Was he awake or
Joelmac hardly knew
anymore, and in any event it didn’t really matter. The wicked ones, the ones
who were keeping him imprisoned in his cell, always kept it dark in the cavern.
He could hear their mocking laughter, and the screams and cries of his fellow
prisoners, whether in his sleeping nightmares or when he was awake in the
darkness of the cell. He could also see the wicked ones clearly despite the
darkness, and even more so the horrors they had forced him to witness. Again,
it hardly mattered whether he was awake or asleep-they were waiting in the
They took pleasure in
it, of course, pleasure in how he and the other prisoners reacted at being
forced to watch, to know that their time would come. They took pleasure in the
trauma he’d endured, the nightmares he’d suffered, and took particular care to
draw it out. Everyone had their breaking point, however, no matter how long the
wicked ones took care to extend it, and once that time had come they would
dispose of him.
footsteps coming down the corridor, and realized the wicked ones had returned.
Instinctively, he began shuddering, even as he retched and began sobbing. The
footsteps stopped outside his cell, and he knew that they were watching him.
The wicked ones were seeing how far he had stretched, and they realized that he
His time had come,
and that made him scream all the more.
Joelmac offered no
resistance as the door to his cell was unlocked, and two of the wicked ones
stepped into the cell. One of them came over and nudged Joelmac with his foot.
“This one?” one of
the wicked ones asked the one standing behind him. “He doesn’t look like he’s
got much meat on his bones.”
“That hardly matters,
Humding,” the other wicked one replied. “Tonight they want something more
delicate...succulent, if you will. Our little friend is well-rested, and hasn’t
overworked himself. They say that he’s extremely young and tender, because of
“Bah,” the wicked one
called Humding replied. “They ought to give us more of the choice prisoners,
Bruddelmort-we always have to make do with the weak and sick.”
“Then you tell them
that,” the wicked one called Bruddelmort replied, laughing under his breath as
Humding instinctively flinched. “Now, come-the witching hour has nearly
reached out and picked up Joelmac, who lay in his arms, completely cowed by the
huge creature’s size. He got a better look at Humding’s fat, unshaven face, and
shrank back from it, whimpering in fear. In turn, Humding looked down at him
and only laughed.
Bruddlemort emerged from one of the caves, and Joelmac could see the beautiful
starlit sky above him. It was hardly comforting, though-the vastness of that
sky made him realize just how trapped he was, and how he would never be able to
escape. Joelmac didn’t get to see it for very long, however, as they stepped
into another cavern and walked down a series of carved stone steps. As
suffocating and terrifying as the cave that held Joelmac’s cell had been, this
one was far worse. Hideous murals and bas-reliefs leered down from the walls,
almost forcing themselves into Joelmac’s line of sight and drawing up painful,
The stone stairs
seemed to descend forever, until they finally emerged into a large cavern.
Everything was just as Joelmac remembered it-the stone tables drenched in
blood, the wicked ones’ former victims forced to remain in silent testament to
what their murderers had done to them, still more of the horrific wall-designs,
the large pool of water at one end of the cavern, and the depraved altar at the
far end, with human bones scattered on and around it.
Two wicked ones rose
from the stone tables they were sitting at to greet Humding, Bruddlemort and
their prisoner. Their laughter overcame everything else assaulting Joelmac’s
senses, driving him almost out of his senses. He thrashed about helplessly,
putting his fingers in his ears, although it did him no good.
“Helpless little one,
aren’t you?” one of the new wicked ones asked Joelmac, easily taking him in her
arms as Humding handed him over. “You’ve seen what we do, and what your fate
is, haven’t you?”
begged, his feet kicking helplessly in the air, as Humding and Bruddlemort
turned and left the cavern by the way they came. “Please…”
“Come now, child,”
the other wicked one leered. “Such beautiful pleading. A pity it will not last
much longer…are you certain that it is his time?” she asked the first wicked
one. “This one would make a wonderful plaything!”
“It is his time,
sister,” the wicked one holding Joelmac replied calmly. “Nothing more and
nothing less,” she finished coldly.
“So be it,” the other
wicked one nodded. “Is Ublodine set to return?”
“She knows that it is
time,” the wicked one holding Joelmac reproached her. “Be patient, sister!”
bubbles began to emerge from the pool at one end of the cavern. The bubbles
gave way to splashing, as a third wicked one emerged from the pool and stepped
into the cavern.
“Is it time?” the
third wicked one asked eagerly, drool running down her chin. “Is it time?” she
“Is it time? Is it
time? Is it time?” she continued.
“Of course it is,
Ublodine,” the wicked one holding Joelmac replied, walking across the cavern to
the altar and laying Joelmac down on top of it. “You are prepared, my sisters?”
the wicked one asked. All three of the wicked ones stood over Joelmac now, each
on one side of the altar. The fourth side of the altar was taken up by an idol
of the horrific entity to which the altar was dedicated, which stared down at
Joelmac and made him realize just how truly doomed he was.
The wicked one who
had placed Joelmac on the altar and held him down by his neck began a chant, an
obscene, disgusting song that filled Joelmac with fear and revulsion. He
thrashed helplessly, but could not break the wicked one’s iron grip as her
sister, the second wicked one, added a second voice to the chant. Their voices,
as scratching and croaking as they were, blended together in a way that made
the chant even more vile and disturbing, as their voices seemed to become one.
It became even worse when the third wicked one, Ublodine, the one that had
emerged from the pool, added her final voice to the chant.
Joelmac was in a
frenzy now, screaming and crying as he tried to drown out the sounds of the
voices, the memories of everything he’d seen and heard since the wicked ones
had taken him, the sight of the idol looming over him, and the realization that
he was doomed. He was completely helpless, and yet he tried to fight it,
something that only amused the wicked ones all the more. Despite all his
efforts, the chant continued, Joelmac’s thrashing becoming more and more
frenzied in tune with the chant. Finally, the wicked one called Ublodine
grabbed Joelmac by the throat, pulling him up as the other wicked one released
him. Ublodine forced Joelmac to look into her eyes, until they were the only
things he could see.
They were the last
things Joelmac ever saw. His heart began pounding, the blood roared in his ears,
his entire body tensed up, as Ublodine’s gaze pierced into his mind and
affected his entire body.
It was the last sight he ever saw.
“Why couldn’t we go
there overland?” Seline Roas del Cranden asked her friend Weimar Glendowyr as
they sat in Weimar’s cabin, looking at the waters of Woolly Bay. “Couldn’t we
have gone through Celene or the Wild Coast?” The young woman was a beautiful
sight indeed, with long, strawberry-blonde hair and bright green eyes. Her slim
figure was only accented by her deep indigo robes, which were marked with
silver signs of stars, moons and planets.
“It would have taken
us longer to reach Greyhawk by land,” Weimar replied, “and the lands of Celene
are less than receptive to entirely human bands,” he pointed out. “As for the
Wild Coast, there’s much competition there, but not so much of the treasure we
might seek,” he explained. “Greyhawk is just as competitive, but there’s more
wealth there than in the Coast.” Weimar’s unkempt blonde hair and dull green
eyes matched his lanky figure, as did his worn leather armor and clothes, all
of which appeared as if they had seen much use. He was slouched in his chair,
his posture reflecting his easygoing approach to life.
“But we’ll still have
to disembark at Hardby,” Seline pointed out, “and then travel to the Free City
“Yes, but the roads
are faster,” Weimar pointed out, “and direct travel to Greyhawk would have been
much more expensive. I had to save our limited funds, you realize.”
“Rather than wasting
it all on stout and mead, I hope?” Seline’s sister Luna del Cranden said,
walking into the cabin, a boiling kettle in her hands. “Here, try some of
this,” she continued, pouring some tea for Weimar and Seline, before having
some for herself. In contrast to the vibrant Seline and the relaxed Weimar,
Luna cut a distinguished, dignified figure, though she was no less lovely than
her younger sister. Her dark hair, blue eyes and soft voice were an odd
contrast to the blue- and gold-coloured robes she wore, robes that marked her
as a priestess of Pelor, the lord of the sun, though the warmth she exuded
reflected well the light of her god.
“Are you having any?”
Luna asked the last member of their group, who was lying back on one of the
cots in the cabin.
dark-skinned man leaned up in response to Luna’s call, before shaking his head
solemnly. He was almost seven feet tall, with a powerfully muscled frame, dark
eyes, and black hair that extended to the base of his neck. Shaking his head
twice, the one called Ma’non’go signed something to Luna and Seline, before
lying back down again. Ma’non’go may have been mute, reflecting his
multicoloured but low-key clothes and armor, but his body language tended to
speak for him, as did the large trident he always carried with him and which
now lay on a rack above his cot.
“What did he say?”
Weimar asked the two sisters, who were taking their first sips of tea.
“He said…oh!” Seline
spat, before licking her lips in disgust. “You made the tea too spicy again!”
she reproached Luna.
“I beg your pardon
for wanting to try a new recipe,” Luna sighed mockingly. “I was getting tired
of the boring fare they serve on this ship. Besides, I’m getting tired of this
ship itself-how much longer do we have to wait until we make port?”
“We’ll be docking in
Hardby later this afternoon,” Weimar explained. “But what’s wrong with the
“It’s too confined,”
Luna frowned, this time seriously. “And all that water…I just don’t…”
“You’re afraid of the
water?” Weimar asked in surprise.
“No, I just hate the
possibility of getting wet,” Luna replied. “It’s one thing to bathe or take a
shower, but I hate getting caught in the rain,” she continued, her voice taking
on a decidedly unhappy tone.
“Don’t worry, then,”
Weimar assured her cheerfully. “When we make land, you’ll be off this tub, and
we can go the rest of the way by road. Now, what did Ma’non’go say?” he asked
Luna and Seline.
“As I was saying,”
Seline replied matter-of-factly, “Ma’non’go merely said that he wasn’t thirsty,
and declined Luna’s offer.”
“I thought he rather
liked hot drinks,” Weimar blinked in surprise.
“Of course he does,”
Luna smiled, “he just didn’t want any right now.”
Weimar glanced over
at Ma’non’go, still lying on the cot. Ma’non’go shifted his head to look back
at Weimar, and nodded his confirmation. The large man then closed his eyes and
put his hands on his chest.
else…” Weimar said hesitantly.
“What is it?” Luna
“Well, I don’t mean to
pry, but…” Weimar continued, looking back at Ma’non’go again. Ma’non’go had
opened his eyes and was looking once more at Weimar, understanding what the
blonde man wanted to ask. Again, Ma’non’go nodded at Weimar, apparently at ease
with the question.
“What is it?” Luna
Ma’non’go ever talk? With his voice, I mean,” Weimar asked. “I’ve tried talking
to him a couple of times, but he’s never replied to me. Is it something about
Seline interrupted. “It’s just that…” she trailed off.
doesn’t speak at all,” Luna picked up the explanation for her sister. “It used
to be that he could only speak by writing, until our father taught him a form
of sign language he could use.”
“Your father?” Weimar
asked in surprise. “But how…”
Ma’non’go had gotten
up from the cot now, and come over to join them at the table. Sitting down, he
looked at Luna and Seline, signing something with his fingers and nodding solemnly.
“You’re sure?” Seline
Ma’non’go nodded, and
“So that’s how it
is?” Seline asked again, a bright smile crossing her face. “Well then, so much
“What do you mean?”
Weimar asked, now completely confused.
“Ma’non’go gave us
permission to tell you his story,” Luna explained. “He said that you’ve earned
the right to know.”
asked. “Well then, thank you!” he smiled at Ma’non’go.
The larger man nodded
“Our father was Lord
Roas Del Cranden, part of a lesser branch of one of Aerdy’s Celestial Houses,”
Luna explained, as she poured herself another cup of tea. “Lord Roas was
involved in a number of trading ventures, including with the peoples of
“The southern jungle
lands?” Weimar asked in surprise.
“That’s right,” Luna
continued. “Don’t believe the stories you hear about the people of Hepmonaland
being savages-they have civilizations all their own. Different from ours,
perhaps, but just as advanced as any in the Flanaess. The people of that land,
who call themselves the Olman, produce many of their own exotic trade goods
that people in the Flanaess will pay large sums for. Our family was heavily
involved in that trade, and so Lord Roas would go down to Hepmonaland at least twice
a year to deal with the Olman.”
“So you’re an Olman?”
Weimar asked Ma’non’go, who nodded before Luna resumed her story.
“On one of Lord
Roas’s travels to Hepmonaland, Ma’non’go stumbled into his camp. He was
half-dead and starved, and so Lord Roas nursed him back to health. Lord Roas
was as surprised as you are that Ma’non’go wouldn’t talk, and would only
communicate to him in writing. They taught each other how to read and write
their languages so Ma’non’go could speak to him. But even then, Ma’non’go
wouldn’t tell our father where he came from.”
A dark light sprang
up in Ma’non’go’s eyes, and the large man gripped the table. Weimar could tell
that Ma’non’go was clearly angry, although Weimar didn’t sense that the larger
man was angry at him, Luna or Seline. Rather, he was probably recalling
something unpleasant from his past.
“Why wouldn’t you
tell them?” Weimar dared to ask.
something back, the angry glare still in his eyes.
“He said that it
involved betrayal and loss, and a past that best remains buried,” Luna
translated. “He’s never explained to anyone, not Lord Roas and certainly not
Seline frowned at
that, but said nothing.
“…So what happened
after that?” Weimar ventured.
“None of the locals
Lord Roas was dealing with wanted anything to do with Ma’non’go. They said that
his country was apparently hostile to theirs, so they said Ma’non’go could rot
for all they cared. Our father offered to take Ma’non’go back with him to
Aerdy, and he agreed.”
“You just left
everything behind?” Weimar asked in amazement.
Ma’non’go only nodded
as his shoulders slumped, seeming as if he was forced to bear a very heavy
burden. He seemed to age twenty years all at once.
“By the gods…” Weimar
murmured sympathetically, reaching out and putting a hand on Ma’non’go’s arm.
“Ma’non’go came back
to Aerdy with Lord Roas, and he was taught a type of sign language so he could
communicate better with our father. Lord Roas taught it to us as well, so we
could talk to him.”
“How did you justify
him being in Aerdy?” Weimar asked in surprise.
“Lord Roas explained
Ma’non’go as a bondsman who was trusted to guard Seline and I,” Luna explained.
“It was a way to save face in Aerdi society without anyone asking too many
something else, as Luna and Seline nodded.
“Ma’non’go just said
that he owed Lord Roas a debt of honour,” Luna translated, “and he intended to
keep it. He’s been with us ever since, even after we had to leave home.”
“Why did-“ Weimar asked,
before trailing off as he saw how Seline flinched.
“Our father was
murdered by House Garasteth in retaliation for House Cranden trying to block
Garasteth’s influence at Zelradton with the Chelors,” Luna explained, sadness
creeping into her voice. “Lord Roas sent us to friends of his in Sunndi for our
own protection, so we would not be claimed as ‘compensation’ for what House
Cranden did to them. We adventured in the Iron League states for a while, but
the treatment we received was…less than ideal,” she finished, “and that’s when
we set sail for the Principality of Ulek. We couldn’t bear the suspicion and
“…And that’s where
you met me,” Weimar frowned sympathetically. “Are you-“ he asked, before
noticing that Luna was humming under her breath.
“That’s a lovely
song,” he smiled. “Did you come up with it?”
“No, it was a song of
the Flan of the Rieuwood,” Luna replied, a smile returning to her face. “They
taught it to me when I was working as an ambassador to them for the church of
“It’s a lovely song,”
Weimar smiled back. “Better than any tavern shanty I ever heard…and there’s
less chance I’d end up in a brawl at the end of it, too,” he joked.
Luna and Seline
laughed at that, and even Ma’non’go smiled.
Somehow, Weimar knew he would never have noticed that
smile when he’d first met Ma’non’go.
knew that he and his traveling companions made for a very strange-looking
group. It was rare to see a tall, strongly-built Flan man with coppery-bronze
skin, shoulder-length black hair and eyes, dressed in plate armor, wearing a
beaded cloak and carrying a huge two-handed sword strapped to his back,
travelling with a gnome and a halfling that barely reached past his waistline.
The gnome was dressed
in plate armor similar to his, bearing a dragon-headed helmet on his head, a
shield marked with a design of a crescent moon and stairs on one arm, and a
military pick and spiked morning star hanging from his belt. His blonde hair
was accented by the matching handlebar moustache and close-cropped beard on his
face. The halfling was another matter entirely. She was a rare beauty, with
long red hair, bright green eyes, and a lovely figure most elves would envy.
She was clad in a plain but agreeable travelling gown, which contrasted with
the finely made boots on her feet and the flowered hat on her head, decorated
with purple orchids and lilacs.
“I don’t know why you
insisted that we pass through Leukish so quickly,” the gnome, Airk Venbelwar,
was complaining to the halfling woman. “As it was, we barely even passed an
hour in the city!”
“I’ve…never had much
fondness for Leukish,” the halfling, Amyalla Reorsa, replied without looking
back. For some strange reason, Amyalla had refused to put on the new boots
she’d bought in Radigast City before she’d left Leukish. Her old boots had been
nearly worn through, but she refused to let their group spend any time in
Leukish before they’d set out again. Just outside the gates of Leukish, Amyalla
had put on her new boots and contemptuously thrown her old, dirty ones back at
Leukish, before turning around and never looking back.
“I’d say it was more
than that,” Airk pointed out matter-of-factly. “We could have at least spent
the night there, I would think. You do realize that we’ll probably have to make
camp tonight, and that there’s a good chance of it raining?”
“What’s wrong with
that?” Revafour asked, raising an eyebrow at the scowl crossing the gnome’s
“Suffice to say I
hate getting wet,” Airk groused, “and I won’t even get to enjoy the sunset.
There’s little to no chance we’ll make Greyhawk by nightfall!”
At this, Revafour
gave a sigh. He tried to keep himself from vocalizing it, but both Airk and
Amyalla heard it clearly.
“And what’s your
problem?” Airk asked Revafour, more curious than irritated this time. “You
would have preferred to stay in Leukish?”
muttered, looking away briefly. “I am, shall we say, less than pleased about
going to Greyhawk.”
“Why’s that?” Amyalla
asked curiously. “There’s always work there for adventurers. Plenty of treasure
as well, and caravans and ships to almost anywhere you could imagine. There’s a
reason my people call Greyhawk the ‘Gateway to Everywhere’!” she said brightly,
more cheerful now that they were no longer discussing Leukish.
“There are too many
people there,” Revafour muttered, anger creeping into his voice. “Too many of
the same people who-“
Airk blinked in
surprise, unsure what Revafour was talking about. Amyalla instinctively
“Too many Suel and
Oeridians, I take it?” she asked, more gently this time.
Airk understood after
that, recalling how Revafour had alluded to the many betrayals and broken
promises the Flan had endured from the lighter-skinned humans that had come to
the Flanaess at a later date. He frowned at that, remembering his own bitter
experiences at the hands of the dwarves who were supposedly allied to his own
gnomish kin during the Hateful Wars of a century ago.
“It’s one thing to
travel on caravans, as we have,” Revafour explained, referring to the trading
caravans they’d accompanied as guards to cross the Duchy of Urnst and the Cairn
Hills, before turning south to Greyhawk on their own, “but apart from that, I am
not fond of crowded conditions.”
“And yet you wear
Oeridian armor and carry an Oeridian sword,” Airk reminded Revafour, something
he’d originally pointed out when they’d first met.
flared at that, although he remained calm.
“No one can change
the past,” he said uncomfortably, “and if most of this world is now dominated
by the Oeridians and the Sueloise, I’ll do what I must to survive. Isn’t that
what you do as well?” he asked, with a question that was halfway between a
retort and an observation.
“Of course it is,”
Amyalla said smoothly, trying to ease the tension in the air. “That’s exactly
why I left Urnst.”
“So, what happened in
Urnst, then?” Airk asked, not keen on pressing Revafour any further.
“A family who sought
to gain from a prestigious marriage, a husband who was not half the hero he
seemed, beatings and cuckoldings, a hideous scandal caused by his philandering,
and my leaving all of those damned wretches behind so I could be free,” she
replied. “I trust that is enough for you to know?”
“Indeed it is,”
Revafour said, sympathy in his voice. “Small wonder, then, that you did not
care to stay in Leukish.”
Amyalla smirked back. “Yes, I have come to enjoy my freedom, and I would not go
back to Leukish if I could. Indeed, I found Greyhawk much more convivial, as
I’m sure you will. Indeed, it’s a pleasure in its own way-coming to what was in
many ways a truer home for me, with a handsome gentleman on either arm,” she
laughed, glancing from Airk to Revafour and back. Both men seemed somewhat
embarrassed and looked away, discomfited with the attention Amyalla gave them.
This, of course, only heightened the halfling’s
amusement even further.
Dorbella was one with
the night as she emerged from the pond, laughing silently under her breath as
she surveyed the estate. For a human dwelling, the place was quite picturesque,
and well-guarded to boot. The property was largely walled and fenced-off, and
the night watch made sure to regularly monitor the walls as well as the thickets
around the estate. Pity they didn’t give the same attention to the pond-it was
easy for one of Dorbella’s talents to enable herself to breathe underwater and
swim into the pond through the underground waterways. She’d also made herself
invisible before surfacing, and in the night the guards would never notice the
ripples she made in the pond.
around the estate, looking for a likely place to focus her next spells. She
found the perfect place and concentrated, an evil smile on her face. The lights
of torches lit up in the distance, with accompanying sounds of angrily shouting
people trying to force their way through the gates. Just as she expected, the
guards converged on that point, making it that much easier for her to steal
through the estates, as silent as a whisper. She remained invisible all
throughout, and her tracks were completely masked by sorcery.
The doors to the
manor-house were securely locked, but not so the windows. It was a simple
matter for Dorbella to scale the walls and force open the window to the little
boy’s room. The child barely had time to open his eyes before Dorbella had
snatched him up and covered his mouth. Her magic turned the little one
invisible as well, and in no time at all Dorbella had slipped out of the room,
back down the wall and onto the lawn. She snuffed out her illusions at the
gate, leaving the guards scattered and confused, as she carried the
still-gagged child back to the pond.
One final spell was cast on the boy so he too could
breathe underwater, before Dorbella entered the pond and was gone.
Pieden Ronard hated
this day of the week.
More particularly, he
hated this night of the week, since the dreams came while he slept. Try as he
might, he could not oppose them.
It was always the
same thing, a vision of his son Elian, half-starved and crying in the dark pit
he was kept in, as the chilling laughter echoed in the background. Shadows
danced at the edge of his vision, making the entire scene seem like a hazy,
half-forgotten memory. Pieden then saw what the wicked ones did to his son,
using their powers to reduce him to a babbling moron, leave him sickly and
gasping for breath, or almost completely paralyzed.
He knew what the
wicked ones wanted, and wasn’t sure who he hated more, the wicked ones for what
they were doing to Elian or himself for not being able to stop them. They were
demanding more victims, he knew, and if he did not bring them then Elian would
So be it, then.
He had not survived on the streets of Greyhawk as long
as he had through sentimentality, after all.