We arrive immediately at the main event. Crowds of people cheering, celebrating, praising the God of Slaughter. It’s not surprising—people are easily led by anyone with the right words, particularly in trying times like these—but the lack of surprise does nothing to quell the disgust it stirs in my gut. A giant symbol of Erythnul himself lies on a platform as the focal point of the gathering, constructed, fittingly enough of dead bodies. Whenever you start to think well of the average person, it’s things like this that should be remembered—it’s the average person who so easily and enthusiastically embraces such horrific things. Perhaps this world deserves the doom it’s about to receive.
I look down at my defiled cloak and gloves, then in frustration cast them to the ground. That’s the second cloak of mine he’s ruined now. Saying nothing about it, I turn to the others and ask what our first move should be. Our endemic lack of planning once again creeps up as we waste valuable time deciding what we should do. Half the group resolves to take out the king and we start rushing off in that direction. While that’s certainly a notion I’m happy to embrace, I fail to see how that will in any way help stop the main problem at hand. We stop again to discuss other possible courses, and Jhulaer shows a worrying lack of discretion by initiating a magical conversation with the fourth Chosen, Pav, a friend of Hedar’s who he took care to keep away from the rest. Sure, the spell is mostly unnoticeable to the naked eye, but in this, of all places, I fear the use of magic itself might give us away. She talks briefly with Pav, then reaches out to his guardian of sorts, a man named Locklear.
The mage is quiet for a while, presumably holding conversation with him, then comes back to us with a question. She and Locklear want to know what happened last time, hoping that there will be some sort of clue to what to do this time. But it’s a waste of time. Nothing happened last time, except some good people died for no good reason. Prophecies are a crock—unless the goal is to waste time, resources, and people in seeking them.
Still, there are perhaps some things from the much more recent past that could be relevant. I think back to Balidor and the cleric of Pelor in vampire’s lair, speaking of the revival of Pelor. Blood of a follower, spilled in the name of the god. In mentioning this, they inform me that one of the new Chosen is, incredulously, a follower of Erythnul. Perhaps he’s the key. I decide we should go back and pursue that somehow. The two elves are grandstanding near the symbol, clearly gearing up to start whatever this is. Thorman informs us he saw one of them holding a vial of something, a dark red liquid. Blood. It seems the Chosen won’t be needed for this after all. Then the elves start making a speech and there’s no more time for consideration.
We strike immediately. Jhulaer and Hedar attempt to disrupt the sign of Erythnul—with any luck it’s more than just symbolic—but the elves hardly seem to care, even as the body parts are thrown directly at them. I wait and watch, unable to do anything useful until I know what’s going to happen. Then one of them pulls out a vial and invokes “the blood of the enemy”. Of course. Different god, different ritual. He wanted it to be over, but it still comes back to him in the end. It’s Balablood.
It’s a long shot, but it’s our only hope. The blood in that vial is likely the last blood of Balidor they can get. If we can stop them from spilling it for Erythnul, perhaps their ritual will be stalled. I throw a knife at his hand, hoping he’ll drop it, but only manage to hit him in the leg. And there’s no time for a second. He crushes the vial in his hand, and it begins.
It’s hard to tell what’s going on—near as I can tell the pair of them are being encased in some sort of orb—like an egg, or maybe a cocoon? I throw another knife in a vain attempt to break it, but to no avail. Thorman likewise attacks it and manages to break it momentarily, but that, too, does nothing to halt what is happening. And what is happening? I’m at a complete loss—I don’t know how these things work so I can’t even begin to come up with any ideas. I don’t see any other way, as loathe as I am to acknowledge the connection we now have, wanting nothing to do with it, in fact, it has recently become clear that simply ignoring it won’t be an option forever. And what was it I said earlier, “as long as our desires are in sync”? So I swallow my pride and straight up ask, “What now?” The answer, I almost didn’t expect to receive, comes shortly. “Let’s just see where this goes.” Strange attitude from one who wants the other gods eliminated. Surely the best chance for that to happen is before he rises? But nevertheless, waiting is the only option now and it’s not going to last long. Mere moments later, it’s over and where there were once two, there is now only one. A god has risen. And it still looks like Hubert‽
Meanwhile, our efforts have attracted attention, as several of the king’s agents, including a massive man, nearly 10 feet tall, start coming our way to intervene. I do my best to blend into the crowd, hoping to take at least one of them by surprise, but before they can act, one of them is impaled with a massive bolt. A sniper—it must be this Locklear Jhulaer was talking to. We scarcely have time to process his first shot when he looses a second, this time at the king’s box. He hits his mark and the king goes flying out of view.
The convention has turned to chaos, but suddenly I know what needs to be done. Thorman and Hedar are confronting Erythnul, if that’s indeed what this is. The sniper is handling crowd control. No one knows I’m here. If the king is to be assassinated, and this is the optimal time for it to be done, someone needs to confirm the kill. There are no half-measures in regicide. Making my way to the box is easy. Panicked crowds are perfect for concealment, perhaps even better than the darkness. Unfortunately, the crowds are avoiding the box itself, and at least a few guards are yet not. But I’m not entirely dependent on my environment for my stealth. A smoke bomb and a shadow are all I require to slip past these guards, although not before one manages to get a weak jab to my side.
Inside the box, I’m glad I’ve come. The king is wounded, badly I’d imagine. I’m no healer, but I’m fairly certain it’s tough to stay alive when you’re missing a chunk of your side. Still a healer is present—the king looks bad, possibly dead already, but I don’t doubt that he has the best on staff and I can’t leave anything to chance. The healer doesn’t see me, and I don’t intend to let him. I move quickly, fluidly, with a single long motion—he’ll see something, but never be able to say exactly what—running across the box and out the window, slitting the King’s throat as I go. And before he even has time to react, I’m gone, over the side, then over the wall, running vertically down, a magical trick I’ve used many times before but never fully gotten used to. Suddenly, a voice in my head—Jhulaer. She wants to know where I am. I tell her I’ve escaped the commotion for the time being. She tells me they’re preparing to escape the city altogether and where to meet her. A man I don’t recognize beckons me—it must be Locklear. He leads me to a non-descript house, and then further to a non-descript closet, where Jhulaer, Alton, and someone else I don’t recognize are all waiting. Wasting no time, Jhulaer transports us all back to the Oasis. I’m just about to ask where Thorman and Hedar are, when my question is pre-emptively answered by a vision in the sky. Somehow, despite the impossibility of it all, I don’t doubt its authenticity.
Thorman and Hedar are facing… Hubert. And for a time it truly does seem to be him, talking, moving just like him. Speaking to Thorman as an old friend. But then, something new, something different, even, from the two pretenders, creeps in. Something cruel and fierce and horrible. I can do nothing but stand and watch as the only man I call friend is tortured and taunted by a being whose very existence is an affront to us. And as I feel a hatred for this thing, a cold and long-abandoned, yet disturbingly comfortable and familiar sensation, coming over me, Jhulaer suddenly snaps into focus. “I’m taking us there.” And then we’re teleporting again, and I feel a familiar sensation of dread, one I haven’t felt for over 200 years, in that impossible moment between departure and destination, a certainty that things have gone wrong. But this time it’s more than that because suddenly he’s there and he speaks to me, somehow, in that timeless moment, his words chilling me to the bone. “All those times… When you didn’t go where you intended to…”
“…That was me!”