Part II: Diegesis
Chapter IV: Acquisitions
13th Month, 20th Day, 4,632nd Year
Copyright © 1999 C.E. by Dustin Jon Scott
[Last Update: June 6th, 2018]
The ground stopped shaking, as Lodin and Gail took a moment to catch their breath, looking behind them at the pile of stones and fallen trees where the entrance of the tomb stood just moments before.
“All that gold… all those jewels... everything... gone...” Gail panted, her voice saturated with melancholy as she watched the few remaining stones of Rha Kai Tan’s crypt sink into the loam.
“C’mon, we should head back into the city and try to find our way out of here.” Lodin urged.
Still attempting to catch their breath, Lodin and Gail shuffled away from the crypt, slowly making their way back toward town.
“This has been a fairly eventful evening,” remarked Gail.
“Fairly,” Lodin agreed.
The sky began to turn from pitch black to navy as Lodin and Gail exited the woods, and they were now able to see the ancient city’s obsidian skyline against a dark blue canvas. It would still be quite some time before the sun would start to breach the horizon. Although the ground remained nigrous for the time being, they would be able to see without the use of the lantern in another hour or so.
One particular feature which stood out above all the others was a towering silhouette, soaring high above the skyline, seemingly into the fabric of the sky itself. It was obvious that the immense construct protruding from the horizon was exactly what Lodin had been looking for.
The Temple of Mortifer.
“Is that it?” Gail asked.
“That’s the Mortiferean temple,” replied Lodin.
The two continued their trek through the deserted city, and although the streets were no lighter than they had been when Lodin and Gail first encountered each other, the slightly lightened sky was a comforting sight to behold, for it declared that the night was nearly over.
Lodin looked at the small, round shield strapped to Gail’s arm. “Why didn’t you bring any weapons?”
“What do you mean? I still have the longsword I found,” Gail answered.
“No, I mean, why did you have to pick up the sword and shield down there in the crypt? I would’ve thought you’d bring weapons with you to a place of such reputation as Necropolis City.”
“Oh I brought weapons with me, but they disappeared,” explained Gail.
“I went to sleep one night, and in the morning my buckler and falchion were gone.”
Before much longer, the darkness had lifted enough for Lodin and Gail to vaguely make out the ground beneath them and the design of the worn buildings which surrounded, although everything was still quite dark and the lantern was still very necessary.
* * *
After what seemed no less then an hour’s travel, Gail and Lodin eventually found themselves in what appeared to be a park, sparsely wooded with dead trees. The gnarled, leafless branches danced back and forth as an eerie breeze crept through the square, causing the hairs on the backs of Lodin and Gail’s necks to stand on end. Gail turned around slowly, shining the lantern all around her and Lodin, revealing that much of the ground was blanketed with human craniums, ribs, femurs, tibias, tarsal, phalanges, mandibles, vertebrae, radiuses, fibulas, teeth, and carpals, among various other bones.
In the distance, they could now see the wall surrounding the Temple of Mortifer.
The branches creaked above, scraping against one another, rustling and crackling.
“What was that?” said Gail with a start, raising her lantern in an attempt to see into the dead, twisted canopy above them.
Lodin squinted his eyes and peered up into the limbs, seeing if he could perhaps detect something moving around. Sure enough, the faint glow that the lantern cast upon the decaying eves was reflected back for an instant by two luminescent blue eyes. The branches began to shake once again, this time accompanied by the clamoring of chains, as Lodin and Gail attempted to follow the ruckus it was causing. They managed to make out a faint silhouette of the creature as it moved through the trees. It appeared to be human, at least in overall form. Of course, then again, so do vampyres and zombies.
“I’m not sure. I’ve never seen anything that looked like a man with eyes that glow blue,” explained Lodin.
The chains began to clatter again. Lodin and Gail stared as the dark, human-like figure was lowered from the limbs above by several long, rope-like chains.
Now well within the radiance of the lantern, the creature could be seen more clearly. It was most definitely humanlike in shape and proportion, but with a blank, featureless face lacking anything that might resemble a mouth, nostrils, or ears. It’s nose was little more than a protruding ‘bump’ centered just below the eyes; and its eyes themselves, no longer emitting a visible glow due to the light emanating from the lantern, were entirely dark, translucent blue with no discernable pupils, irises, or whites. The creature had mottled gray and blue skin and completely lacked any sort of hair. Chains wrapped around most of the creature’s body, from the chain link circlet on its head to the heavy, steel chains draping from its shoulders and wrapping around its waist, arms, and legs. Many stray ends dangled from the creature’s steely wraps, most equipped with hooks, flail heads, weights, and other instruments designed to inflict serious injury.
The creature’s chains let go of the branches above, slithering down through the air as they descended and coiled around the creature’s arms, legs, and waist. Other chains lashed out, and began to whip around like the tentacles of a kraken, thrashing violently as they broke tree limbs and smashed bones.
One of the chains swiped at Gail’s feet as she dropped the lantern and instinctively dodged the steely tendril by executing a standing gainer, throwing her head backward, followed by her arched torso, piking one leg up into the air with enough momentum to pull herself into a full backflip. She landed softly on one foot as the other trailed behind, and crouched in anticipation of the next inevitable strike.
Lodin braced himself, holding his sword in front of him with both hands, but was promptly distracted by a nigrescent ‘glow’ (so to speak) emanating from the amulet that hung from his neck. The non-light continued to radiate out from within the amulet, darkening the area around it in much the same way that a lantern would brighten its surroundings.
Suddenly, the paladin’s chest was struck by a spiked flail head, pitching him backward several feet. He was spun around and flipped end over end several times before finally landing hard on his stomach with a mouth full of dirt.
He raised his head and spit the bitter soil from his mouth, finding himself face to face with an ashen-black human skull. Lodin’s sword fell in front of him, it’s hilt impacting the skull with a resounding “clang” before falling to the ground. Lodin scrambled to his feet, only to see that the flail head’s impact had cracked the amulet hanging from his neck. From the broken gem poured a strange black vapor, which flowed to the ground and began to swirl around the strange iron skull. The necklace then crumbled to pieces, fell from Lodin’s neck, and turned to dust before hitting the ground.
Gail ducked another swipe by the creature’s chains from the right, then jumped high into the air to avoid a chain swiping at her knees from her left. She landed softly on the ground with just enough time to see yet another chain hurling toward her and block it with her buckler with a resonant “clang“. A harpoon whizzed toward her at the end of another chain; though she managed to elude this one with a standing aerial cartwheel as the metal spear slammed into a tree behind her. Once she landed, she somersaulted forward just in time to dodge a large steel ball attached to one of the chains. She stood to her feet, only to see a hook speeding toward her from the right at the end of still another chain. She bent her knees and arched her back, leaning backward as far as she possibly could, her torso now balanced horizontally just above the ground in an extreme sort of ‘limbo’ position. The chain soared nearly a foot over her stomach, but just barely grazed the snug, thin layer of linen that contoured her mountainous breasts, before trailing off to her left as she threw her arms behind her and thrust her legs high into the air for a handstand. She turned this into a back-full-twist-handspring, her hands narrowly avoiding two more chains which came at her along the ground in a scissor-like fashion. She landed softly and silently on both feet, facing away from the chain-wielding creature.
“Lodin! I could use a little help here!” cried Gail, turning to the side and rounding-off into several back-handsprings to avoid strike after strike of the creature’s steel tentacles.
The iron skull’s eye sockets began to glow red, and the ground began to shake as Lodin backed away. Suddenly, a massive suit of iron armor sprang from the dirt with the skull as its head. Although Lodin had never actually seen one with his own eyes before, he knew what it was -- an iron golem. The creature was absolutely huge, at least fifteen feet in height, and every inch of it was a dark, charcoal gray -- like cast-iron. Its body seemed comprised mainly of a cuirass forged to simulate a large human torso, a plackart which bore a striking resemblance to abdominal muscles, a gorget, pauldrons, elbow gauntlets with individually laminated fingers, sabatons, shynbalds, gaurde-reins, poleyns, plated chausses, and rerebraces. The armor appeared to be filled with coils of iron chains, and the golem’s sabatons and gauntlets seemed disproportionately large in comparison to the rest of its body.
Lodin stared up at the giant, skull-headed monstrosity in both fear and awe. Its eye sockets still emanating red light, now releasing crimson smoke into the air above it.
“How might I serve thee, master?” asked the golem in a deep, resonating voice.
As the golem spoke, its iron mandible moved up and down, and the rubescent aura radiating from within its eye sockets grew brighter and dimmer in intensity with each syllable.
“The ... chain ... the chain demon...” Lodin stuttered, pointing back toward Gail as she grappled with the creature.
“Yes master,” the iron golem obeyed.
The golem stamped toward the chain demon, shaking the ground with each footfall.
The demon retracted its steel tendrils and began to back away as the gigantic suit of armor slowly walked toward it -- its intentions obvious.
Gail and Lodin stood motionless as the demon, nearly paralyzed with fear, withdrew itself even more slowly than the golem was making its way toward it. The ground continued to shake with each step the Iron golem took, and in moments the golem was upon the demon.
The demon finally turned to run, but it was too late. The golem leaned over and snatched up the demon in one of its massive, gauntlet hands. The demon squirmed and flailed its arms and legs as the golem tightened its grip around the demon’s waist.
“Oh Gods ... Lodin ... what is that thing?” Gail queried.
“I think ... I think that’s my golem!” declared Lodin.
Lodin picked his longsword up from the ground, sheathed it, and walked over to Gail with a bright grin upon his face.
“How?” she asked.
“I think it had something to do with the amulet I found down in Rha Kai Tan’s crypt. It broke, and this strange fog came out of it and began swirling around this iron skull that was laying on the ground, and then the amulet disappeared and the golem came to life,” the paladin answered.
Lodin and Gail both stared in awe as the golem held the demon in its hand. With a single, effortless squeeze from the golem, the demon erupted into a practical fountain of blue slime and entrails. The demon’s innards poured out of the newly-created orifices scattered about its body as the pressure applied by the golem’s grip forced the demon’s entrails to make their own exists from their body. One of the demon’s eyes exploded with blue blood and gray brains gushing from its head in a coagulated, blue waterfall. Thick, transparent blue fluid was now dripping from almost every part of the demonic corpse, as were globs of gray viscera. Slime-covered sheets of gray and blue mottled skin fell from the demon’s body, accompanied by soggy chunks of its bowels. Most disturbingly, the demon appeared to be yet still alive, its limbs twitching slightly as goop oozed from its right eye -- or at least, from what remained of its right eye. It was a truly grotesque sight.
The golem dropped the mangled remains of the demon and turned around, staring down at Lodin with blobs of demon slop still plummeting from its body onto the ground below, “I serve only thee, Master Kaitan.”
“My name is Kha Lo Din,” said Lodin.
The golem appeared confused, but then simply shrugged its shoulders. “I serve only thee, Master Lodin.”
“That’s better,” replied Lodin, a slight chuckle in his voice.
Gail furrowed her brow. “Wait,” she interjected, “this was Rha Kai Tan’s golem?”
“If I had to guess, I’d say it was going to be. Seeing as the amulet that brought him to life crumbled to pieces as soon as he was awakened, I’d be inclined to think that Kaitan never had the chance to animate the golem before he died,” Lodin explained. “What’s your name, golem?”
“Whatever thou decidest, Master Lodin,” the golem answered.
“I think I’ll call you ... Vadok,” replied Lodin.
“Lodin, do you even know what that means?” Gail interrupted, her eyebrows raised worrisomely.
“It doesn’t mean anything, it just came to me. I sorta like the way it sounds...”
“It’s Orcish,” explained Gail, “It means ‘death’. Besides, it sounds silly.”
“Well I like it, but I’ll have to think about it a bit more. Never mind golem!”
Gail rolled her eyes and walked over to where she’d dropped the lantern. She picked it up and began walking once again toward the Mortiferean Temple, as Lodin and the iron golem followed.
The trio made it not five yards before the amulet adorning Gail’s neck began to glow. Gail turned around.
“Lodin, what’s happening?”
“I don’t know,” the Paladin answered, his mouth agape. He then noticed Gail’s attention to the chain demon’s corpse, just slightly behind where he and the golem stood. Lodin looked over his shoulder to see the corpse evaporating into a strange blue mist.
The mist then flowed toward Gail, and slowly it entered the amulet that hung from her choker. The jewel’s glow faded away, leaving in the luminescence’s wake not a diamond or clear gem, but rather a translucent, deep blue one. The stone now was neither as pale as an aquamarine nor as dark as a blue sapphire, but could’ve best been described as having the richness of a perfect emerald, despite the difference in tincture.
“What is it?” asked Gail, looking to Lodin as he stared at the amulet she wore on her throat.
“It’s blue now,” replied Lodin.
“Yeah, it’s blue.”
Gail fingered the amulet for a few moments, trying to wrap her mind around what’d just happened.
“Weird,” she said, her face thoroughly swathed in a perplexed visage.
Gail then simply shrugged, knowing she could never make sense of it on her own, and began walking once more toward the Mortiferean Temple. Lodin trotted up beside her as the golem lagged slightly behind.
“So how many languages do you speak?” asked Lodin.
“Well, my parents taught me both Mannish and Elvish, and my father taught me a little Drow on the side. I also picked up a bit of Orcish in my early teens. But, Orcish is really easy to learn. Mannish has so many grammatical rules that it’s probably the most difficult language to learn in all of Borea, except for maybe Elvish, but Orcish is very simple and straightforward. Instead of saying, ‘I’m feeling hungry and would like to eat something soon’, the equivalent Orcish phrase might translate ‘Gail hungry, Gail want eat now’.”
Lodin and Gail walked side by side, with the golem close behind them. They were already growing accustomed to walking near the creature, even though each of its footfalls caused the ground to shake.
“What’s odd,” Gail began, “is that the Orcish word for Gaia is ‘urth’, which comes from the common word ‘earth’.”
“As in dirt?”
“No kidding, the Orcs basically call our whole world ‘dirt’. I guess Gaia is nothing more than dirt to them.”
“That actually makes sense, in a way. Orcs don’t seem to have a lot of respect for Gaia. They burn Her forests and rape the land. Those aren’t the actions of a race that sees Gaia as anything more than just earth. Do the Orcs have names for Lucifer, Diana, or Aradia?”
“No, the Orcs don’t even believe in them. They have their own Gods. But the Elvish names for Lucifer and Diana are ‘Helel’ and ‘Lalal’, and Aradia is the same in common as it is in Elvish.”
“I know,” said Lodin.
Gail looked at Lodin, blushing a bit. “Of course, forgive me. Any paladin with even the slightest grasp of Elvish would know that.”
“So, say something in Drow.”
“Huh? Okay, um ... let’s see.... Usstan ssinssrin ulu inbal vith xuil dos. Usstan shlu’ta xun klezn dos shlu’ta naut tangis’ z’reninth.”
“You speak the language a little more fluently than you’d lead me to believe. What does it mean?” Lodin inquired.
“It means you’re very handsome.” Gail smiled, blushing brightly.
“I’ll have to take your word for it,” Lodin smirked, with a somewhat confused expression, “Now say something in Orcish.”
“Hmmm…Gail shum brîz, nargzab lat zogtark agh tramizish; gozadizishziizg ulur-zurm.” she said.
“Okay, so what does that mean?” Lodin queried.
“It more or less means that I’m hungry enough to eat a horse,” replied Gail.
“Same here,” Lodin added with a smile.
Gail, Lodin, and the golem finally reached the stone wall surrounding the Temple of Mortifer.
“Golem, break down the gate,” Lodin commanded
The golem complied, stamping its way to the gate, its eyes burning red as smoke trailed behind it.
“So, what do you think of the name ‘Deathstrike’?”
“It’s silly and preposterously cliché,” the thief answered.
“How about ‘Darkshadow’?”
“Lodin, you cannot be serious!”
“Well, what do you think I should name it?”
“Something strong, but also something that rolls easily off the tongue. Something that commands respect.”
“You mean, a name like ‘Gragtar the Destroyer’?”
“Lodin, you’re not even trying! Either that, or you’re just trying to be funny.”
“Then why don’t you give it a name?”
“Well, something a bit less guttural than ‘Gragtar’. What do you think of the name ‘Baelzathoth’?”
“Say that again?”
“Golem!” Lodin exclaimed.
“Yes Master Lodin?” the golem responded in its usual booming, monotone voice.
“Your name is Baelzathoth!”
“Yes, Master Lodin,” replied Baelzathoth, with crimson smoke still rising from his rubescent eye sockets.
“Lodin, what’s that?” Gail gasped, pointing at a patch of dirt near one of the larger statues.
The soil writhed as a hand reached up from beneath the billowing loam. It was long and spindly, its bloodstained, dirt-coated bones lacking any flesh whatsoever. It violently whipped about, despite its muscular deficiency.
Lodin shifted his gaze back and forth with narrowed eyes to find that there were many skeletal limbs exhuming themselves from the dirt all around the trio.
“Oh Gods, not again...” Gail whined, slumping over with a look of unbridled annoyance about her face. “Can’t we even go a full hour without being attacked by some sort of monster?”
The skeletons continued to exhume themselves, lifting what was left of their bodies from their places of rest. Now clambering out of the dirt and onto their feet, the skeletons uneasily lurched toward Lodin, Gail, and Baelzathoth, their bones rattling with each awkward step the things took. They were coming from all directions, completely surrounding the trio.
“Gail, this is no time for sarcasm.” Lodin warned.
“Please Lodin, these things couldn’t possibly be any worse than those vampyres and zombies we faced back in the cemetery, and now we have a gigantic iron golem to help us fight,” replied Gail, bending over to set her lantern on the ground.
“I wouldn’t get too confident. Zombies and vampyres don’t reconstitute themselves and keep fighting after you cut off their heads. Zombies and vampyres can’t merge together and reassemble themselves into huge monsters like skeletons can, either.”
“We have to get out of here, now!”
Lodin and Gail hadn’t even a chance to run before they each felt a large, metal hand wrap around their waist, as Baelzathoth grasped both of them and lifted them up onto his broad iron gorget-shoulders. The paladin and the thief watched in awe as the skeletons closed in around the golem’s legs and began to attack them, their bony limbs no match against Baelzathoth’s thick, iron-plate exoskeleton.
“Baelzathoth! Take us to the temple!” Lodin commanded, pointing forward as he sat upon the golem’s right shoulder.
Baelzathoth began moving forward as Lodin struggled to keep his balance. Gail nearly fell as the golem took his first few steps; she had to struggle to keep herself centered on to Baelzathoth’s left shoulder, and was at one point forced to drop the lantern, which shattered as it hit the ground. The golem continued forward, crushing skeletons under his massive feet as others attacked his legs with rusted iron swords.
Lodin, Gail and Baelzathoth approached the temple’s entrance as a mass of skeletons began to congregate on the massive stone stairway.
“Lodin, what are they doing?” Gail asked, watching the skeletons grapple with one another, pulling each other apart.
“I’m not sure.” Lodin replied.
Pieces of the skeletons Baelzathoth had crushed began skipping and tumbling across the ground, not unlike leaves in a strong breeze, toppling end over end toward the gang of skeletons standing between Baelzathoth and the doorway of the temple.
Baelzathoth stopped dead in his tracks. Lodin and Gail simply stared on as the skeletons disassembled each other, piled on top of one another, and reassembled themselves.
The pile of bones grew taller by the moment. It shambled, shook, and transformed into a twenty-foot tall, worm-like pillar of bone. The skeletal tower waved back and forth, stray pieces of bone falling from its mass as it ambled toward Baelzathoth, Gail, and Lodin.
“Baelzathoth, destroy the assemblage!” Gail screamed.
The golem did nothing.
“Baelzathoth, do what Gail told you!” Lodin commanded.
“Yes, master Lodin,” the golem responded in his usual rumbling, monotone voice. Baelzathoth drew back his right arm and then hurled his fist at the towering pile of bone, shattering most of it instantly.
“That was easy,” said Gail.
The bones left on the ground after Baelzathoth’s assault began shaking, then snapped back toward the assemblage, skipping end-over-end along the ground and rejoining that from which they’d been separated. The assemblage began to move again, waving back and forth. Skeletal arms dangled from its surface, brandishing all varieties of sword, knife, dagger, and shield. The assemblage then slowly, shakily crawled toward the golem, apparently hoping to get close enough that the skeletal arms flailing about would be able to reach Baelzathoth before he had the chance to strike at it again.
The golem pulled his right arm back again, this time crossing it in front of him so that his right hand was over his left shoulder, uncomfortably close to Gail. Baelzathoth then swung his arm toward the assemblage, back-handing it with enough force to completely dismember it. Pieces of bone flew in all directions, as did the rusted weapons it held.
“Baelzathoth, take us inside, quickly! Before it has a chance to reassemble!” Lodin commanded.
Baelzathoth stomped up the stairway, then stopped at the soaring double-door entrance of the temple. The golem remained perfectly still for a moment, then raised both arms high into the air and brought them crashing down against the wooden, iron-reinforced doors.
The doors came crashing down, and Baelzathoth entered the temple.
Unfortunately, Gail had left the lantern behind, and the interior of the Mortiferean temple was far too dark to see. It seemed, though, that the Golem’s rubescent eyes were providing a modest amount of illumination -- enough for Lodin and Gail to see the area immediately surrounding them. And from what little of the temple’s interior they could see, it seemed rather empty.
Just then, the floor began to creak, and gave way under Baelzathoth’s weight.