The Barrier: Two Worlds

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Summary

Twin Earths separated by a mystical barrier that also serves as a prison for a mad goddess. That barrier breaks down unleashing the Goddess and the two Earths begin to merge as one. Two Earths exist, one in a fantasy setting and the other in a modern one. These worlds are separated b y a mystical barrier created to imprison a mad goddess. A plot to free her begins with breaking the barrier, but also includes the merging of the twin Earths. Would be heroes and villains clash as the race to save both worlds ensues, all while a mad goddess wreaks havock on everyone.. Who will survive?

Genre:
Fantasy
Author:
elcid423
Status:
Ongoing
Chapters:
2
Rating:
4.0 2 reviews
Age Rating:
18+

Chapter 1

A solitary figure stood atop a granite tower watching the dark mass of clouds come rolling in from the east. Lightning streaked throughout the sky, threatening to wreak havoc upon the ground below. Ebony eyes gazed upon the drab scenery surrounding the tower. The man considered how ironic it was that the foul weather matched his grim mood. Momentarily, his eyes drifted off toward the river flowing just beyond the tower’s gates, watching its rhythmic movement. He raised his gaze back up to the dismal sky, sneering at the thought of just how miserable this day really was going to be.

The rain began to fall. Small drops of rainwater fell lightly, splattering against the cold stone floor of the tower. The man raised his face towards the sky, letting the rain descend upon his exposed brow. The slight chill of the water had a refreshing effect, washing away the cares and woes that were tugging at the edge of his consciousness. The hood of his robe fell back, letting his long black hair fall past his shoulders. Hawkish features were prominently displayed. Sandy colored skin, flecked with freckles, glistened as rainwater trickled down the length of his face. A slight smile crept its way across his pale lips, while almond shaped eyes reflected the gloomy weather within their ebony depths.

His name is Rathshemmon, a mage of meager ability who craves the knowledge and power to be a master of the arcane arts. At that moment, the frustration that had driven him to the roof of the tower in the first place, had returned. “There is still so much to learn, but so little time to do it in.” The irritation in his voiced could be heard clearly. Rathshemmon noticed a subtle movement coming from the stairwell opening, an inky form separating from the shadows. “Yes Grisch, what is it?”

“Pardon the intrusion master, but you have a visitor,” said Grisch.

“Who is it?” he asked. Rathshemmon was not used to receiving guests very often.

“It is she, your mysterious benefactor.”

The young mage quickly turned on his heel and headed toward the stairwell that led down into the tower. He descended the stairs with little light to guide his way, save for the few torches that were softly glowing, ensconced along the stairwell wall. “What is she doing here?” he wondered. Rathshemmon’s eyes adjusted to the dim light as he continued to make his way down the stairs. The hem of his robe fluttered about his feet and ankles with every step he took. Dark shapes danced all about him, moving in and out of the shadows. The weak torchlight didn’t do much in the way of casting out the gloom.

Reaching the bottom of the staircase, he proceeded down a short hallway and then walked through a door that led to a room lined with large bookcases reaching from floor to ceiling. Numerous books occupied those shelves, evidence of an extensive collection of knowledge. A stone fireplace on the far side of the room held a low burning fire that was the lone source of light. In front of the fireplace was a pair of high-backed, ornately carved wooden chairs that were padded with plush cushions. Sitting in one of those chairs was his mysterious visitor. This female was draped in a shimmering silk gown. Her dark, willowy tresses cascaded past her shoulders. The light from the fire glittered in her eyes like thousands of tiny diamonds. A veil of gossamer hid the rest of her features from view. There was something very familiar about her, dredging up memories of someone from his past. This eerie feeling manifested itself whenever she was present.

“Greetings, I did not expect to see you so soon. All is well, I hope?” Rathshemmon sat in the chair adjacent to the one she was sitting in. The woman continued to stare at the flames a few moments more, then parted her lips to speak.

“All is well. I am here because the time has come for me to collect on the help I have been giving you in your magical studies. There is a particular item I need you to obtain for me.”

Rathshemmon was shocked, his eyes widened in surprise. He did not expect her to collect on his debt so soon. “Uh, why of course,” Rathshemmon paused for a moment. “It did not occur to me that you might need me so soon. I have barely begun to master my new abilities. Please, do not misunderstand my apprehension. I am not about to renege on our deal.”

“I can see that my visit has unsettled you, especially when I am asking for your help at such an early point in time. You may say that you will not renege on our deal, but perhaps you no longer desire to help me. If that is the case, then I can always find another…more willing mage to help me. One who will not hesitate to fulfill his end of the bargain.” Her voice resonated around him, echoing off the walls of the library. A haunted look hung in her eyes as she gazed upon Rathshemmon’s perplexed face.

“No,” he said, and then took a deep breath. “Nothing could be further from the truth. I stand ready to help you get whatever you are in need of. I greatly appreciate the knowledge you are giving me. Assisting you in this endeavor is a small price to pay for the skills I have already acquired from your tutelage. I do have one question. Why do you need me to retrieve an item you probably could get just as easily yourself?”

The woman’s gaze bored into him like a spear thrust. “There are certain…limitations which prevent me from doing so. The item I seek is a rare book kept in a place I cannot retrieve it from. You, on the other hand, will not have a problem recovering the book.”

Hearing this, Rathshemmon immediately regretted his hesitancy. “I am sorry for questioning you. My curiosity gets the better of me sometimes. I will get that book for you, you can count on me.”

Again the female took her time in answering him. “No…there is no need for you to be sorry. It is…human nature to be curious.”

The mage shifted in his seat, attempting to make himself more comfortable. Her last comment unnerved him a bit, although he did not know why. “Could you at least describe this book and where it was last located so I may begin searching for it at once,” he said.

She raised her right hand, palm up. The air above it shimmered, the image of a book coalesced into view. Rathshemmon stared as the book took shape over her palm, slowly rotating from left to right. The tome was bound in brown leather, worn by age. A large diamond outline was etched into the center of the cover while smaller geometric shapes were carved into the corners of the book. Archaic characters were written along the perimeter of the outline. Embedded in the center of the cover was a large white pearl.

“This is the book I require. As to its location, it is kept in a place currently hidden from me.” The image vanished as quickly as it came. Then, without warning, she rose from her chair. The woman was as tall as Rathshemmon. Her form was as lithe and graceful as a cat. The words “fatal beauty” echoed in Rathshemmon’s mind as he was once again struck with a strong sense of familiarity. As he watched her, the silhouette of her body could be seen through her gown by the glow of the fire.

“See to it that you find that book…and do it quickly. Time is of the essence and I will not be denied what I seek.” And with that, she turned her back to him and walked towards a corner of the room, melding with the shadows lingering there. She had vanished a moment later. The mage heard her voice echo in his mind. “Make use of the well of ancients. Remember to focus…concentrate. Do not fail me Rathshemmon.”

A slight chill rolled down his spine as her voiced faded away. “Why do I always fee like that whenever she is near me?” he thought. He sank deeper into the chair, letting the plush cushion absorb his body. He pushed away some wayward strands of hair with his left hand. A few drops of sweat trickled down his brow, coming to rest in his eyebrows. He wiped them off with the hem of his sleeve. “Grisch, I am thirsty!”

From out of the shadows, a voice echoed in response. “Well, that isn’t anything new. I guess you want me to fetch you some wine?”

Sheer annoyance was displayed on Rathshemmon’s face, his eyes narrowed to mere slits. “You are beginning to annoy me, Fiend. It wouldn’t be wise for you to test my patience right now. So quit with your sarcasm and get me something to drink.”

“Right away your lordship.” With that said, Grisch disappeared from view. Moments later he returned with a silver tray laden with a crystal carafe’ filled with a yellow liquid and a nondescript silver goblet. “I believe you will enjoy this fine wine I have chosen for your drinking pleasure. This is only the finest beverage the Wood Elves of Valos have to offer. And by the way, you might want to consider getting another cask. Your stock is dwindling.” Grisch set the tray down on the small end table that sat between the two chairs, then drifted away from the harmful light of the fire. Rathshemmon allowed a devilish grin to creep across his face, knowing full well that shadow fiends hated any strong source of light. “You’ll pardon me if I do not join you, master.”

Rathshemmon sat up straight in the chair, reached over and picked up the carafe’. He removed the stopper and poured the wine into the goblet. After replacing the stopper, he set the carafe’ back upon the tray, lifted the goblet to his lips and drank deeply. The sweet liquid flowed over his taste buds. A feeling of euphoria overwhelmed him, like waves crashing upon a beach. Only the Valai could induce such a gratifying effect in a beverage. “Mmm, this is good. Are you sure you won’t join me Grisch?” The mage snickered as the fiend sank deeper into the shadows

For a few moments, all of Rathshemmon’s senses were heightened to an extreme level of sensitivity. He could hear, feel, see, and taste all that existed at once. He thought he should have been used to the feeling, built an immunity to its mesmerizing effects by now. A thin smile appeared, revealing the satisfaction he felt. “Why do I pamper myself so?’ he said aloud.

“You know, I’ve asked myself that same question quite a few times. But since you’re such a humanitarian, you deserve it,” said Grisch.

Rathshemmon cringed at the dripping sarcasm, shaking his head in silent disbelief. He quickly turned his attention to what had transpired with his unexpected guest. This mysterious woman appeared one day from out of nowhere, seeking to guide him in learning sorcery in exchange for his assistance in the future. He didn’t know her name, much less her skill in magic. Seeing this as a great opportunity to open doors in the arcane arts that have been previously closed to him, Rathshemmon decided to take her up on her offer. Within four months time, he had made amazing progress in his studies. Even if he had attended a formal school of wizardry, he would never have progressed so far in his skills. “Well, I’ve always said if opportunity knocks, open the door,” he thought. “Now I’m going to have to uphold my end of the bargain, but why so soon?

Rathshemmon shifted to the task at hand, which was locating this book and getting it for his benefactor. “At least I know what it looks like, but what is this book about? Why is it so important to her? And those limitations, what could they be? What could possibly prevent her from getting that tome?” His curiosity was surfacing once again. As he thought of the book, his mind wandered back to that mysterious woman. The mere notion of her brought on that undeniable sense of familiarity. The answers to his silent questions lurked just beyond the reach of his conscious thought. This has plagued him since the very first day he met her. That familiar sense kept teasing him and Rathshemmon did not like being teased. He pushed away any lingering doubts that remained in his mind, forcing himself to focus on the next step. “Grisch, stop cowering in the corner and go prepare the scrying chamber.”

“Doing a little sight seeing today, are we? Are you sure you are up to the test of handling the well? You do remember how taxing it is on you, but then again, you are the great Rathshemmon,” snickered the fiend.

“That does it!” grumbled Rathshemmon. The shadow fiend’s sarcastic remark was not well received. “Of all the familiars I could have gotten, I end up with a shadow fiend with too much of a free will and a very loose tongue.” Scant seconds later, Rathshemmon raised his right hand toward the fire and uttered a single arcane word. Immediately the flames within roared to life, leaping from the low burning embers. It sent a screaming Grisch back to his dark realm.

“So much for good help. I always had to do everything myself,” he said. Rathshemmon finished the rest of his wine, set the goblet down upon the tray and rose from the chair. He steadied himself as the effects of the wine rushed through him once again. A smile of satisfaction creased his moist lips. Once the sensation passed, he walked out of the library and headed back down the hallway toward the stairwell. Once there, he placed his left hand upon the cold stone wall and spoke another mystical word. Almost instantly the wall began to melt away, revealing stairs spiraling downward. A blue luminescent light emanated from the depths below.

The mage stepped through the opening and descended the stairs. As he wound his way down, the doorway behind him solidified back to its original form. The lighting grew brighter as he progressed downward. Faint sounds of whispering voices echoed off the walls around him. A musty odor wafted past his nostrils, calling a vivid image of a fetid pond to mind. Closer and closer, the voices surrounded him with a disembodied lamentation.

“He comes…he comes. Hurry…hurry. He is here…is here,” echoed the eerie voices. A shiver wound its way down his spine every time he heard those voices. Finally, reaching the bottom of the steps, Rathshemmon entered a circular room where the only feature was a well set in the exact center of the room. The well was about three feet high and five feet in diameter, made of alabaster marble with streaks of terra cotta running along the walls. All along the rim of the well flowed an archaic script whose meaning and origin were known only to a handful of arcane scholars, practitioners and the hosts of the well. Now he too knew the meaning of that ancient script, thanks to his mysterious teacher. Rathshemmon stopped in front of the well, standing in a space between those mystic characters on the floor. He looked at the placid water in the well, the source of the luminous light.

The dour mage looked about the room, taking in its plain, but eerie beauty. “The Well of Ancients. If that book existed anywhere in this world or the next, the well will help me find it,” he said.

“Our master is here…is here,” echoed the voices once more.

Rathshemmon’s eyes searched the water, absently looking for something that was not there. Even though his magical skills were growing, he still struggled with control of the well. Mastery of the mystical vessel still eluded him, frustrating the young mage to no end. Slowly he raised his arms straight out over the water, shutting his eyes and focusing his thoughts. Almost effortlessly he cleared his mind of any extraneous thought. Concentrating solely on calling forth the inhabitants of the well, Rathshemmon tried to zero in on the mystical essence that triggered contact with the well. Slowly it came to him, but in an instant it slipped from his mental grasp. “Ok. Let’s try this again,” he said. He took a deep breath and began to focus once more. He spread out his fingers as far as possible from one another. Clearing his thoughts once more, grasping the essence that eluded him before, he began to recite the litany that called forth the residence of the well.

“Spirits of the well, dwellers in the pool of knowledge, reveal to me that which I seek.” A few moments passed before the surface of the water began to ripple ever so slightly. Translucent faces began to coalesce, rolling among the many ripples that grew in their wake. The water began to churn, swirling counter clockwise. The cerulean light grew brighter as the water churned furiously, spinning faster and faster. A small whirlpool began to form in the center of the well. No longer could those liquid visages be seen. Instead, a melding of the forms occurred within swirling water. Rathshemmon worked hard to control the mystic force of the well that struggled to break free of his mental grasp.

“What is it you seek? Tell us,” cried the voices of the well. The mage heard their plaintive cry and prepared himself to answer them. Deep within his mind’s eye, he called forth a mental picture of the book he sought. Just above the frothing waters of the pool, the image of the very same tome appeared. The voices of the well cried out in response to his mental request. “Look and see, your prize is found. Beware Morva…Morva!”

Rathshemmon opened his eyes, curious as to why the spirits had cried out that name. He noticed that the swirling mass of water had transformed itself into a vivid picture of the book he was looking for. “Oh feh! Of all the places this book could be, it had to be there!” The mage noticed the familiar setting that surrounded the book. Although he had not been there in quite some time, he knew it was going to be very difficult retrieving the book from its current resting place. Rathshemmon was not very pleased. He furrowed his brow in exasperation. “I’ve taken one step closer only to take two steps back. Getting that book will be harder than I expected.” Scant seconds later the image began to shimmer. The scene where the book was being viewed, began to shift and fade. It was replaced by another, yet more puzzling one. The mage stared in mild shock, wondering why the scene had shifted to a different one. “What is the meaning of this? Why is the scene changing?” he asked. Rathshemmon’s hold on the well began to slip.

“We show you that which you seek…son of Gethshemmon.”

Confusion and desperation intermingled within him as he tried to comprehend what he was seeing. “I have seen what I am searching for. Why do you change the scene and mention my father’s name?”

The water continued its dizzying spin. The scene before him zoomed in on a small table. Resting upon that table was the book he was looking at only moments before. “What?” He paused a moment to take a quick breath. “What is this, some sort of trickery?” He could not believe his eyes. The only thing different about this image was the scenery surrounding it. “What is this other place you are showing me, where is it?”

“This world’s twin lies beyond a barrier set there eons ago,” the voices reverberated in his head, causing him to lose his concentration even more.

Rathshemmon felt a wave of nausea wash over him. This was a result of his growing struggle to keep the well under his control. “This world’s twin? A barrier? What barrier?” His questions kept coming, one after another. “Tell me more, what is this barrier?” Movement within the picture caught his attention. He brought his gaze back to the scene before him and was greeted with a new addition to the picture. A male figure seated himself at a table, fingering the cover of the ancient tome. Rathshemmon quickly studied the newcomer, noting that he was tall and slender. Dark haired and fair complected with eyes that were uniquely shaped. Bushy eyebrows added a comical look, while a scraggly beard and wildly sprouting mustache completed the image.

“He is one of three…of three…of three,” echoed the spirits.

“Three, what three? What do you mean, what are you telling me?” he asked. Rathshemmon continued monitoring the scene while voicing his questions. His tenuous grasp on the well was rapidly slipping away. “How did this man get a copy of that book? Where is he?” The spirits gave him their reply.

“This world’s twin holds that which you seek. Look beyond the barrier. Beware Morva.” The disembodied voices trailed off, dissipating into nothingness. The image began to flicker and then fade.

Rathshemmon gripped the rim of the well and screamed. “No, what are you doing? Bring that scene back!” he commanded. The picture disappeared entirely, leaving only the whirlpool in its wake. He had lost all control of the well. The spinning began to slow, coming to a stop almost at once. The faces reappeared, bubbling up to the surfaced from their watery home.

One liquid form rose from the well, hovering above the other faces. “We have shown you what you seek,” it said. The being’s voice had an aquatic quality to it. Wet popping sounds accentuated its every word.

“Yes you have. But you have shown me more, much more than I have bargained for. Where is this other world? What barrier separates us?” he asked.

The watery being shifted back and forth, its image reflecting the azure light given off from the well itself. “The answers you seek are within the book. All will be revealed once you retrieve it. Beware Morva, beware the dark goddess for she is watching…waiting.” Without warning, the being sank back into the watery depths of the well. The churning water calmed, no trace of the faces remained.

“Wait,” yelled Rathshemmon. The spirits of the well had left, leaving the placid water behind. Worn out from his fight to control the well, he slumped down with his back against the well. Hanging his head dejectedly, the bewildered mage considered the spirits words, weighing their importance in his mind. “As if I needed one more puzzle to add to the mix. Who is this Morva? What does she have to do with this book? Does my mysterious mentor know of her?” he thought.

A dull ache began to slowly throb in his head. The young mage placed his fingers to either side of his skull and began to massage it gently. “What should I do? What can I do? The only firm answer I have is where the first book can be found,” he thought. Rathshemmon shuddered at the thought of what he was going to go through to obtain that book. Shaking his head in resignation, the dour mage left the scrying chamber with many lingering doubts in his mind.

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Silence. Deafening silence surrounded this dark, isolated place. Echoes of nothing invaded the mind of the sole occupant. Visions of the past flash by. Strong emotions dredge themselves up from the depths in which they were deeply buried. “So long ago, so very, very long ago. Why am I here? Oh, yes, that is right. I remember now. I was imprisoned, banished by the others. They are the cause of my pain, my eternal pain.” A shrill cry burst forth in what once was a stable mind, momentarily distracting the tortured being. Was the cry real or imagined, she could never tell.

“Dear sweet sister, you have made me suffer greatly. And greatly shall you suffer. Or shall you?” The being continued to speak to itself. “Why is it so dark in here? Where is the sun? Oh, my eyes are closed. No, no…they are open, I think. Avahn, why have you betrayed me, betrayed your beloved sister?” The question echoed out into the darkness, going unanswered as it always did. “I must break free. Yes, free to roam my precious world once again. Free to mold and shape it to my own beautiful image. Just as I once did, before they stopped me.”

Volcanic anger erupted from the depths of her miserable soul. Brilliant light exploded, revealing a featureless landscape. No boundaries, nothing to mark the physical limits of her prison could be seen. “I will be free once more!” she shouted. She forced her eyes open, watching as the immediate area around her rolled and twisted. Offering no hope of remaining stationary for more than a brief moment. Vague shapes materialized. There was no sense of here or there, just a sense of being.

“I already have plans. Plans that will make things right and tear down these prison walls. Poor Avahn, what will you do when your loving sister Morva returns?” Maniacal laughter rang out into the oppressive gloom, reverberating against invisible walls. It was a very long time before that sinister sound faded away.

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In a displaced plane of existence, far from the realm of the living. An emaciated form, fire-blackened with puss oozing from mortal wounds, moved across a broken landscape dotted by scorched patches of dead earth. Tattered clothing hung about this frail being, torn and bloodied from a battle fought long ago. With every movement, fresh wounds opened up, letting blood and puss ooze forth. Those very same wounds healed themselves, only to reopen and heal once again. This is his eternal torture. His sentence for defying the gods.

The stench of sulfur wafted past a pair of blood-encrusted nostrils. They flared as they noxious fumes invaded their crusty confines. Laborious breathing could be heard rattling inside decrepit lungs. The slight gurgle of phlegm intermingling with the flow of air passing through the esophagus was quite noticeable.

“Why, why did I fail? How could I have done so? It was within our reach, if only she had listened to me.” His name is J’Tor, a former high priest who waged war against the gods on behalf of his beloved deity, and lost. Stripped of his powers, the ravaged priest was imprisoned on this alternate plane of existence, never to walk amongst humanity again.

J’Tor grimaced from the pain wracking his body, a grim reminder of his failed attempt at divinity. “We were almost victorious. If not for that old fool, that traitor, we would have won.” The priest coughed violently. A small trickle of blood dripped from the corner of his mouth. He wiped it away with a shred of cloth left hanging on his wrist. “They will pay, every single last one of those wretched animals!” he shouted. “I will break free of this prison, regain my power and take my revenge!”

He continued ranting to himself, shuffling his way around the shattered ground. Jutting rocks, sulfur pits, and an assortment of other gruesome things rose around him. “It has been so long, so very long since I have seen another…human being. Yes, I wanted power, wanted to rule. So I was sent to this vile, forsaken place. Doomed to rule over it and the dark denizens that dwell here. This is my kingdom.” J’Tor opened his arms wide to the ghastly land before him, tilted his head back and let out a horrifying scream. This caused him to double over in pain and cough up more blood.

Fresh wounds tore open, spilling out their ichor filled contents. Tears streamed from glazed eyes. “No, no, this is not the way for a man of my station, a high priest of Morva to behave. I will not shed tears, nor whimper any more. They will not have the last laugh. It will take time. Yes, much time. But time is all I have, is it not? I will break free, free to wreak my vengeance upon them all.” J’Tor let a thin smile creep across his scarred face. He began to giggle, then burst fully into laughter. This sent him into another fit of coughing. He tumbled to the ground, rolling onto his back. “Yesssss, I will have my revenge,” he whispered in a ragged breath. Out of thin air, a voice echoed softly within his mind.

J’Tor…J’Tor…I have come for you. I have returned to set you free.

“Eh? Who is there? The sickly priest pushed himself up from his prone position and looked around for the source of the voice.

J’Tor, do not fear me. I will help you break free from your prison if you help me.

J’Tor scanned the surrounding area. With the exception of some skittering shadows, he felt nor saw no other presence. “I must have lost my mind. Yes, that must be it. All rationale has finally fled me. There is no other reason for me to be hearing another…voice.”

His eyes widened with fear as recognition of the phantom voice dawned on him. “I…I know that voice. It has been so long, can it be? Is it…her? No, it cannot be.” The worried priest dug his palms deeply into his clenched eyelids as if to ward off the intruding voice. “No. I refuse to give in to this illusion. It is not her.” He brought his knees up to his chest, wrapping his arms around his legs while he buried his head between his knees. His body quivering with fear, J’Tor wanted desperately to deny the truth, but knew he could not.

Mt dear J’Tor, has your faith weakened so much that you have forgotten your goddess?

“No, no…you were destroyed long ago. They said you were no more,” he screamed.

A child’s chuckle rippled through his mind. “I am here now J’Tor. How can a goddess forsake her own flock? I have not forgotten what you have done for me. Or shall I say…to me?” The eerie female voice surrounded him, enveloping him in a cold embrace. Filling his withered body with dread. “Do you not wish to serve your goddess? If it is revenge you want, then it is revenge we both shall have. Come back to me J’Tor, let us finish what we had started so long ago. This time, we will not fail. Will you not pray to your goddess for forgiveness? She just might be merciful.

Fresh waves of pain rolled through his body as it shook from fright. “I…I am sorry, please forgive me. I was powerless to stop them. I tried to tell you, but it was too late. How could I forget my beloved goddess? I will do whatever you command of me. Just do not hurt me. I never meant to lose my faith. You are the land, and the land is you. You will become one.” Tears of blood flowed freely from those rheumy eyes.

Stop, you do not have to beg. I forgive you,” she said teasingly. “I am a goddess after all. Is not a goddess merciful to those who show…loyalty, faith? You do want to please your goddess, do you not? Yes, I know you do. Hush now, lay back and rest. Let your goddess show her mercy by healing your scarred and broken body.

“No, please. I…I,” it was too late. J’Tor’s body was lowering itself down onto the ground. He struggled to keep his eyes open for a few moments more, but drowsiness swept over him and he promptly drifted off to sleep. The ground began to move, creeping over his grisly form. The putrid soil covered his entire body, removing it from sight.

When you wake, you will be whole once more. You will be ready to serve as my herald once again. The world will welcome back its true master.” Her demented chortling resounded throughout the morose land.

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Far away, in a city where many come for enlightenment, an old and wizened man sits alone looking at the night sky. His gaze lingered amongst the many stars that hung suspended there. He has spent many years doing just this, watching, waiting. Looking for some telltale sign, any trace of evidence that might tell him of certain things to come. The haggard looking fellow shook his head in resignation. Night after night of the same vigilance has taken its toll. His tired mind and body ache for rest, to know the eternal peace of death.

“When will my penance be finished,” he said softly. Have I not paid the price for standing guard for this long?” A streaking star shot across the heavens, as if in answer to his plea. It carved a long path between the many other stellar beacons, leaving behind a shiny trail. “So that is your answer? What am I to make of that?” A slight smile crept across his withered face, deepening the many lines that were so evident. As he shook his head negatively, the mop of shaggy gray hair swept back and forth. “Ah, I guess you must want me to stand watch just a while longer, eh? No matter, even I do not think I have paid the price in full yet.” Across from where the old man was sitting, a small brazier burned solemnly. It sat upon a large oak desk with many loose pieces of parchments and rolled up scrolls strewn across the top. The embers within were low, but glowed a deep crimson. Slowly, a small flame came to life, growing in size and intensity. Facial features formed within those flames, showing the visage of a bald, plump man.

“Hogarth! Hogarth, I need you,” came the voice from the flame. Hogarth turned away from the window and looked towards the brazier. He squinted his eyes at the face in the flame, recognizing it instantly.

“Friar Shem, to what do I owe the pleasure of this mid-eve call?” Hogarth rose from the chair and walked over to the desk and sat down in front of the hovering image.

“It is of the utmost importance that I speak to you. I have urgent news that you need to hear,” exclaimed Friar Shem. There was a worried expression upon his round face. His mouth was quivering with every word he said.

“Well man, speak up. I do not have all night to sit here and gab with you. What is so urgent?” Hogarth leaned forward, placing his elbows upon the desk and setting his face within his cupped hands.

“Well, as you know, I have been studying other planes of existence through the use of astral projection and conversing with only the most hospitable denizens of those planes,” he said. In between sentences, Friar Shem would glance to either side of himself, as if he were expecting someone to come up to him at any minute. Hogarth could see sweat glistening of the man’s bald pate.

“Yes, yes. I know of your astral endeavors. You have mentioned them to me in previous conversations. So what new piece of knowledge do you wish to share with me tonight?

Friar Shem drew in a deep breath, then exhaled. “I came upon a most interesting plane in my recent travels. It was cold and barren, hardly a fitting place to live. No light penetrated the murky clouds that hung in the sky. Mainly low crawling creatures lurked in the shadows or flew swiftly from hiding place to hiding place. Not a good place at all. I was about to write this plane off as uninhabited by anything remotely sentient when I made a startling discovery.” Shem’s eyes bulged out of their sockets to emphasize this last statement.

“Out with it already Friar, you’re wasting time. What did you find?” asked Hogarth.

“I am getting to that, have patience. At first, I almost dismissed this new object as one of the numerous rock formations until I heard the mangled form whimpering. I hovered near it, carefully staying out of sight. I did not want to be discovered if this was a malevolent creature. As I drew closer, the form began to move. It rolled over onto its back, revealing a hideous face. The mere sight of it was horrible, simply horrible. Had I not looked away, noon-tide’s meal would have extracted itself from my stomach.”

“You are rapidly loosing my attention, speed it up,” said Hogarth.

“Patience has never been your strong suit Hogarth, but I am digressing. Even though this…thing was nothing pretty to look at, I continued my surveillance. The being rose from the ground and began to walk, just mumbling to itself. Most of its ramblings were incoherent, but I managed to hear a portion of what it said.” Friar Shem dabbed at his sweltering brow, wiping away the perspiration.

Hogarth managed to stifle a yawn that threatened to escape his mouth. “What was it you heard Shem?”

“J’Tor, I heard the name J’Tor.” The Friar stared at Hogarth waiting for some kind of response.

“What? J’Tor? Are you sure you heard right? Did you swab your ears correctly after taking your morning bath? I think you are mistaken.” Hogarth’s frazzled eyebrows knitted together in mild annoyance. He had not heard that name in years.

“I am not mistaken on this, although I wish I were. Unfortunately, I heard more. This being ranted about being so close to divinity, being thwarted by a traitor and…,” Friar Shem’s voice trailed off.

“And what? What is it? Hogarth was quickly becoming irritated with Shem’s frequent pauses. One chilling thought came to his mind, but he refused to recognize it.

“And failing his goddess,” Shem paused for a scant moment. “His goddess Morva.” He averted his eyes so as to not look directly at Hogarth. He didn’t need to look at him because he knew all too well what was going through the old man’s mind.

“Are you sure,” he whispered through clenched teeth. “Are you absolutely sure that was the name you heard? If so, then we are all facing grave danger.” Most of the color had drained from Hogarth’s face, leaving only ghostly white skin.

Friar Shem shook his head, wiping away more sweat. “I know, I know. No one else would have known about the battle or Morva except for him. I knew you would want to know immediately.”

“Yes, you were right in bringing this to my attention so quickly. Thank you my friend. Please forgive my impatience. Now I must take your leave, there is much work for me to do. I assume you have written a full account of your experience, the location of this plane and so forth. I will have need of them, so please send them over with all due haste. Also, it would be wise of you to abstain from any more astral trips until I am finished. We do not need anything happening to you.”

“Yes, of course hogarth. You will have my complete cooperation in this matter. Whatever I can do to assist you, please let me know. I will send an oblate over with the documents in the morning. After vespers.” Shem nodded his head vigorously as he said all this to Hogarth. The perspiration finally dissipating from his bald pate.

“Good“, said Hogarth. “I will be waiting.” The flame shrank back among the burning embers, taking the face of Friar Shem along with it. Hogarth stared at the embers in the brazier for a very long time, contemplating the meaning of the Friar’s discovery. “After all these years, he still exists,” he thought. “If that is true, she cannot be far behind.” Hogarth rose from behind the desk and moved back to the open window. He drew his woolen robe tightly around him and crossed his arms over his chest. Looking back at the sky, he could still see the errant star’s silvery trail. “I am too old to fight her once more. J’Tor would be enough to handle, but her as well? No, I think not. Can the world withstand Morva’s wrath again?” Hogarth turned away from the window and headed for his bedroom for some much needed rest.

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