Sleeping Giants

Jordan's Journal - Sixth Entry
Dungeon Day Two - third entry

- We have released the dragon from its walled bondage and it now wanders the darkened halls of this complex searching for goblinoids upon which to exact its revenge for its imprisonment. Nil was responsible, it seems, for communicating with the beast through the closed wooden door and instilling within it a sense of passivity toward us. Goblins had entered the pillared room in which we awaited the dragon, and began assailing us. But they have not yet proven strong enough or competent enough with tactic or weaponry to do us much harm, and that will probably not change. In the ensuing fight Ford fell yet again, and I rose him yet again, and dare I say his swift slaying of one of the filthy creatures was… impressive. But it is balanced with his falling, so he remains neutral to me still. As much a drain on my divine reserves as a benefit to my progress. The red-skin, Ana, is showing aptitude with her bow, and even a modicum of magical use, likely welling up from the deep pit of the Dark Arts. She is a closet of secrets. Because of this I still distrust her greatly, regardless of her strategic skill, and will continue to watch her as Heaven watches Hell. Skyhammer will know how to best approach this knowledge of her.
- Now we take a short rest beside the door which beckons my divine Call. Contrary to the stifling evil within these halls, I can feel myself growing from within with the Light of Thalos, becoming stronger and more hardened of body and spirit. I can sense another avenue to Thalos himself, standing on the Golden Pedestal beside Erathis, his watchful gaze unblinking toward the Abyss. I sense that my voice can call to Him from On High, and summon his aid from the Ether. The door that stands before us now denotes this Call, and requires a touch of God to open. When we are ready, I will call to Thalos, and I will open the door.
- The others are rested and ready. We move ahead.

Psalm 1, 22: "And Virgil said unto Thalos, “beware your step, Thalos, strongest of the armies of Heaven, for the path is lightless and full of fiends as the marsh is of locusts.”"
Psalm 1, 23: “Thalos heard him and was moved. And he stepped through the stone frame of the Door of Fire, and began his descent into the Abyss.”

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Ford's Prize

The stench and dinginess of this place reminds you of your last job. Not of the job itself, which was a simple recon mission. Nor of the night before you left town, when you stumbled upon the newest member of your group. But rather, a rainy evening between the two.

You were walking back to the inn that you and Nil were staying in, carefully moving to avoid stepping in puddles, when you heard a scuffle coming from up ahead. You look up just in time to see a man dressed head to toe in leather armor, bursting from a nearby alley. As he bolts past you, you can hear the chainmail of guards rattling from inside the alleyway itself. They are clearly in hot pursuit.

“Hey, you!” you hear the man yell out from behind you, barely audible over the raindrops. You turn to look at him and he has stopped, but is clearly poised to take off at any second. Your instincts kick in as you analyze every facet of the man. Stained leather armor, several years old. One dagger visible, one hidden on his upper right arm. New boots, custom made, probably the most expensive thing he has on him. Another dagger hidden in his left boot. Brown eyes, brown hair, unshaven. You’d place him at 25 years old, and only a little over 5 feet. Thief kit on his left side, several pouches on his right.

“Tell those chumps I went this way, will ya?” he says again, motioning to an alleyway right behind him. His hands move quickly as he launches a small pouch toward you, the sound of clinking metal coming from within. You catch it deftly, and look back up at the man. He winks, turns, and hightails it down a different alley altogether.

A few beats later, and the so-called ‘chumps’ come rushing around the corner. With no sign of the man in sight, they call out to you, the closest bystander. “You there! Have you seen a man come running through this area?”

You’re no snitch, and you point the guards down the wrong alley. They immediately take off in that direction. You step back against the building behind you, taking some reprieve from the rain to investigate the contents of the pouch. You spill them out into your hand and count 1, 2, 3 golden coins and… what’s this? One of the coins is much darker than the others, and stamped with a sign you’ve never seen before. A closer inspection, and a long sniff, brings you to the realization that this coin isn’t made of metal at all. It’s actually a small, hardened coin made entirely out of, what you can only assume to be human, poop.

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The Passing of Sultan Harmmaan Nile
The Desert City Falls

I was there the day our beloved sultan was beheaded. I fought in that last battle alongside my kinsmen and countrymen. I was there the day Sulta Ixen became a puppet.

~484

Three years prior, an emissary of the accursed Vesperian state announced that Sultan Harmmaan Nile was to bend the knee in fealty to King Simon Rex III. I remember well because I was not supposed to be in the court that day, but a mix up with reagents left my master’s hands burnt, and thus I attended in his stead while he remained in bed rest.

At first the sultan found such a thing ordered from a lowly diplomat to be quite humorous. The laughter quickly soured to threats of defiance. I will never forget my sultan’s words: “This cannot be a serious request. Your king cannot even be bothered to show his face with such an audacious statement. That or he is a coward. Either way, House Nile will never serve.”

“Apologies, your grace,” the diplomat solemnly began, ”but many events command our king’s attention at this time. I assure you, I am fully authorized by the crown to-”

“We will never yield to you! We are the masters of the sands, not you!”

“Please, Sultan, I beseech you reconsider,” the emissary pleaded, his draconian surprisingly precise, “if you do not willingly bow to the crown, then you will be destroyed. This is not a negotiation, this is a direct command from our gracious king, ordained by the Gods. The peace of this land depends on your servitude.”

“The dragon’s flame burns in our hearts!” the sultan shot back, “You can never hope to challenge us. The sands will swallow you whole, and those that survive we will hunt like dogs. Tell your masters we will be ready when they come! IF they can even make it here. Begone from my sight!”

And so the diplomat left, his mission a failure. We all believed the sultan’s words with all of our hearts. Our people have lead a rich and cultured life. Our warriors were tested against the unmerciful elements. Our spears were sharp, our arrows, true, and our armor, thick. Our leaders brimmed with sorcery. We were untouchable.

We thought we could never be conquered. We thought the city of Sulta Ixen was invulnerable.

We were wrong.

~487

Three years passed us by in relative peace. Towards the end of the third year, the winter was unusually mild. No sign of Vesperian banners. It was assumed their king saw reason: that an attempt to challenge us on the field of battle would be folly. Sulta Ixen had never fallen, after all – a standing testament to the Red One. Until one day when breathless, one of our scouts rushed in, begging to see the sultan.

Seventeen thousand, five hundred men, with three hundred siege engines were headed our way, all under the banner decorated with a volcano and the tools of craftsmen: the banner of King Simon Rex. I would only learn later that they survived the perils of the Sterile Sands by being guided through the safest routes by the treacherous sand people.

We were outnumbered five to one. I think the sultan knew then that the city was lost. I think that’s why he ordered our main forces outside the city to meet them in battle; to save our people, we couldn’t allow the city to come under heavy siege. But his pride would not let him surrender. And so we rode out.

The red dragons adorning our flags, magically animated to roar, the troubadours riding ranks blaring our song of victory with their trumpets, the sultan’s speech of assured victory, punctuated by dazzling displays of prestidigitation… None of it was right. When I looked into the red hot spiraling eyes of my sultan, I saw unquenchable rage for his foes, I saw the immense, incalculable pride for his people… But behind all of that, I saw resignation.

The battle was fierce, as to be expected. Our people fought bravely, and for every one of us cut down, we sent two of them to the abyss. Though my knowledge of the healing arts was taxed that day, the battle did end swiftly.

I suppose the sorcerer kings of Sulta Ixen carried some repute for their magical prowess, for good or evil. The Vesperians were ready for the worst with a powerful weapon the likes of which I had never heard of before. An elite squad of mage slayers, outfitted with jet black plate mail. Somehow they managed to absorb every spell, rote or cantrip thrown at them. The magic just seemed to wink out of existence in their vicinity.

It wasn’t long before they captured Sultan Harmmaan. The battle was lost.

He was denied any parting words; his mouth was gagged, and his hands were totally bound and encased more of that black steel. They weren’t taking chances with this one. The Vesperians were a lot of things, but they weren’t stupid.

Their general, a tall man in his thirties, made a declaration that the city and its people now belonged to Vesper, and promptly decapitated the sultan. Our spirit was broken. My thoughts turned to my sultana…

* * *

The unwelcome visitor walked grimly into her room – the tall general who murdered her husband. Still, even his sight was a relief from the boredom and anxiety of waiting. The sultana had been left here under house arrest since news of the battle’s loss arrived the day before. The Vesperian army marched through the streets, with every Ixenian soldier, nobleman and commoner forced to surrender any weapons they had.

He drew his blade, and frankly told her in the common tongue, “You know why I am here.”

She responded with acid on her breath, “You and your people are monsters. Your king will have a special place in the nine hells. I have no doubt you will serve him again there.”

He paused and gave her a quizzical look. “I never could understand what you people say.”

“I said,” the sultana began, this time in common albeit with thick draconian accent, “that you and your king will burn in the hells.”

“Ah, that’s much better. Although I think you’ll find that you are quite mistaken. You were given a choice for survival and you opted against it. So blame yourself, or the gods. There’s no point now in being a sore loser.”

“Tell me,” she said, “why have you done this? What have our people ever done to you?”

“My lady, the peace of the land depends on this: we must all of us work in harmony, or soon you’ll find we work against each other. And then where would we be?”

Her eyes narrowed, her blood boiling. “We were fine without you before!”

He sighed. “I know you don’t believe me. It doesn’t matter anymore.” He took a step towards her. “I am not an unreasonable man, but orders are orders, and my orders are to gut the sorcerer kings. All of them.”

She suddenly rushed to him, “Wait, please!” Her tone transformed drastically to a more frantic one. The general was surprised by this. He didn’t expect the sultana to fear her own death. “My son… He is innocent in this. He’s… “

Oh, the boy. “Ah, yes, the late sultan’s heir… I hear he is sickly,” was all the general could offer.

“I, yes, I, please spare him. Please.” Her tearful eyes searched his and he seemed to consider her words.

“Very well,” the general stated contemplatively, almost to himself, “Perhaps the boy can be spared. The people will want to serve one of their own after all. Much less bloody that way.” She listened to him verbally work it out with great intent. At least her child would survive.

“Of course we’ll have to install a vizier to ensure obedience,” the general tidily concluded.

“And,” he finished his thoughts as he swiftly plunged his sword into her abdomen, “far be it for me to deny a dying woman her final wish.”

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Jordan's Journal - Fifth Entry
Dungeon Day 2 - second entry

- I was struck with the memory as though by a bolt of lightning. My brother, Maximilian, arisen to nearly the highest peak of the righteous in Skyhammer; Archbishop. How could I have forgotten of him and his Rise and precipitous Fall? Could it be the stench of this place overwhelming me and clouding my faculties? Cutting between my mind and my memory, leaving my senses to only gaze forward to a way out of this dark place? He was neither a good brother, nor particularly cruel, but destined always for the rank of Archbishop. My life led me into the true brutality of the agoge, much like him, and my focus was on those important parts of Skyhammer training, so I did not “know” him as well as my like compatriots. But why did he disappear so suddenly after his ascension? Where did he go, and what made him leave, or what took him away? I cannot answer these questions now, but I have paid Nil a common gold shilling to translate the etchings on the reverse of the dragon scale that arrived on the eve of the anniversary of his disappearance. She did so effortlessly, as I suspected she would. She is not useless, merely amoral with a naive philosophy of practicality. Aimless? I cannot yet tell, but it would so far seem so. But the translation was of a Psalm familiar to me, but will need more time upon which to meditate and study when I return to civilization.
- We managed a trove of goblinoids just now, lurking and scheming in the dark muck. Several chambers full of the beasts, stood behind makeshift parapets to give them cover. I would not allow them the privilege, but the onslaught of their squealing numbers nearly laid me low as I tried to hold the healing light of Thalos as long as I could for the other injured. In the lack of a phalanx, morale must remain. Nil pressed the advance as the last of the goblinoids retreated, and we slew the remaining in a nearby room, save for one which will return with me to Skyhammer as a workhorse in the mines. Dare I say this: the others fought hard this day. They are no substitute for the silver shields of home, but they must do for now.
- We now stand on the outside of a door that leads into a room with a violent beast, what we can only ascertain as the stolen dragon of Meepo’s charge. We bide our time before moving in to… subdue it. I miss the morning light of my chambers, and the soft wool of my prayer rug.

Psalm 1, 7: "And Virgil was summoned to the Gate of Heaven and met with Thalos, and spoke unto him, “the way is black and starless, and the air cacophonous with the shrieks of the tortured damned. Carry your hammer of gold and shield of silver light, and I will guide you through the peril.”"

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Jordan's Older Brother

The day is May 23rd, the year 511. It was nearly 2 years ago, but you still remember it like it was yesterday.

You awoke early that morning, much like any other. You said your prayers amidst the tapestries lining your chamber, finishing just as the sun was shining through the stained glass window in your chamber. Today, however, you wouldn’t be training in the yard. Today, you’d be attending the Ceremony of Archbishop Ascension for Maximilian Steingard, your older brother.

Everything went off without a hitch. You stood in the crowded Great Hall that day, the famed tapestries of Thalos lining the walls. Your position was toward the front of the crowd, right behind your father, Cardinal Jostan, and Maximilian’s mentor, Archbishop Alice. Your brother knelt upon the dais not 20 feet in front of you, with High Priest Marcus leaning on his cane in front of him, a hand on Max’s head. Though his frame is weak, his voice carries through the entire hushed hall.

“In witness of all present, and the ever-present Lord Thalos himself, I hereby recognize Maximilian Steingard for excellence in discovering, tracking, and abolishing evil from this land. He has made the world safer, and more importantly, carried on Thalos’ legacy through his gallant deeds. Because of his latest efforts in destroying a powerful enemy from the realm of Shadow, I do hereby declare that, though he knelt as a simple Bishop, he rises now as Archbishop Maximilian Steingard.”

The mammoth tapestry directly behind the altar makes a sudden movement in the wind, as though Thalos himself is breathing his blessings into the hall. Max rises, bows to the High Priest, then to the crowd, before making his way through the throngs of people to the other end of the Great Hall. As is customary.

From there, you never were sure what happened to Max. You had your own duties to attend to, and when you questioned your father later he refused to speak of it. Max held the position of Archbishop for only a few weeks before he disappeared from Skyhammer altogether. He caused several scenes within the church, and was prone to getting into arguments with the other Archbishops and, even worse, with his own superiors. The rumors state that the high station was too much too quickly, and he simply couldn’t handle the pressure. He was the youngest person ever to reach the rank of Archbishop, after all.

You don’t know if the rumors were true or false. You have had no contact with Max since his disappearance, and you dared not press your father on the topic after his refusal to speak of it. The only inkling of his existence came about exactly a year later, on May 23rd, when you were delivered something a bit odd. It was a scale, perhaps that of a dragon, that was slightly larger than your hand. On the inside was etched an inscription, in an alphabet and language you never identified.

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Jordan's Journal - Fourth Entry
Dungeon Day 2

- I haven’t dreamt of anything other than the Gate in years. The massive spiral spines that climb as tall as the sky is black. The Gate to the Abyss, closed and locked by Thalos after he broke the demonic ranks and beat them back beyond the veil. The silver halls of Skyhammer are lined with tapestries of that war, enumerating each stage of Thalos’s push, driving home the lessons to us with each blow of his sun-golden hammer. Tapestries of heavy red wool draped on the wall as tall as buildings, as heavy as elephants. A corner cannot be turned in the cathedral without bearing witness to an endless hall of such cloth. Lessons driven home with each step. So why do I dream of something else this night? It must be the stench in my nose from this dungeon, the odor of foulness and rotten spirits, engulfing my nostrils and driving up into my mind. In my dream I see her; the girl. She was only ten years of age, as old as me, and placed in my group. She spun with a club in her hand, but my small shield arm raised with a shot of trained instinct and knocked her blow away, putting her off balance. I remember my wooden hammer tight in my fist, driving into the side of her neck and crushing her windpipe. She coughed and fell, her pink blood spraying from her mouth, covering the stone floor of the agoge. She gasped and choked and looked up at me, her head twisted around over her shoulder. She had bitten off her own tongue and would have choked on her own blood if her throat were not swollen shut. I remember feeling pain at this, I recall the… the… I cannot remember the name of the feeling. I looked at my father.
“What does it take to grow the Garden of Strength?” he demanded then, as in my dream. And I answered. And I did it. Had she lived instead of me, she would have resembled the young Lyla in the dysfunctional group I find myself leading in my waking nightmare.
- I am feeling the loss of the light in this place. I cannot see the sun and it’s glint on my shield is lost for now, and it plays with my strength. I find myself enraged, kicking in doors to spread the torchlight into the shadows. To spread the light everywhere I can. The others are fools, with moral clarity so poor that they cannot see the goal through their own selfishness. It becomes more difficult to keep them together. I’ve trained a lifetime for this, and it tests even me. Nil weakened us last night with a breath of her voice, and Ford was very nearly killed in a room with rudimentary treasures. And no one here yet aligns themselves in order to grow a forest from trees. I miss my Order. I miss the accuracy of the Phalanx. This world is chaos.
- No sign of Erki. We press forward.
- I remember the feeling now, as I stood over her. It was pity.

Psalm 23, 4: “And Thalos was followed through the First Gate by the Angel Virgil, who said ‘the Garden of Strength must be watered with the blood of warriors, and the weeds of Pity must be pulled by the root.’”

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Lyla's Diary
January 4th

Reading a little girl’s diary, huh? What’re you, her mom? Snoop here.

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Nil's Diary Jan 4, pt 2
Dungeon Drama

The common translation can be found here.

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Nil's Meeting

It’s been about an hour. The writing on the wall hit you like a ton of bricks. A wave of fatigue came over you suddenly, and you had to excuse yourself from the rest of the group. You’ve been relaxing at the top of the fissure, catching your breath and thinking through the implications of your discovery. The fresh air has helped you to feel better, until you notice… the wind, where’d it go? It was pretty regular when you first got up here, but now it’s completely stopped.

You shake your head free from thought to focus on your surroundings. Something is off, but you’re not quite sure what. Things seem unnaturally still. The wind isn’t blowing, the trees aren’t swaying, the leaves aren’t moving. You go to push off the ground to investigate, only to find that your entire body is paralyzed from the neck down. Panic starts to come over you. Is this permanent? What the heck is going on?!

Just as you’re about to freak out for good, a small whirling tornado of smoke appears not 5 feet in front of you. The space all around you grows darks, and a deep purple light emits from the smoke as a low, rumbling voice emanates from it.

“Greetings, young one. You’ve followed the signs, and now you are here. Some may regard this fortress as the birthplace of your people. Others simply refer to it as the Sunless Citadel. Whatever its name, it acts as the gathering place for you six now. And it is here I have awaited you.”

At this point, the rumbling accompanying the voice has completely subsided, and you realize the words are being transmitted directly to your brain. This strange being is speaking to you telepathically. You notice that the world around you has grown completely dark, and you can see nothing else but the swirling smoke in front of you.

“I bring you a gift, young one. The gift of telepathy, should you so choose. In return, I ask only that you keep a watchful eye on your new companions. And pay particular attention to the child, for there is much more to her and her story than even she realizes. What say you?”

After a moment of hesitation, you give your answer. “…yes.”

The darkness surrounding you and the smoke disappears, and the smoke itself quickly dissipates. You find yourself in a room you’ve never seen before, but all of your companions are here. An ornate fountain is built into one wall, cracked and stained but the carving of a diving dragon retains its beauty. On the opposite wall stands a relief-carved stone door. Your companions are completely frozen for a moment, but they slowly start moving again, speeding up until they are finally moving at full speed. You look down at your hands and feet, which you have full control over once more. You hear the being’s voice echo in your mind one last time.

“Excellent.”

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Jordan's Journal - Third Entry
Dungeon Day One

- The stench of evil is thick and foul in this place. It drips from the ceilings and runs in the mold in the stone cracks. It is difficult to tell friend from foe here, the sensations that crawl in my skin are unending. Hair on my neck is perpetually standing. The elusive man, Ford, opened a door to a small room, like an alcove, and the red-skin Ana entered, which awoke undead evil in the room itself. They inhabited long-dead bodies that rose from the floor, and we dispatched them, but not before our flesh and banners were torn. We are here, at least. We have found the den of evil, and it must be cleansed. Timbers must be here, deeper within the stinking halls.

- Further within, we found a small creature, evidently called a “Kobold”, a descendant of dragons. It was curled and terrified, and has lost the focus of its charge, an actual dragon, from the cage in the same room. We have learned from this Kobold that there are three factions in this haven of evil: Goblins, Kobolds, and the unknown. We have agreed to follow the path toward the dragon, and both my hope and my focus are on finding Erki. Strange symbols line the walls, evidently in the draconic script. The thieving Nil had to remove herself from the hall interiors to regain her composure in the fresh air of the outside world, otherwise she would have been able to shine light on their translations. Not sure if she’s a coward, or merely morally inept, but I will press on. This band needs leading, that much is clear. Each one of them lacks a center to hold them. No discipline. No moral grounding. I will not instill it in them, but I will corral them so they do not lead themselves to slaughter, and I with them.

- We have come to a door with a strange skeletal dragon etched above it, and an inscription that reads from my studies at seminary. It is a Psalm that instructs one of a holy order to turn a creature of the undead in order to proceed through the door. I am not yet of strong enough will to do so, so I must find another way through. Ana has possession of a steel needle which, evidently, points its way to a creature, or a human, or some other entity of unknown interest, and Lyla combined this possession with an arcane incantation that confirmed this. The needle is pointing beyond the door.

- We are awaiting Nil’s return from outside before deciding whether to rest quietly, or soldier on, both of which have their problems. We will see. I will exercise my vessel and pray to Thalos and Erathis for guidance and protection. My shield and hammer need cleaning.

Thalos steel my shield arm.
Erathis lead me back to the arms of civilization.

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