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Unread 15th of September, 2009, 10:41
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Stringbean2142
Ghoul [GM]

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"It was maybe three years ago," Tilley says. "We were trying to plant wheat out back, on the hillside, when Lari found a hole in the ground. She made the kids stay away and came to get me." He takes a sip of tea, looking out into the morning storm at the spot where his wife's apparition had stood.

Keiron shifts the logs in the fire. Sparks cascade as one of the smaller logs collapses into the embers. "That was her name? Lari?"

Tilley nods without looking back at Keiron. "Larimora Guilo Tilley. She likes people to call her Lari; says Larimora sounds like the name of a plant." He sighs and sips again at the tea. "The hole looked like it was maybe a badger den, but when you went inside it was bigger. Much bigger. The first time I went down, I found myself in a cave a family of bears would be very comfortable in.

"Lari went in a few times. I told her it was dangerous, that she might hurt herself down there. When I suggested tying herself off to a rope, she laughed. Said the rope wasn't going to be near long enough. When I asked what she meant, she took me down the hole with her. That was the second time I went down there, and it was much different.

"Now, it opened onto a huge room, maybe six hundred feet to a side. On the back wall was a waterfall that fell into a narrow chasm. Moss and weeds grew on the floor, and several tunnels led off into the earth. Lari pointed at one and told me she was nearly done exploring that branch.

"The strange thing was, I wasn't welcome there and I knew it. I could feel a pressure on my skin, pushing me towards the hole out and my skin felt like it would peel right off. Lari tried to convince me to stay, but I couldn't. I left that hole and didn't go back in for months. Lari told me I was being foolish, but there was nothing I wanted less than to go willingly into that hole. Well, almost nothing.

"The third time I went down there, Greta found me in the fields and said Lari had gone down hours before and not come back up. I assumed she had fallen while exploring, so I grabbed a torch and set out. When I dropped into the hole, I was back in my bear cave. No waterfall. No tunnels. No Lari. I tried again and again over that week, but every time I went in I just got the cave.

"I stopped trying a week later. That was the first time we saw Lari across the way, as you saw her." He stops and glances at Keiron's face. "Naturally, you don't believe me, do you?"

Keiron sits back, keeping the emotions off of his face. The story was crazy, but he had seen the woman. It is a curiosity, and he has no pressing business to attend to. "There's an easy way to prove or disprove the story. Show me the hole. It still exists, right?"

Tilley looks at Keiron for a long time before responding. "Aye, it still exists. I'll show you after breakfast, but won't go down there. If you find the waterfall, Lari was probably in the first tunnel on your left. Will you look for her for me?"

Keiron nods. "Of course."

***

No waterfall waits for Keiron, but it isn't a bear cave he drops into either. The walls are made of volcanic rock, and the ground feels thin, as though it is covering a deep chasm. A tunnel branching off to the rear is the only discernible feature Keiron can see.

He looks up at the hole, where Tilley's head is outlined by the clear sky. "No waterfall, but there's a tunnel."

Tilley nods. "I think it might change for whoever is going in. Good luck."

***

The tunnel opens after a hundred paces into another large opening. His torch reveals a smooth cavern of the same volcanic rock. There is no waterfall and no other tunnels leading off. It takes only a moment to take in the room, and Keiron decides there is nothing here. It's an interesting cave for sure, but proves nothing. He turns to leave, only to find the tunnel entrance gone.

Turning in place, he shines his torch all around him. It's just a room, no exits visible. This is magic. He sketches a quick sign on his chest. The arcane energies of the room nearly blows the back of his head out, and he collapses to the ground in sheer agony.

Sensations return slowly out of the red that his thoughts have become, and he feels dampness on his cheeks. He'd been crying, apparently. Keiron sits up and wipes at them, only for his hands to come away dark. Blood, he realizes through the mother of all migraines. I'm bleeding from my eyes. A quick check shows that blood also was leaking from his ear, nose, and mouth. The pressure of the magical backlash had been massive.

He realizes he can hear sounds. Crickets, and the sound of wind whispering through branches. Wha...? Standing unsteadily, he sees a tree growing at the far end of the room, patches of grass coming up around it. The room, whatever it was, is changing around him. He staggers through tufts of grass and weeds that spring up at his feet to the tree, and touches it. It's real. A horse whinnies behind him and Keiron spins, the motion making his abused head swim. The sight finishes the job, dropping him to his knees.

It's his family's wagon. The dogs are laying at the fire, basking in the warmth of the glowing embers. They don't see the dark shapes Keiron does, creeping up to the wagon from all sides. One shape detaches itself from the mass, a dark figure of a man. He is cloaked, but a sense of power rolls off of him. He raises his hands towards the dogs and begins to mutter. The muttering rouses the dogs, but before they can do more than stand the muttering stops and an icy prison forms around one of the dogs, freezing it instantly. The others leap to the attack, barks ringing out, but the black masses move forward and cut them down.

Keiron's father and brothers pour out of the wagon, half-dressed and disoriented. A knife flashes from the darkness, embedding itself in Keiron's father's calf. He falls. Keiron's eldest brother draws a dagger and advances on the dark man. With a contemptuous wave of his hand, the dark man freezes him in place.

Seeing his brother fall shakes the shock from Keiron, and he takes a step forward. “STOP!” The dark man turns at Keiron's cry, and for a moment Keiron sees the gleam of teeth in a mirthless, deadly smile. Before he can unleash his fury on that smile, the dark man, the wagon, and the massacre all dissolve, crashing to the ground like waves on the ocean.

The ground under him gives, and Keiron falls into the deep of the earth. “Bloody crows...!” His torch is gone, lost in the fall of rocks, but all around him is a subtle glow. It radiates from the walls, and he realizes he can make out images in the glow. Again he sees his family's wagon and the coming of the dark ones. Before the slaughter begins, the glow shifts.

Now, he sees Jon's body, the bolt from Keiron's crossbow firmly embedded in his eye socket. Jon is walking around, even with the obviously fatal damage, and for a moment he turns his remaining eye on Keiron. The eye is all white, and clearly insane. Keiron falls on.

The glow shifts. Keiron sees himself, but younger. He's reading from a large tome by the light of an unseen fire. The young Keiron's shoulder shake slightly, a movement that could be mistaken for the subtle movement of the fire's light, but the wet splotches falling on the book suggest otherwise. Something in the book is of vital importance, but the pages are tilted in a way to prevent their reading. What is happening here? That never happened, so why does it feel true? Keiron falls on.

The glow shifts. He sees a group of people, people he has never seen before. A dark woman whose face is marred by a wide scar. A one-armed man. A man wielding a large shield, decorated with a silver fist. A half-orc. A slender woman to the rear. A man with a somewhat foolish knit cap. They all face Keiron, while in the background the dark man from the wagon attack looms, arms reaching for the group. Keiron falls on.

The glow shifts. His father is packing the wagon, and Keiron now can see the package taken during the attack. It is angular and wrapped in silk cloth, no more than the size of a human fist. The silk wrapping shifts, and on it Keiron can see the symbol of Pelor. Keiron falls on.

The glow shifts. Keiron see himself again, now much older. His hair is cut short and scars adorn his face. Fire rains around him as he traces arcane symbols in the air before him. Swords are crossed in the background, but the wielders are unclear. Keiron's cloak catches, the flames racing up to his neck. His face wreathed in flame, Keiron finishes the last sigil and a brilliant blue light flashes. When it clears, Keiron stands alone and naked in a vast desert. On his chest is the tattoo of a dove. Keiron falls on.

The last image fades, and now Keiron falls in blackness and silence. There is no wind, no sense of direction or perspective. In a way, it is as though he is floating through a vast void. Only the subtle pull of gravity in the pit of his stomach lets him know he is still falling. It is at the same time the most frightening, most exhilarating, and most relaxing sensation he has ever felt. As he falls deeper into the earth, he manages to gather enough sens of mind to wonder what will come next.

Moments later, Keiron finds out.