The Fallen Lands: The Ruins of Numinis

4.4

A Dark Night

Fresh from their confrontation with Sethus, the adventurers mustered with the rest of the Sons of the Beast, where they were ordered to oust the Bloodied Hand gang members from the nearby tenement buildings, capture them, and bring them to the town square.

They assaulted one level of a building, capturing and killing several of the gang members. Upstairs, they took down several more of the gang members, capturing the leader of that crew and bringing her and several of her allies to the town square. The leader spilled some interesting information about the Sons and their tiefling masters, all of which Malidar noted for later.

As they headed back to the town square, Ginni shared with Malidar a concern— “not to put too fine a point on it, but… there are fates worse than death. Should we…” she gestured fatalistically towards the prisoners, who, either way, were not going to survive the night. He shook his head. Whatever the gang members’ fate, it wasn’t their hands doing the bloodletting, here.

When they arrived, the rest of the Sons were being rallied for blood. The drumbeats, the chants and cries of bloodshed filled the heroes’ ears, stirring their emotions, bringing them to a blood fury themselves. Ginni felt it deep in her bones— a ritual of blood magic, and powerful, too. She gathered her companions together, using her audible cantrip to whisper sweet lies and half-truths about warm homes and quiet wintery nights, soft comforts, smiling women…. a counterpoint to the rage and blood and anger that had nearly swept them up. Each of them dealt with the ritual’s effects in his own way, rallying with thoughts of heroism over weakness, or even a simple remembrance “I am a dwarf and the son of a long line of dwarves who are better than these.”

As they shielded their hearts and minds from the ritual, one of the Sons’ leaders called out and, slitting the throat of the leader of the Bloodied Hand, captured his lifesblood in a twisted bottle not unlike the one Rangrim carried. This one, however, was empty of smoke. The Sons then slaughtered their captives, tearing them to pieces with fist and claw and fang, reveling in the bloodshed, drinking their enemies’ lives, destroying them utterly so that the gutters overflowed with blood and raw, torn flesh.

Finally, exhausted, the companions slipped away into the night, finding sanctuary on a rooftop, where they deployed their campsite. Unable to sleep, they sat up for long hours, recounting their own visceral reactions to the ritual, the feelings the night had recalled to them, the times in their pasts when they had encountered their own rages before. Eventually, they set a watch order and took to their bedrolls and their rest.

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Rangrim finished his story, and Ginni sat for a long time in silence, thinking. She’d felt pity for the dwarf— not an emotion she was used to feeling— for being cast out from his community. Rhio, too, she pitied, but it was tempered with contempt. Rhio should try not having a father to hate and see if he liked it better.

But Malidar’s story had resonated with her the most. His was a story not as much about evil or anger, but about deception, and what it had cost him.

“”Well,” she finally said, clearing her throat. “I’ve never been…. I’ve never felt that much anger before. Not ever.” She glanced around the campfire at her companions and saw the disbelief in Rhio’s eyes— he thinks I’m lying…. am I? “But I have felt that afraid. Many times in my life, but especially….” a half smile played over her lips, and she shook her head. “Especially the day a dwarf, a half-elf, and a human came into my tent for a reading, and I saw a real vision for the first time.” She met Malidar’s eyes. He’d known. Of course he’d known she was lying. “It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t helpful, or I’d have told you earlier. But it was real…. and apparently, the way I resolved my fear was to hitch my wagon to the fates of you all and follow you into death.”

“We haven’t died yet,” Rhio said, then amended “not since you’ve joined us.”

“Yeah, death is relative,” Rangrim quipped. “We deal with death in the other direction.”

Ginni nodded. “I know. There’s more than one way to get to hell, you know.” But she smiled anyway, releasing them from needing to console a scared girl.

Later that night, during Malidar’s watch, Ginni pulled her bedroll blanket around her shoulders and came to sit next to him. “Malidar,” she whispered.

He glanced over at her, then nodded. “Go ahead, Ginni,” he said.

“With what?”

“With your vision.” He turned his head and looked her up and down. Even in orc guise, there was a feminine grace to her movements, and he realized that her disguise had her wearing some kind of leather kilt— always in skirts was their Ginni. “That’s why you’re up, isn’t it?”

She sighed and nodded, then began.


TWO DAYS EARLIER

Ginni sat in her room at the inn, fidgeting. The Keeper or Seeker she’d met before had unnerved her, and now she understood why. He’d had red skin that pulled tight across his flesh, as if it had burned and was now healing. Curved horns sprouted from his forehead, although he’d worn a cloak to disguise them. And his words hadn’t bothered her then, but now they came back with a chill.

“Your arrogance won’t get in my way. You’ll do… for my purposes.”

She’d laughed it off at the time, but once he’d left, she’d followed him through the streets and all the way to the Keeper temple, where she’d lost him.

Two days later, she’d come into her tent for an ordinary reading and the world had changed irrevocably. Not just her world. The world.

Now, sitting in the little room, she put a hand over her stomach, reassuring herself that, despite the recent bouts of nausea, she was not pregnant.

It hadn’t been life, after all, that made her vomit, after the vision or after the fight with the bounty hunter— it had been death. The nightmare she’d seen…. the sense of desperation, the feeling that the horrors had already started— she hadn’t been able to escape it. When she’d opened her eyes and seen Rangrim’s dwarven face peering back at her, his skin no longer rotting and twisted, she’d felt both revulsion and relief.

Over the next several days, she’d had a series of similar shocks. The realization that Rhio did, in fact, have a sister had put into place the vision she’d had of a girl who shared his features. She’d seen her being raped and torn apart by a vicious monstrous humanoid, her head turned in horror towards Rhio himself. For his part, the half-elf had lain in a broken, blooded heap on the ground, one arm outstretched to help, now halted in death. The agony of his failure was etched in every crease of his face.

When she noticed, really noticed, for the first time, Malidar’s spear, she had discreetly packed her things, ready to bolt from the whole party at the first chance. She had Seen that spear, that very distinctive weapon, piercing through his severed head, displaying it atop the black tower overlooking a fountain of blood. It was the sight that had disturbed her the most, although she couldn’t say why at the time.

When she’d asked him about it on the road, abruptly diverting his train of questions, she’d already been making plans to leave them at the next town. She could find a new group to latch onto. Surely there was an army in need of a camp-follower somewhere out there. If nothing else, she could find a hedge witch to apprentice to.

He’d said it was fate that he should have it, that it had been there when he needed it, like a boon.

Fate. Ginni shuddered again. She agreed with him, though in a very dark way. I do not care about Malidar, she reminded herself. Their problems are not my problem. She reached a hand up to her face, wiping the tears away. I should just leave, right now, before anyone really knows I’m involved.

The red-skinned horned man had known. He had made her involved. On one hand, she rather wished he hadn’t, and a little revenge wouldn’t be unwelcome, there. The fact that he seemed to belong to this race of tieflings, these creatures who were helping to amass and guide the Sons of the Beast army, didn’t give her comfort either.

On the other hand…. information, even gained from an adversary, could always be currency if you knew its value.

A leak from the shadow-realm filled the dwarven mines with necromancy. The shadow-kin had told her that, in small doses, the shadow smoke could animate the dead.

In large doses, with enough time to gather, and a large enough sacrifice— a fountain of blood beneath a tower, a leak into the dwarven mines— it might animate the legions she had seen. Spread them across the lands, an army of the undead and undying.

But why? To what end? For simple conquest? If there is nothing left after, what benefit, then? How could the enemy profit by it? Was there even an enemy behind this dark future?

Ginni decided it must be, for her own sanity. It was either an enemy they were fighting or the forces moving against them would be even less subtle.

The Enemy, then, wanted an army of humanoids, the Sons of the Beast, to rise up against humanity, and it was using the tieflings to make that happen. But it didn’t end there— Gruumsh’s followers were already a known quantity in the world, and however the power might shift, they were not interested in eradicating humanity, though enslavement was certainly a choice. They were a force, a tool— but not the goal. The goal was the final vision, the end game. The army of undeath.

An army of monsters.
A sacrifice of epic proportions.
Another army, of death, is born.

Ginni shuddered. They were only three— four if she allowed herself to be counted with them. Do you have that luxury, Ginni? Do you even get a choice? Against two armies and something so powerful and determined it would do all this to bring about its horrifying vision?

And what of the source of those visions? She doubted the red-skinned man, the tiefling, could be trusted, particularly if the tieflings themselves were maneuvering to make it happen. But the visions themselves— those were Truth. She was as certain of it as she was of her own name— even more certain, considering her own unknown origins.

“Thank you for not showing me my own fate,” she whispered, suddenly grateful to the red-skinned man for sparing her that. If the visions had been his, of course. If Rhio, Malidar, and Rangrim died so horribly, she did not want to know what would happen to her. She’d either survive— in some capacity that was probably worse than death— or die in an equally horrible fate that was better off unseen.

She was going to have to tell them what she’d seen in her vision, and soon— she knew it, even as she’d tried to deny it to them. Malidar, at least, needed to know. She couldn’t explain why she thought him trustworthy enough to be told. But that central image, his head… that was the moment when we lost the war. The thought rang in her mind with the clarity of bells.

She shuddered again and pulled the blankets around her, curling up and trying not to sob out loud. She brought Blinky out and told him to keep her company until she slept, and then to wake her if anyone came in. Her familiar, her companion, her best and only friend, jibed her about sleeping alone, but cuddled up against her neck and peered over the curve of her shoulder while she dropped into her troubled sleep.
-————————

When she was done speaking, Ginni had pulled the blanket even closer around herself, but she was shaking nonetheless. “I’m… I’m sorry I didn’t tell you earlier, Malidar,” she finally said. “I didn’t really start to put it all together until we met the shadow kin and they told us what the smoke can do. Then it made more sense…. nobody believes so many of the dead could be animated, but that’s because the amount of blood sacrifice needed would be tremendous. You’d need to slaughter an army, as a ritual, like we witnessed tonight, to do it.”

Malidar nodded. “And it looks like these Sons of the Beast could pull that off.”

Ginni shook her head. “No. Whoever’s controlling them could do it. I think the Sons are the sacrifice. Think about it— there is no army large enough to stand against them. This is it. In other cities, they’re using other factions to rebel— peasants in Cortay, right? It’s only a matter of time in Duran before the citizens decide to put the homeless to the sword as a mercy. Maybe the next town over will be a slaver’s coup.” She shuddered again. “It’s going on all around us. This vision, this prophecy— it’s already started, and I don’t think I was shown this to stop it. I think the red-skinned man, the tiefling, has his own purposes. But unless he’s secretly working against his own kind, he put this in my head because he somehow thinks we’ll end up helping their side.”

Malidar grinned at her. “Then we’ll have to be very sure to royally fuck up their plans, won’t we?” He patted her hand gently. “Don’t worry, Ginni. If there’s one thing we’re good at, it’s fucking everything up.”

Note: The above may be considered player knowledge, as Malidar will insist on conferring with Rangrin and Rhio about the contents of Ginni’s vision.

4.4
mortaine

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