Sleeping Giants

Reflection and Lemon
Nil's Journal

As night fell in the holy city of Skyhammer, Nil bade Lyla farewell and headed down the hall to her flat. To foreigners, it’s oft a source of confusion as to exactly when the designated time of night begins in an otherwise nearly perpetually dark city. Indeed, Skyhammer’s biggest inn, The Holy Pilgrim, features a rather large, ornate water clock engraved with some of the most poignant of Thalosian psalms in its lobby, a courtesy to travelers, pilgrims, and those unaccustomed to life in The Bowl. Far inside the city walls, where clergymen and residents typically reside, there is no such luxury afforded as a time keeping device, given that, to the denizens, there simply is no need.

Being as foreign as it gets, Nil could only hazard a tenuous guess as to what time it was. Or she could, if she wasn’t still ruminating over the previous few hours. Lyla had come to her with disturbing news about Jordan’s father, a man whom Nil was already growing more and more apprehensive of by the hour. Attempting to convey the results of Lyla’s research to Jordan had failed spectacularly.

I guess I don’t know what I was expecting, Nil had to admit to herself. She remembered how Jordan flew into a rage and ended up storming off back into the cathedral leaving her alone at the gate. Apparently, Bishop Simon had flown the coupe after Jordan confronted him, too.

Why do I even care? Why should I care what happens to him? She thought. Still, Nil knew deep down that she did care about Jordan. He can be a bit of a pill to swallow at times, but he was also loyal, and was more than willing to make personal sacrifice for the greater good. And, he’d also saved her on more than one occasion. No, after everything that happened, she did care, perhaps even more so now that she had seen the city he grew up in. And the man that raised him.

High Priest Jostan Steingard. The stern man that had immediately intimidated her the moment she met him. She had revealed her true identity to him, the first time she’d ever done so since that night with Ford so many months ago. Was that a mistake? And what of Vesper, and the rumors of war with Aurora? Nil could only imagine how horrible it must have been to have Jostan as a father, how horrible it must have been for Jordan. And he doesn’t even know it, himself, Nil thought.

In place of the resentment she once harbored for Jordan and his staunch demeanor, now there was only pity. She pitied him for his childhood and for his path. The path which he never had a choice in. Lyla told her that his brother had fled to escape the church. No doubt the people of Skyhammer leaned even more heavily on him to fulfill his duty to the church, then.

Arriving at her apartment, numbered nine, she pulled the key, out of her pouch. It was a golden, ornate key in the shape of a hammer, with a blue stripe painted up the middle. God, what is it with these people and hammers? Unlocking the oaken door, she headed into the well furnished abode.

The stench of cigarette smoke lingering in the air greeted her. Ugh, Ford. Yet the flat was empty; he was nowhere to be seen. “Ford? …Hello?” She called out. No response: he must have already left.

Exhausted and defeated from the night’s activity, Nil hung her red cloak on a coat hook at the door, debelted, and threw her pouch unceremoniously at the nearest chair. She hadn’t the energy to magic away the stench. Instead, she walked over to the dining area and opened a window to try and get a breeze. Feeling awful, she decided the only thing that could make her feel better was a lemon tart or six. She had never tasted the dessert prior to arriving at Skyhammer, and found them to be extraordinarily exquisite. Probably the only good thing to come out of this place.

Heading into the kitchen, she saw them on the counter in a glass cake dish on top of which was a folded note. Opening it, while simultaneously stuffing her mouth with a tart, she saw that it detailed someone’s notes on a person named Sara. What instantly grabbed Nil’s attention, however, was that “Sara” was apparently an alias for Sanura Atem, a name she recognized from her past.

Sanura Atem. How long has it been…? Nil recalled the last time she saw Sanura. She must have been 14 years old, at a party in the palace that her father was hosting. Nobles from all over attended, even coming from as far as Shaz Inem, where Sanura hailed from. Sanura had of course introduced herself formally to her and her father, as formal etiquette demanded. There was probably some small talk between them, but Nil couldn’t remember any details.

This by itself would be completely insignificant, but a few months later, Nil caught wind of scandal: Sanura had rebuffed her noble heritage and had run away from home. The idea was instantly fascinating to Nil then, and inspired her own flight years later. Now, after all this time, Sanura was again important, at least according to Ford.

Scrawled at the bottom in his near-illegible writing were the words, “In Skyhammer caves. Yelena’s boss. We should check it out.”

Ford's Tracks

You find yourself back in the desert city of Shahz Inem. You are nearing the end of your first job for General Hector, which involves dispelling rumors about his cousin Lord Primo’s infidelity. You already have all the evidence you need, but you prefer to be thorough. And so you arrived at Hector’s personal study in the wee hours of the morning. A quick survey of the room reveals 3 points of interest: a mostly full bookshelf, a desk with several stacks of paper, and a large map hanging on the wall.

You immediately move for the desk.

Three stacks of paper sit atop the desk, neatly organized into piles. Resting upon one of the stacks of paper is a curious object that you’ve never seen before now: It is a small, silver metal cage with a mechanical bird inside. The three stacks are labeled “Weekly Reports”, “Delegations”, and “Operation Red Worm”.

  • Weekly Reports: A stack of reports from Hector’s subordinates, with the most recent on top. They are mostly un-noteworthy, although there are some mentions of “Operation Red Worm” by a person named Aeneas. It seems to be proceeding according to schedule.
  • Delegations: A stack of outgoing orders that have not yet been sent out. One of them makes mention of a Detective Ford, informing the subordinate to pay him what he’s due.
  • Operation Red Worm: The first few pages in this stack make reference to the Shahz Inem Housing Crisis. However, they quickly switch topic a dozen pages in, and outline a series of underground tunnels that potentially reach all the way from Shahz Inem to its sister city, Sulta Ixen. According to the notes, Hector has assigned several individuals to not only scout the tunnels, but also outfit them with weapons, armor, and enough preserved foodstuffs to potentially last large groups several weeks.

Next you made your way to the large map on the wall.

The map on the wall is very large, easily 4 feet wide by 3 feet tall, and presents the entirety of Dormia. The map is marked up in several different ways, from small push-tacks to markings made in ink. In the bottom left of the map, there are a series of carefully drawn, winding lines that interconnect and stretch from Shahz Inem about halfway to Sulta Ixen. In other areas of Vesper, there are pins pushed into the map that you can only assume represent military bases. Some of the pins are located along the eastern coast, and have arrows, some straight and some winding, drawn from them to the Auroran coast.

And finally, the bookshelf.

The bookshelf is stocked full, and at a glance many of the books are related to general knowledge or military strategy. Two books in specific stand out, as they are largely unrelated to the rest:

  • Navigation Under the Stars: A field manual to navigating while under ground.
  • Arcane Through the Ages: A primer on the entire history of the Arcane throughout the past 500 years. There is currently a bookmark inside of the book, which is a hand written note on a piece of parchment. It reads: “Hector, Mitlargo requested we become familiar with the contents of this book, specifically the chapter titled ‘The Disappearance of Abjuration’. Please review and get me your notes. Primo.”

Confident that you’ve gleaned all there is to know from Hector’s personal study, you exit the same way you entered: through the open window. We see you from the outside, climbing out and disappearing into the night, and our view begins to zoom in on the window. If you knew you were leaving behind evidence of your intrusion, you would have surely cleaned it up. But nobody’s perfect. As we continue to zoom in, we can finally make out a small piece of hardened mud that fell off of your shoe, framed by the window. And stamped into the mud is a perfect outline of the tread of your shoe.

Jordan’s Journal
Ninth Entry...

Jordan hasn’t left the golden walls in some time, except to leave the crater entirely on his journeys and errands for the Church. But on this night he dresses in cape and cowl, both indistinguishable from the dirty brown clothes of the immigrants and non-citizens, to have an evening to himself in the dark corner of a nameless shanty pub. There he writes in a small, mundane journal with an unmarked leather cover. A travel quill and ink well sit beside his mug and he writes by the light of the hearth fire across the room.

“I am both risen to Deacon and plunged into a well of strange darkness from which I do not know escape. All signs point to my grandfather’s death as a natural one of the order of the world, an old man dying the way an old man dies. But something within me stirs the other way, peers deeper through his death and sees… I don’t know what it sees. I don’t know what I see.

He was always kind to me, perhaps even gentle at times, and showed me light-handed methods when heavy hands and fists could not do. His voice could topple what my hammer could not crush.

“You catch more flies with honey than vinegar,” he would tell me. It was not until only recently that I have come to understand what he meant. I have been… so angry for so long. I have kept myself buried and chained within this iron body, like the boy beneath the Church. I can only wonder what had come of him, of how long he survived down there shivering in the cold dark. And I have only recently come to think of him.

I hope they are both at peace. I hope Erathis has found them and they walk not through the void of Abaddon.

I hope… I hope.

Where have I been?

Who am I?

Thalos, save me. Show me the truth, for I still believe in you.”

Jordan takes several minutes and stares under his dark hood at the scrawled page before him. The ink from the tip of his quill drips onto the curled wood of the table and it seems to shake Jordan out of his trance.

“May Thalos save us all from the Hell beneath our feet,” he whispers, as he places the quill on his small leather writing wrap and rolls it up with the ink well, placing the bundle into the pack at his side. He takes another moment to look longingly at the page he has written, before reaching up and tearing it from the journal’s spine with a loud rip.

Jordan walks passed the hearth fire and throws the crumpled page into the orange flames, and he walks out into the midnight mountain air.

Jordan's Ascension

“And Thalos asked unto Virgil, ‘What is the madness in the minds of these drowning souls?’ And Virgil replied, ‘they are those wretched who drank from the waters of Life in Heaven and turned their backs on Erathis on the eve of the Angelic Rebellion. They are damned to tumble in these waters, forever drowning.’

“A sinful soul reached its hand from the crimson fire of Styx and grasped the thigh of Thalos, who rebuked the wretched fingers with a strike of his Hammer of Gold.”

Behind you, several dozen church officials and fellow acolytes have gathered in the nave and transepts of the Church of Skyhammer. A smaller chapel might be overflowing, but in the massive cathedral there is easily room for hundreds more. It’s nearly high noon, and the sunbeams shining through the windows bounce off the marble and gold of the interior to fill the entire church with light.

You remain kneeling, and standing before you is your father, the recently appointed High Priest of Skyhammer. He is leading the ceremony of your ascension to deaconship.

“Much like the unholy souls of the River Styx, there are many in this world that would reach up and attempt to desecrate the good land of Dormia. And much like Thalos himself, we must never hesitate to rebuke them swiftly, lest they gain purchase.

“In witness of all present, and the ever-present Lord Thalos himself, I hereby recognize Jordan Steingard for excellence in assisting with the abolishment of 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 rescuing an esteemed member of the Church, and subsequently laying low an evil caretaker of the dark arts, I do hereby declare that, though he knelt as a simple Acolyte, he rises now as Deacon Jordan 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. As is customary, you rise, bow to the High Priest, then to the crowd, before making your way through the gathered crowd to the other end of the Great Hall.

Ana's Warning

Stretching before you is a great plain of brown and dark green, ringed all around it in a circular cavern. The area is larger than any city you’ve ever seen, like a massive bowl placed upside-down over the land.

Below the opening, reaching up from the muddy ground to the window above it, is the largest church you have ever seen. From this distance it gleams white with what you believe to be marble, and is accented with gold and silver that, even this far away, you can clearly discern. Four massive steeples rise from each corner of the structure, and in the center of the roof rises a great golden hammer, itself the mass of a building. The stray rays of sunlight above it reflect from the gold and silver accents and stream to all parts of the cavern wall, dancing and playing in the darkness.

Almost as if cued by your thoughts, Jordan speaks up. “And Thalos emerged from Abaddon carrying with him hope for the world of men. There he built a cathedral of golden sunlight and mortared it with the blood of demons, and he promised to guard her from the mouth of Hell for all of time.”

He looks around at all of you. “Skyhammer stands before us. Mind your manners and follow my lead.”

And then the focus shifts, to Ana. As the group continues their march toward Skyhammer, a great explosion erupts from the towering cathedral. It is no ordinary explosion, but one of chaos and darkness. It begins expanding outward in all directions, rapidly covering the world in shadow. An ordinary being would be terrified, but you feel a certain welcoming warmth accompanying the shadow.

It is not long before the explosion has engulfed the entire expanse of land. You look around, and where there once were tall grasses and wiry weeds, there are now flowing strands of shadow jutting from the ground, like seaweed on a seabed. You glance back at the cavernous ring behind you, which has now become dark and translucent. You can just barely make out the shapes of dozens – no – hundreds of creatures moving about within. Some of them seem to float rather than walk along the ground.

And where the cathedral once stood, where the explosion originated, there are now gigantic beams of pure white light. Dozens of them, hundreds of feet wide, circle the perimeter of Skyhammer. They reach high into the sky, and where the bowl-like cavern almost comes to a close, so do they.

“It’s beautiful, is it not, Athanatos?” you hear an echoing, familiar voice. “Beautiful in a… blinding sort of way.” You turn to the voice, and for the first time in far too long you experience the physical presence of The Shadow.

“I came here to give you a warning, Athanatos. Your kind… our kind… is not welcome here. Those who would protect you have journeyed elsewhere. Be wary in these walls.”

A sudden flash of bright light emits from the Shadow, forcing you to shield your eyes. When you are finally able to see again, you are back on the Material Plane, and Skyhammer remains looming in the distance.

A Hands-On Approach Intro

We see a large, dimly lit study with a single door that serves as the exit. Seated at a large desk is a human man, his dirty white robes spilling over the chair on which he sits. He wears well-fitted black leather gloves, and is currently scribbling something on a sheet of parchment. The desk at which he sits is no ordinary desk, however. A strange metal contraption sits atop it, comprised of miniature claws, knives, grabbers, and rods that end in quills. There are over a dozen moving parts involved, though they are all motionless at the moment. Each piece is connected to its own pedal underneath the desk, and some of the parts have multiple connections.

Suddenly, a small dial, similar to a handheld compass, that sits atop the desk erupts in a burst of energy. It becomes engulfed in blackness, and the energy spreads to cover half of the desk. Then, as quickly as it appeared, the darkness retracts back into the dial. The man picks it up and looks down at it, using the quill in his hand to jot down a number: Two-hundred and eighty. Perplexed, he pushes away from the desk and stands, immediately making his way to the closed door.

Back at the desk, we can see what he was writing. It is a note, addressed to someone named “Sara”. It is a few short paragraphs long, with the final paragraph reading as follows:

“33 degrees from the main route. The ring entrance is marked by the skull of a minotaur, about 20 feet up the wall. I would like to see the acolytes attempt to remove it this time.”

Nil's Justice

Before you left the citadel, you had to make sure that orders were communicated properly and that the kobolds knew what to do in your absence. It is your citadel now, after all, and it won’t repair itself. You were speaking with Zelda directly, informing her that the citadel needs repairs and the Underdark access should be removed. It was then that Resk approached you, and reminded you about their one remaining prisoner: the goblin that your party forced to watch his friends and family die slowly in front of him.

It wasn’t long before the kobolds gathered to witness the coming spectacle, the din of excited barking filling the ceremony chamber. A hastily constructed pile of stones in the center of the room affixes a large wooden beam salvaged from debris from elsewhere in the citadel. Tied to the beam is the last remaining goblin, looking indignant, if a little desperate. Ordinarily, he’d take this opportunity to curse and spit at his captors, but a large ball of soiled cloth is stuffed into his mouth, gagging him. Finally Nil steps forward from the crowd, accompanied by Zelda and Resk.

“Esteemed denizens of the Sunless Citadel, I have gathered you here today, for today is a scarlet day. Today marks the day when the rightful and true heirs of this remarkable place come together and at last inherit the legacy so cruelly cast aside by lesser men.”

Most of the kobolds looked around to each other, a bit confounded; they weren’t used to such flowery pomp and were trying to work out what she was on about.

“This goblin, this thing, has befouled this fortress, your home, with its disgusting presence. The crimes the goblins have committed against you all are too numerous to name, but now the time for justice and honor to be restored is upon us.”

Nil turns to the goblin and holds out her hand.

“I sentence you to death by immolation, effective immediately.”

Flames erupt from her hand, engulfing the base of the pile. As the flames climb the wooden beam the the goblin’s flesh, his muffled cries of agony are barely heard over the elated barking and whoops from the crowd. The acrid smell of boiling fat and burnt hair fills the room. The cacophony dies down as Nil speaks once more, gesturing to the crowd.

“Rulers of the Sunless Citadel, I have pledged to be your protectorate. All who serve me will find themselves richly rewarded. All who raise sword or spell against me, our enemies, will find themselves in the same, inescapable fate as this goblin. This I promise you, for this the promise of House Nile, the heirs of Nileraxxemon!”

Sparks explode from the pyre like fireworks. Some of the sparks rearrange themselves and seem to hover in mid air, forming the crest of House Nile, a fierce red dragon. The kobolds erupt in ecstasy.

The First Sighting

We see a rough tunnel, carved into a finished wall. Our side of the wall is illuminated by a violet light, but the tunnel itself trails off into complete darkness. We can just barely make out a humanoid figure, approaching slowly. It walks with a limp, and when it finally emerges into the violet light, we can see its dark skin underneath ragged clothing. It is a young elven man, and his hair is a tangled mess. He is covered head to toe in dirt and ash, it looks as if he hasn’t seen a bath in weeks.

He takes a few steps into the lit room and looks around cautiously. He then approaches the wall and slowly lets himself down, leaning his back against the finished stone and exhaling deeply. It’s not long before he drifts off into a deep slumber that lasts for over a day.

Upon waking, he explores this underground fortress he has stumbled upon. The room in which he entered holds some sort of round chimney, lush with luminescent fungus. He finds a locked door at the end of a straight hallway with a single bend. One room holds a huge marble statue of a rearing red dragon, two large gemstones placed firmly in its eye sockets. No matter how far he explores, however, he doesn’t find a single indication of life. And in fact, most of the fortress is largely mundane, until…

The dark elven man opens the final door in the fortress, and is met with a room that inexplicably opens into a large, barren cavern. The ceiling must be 60 feet tall, which he can just barely make out as the luminescent fungus that is present in other areas of the fortress is absent in this cavern. The cavern itself twists around, and he follows it slowly and cautiously, as though expecting the worst.

And then he sees it. A modestly sized, leafless tree with bark that’s blacker than the surrounding cavern. It is growing straight out of the hard rocky ground, and attached to the side of it as if it were a cyst, is a perfectly round red apple, about the size of a human fist.

Stratton's Lunch Date

When you showed up at the restaurant, Misha was already waiting for you. She had nabbed a table for two at a small-time family-owned restaurant called Karim’s Curry in a Hurry.

“I’m so glad you could make it,” she says when she sees you. She has clearly dressed up for the occasion, and is sporting a very clean and well-kept pink dress, with her deep blue silken scarf still resting loosely on her shoulders. She motions for you to sit, and you do. You exchange opening pleasantries for a few moments before beginning to look over the menu.

“This place has the most delicious curry in all of Dormia! I always have to stop when I’m in town. My favorite thing is the Sikander Special, you should try it!” Not long after she finishes her sentence, your waiter arrives to take your order. After some deliberation, you decide to order the Sikander Special at Misha’s insistence, which is a lentil base with chicken roasted on a spit and mini cabbages, mixed with a mouthwatering blend of herbs and spices and topped with chia seeds. Served with rice.

You place your order, the waiter bows, and soon it’s just you and Misha sitting alone at the table. She looks at you and smiles. “So, how is the tour going?” You banter back and forth for a while, and the conversation goes nowhere in particular, but you both have a wonderful time. Before you know it, the food arrives and the two of you chow down. Your meal is delicious, the perfect blend of savory and spicy. You make some additional small talk between bites, and it’s not long before the entire date is winding down. Misha has to be getting on the road, and you do as well. The two of you share a hug, and as you pull apart she remarks, “This was a lot of fun, Stratton. I hope we can do it again on your next tour.” She looks down at the ground for a moment, before looking back up at you and smiling.

“Here, I want to give you something so you don’t forget about me.” She unravels part of her scarf from around her neck, grasps part of it with both hands, and rips it. It makes a clean, perfectly straight tear across the width of the scarf, and she hands you the separated piece. “I know it’s not much, but at least it’s unique, right?” And that was the last time you saw one of your biggest fans.

Jordan: Something Stirs in the Deep

It must be the smell that triggers the memories. That dank earthy odor of age and sin. The tunnel walls are ragged with the movement of nature, the rending and shearing of stone across stone in a single swift crack of the planet. Jordan removes a gauntlet and runs his calloused hand across the jagged rock wall, and it comes flooding back to him.

He is young again, barely twelve, not yet a man, walking down the long dark unhewn halls somewhere beneath Skyhammer. His father leads him from behind, guiding him from the dark as Jordan walks through halls he has never seen before, guided by the golden holy light of the Hammer of Thalos his father has made him carry. The child knows not their destination, but he dare not ask before the answer is offered.

Further they move down a seemingly endless tunnel of ragged walls and low ceilings, descending further beneath what he assumes is Skyhammer Church, but his bearings are lost. They may very well have extended beyond the boundary of the crater valley and now walk under the base of the Skyhammer Mountains. More questions he dare not ask his silent guide.

Hours pass by the steady golden light of the Hammer, and Jordan’s legs are aching with exertion. He can hardly keep his back straight and is reaching out to the rough rock wall for support every dozen steps. The Hammer has long grown heavy and his forearms strain with the weight of the weapon as large as his own torso. Still he walks just a step ahead of his father who moves upright and effortless as though just setting out on a stroll. The strength of the man puzzles the boy, who prays every morning to Thalos that he will one day earn his place beside his father, and inherit his strength of body and force of will. He must try harder. He must keep quiet and walk on.

How much time has passed? Hours? A day? He has missed dinner, perhaps even several meals, and his stomach aches like it did when he was eight years old and his months of fasting began. He is reminded of the second Psalm of the Descent of Thalos, and repeats it to himself in his head:

“Thalos descended the cave to Abaddon for six years, moving to the Abyss as a bead of water moves along the back of a serpent.”

Six years. Impossible for a regular mortal man, and yet Jordan is willing to bet his own iron practice hammer that his father could make the journey.

Finally, as though his father were reading the boy’s mind, the man speaks up as he walks. The sound of his voice booms and echoes through the craggy tunnel in infinite directions.

“Jordan,” the man bellows from behind the boy, “it is time we unearthed your true nature. Do you remember your psalms?”

The sudden sound breaks the hours-long rhythm of their footfalls and shocks Jordan into a flinch. Afraid that his father was reading his own mind and he had remembered the Psalm incorrectly, the boy stammers out a quiet “Y-yes, father…” and awaits his punishment.

But none comes. Instead his father bellows again, this time reciting the very same Psalm that Jordan had recalled.

“Thalos descended the cave to Abaddon for six years, moving to the Abyss as a bead of water moves along the back of a serpent.”

Jordan is elated and his soul shines within his small frame, but he dare not show it outwardly in a sign of weakness. He clenches the tight leather wrappings around the golden Hammer of Thalos, and listens on.

His father continues. “They came to the doorway to the Abyss beyond which was a starless void black as pitch.” As though revealed by magic, the tunnel ahead of Jordan closes toward him, and into the golden light comes a heavy wooden door, closed shut with the weight of centuries. Above the door is carved strange claw-like markings and symbols in the ancient stone.

His father moves past him toward the door, and continues reciting as though incanting a spell: “Above the door beheld a carving in the stone in the language of fiends, ‘Abandon your hope, you who enter here.’ And Virgil, guide of Thalos, said unto him, ‘Thalos, remain steadfast in your faith and hold close your hammer of gold, for fiends of all sizes and temperaments stalk the void.’”

Jordan’s father reaches forward and grips the massive iron handle on the door. He heaves it forward and for all his strength he pushes it open only slightly, the movement creaking, groaning, and scraping iron on stone. He motions for Jordan to enter the darkness beyond, beckoning him to reveal the inner sanctum by the Good Light of the Hammer of Thalos.

As the young Jordan crosses the threshold he is met with a wave of cold air that carries with it the stench of urine and rotting meat. His nose turns and he recoils at the smell. He looks back to his father for a brief moment and is met with only a steel glare in the glowing gold light of the Hammer. He turns back to the threshold and presses in. The arch of the heavy door gives way to a low rocky ceiling dripping with condensation, and all around him are walls that extend beyond the light. The air in here is heavy and wet. From what he can see, the walls are lined irregularly with heavy rusted chains, bolted to the wall on one end, and tipped with manacles on the other. Beneath the chains are puddles of dark liquid, the closest of which appear to be writhing with insects.

His eyes roam around the darkness, examining the rough work of the walls in this oasis of penance sat within a tunnel desert. He shifts his gaze across the middle of the room and, just at the edge of the light, sees the shadowy knees and hands of a young boy his own age, strapped to a wooden chair. The boy is half-awake and shivering, and when the Hammer’s light meets his face his eyes squint with pain. Then he adjusts as his gaze meets Jordan’s, and terror wracks his face.

How long has he been here, in this darkness?

From across the room the boy stammers to Jordan, “S-s-sir, sir! P-please set me free!” His forearms thrash within the wraps that hold them in place, and his starving legs kick wildly. His ribs are showing through the taut flesh of his chest, and his cheeks and eyes are sunken into his skull. Jordan can only guess how long he has been down here.

To another child from another part of the world, perhaps this scene would be thought of differently. But to young Jordan, the freezing, emaciated boy who suffers before him is deserving of the cold stone imprisonment to which he was brought. Jordan trusts the purpose of this room because his father trusts its purpose, and the Will of Thalos, Right Hand of Erathis, flows through his father, Jostan Steingard. Therefore young Jordan was brought here to serve the purpose of the room itself.


Jordan turns back to his father standing in the mouth of the door and, perhaps for the first time he feels and understands a bond of purpose, not as a child, but as a man. “What is his sin?” Jordan asks.

Jostan’s expression is unchanged as he responds, “he stole from the Church.”

Jordan’s soul alights with fury and he turns to the boy in the center of the room. As he approaches, the Hammer’s light brightens the gaunt features of his face and deepens the jagged shadows of his skull. The boy is losing his hair and insects are crawling across his scalp to escape the light. “What did you do?” Jordan demands with a vigor renewed since the hours-long journey to this place.

“I-I-I…” the boy stammers, squinting again in the light, “I gave some food to a stranger. H-he said he was hungry and he asked me for it, a-a-and I took some and gave it to him.” For a moment the boy’s eyes soften from their pain and meet steadily with Jordan’s. Eye-to-eye, Jordan can see he is nearly the same age as the boy in the chair, and his face looks familiar. And in that moment, Jordan feels the pang again in his gut; the feeling he had before, so many years ago in the agoge…

The boy in the chair cuts into Jordan’s thought, “Y-y-you would have done the same…”

In that moment, Jordan catches that feeling that had been welling and strangles it with his grip on the Hammer of Thalos. He strangles it, and he buries it deeper within himself, beneath a face of steel and a life of servitude. He speaks plainly to the boy in the chair, “You and I are not the same.” As the boy’s eyes widen, Jordan raises the hammer above his head, and recites the Psalm he remembers from his training:

“The Garden of Strength must be watered with the blood of warriors… and the weeds of Pity must be pulled by the root.”

With a thundering crack, Jordan wrenches the hammer down onto the boy’s left hand, crushing the bones and mangling the flesh in a single blow.

The boy shrieks in untamed agony. “W-w-why… would you…?!” he begins to whimper, as Jordan raises the hammer again, and again slams the Hammer of Thalos down onto the boy’s other hand, matching agony with agony.

The boy can no longer speak through his pain, and can do nothing more than cry. He sits there with his arms bound to the arms of the chair and his broken hands shaking uncontrollably, his head hanging down to his chest as it heaves with weeping sorrow.

Jordan brings the Hammer up before him and the light illuminates his face. “Consider your penance to Thalos paid,” he says before turning his back to the boy and leaving him in the darkness of his own torment once again. Behind him echo the weakened cries of a child, and the sound of it dies as his father closes the door behind them.

On the journey back through the tunnels Jordan and his father walk in silence, and Jordan’s own soul lays the final shovel of dirt atop the grave of his pity. But just before tamping it down for good, Jordan remembers the face of the boy in that room. He was a trainee like Jordan, and they sparred together on the floor of the agoge.

Jordan Steingard comes-to as though from a daze, and pulls his calloused hand back from the lacerated rock wall. For a moment he gains his bearings and stares at his hand. He moves the fingers and watches them move, full of life. His fingers did not ask to be moved, but were willed. They did not have a choice.

He feels it again. Something stirs in the deep grave of his steel gaze and his life of servitude.

Should he have killed the boy? Should he have given him release?

It stirs.

Here come Lyla and Nil.

Jordan puts his gauntlet on again.


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