a patron, to commemorate one or more of the patron’s ancestors, mine then is Raven’s Keep, but I don’t want to write histories about the city, those living there are pleased enough with themselves as it is, and the really exciting people, the leaders have already gone. It is my turn now and that’s why I’m here.

Now, specifically, I would class myself a lower class of poet, contrasting greatly with the great names of legend. For example, playwright William Shakespeare, and composer of devotional poetry and songs Rabindranth Tagore, they known as “the Bard of Avon” and “the Bard of Bengal” respectively, or Lord Mendel, who is the greatest of the Lords of Klarn or as they’re better known the Lords of Mendelland, after that great bard. And so I thought I have long hoped that I too might someday be great. After all, my training has been impeccable, and I have had lifetimes of study, with all known knowledge available at my fingertips, and in Raven’s Keep that means more than it might in other places; in Raven’s Keep you learn to ask new questions like, what makes you who you are?

That’s what happens when you can change your body, your mind, and you relationships like your clothes. Imagine living in a city where all of those things are negotiable. The limits of your body no longer apply, you are what and whoever you want to be, and on top of that we are immortal. It is enough to drive you mad, and for many of us it did.

The worst of them is Blern; at least if there is anyone worse, I don’t want to meet them. They say he suffers from a delusional disorder. When he was exiled, nothing and no one seemed entirely real to him. He decided that the world was whatever he would make of it, and he felt trapped by it; it was his keeper and since nobody else in it was real, it didn’t matter what he did to escape. There was conflict–an accident–his family, his friends, all gone, dead, and he was damaged beyond repair. He needed to wear special equipment to keep him alive; he was what he sought to become, the living death. His mere presence could kill you, and so he was sent away. Since then, his name has gained new meaning in Raven’s Keep, a word of gibberish that can be substituted with any other word, referring to nothing and anything at all at the same time with equal specificity, like going out and blerning yourself.

He was the first exile, but he was sent out into the old dead world, the place we called the Wildlands. But, he was happy to go; he wanted to leave. He wanted solitude, at least that’s what we were led to believe; that is what we’ve been told, but that was before. Now, I have encountered the man myself and I can tell you, he is a stranger man with stranger purpose than that.

Unfortunately, in the wilderness Blern was not alone, and he discovered that his very presence had become corrupting. Over time he used that fact to form his own tribe, a group he named the Friends of Entropy. They became an army of violent thugs that harassed, intimidated, and terrorized the good folk of the frozen north of this world, Naessa. Among them, this Raven Keep’s outcast became a leader, and they called him Blern the Stranger, a force of chaos and great power filled with deadly purpose. While I was briefly imprisoned among them, I overheard a strange claim. They said they want to end all life on Naessa and to destroy all the technology we brought with us from Raven’s Keep, but that didn’t stop Blern from collecting our technology and equipping his growing army with our technological marvels. One can’t help but wonder if he succeeds, having destroyed all other life of the time, will they turn their weapons upon themselves or will they instead turn their wrath upon Raven’s Keep itself.

The Red Death (as they are also now known) can be identified by black uniforms that cover their bodies, and the varied masks that hide their faces. Calling themselves the ‘Red Death,’ they have now embarked upon their stated goal to bring about the end of all life, and I believe in time, the cessation of Raven’s Keep. Blern is especially interested in destroying all equipment of robotic nature. Theirs is a nomadic society, and they are now traveling southward across the land in small groups, spying out populated areas to raid or attack, and whenever possible, they steal babies both humans and otherwise, intent on raising them up to bolster their numbers and to prepare a second generation of the Red Death should it prove necessary. Their signal consists of cleaning the blade of a dagger with a cloth, until that cloth turns red with blood, then thrusting the dagger through it.

I have escaped that I might tell you this; they are waiting for you now, outside beyond this dungeon, but they have not yet approached the house itself. They have their own reasons to stay clear of T’yog who is much feared in these parts; then too, while I was with them, they encountered fearless hog-faced brutes as they approached the Devil’s House, and those beasts have added to their distrust. I escaped in the chaos of one of their attacks. Of course, I headed in the only direction that I knew they wouldn’t follow, to the Devil’s House itself.

When I arrived, I found the place in disarray. The main gate to the courtyard had been ripped from its moorings, and in courtyard there lay a mauled hulk, the body of a great beast; it had been skinned and beheaded, injures beyond the capacity of the great wolves that had set upon the body. Those wolves, as well fed as they were, didn’t hesitate to turn their ire upon me. I took cover in the nearby tower that waited just to the right of the broken gate where the tower door was hanging ajar.

This interior of that chamber was another bloody scene of overturned furnishing and alchemical sundries, no more comforting than the courtyard itself, and with the wolves still on my heels, I made for the stairs, but there too, my way was cut-short . . . Above me snarled a great black hound, sleek, with burning embers for eyes. I stood frozen as it leapt over me knocking me back down to the floor of the entry, but it wasn’t after me; instead it attacked the wolves. The wolves held their ground for a moment, but before long it was evident that they were no match for the hound and they turned and fled. The black hound gave chase, and with the courtyard suddenly cleared, I made my way to the main house. The main doors there were also gone. Scattered remnants of the courtyard’s gate lay on the ground near the entry, but that too had been knocked aside. Stepping over the rubble, I made my way inside and everywhere I looked there were signs of struggle.

Not knowing how long I might have, I determined to find any shelter that might avail itself to me and I suppose I was following the trail you had all had left behind. It led me to down a narrow hall to the right of the entry, and from there to an open black door beyond which waited a descending stair. I descended quickly until the stairway ended in a large circular room that smelled strongly of rot and old earth. The air was moist, and slime coated the walls; there were scattered debris, old pieces of wood and patches of congealed mold clinging in clumps to the room’s curving wall. In the center of the room waited a large open pit, but the floor of the chamber was also littered with the bodies of several very large, hairy-bodied spiders; thankfully all lying dead on their backs, their legs curled in death-rigor above them. There was a rope tied off from one of two great iron wheels that were embedded in the room’s stony wall, the other end hanging down the open pit. Given the circumstances, the rope was the most inviting item in the chamber, and so without further deliberation I took the rope in my free hand and I began to descend. Immediately, I noticed the ropes manufacture, clearly it was from home, and I realized that whoever had set it was likely another survivor from Raven’s Keep or failing that, at least likely to be human.

Still holding the rope, I dropped about five body lengths, as I did I began to notice that I was being watched. Strange globes, had presented themselves, they were the size of oranges, slime-covered like the rest of the wall, but eyes none the less; they were embedded in the wall of the pit; they looked like the eyes of monstrous beasts. They were will hidden, but I could see them as they popped open. As I slid by, they glared at me from a variety of positions in the well and they followed my every move, but already the walls of the dank pit fell away opening in the center of the ceiling of a much larger, water-filled chamber below. There was no solid ground, only the dark water, and it of questionable depth, but the rope had already been stretched out diagonally crossing the room and extending through the room’s only visible breech, an egress leading to a rising stair. The air of the chamber was rank, but there was no choice, I had to continue my descent, but the rope went slack and I dropped into the dark water below. That is when the others heard me, as I splashed into the water.

As I mentioned, I am a bard, and party to that I have always been a collector of antiquities: books, lore and artifacts . . . Things not often appreciated in Raven’s Keep. Of course, upon their approach, I recognized Sayberion and Nyssa immediately and I quickly surmised the identities of Halbrandir and Ankoma, but I did not then, nor do I now recognize you, by anything other than reputation, and by that I mean the legend of the changelings; a race engineered by Blern, another of his subterfuges intended to defeat and replace the ruling family of the city. I had believed you all destroyed in the wake of Blern’s exile. In ancient times, it was the Bards that were the keepers of tradition, the memory of the tribe – and we have been the custodians of knowledge; as Bard, a poet and storyteller, one who has trained in a Bardic college. I recognized you when I saw you, but how you have survived I do not know. In time, we shall have to come to terms with that, but for now I will tell you about what you have missed in your delirium.

As a Bard, I chose to nurture my ability, storytelling is what I do, and in the telling perhaps we can learn more together. Now, I can tell you about the basic nature of these catacombs. The true entry to this place was a portcullis blocked archway; it stood ominously waiting before us as I met the others, and there were two large statues, one on either side of the entry, and a methodical thudding, together with the clicking of gears which poorly masked the deep sounds of echoing anguish, the cries of the torture leaking through from somewhere deeper in the necropolis that waited beyond the archway.

statue-male-egyptianstatue-female-egyptianThere was also a sickening, mephitic blast of queer aspect, stale, fell, noxious, like the air of a befouled, ancient tomb only much worse. The chamber was large and tall, cone-shaped, and highlighted by the two tall ancient statues; one was male and the other was female, both portrayed wearing strange, but like attire, Egyptian attire if I am not mistaken, and I believe the statues represented the builders of these halls, ancient halls, with ancient secrets, not often visited, yet clearly occupied, yet by whom I wonder?

Our meeting was interrupted by a hail of javelins, a trap, well sprung at the same time as the drop of a half-dozen heavy, slicing, bladed pendulums that blocked the arch before us, and the appearance of other monstrosities. They emerged from behind the statues and they attacked–ghasts and other more ghoulish, dog-like hybrids of equally foul demeanor; those were even more hideously malformed, corpse-like aberrations with a crooked spines and bent limbs wrapped with thick folds of skin or sinewy muscle. Their hairless, gray-green bodies were covered with eruptions of large, swollen pustules. They were groaning, perhaps in pain, perhaps in hunger, and as they came at us they began snapping, oversized jaws like rabid dogs.

We fought our way through them in a hurried battle that was both brief and disgusting. The boils of the dog-like ghouls exploded as we struck them squirting out secretions of burning pus. After we destroyed the monsters we gathered at the portcullis, and working together we managed to raise it, but having no way to fix the gate we had to let it fall behind us and proceed.

We found that we had entered a vast expanse of dark corridors. Admittedly, my arrival had been the cause of some strife; the gnoll, Ankoma, in particular was notably irritated by my presence and uncomfortable with my arrival, but just as I had recognized the other members of your party, I too was recognized by them, and so by them at least, I was quickly accepted, and wherein I was not, Brand quieted the more bestial gnoll speaking out on my behalf. I had never imaged the gnolls would be as intimidating as your Ankoma certainly is; he is large, powerful and strong and he had dressed himself in the head of the dead owlbear I had encountered in the courtyard. And that was where I met you. You were slung over the gnoll’s shoulders; he was mindlessly carrying you as if you weighed nothing at all. He had tied you off like an unwieldy, fleshy cape or captured prey I couldn’t tell which, but you seemed to be in the midst of a fevered dream. Behind your closed lids, your eyes were busy, rapidly darting from side-to-side and your lips were mouthing unspoken words, as if your vocal cords were clumsily groping for sounds that never came. As you struggled I caught glimpses of thought, idle telepathic whispering . . . mumbles about floating polyps, and visions of an alien vista built upon the corpse of a dead god. As interesting as this was, my examination of you came to an end as we found a hole in the wall of one of the corridors.

We had been following the sounds of misery through the maze of halls, a task made more difficult due to the ever present echoes, even so judging by volume, we were drawn in by a noisome snarl of toppled scaffolding and broken shelves that lay on either side of a large gaping hole. Miscellaneous tools were also lying scattered across the floor. Extensive damage had occurred at the collapsed southern wall, creating the large hole, and provided egress to a much larger natural cavern beyond. Shards of rubble were poking through from the other side which was also the source of the cries of torment. Moans and shrieks echoed as a mob of hideous undead brutally beat helpless victims and hurled them headlong into a gaping pit. A few victims struggled vainly, but to no avail. Their merciless assailants bore into them that much harder, first dragging them and then kicking them into the chasm. In the pit, the victims were barely moving; they weakly stared from blank sunken eyes as their fate was inflicted upon them. Without hesitation we rushed the pit, as those pitiful wretches writhed in feverish delusions as death took hold and was ripped away. Struggling to maintain coherence, I saw one poor dying farmer almost make it out, before another one of the monsters kicked him in the face sending him sprawling back into the mass of churning bodies waiting below.

pit-churning-bodiesAnd so, another larger battle began against the undead things that guarded the chambers here, but like those other before, they seemed ill-prepared for such a competent team of combatants as we. The fighting ire of Raven’s Keep had been raised, and was on display as we mauled them, a task made easy after Sayberion rebuked them, sending all but one of them scurrying to the far side of the chamber, where Nyssa could pick them off individually, setting them aflame one-by-one with burning bolts of fire.

We tried to execute a rescue, but the victims were too far gone, a fact made clear by one of the victims who yelled:

village-victim“Away with Ye … I know who you are, and what you brung. You are devils, devils and worse. You’re no better than the monsters that came after Ye. Rydalka is dead; my folks is dead … dead as this pit, deader! And yer friends were looking fer you, the Monster in the Mask, hims what with the blue glowing eyes. They kilt everyone, everyone they could catch, but the old ones they couldn’t get away. They was tortured and they died slow. It was you he wanted, you he was looking for. The ole ones didn’t know, and they died for nothing.

Those who knew you, they died first; Swayne died fighting, and Trella, she was burnt in her hut. I heard her screams as we left, but that wasn’t the end of it. They all had masks, but the one in black robes, with the white mask, the NOSTS, they wanted the BODIES TOO!

Arnthrud and Yrsa were lucky, they died in the wilds, the rest of us, anyone captured was thrown in here … And it is all your doing. AND NOW IT’S MY TURN!”

We were forced to kill them all after the boy attacked us. The pit had changed him like the others. It was as if the pit transformed them into evil manifestations of themselves. After the victims had been put to rest we searched the chamber, and searching for magic, Nyssa found a discarded stone scarab that held an enchantment. She gathered the stone up and then we moved on.

glowing-fountainUntil the corridor split in three directions; to the south the passage formed an alcove with a strange but beautiful glowing fountain. Water spilled from the center of the fountain, pouring out from beneath what looked like a large eye into a large stone basin.

And there was a west passage, blocked by a reinforced wooden door emblazoned with a strange incantation, and to the east a massive ten-foot-square slab of solid granite rests in a wheeled track permitting it to slide left or right to allow or deny access to the northern hallway; it was slightly ajar.

The inscription read:

Si un homme meurt, peut-il revivre?
Tous les jours de mon temps j’attendrais, jusqu’à ce que mon état vînt à changer.

 Given my training I was able to attempt a translation the archaic script, loosely stated it read: ‘If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my appointed time will I wait, until my change comes.’

With the others prompting I gave voice to the inscription and the door opened. Past the door the hall extended another 50 feet before a chamber was revealed. Thick iron chains lined the interior walls of a T-shaped room, linked, and they are welded into a single, massive candelabrum, twisted branches of symmetrically positioned blackened chain. There were scores of half-burnt candles hanging there. Within the confined space the air was stifling with greasy soot and the unbearable scent of rotting flesh. An oversized granite altar served as the room’s centerpiece, behind which, in a rounded alcove sat a beautifully crafted statue of a nearly naked man of good-physique and bearded face seated upon an anvil. I believed it to be a representation to the Roman god Mulciber, the celestial artist, the son of Jupiter and Juno. He was considered as the manufacturer of art, arms, iron, jewelry and armor for various gods and heroes. And, at the far end of the room, there was a slightly raised dais holding several long knives, a glass alembic, and six bisected skulls filled with strange, putrescent powders, and a scroll tube. In truth, we were all so distracted by the scene, and perhaps, already made too inert to the smell of decay to realize our danger.

hulking-bruteHiding behind the alter, a hulking brute lied in wait, a colossal, barbaric, blasphemy with glaring red eyes suddenly emerged; it wielded a massive axe easily in its left, bony, yet obviously powerful claw. The thing had at one time been a man, it was clearly similar to the other mountain-dwellers we had met, but he was no longer truly alive. He licked parched, dead lips appraising us like we were fattened prey, and he the famished beast. His mere presence filled me with an unwelcome dread – his features were dog-like, pointed ears, bloodshot eyes, flat nose, and drolly lips, and the thought of those jaws closing upon my throat were enough to drive me to madness, but Sayberion cut the distance between us and imposed himself between me and that monster, and then the others closed in upon him. The monster didn’t survive our press; powerful as it was, it fell under the storm of blows that followed and afterwards Ankoma took the monster’s axe.

Now, all of us being in need of rest, we settled in. We have conducted a thorough search and among the implements stored in the chamber we have found a scroll tube and a parchment. The parchment reads thus:

‘The essential Salts of Animals may be so prepared and preserved, that an ingenious Man may have the whole catalog of zoological representation in his own Study, and raise the fine Shape of an Animal out of its Ashes at his Pleasure; and by the like Method from the essential Salts of humane Dust, a Philosopher may, without any criminal Necromancy, call up the Shape of any dead Ancestor from the Dust where into his Body hath been incinerated.’

foul-smelling-serumAnd then to there is the serum, it is a foul smelling concoction, an odor so dense as not to be masked by any amount of herbs, and it is a wickedly, thick, veiny, evil-looking, greenish brew that is more likely to make one ill than to do anyone any earthly good.

Raven’s Keep: Dark Waters

11 Lenzmoan 57234

I have yet to decode the Cipher from the previous journal entries so I will enter my thoughts in the common tongue.

The PitWe were deciding what to do when the severed head spoke to us again. I don’t recall the exact words it said blah blah blah blah something about going below Tales of Woe blah blah blah. There was discussion about whether we should follow it or not…to my mind, I am a bit concerned about whether we should follow it but we ultimately decided to follow its advice, and I think perhaps if we go in faith that would be the wise course of action. Follow it we did. We went down the stairs to the catacombs below. There was a passageway that led off the stairs into a giant chamber which had a cistern, a well, in the center. It was filled with water. We approached and tentacles came out and attacked some of us. Someone jumped in. I think it was the gnoll. Yes, I believe so. Perhaps it was someone else. No, I’m pretty sure it was the gnoll, I think. I shot the tentacle and it released him. Yes, we’ll go with that. That’s what happened. Eventually we realized there were some turnstiles on the wall and…not turnstiles so what do you call them you know handles with wheels, like a steering wheel, anyway we turn them and well actually Sayberion tried first and oh my goodness he just could not do it he tried and tried and could not do it. He could not budge it. He tried both wheels and couldn’t move them, eventually Nyssa had to go help him and between the two of them they were able to successfully turned the turnstile. She read the words above the wheels. One side said on the other side off or it might have been full and empty I don’t recall exactly in any case she was able to read the words about it and we turned the one that said empty and it drained out to the well and that took ages, by the Raven! We took advantage of the time to eat and rest which was good I was feeling a bit peckish myself.

Eventually the water drained out and we were able to look at the bottom of the well. We thought perhaps there would be a floor but there wasn’t. There is a large opening so we tried to shine the light and couldn’t see the bottom so we dropped a pebble listening to hear how far the floor was and then being surprised to hear a splash. The water has not been drained completely away and so then we tied one of our 50 foot ropes to one of the wheels and hung it down into the hole and it did not look like it went all the way down so we had to tie a second rope to it actually before we did that Ankoma climbed down and he climbed down and went to the end of the first rope and realize that that he was not even close to any land.

into-the-pittentacle-creatureSo we were debating what to do at that point, do we climb down, do we swing back and forth to try and get to land, do we go into the water and swim? The area was so big it was hard to get our bearings. It seemed like there was something still moving in the water. The tentacle thing was still there. We couldn’t be sure how far or how long it would take us to get to the land. So I determined that I too could become a tentacle thing to assist my companions.

Changing myself into a tentacle thing myself, technically what I did was I change myself into an octopus, I dropped into water to distract the creature so that the others could safely swim to land. I intended to attack something so my companions could safely do whatever they need to do; however, once I was in the water I realized the folly of my action. Once I was in the water I saw that there was not one tentacle thing that I needed to distract, but there were four of these hideous creatures that I would need to deal with. So the water became animated with churning movement as these four multi-armed rotting corpse things descended upon me. Barely had I enter the water and started moving towards one of these things when these four creatures descended upon me. I started to dodge the blows of one of these creatures but the other three managed to strike me repeatedly with their tentacles I dodge a tentacle here and there but I was struck nearly senseless with the repeated blows from these festering clawed tentacles to the degree that my octopus form was ripped to shreds forcing me to return to my human form in the water. There went that plan. What happened next was the gnoll decides to jump in the water and let the others know that I was foolish. So he and the others jumped into the water to save me as I swam to the shore. Then all of us moving to try and get to a better position to fight these creatures. Nyssa stayed above and fired her magic at these creatures from a position of safety. The rest of us attacked them as best we could from within the water or if we could get to land from at the relative safety of land. Eventually, after much blood and gore we were able to defeat the creatures. We found ourselves on an outcropping of land that was bizarre in shape and form appearing almost as if it were the mouth of a creature.

unnatural-passageThe one of the rocks, to my own thought, looked almost like an uvula from the throat of a creature. In any case, it was a disquieting place to find ourselves, however we were safe for the moment. Nyssa slid down the rope and joined us, and we took a moment to rest and recover from the harrowing battle that we have found ourselves in moments before. We now are faced with the decision to press on further down this natural yet unnatural tunnel.

 

Raven’s Keep: Dark Nyssa Falls, Upon Us Alls

As dawn was breaking we set our watch–Ankoma kept the first watch, then Elx, next Bran and finally Sayberion and Nyssa.

During his watch, Ankoma skinned the Owlbear and decorated his outfit with totems taken from the beast.

While Sayberion and Nyssa were keeping watch, Nyssa busied herself with looking about the room at the writings in T’yog’s study. Sayberion noticed that the longer she devoted herself this this persuit the more focused she became, to the point that she seemed to be nearly obsessing over the writings by the time the rest of us completed our rest.

pepperAfter the rest of the party rose, Sayberion suggested searching upstairs where the trail of blood led, but that investigation was interrupted when we found T’yog’s dog Pepper guarding the 2nd Floor. Pepper wouldn’t be distracted, so we elected not to challenge him and returned to the 1st floor where Nyssa was even more fanatic than before. We realized she hadn’t followed the rest of us upstairs and she had begun sweeping the tabletop, hurling items to the floor. When Sayberion questioned her she turned to face us, her eyes pale and almost dead, and she said,

Dark Nyssa“It must be here, T’yog is gone, and he has hidden it! He removed his veil and now it is my turn, I cannot exist without him, and yet I cannot die. That is not dead which lies eternal; I will not suffer that any man should look upon me. You, men from the mountain, you who have found your gods, you do not see! Do you not yet comprehend the horror that has occurred? You have scaled the slopes of rock and snow, but to what end? Now you have been seen your gods, but they too are weak, and they do not dance alone. You should not believe your eyes, for they are deceivers and the greater your power is, the weaker you will become. It was not for you to seek them out, to drive the gods to even greater horror; it would have been better had you stayed to the cold wastes and died there.”

We tried to calm Nyssa, to speak with her, and Elx soon realized that Nyssa was not herself; over the course of the night she had been possessed by the freed spirit of Ophelia, and she would not be pacified.

She continued her tirade:

“We were better for having forgotten them. And they were in a place where no man could tread; in their absence we became stronger and them more stern. Men of old displaced them, as they suffered in the poverty of their lacking faith. The old gods, the other god, they were hidden, but she showed you the way to the place where men were forbidden to go, or in going, to depart, but she showed you the way and you were seen and now you have not returned alone. Now it falls to you to seal the gate, T’yog is gone; I am hopeful that he has found his peace, the peace of oblivion if such a thing exists, but who among us can truly say? … I cannot exist without him; it was by his will alone that I am still here.”

Brand interrupted her, “Can’t you just speak plainly, and tell us what you are looking for? Maybe we can help you!”

She continued:

“I believe Earth’s gods have become homesick; they would not have returned otherwise and I can see them through your eyes,” she said staring at Elx, “Men will weep in fear of them, and the other who have seen you, they are seeking you now, not because of who you are, but for what you now carry within you. And not even this ancient castle will protect you now. It is now as it was written in the time of Sansu, as written of, with fright, in the moldy Pnakotic Manuscripts. You are the reason men fear eclipses; it is your return that has given rise to the desperate prayers of this night. Outside, pale vapors have hidden the moon from sight, and below those mists in distant Hatheg-Kla earth’s gods have convened to rejoin their dance with our world; they dance reminiscently, safe for now, but that will not last; not like when the earth was new, when men not so given to the gathering of forbidden knowledge.”

Nyssa’s reply only heated Brand’s ire more, but then another voice, high-pitched and squeaky, but tinged with the gravel of age, spoke up from somewhere behind Brand. Spinning fast on his heels he turned and saw something very strange; there upon the debris covered dresser stood a bizarre monstrosity, a blasphemy in the form of a diminutive hybrid about the size of a rat, albeit an enormous one; it was standing hunched, hands crossed, tentatively appraising Brand. It glared at Brand through beady, black, baleful eyes, mouth opened wide exposing a mouthful of sharp, needle-like teeth; its cruel eyes reflecting the torchlight adding to the tiny beast’s aura of vindictiveness.

brown-jenkinBrown Jenkin’s appearance had taken a form tenfold more hateful than anything Brand had imagined from T’yog’s description; the hideousness of Brown Jenkin’s image gave the ranger pause as the rat-thing addressed him.

“Your friend is of two minds, only one her own, the other of darker inclination; but I could help you.”

Fire erupted from Nyssa’s fingertips blasting a bolt at Brown Jenkin but missing, serving only to singe the dresser’s finish and to send the rat-like creature scurrying from the top of the dresser to beneath it. All at once the party gathered in the general direction of the dresser making the area overly cramped and allowing ample opportunity for Brown Jenkin to run through a chaotic collection of legs and feet until Ankoma slammed him with the side of his hand axe which launched Brown Jenkin skidding beneath the large center table. Ankoma gripped the side of the massive table and hurled it across the room, but Brown Jenkin had recovered sufficiently to leap into the air high enough to land in the open top of the ceramic alchemy jug where he disappeared.

Sayberion grabbed and tipped the alchemy jug spilling fresh beer, Elx’s concoction all over the floor, but Brown Jenkin was there; then back atop the dresser on the far side of the chamber, next to Brand, Brown Jenkin whispers, “There is secret, hidden door within the guest chamber that lies past the Black Door…I can show you.”
Calling a halt to the chaos of the chase Brand gathers up Brown Jenkin and we return to the main house of the keep. Good to his word, Brown Jenkin leads us to the secret door, an extremely well hidden secret trapdoor that hides a narrow spiral staircase that leads to a secret vault hidden deep below the keep.

demon-doorAt the base of the narrow spiral staircase there is a subterranean passageway. We catch the flicker of torchlight from below. A wider passageway waits there, bathed in flickering torchlight, and at the end of this wider passage a stout, iron-bounded, wooden door bars barring further progress. Above the door, a horrible carving of a demon leers down at us and on either side of the door, torches burn brightly. As we step forward a sinister low droning starts up from the leering demon face.

Ignoring the droning, Sayberion and Elx begin examining the door seeking some method of egress. As we do, the demonic droning door begins to reveal the nature of its defense as it breathes out a gout of flame that takes on a form and a life of its own, that of a small fiery elemental. It attacks us and we fight back, but soon we discover that it is resistant to normal weapons, still Brand manages to dispatch it using the magic dagger we had found upstairs in Ophelia’s chambers, but then a second aspect of the trap was revealed as the hypnotic droning began transfixing various members of our party, leaving us blank-eyed and drooling even as more of the small elementals appeared one after another.

Ultimately, Bran was able to resist long enough to save the rest of us and then Elx blew the door apart with his bolter rifle.

ophelia-skeletonIn the confusion of those moments Brown Jenkin had disappeared; but with the door destroyed the chamber beyond was revealed. The dusty chamber had a low ceiling – barely eight‐feet high and the floor was littered with coins; there are also four large square niches piercing the left and right the walls of the chamber, each holding a heavy armored statues of black marble, one in each niche, and these statues guarded other treasures. But what drew our attention was the heavy stone burial crypt set in the center of the chamber. Upon it, a sinuous snaky looking skeletal manifestation rose up, a spine topped with a be-fanged human skull. Unnervingly, gracefully it slid from the stone sarcophagus, hideously gliding to the floor.

A massive battle ensued. Sayberion called upon his god to bless us as we steeled ourselves for the battle. Nyssa struck at the creature first, blasting at the blasphemy with a cleansing flame but missing. The monster retaliated with a bolt of frigid blue-white light that streaks back a Nyssa freezing her in her tracks. Ankoma, Elx and Bran launch themselves at the monstrosity and it deftly dodges and responds wrapping the boney spine around the gnoll in a deadly embrace. Elx in wolf form bites down hard on the boney creature only to find that it is immune to normal attacks. The creature uses this momentary lapse to chills Bran’s soul and leaves him paralyzed. We soon discover however that our magical weapons can harm it.

It is an epic fight that leaves the party worn, and eventually working together we prevail and Ophelia’s blasphemy that is her undead body is defeated. As it fails Ophelia speaks her last:

“And so, as you embarking upon your sinister adventure, know that this night and all the nights that follow, I would think such folly incomprehensible if not for your ignorance of the danger, may your gods be merciful, if indeed they be, and may they guard you for I will not. It is death and death only that is the true mercy, from this, there is no return save those few who might imagine that there is something better; from that nethermost chamber of night, there is naught but ruin, and I believe, I hope, you have freed me from such. Mostly though, death is death, and its peace is evermore. Fool that I was to plunge with such unsanctioned frenzy from that peace, but it was never by my choice, but by his. There are mysteries that exist that no man is meant to penetrate; fool or god that T’yog was—he was my brother and my only friend; in the end, the horror of living surpassed his will to live, these same terrors now pass on to you, and his peace on to me.”

Nyssa collapses.

We examined Nyssa, and found that she was fine but exhausted, and she didn’t remember anything about her most recent ordeal. It was similar to the drawing of the ward in the great hall, perhaps it wasn’t the first time she’d been possessed, and then we turned our attention to the treasures we’d found in the burial chamber.

Ophelia’s spellbook, an amulet with a golden sun design set with a ruby, a heavy black wooden shield with the image of a wolf, and a shimmery scimitar.

darkwood-shield-scimitar-speedamulet-healthophelia-spellbook

The inscription on the amulet was a dedication to the earth and sun and all living things so it was given to Elx. Similarly, given his recent penchant for transforming into a wolf, and since no one else needed it, Elx took the darkwood shield.

Bran took up the scimitar and found that it moved with a quickness that was sublime.

Nyssa looked over the spellbook and recognized the writings as being necromantic in nature. The tome reeked, reminiscent of decomposing flesh and some even fouler stench, grave mold was still clinging to its worm-eaten, dirt-stained cover, as if the book had been buried and unearthed.

The fight in the burial chamber had tested all of us, and Nyssa in particular was in no condition to travel or to search further, she needed rest, and it was the dead of night, but none of us wanted to stay within the burial chamber so we headed back upstairs towards the main house, but as we arrived in back in the sleep chamber Ankoma heard the rooting of the swine-things reverberating from the outer hall and we gathered ourselves for a charge. Sayberion and Elx led the way; Elx carrying the darkwood shield we recovered, they were followed by Ankoma, and Bran took the rear of line. Exhausted, Nyssa waited below.

We beat our way past the first of the swine-things, fighting our way beyond the confines of the narrow hall the let to the sleeping chamber and met the rest of the swine-things in the entry chamber of the main house. This was another terrific melee against nine more of the swine things. It was a close battle and Elx would have died were it not for the magic of the shield protecting him. Throughout the fight Sayberion’s energy blade, while cleanly slicing through the creatures, kept flickering and one time disappeared completely causing him to missing his foe; and minutes after the battle ended the blade finally ran out of energy. Sayberion placed the spent hilt in his pack ruing our exile from Raven’s Keep. Bran walked over to him and handed him the scimitar, “I believe you will find this of more use now than I will.”

Raven’s Keep: Swine Flu, Eww

From the Journal of Elx

18 Donkeremoan 57323

As I write this journal entry I am a bit confused. I find that my previous entries contain a mixture of the Common tongue and a substantial amount of coded entry that I find myself unable to read. I have set myself the task of deciphering these strange entries in my own journal. Yet more strange, they look to be written in my own handwriting.

Additionally, I find myself in the middle, apparently of the Wildlands, exiled from Raven’s Keep. My memories of getting here are jumbled and fuzzy. Blern and his agents are nowhere in sight. I feel as if I have woken from a dream. But more…as if from a dream within a dream.


After the brief rest, we headed back downstairs where we found concentric rings inscribed on the floor of one of the rooms. Nyssa recognized the rings as something that she had inscribed.

“I’m sorry, but how is it and when it is that you inscribed these?” sputtered Bran.

Nyssa looked confused for a moment, “I’m not entirely sure, it may have been when we were in the dream.”

“But you never left us in the dream,” countered Sayberion.

“I don’t remember leaving you. But I definitely recall creating these rings,” answered Nyssa.

“Do you know why you created them or what they do?” asked Bran.

“I believe they are summoning circles. To either keep something in or out.”

While were talking Ankoma and I had been simply observing. I nearly fell over as the door I was leaning against was suddenly opened. Four swine things lept into the room. One of them rushing to attack Ankoma while the other three took advantage of me being of balance and descended upon me.

The others fought bravely. Ankoma fought with a recklessness that was inspiring, hacking away, grabbing them, and occasionally throwing the pig-like creatures to the ground.

Nyssa blasted one with her fire bolt and then rushed forward into the fray forgoing her safety to stabilize my bleeding when she saw that one of the creatures had nicked an artery and I was starting to spurt blood.

Bran slashed left and right with his two weapons, marking them with his hunter’s eye, he saw openings for more lethal blows that we others could not see.

Sayberion stood over my prone body and took the brunt of their attacks, interposing his shield to block attacks against Ankoma as well, all the while slashing with his blade. The last one fell as Ankoma held him down and Bran sliced his head off.

The threat removed they saw to Elx’s wounds. The medkit diagnosed him with some sort of magical disease that was resistant to normal healing and prevented it from applying normal diagnostic and healing measures to him.

Sayberion called out to his god and laid hands on Elx. The sweat that had broken out my forehead cleared away in moments and the kit indicated that the disease was gone and was able to apply its healing measures to him. Sayberion also used curative magics on Elx so that within moments I was standing nearly as health as I had been before the attack. My ribs still ached and I could still feel something not completely healed inside as I started to walk around.

We then went to various rooms to try to rest for a while. Ankoma and Bran, after seeing that we were secure began to search the building to make sure that there weren’t any gaps in the windows or other areas that the swine creatures could enter through. They got to the roof and saw that there were a bunch of them gathering in the courtyard.

Eventually, the creatures started to try to break in through the windows and doors as we had feared.

I transformed into a dire wolf and ran to the front door to meet my prey. They met me before I got there and clawed at me. I sunk my jaws it and shaking my head I knocked it down. Then my packmates and I attacked it viciously. The nice smelling packmate blasted it with fire and it smelled good.

Ankoma came down the side of the building and started fighting one of the swine things, attacking them from the rear.

My packmates and I were churning through the pig creatures.

Then I heard the hairy packmate fall and I started whining. My packmate with funny colored skin quickly picked up on what I was trying to communicate. He told the others that hairy-one was in trouble in the courtyard. I knocked the pig thing down in front of us and tried to rush past, but there was a creature that blocked my path and caused me to fall over.

Funny-skin rushed over the fallen foes and friends and disrupted the one that blocked me and then continued on to find hairy-one.

Another pig-thing came and attacked me while I was down. The creature was able to land many blows since I was down and I felt the familiar tingle of the swine flu.

Nice-smelling-one blasted that one and killed it too.

I stood up and knocked my foe to the ground and moved past. Two-clawed human moved forward and attacked it while it was down. Leaping into the air, Nice-smelling-one shot down at the creature but missed.

I rand out and back, nipping at the creature’s heels.

One of the creatures ran out to look for Funny-skin.

Two-claws took two more swipes at the creature and killed it. Funny-skin sliced at the creature attacking him and Hairy and then shoved it with his shield, knocking it back. It tumbled back into its companion and both fell prone. Then we chewed on them till they disappeared.

We went to the other tower, Two-claws called up to the golem but there was no answer. I went up to the door and scratched and barked, but I got no answer either.

We looked for openings. We saw nothing on the ground floor other than the locked door with a tiny arrow slit, but on the second floor there were windows so we talked about how to get to them.

I returned to human form and told the others that I would assume a form that would be able to enter the building and then would open the door. However, if I ran into trouble and didn’t return in a few minutes that they should assume the worst.

So saying, I transformed into a swarm of crawling insects and the mass pressed towards the door, then through the arrow slit, and into the well lit room. The swarm could tell that it was empty. Some kind of lab or library. I raised the bar on the door and let them in.

Once inside, we slid the bar back into place, securing the door against invaders and examined it more closely. There had been a conflict in the room. Bran noticed blood on the floor and determined that a booted man had escaped and that the white rat creature with little hands for feet, that T’yog had warned us about had been present also.

Starting to feel the effects of the flu I realized that I could cast a lesser restoration upon myself and did so to remove the disease coursing through my system. We sat in the chairs and rested while continuing to search the room. Among the papers we unearthed T’yog’s Journal and then I cast a detect magic ritual during which we discovered a strange amphora that we realized could be made to magically dispense various alchemical fluids.

 

Raven’s Keep: T’yog’s Journal

It is not dream—it is not, I fear, even madness—I lived too long, I’ve seen too much, and I am far too guilty for the innocence that might entail; there is no credence to the merciful doubts of insanity. I alone bear the full responsibility of the utter ruination that my life has become; the desolation of my human morality, the choices I have made and the paths I have trod; those unlit and illimitable corridors of eldritch phantasy wherein I pursued the black, shapeless Nemesis of immortality that has ultimately driven me to the brink of my self-annihilation.

May you find it in you to forgive yourself in your own time, perhaps you or the others with you will find all that which you are seeking, but for me the folly and morbidity into which I have led not only myself but my sister too, for that monstrous sin, there is none. It is true that I did not force her, neither of us could have accomplished the deed alone, but neither of us could bring ourselves to settle upon the dreadful commonplace of a prosaic world, not even the common joys of romance and adventure were too stale for our more discriminating palettes. We followed the darkness of our souls enthusiastically, every aesthetic and intellectual pursuit that promised any respite from the devastating ennui. Only in the somber philosophies of the Yellow King did I ever find any measure of satisfaction that lasted, and in the end that too proved false. Now, in reflection my zealously led us with unmeasured gradually into ever greater depths of diabolism, and our penetrations drove deep, deeper than you might ever imagine; only the more direct stimuli of unnatural personal experience and the increasing perversions of the Unnamable kept me focused. It was my frightful emotional need which led me eventually to the detestable course which even in my present state I mention only indirectly, and with both shame and timidity—the hideous extremity of my human outrage, the abhorred practices of which I was a willing participant and to which I subjected my sister Ophelia.

I illuminate you to these circumstances that you might comprehend that which led me to my self-imposed exile within this unhallowed place, I am aware that you will or should hold my narrative with some measure of natural doubt, both to its authenticity and its purpose, it is an unfortunate fact that you cannot see, the bulk of humanity is too limited in its mental vision to weigh with patience and intelligence these isolated phenomena, seen and felt only by an intellectually gifted few, these wonders that lie outside the common experience of the common man, but as men and women of broader intellect and potential, individuals such as you and your friends, I do hope by now you realize that there is no sharp distinction betwixt the real and the unreal; that all things appear as they do only by virtue of the delicate individual physical and mental media through which they are comprehended; it is our unique flashes of super-sight which allow us to penetrate the common veil of obvious empiricism of the masses.

For example, I know that you have already utilized the scrolls I provided, and having done so, you have drawn the five concentric circles of fire on the floor of the great hall, and having placed yourself at the center within the innermost circle, you will have chanted the monstrous litany therein transcribed, a ritual even I scarcely understand, a thing delivered to me by the messenger of the Faceless one. You see, somehow he knew that you were coming, and it was he who declared that you would put the ritual to good use. He offered only this description … He said it would melt the walls away from your inner power; opening you to the black wind of the Crawling Chaos that the wind might carry you through the gulfs of the fathomless grey until you found yourself amidst the needle-like pinnacles of mountains known only to him; he said there the winds would carry you until the mountains lied miles below you so that you might choose the means of your destruction, and that when that was done, you would return from the utter blackness to where send you so that you might share that which you gain with all. And so now, having passed through the strange glow of a myriad of alien stars, stars formed in strange, unknown constellations that you had never seen or imagined, and having passed through the house’s twisted towers into the arena of the other gods, you have returned, and so I found you, all of you, sprawled unconscious upon the floor, back within the five phosphorescent circles you had drawn there in the great hall, each of you to your own circle. I screamed and struggled with the knowing of what your return means. Hereafter, you should be more cautious with your incantations, lest you find yourself someday cut off from your body, cut off from the earth, trapped within hitherto unknown abysses from which you might never return.

I have not the time to explain this to you now, there is scarcely any time left for me at all, but know this … When age fell upon the world, and wonder went out of the minds of men; when our grey cities reared high into smoky skies, tall towers grim and ugly, in whose shadow none might dream of the sun or of spring’s flowering meads; when learning, science, the sorcery of the day, stripped earth of her mantle of beauty, in that time when poets sang no more save of twisted phantoms seen with bleared and inward-looking eyes of the truly self-centered, narcissist that ruled the world of that day; when those things had come to pass, and childish hopes were washed away seemingly forever in the passing a a smattering of days, there were a handful of men whom with the help of two women travelled out and beyond this realm, on a quest into the spaces whither the world’s dreams had fled.

You must now find the lost the key of that gateway of dreams, it is the key to the strange and ancient cities that lie beyond time, beyond space, wherein lie the lovely, unbelievable garden lands wait across the ethereal seas; but there is little time, and you have not crossed into this land alone. Your liberties have already begun to slip away little by little, until eventually you too will be cut off altogether, and on that day you will understand the doom I know too well. The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on upon placid islands of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage so very far as you already have. Our studies, each straining in their own directions, have it within them to piece together of dissociated knowledge of man to the extent that it must ultimately open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and the revelation of our frightful position therein, that we should all either all go mad from the understanding or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age, so better would be now for me had that happened, but it did not and I suffer for it, as will all humanity.

You are on your own now, separated, but too your life is now unmundaned and for at least this moment you might feel that your lives have meaning. The forces aligned against you, are not in truth, allies. They are great and unimaginably powerful, but your concerns are not theirs, and as important as they might be to you, they are insignificant to the Old Ones, and therein lies your only fragile hope. l have wondered why the majority of mankind never pauses to reflect upon the occasionally titanic significance of their dreams, so trapped are they in the obscure world to which they belong. It is my hope that you will strive to be different. From my experience I cannot doubt but that we, when lost within our terrestrial consciousness, but in our dream we are indeed free and able to sojourning in another incorporeal life of far different nature that which normally constrains us, and it is in our blurred and fragmentary memories of those place we travel from which we may infer much; matter, and vitality, as the earth knows such things, are not necessarily constant; and that time and space does not exist as our waking selves comprehend them, but rather it is an illusion forming an all but impenetrable barrier the Old Ones use to contain us. I think it might be possible for you to find the means of traversing these mazes. Whether or not you will succeed, I cannot say.

You are of a very old people, old even compared to me, and I have reigned here for better part of 300 years. I have looked forward impatiently to the day of your arrival watching the cryptic signs within the star of our blindly impersonal cosmos. You find yourselves far from home, and I am not the only one who knows that you are here. You have enemies near and far, they are legion waiting in dank pastures of the wastelands, and deep in the caves of leviathan hidden beyond the triton’s grottoes and the seaweed cities of the Elder Ones. I could never bring my think of the deep sea without shuddering at the nameless things that are at this very moment be crawling and floundering upon its slimy bed, worshiping their ancient stone idols and carving their own detestable likenesses on submarine obelisks of water-soaked granite. I have dreamt of the day when they will rise above the billows to drag down in their reeking talons the remnants of puny, war-exhausted mankind – of the day when the land shall sink, and the dark ocean floor shall ascend amidst universal pandemonium, but that end is not to be mine. I have created my own, and it waits for me now, festering in the cursed ground beneath your feet; I hear their dead thoughts, their desire to live anew, both in and out of their odd bodies— Oh the inescapable evil of their minds, thoughts held by no head. It is a happy tomb where no wizard hath lain, and a happy the town whose wizards are all reduced to ash. It is an old truth that the soul best sold to the devil is bought by him not with coin but with gifts, the finer works of his charnel clay, from the fats that instruct, the worm that gnaws; till its corruption swells to breed the horrid abomination of life, thing that spring out of the minds of men, the dull scavengers who will ultimately consume themselves. Many are the gifts of the Great Old Ones, and many are their great secreted holes both above and below the earth, and beware for their creations are strange things that learnt to walk that ought to crawl; the witchcraft terror that is a horrible ray of light stewed in woman’s corrupted brain, but even that is a trifle. There is no beauty; no freedom – I can see, no escape in the poisonous sermons of the cramped divines of the other gods. We are all trapped together with the same rusted iron straitjacket that is this world. It is a place of lurking, gibbering hideousness, perversion, and diabolism. Here, truly, we share in the apotheosis of The Unnamable. Avenues of limitless night radiate outward in every direction chose that which you will, but know the root of a contagion lies not upon your path, but rather it is deeply embedded within you all. You are all destined to sicken and swallow cities, and engulf nations in the fetor which you carry within you. The cosmic sin is yours, just as surely as it is mine; yours is all its festering unhallowed majesty. 

So go, embark, commence your grinning march of death, spread the rot of your own fungous abnormalities, like Bastion, you already bare the mark, the bloodstain of the innocent youth is upon you, the leprous limbs of phosphorescent Shub-Niggurath have sought you out; incubi and succubae howling praises to Hecate. Our World, and Nature, both are helpless against the assaults of your unsealed wells of night. Were there a formula—a sort of list of things to say and do—I would have recognized it, but they are and they should have stayed, black and forbidden; yours are the same furtive paragraphs I myself studied, and me with mixed abhorrence and fascination penning and repenning both my own works and those of the strange ancient delvers who came before me; those you like you sought out the universe’s guarded secrets. Once too I believed there was a key—a guide—to certain gateways and transitions of which mystics have dreamed and whispered of since our race was young, and from which we might discover new freedoms that might carry us beyond the three dimensions and realms of life and matter that we know. Not in my three centuries had any man of this realm ever more dutifully researched these awesome antiquities than I. 

I cannot sleep at night now, and have to take opiates when it thunders. After your departure the things came abruptly, but they were announced first by their hellish grunting, that is what saved me. The daemon swine-things rose from the pit, and then I again caught wiff of my blackest of conjuration, Brown Jenkin as he burst out beneath the chimney in the kitchen, that leprous, loathsome night-spawn; the sound of his hideous titter and the shallow pant caused him by the ash; I gave chase, but he disappeared in a wee hole, a newly gnawed in the cellar wall. I hear them again now … seething, stewing, surging, bubbling up like serpents’ slime as the roll up and out of that yawning pit; they are coming for me, and they will come for you too; hopping, torrential shades of green luminescent chaos, coming for you all, one after another in an endless procession. They too are formless phantasms, ghoulish mutations, monstrously over-nourished, servants of The Unnamable, the earth’s verminous cannibalistic dev

Raven’s Keep: Praying for Keeps

From the Journal of Elx

27 Blotmoan 57323

We stayed in the village for a few days recovering. Yesterday, Trella said that we need to go to return to the Devil’s House to learn about magic and understand the dreams Nyssa and I have been having.

Skull spearWe headed back to the Devil’s House arriving in the late afternoon. The spear with many human skulls greeted us as before. Nyssa blew the horn to herald our arrival. A long, lonely note sounded echoing through the vale.

The water slowly lowered to reveal a slippery, narrow, wet passage to the imposing edifice. As before the keep kept its lonely vigil on the rocky peninsula that juts out over a misty outcropping causing it to seem almost to float in the mist. The sight is at once, both grand and eerily peculiar given the epic wonder of the fortification’s construction, especially given the wide spread of wasteland that we have had to cross to reach it. For leagues around the Devil’s House the land was barren, completely unpeopled and bare. Even when we came across  the occasional cottage it was in ruins.

After Nyssa blows the horn, the air falls silent. We gaze briefly at the waters of the Lake of Tears. As we make our way across the narrow passage I am struck by the warning offered by the people of Rydalka. They had cautioned that any who dared drink the water would die and any who dared the lake’s cold embrace would surely vanish never to be seen again. A shudder ran through me as we reached the other side and I once again felt a measure of safety, for the moment.

On the other side of the bridge we meet the master of the house. “Hark!” he calls to us sharply. The sound of his voice causes us to unconsciously hold our breaths for a moment, but after a brief strained silence we regain enough of our composure to offer a response. But, even as we move to speak, our effort is interrupted by a harsh wailing noise from beyond the main gate followed by the appearance of a large black dog of dubious appearance and another hoarse howl. It bounds through the gate and then responding to its master’s stern rejection, the large beast seats itself at his side and both take on an ominous aspect as they wait for us.

“Good day to you, sir!” calls out Nyssa.

High Priest T'yog“I am T’yog!” offers the old man. “I am he who lives here in this ancient house, surrounded by this large, and unfortunately, unkempt garden, and I am afraid my home is in no better repair.”

“Before you cross, I would warn you, the peasants, who inhabit the wilderness beyond, say that I am mad. That is because I will have nothing to do with them. I live here alone with my sister, Ophelia, who is also my housekeeper. We keep no servants–I hate them, and I have only one friend, my dog. Honestly, I would sooner have old Pepper than the rest of Creation all-together. He, at least, understands me–and has sense enough to leave me alone when I am in my darker moods.”

“But you need not fear me, those others who still follow the Yellow King typically wear heavy veils, but as you plainly see I do not, for unlike those others, I have nothing to hide, and you should no think, not for a second, that you can hide anything from me. I know who you are and I know why you have come, and I truthfully, I know the truth of these things better than you do yourselves.”

“As you say, since you know why we have come, we need not say it, but say it we will. We have come here seeking knowledge, Things we cannot learn elsewhere, do that you acknowledge?” asked Elx.

T’yog nodded and the group made a move to cross, but again we were interrupted as the bag carried by Sayberion began to shake and moan. Concern written upon his face, he quickly opened the bag and out flew the boy’s severed head; as it emerted it intoned:

Open the door,
And listen!
Below the wind’s muffled roar,
And the glisten
Of tears shed below;
Deep, there fancy the tread
Of vanishing shoon,
Down in the dark; with the Dead.

“Hush! And hark
To their sorrowful cry,
To whispers in the dark;
Hush and hark, without murmur or sigh,
To shoon that tread the lost servants:
To they that would bid you to die.
Hush and hark! Hush and Hark!”
THE TREAD OF THE DEAD!

For a moment T’yog stands with his jaw agape, clearly stunned, then as he recovers he fixes his gaze on each of us in turn, staring at us for several seconds before shifting away and cocking his head as if he is listening to a voice that he alone can hear, then centered once more he offers, “I will help you, not because you ask, but because it pleases me to do so, but for now you should rest. Before you can achieve your goals you will have to speak to my sister, Ophelia, and she is not available now, perhaps on the morrow…we shall see. I will provide you what assistance I can now, but eventually you must convince my sister to help you, and at that time you must do so at your own risk.”

“For the nonce, I welcome you and all that you bring with you; you will all be tested soon enough, and if by chance you see a small white-fanged furry thing, no larger than a good-sized rat, stay away from it, and take care for it has an annoying habit of nuzzling people curiously in the black hours just before dawn. You will know it by its long, dirty, matted hair and generally unhealthy appearance, and like I have already said its shape, which is that of a sharp-toothed rat, only its bearded face is evilly human, and its paws are more akin to tiny human hands than a typical rat’s claws. And, at times it gives voice to any number of blasphemies, always in a loathsome titter. Good night.”

We asked him his opinion of Rol’s head before he left us and he warned us that we should not become playthings of the Elder Gods. And when pressed if he meant that we should destroy the head replied that he didn’t think that we could even if we wanted to.

So saying he left to spend the night in his tower and left us to spend the night in the keep saying that he would come for is in the morning to take us to his sister and for our testing.

As he had warned us, the keep was a mess. The place was covered with dust, cobwebs, and was infested with giant feral rats and even an infernal snake, though we found out later that the snake was actually a guard left by T’yog for when he slept in the keep. We spend the better part of an hour wandering the keep looking for a place where we felt comfortable sleeping for the night; eventually, after disposing of the snake and the rodents of unusual size, we found some rooms that weren’t too badly infested and we set a guard and slept fairly soundly.

We woke to a breakfast of grilled snake and rats that Ankoma thought was very reasonable, but some of the rest of us were a bit dubious about. T’yog offered us food from the keep to supplement the food that we had procured during the evening’s hunt and a more balance meal was enjoyed by all.

During breakfast, T’yog gave Nyssa a book on magic and how it worked in this world. He explained that while she might have a bit of understanding from her experience elsewhere, the Elder Gods and their influence on the nature of reality here changed how magic would function and so she would need to have a different understanding of how magic functioned to make it work for her. Thanking him, she devoured the book almost as greedily as Ankoma did the meaty breakfast.

When we were finished, T’yog encouraged us to meet his sister on the upper floors saying that she would be waiting for us and that he could show us the way. Heading to the great hall he went to the lock that bound the chain sealing the door to the chamber. Before opening it he asked, “Are you sure that you want to go through with this? It isn’t too late to turn back.”

Sayberion asked, “Turn back? What do you mean?”

T’yog explained, “if you visit my sister you will be changed. The touch of magic is not a simple thing. There is always a cost to be paid. You will be transformed and will be like you are no longer. You can however leave now and go back to your simple lives.”

Elx answered, “No, we will see her.”

Nyssa agreed, “Yes, open the door.”

The others nodded and murmured assent.

T’yog unlocked and unchained the doors and ushered us into the chamber. T’yog spoke to Sayberion who had not answered yet, “Are you reconsidering your choice?”

Sayberion replied, “I would never leave a friend in need.”

T’yog nodded and said, “Good. Then I wish you well as I am going to seal you all inside.” And with that he shut the doors and we heard him sealing the chain behind us.

Great HallDust and cobwebs filled the large chamber. Long feasting tables completed with chairs that had been pushed up to the left wall of the chamber and at the far end of the room was a raised dais with another table atop it. Shadows wreathed the high, web-shrouded ceiling and the floor was littered with numerous small bones of animals.

We headed for the stairs intent on ascending, but before we got to them a huge green and white spider bigger than a horse lept from the shadows appearing in our midst and sinking its fangs into Ankoma. He growled as the poison from the bite clearly irritated him and as he was about to slash at the creature with his axe it disappeared and reappeared in the rafters above us. I reached out with my mind and channeled psionic energy into the beast’s tiny brain causing it pain. While it was distracted by the pain both Sayberion and Nyssa jumped into the rafters to attack it. Sayberion climbed into a table and tried to jump from there with little success. Nyssa however, activated jets in her armor and easily found herself next to the phase spider and using her blade sliced a large gash across its thorax. She and I continued across the room towards the stairs as we thought that we saw something like a pale bluish flame. The creature disappeared after the hit from Nyssa and appeared moments later next to Bran. On the ground the others attacked it successfully, but then it again disappeared into the rafters. Ankoma climbed into the rafters in pursuit and soon delivered a final killing blow.

After a short flight of winding stairs, Nyssa and I came to a landing and further rooms. As we ascended the stairs I felt a sensation akin to that of a dead cold hand meeting my own left hand and it felt as if it was firmly grasping me, drawing me forcibly forwards. The torch-lit landing had statues that animated once we passed them and directed us to one of the chambers from which we heard a deep, hollow groan resound.

Lady OpheliaThe chamber was a softly candle-lit bedroom where we found on the bed the stiff form of a woman dressed from head to toe in black lace, including a heavy veil. Ominously, the bones rose up and transformed into a beautiful woman. The way the flesh grew out from the bones and flesh appeared did nothing to lesson the disturbing scene and both of us were filled with dread that the woman’s beauty only enhanced with its out of place contrast. From some unknown location a bell tolls, as the lady glides off her bed and as she stretches out towards us. We ran from the room intent on returning to our companions.

When we got to them they were searching the rafters for the remains of former victims of the phase spider and had found some magical potions and some gold. If I wasn’t unnerved enough by the apparition, now I had to deal with that dreaded metal! As our companions asked us why we were so pale and looked as if we had seen a ghost, we almost laughed, but the words choked in our throats as Ophelia came down from her chambers and her awesome presence filled the chamber and the rest of my companions with dread as well.

Bran had just a moment to speak some words of encouragement to us, “Take heart, my friends, fear not,” that fell on deaf ears around us, but that allowed me to collect my wits before she fully descended the stairs and so as she approached, instead of running this time, I spoke respectfully to her, “Lady Ophelia, we have come here seeking knowledge that we could not find elsewhere. This we acknowledge. We do not wish to linger, but understand you are the wisdom bringer.”

She reached out her hand and I responded in kind. She lifted her veil and kissed me. Collapsing, I fell to the floor like a puppet with my stings cut.

Thunder filled the room and darkness filled the air.

As we recovered, it is as if we have been in a trance. We still find ourselves within the Great Hall, but now we are surrounded by the revelries of some sheltered nobility, survivors of Bastion seated upon their velvet-lined seats amidst a sumptuous looking banquet. Given its previous appearance we hand not imagined that the Great Hall might ever have been so magnificent, but here in the glow of innumerable tapers, each ensconced in holders of pure crystal it is as spectacular as we could imagine.

The extravagance of the feast is displayed upon tables situated in the centre of the hall, the table attired to represent a green lawn, dressed with large peacocks’ feathers and green branches tied in place with violets and other sweet-smelling flowers adding to the illusion, and in the middle of the faux lawn lies a fortress covered with silver, but hollow, forming a sort of cage, in which several live birds are contained, their tufts and feet being gilt and on its tower, three banners are on display. Set upon the table a first course consists of a civet of hare, a quarter of stag which rested in salt, a stuffed chicken, and a loin of veal. Another large dish is filled with a sweet looking sauce, with gilt sugar-plums, mulberries and pomegranate seeds. And at each end of the table, beyond the green lawn, waits an enormous pie, surmounted with smaller pies, all of which together form a crown. The crust of the large pies are silvered all round and gilt at the top. Each pie contains a whole roe-deer, a gosling, three capons, six chickens, ten pigeons, one young rabbit, and, no doubt to serve as seasoning or stuffing, a minced loin of veal, at least two pounds of fat, and twenty-six hard-boiled eggs, covered with saffron flavored with cloves.

The doors of the Great Hall stand open, seemingly an allowance for the soft music which drifts in from somewhere beyond the chamber. Among those in attendance, our hostess, the lady Ophelia, is of incomparable beauty, still decked in her black attire, only now she is attended by a troop of beautiful, androgynous beings, who place garlands of laurel upon our heads, take each of us in turn gently by the hand and lead us out of the Hall in pursuit of the Lady.

“We are in the Plane of Silence, you are all now witnesses to a time before, shadows here, but so too it was of the Other Gods in attendance; you have but to go out into the world to see them, but know this, they will see you too and in accepting them you will change yourself; no more will you be free to live or die as you would. No more, will you be free to serve yourself, allowing only the world to serve you. If you truly would chose to become one of theirs, you shall live as they would have you live in service to ‘their’ purpose, and you will put yourself into conflict with the powers that are and will continue to be. So you should go sure in the knowledge that you will be enslaving yourselves to a higher power, and forever you will be changed by the experience, but you can take solace in the fact that freedom itself an illusion. We are the instruments of barbarous institutions, and so must put up, I suppose, with the never-ending procession of fools others than us—of fools ad infinitum. Civilization flaunts it in the glare of day; aye, and I detest folly; I detest still more (if I must be frank) mere cleverness. Mankind has simply become a tailless host of non-instinctive animals. You should never have taken to Evolution; ‘Natural Selection!’—Little gods and fishes—the deaf for the dumb! You might be better without your vaulted brains and intellectual pride; the ecclesiastics agree. And by brains I mean—what do I mean?—I mean, my dear child” and she lays her gloved hand once more upon Elx. “I mean courage. Consider it, Elx. I understand that the scientific world is once more beginning to consider the existence of and to be afraid of spiritual agencies, spiritual agencies that tap and knock, bless their hearts!”

 “… I wish I could have just one more of those mulberries—“

 “And men talk about ‘blind Love,”

She runs on inconsequently on as she keeps her eyes fixed on the dish, “but why blind? I think, do you know, from the weeping, and despair beyond the mockery of time. Oh and how fleeting you are? There is something someone had said to me once; we had been talking about a subject that for me ‘is’ full of fascination, the subject was old religions, of forsaken gods. The truth (for all religions lay claim to some of it), the wisdom, the beauty, of the religions of this place, or to places of which you may have heard, or not, for I now many more than you; regardless, they all have some appealed for me, whether in their tyranny or in their intolerance, and moreover for, the abject servitude that they claim from mere belief; but when a dynasty has been dethroned in heaven and goes forgotten and is suddenly outcast even among men, when no one’s eyes are any longer dazzled by its power; it is then I find something very wistful in the faces of those fallen gods supplications to be remembered. It is something almost tearfully beautiful, like a long warm summer twilight fading gently away after some day memorable in the story of earthly wars. The loss of blind faith, rather than blind love if you will … Between what Zeus, for instance, has once been once and the half-remembered tale he is today there lays a space so great that there is no change of fortune known to man whereby we may measure the height down which he has fallen. And he is not alone, the same is true of many even lesser gods, those who from the ages once trembled, and that now are treated as old wives’ tales or less. The fortitude that such a fall demands is surely more than human, don’t you think?”

“Come, my loves, you must take leave of these cynics; it is the choice you must face, your own choice of evils. I have already opened the door.”  

And then she sweeps out her arms with a flourish as if in a torrent of unintelligible indignation.

plane-of-silenceThe Plane of Silence:

As we struggle to understand all that which Ophelia has been saying we begin to float into the air, and soon we pass through the walls of the Devil’s House and outside so that we can once again see the mountains. Rising above the house, we see the house is now circled by a rift, which terminates in a deep, awesome pit, where we knew the Lake of Tears to be. Then, the course of our journey alters, and we begin to move along the base of the mountains, until, all at once, we see on either side of us, huge, scarped walls of rocklike substance rising sheer, and far overhead, we discerned a thin ribbon of red, set high among as of yet inaccessible peaks where we find ourselves. We huddle together within, a deep gloom; in somber, chilly silence continuing to rise upward steadily, and then, at last, we see, ahead, in the deep, the red glow, that we are near upon the opening above the gorge. Still above us in the sky, we once more catch glimpse of the light which has grown in to a gigantic ring burning with a dull-red flame, the outer edge of which projects huge, writhing flames, darted and jagged while the interior, the heart of the thing is black, black as the gloom of the outer night. We comprehend, at once, that it is from an extraordinary sun, the source from which this place derives its doleful light.

Time passes incoherently, as we exit of the chasm, staring out upon the enormous amphitheater formed of the mountains. We begin to comprehend the terrible grandeur of the place, more than a little confounded by the amazement of that which we now behold, and then at a distance of several miles where it occupies the center of the arena, we spy a stupendous structure built apparently out of green-black jade. Yet, in itself, it was not the discovery of the building that astonished us, but the fact, which becomes immediately apparent, that save in color and its enormous size, this edifice is somehow the same lonely structure from whence we have just come.

arena-of-the-godsFor a while, we continue to stare, fixedly, as our minds struggle to understand. So much so, that hitherto, we were so engrossed in our scrutiny of the House, that for a time we failed to give even a cursory glance ’round, but now, as we look, we realize something more of the nature of a place to which we have come. The mountains fully takes on the aspect of an arena, being a perfect circle of about four or five leagues in diameter with the House standing in the center. The surface of the place, had taken on a misty appearance, but somehow we know that too that it is not mist.

Giving our rapid survey, a glance that passes quickly upward along the slopes of the circling mountains, we can not fail but notice how silent they are, and even in their stillness, they seem somehow abominable, more so than anything we might have imagined, looking up, at the great crags, towering so loftily in the impalpable redness that gives a blurred appearance to everything.

And then, as we continue to peer, we realize a new curiosity, another terror among the dim peak to our right; a vast shape of blackness, giant like, growing upon our sight. It has an enormous equine head, with gigantic ears, and seems to peer steadfastly down into the arena in our direction. There is something about its pose that gives us the impression of an eternal watchfulness—of having warded some dismal place, through unknown eternities. Slowly, the monster becomes plainer to us; and then, suddenly, our gaze springs from it to something further off and higher among the crags. For a long minute, we gaze, fearfully, strangely conscious of something not altogether unfamiliar—as though something stirred in the back, primal part of our minds. The thing is black, and it has four grotesque arms, but its features are indistinct, ’round the neck, we make out several light-colored objects. Slowly, the details come to us, and we realize, coldly, that the lighter specks are skulls. Further down the body there is another circling belt, showing less dark against the black trunk. Then, even as we puzzle to know what the thing is, a memory slides into our minds, and all of us, straightway, somehow know that we are looking at a monstrous representation of Kali, the goddess of death. Other remembrances begin to drift into our thoughts. They drift back upon the huge beast-headed Thing. Simultaneously, we recognized it as the ancient god Set, the Destroyer of Souls. With the knowledge, there comes a great wash of questioning—an inescapable interview; things beyond our imagination peered into our frightened petty minds. Our gaze falters, with our sense of self, as a shadow passes above us.

A figure of a Raven flies from the crags and pierces me with its gaze as it lands on another peak. As it does so I am filled with a vision.

Seven RealmsAnd as we are wrapped in this new impalpable, lightless gloom, and we feel somehow that we have come through this darkness, once before, but also we know that a great deal of time has passed—ages during which people have died, many people, billions of people, as the world is shattered into seven separate parts, and a single section breaks through the darkness. It is the first, our world, leaving the others behind, while offering new inspiration within us; a seed that grows unsolicited until it fills our being with purpose and splendor up until then unknown to us; it fills us like the countless stars fill the night sky. We comprehend the seven realms spinning separately in the cosmos, and we envision ourselves as a catalyst, an engine that might inexorably bring them back together. We open our eyes, and stare deeply at the sun, a clot of flame, darkened at the core, but around it, we make out presently the individual realms each trapped out of time and place in their own desperate rotations, each remote and different to the one we are resting upon, and beyond these—the planets of the Solar system beyond, earning to pull them back together. We close our eyes to the ugly reality, and in the peace of the moment, and turn our inner eye once again upon the Earth as a whole, blue and unbelievably minute amidst the majesty of the universe, even while in our minds it begins to grow larger, more distinct, and more defined.

swinethingAnother long space of time comes and goes, and then we remember the shadow that had entered our world—plunging us headlong into the dim and holy earth of night. Overhead our thoughts wander to the location of the old familiar constellations of the sky, and our lost crescent moons. Then, as we are almost again at earth’s surface, a dim awareness sweeps over us and we find that we have indeed sunk deep into the black mist, and for a while, we know nothing, unconsciousness.

The shadow spreads great wings, flapping them furiously, creating a great wind that casts us irresistibly back down, passed the red gloom, until the jade house once again looms below us, but this time there is something new, a thing coming out of the mountains, far off, descending from one of the ledges. It is a livid mass, irregular and ghoulish, it seems at first without form, save for an unclean, half-animal face, wholly vile, but with it we see others—hundreds of them, seeming to grow out of the shadows, the mountains are full of strange things—other-gods, opposing the new horror, and thing so atrocious and bestial that decency denies us any of our attempts to describe it. We are filled with a sense of overwhelming horror, of fear and repugnance, and yet, there is something in the old worship of these things, something born of the deification of men, animals, and elements …. The thought grips us—And if this is true then what part should we play

The question repeats itself within our broadening consciousness, a state of life-beyond-death—a something that might be more, greater than any us have ever imagined or understood; life beyond mere existence, or our previous deathless trance—a condition in which it was possible to imagine their continuing, eternally. ‘Immortal!’ the word rises in your thoughts unbidden; and, straightway, we realize there is something beyond what we have known, the immortality of the gods.

And then, in the midst of our wondering, something happens. Again, we find ourselves within the arena. Presently, we have reached a point more than halfway nearer to the House and the gorge. All around us we sense again the stark loneliness of the place, and the unbroken silence. Steadily as we arrive at the great building, it again catches our eyes, the thing in the mountains, it comes around one the huge buttresses of the House, and clearly into full view. It is a gigantic thing that moves with a curious lope, going almost upright, after the manner of a man. It is quite unclothed, and it has a remarkable luminous appearance, but again it is the thing’s face that attracts and frightens us the most. It was the face of a swine.

Silently, intently, we watch this horrible creature, and for a moment we forgot any fear, as our curiosity comes to the forefront; it makes its way, cumbrously ’round the building, stopping as it comes to each window in turn and attempting to peer within, shaking at the bars, for each of the lower windows, as in the real house—are protected; and whenever it comes to a door, it tests that too, fingering the fastening stealthily. Evidently, searching for some ingress into the House, and then lifting its snort in the air, it catches our scent and as it begins to turn in our direction, quickly we sink back through roof and we see the creature no more.

Then silence is broken by a deep booming note, it sends a thrill of apprehension racing through our bodies, with it a sense that something is coming for us. Swiftly, silently, we wake from our rest, struggling with the covers, sweating and filled with dread, and unmitigated horror. Just short of screaming each of us realize that somehow we are alone within of the rooms of the Devil’s House.

I ran from my room an nearly tripped Ankoma who was panting as he exited his room as well.

“Was it a dream?” the gnoll asked.

“If it was, would we all have shared it?” I offered, “Would we all know that we have had this unnerving, cathartic experience?”

Ankoma looked at the bruises from the fight with the phase spider, “These bruises also attest too the reality of the dream!”

Hearing a noise from the courtyard we went to investigate. The others met us as we went.

We all jumped back when the noise changed from “something in the courtyard” to a smashing of the door. Something was trying to get into the keep. Looking out of the windows we saw four of the swinethings from our dreamvision and we caught a glimpse of a creature that looked to be an amalgam of fur and feathers with the head of an owl and the body of a bear before it disappeared back into the mists that had surrounded the keep.

swine-thingTwo of the swinethings took their turn at the door and managed to break their way in, but Saybarion and Bran were ready for them and taking advantage of the creatures surprise at meeting us immediately upon entry into the building, we were able to significantly wound them, though their cries of pain were pitiful to behold.

I stepped out from the armory with a club in my hand, having asked Raven to bless the weapon. Striding forward, I sent my mind out to disrupt the thoughts of the feebleminded creature in front of Sayberion causing it to grunt in pain.

Ankoma hewed his axe at the creature causing it to squeal as the blood flew from a well-placed blow.

The swinething clawed at Sayberion and it looked as if it were going to take off his head, but luckily it didn’t and it was just a tiny scrape. But the attack did distract Sayberion enough to let the other swingthing successfully claw Sayberion.

Sayberion swung back at the creature with his energy blade and as the creature’s blood fell to the ground, the creature crumpled and instead of lying dead at our feet, the creature simply disappeared as if it had never been there.

Nyssa blasted the second swinething with a burst of arcane lightning and then backed off as Ankoma charged it. I also ravaged its mind with a psychic attack as I ran past into the courtyard where the Owlbear was.

owlbearBran ran past me and dhow an arrow into the owlbear. Ankoma growled and panted in the darkness. Locking eyes with the great beast, we knew not who would make the first move.

Nyssa ran outside and speaking arcane words, a bolt of fire came from her finger and burned the creature’s feathers causing it to flap and caw in pain. As she did so, she found herself cloaked in a shield of invisibility. The creature charged Bran, slashing him and knocking him unconscious. I spoke a word of elemental power and a gust of wind picked up on of the loose rocks in the courtyard and hurled it into the beast, smashing him and distracting him from his current prey. Ankoma took advantage of the creature’s surprise and ran forward and with a feral growl hacked it with his magical axe dropping it at his feet.

Sayberion ran back to the keep to defend us from the two remaining swinethings who had circled back inside the building. As he did, Nyssa blasted one with a flaming bolt. I rushed over to Bran and placed my medicine bag on his wounds causing them to close with magical quickness. Ankoma hacked at the burning swinething. Sayberion swung at the swinething as it attacked Ankoma, but that opened himself to an attack from the creature.

Bran stood up and shot his bow killing one with an arrow through the eye. Sayberion slashed one nearly cutting off its arm. Nyssa blasted the next one with another fire bolt, oddly finding herself surrounded by butterflies as she did so. I attacked it with a blast of mental energy and Ankoma had a glancing blow with his axe. The creature was the last of its companions and was fighting with a tenacious ferocity that was unnerving.

It managed to get on final attack in against Sayberion before Bran brought it down with an arrow to the gut.

Seeing to our wounds, we continued the discussion of the reality of the dream. The presence of magic both from Nyssa and myself as well as the shared memories and experiences however convinced us all that it was more than just a dream.

Returning to the main hall, we ascended the stairs. We took a break to rest and eat realizing that it must have been hours since we had last eaten. While we did I practiced a ritual to determine if there was still magic in the room and we discovered, in addition to the general sense of magic, a dagger that had been concealed under the conference table. Giving it to Bran we prepared for our continued journey.

 

 

Raven’s Keep: Nyssa’s Dreams

Nyssa woke with a start. She had the same dream again.

She was walking down a hallway with a single shaft of golden light that was showing her the way to go. There was a bell ringing somewhere in the distance.

She comes to a door and there is a sign on it that says, “Back in 15 minutes.” So she sits and waits, but it seems that she is waiting for eternity. She falls asleep waiting and the next day dawns and she realizes that no one is coming so she rages against the door trying to get through.

This goes on for endless days. Each day as she is trying to break through the door she hears the bell ringing. Eventually she realizes that the sound is slightly different each time and that there is a secret harmony in the tone.

Once she realizes this a fire wells up inside her and erupts from her hands burning down the door.

On the other side there are daffodils with butterflies in an afternoon sunlight field.

Stepping through the door she encounters a strange creature, though the creature changes each time she has the dream. One time it was a gorilla being chased by penguins. The next time it was a lion teaching maths to a lamb. Once it was a blue flamingo who wandered into an igloo and disappeared. Then a jester with a hammer looking through the daffodils for something that he had lost. A man with a teapot on his head walk past her once and asked if she liked her tea hot. One time it started to rain and the rain drops turned to tiny bolts of lightning and she put up an umbrella to protect herself. And so forth.

Then she wakes up.


Elx had been having dreams lately as well. Not the same dream again and again, like Nyssa had had. But a few dreams with a similar theme. Each had had a raven in them.

The first dream was nothing remarkable and at first Elx had thought nothing of it. It wasn’t until he had had the others that the first seemed remarkable.

In the first dream, he had been walking in the snow recently escaped from Blern. Somehow he had gotten separated from the rest of his companions, but he didn’t think that they were too far away. Looking up he saw a raven sitting in a tree branch and below the bird was a cast off feather. Elx picked up the feather and put in a pouch at his side. He then rejoined his companions and couldn’t remember the rest of the dream.

In the second dream, Elx was back in Raven’s Keep and he was shaving which was strange as he didn’t need to do so. But perhaps he was doing so as part of a persona he was maintaining. In any case, he took the hair clippings and put them in a bag at his side. He did the same with his nail clippings. Then he in the center of the community and he noticed that there was a heart-shaped rock in the center of the community park. Touching it a piece of it fell off and he picked it up and placed it in the pouch at his side.

He looked up as he heard a cawing noise and saw a large black bird, again a raven. Swearing, he wiped the poop from his shoulder where the bird had defecated on him. But he decided to put it in the bag. When he did so, he turned into a raven himself and followed after the other raven and flew into a forest. In the forest there was a dead creature, the raven picked at the bones and skin holding them out. Elx put the bones and skin into the bag. Then he used the bag as a pillow and went to sleep. In the sleep within the sleep he noticed that he had a cone-shaped body, four strange appendages two of which end in claws, one with a trumpet and one with three eyes and four ears. His cone-shaped self was talking to his normal self saying, “The world is thinner in some places. Nafluh’e n’ghft ‘bthnk. So say we all.”

In the third dream, Elx was in a library studying and he heard a rapping at a window. Going to investigate he found a raven at the sill. The raven hopped over to a small book and pecked at it. Elx picked it up and placed it in the bag at his side. Looking at the bird again, Elx was surprised to see it smoking a pipe. The bird indicated that Elx should join him. Elx took a puff of the pipe and coughed. The bird laughed and flew away. Elx put the pipe into his bag.

 

Raven’s Keep: Seeing Raven

It is a dark figure, so large that it fills the sky eclipsing the sun, turning day into night, with a sarcastic tone it laconically issues an audible sigh, as it says:

Once upon a time, all the hope in the world was swallowed-up, hoarded by an unspeakably evil old chief who was not disposed to share it. RAVEN, bored of fluttering around in the hopelessly dark world declared that things should not be this way, and so once again, as was in days of old, he turned himself into a leaf and sneakily fluttered unnoticed into the evil one’s dwelling. There, the evil one’s squaw was sipping some tea and RAVEN fluttered into the cup just as she raised it to her lips. Swallowing him down, she immediately became pregnant and gave birth to chaos and confusion in the form of a mortal baby with the blackest, raven eyes, eyes that glowed, and he was very temperamental. Whenever he grows bored he shrieks, so much so that the unspeakable old one, thinking he is the father, says: “Give the baby what it wants”. So mother gives the baby a bag fancied toys and shining jewels, and for a time he plays merrily with these until one day he becomes bored again.

In a fit, the baby tossed them out scattered all the toys around and cries even louder. Oh dear. The baby is bored again. He is bawling. He wants something new. He drives his parents crazy with his distress, and so to pacify the babe they take your toys and go outside and play and they give him the key to the world.

For a time it works, the boy is happy, he makes a few friends, but outside it is still too dark to go very far and without hope the boy finds the world to be a sad place, and in a short time he becomes very disappointed and bored again so he goes home and you’ll never guess what happens next … Bored, he yells even louder and he makes a bigger mess than before, becoming really disruptive!

His Unspeakable father becomes so upset he begins tearing out his own beard from his face in his fury until the whole of village begins muttering that he’s gone crazy. Frantic, he searches for something, anything, to keep the baby quiet, but the baby rejects everything that is offered until mother pulls out a final bag. “Uh-oh” he thinks we can’t give it to the baby … It contains all the hope in the world — and that leaks like nobody’s business.”

Now you think you know what’s going to happen, but you don’t; what happens next is that the baby turns back into RAVEN, cries “Ka very much” as he snatched the bag with his beak and it flies back out through the door with he had cleverly left open. And, having stolen hope, he spread it throughout the world, bringing the UNSPEAKABLE OLD ONE’S scheme can come to an end making him very disgruntled, and such is his way that his comments will be of very strongest, foulest of languages, so bad that it should never to be spoken out loud.

Elx

Raven’s Keep: Chameleons

The group huddled close together and had a cold breakfast. Bran had warned that they not build a fire to warm their food else it might alert their pursuers from the day before to their location. The cleft in the mountain had provided limited shelter through the night, but the group would need to find better shelter soon, or they would not survive long.

“We should break camp and get moving quickly,” said Bran. The group quickly and without wasting energy talking followed his lead. He and Ankoma took the lead breaking a trail for the others to follow.

As the group traveled through the snowy mountains, they discussed the attack from the day before and their options for survival now that they were without the bulk of the equipment that they had been sent out from Raven’s Keep with, and without the skills that they loaded into their memories. In fact, were it not for the slight training that Bran and Ankoma had received at the hand of Clifton Raven they would be completely helpless.

“We are fortunate for your father’s foresight, Bran,” said Elx, “Your skills in these mountain passes have proved invaluable. We would surely be lost and frozen by now were it not for your and Ankoma’s abilities.” The other murmured agreement. They all paused to take a short break to eat some rations. “I feel that I should tell you all about some abilities that I have that may eventually be of use. They won’t be of assistance now while we are wandering through these mountains, but once we are among people again they will hopefully serve us.” So saying the features of his face started to blur and transform and then Elx was a different person. A moment later and his face blurred again and he was again a different person. He did this a few more times, “I am a shapeshifter able to assume the likeness of other people. I felt that informing you of this would help us to be more successful when we do reach civilization again.” Elx switched to using telepathy and continued, “As you were made aware, I’m am an accomplished linguist, but I also am able to speak directly to the minds of others using telepathy bypassing language should the need arise. This too may be a skill that will be of use once we find others.”

It took the others a moment to absorb the information that Elx had revealed, Sayberion was the first to respond, “Those are fascinating and to be sure useful abilities, Elx, thank you for sharing. Hopefully, we’ll run into people soon where we can put those skills to use.”

Bran started somewhat hesitantly, “My father spoke to me of a race of people called Chameleons. They were able to change their shape as you seem to be able to do. Are you a…are you related…” He seemed a bit unsure how to broach the subject as if it were something that might be taboo.

Elx seemed nonplused, “Yes, we are sometimes called that. Amongst ourselves we typically refer to ourselves as We Who Become, but to others we are often called Chameleons.”

Bran put his hand to his sword and took a defensive stance and continued, “My father also said that Chameleons are servants of Blern.”

Elx put his hand up in defense, “I believe you misquote your father. We are the creation of Blern. And as his creation, many of my brothers and sisters do serve him, but just as you and your hirsute companion have free will, so do all of my created family. I ask you to recall our recent incident from but a day ago, I was under just as much threat as you all and fought just as vehemently against Blern’s forces as you all. However, to be honest, when I was first created I did follow Blern and his teachings. I found, however, that he was inconsistent in his own teachings and that to be true to his espoused philosophy I must oppose him. To do otherwise would not be the noble thing to do. Does this answer your concern?”

Bran’s hand relaxed and he replied, “Yes, that does thank you.” He started to pack their meager lunch and pick up the dropped crumbs to prevent leaving a trail. “We need to break camp and get moving. However as we are traveling, and I hope you don’t consider this to be prying I’m just trying to gather useful information on our enemies, since you seem to know something about Blern what can you tell us about him and his use of Chameleons? Do you know the extent of Blern’s forces? His agenda? Anything that might assist us in fending off another attack of like kind to what we have already suffered against him or his lackeys? It seems likely that he would still have Chameleons in his service, correct, what can you tell us about them that could help us?”

Elx replied, “I’ll tell you what I know, but realize that Blern has been exiled from Raven’s Keep for many years and I was privy to his council only while he was still within Raven’s Keep. But, perhaps what I do know will be of assistance. We will talk while we move forward.” So saying they continued their trek into the frozen mountains.