The Fallen King
Baltin to Darfarang
“Their master is dead,” Reynold explained. “There will be a period of time in which they are confused. It won’t be long before they start to hunt again.”
The paladin drew her longsword. “Then we should take care of them before that happens. Ielenia, Fyre, Izzy, let’s go.”
The monk and barbarian princess quickly responded to her call, but the gnome was nowhere to be seen. “Izzy?” Lithoniel called out. “We should take care of these zombies before they become a danger.”
“Go ahead, I won’t be of much help,” the wizard called back.
“This may because you almost killed him,” Ielenia mumbled to Fyre.
“I thought he was a demon,” Fyre said with a shrug of her shoulders. The barbarian had not been overly apologetic for her violent attack on Izzy during the battle with the vampire.
“What are you doing up there?” Lithoniel yelled back.
“Just checking for information.”
“He means treasure,” Ielenia clarified.
“Whatever,” Lithoniel said disapprovingly. “We’ll be right back.”
“Sure, sure,” Izzy shouted as he dug through a dresser next to a large, ornate bed. He had already scoured the other rooms of the house, but had yet to find anything of note or worth.
He pulled open a drawer to see two letters. They were the first item he had found that was even remotely interesting so he quickly opened them up.
I am trusting you with this investigation, do not fail me. For over a century I have ruled these lands and this is the first time anything has changed. I want to know what is happening to my kingdom.
Follow the undead. Something is causing them to expand into the Baltin lands. Normally I would take this as welcome news, but this is not my doing. Another force is trying to wrest control of the undead away from me. Find what the source is and destroy it. Succeed and I shall reward you with more power than you can possibly comprehend. Do not return with failure.
I am pleased to report that my investigation is going well. I have taken residence in a small town. Most of its residents had evacuated ahead of the oncoming undead, I disposed of the rest.
I have narrowed down the direction that the undead are moving. They are continually heading northwest toward the Jaldith Mountains. According to our spies within Darfarang there have been no sightings of additional undead near the vicinity of the city, so they must still be within the mountains on the Baltin side of the border.
I can also say with certainty that the source of this anomaly is a splinter group of the Baltins themselves. Everything I have ever learned of the Baltins tells me that they shun magic and only barely accept clerics, but it looks some of them have branched out.
I can’t say for certain yet who they have contacted. They do not seem to be using necromancy to lure the undead; instead they have contacted an infernal power. I am not sure if this is a demon, or a lesser god, but I shall continue my investigations. I have witnessed hellhounds in the area and I shall try and acquire one for further study.
I have enslaved a few of these Baltins; sadly they are simple underlings and have been unable to provide me with any information about who they summoned. One of them mentioned the lesser god Typold, but I do not know if that is a confession or just fear in the Baltins mind.
I know that you were hoping for more success by this point and I apologize that I do not have all the answers yet. I am sending you back the wealth I have been able to acquire while here as a token of my appreciation for your trust in me.
“Treasure?” Izzy mumbled. “Where?”
“Don’t you think you should have more important worries?” Ielenia asked him.
Izzy whipped around to see the rest of the party standing behind him. “I thought you were getting rid of the zombies?”
“We did,” Lithoniel said as she wiped off her blade. “With them just standing still it didn’t take very long.”
“Oh, well, like I said I was searching,” Izzy said as he held out the letters. “I found some useful information.”
“That’s good,” Fyre said as Lithoniel took the letters. “All we found was treasure.”
“Treasure?” Izzy said eagerly. “I mean, you did?”
“There was a treasure chest around the back of the house,” Fyre explained. “It had a pretty large bag of gold inside.”
“How much?” Izzy asked eagerly.
“I don’t know. It was too heavy to carry up here.”
“Really?” Izzy said, before bolting off down the stairs.
“I thought we weren’t going to tell him about that,” Ielenia said. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do and he won’t be helping now.”
“He wasn’t going to help anyway. Don’t worry, I hid a zombie head inside the chest,” Fyre said as the rest of her party gave her a shocked look. “What? It’s funny.”
“Barbarians,” Lithoniel mumbled as she started to read the letters.
- * * * *
“Take the road north. It’ll be about a day and you’ll be within Darfarang,” Reynold said as he pointed toward the Jaldith mountains. “The road runs right though a pass, there shouldn’t be any problems.”
“You’ll be returning home?” Lithoniel asked.
“Yes. I must inform the noble families of what is transpiring among the Baltins. Vlasemont is on the move and the Baltins may have contacted Typold. Neither is a good sign.”
Lithoniel nodded her head. She had managed to get answers out of Reynold during their trip about who the two figures mentioned in the letters. Vlasemont was a powerful vampire who had ruled this Dead Zone for over a century. He had once been a noble warrior who had tried to cleanse the area, but fallen to the darkness and made it even stronger.
Typold was a god of destruction. He was a son of the Many Faced One, but the only elements of chaos he cared about were those brought by violence. He was capable of providing powerful monsters to those who worshipped him, but they were incredibly difficult to control. According to Reynold, only warlords in extremely desperate situations ever tried to contact Typold. Why a splinter group of Baltins might be doing so was unknown.
The priest said his good byes and the party split in different directions.
Ielenia walked beside the horse carrying Izzy. They had slowed their pace considerably since the horses had become burdened with all of the money they were carrying. “How much do we have, anyway?” the monk asked.
“I didn’t think you cared about such things.”
“I don’t. I just want to know whether all this time we are wasting is worth it.”
“About 6,000 gold,” Izzy told her. “Mostly in copper though, which is why it so heavy.”
“What are you going to spend it on?”
Izzy scratched his chin thoughtfully. “I haven’t decided yet.”
“We could use some better equipment,” Lithoniel suggested.
“Says the woman in full armor,” Fyre muttered. “That much gold should be able to buy some enchanted weapons.”
“I was thinking more long term,” Izzy said as he pictured the many options the city would present.
- * * * *
“By Bastamus,” Lithoniel murmured as they crested a hill and finally beheld Darfarang. “It’s enormous.”
The group stood still as they surveyed the city. It filled the entire valley below them. It was spread out on both banks of the Jaldith River. There were many branches of the river and there were many areas where houses were built right up to, and sometimes on top of, the water.
“How are we ever going to find our friends in this?” Ielenia asked dismayed. “We could be talking to people for weeks before we find anyone who saw them.”
“Your friends started a slave revolt in Oustin,” Fyre reminded them. “I doubt they stuck around here without doing anything noticeable.”
“I guess we’ll find out,” Izzy said as started toward the city.
“Let’s just hope they didn’t piss off the rulers here as well,” Lithoniel added.
- * * * *
Lithoniel’s hand stayed near her sword as she walked through Darfarang. It was very early in the morning and there were few people on the street. That was extremely unusual. They had been in the city for a few days and the streets were packed regardless of the hour of the day.
The city seemed to be a place of constant trade. Merchants hawked all sorts of wares wherever there was space. There were great organized markets, but also street side vendors who changed with the hour. It was hard to learn anything about the city because it was one of the most chaotic places she had ever been. Areas of extreme affluence jutted up against massive poverty and the citizens of the city acted like that was completely normal.
Lithoniel had woken up before the sun had risen. She had slipped out of the small inn they were staying in without waking anyone. They explored the city every day looking for some sign of the earlier heroes of Leryn, but so far had met with zero success. There were just too many possibilities, too many people to talk to.
She did not have any particular destination in mind when she left the inn, nor did she even know why she was leaving so early. Something had woken her up. It was a strange feeling that she had only encountered once before; when she had first entered Bastamus’ service.
She had gone straight toward the center of the city. None of them had gone this way before. The streets and the markets seemed to curve away from the center. If it wasn’t for the pull she was feeling, it would have been almost impossible to keep on the right path.
Darfarang was filled with new construction. Everywhere they had gone in the city they had seen buildings being torn down and immediately being rebuilt. The center of the city though looked old. The walls were crumbling and most of the buildings were clearly unihabited. Eventually the buildings disappeared entirely and she was left in large square.
Around her was nothing but prison cells.
She tried one of the gates, but the door wouldn’t open. It wasn’t locked. It wouldn’t move because it was rusted shut. It didn’t look like this prison had been used in centuries.
“I was wondering when you were going to get here.”
Lithoniel turned around to see an old man coming toward her. He was an elf and it was a rare sight to see one who had achieved such an ancient age. He wore a brown robe and a talisman bearing the mark of Bastamus hung from his neck.
“Who are you? What is this place?”
“Like you, I am a servant of Bastamus. My given name is Hastilier, but I have been called the Last Priest for centuries. As for what this place is, you stand in the final remnant of the encampment of Emperor Denskel. It was here that he built up his forces and prepared for the final assault on the Valley of Leryn.”
“You know about the Valley?”
Hastilier nodded as he pointed to a jail cell. “They kept me there, along with a dozen others. We were either going to be slaves or conscripts, the jail master hadn’t decided yet. There was no secret about what we were going to be doing. Followers of Cerald were on the run. The last bastion was located in the Zatar Mountains. Denskel planned to bring his entire army together and eliminate them in one final battle.”
“From I was told, the forces that retreated to the Valley were just a remnant of what remained of our king’s army,” Lithoniel replied.
“Likely true, but you are probably unaware of the many allies Cerald once had. Powerful dragons still roam those peaks. Massive birds of prey attack any who enter the area. Then there was the possibility that Cerald could have other followers still alive who might attack Denskel’s flanks. Cerald had prepared his last defense well. That was until Denskel unleashed the plague.”
“The one that killed all followers of King Cerald.”
Hastilier sadly looked up at the sky. “It would kill you right now if you weren’t being protected by your king’s magic. It was the most powerful weapon ever unleashed. It was also Denskel’s undoing.”
“His undoing? What happened to the Emperor?”
“I was wondering if you would be completely isolated in the Valley,” Hastilier said shaking his head. “It seems King Cerald managed to isolate you from even divine events. Emperor Denskel is as fallen as your king is. Bastamus killed him.”
“Bastamus did?” Lithoniel asked in shock. “How is that possible? He is one of the Elder Gods. They have not stepped foot on Brunel since the first days of creation.”
“An ancient rule of the All Mother. Bastamus could not stand to see Denskel in control of a weapon as deadly as the magic he possessed. After Cerald, who else might he use it against? Bastamus would take no more. He stepped foot upon the ground and slew Denskel within this very city.”
“Emperor Denskel is dead?” Lithoniel asked for clarification. Hastilier had said it twice, but it seemed unbelievable that the enemy they had been taught to fear since their early childhood could be gone.
“As dead as a demi-god can be. This city, Darfarang, is built upon layers and layers of tunnels. His servants took his body deep within the ancient ruins. He’s still partially alive down there. He probably wants the same thing as King Cerald. The Gem of Vatesia and a chance to live again. Bastamus predicted all of this would come to pass. That is why I stay here and honor his memory.”
“Honor his memory? Are you not his priest?”
“After Bastamus slew Denskel, he turned his rage against the slavers,” Hastilier said as he swept his hand down like a sword. “We watched as he cleansed this city of the evil that Denskel had created. The sky was filled with fire. I was terrified of what I witnessed, yet also enraptured, knowing my freedom was at hand. That day I chose to serve Bastamus for the rest of my life. Many others made the same choice. I am the last that remains.”
“Bastamus is an Elder God,” Lithoniel said confused. “Where is his order? Where are his temples? I have seen temples to many gods within this city. Even Krael has a temple. Why does Bastamus not?”
“You said it yourself. Bastamus is an Elder God. He broke the All Mother’s rules. No matter how noble his intentions, there was only one clear course of action. The other gods killed him.”
Lithoniel reached out with her mind, trying to touch her god. He was distant, but she had always assumed that was natural. She could feel him; he was still at least partially there. “Bastamus lives. I wield his power.”
“And you are the first person to use his divine abilities outside the Valley of Leryn since he killed Denskel. Whatever energies Bastamus has are contained within the Valley. Everywhere else, he is nothing but a dead god.”
Lithoniel thought back to what she had encountered since leaving the Valley. Bastamus was respected, but carrying his symbol also brought a degree of pity. Reynold had been clear that he served a pantheon of gods, but was surprise to see anyone heralding Bastamus primarily. The Baltins found Bastamus foolish. It made sense now. He had died.
“You’ve stayed here?” Lithoniel said as she tried to sort out her thoughts. “This entire time?”
“Bastamus knew the Gem of Vatesia would arrive on our world one day. He gave me a final vision before he was vanquished. He knew Cerald would send his followers. I was told to await their arrival and guide them to the Gem when they arrived.”
“Others left the Valley before us.”
“I know. I met them. When the Gem first appeared in the world, I knew exactly where it was. This was the last power Bastamus gave to me. However, something began to block my detection almost immediately. Something down in the ruins, something likely connected to Denskel. I sent your friends down to try and destroy it. From what I hear they returned alive from the ruins, but they never came to see me again. I do not know why.”
“Then we shall follow their path. Where did they go into the ruins?”
“Not far from here. Most of the old entries are near the prison.”
“That is where we will go then.”
“I suspected as much,” Hastilier said. “There are many dangers in the ruins. Old and strange monsters that Denskel created, hordes of goblinoid creatures that the city guard has never been able to eliminate, and necromancers who practice dark arts and raise the undead. It is a dangerous place, even for the last light of Bastamus.”
“Thanks, we still need to go.”
“I understand. Did you tell them anything else?”
“Only the last location of the Gem. When it first appeared on Maldin, it was located to the west, in the Falive Marshlands.”
“If we destroy whatever Denskel has deployed you will tell us where the Gem is?”
“Absolutely. That was what my lord commanded,” Hastilier answered. He paused for a moment, as if debating what to say, “I must admit though, I wish my lord had given me permission to tell others.”
“Do others hunt for the Gem?”
“Many. You are likely unaware, but there have been many demi-gods, and even some gods, who have fallen while your people were hidden away. You are only worried about the followers of Denskel, but there are many other near death divine forces who will seek out the Gem. It can restore the life energy of any divine entity.”
“We knew we’d face powerful enemies,” Lithoniel said resolutely. “Having more of them won’t change our path.”
“I’m glad to hear it, but you miss my reason. The Gem of Vatesia can restore the life of any god. Even an Elder God,” Hastilier explained. “It only has the power though to restore one such being. Bastamus commanded me to help you find it so you might revive your king. I will follow his wishes, but it is my hope that you realize you could also use it to restore our lord.”