We were back at the Long Vine Inn. The Professor and Brad had returned from their quest as well, having retrieved the casket of flux as well as some other of our items with no hassle apart from going through the required bureaucratic processes. All of us were relived but also somewhat struck at how simple it had been to acquire all we wanted. With the coins given to us, we decided to take a seat in the large dining room of the inn, shying from loneliness again and trying to immerse ourselves in the masses of the world below. With many people living in shifts of twelve rather than twenty four hours, the city never truly slept and so, the room was still bustling with activity.
We also opened the envelopes and found in there detailed accounts surrounding the heptagon, the odd script and the green pearlescent material, all of which we had been eager to know more about. We all had before us a cup of prickly wine – even Sarita who had promised to be responsible about it – as well as a large plate of morsels for all to enjoy. We read the letters and soon knew much more of where we wanted to head.
The green pearlescent material we had come across was known as the Divine Soul or the Dream of true Strength. Apart from the heptagonal frame we had found, it was found in a few other objects, all of which are considered the work of the gods.
Such as the pillars of upholding, which supposedly were created by the gods to stem the ceiling of the world, a shell that protects from the evil outsides and through which we had found a passage. The pillars were heptagonal in their cross section and reached several thousand miles from the bottom of the world to the top. They branched along the way and apart from stemming the ceiling, they also caused all stone in the area to possess much tougher properties, allowing huge caverns to exist without threat of crumbling. Therefore, many nations and empires have grown around the pillars, that only occasionally can be found clear of rock, exposed to mortal view. These places were often the centres of religions and cultures, holy places even. Effudopolis was one of those places, located close to the centre of the territory of the 88 Chieftains, which meant they were off limits to us.
The heptagonal plate with the odd script was found in two places, on two vast mountains that stood one each at the poles of the world, inside huge chambers larger than anything else in the world, so tall that the ceiling was out of sight. These mountains were what the needles of the compass pointed to. The mountains were called “the Godvaults” and supposedly contained the powers of the gods in case ruin should ever breach the shell. Each of these two mountains had this plaque somewhere, each bearing a different inscription, although many have claimed to be able to read the script, nobody could be sure. According to some, the inscriptions are wisdoms from times of creation to ensure mortals will one day be able to ascend to godhood by their own devices. In the end, however, the different religions and cultures kept their interpretation of the script to themselves.
Many peoples and cultures of the world below the surface considered a pilgrimage to the Godvaults something everyone should do at least once in their life, and many cults did it far more often than that. What exactly is in that chamber was unknown and only rumours returned from beyond the foot of the mountain.
We now knew where to find out more about the mysterious material, but other than that, we had little to go by.
We decided quickly that finding another city close to an exposed pillar of upholding would allow us to follow a trace of scholars and priests who could know more about the script and what it said. The problems with that endeavour were twofold: on the one hand, we would have to find out where the next city is, on the other hand, we had to get there as well.
It was finally Brad who would grant us the missing insight. “I once was tasked by scholars of Kalonitz to find an ancient Pliranti passage from the city southward through the Impjasegi mountains, a passage which they had seen mentioned in old scriptures. I attempted to find out more from local guides, and in the end, I found what I was looking for from pilgrims.” He pointed to the page of paper wherein the heptagonal plate was described. “I found out that a reclusive cult would wander each year into the mountains to find an ancient statute to which they still prayed. I accompanied them and as it turned out, the pilgrims had used the supposed hidden path all this time.”
The Professor hummed intrigued. “Hmmm. So what you’re saying is if we find and accompany pilgrims we could find a way and a group to travel with? That sounds like a clever idea.”
The Professor turned to Sarita. “What kind of religions do regular pilgrimages to the pillars or even the poles?”
Sarita mulled over something for a while before answering. “There are many cults that make expeditions, some even believe that it is their fate to ascend the Godvaults. The issue is who we can accompany, but I think priests of the Siblings would be best suited to tell us, they are most versed in the ancient remnants like the pillars.”
“What kind of gods are the siblings?” Anne asked with genuine curiosity in her voice.
This warranted a confused look from Sarita. “You don’t know Atall and Hallif?” Her eyes darted to the rest of us, but we all shook our heads. “Wha... but you said you’re from the surface, or is that just some empty boast?”
We looked at each other again and none of us seemed any wiser.
“But... they are out there, are they not? Protecting all creation? Guarding the gates?”
I thought I had misheard. “Woah, what gates?”
“Well, you know... the gates in the shell?”
It all seemed to us as if Sarita had known more than she had led on so far. I wanted to stand up to question her more, but Anne had already put her hand on Sarita’s and looked her into the eyes. “Why don’t you tell us about those gods as if we had never heard of them?”
Sarita fell into a confused contemplation, obviously trying to find words to describe something to us. Then, she ceased her search, exhaled and stood up from her chair. From this pose, she began to recite a poem in a melodic speaking rhythm. It was beautiful the way she formed out each word and I shall write the poem down here in its entirety.
On empty planes | colossal Madh
Was without soul or shape
To lightless sun | he rose his head
Light bathed the farthest scape.
He wished for sense | he wished for shape
Drew thick ink from his veins
With quill he wrote | such shaped words
Granted them to the planes.
Written each word | became its soul
So only thus each knew
Its existence | forevermore
Of this these souls were true.
Made of Madh’s ink | they knew their name
Looked to their writer’s face
Saw nothing there | nor otherwhere
Were taught by wisdom’s grace.
The time slew Madh | so tears flowed forth
In torrents they did run
To salty seas | thus left the corpse
Of land the only one.
Gods felt the urge | to fill the void
So they took each their part
Of writer’s corpse | and shining light
To shape true to their heart.
Atall the fierce | of craft and flame
Took tendons, teeth and bones
Unto the world | he gifted thus
Metals and gems and stones.
Fjoersa the dear | of beauty’s face
From flesh made fertile soil
With skin and hair | forests and fields
Shaped nature’s daily toil.
Lungs Hallif took | with all his breath
Shaped forth cold winds that blow
Veins Hallif took | with all his force
Shaped rapids fast that flow.
Each made their realm | with their own kin
Placed castles, towns and leas
To teach their own | lessons of life
And sow the seeds of peace.
Atall taught his | be fierce and bold
Urshog to guard all’s home
To cherish that | which rare and good
Gisrin to work and hone.
Fjoersa to hers | those Zapad’chu
Taught common love and care
To care for those | that could not so
And nurture splendour fair.
Mohouko large | Yupalva stern
Of Hallif’s deed and thought
Learned to be stern | and vigilant
To shelter all, waste naught.
Wandering kinds | found gods’ grandeur
Approached it free of fear
Crolachans apt | and humans bold
Adopted by the dear.
Times peaceful came | all flourished proud
Under the gods’ close watch
Yet days still came | that threatened all
Madness from inky blotch.
A flood of black | a void of sense
The shapeless came to feed
Upon the warmth | and light divine
To satiate black greed.
No walls were safe | no stone remained
Snuffed out the brightest hearths
The war took much | brought ruin more
‘til all work laid in shards.
Under shadows | in deepest graves
No corpses, only husks
Flesh to dust | warmth to ice
Hope died with hollow dusks.
War raged on thus | then ebbed away
Survivors far and few
The gods stood tall | beside their wards
Cold hearths kindled anew
Fjoersa rose up | proclaimed to all
She would give up her life
To craft a wall | to stave off black
Protect worlds dear from strife.
Not from ashlar | or plank of wood
But from divine’s own soul
The gods did build | this hallowed shell
Encased the world in whole.
A final work | crafted by gods
Protected works divine
Gods grew steadfast | leave and become
Guardians for this shrine.
Fjoersa tired | laid down to rest
Her final breath of might
Vapour arose | and brought these halls
Life-giving warmth and light
The grandest feast | final goodbye
Mortals and gods partook
As brethren | mourning all joy
Before the gods forsook.
Each took one drop | of divine might
Filled vaults thousandfold
To store and keep | this power there
Until fate is foretold.
Of hallowed bone | and sacred flesh
Each god gave to create
Angels loyal | keep mortals safe
As gods would guard each gate.
Black will return | and bring again
Destruction and discord
The shell will fall | flooding will come
Madness of ill will poured.
Thus live thy life | as best thou can
That thou may serve the gods
In final war | for existence
And tip to good the odds.
For Atall fierce | do hone thy strength
To be a warrior
To forge ahead | where no one dares
And brave each barrier.
For Hallif stern | do hone thy will
Endure for thy comrades.
Steady as rock | with warmth inside
Till strongest storm abates.
For Fjoersa dear | live glad and good
Sing songs to virtues’ praise
That life may grow | as always has
For now and future days.
Written is this | and told since old
As we each pass it on
To children young | as we once heard
Keep alive this canon.
Sarita’s last word had settled and she now realized how much quieter the inn had become. Not everyone had fallen silent, but quite a few people had gathered to listen to her rendition of this ancient work. The people clapped and then quickly returned to their own conversations. All except one: an Urshog with a blue shirt and one arm in a sling.
He greeted us and addressed Sarita directly. As far she gave us to understand, he was no longer with his brothers, for they completed their quest whereas he could not partake because of his injury. It appeared he had to continue this quest before allowing himself to go home to his banner. For the purpose of finding something honourable to do and moving on from Slabtown, he offered his services as protection to us, even promising to not demand pay until his arm was healed up again.
We thought about accepting his offer, considering how we had been preyed upon before, but then I had a better idea. I turned to Sarita.
“Can you ask him whether he knows any groups of pilgrims going to the pillars of upholding apart from the ones at Effudopolis?”
Sarita asked the Urshog and he answered that there were several temples and shrines in the city where we could find pilgrims. We could then hire on there as protection for the pilgrims instead.
The Urshog seemed more than happy about that recommendation. We agreed upon a meeting place for the next morning, then he excused himself and we talked about the poem we had just heard.
We were now aware that gates to the surface truly did exist, but supposedly, the gods guarded them. In order to confirm their existence and nature, we would have to find more sources than a merchant of oddities and an old poem. The goal of our travels remained the same, but now we also had a few directions.
That night I fell asleep with beautifully melodic words in my mind. I could almost hear Fjoersa breathe as I closed my eyes.