(This is the best place I can put this post. It will be moved in the future.)
Just before dawn on a warm but rainy morning at St. Kols cathedral...
The preparations for a brief ceremony were nearing completion. Though not a public affair, the retirement of a paladin was truly an honor to behold. In the history of St. Kols, only three others reached this pinnacle in their career. So infrequent is the occurrence that two of these men have been lost to antiquity. The surviving member of this privileged few will be attending the ceremony as an alumni. Lantamus retired when he reached his 33rd crusade into The Bowl (The Bowl is a territory, more explanation later.). Today would be another marked in history at St. Kols as the first time two retired paladins would be alive at the same time.
A few moments before the ceremony starts, Abbot Herns notices Lantamus and approaches him from across the room. “It is such an honor to see you again my son. It’s even more of an honor to have you under this roof again.” Herns, a tall and joyful old man, had been all Lantamus ever knew of a family. Herns had led the church for decades and oversaw much of Lantamus’ training. Now a man in his late eighties, he sticks around more for morale than duty. Herns walks towards his friend with open his arms and embraces his old friend.
Lantamus is more than happy to see that Herns still lived. “Yes Father, it’s been too long.” Finishing their brief greeting they move their conversation to an adjacent parlor. The room brought back pleasant memories to Lantamus of a time more fulfilling. Twelve years had passed since he had left his birthplace, now he stands where it happened. His mother, a raped nun, pleaded to the lord to forgive her, and died on the floor of the room, right where they stood giving birth. Abbot Herns never disclosed this fact to him. Lantamus turned to his friend. “So, I expect you want me to give some sort of speech today?” He looked to his friend with a smug smile, only to see that his face had lost its warmth, now pale and white. “What is it Father?”
The Abbot turned away from Lantamus and walked to an open window. “I need you to do something for me… For the church.” Herns’ tone had become serious. “Forgive me my son, but I can ask no other.” His voice shook with the hard words. The stress of the topic was too much. The Abbot turned his head away from Lantamus and vomits out the window. Lantamus hurries to his friends’ side in time to catch him. Herns had fainted. Lantamus lays him down on the floor next to where his mother died and runs for help. The ceremony is canceled, the day a ruin. Lantamus consults the other members of the church to the point if interrogation, nothing out of place can be found to lead to an explanation. All they can do now is wait for the answer.
Two days after the Abbot is conscience. Lantamus had not left his side for any stretch of time. Not wanting to discomfort the Abbot he waits till the time is right to ask. “Father, what news could have such an effect? You need say the word and Gazma shall be your cleaving wind of vengeance.” The massive claymore that Lantamus carried with him was usually enough to keep him out of trouble. This however was not his only armament. Lantamus also wielded indestructible faith. He saw himself as a blade of God, and brought much retribution to the wicked.
The Abbot looked to his friend. “What I am going to tell you must be herd only once, should it draw me to madness just to know.” The Abbot started to sweat. “You must return to The Bowl.” The Abbot lurches forward and gives out a grown. “I know the source of the evil. You must…” But the words do not come. The Abbot’s abdomen flattens and his innards project out of his mouth and lay on his belly. The Abbot is dead and Lantamus is shocked to what he has witnessed. The guts had not even stopped steaming when suddenly.
The door is kicked in. In bursts two monks falling over themselves, and their robes. “Sir, Ruxx is leading an army this way out of The Bowl.” At first the priest’s eyes are on Lantamus’ face. Then he notices that the old knight is looking down, his eyes dart down briefly, the monk runs, the other had gone long ago. Lantamus turns and heads for the door, everything feels in slow motion now.
No cognitive thought is remembered from the time Lantamus leaves the parlor until he reaches the door of Pollix. He barges in. “Arm thy self, we leave at once. Ruxx will be bearing down on us any moment.” Lantamus went on to other doors giving similar annotations of the situation. Soon, six men stood circular, armed to the bone and matted in steel. “We have done this in the past men. Let us show their heads the grasses of or fields.” The men disperse themselves in a rehearsed fashion and exit into the courtyard, only to find themselves too late. Everything set ablaze by the advance archers had already started to ash. War drums beat in a maddening rhythm from all sides outside the thin stone walls of the courtyard.
“We are totally surrounded!” Pollix shouts. “There must be at least two-hundred warriors out there!” He quickly scales a watchtower latter and hesitates with what his eyes meet. It was not a mere two-hundred warriors that picketed at their wall, but thousands. Pollix leaps down. “Lantamus, it is as if The Bowl has spilt onto us. Ruxx brings no army but a nation! This will be it for us and our land. All will be lost!”
“NAY!” Lantamus snatches Pollix by the rim of his breastplate and stares him in the eye. “Nothing is lost as long as we uphold our faith. You are just as proof as I am of that ideal. After this, I promise you will join me in Heather Hills for your retirement.” Lantamus gives him a smile. “Come men, least we not leave them unrewarded of their salvation.” The seven paladin march for the open stone archway where once a mighty oaken door protected this peaceful house.
Lantamus thought it odd that this whole time they had not encountered a single soldier, even though the evidence showed that they had been breached. He knew he was running headlong into a trap. He readied his blade. It looked cold and waiting under the shadow of the front wall, only to shine back the pale light of the flames. The men exit.
The legion was rowdy but they did not attack. They cursed at the men of light, shot a few off aim arrows to bounce off the shoulder plates of the charging juggernauts. The men knew that they hurried to their deaths, but they would do so with honor. The army surrounds the men and attempts to halt their advance. The ones foolish enough to take the first blows from this wall of pain die without a whisper. Lantamus swings through dozens in the first few minutes with his mighty claymore, Gazma, and begins his destiny for the 34th time.
The men battle on for several glorious hours. Everything from the knee down gleamed with blood. Lantamus fought alongside no one. He had become shuffled away from his comrades in the battle and was running out of energy. His enemies would find this fact hard to believe as their appendages, split torsos, and innards continued to clutter the air in front of this rabid lumberjack. His blade would split two or three of them at a time without even slowing. Suddenly something in the tide of the battle changed and the horde sequestered themselves at a great distance from the berserk knight. Lantamus took the moment to catch his breath, but that is all he was allotted. “Turn to me weak one.” A demonic voice growled.
Lantamus did turn for he knew who spoke. Ruxx, Grand Marshal General of The Black Bridge Army, or, better known as… “Roxy, long time no see; ever get your eyes back?” Lantamus and Ruxx go way back. They have been at war against each other more times than there have been other wars combined on the continent of Volla, but that is not this story. Lantamus holds out Gazma and points it at Ruxx. “Why have you done this? You bring our struggle to totality at this moment. This ends today.”
Ruxx looks at Lantamus through his blood splattered mask with his empty eye sockets. He does not need eyes to see. Ruxx and the rest of the inhabitants of The Bowl are undead. The Bowl was once a magnificent natural hot spring that boasted several kinds of now extinct flora and fauna. Not much else of the place is known aside from the fact a few thousand years ago the dead started reanimating there. This phenomenon started to circle out into other provinces, spreading like a well-designed plague. Now the rim of The Bowl slips under another patch of hope for the world. “Stay your pathetic weapon fleshling, you are already beaten, behold.” Ruxx points to his upper left behind Lantamus. Lantamus turns his attention behind him and beholds something that will terrify him for the rest of his days.
Pollix was hanging from his wrists by a rope approximately thirty feet in the air. He was naked; his skin glistened from the heat of battle. “Your fellows are slain. You will soon meet a fate similar to the one your friend will now enjoy.” At the end of this statement the sound of a whip is observed. Pollix screams out. “You have been granted amenity by one higher than I should you lay down your weapon, and bow to me.” Ruxx paced before his men as he spoke. Lantamus watched as his friend was whipped by some fowl demonic creature. “I see you hesitate, are you considering betraying your faith to save yourself? What if I spare him also?” Ruxx is not known for patience, Lantamus does not respond. “Your choice is death!” The whip casually striking Pollix is replaced by several whips, dozens of whips, hooked whips. Lantamus watches his friend twist in agony. The flesh chips off till the hooks attach to bone, rendering the body asunder.
Lantamus holds his blade to his side and turns back to Ruxx, nearly too late as Ruxx drops his blade down upon him. Lantamus deflects the blow with his gauntlet but is staggered. Ruxx holds nothing back and knocks Lantamus off his feet. He hastens to make the death blow; again it is deflected by Lantamus’ gauntlet. Lantamus stands and heaves Gazma over his shoulder, a killing stance. Ruxx however is no armature and does not move in to be slain. “Every moment you delay, the sweeter your admittance into blasphemy becomes!” Ruxx reaches to his belt and retrieves an unknown liquid substance. “Do you not see what is around you? St. Kols is just another drop in The Bowl now.” He drips the substance on the ground but it has no apparent effect. “Your fate will be a catalyst to seal the filth within the light.” Eerily, the army slowly starts to fall to the ground in unison like lowered puppets. “You will lose paladin.” Ruxx starts to fall too. Soon all is still.
Lantamus shakes his head. “I don’t even know what is going on anymore.” He plunges Gazma into the soft red ground and takes a knee. “Father… What is it you ask of me? Never so clouded has my path been. Why has this happened?” Lantamus got his answer, as if it were timed for the occasion. Without warning, the ground in a hundred yards in any direction caved in. Lantamus fell into an unexpected darkness. He lands on his chest on what sounds like hollow crunching rocks and is winded.
His eyes try to adjust to the stygian darkness but cant. He continues his prayer. “Please find it in your mercy to give me a chance with this.” His prayer was answered. Gazma, his silver claymore started glowing a pale blue-white light. He could not see at a distance with it, but had a few feet of good visual capabilities. “What is happening?” White etching started to scribble its way down the length of the blade. “What language is this?” (Written on the blade) A nindol velve zhal dos rusvanar isto. He became dazzled at the symmetry of the lettering and the overall splendor of the newly surfaced runes. “I will have to study this if I live.” Lantamus gathered himself and got on his way.
Hours passed and for his effort there was scant reward. “It just goes on and on. Every hall leads me to another chamber laced with skulls. The true face of The Bowl is a fearsome sight indeed.” He continues on like a thing possessed, shaking off the quickening waves of hunger that threaten to be the prologue to his unraveling. Lantamus noticed the mood in the rooms as he pressed ever deeper change. The thickening dread proved almost too intense, even for a holy veteran of his constitution. He could feel a voice beckoning him on yet he could hear nothing but the gravely crunch of bone.
Eventually Lantamus makes his way to the rear chamber. The room is massive, so much that Gazma’s glow had no reflective surfaces to be of use. The central path of the room descended under the floor and led into a larger cavern still. The floor leveled out and suggested a gradual curve. Suddenly came a loud boiling hiss from the darkness. The sound would have shattered a lesser man, but Lantamus had witnessed indescribable evils from deep within The Bowl before. He prepared himself for whatever came next.
The air had become hot. Lantamus inched forward keeping his senses on ultra. The pathway narrowed into another tunnel. “I must be close. The source that Abbot Herns forbade of.” Suddenly he is blasted by another seething hiss, more intense than the one prior. The tunnel shook releasing a few skulls from its makeup. “Show thy self, nocturne shadow!” Lantamus stopped and took his stance. Moments passed as he stood there in the void waiting for some kind of reaction. Nothing. The combination of growing heat and thinning air nearly stifled the paladin, but he persevered. “Come forth demon, least you have the taste of my blade for bringing me here.”
A light crumbling sound, then dragging. Lantamus never herd an audible word, but he felt an intruding message. Lantamus responds “For what purpose did you manipulate the Abbot?” He is struck by the response. “Your scheme will go no further! I will bring retribution for the countless evils you admit.” He readies his claymore. “State thy name demon, so I may strike it from the page once your fate is realized.” To this too, his eyes widen. ”Achricon, The Naga-Lich?” Lantamus hardens his stance. “You lie creature, tis a thing of myth.” But Lantamus couldn’t have been more wrong.
A grating roar rumbled the cavern. In the distant darkness, a face started to form. Gazma’s light intensified, filling the cavern, at last Lantamus looked upon the source of this evil. The Naga-Lich shielded its face as it hurtled toward the paladin. The creature move like greased lightning, Lantamus flashes his mighty blade at the beast. The creature was too fast and cunning to be wasted by such a clumsy attack in these close quarters. Achricon tackles Lantamus and pushes him back out of the tunnel into the large cavern. The paladin is dazed from the attack. “You are fast wicked one, but nothing of evil shall escape my wrath.” The Naga-Lich coiled back and lunged for Lantamus again. Lantamus lets fly his silver blade of holy vengeance, the beast is struck.
The monster belts out a horrid, unearthly screech at the touch of the burning blade. Achricon is however far more durable than any other creature within The Bowl, for it is the source of the necromantic flow over the once pleasant vales of Volla. The Naga-Lich counterattacks with astonishing reflexes. It pins Lantamus to the floor and bites him on the shoulder. The razor sharp fangs pierce the heavy plate like paper, injecting its fetid poison. Lantamus can feel the liquid pulsing into his body. He knows he is finished. The poison burned hotter and hotter inside him and suddenly Lantamus burst into flame. Achricon released its victim perplexed by the reaction. It slithers away from the scene in time to avoid a rather messy explosion. No solid evidence of Lantamus was left by the consuming flame, save Gazma. His ashes nestle into the bone laden floor deep within The Bowl.
(This concludes the first part of the epic origins of The Grey Man. Stay tuned for more.)
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It is the desert that stretches to oblivion, a once great continent of cities lost under the smiting of an entire world. The dunes that move like an angry sea still hide treasures to be found and life, that exists in every corner, haunts the wandering adventure seekers to make them just another meal. Travel at your own risk but glory is just under those pearlescent sands.
The Heart of the Underdark
The Heart of the Underdark