Phantasmagoria - Chapter 14
There was plenty to be uneasy about but oddly enough it was his own flippant comment that was bothering Chells the most at the moment. “Did you know him?” No, but someone from this day must have. By his count Kelloran and he had dispatched about a dozen of the cultists as well as roughly the same number of the mutated zombies. Lucky they had only come in small bands. If any sizable band found them the two would have been overwhelmed. The only positive point was that the two templars were able to start each fight healed of their injuries but that advantage was over. They had only Kelloran’s first aid skills to staunch their latest set of wounds now.
Chells gripped his blade once more and listened to its inhuman voice. It continued to throb as it has ever since they had beaten the first undead and their dark human companions. At first Chells had assumed the warning signals DoomHerald was relaying meant that more of the cultists were converging on him. Sure enough the sword had pulsed sharply just before the next attack. Yet when he had dismissed their impact on the past to Kelloran the blade nearly shook itself free from his grasp. Thinking about it now he realized the warning sensations DoomHerald was sending him had two very different feels. The undead attacks felt much like the warnings he had come to know. This steady throbbing was something else; something new and somehow far more ominous.
“We’ve got a problem, Kell.”
“I was wrong. Our killing these guys has got to have repercussions.”
“But you said we can’t change the past yet we’ve been fighting these guys all day. That makes no sense... unless these guys were going to die out here anyway.”
“That is what I was thinking too. The problem is DoomHerald has been warning me of something since this began and I think we are fast approaching some critical point.”
“Like encountering whatever huge monster killed all these guys?”
“I think more like crossing the line where the past can’t accept our actions. At that point I have the feeling something really bad is going to happen.”
“I don’t know but I think there is something out there that actively watches history and makes sure no-one screws around with it. I also think it would be capable and willing to wipe out everything we have ever known and touched than take the chance we make even the smallest knowable change to our past.”
“So by fighting back we could be destroying FallenStar.”
“Yes and even worse I think we would destroy it now not in our own time. Then all the good the heroes of the town have done between now and then would be wiped out as well.”
“But that would be changing the past.”
“No that would be changing the future. It would happen now. The future does not seem to be bound by the same rules otherwise divinations would not be allowed.”
“So what do we do? Can DoomHerald tell us how to safely fix our presence here?”
“I wish. The sword is only barely sentient. It can’t tell us what to do, only point out danger and it has been humming steadily since the cultists first found us. We do need answers though. I have an idea how to get them too that should be pretty safe.”
“Thought I’d try Spirit Writer. That way we could ask questions of the spirits around here with out directly interacting with them. The question is what to ask.”
“Well we can’t ask what would have killed the cultists because that hasn’t happened yet and may not happen at all now. How about ‘why are the cultists attacking us?’”
“That could be anything. It could point out what they are doing here but it could also be that they hate townsfolk. I’d rather cast as few of these as possible. Not only is my mana hitting rock bottom but I’m getting very nervous about mucking around.”
“Ok how about this. The cultists are definitely locking onto us somehow. Remember when the bearded one pointed at us and yelled. He said something like ‘There they are.’.”
“Actually I think he said ‘There he is’. But I get your meaning. They were after us before they even saw us.”
“So why don’t you focus on that. ‘Why are they after us?’ ‘How are they tracking us?’ Something like that.”
“Better. I wonder… Oh hell DoomHerald just went off again. More are coming.” Chells quickly pulled out a scrap of parchment and inked his pen.
“What are you doing? We should get out of here.”
“We’ve never managed to ditch any of the last parties once they got on our trail. The warning felt distant. We have time.”
Kelloran watched Chells slip into a trance and quickly began to search the woods for the approaching enemies. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” He muttered. Seconds dragged like hours. All of a sudden the scratching of the quill on paper nearly sent the Restorer jumping out of his skin. Who in their right mind enters a trance when the guys who have been trying to kill them all day are coming right for them. “Come on Chells,” he whispered. “Hurry it up.” The believer continued to write as the first of the zombies came into sight. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Come on Chells.” He grumbled under his breath. The zombie broke into a shambling run followed by two more. There was no cultist with them thankfully but even so, if his partner did not rouse himself, three zombies were probably more than he could handle. He scrapped together enough magic to cast heroism on himself and put himself between the rushing undead and Chells.
Though he was never the most deadly of fighters in FallenStar, Kelloran had possible the best defense of anyone living in the town in his time. He battered aside the raking claws and forced his opponents to stumble over each other. He knew that if they managed to get a hold of him he was done for but time again the zombies were repelled. Unfortunately he could not land a blow on them and keep them back at the same time. It was only a matter of time before one of the brainless cannibals came at him from behind or went after Chells. He hammered his fist into the one of the fiend’s face and gave himself some much needed room. He saw a chance to even his odds as the next zombie raised its arms to swipe at him. With all his might he drove his sword straight through the rotting flesh of its neck. The blade split the undead spine, destroying it but Kelloran, having had to swing down on an angle to make the blow, ended up driving his sword deep into the corpse’s chest. His blade snagged as the headless body crashed into him. He stumbled backward fighting not to fall or loose his weapon. The two remaining zombies lunged for him. One of them spun sideways as DoomHerald ripped through its face. Chells’ back-swing was not much, just a simple rap to the remaining undead’s shoulder, but it distracted the monster long enough for Kelloran to free his sword and finish it off.
“Man! That was almost very bad. Glad you were able to join me. Had there been a cultist we would have been dead.”
“Sorry. I hope we got something worthwhile.” Not wanting to attract any more notice Chells turned the page toward Kelloran rather than reading aloud.
“Oh shit. I was afraid of that.” Chells swore.
“Huh? How is that bad? I was thinking there was some huge devil loose who was killing all these assholes. This says he is one of the good guys.”
“I have been trying to figure out why DoomHerald’s warning keeps becoming more and more dire each time we take out one of these bands. If this Krenowan buttered every cultist and zombie sent against him then our killing them would have no impact on the future. But if the bands we took out had been fighting Krenowan this whole time, weakening him until finally one group kills him...”
“Then without the previous battles Krenowan wins and we have changed the past.”
“Exactly. As long as we only kill those who were already supposed to be killed by him then we are safe but when the group that was supposed to kill him falls to us or fails to kill him because he is still too strong, we have crossed the line.”
“As soon as Krenowan kills one from the band that came after he died then we have fucked up. Oh shit is right. How do we fix it?”
“We need to find out where and when Krenowan was supposed to have died.”
“How can we do that? It hasn’t happened yet and if we divine about it now won’t we see his death possibly to the wrong ones?”
“We need to go to the Lost God’s Altar.”
“Shhhh. Q’plag is the old god of time. I’ll bet he could lead us right to the crisis spot. It will cost us a pretty penny but I can’t think of any other solution.”
“The Lost God’s Altar. In case you had forgotten I get ripped apart there. No thanks! There has got to be another solution.”
“But what? Anything we do could
trigger the Watcher raining fire down on us and our home. Even calling on
most of the Gods for help could get us into trouble. Q’palg is almost
surely the exception. From everything I’ve read about him he was pretty
much exempt from the rules. Even in his own pantheon.
“This is just fucking great. Ok, but if you think of anything and I mean anything else, you spit it out.”
“Done. Come on.”
Moving as rapidly as possible, the two hiked for the Satyr Woods when Chells stopped short in front of his friend. “Mask Aura! It might work.” He breathed.
“Mask Aura. If we cloak ourselves with the spell it might fool the cultist’s trackers. That way we don’t kill any more of them.”
“Good idea. I don’t have any. Do you?”
“I can cast Detect Aura. We need to change them to Masks Auras. They are the same sphere and level so it shouldn’t be too tough. Prayers worry me though. It could be safe since simple prayers are usually done by angels but still. What do you think?”
“It is a pretty simple request but still if the God takes notice of us then we would be affecting now. I don’t know as I’d chance it.”
“What about virtues? I don’t know what drives them but they seem far more abstract than a direct prayer.”
“Any more cultist we encounter could be the ones that blow it for us so why not. Virtue boons sound a lot less risky than calling on a God.”
Chells called up two of his newly returned spells and envisioned all those who would suffer if he and Kelloran were to fail to set things right. He could save them from that if he could complete his task. The compassion he felt for his home and the spirits who had given their lived to protect that haven became a rush of energy. The believer molded that force to the spells in his mind, shifting them subtly from the ability to read auras to an enchantment that would create them. He quickly loosed the newly altered spells at himself and Kelloran. As he released the spells, he knew it had worked, for in his spirit he felt both of the boons of compassion he held wink away.
“Ok it’s done. Now we just need to avoid the patrols. If the mask works they won’t be finding us with those stones any time in the next week.”
The closer they came to the Lost God’s Altar the more nervous Kelloran became. This is exactly the kind of unavoidable situation that would trigger a divine warning. Which meant that this almost had to be the trip that meant his death. He knew he would not abandon Chells at the outskirts of the Altar yet part of him nagged that he might be endangering him more if he accompanied him. What if his being there triggered the attack? Maybe staying back was really the right thing do. Then again was this argument born out of fear not reason? For the hundredth time Kelloran wished he dared to use his prayers to guide his actions.
Whatever his decision was going to be, the time for it had arrived. Chells rummaged through the few possessions he had with him. Luckily the contents of his belt pouch had a quite a few items he might be able to use to sacrifice to the Lost God. “I’ve got five black gems but I doubt they are worth enough. The Black Lotus incense should work as well. You have anything of value? He likes black items, things made of lead or ash and things very old or dead.”
“Pretty bizarre list. I don’t think so, sorry.”
“Yeah remember they come from a time when forged copper was worth more than gold. Hey I can add a dust of disappearance too.” said Chells holding up a vial of black grains. “That’s hopefully enough. I’ll be back as quick as I can. You…”
“Kell, really, I’ll be fine. Why tempt fate?”
“Maybe I’m supposed to go. Maybe it was a warning to be prepared. It doesn’t matter. If I don’t go now I might never go and right now I can’t think of any reason greater than this to bring me to the altar. Let’s just get it over with.”
“You have any spells back?”
“I have three, You?”
“Just one. Maybe we should wait a bit more.”
“Come on Chells. A minute ago you were will to go with just the one spell alone. Now with my three and the rest of me you are hesitating?”
“Rational impulse control has never been my strong point. It wasn’t that I was thinking one spell was fine before you were coming. Honestly it just dawned on me that I was down two spells.”
“So what is your Doom sense telling you?”
“It’s growling louder than ever.” the believer replied looking down at his blade. “Ok let’s go do this.”
Climbing the last of the hillside, Chells spied the altar dedicated to the oldest of the pantheons he knew. The stone table looked newer that he remembered. The area had been cleared recently and the light filtering through the leaves even reflected from it’s surface. Odd how rough the stone had come in the span of years separating then from his own time. It wasn’t until he had stepped up to the artifact that he realized the stone had not been polished. The light was glistening off a sheet of blood which coated the stone. In the center of the seven ringed icon of the Lost Gods, lay a copper dagger and a few feet away beyond the altar lay a corpse. Standing in the middle of the circle drawn by the life blood of the sacrificed body, Chells knew he was too late to back away.
“Kelloran!! Stay back!” Even as he shouted his warning a red mist began to form above the ring of the same color on the altar. From out of the bloody tinged cloud came a voice of a hundred animals crying in agony. “I am Pazutheok, Keeper of the Infected, the Plague-Spinner, the Rabid One. I have been called to slay thee Shaman. You will find that your gifts are of no use to one such as I. Would thee beg for thy life?”
“I would ask who hath summoned you against me, demon,” Chells called while unbuckling his belt pack. He flipped the pouches to Kelloran behind him who was looking quizzically at Chells
“Hath” he mouthed. Chells shrugged and whispered “See if there is anything in there we can use.”
“The blood sacrifice to Hdus, the God of Power was performed to bring me from my home of bestial corpses. It was said that next human to cross the blood line not sworn to the Shadow would be you Shaman. Now that you are here I would hear you scream before I rend your soul from your flesh.”
“But what if I am not a Shaman? Would that not void your contract?”
“As if I would be tricked so? No you will learn none such from me. Instead let us test thy claim. What be you if not Shaman?”
“Be silent. I will taste for myself.” The cloud erupted into a whirling kaleidoscope of blood red animals. There were foxes and hawks, rats and deer and many many more. Each stretched away from the core of the cloud, never fully breaking free of it. Kelloran stopped in his search through Chells' bags for anything that might help them and witnessed what Thomas must have seen in his vision. The creatures were horrible to see. Disease had ravaged their natural beauty, be it the insanity of rabies, the wasting of cancer, the pustulations of pox or flesh consuming plague. Even the color of their coats was stolen as every beast was shaded in the same bloody tones as the mist.
The swarm of dead creatures slammed into Chells, clawing and biting through the believer’s armor. In seconds he was lost to sight, covered by the demon’s attack. Kelloran dropped the belt and ripped his sword out of its scabbard. As he stood, the contents of the belt pack struck the ground and an object flew out. It was a coin. At that moment everything seemed to stop. The coin hung in the air glimmering gold in a beam of sunlight. The writhing red demon stood motionlessly entwined about his friend. And over altar a form stood. Unlike the demonic servant this Being was one of the seven who held sway over this holy ground. In an instant the Restorer felt a deeply profound kinship with the golden God before him and knew that He too felt the same. The love of life, in all its simple and wondrous beauty race back and forth along the connection the two shared. The God spoke not but Kelloran heard one word and the promise it held, “ASK.”
Then everything moved once more in a rush. Chells’ screams echoed off the hills as Pazutheok savaged him. The coin began to fall. Kelloran snatched it out the air and leapt across the blood circle. The demon’s attention turned to him immediately. A hundred red eyes locked on the Restorer as claws and fangs and beaks gnashed the air at him. “Who is this now? An extra feast for my hunger.”
Kelloran slapped the gold coin onto the altar and cried out with all his heart “HELP ME, PLEASE!” The God was with him even as he spoke the last word. A golden shield sprang up between the demon and the templar. The vile thing’s scream as it slammed it the barrier was deafening, as if every creature in the forest shrieked at once. In its torment the demon recoiled so sharply it spat Chells out, dropping him heavily onto the stone table. While it was stunned Kelloran watched as the gold aura about him reach out and touch another of the circles on the altar. He could hear the One beside him speak to Another and felt an almost brotherly love overcome him. From the second ring a spell of deep purple magic boiled forth, much like the red cloud that had been the demon. This mist flowed to the restorer and into him. It gathered in his lungs and waited. As Pazutheok turned to snatch Chells up once more, Kelloran blew outwards with all his might. The violet jet blasted into the fiend. The magic ripped the demon apart. Even though it felt as if his ears would burst from the cacophony of the monster's screams, Kelloran continued to blow the God’s gift far longer than he could ever have exhaled normally. When the last bloody remnant of the demon vanished, so finally did Kelloran’s ability exhale.
Gasping he ran up to Chells. His friend had managed to role over and had thrown his arm across altar. Kelloran turned him onto his back and recoiled. Chells’ eyes were completely black. Not just the pupil but every part of the eye was as dark as pitch. As Chells lay still, Kelloran felt the last of the golden God’s blessing flow into the gravetender. The wounds that covered Chells arms began to leak streams of green puss. The stench made Kelloran gag and almost release his grasp. One by one, torrents of disease poured out of the cuts until they flowed cleanly. The blood flow slowed to a normal trickle as none of the wounds were especially deep. Unfortunately there scores of them. The blessing vanished with the last of the sickness so Kelloran quickly cast his own healing spells to stop as much of the bleeding as he could. The rest he bound, glancing over and over again at the ebon hued eyes.
As he bandaged the last of the tears, Chells stirred. He blinked once and then again. On the third his eyes returned to their normal shade. The believer shook his head. “Whatever you did, thanks Kell.”
“I’m not really sure what I did but I saw one of the Lost Gods. He was the one who gave me the power to banish the demon.”
“What color was he?”
“Gevistah. The God of Life. Good choice for you. Tell me about it later. We haven’t got much time.”
“I thought we had to make a sacrifice to Q’palg to find out…”
“We already did. I made a gamble. Q’plag is partial to dead things. I offered Him Pazutheok. He was a demon of plague dead animals. I figured if you beat it, Q’plag could have the demon or its victims, whichever He wanted. If you lost, I offered us instead. I don’t know what it would be like serving the God of Death and Time but it had to be better than being consumed by Pazutheok.”
Kelloran stared at his friend. A jumble of statements vied for his attentions but after everything that had just happened he was not sure which to utter. “Talk later. We have got to hurry.” Chells continued. “Krenowan fought the demon and won but he was really in bad shape afterwards. He had used up a lot of magic fighting the battles we have fought for him and so Pazutheok nearly beat him. The next band of cultist to face him finished him. I don’t think he would have had a problem this time. Whomever summoned the demon seriously miscalculated how powerful this guy is.” Chells exclaimed. “The cultists who killed him were drawn here when the summoning trap went off. They are on their way. So is Krenowan.”
“So what are we going to do?”
“We are going to have to kill him.”
“Without the demon and the previous fights he is surly going to survive. While he is engaged with the cultists we are going to have to try and cut him down. I got the feeling that he can sense evil so we should be able to surprise…”
“There has got to be another way. You’re talking about deliberate murder. I understanding killing someone who is attacking you or even killing someone sworn to evil but this guy sounds like a hero.”
“A hero that was fated to die. A hero that if he lives could mean the destruction of half a hundred other heroes that came after him. If you have a better idea I’d love to hear it.”
“What happened after the cultists killed Krenowan?”
“Well we are lucky there. None of the cultists survive the fight with Krenowan. A zombie finally kills him as he is finishing off the last cultist. The zombie wanders off looking pretty ragged so I hope it falls apart before making any real impact on the past. That part worries but … anyway a bit later the bodies are found by another group of the dark guys. They cut one of his fingers off and strip him of a number of icons he wears. Shit we might have to hide some of the items he hasn’t used but should have by now.”
“You are way too calm about this. Doesn’t it bother that we are talking about killing someone who very likely could follow our own Gods.”
“The finger part bothers me. I hope they do not use it to bind him into servitude but as for the dieing part, no. Why should it? He died already. Everybody dies. I have never understood why it is such big deal for most people.”
“Oh Gods! Not this argument again. It is not him being dead I’m having a problem with. It is that we are going to kill him. We are going to know that we killed a good man because we fucked up. We are going to have to live with that.”
“Look at it this way. If we set things right and we return to our own time we will do so knowing about Krenowan, which we didn’t before. If he is trapped by these evil bastards we might be able to do something about it. If his grave is lost somewhere in the woods, forgotten and alone, we could find him and, if you and he want, maybe even resurrect him. He might be alive and well in our time. That is something else we could discover but not if our time no longer exists.”
“You still don’t get it. I knew you had a cold streak but I thought it was just your blindside when it comes to death. You really don’t get that even though in end things are balanced out, that this is just wrong. You know right… wrong. Forget it! I need some air.” Kelloran spat and he turned and walked away.
He crossed the stream and climbed up into the boulders that littered the hillside. After a bit he found a spot hidden from the altar. He couldn’t tell which bothered him more; the fact that Chells could be so callous about murdering a follower of light or that he could see in some ways the gravetender was right. For the better part of an hour he warred with himself until the sound of battle below alerted him that his time had run out. He stood and peered over the top of the boulder to see Krenowan for the first time. He was dressed in leather armor decorated by beads and feathers. In each hand he wielded a weapon, his right a long blade and in his left a small axe. Against him was by far the biggest party he had seen so far. Drawn by the demon summoning a couple of groups must have banded together. The shaman appeared to be having no difficulty against the cultists. The feather talismans flared up and burned away as they deflected the magic of the shadow casters. He dodged nimbly around their physical attacks as well. Two zombies had already fallen and it looks as though the first of the cultist would follow soon. As he watched a figure moved at Krenowan’s back. Hidden in the thorny shrubs Chells waited as Krenowan slowly dodged back towards him. Step by step he moved backward killing one cultist after another, even after they had managed to land a number of telling blows against him. Blood ran down his left arm and his quick steps held a noticeable limp. Still it seemed that unless some twist of fate occurred he would prevail. Kelloran watched as Krenowan stepped ever closer to that disaster. Just as he came into reach, Chells raised himself up behind the shaman, lifting DoomHerald for a two-handed blow.
“Krenowan! Look out!” cried a voice that only after a moment Kelloran realized had been his own.
The shaman turned and saw Chells but before he could react the last cultist rammed his blade into the warrior’s side. Krenowan buried his axe in the attacker’s neck only to be bowled over by the only still animate zombie. Chells looked about to dispatch the undead then instead stepped back. The minion tore open the shaman’s throat ending his life. Only then did Chells cast an exorcism to destroy the creature. He reached down and ripped a number of feathers and beads off Krenowan’s still form, pausing time again to search his memory for which to take and which to leave.
At last he climbed the hill up to met the restorer. He had the good sense to avoid meeting his friend’s eyes but that did little to cool Kelloran’s anger. “You could have killed the zombie. Instead you let him die by one of the undead. You left him to become a twilight zombie.”
“And if he was supposed to be one of the twilight dead…”
Kelloran had never wanted to strike someone he was close to more than in that moment. Chells walked past him and began to search for a spot to hide the talismans. Unable to stand still any longer Kelloran ripped the fetishes out of the believer’s hand and climbed higher to where he had seen a deep hole. One by one he dropped them, watching them spiral into the darkness. Before he had a chance to release the last feather he felt as if a huge hand had snatched him from the ground. Blue light swarmed about his eyes and finally dropped him heavily onto the frozen earth. A bit dazed he sat up and shivered, then looked with wonder at his hand. There clenched in his fist remained a single blue feather.