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I've been around on this site for a while. At this point I don't have too much to say. I'm not nearly as active as I once was, but I have a sort of clique that I speak with fairly frequently, and occasionally I get a good idea at a serendipitous time when I have sufficient motivation to start a new RP.

I've GM'd or Co-GM'd probably something like 10 RPs over the years, to mixed success. I'm probably best known now for my involvement with the big Divinus RPs, but before that I did other things on the Oldguild with some Dungeon Keepers RPs and one called the Horde of Evil. I've occasionally made forays into the NRP section. I want to like those, but it's a cesspool. Everything in that section seems to invariably stall out and die early on the planning phase, so I've sworn off any further involvement there.

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I felt like Hrein was somewhat boring and edgy at the end of the day, so I pulled off the old switcheroo.

I think Faustus will be a much more interesting figure, and that he will have more opportunity for interaction with all the other various characters.
@gorgenmast

I think you missed my second set of questions from yesterday, by the way.

Two more questions have sprung to my mind: do you have a general idea as to what sort of technology level the setting is at, and how prevalent magic is? Should I imagine that there are human wizards of the generic fantasy sort and abundant forms of magic besides the necromantic variety?
I have honestly not put a lot of thought into Eagoth’s situation. I left him without a lot of details in the event that someone wanted to play as him.


Ah, now that's interesting! I'd assumed that as GM you'd be taking direct control over him.

Two more questions have sprung to my mind: do you have a general idea as to what sort of technology level the setting is at, and how prevalent magic is? Should I imagine that there are human wizards of the generic fantasy sort and abundant forms of magic besides the necromantic variety?
Some more details on Eagoth and necromancy itself might be nice. Is Eagoth still alive? Is he mortal and with potentially failing health?

I'm also wondering if he has personally raised all of the undead, or if there are liches or some sort of undead necromancer (presumably Revenants Major) that can raise other undead.
@gorgenmast

Haha yeah, I understand that in these early and noncommittal stages a lot is still up in the air. But it's for the best that way.

As far as my two cents on which section this should fall under, I'm not entirely sure how this sort of thing would work if driven into a factional/NRP format rather than a more character-driven one, and to be honest I'm rather cynical about the success of NRPs in general. Far too many NRPs seem to fail, and far more quickly, than other types in my experience. I've seen your name in there before, so I imagine you're aware of that phenomena and can probably relate to my sentiment.

My thoughts on what I'd do as far as character are pending more details upon what sorts of different types of undead there are in this setting (if there is any variation) and their various powers, but I'd almost certainly elect to write from the perspective of a single undead rather than a whole sub-faction of them, or one of those offshore human nations.

The hazy idea that I have is some long-dead king or warlord that once launched a daring invasion into foreign lands, but failed and was ultimately returned in death to be interred in a barrow somewhere in Leria. So now he (or whatever husk of his mind persists after being dead for centuries) is driven by the singular goal to use this second chance to lead a new invasion force and succeed where he failed in life, conquering moreso to secure his own legacy or just fulfill an ingrained dying purpose rather than out of any loyalty or love for Eagoth and whatever his undead empire represents.

I've mentioned this interest check to one or two other people that I know. We'll see if I can manage to drag them in here as well.
I'm quite interested in this.
The End of Days




Ash swirled and billowed through the air. Chthonic fumes choked the sky. Like a body laid low by a deep, visceral wound, the earth seemed to have collapsed upon itself, steaming from the raw gash that exposed its fiery viscera. Wafts of subterranean warmth escaped it like the dying breaths of a cooling carcass, and molten rock seeped like blood from the uneven edges of the chasm torn into its surface. The shadows in its depths writhed and flowed as they were traversed by distant sparks of flame, like glimpses of entrails drowning in a tide of dark ichor. The extremities of shattered rocks protruded from the flanks of the abyss like splintered bones, as if to silently denounce the savagery that had torn them from their lightless slumber and into the glare of day. Flocks of winged shapes flitted through the chaos, uncannily akin to flies swarming over a charnel feast, though their frenzy was not of hunger, but fear and confusion.

To such eyes as were watching from the heavens, it would indeed have appeared as though Galbar had been dealt a grievous blow by a force of tremendous proportions. The very spot that had once weathered the heaviest impact brought by the descending divines had all but ceased to be, replaced in a moment by a gaping, black emptiness, a jagged maw of mangled soil and smoke. Across a span of miles, the ground was pulverized, nothing left in its wake but a rain of curiously shaped stones which, after millennia of unnatural stasis, were finally abandoned to the fall to which they were doomed from the first day of creation. The lips of the chasm crumbled and yielded where the soil was infirm, sending stretches of desert sand, steppe grass and mountain glacier hurtling into the deep, but these were mere pebbles in the sea of its immensity. Almost nothing remained between the skin of the world and its inmost heart - its Core.

For all the enormity of this devastation, the one responsible for it could scarcely be seen even by the most acute onlookers. Like a shadow on the wind, that which had been Narzhak slithered its way through the sky, clinging to breezes like oil to watery currents, burning through clouds like an ember through silk. The primordial moon now hung dangerously low in the celestial heights, its bulk casting an even greater portion of land into darkness than the hovering debris left behind by the eruption. Mighty as the deities that had held the reins of Galbar’s fate for so long might have been, it seemed as though such immensity were beyond even their power to halt. And, in truth, it soon became apparent that the umbral remnant of the Iron Giant had no such intent.

The wraith circled about the lunar sphere, darting back and forth as though seeking something on its weathered surface, until at last it oozed down towards a familiar spot. The fissure through which the gods had first passed, slipping in from the chaos beyond worlds, and gone again as they descended unto the one that had been made their charge. Now, alone among its kind, the specter crossed that threshold for the third time. He flowed into the hoary hall where One had sat for aeons immemorable, coiled around a pillar, and alighted before the ancient throne. No longer did he tower in laughing pride, but he prostrated himself like a fog creeping over the water, and when he spoke it was in the hollow accents of a blade striking empty armour.

"The way is clear, Elder One."

The husk of Amphiboles did not move, but there was still a perceptible tremor that rocked the subterranean hall. The slow dripping that had fed the lake around the Architect’s throne was suddenly transformed into a great deluge of both water and stone. Stone heaved and groaned; the primordial moon began to crack apart and extrude its own innards.

Its tumble accelerated and grew more violent. Great, mountain-sized chunks broke loose to form a trail behind as the force of Amphiboles’ will propelled it towards Galbar below. It seemed as though it would be cataclysm, but at what seemed like the last moment before the body could kiss Galbar’s sky, its motion was at once arrested.

The tremors that rocked the Architect’s hall came to a climax in that moment, and the walls and ceiling were completely blown apart. Of the great hall there now remained nothing but the desiccated-yet-untouched body of Amphiboles on his throne, and a chunk of the dais before it large enough to house Narzhak also. The dais floated away and freed itself from the shattered remnants of the moon, like a creature slithering out from the broken shell of its egg. The Architect’s hall was now an island in the void rather than one in a subterranean lake. Besides the throne on the dais, there still remained a few of the great stone pillars that had supported tons of rock above for untold aeons, until mere moments ago.

Free at last, the island made its way down towards the gaping wound in Galbar’s surface at terminal velocity.

At the foot of the seat, the black spirit stirred, his four eyes shifting around his amorphous surface to take stock of the immensity of the surrounding events. At last, he raised them up on an extrusion from its viscous midst, like the head of a snake emerging from an agitated swamp, and looked up at his master.

"Is this the end?" he breathed out, a wind hissing through rusted armaments on a forlorn battlefield. "Is it time to break apart this world and let the void pick its bones?"

He was answered by the Architect’s voice pounding in his mind, drowning out the rushing of the sky as their descent brought them further down. ”The end of my work here is nigh, but I have no desire to spare even an extra moment to ‘break’ this place. I am not so petty as to crave such finality.”

The dais crashed through a layer of clouds. Even though Amphiboles’ illusions could hold to divine perception and mask his bared bones, the wispy vapors of moisture passed right through his illusory body, and no moisture clung to it. Perhaps he could only bend reality so far, or more likely, perhaps he’d ceased trying.

The spectral pool that was Narzhak welled and undulated in thought, all but invisible amidst the vapour. Then its eyes burned through it, and he spoke again. "Is my purpose then no more?" There was no anger or defiance in his words, indeed, there was almost nothing at all, save for a whisper of wistful resignation. "If that is the warrior’s lot, so be it.”

The Architect’s glamored bones shifted nigh imperceptibly in his throne as he turned his attention to scrutinize Narzhak. ”Necessity dictated my long absence, but even half-dreaming and afar, I was lucid. You distinguished yourself with great adherence to my mandate, and loyalty too. I could probe through rock and dark and time to sense that much. Fittingly, you too found your way to my side now whether by your own senses or by chance.

“There is one final task before me here. Some of your...peers may have the audacity to interfere. I ask that you stop them. Do this for me, and you will forever secure a place by my side.”


”It is to my shame that I did not subdue them before now.” The specter began to gather himself at the base of his surmounting head, like a serpent pushing itself up from its coils, then smoothly flowed upwards as a liquid pillar. ”But it shall be done now if needs be.” Still anchored to the dais, his form blossomed atop the Architect’s head into a roiling cloud even as it withdrew its supporting column into itself. He now hovered over the throne, as if to shield it and its occupant from the exposed firmament above. In that manner they fell into the throat of the world, the dais around the throne breaking free as the black maw narrowed. When they finally reached the bottom of the world, where Narzhak himself had lurked for all of those years, the Architect reached out to touch an exposed part of his Seal that had shielded the Core, and the barrier shattered like glass. The floor below now gone, they fell once again, but this was not into some dark ravine.

Golden light bathed them the moment that Seal was unmade, surging outwards with a fiery intensity that could have incinerated flesh. In an instant this light filled half of the Pit and rendered it an even more inhospitable inferno, and there was yet more light to spare. Like echoed whispers it bounced off the twisting walls of the gaping hole they’d fallen through, finding a path all the way to the surface and even then managing to shine with a luminosity that rivaled Heliopolis. Even to divine perception, the brilliance was blinding. The spirit that had been Narzhak wavered in its descent, then slowed and stopped altogether, casting its eyes up and away from the glare.

Of course, Amphiboles had lost his sight long ago and so he was unhindered. The light dispelled the glamors that clung to his husk, revealing him to the world as a cracked and slime-coated skeleton. The throne was superheated and finally vaporized, for not even granite could withstand such power, but somehow Amphiboles endured and continued his freefall towards the source of the light, a strange apparatus suspended at the very center of the hollowed Core. One of the Architect’s skeletal hands was animated into brief motion by the divine’s spirit and laid to rest upon the device, and then the siphoning began. What he extracted from the device was anima mundi, the soul of the world--a power of the same substance that fueled the sacred spark inherent in every soul and living thing, and it was a torrent of vitality that showered the skeletal Architect. Tendons and ligaments began to grow around the bony fingers that grasped the apparatus, and bit by bit Amphiboles’ flesh was reformed, as was his power.

”Crumbs of every living thing,” Narzhak marvelled to himself overhead, dimly aware of the incredible exchange that was happening in the depths through eyeless senses, ”That is where they went. Little wonder that feast was not for me after all.”

But then there was another voice, spoken from a fiery one whose coming glow had been drowned out by the Core’s radiance. ”And that is why their souls were never immortal. That was why I had to burn them. He never gave life; he only took it!”

Amidst the heat and the luminance of the Core, Narzhak’s eyes managed to discern the great fiery head of a snarling lion, floating near the entrance they’d opened. Katharsos.

The black wraith coiled on itself and swung about like a lash, drawing into the shape of a cloud hovering underneath the astral god. A nascent limb raised up its eyes, followed by the rest of its streaming body as it ascended to meet the newcomer.

”What is it to you if his design had no need of a world without death?” Narzhak’s voice, though still a hollow echo of its former self, had regained a trace of the champion’s sneering challenge. ”You of us all should be honoured for being trusted with a task so crucial to him. Is feeding the furnace that warmed us from the void not enough for you?”

”I should be honored to have been his lamb, forced by his obfuscation to bear the sight and sound of a million million souls needlessly dying? To have been reviled and demonized even by our peers, bearing the brunt of their hatred all because he hid the truth?”

The snarling visage of Katharsos grew larger and its fires burned hotter, his voice louder until it became a grating roar, his shape more and more corporeal until his teeth were like fire made steel--but then he was suddenly trapped within some mind-numbing prism of solid light that seemed to defy reason and physics. He raged from within and tried to smash his way through the seals with brute force, and in a great display of rage-induced might, he did.

But then with a flick of a still half-skeletal and skinless hand, Amphiboles conjured yet more barriers. The Lord of the Seals and the Universe gave Narzhak just one command: ”Silence him.”

”Gladly.” The cloud that was the lord of bloodshed gathered on itself for a moment, coagulating into a clot of darkness as thick as ink that occluded even the light of the Core underneath, then expanded in a burst. It crawled up towards Katharsos as a sweeping tide of night with frayed edges of writhing ramified tendrils, waves and ripples on its surface forming into amorphous limbs and snapping heads like a protozoan hydra. Its eyes had shattered into a kaleidoscope of sparks that swarmed about as a flock of fiery hornets.

The body of black aethereal slime oozed around the wards that rose in its way, creeping closer to its foe. Its edges curled upwards, reaching towards Katharsos, seeking to drown and smother his fire in a mire of shadows. And the God of Death raged against the prismatic walls of light that had encased his form, just barely breaking free in time to struggle against Narzhak before the gruesome slime could mold into yet another tomb around him. In an equally unnatural display, the fiery head opened into a gaping maw, unhinging the hyena’s jaws so that the lips nearly met once again on the other side. And from the throat of the god, there erupted a torrent of soul-incinerating, smokeless flame.

The dark god twisted, attempting to open a gap in his mass to avoid the blaze, but was not fast enough. He quivered and shrank as its tongues seared away pieces of him, his immaterial constitution no defense against their unnatural strength. Noxious black vapours scattered and dissolved, and Narzhak momentarily withdrew, his bulk noticeably diminished.

The jaws snapped back into their proper places, and Katharsos allowed the adversary to recover. But he warned, ”Stand down, Narzhak. My quarrel is not with you.”

”I am bound to the one who dragged me out from oblivion,” the shade hissed in reply, ”If you balk against him, you stand against me.”

As he began to collect himself for another surge, he let out a wordless, thundering growl, and something below answered. In a blink, a swarm of shades was ascending in a blur, from beneath the two gods, but above the Core. Umbral simulacra of kostral, thousands, myriads of them. They had perished, either by each other’s hand or in the Architect’s descent through their realm, but even in death they were not freed from their cruel master’s command. Blind and bereft of will, they were consumed by the black cloud, swelling it to even greater magnitude than before. With a rumbling laugh, the shadowy colossus returned to the charge, tentacular limbs once again raised to envelop and constrict his enemy.

So be it. This time the hyena did not spew fire, but rather swallow the room. He inhaled sharply enough to drag in the air and even ghastly kostrals and bits of his now-foe’s oily form, and all of it was annihilated upon mere contact. Stoked as if by bellows, his own fiery form grew even more incandescent and white. And he barreled forward to plow into the leech that rested in the very center of the gaping void within Galbar’s heart, heeding not Narzhak or anything else that stood in his way.

Like night giving way before the dawn, the spectre shrank back again, unable to confront the searing blaze. Yet once more, he stopped and gathered his might for a new assault. When he surged again, it was not skywards. His edges fragmented into rivers of fluid shadow and plunged into the sides of the chasm, rooting around the eviscerated earth, pulling and tugging at familiar resonances within.

Then he drew together again, and streams of malleable metal followed. Though Narzhak’s armour of iron was gone, his mastery over the mineral remained. All of a sudden akin to a spider with many darting limbs, he wove the gleaming veins into a web and cast them up against Katharsos. They began to drip and liquefy before even they reached him, but the Iron God forced them ever ahead, engulfing his foe in a tide not of shadow, but of ponderous molten metal. Too little, too late. The hyena head morphed into the sleek, elongated one of a snake as it wriggled and writhed around arcs and pillars of molten metal, slipping past Narzhak’s spiderweb, and finally coming just beside Amphiboles. A forked tongue of unholy fire erupted from the snake and whipped towards the apparatus besides Amphiboles, and the Primordial, so drunk with power, noticed too late. He conjured a barrier that severed the tongue, but the tip still managed to graze the apparatus. That tiny spark heralded cataclysm.

The volatile anima mundi combusted and exploded with such power that it consumed the room and rippled out through all of the Spheres, contracting them and shaking Galbar and the Chthonian realms with violence. Not even divine perception could withstand such magic unfazed, so all three of the gods were blinded, concussed, for long moments. But then the ringing and the blindness subsided.

The first to stir amid the charred ruin of the cosmos’ inmost chamber was the one who had been in his own element when confusion struck. Sustained by the fury of battle which yet burned in him unquenched, Narzhak pulled himself to his feet and bellowed out in joy at once again feeling his rage course through flesh.

Suffused by the energies that had collected in the Core over untold millennia and now been unleashed in a single moment, he was whole again, nay, more than ever. So vast was he that his erstwhile form would have been as insignificant near him as mere mortals had been near it. His strides upon the inner walls of the Core below shook Galbar itself with the crash of iron hooves, and still his head nearly reached the center of the hollow chamber. His body was encased in a mighty suit of black armour, each plate of which was fashioned into the likeness of a snarling mask that exhaled clouds of smoke with every breath. His head was that of a monstrous swine, with tusks like titanic blades, steaming blood eternally dripping from its maw, four fiery eyes gazing from under the visor of a horned helm. Just as many were his arms, armed with a flail, a whip, a headsman’s axe and a shield emblazoned with the Bloodied Fist.

Still had the dazedness not fully faded from him, but already he threw himself anew against his opponent. Too blind yet to truly even see whether Katharsos had like him been transfigured, he swung at him, roaring his renewed challenge.

The anima mundi hadn’t given Katharsos any flesh, for he had never known such a form in this existence, nor even in the last. It had only stoked him and transformed him into an even greater inferno, an amorphous blob of magical flames that put to shame the lesser sun that hung in Galbar’s sky. His body condensed into a starlike form of its own, then warped and twisted; from the depths of the fiery ball there emerged a lion’s head, and then five goatlike legs.



The lion’s beard was a thousand vipers of otherworldly flame, and they reared and hissed at the approaching titan even as fire cascading once more from Katharsos’ maw, and from his eyes, and then all at once gushed from everywhere at once as he explosively shed free of a layer of fiery mass. Narzhak’s armour melted to slag as the inferno swept over him, but when it receded, he was yet standing.

His snout was charred, its bristles seared away and its countenance an ashen grey with cracks like glowing embers, seeping with magma. The black plates, in places already sloughing away to reveal singed flesh beneath, were suddenly pulled back by invisible force, moulding themselves into faces even more furious, their own eyes aflame. He cracked his whip, and fire still clung to it as it arced through the smothering air. With another roar, he brought his armament to bear, lashing at Katharsos from several sides at once.

And the scourge found its mark and crashed into one of the goat-legs, cleaving through it and going on to bury itself deep within the lion-faced sun itself. But then there was suddenly what felt like a resistance, a drag, from the incorporeal flames themselves, and then suddenly nothing as the whip fell down limply, the half that had contacted Katharsos having been seared into nothingness.

One divine word shook the Core.

”HALT.”


It swept through the air, through the raging flames, even effortlessly through Narzhak’s armor, and nothing withstood its power. Motion was suspended, but time seemed unfrozen; the two combatants locked in their baleful glares at one another, unable to so much as turn their heads to face the overpowering, unstoppable voice.

There came a second decree, this one directed straight to Katharsos.

”SUFFER!”


The hold of the first one was suddenly broken, and Narzhak was mobile once again. But the battle was over: Katharsos was utterly broken, howling in unknowable agony with every fiber of his being, willpower (and perhaps even sanity) shattered in an instant.

Nothing could stand before the power of the Old Old One, Amphiboles, reformed and restored. The cyclopean god at a mere glance was immediately and obviously greater than anything the Spheres had ever seen in a long, long time--perhaps ever. They might have thought him the God over Gods before, but now he truly was-- immaculate, invincible, omnipotent. He Saw for the first time in aeons with his Eye rather than his divine perception, and his Eye was truly a portal of glory and power and terror radiant--Katharsos perhaps withered under its gaze even more than under the power of the divine decree that had left the Architect’s lips. He spoke now, with words, not telepathy. And that mere fact had seemingly given his Decrees power a hundredfold.

Although released from his own stillness, Narzhak could for a time only look in awe at the display of his master’s might. When he found the strength to stir, he ponderously turned to the greater divine, not daring raise his eyes to meet the tremendous cyclopean glare. When he spoke, his voice eclipsed his own ancient commands like a thousand hurricanes over a shout, yet in the wake of the grandiose Word even it seemed hushed and humbled.

”He fought well,” he conceded in a grunt, ”He has earned honourable servitude, if nothing more.”

Amphiboles was perhaps a merciful god in some ways. Or at least an indifferent one. So even Narzhak’s words had some effect.

”SUBMIT.”


The struggling and howling then stopped, and Katharsos could do nothing but bow his head in a defeat so utter that not even death could have compared. He was broken, the echoes of the pain from an instant ago already mere fragments of what he had endured, yet still so powerful and palpable that he would have been dumbstruck into submission even had the Decree not taken hold. But it had, so he could not even contemplate anything, much less speak or do anything, to impede Narzhak or the Architect now.

And then with an open hand, the Architect withdrew the power that had dominated Katharsos’ mind and essence. He could have trapped the god once more within a prism Seal, but it would have been for naught; that one would not stand in his way again.

His attention turned to Narzhak then, ”Now I am complete.” Or so it seemed--in reality, he was speaking with a voice that resonated through all of his creation, to all of the gods. ”And this plane has fulfilled its purpose, as has he, and you, and all of your peers. I demand nothing more, and owe nothing more. There is nothing left for me here, and so I depart and leave what is left of Galbar and these Spheres, and all of you, to whatever is to come.”

But then he remembered his promise. ”I did say that you would earn an eternal place by my side, and so you have. So now the impetus falls upon you--you must choose whether to follow me or remain here and have your own fate. Dominate the others and rule this place, perhaps. Or...a third way. To leave, but go in your own way, in your own direction. You have that choice too, and I would unlock the Seals for you to do such if that is your wish.”

”It will not be long until this world is as hollow and stagnant as the abyss I escaped once.” Still Narzhak did not look up in full, but his body was now poised to start into movement. ”And I hate nothing more than the aimlessness of the void. Where you guide, I will follow! Command me to crush or to forge, and it shall be done, forevermore.” He banged his flail against his shield, as if in martial salute, and the chamber echoed with his iron oath.

”So be it,” Amphiboles answered. The Seals that separated the spheres bent and warped by the mere force of His will, and they moved without moving and were suddenly far, far away from the Core and Katharsos--they now hovered beside the very edge of the great Barrier that stretched along the outer limits of this universe. In one of the cyclopes’ hands the manifested a lightning bolt, and in another a great hammer, and he pressed the lightning upon the surface of the Barrier and used it as the anvil upon which he wrought a key to open it.

”A parting gift to them, for they did serve well enough, whether they knew it or not, and no matter how insolent they were,” he explained, pressing the key of lightning into the Barrier and opening it to reveal the blackness of the Great Beyond. ”In using a key here rather than destroying the Seal here as I did to enter the Core, we will not leave a hole. So perhaps they will remain hidden and sheltered from the horrors beyond.”

He turned to Narzhak with just the hint of a smile upon his visage and finished, ”But we need not fear such things, for they shall fear me.”

Without another word, he stepped beyond, and the iron titan followed. Without turning back, the Architect gave one more decree:

”CLOSE.”


Then the key turned itself, and the door in the Barrier shut behind them.
“Pah! Keben swallow these things! It’s like walking on snow!”

The steps of three pairs of feet heavily creaked and rustled over the bed of dried needle-like leaves that thickly carpeted the forest ground, with only a rare knot of roots or mound of ferns poking out of the brown sea. The one who had spoken, laden with two large bundles of hide and thus treading more ponderously than the others, staggered from side to side every two feet he pushed ahead, cursing as the sides of his coarse footwear sank in the unfamiliarly soft surface.

Indeed, these three were clearly not natives of the cedar woods, though they walked with the assurance of those who knew where they were going. Their clothing were furs and rough linen, their beards thick, long and unkempt, and, most outlandish of all, the hue of their skin a stony grey, unlike the fleshly tones of those who had come to dwell about the forest from the south. Any who might have by chance crossed them would have known they came from the dark northward woods, and rightly be alarmed, for the arrival of such folk often boded ill. The axes and long knives hanging from their squamous belts spoke clearly of what sort of life they were used to lead, as did the charms and talismans of wood and human bone, tied together so they would not rattle with every movement.

Now, however, their wicked arms hung untouched and their hands were either empty or carrying less menacing things, for they had come with a less rapacious purpose. The one in the lead, who looked slightly younger and darker of skin than the other two, raised two fingers on his right hand to signal for silence.

“Easy there! We’re in their haunts now, it won’t be much longer yet.”

It was all for naught, of course. It was said that the Great Humbaba and his many sons could hear from leagues away even the slightest rustling in their Cedar Forest, and of course all knew that the birds adored and served the Old One as their king. As the sinister trio made their way forward, now in a slower and quieter manner out of respect, they saw a moving cedar.

The tree’s limbs had been sheared off such that the log was stark with only the scars in its bark to show where giant hands had torn free whole branches. The giant piece of timber was casually slung over the shoulder of a great and hairy thing, one of the humbabas, not quite vertical as a man might march with a spear but certainly not horizontal as a lumberjack would balance a beam for comfort and ease of carrying--the log-made-club was halfway brandished in that threatening pose that a warrior might hold a maul. The humbaba padded directly toward them at a reasonable pace, the podzol beneath his massive feet making not so much as a sound, the many birds nestled in the branches above watching in silence.

The travellers recoiled, biting down on exclamations of fright and surprise.

“Pest! It’s him!” the one carrying the bundles almost dropped his charges as he stumbled backwards and struck a root with his foot.

The first to collect himself was the guide. Lifting himself to his full height, insignificant as it appeared in the presence of the giant, he quietly gestured to his companions to be still, then inclined his head in a motion of reverence and spoke in a strange dialect, where mangled words of giant-speech were sprinkled throughout the expansive phrases of the northern tongue.

“O great dweller of the cedar-wood, be not wroth, but take our gifts, for today we come to be your guests.” He subtly waved with an open palm by the hip, and the bundle-bearer came forward. The wrapped hides were laid on the ground and unfurled, revealing their contents - chunks of raw boar meat, still fresh, seasoned with walnuts and other dry fruit that were a rarity outside the thicker forests.

Aside from its hulking stature, skin the color of drying wood visible in patches beneath its fur, and its long tail, the monstrous creature was made even more inhuman by its lionlike visage...and the razor sharp teeth inside its mouth. Still hefting the huge log effortlessly over its shoulder with one arm, it quickly snatched up the offering of meat with the other hand and inhaled a morsel of it--just a pound or two. That rest of the bountiful offering it rewrapped and scooped up. It eyed the trio down some more, the tallest of those little men still not even reaching its shoulders, and finally growled, “Come along then. Humbaba the Great and Terrible may care to hear you. But I, Humbaba the Mighty, do not.” Without further words, it turned about and began padding back through the woods, walking at a pace just fast enough to tire the men as they followed.

One of the elder sojourners turned to the other with a frown. “What’s he mean?” he whispered, “They really called the same?”

“They don’t truly carry any name,” the other replied with a shrug, breathing a little heavier from the longer steps they were forced into to keep sight of their new guide, “I’ve heard it they don’t even know what a real name is. Only way they tell each other apart is with kennings.”

Further ahead, they swore they heard the creature snort at that, but this particular one didn’t seem to care much for men or their talking. For hours it trodded silently forward while they struggled to keep up, never letting it out of sight for they feared that the moment they could no longer see it, it would be gone entirely. Somehow the creature managed to walk through its domain silently and without following any trail or path that they could discern, and frustrating also seeming to not so much as even break or bend the protruding vegetation, spiderwebs, and other petty obstacles. They passed some stumps of trees that had clearly been felled with purpose in mind, but never were there more than two or three stumps next to one another, much less a whole thicket that’d been clearcut. More common than outright stumps were trees that had just had a single branch removed, that they could still live. In the distance they saw some other creatures similar to the one that they followed; those looked at them curiously, or perhaps even aggressively, for a moment before realizing that they were already being escorted, and then they stopped their work or their goings and began to follow too.

Eventually they came to a true river, not one of the many countless small creeks and streams that watered most of the forest, and all of the creatures flung the timber they carried into the water as if it was nothing. The logs drifted downstream to presumably be collected elsewhere, and then the humbabas all turned and began to plod in some other direction for at least an hour. Where they walked, the woods grew only thicker and the occasional sights of stumps vanished altogether. Only then did they finally come to a dwelling dug into the ground with its roof and entrance woven from brambles, vines, and branches. One of the creatures was already waiting expectantly outside of it.

Though they all had thus far looked more or less identical--and there were at least a half dozen of them--this one was different. It was grander, but still the same height for its slouch, and its countenance and hair were both greyed from age and perhaps sorrow.

Humbaba the Mighty, or whatever the first one had introduced itself as, approached his father to offer the boar’s meat. They exchanged a few grunts and growls; the elder finally opened the gift and sniffed at it, then took a single bite or two before pushing it into the dark depths of its dwelling behind.

And then it looked at the trio of strange men expectantly. “The crone sent you?”

“She did, Great and Terrible one,” the younger man’s speech was now even wealthier with words evidently borrowed from the humbabas’ usage, much to his companions’ puzzlement, even at times taking on a rasping guttural tone like an animalistic rumble. “Strange beings have flown from the south up to her domain, who move like birds but are akin to crawling snakes. She would know if you, who are wise to the ways of flying things, can say anything of such unusual things.”

That seemed to spark their attention. There was suddenly a chorus of low grumbling and growls from the assembled humbabas, but of course none of it was intelligible to the men.

“Such creatures were once abundant, but in these days I thought them all long gone,” the eldest humbaba finally mused. ”Perhaps there are yet a few that remain, the last of their kind. I would send my sons to go and find this noble creature and bring it here, that I may see one again for myself. Perhaps with some effort, more could be found and the lands could teem with them once again.”

At those words, the two elder visitors exchanged an alarmed glance, and one quietly elbowed the guide to call his attention. They rapidly conferred in a dialect from further north, as obscure to the humbabas as their own speech had been to the men - though the more perceptive of them might have caught the word “fire” repeated once or twice - and by the end of it the foremost speaker was himself frowning, but he swiftly cleared his brow as he turned back towards the ancient giant.

The humbabas meanwhile watched in what could only be described as an intense stare, the hairs around their noses twitching. One of them - was it Humbaba the Mighty? They could hardly tell - actually began creeping closer to them as they talked...whilst sniffing. The two men in the back, oblivious to his silent motions at first, jerked back as they suddenly caught the looming presence behind them with the corners of their eyes, almost knocking into the speaker’s back. The ogre-like creature stiffened then and remained still while the third man started to talk.

“That strange bird is yet far north, in the Toad Mother’s custody, and we cannot say what she would do with it,” he managed in an altogether natural tone, “We will make sure she hears of this. But no other such beast has been heard of among us. Perhaps the maple-skins from south could know of more, if it has flown from over them first?”

Sniff, sniff. It was definitely Humbaba the Mighty looming beside them, for there were still a few bits of boar that they could see stuck in his teeth as he bared them. “Those words smell wrong,” he growled.

The two in the back held up their hands, as if to show they were not holding - and supposedly hiding - anything. The guide leaned his head to one side, then to another as he looked back, two fingers pensively, or perhaps nervously, tugging on his beard. “For truth, we say it as it is. We have never even seen the beast ourselves, only heard of it from those who did.”

A quick glance from the eldest Humbaba made that one step back a pace away from the humans, to their palpable relief. “Then you may share what I have told you to the crone, and express my desire to have the creature. I know how your kind are greedy and must always take. So tell her that I will not ask just as a favor, and would pay for the creature with some amount of the mystic cedar of my realm, and rare herbs that she might...find use for.”

Humbaba the Mighty did not look pleased at this outcome. He cast a baleful glance at the humans, they loudly growled something. Humbaba the Great answered with a nod, and then his son wordlessly skulked away from the trio of humans and then into the darkened recesses of the nearby den. There was a rustling sound from within, a familiar clacking, and then a short time afterward Humbaba the Mighty reemerged, dragging behind him a makeshift sled of sorts that had been fashioned from interwoven branches. Atop the sled were heaps of bones, perhaps the shattered and jumbled skeletons of three or four humans altogether. “The last few of your kind to venture into this forest,” Humbaba the Mighty explained. “We did not care so much for what they did and said.”

”As a gesture of kindness, you may have their remains.”

The three traded some quizzical looks, and spared some more for the sled and its macabre trove, but soon inclined their heads as they had done upon meeting the Mighty One for the first time.

“No doubt these fools blundered to their own doom without care,” the foremost shook his head, “Thank you for giving us leave of their sorry bones, we will make sure they come to something useful at least now.” As he spoke, the other two stepped forward, with wary glances at the younger Humbaba, and took hold of protruding staves at the front of the sled. They tried a few tugs, grunting and gritting their teeth as the construction barely moved forward when held too low, before finally taking a rather uncomfortable-looking grip that held the branches turned upwards. The sled trailed behind them more readily, but with little more ease.

“If ever we return, it will be with news from the Old Hag about the bird-beast, and if not, do with us like with them. May the crowns of your wood grow tall.” With a final nod, the speaker went to follow his companions and their new load, pushing the sled from behind. As they left that neck of the woods behind and ventured back toward their grim homeland, they occasionally caught glimpses of a distant figure in the trees; that was no doubt one of the humbabas, likely following them to ensure that theirs was a swift departure. Goaded on by such sights, they made sure not to disappoint, and trekked on even when dusk began to fall, pressing on at an arduous pace and not resting for a long while.


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