Yachak Into The Mist

It has been several days since the ordeal in the Velnorinesti and you're finally starting to feel like yourself again. Although it was clearly for the greater good, you played a role in laying many of nature's children to rest and it has been weighing on your conscience. Despite the comfortable yet sparse room the monks have kindly provided your sleep has not come easily. Tonight is no exception.

Getting from your "bed", as the walled folk call it, you move to the window of your third-story room. The night's sky is awe-inspiring. A single luminous gray moon dominates the sky with lesser brightly colored pin pricks of stars piercing the ominous mist that drifts like a milky veil across the heavens.

As you gaze out at nature's mystery, a bluish star seems to wheel from its perch in the sky; slowly at first and then swift like a comet. It grows in size as it descends and soon you are able to make out the outline of a ghostly raptor silently coming to rest on a spire across the courtyard. Its body perfectly still upon the spire, its head swivels revealing its gleaming yellow owl eyes which meet yours with absolute serenity. It beckons with a single somber hoot and swoops from its lofty perch towards the towering peeks of the Tor Maru Mountains in the distance.

Yachak's eyes glance down to ground level and scan to see if anyone is out and about on this strange evening. Assuming no one is present, he takes his owl form and flies straight out after his new friend as silently as possible. Before leaving he gathers any belongings that he had lying about the room. After leaving the grounds he picks up speed keeping only a passing interest in concealing himself from the folk on ground level.

Bounding onto the window sill and silently dropping down, pack in hand, you fluidly shift into your totem's hallowed form. Winging sharply upward from your fall, you give chase to your spectral twin in the distance.

It is said that the single moon on a misty night is an sign that border between this world and the underworld is blurred, for good and for ill. Luckily the night orb is not red. The chromatic constellations are a favorable portent, but their meaning is unclear.

As you near your ghostly guide you notice a powerful flow of air moving with you. In moment the gust surges and the elemental currents carry you at speeds you could never attain in unaided flight. The Tor Maru mountains that loomed on the horizon slide rapidly into view.

You are over the Wildlands now, the rolling plains, streams and scattered groves where your people have roamed and lived for centuries. To the south the fetid Blightroot Bayou forms an impenetrable barrier. To the north lies the ancestral home of the Sigil Elves, the Frengai Forest. And ahead, to the east are the awe-inspiring pinnacles of the Tor Maru. So tall that neither beast nor plant can find foot hold there. Even the birds are battered on Maru's rocky bones in the high winds that scour the peaks.

The lonesome howling of a coyote beckons from the barren peaks below and the phantom raptor responds to the call. Diving like a bolt and upturning sharply near the rocks below, it comes to light on a single tree alone in a landscape where no root has every laid claim. From mid-trunk to roots, life seems to have long vacated this tree. Yet its branches bear supple silver-green leaves. In the trunk just above the roots is a large rotted knothole filled with darkness.

Perched in the branches of the tree, the owl regards you with impartial curiosity. It calls out once turning its gaze to the coyote patiently sitting on its haunches among the roots and rocks.

Yachak follows suit, darting down and landing on a nearby branch; close enough for conversation but keeping a safe distance nevertheless. He looks down below at the coyote, gives a nod, and looks over to the owl.

"Who calls to me on this misty evening? Of what business does this concern?"

Upon closer inspection you can see that this canid is very old indeed. In response, he howls a sorrowful dirge that rings of love, loss and sorrow. It is the story of the last of the Old People, ancestors to the Direlings.

In time nearly forgotten, Direlings and the creatures of the land were one. All of the Old People were men born with their animal forms as natural as their humanoid ones. And each chose a mate of his own kind from among nature's children. In this way, the herds and packs of the Wildlands were the families of the Direlings.

But one man dared violate this sacred pact and fell in love with an Elven woman, a priestess to her people. Adakar the Grey, last of the Old People betrayed his people for the love of Kulessa, Kensai of the Sigil Elves. But such a star-crossed love was doubly doomed. Not only did the great ancestral spirits abhor this union, but so too did time itself. For the Elves are nearly immortal and the Direlings have but the lifespan of men.

At first this affront was tolerated. But when Kulessa bore Adakar's litter of abominations, the spirits' anger boiled over. For his sins, Adkar was blinded and maimed and left to wander the wilderness alone. His brood was drowned in the cold waters of the Tor Frenga. And his people were cursed by the spirits, thereafter born like men and each having to earn the blessings of their former birthrights.

Thinking her lover killed, Kulessa stormed off into the mountains to pour her sorrow out to the stoic stone monoliths of Tor Maru. Some say that she took her own life. Some say she died of a broken heart. Either way, her Elven body wasted away. But so devout and beloved of her own ancestral spirits was she that Kulessa was reborn in her arboreal form without aid or ritual. A tree alone in the mountains where no tree should stand waiting in anguish for her lost sightless lover to find her upon the crags.

The legend says that so great was their love that Kulessa stands between this world and the afterlife, unwilling to leave without Adakar yet unable to truly live. And here she stands before you. Half long dead, half verdant with life. And at her roots, an impenetrable darkness wreaking of death.

The coyote ends his somber song and regards you with sad eyes. His gaze speaks volumes. Being called to such a hallowed and secret place by such an old one and your totem spirit can mean but one thing. Your father has passed to the spirit world. With a sorrowful and grave expression, the elder coyote motions towards the dark place at Kulessa's roots. Even in the ample pale light of the single moon, the darkness is impenetrable.

Yachak glides from his branch to the coyote's side and returns to his humanoid form. He slides a hand down the back of the coyote and reaches his other into his pack where he pulls out a skin shed from his late father. He lays the skin over the the darkness that is Kulessa's roots and changes his form into that of a snake. He slithers over the roots and next to his father's shed skin and leaves a skeleton of his own skin next to it. He sets himself up in front of the two skins and bows his constrictor head down seemingly entering prayer.

As you bow your head in prayer on this sacred ground a faint beckoning sound drifts out from the darkness. "My son. My son. What have you done? So many of the dead speak your name with venom ... " Peering into the darkness you make out an alien landscape. Infinite gray mist swirls through an endless bog, and dark shapes slither through the fog.

"Father, with death comes re-birth. This I learned at an early age. Or so I thought. But I have begun to realize that lessons are better learned not through the great stories but through experience. Or tales bring guidance, but it is experience that bring upon the winds that carry us through our lifetimes.

"I have realized that the world does not hold right and wrong or good and bad but instead an array of energies within these ideas. Decisions do not come easily when walking these fine lines, but I have prayed that my actions have saved more than they have ended.

"I hope with all my heart that the abrupt conclusion to this life of yours was not of my accord, however I fear it may have been. I ask for your acceptance and further guidance upon my future quests. If time allowed I would pray for each fallen soul individually, however I fear that the days and nights grow darker in this world and it is my job to be a light within this darkness.

"I pray for those that fell on my behalf every night, and put my heart within the wind, soil, and water to bring a well deserved rebirth.

"I hope with all that grows that my late actions were for the better. May I have your blessing father?"

"My blessing is your birthright. And if you can bridge this chasm between life and death, I may yet deliver it to you. I only wish I could have done so while I still drew breath, but you are so young and death came so suddenly."

"Ever since you ventured from the clutch many strange beasts of the wind have made the Wildlands their hunting grounds. I did not know we were no longer safe in our own lands when I was plucked from the earth by a great winged lizard with scales of azure and a wickedly barbed tail. My last living vision was of the cruel beast's scarred maw."

"What's done is done. For both of us. But the souls of the fallen are bitter and here they suffer." At the mention of their anguish a pang of guilt sticks in your chest. "Some of us may escape this circle of the Kulgaris as I hope to so that I may join our ancestral spirits. But those that you have recently laid to rest will be consumed by this place and become part of the dark energies that sustain it."

"Should you have the temerity to reach into this underworld, its heartless master, the god called Shul-Dranor, will demand a price be paid. As will the souls that cry out for your blood. I may, if you wish it, be able to hold back the souls' wrath, but the Lord of the Dead will not be denied. Now, Yachak my son, take your birthright if you dare."

"Father, I must take responsibility for my actions, and if that means facing Shul-Dranor, then so be it. I will accept your assistance holding off the lost souls if you think it is right. Whether or not I earn my birthright, that fate will be decided by the stars."

Yachak nods in thanks to the coyote and owl that have brought him here and slithers down into the darkness.

As soon as you cross the threshold of the roots, you are swallowed in complete darkness. Inside it is sickly wet and a chill grips you through to your bones instantly. Even standing on the threshold of Kulgaris you can feel this oppressive realm tugging at your life force. The dank smell of decay assails your nose and nausea wracks your stomach. The blackness slopes sharply downward and you begin to half fall down the rift.

Struggling to maintain your composure, you press on and soon find yourself emerging into a bleak and dim realm. Heavy fog blankets this nearly featureless bog. The ground is damp and soft. Gray is the color of land and sky here. Dark shadows squirm in the mist. And at your back, a single massive tree in a state of perpetual decay. A single glittering sliver thread trails from you and disappears into the dark knothole in the decaying tree. If this is Kulessa she is very different here.

Upon your emergence from her rotted womb, a powerful bassy thud, as if some massive gong were hammered by a giant, sends visible waves from your position out in all directions. Moments later inhuman howls reverberate from both near and far all around you. Without seeing the monsters which must surely reside in the obscurity of the mist you can sense their all-consuming hunger for your soul. You intuitively understand that life force is the only resource in this desolate landscape.

You lift your serpentine form to see better above the mists. Ahead just a short way is a small area inexplicably clear of the heavy fog. On the ground is a ring of what appears to be ground snake skin and ash. Within it is a hide satchel adorned with beads and feathers. You recognize it immediately as your father's medicine bag, a traditional talisman of the Tanuran medicine men in which the fetters which bind them to the spirits are stored.

The howling of innumerable inhuman voices continue to shriek for your blood. Among them you'd swear you can make out the distinctive snort of the elk, the angry chitter of squirrels, the menacing caw of a murder of crows fending predators from a nest, and the bone-rattling bellow of a mother bear, among many other sounds that resonate with your connection to nature. Whirling around to take stock of what surrounds you. Dark shapes move in from all sides.

Many varied ghostly figures come into view. Some resemble men and animals while others seems to have degraded into a nearly shapeless form that arches its long twisted form as it slinks eerily across the fetid bog and mist. Suddenly there arises a great disturbance in the mist. A creature the size of house forms itself of mist and air and falls upon the approaching horde. An unearthly ruckus ensues filled with the sounds of battle and unliving cries of anguish. Calling upon his mastery of elemental forms, your father has engaged legions of dead on your behalf. And although you cannot actually see the progress of the battle, you know that even your father's considerable might must surely give way to such numbers.

"Make haste, my son!", you hear carried along by a gust of wind in the otherwise stagnant air.

"Shul-Dranor, I come to pay the price for the murder of many young brothers and sisters of mine."

Yachak speaks up so all can hear "This murder however did not come from my talon. This murder came from the hand of those that I was forced to stop."

As he continues his words seem more directed at his fallen friends than Shul-Dranor "I knew in my heart, that by taking your lives I could save the lives of a great many... maybe all of our friends and family in this once peaceful valley."

Yachak suddenly realizes that he has switched back into his humanoid form. He continues, "Please hear me, and hear me well. I can understand your anger toward me and my decision, however I know that there will be more work to be done here in our home, and the mother of this land has great plans for me to help her in ending this cruelty. I know that what needs to be done, I cannot do alone, so I ask for your help. I ask that all of you try to see the sadness within my soul. The sadness that has been created through a recent choice I made. Though difficult, I believe the choice I made was the only choice I had. If my words do not speak true to your hearts, then carry on as you must"

Yachak looks toward his fighting father. "You may release your grip father. I thank you for your help, but the time has come for me to understand the full effect of my actions."

Yachak closes his eyes and awaits response from both Shul-Dranor and the fallen souls. He closes his eyes and tries focusing on the clouds that have take him this far in his life, hoping the winds will not cease to carry him further.

At your words, the commotion in the distance grows silent. Moments later shadows in the mist begin to circle and close in from all directions. A voice, as old as time, grips your body and soul. Not a muscle in your body responds to your desperate commands. "Palavi does indeed have plans for you, my Sister's child. In the name of the All-Mother, I shall grant your wish."

Never in your life have you felt your mortality so profoundly. Almost as if part of you has already died and is about to watch the snuffing of your last embers. A sudden sharp pain erupts in your left hand and sends a wave of electricity up through your arm and over your body. Still reeling, the shadows surround you completely, blotting out all light with their ghostly animal silhouettes. In a sudden rush they pounce upon your paralyzed form. Awful wet rending noises become a cacophony of anguish as tenebrous maws and talons tear flesh and bone boring deeply into your body. The agony is more than your mortal mind can endure and your consciousness fades restlessly in a sea of black.

Alabaster moonlight floods your vision as you awaken, strewn carelessly upon your back before Kulessa's earthly form. Your entire body aches. Your stomach reels with nausea. And a sharp spike of pain smolders in your left hand. Looking down you can see that your arm is lacerated and scarred, but what's more unsettling is the ropey gray tendrils that extend up it from your palm. Turning your hand over and opening your clenched fist you are horrified to see and be seen by an alien pupil staring into your soul from between sickly gray eye lids. Is this the price of having tread where mortals are forbidden?

Coming to grips with your predicament as well as you can, you realize that you are clenching something in your right hand. Your father's medicine bag! Reaching in, your finger is pricked by something sharp. A massive serpent fang. The turmoil in your belly is renewed but you steel yourself and it passes. The blessing of the black adder is not without pain, a concept you are becoming all too familiar with.

Regaining your feet, you call upon the healing arts to restore your weary flesh, and although restored somewhat, your life energies are partly shunted away and a numbing cold travels up your left arm. You have the unsettling sensation of your third eye spinning in its socket. It seems Shul-Dranor will be taking his payment piecemeal.

Battered and weary beyond words you at first stagger and then stride proudly out of the mountains. Today has been a great victory, even at such great costs. Contemplating your ordeal as you travel, you are vaguely aware of a furtive ghostly presence always lingering just out of sight. Without seeing you sense with your mind's eye a great spectral stag with massive shadowy antlers bathed in pale moonlight; always watching from where your eyes won't go.