Terror of Nagash
Halfing Star Pact Warlock
The day Galt Roarke showed up at the temple nervous and quiet, many of the brothers in the monastery garden wondered why they hadn’t noticed him walking into the chapel, how he’d slipped through the main gates unnoticed.
They wondered this not because he appeared to have any skill at stealth, but for quite the opposite reason: despite his diminutive stature Galt Roarke had the bearing of a man who commands attention; the sort of man people notice at a party or town meeting, the kind that makes the room quiet when he talks.
Brother Jonas was at first certain the halfling had come to talk to the abbot about a business proposal, possibly about fixing the cracked prayer parapet or the leaking chapel roof. The town aldermen had been dragging their feet on these issues for months, despite the fact that pilgrims to the temple brought gold, not just for Bahamut and his great works, but also for the merchant, taxpaying class of Fallcrest.
Of course Brother Jonas did not think about pilgrims as suppliers of coins and riches, the way Galt Roarke would. Jonas merely knew that when pilgrims came, Bahamut smiled upon them and His Holy Radiance and Bounty blessed the town also.
Roarke strode over to Jonas ignoring several other monks who were tending the garden. A small thrill Jonas couldn’t explain leapt in him.
He’s coming to talk to me, he thought.
“I need to see-”
“The Abbot, Father Hagan?”Jonas cut him off, exalting in his own powers of deduction.
On a different day, a better day, Galt would have smiled, nodded politely and asked Jonas about his work in the garden. He would have suggested a few extra rows of tobacco to raise money for new garden tools, or a glass hot shed like he’d seen in far away Innsmouth. But this was not a good day.
“I need to see Douven Staul, brother-?”
“Jonas,” the young monk blurted, unsure if the halfling had been asking his name or simply had referred to him generically. “You’d better come see the Abbot anyway then. Father Douven isn’t here right now.”
Jonas turned and led the way into the inner perimeter walls of the monastery and what ought to have been a comforting labyrinth of buildings, grottos and contemplation spaces.
Just before going inside Galt looked behind himself warily, briefly catching the eye of good old brother Maltos. He nodded, grimaced then turned and followed Jonas.
At least there’s still a few here who might have my back, he thought. Then again, there were also a few more who might stick a knife in it.
“Who was that, brother Maltos?” One of the other monks asked.
“Douven’s biggest disappointment,” Maltos said unable to keep from grinning.
“You can say that again!” Brother Leth said. “He skipped his lessons constantly. He pilfered from the poor box for his loan sharking scheme! He made brother Vale break his vows when he sheltered those prostitutes in here! He’s just like that Tiamat-worshipping witch, his mother. Why Bahamut doesn’t smite him where he stands I’ll never know.”
Maltos blinked, and turned, pointing a muddy carrot at Leth.
“Brother Vale broke his chastity vows all by himself, no one twisted his arm. And he married that girl! And I’m sure High Priestess Althea would love to hear you recounting stories about her past career as a prostitute. She would not have become a priestess, but for Roarke. As for his mother, she’s reformed. She’s a simple fortune-teller!”
“You’re the one telling stories about Mother Althea Maltos. I didn’t use her name. As for Galt’s mother she had no choice but to reform. Douven and the other warrior priests sacked her temple to Tiamat and destroyed her coven. She only lived because she was pregnant with that stinking hobbit and pledged his service to Douven!”
Maltos swallowed hard. As much as he liked the small halfling, he had to agree, Roarke was trouble.
“I knew I should have taken a vow of silence instead of volunteering for the garden,” he muttered.
Galt had been running for a fortnight. Jumping through a magician’s portal away from Innsmouth, hiding on a garbage barge, hitching a ride on several wagons. He’d been in Dar es Mel, even that shit hole Goatsburgh and still they kept finding him.
He knew he’d have to come back. Back to where it all began and back to the one man who could protect him. It was either Douven or his mother, and there was no way he was going to his mother for protection. Involving her would mean an end to his enemies no doubt, but it would also likely mean baking them into a pie and eating them or some other ritual to Tiamat.
There was another reason he didn’t want to acknowledge for not involving his mother – beyond the endless ridicule she would heap on him. Galt secretly feared his mother would not be able to help him.
It was all because of The Order. They had approached him when he finally had a storefront for his loans business. He’d been going over the books with his employee Jimmy when a man in a fine wine-coloured coat and black-plumed hat walked in and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“We’re moving up in the world Jimmy,” Galt had said after the man left.
Galt’s induction into the order was an odd affair, with queer music and a man in shadows sitting in a chair whispering strange things about winged creatures whisking people between the stars inside bottles of gas.
Initially Galt’s membership in the order was a social tool, a venue to meet other power brokers in Fallcrest, to find investors and put together deals that would have taken years only a few short months before.
But as he progressed it proved much more valuable. They taught him about actuarial prediction and how the signs of the heavens figured into the probability of fates. Galt’s loan losses dropped to almost nothing and his clients prospered and always paid as no one dared welsh on a member of The Order.
In retrospect he ought to have thought more about the accident that befell Jimmy; the poor lad being crushed under a wagon in the street. It seemed tragic, but somehow plausible, even predictable at the time, given the young man’s risk factors of youth, and occasional drink.
Galt had hired a new accountant and fell in love with the secret society he had been invited into.
In a way, it reminded him of the trappings of the monastery and Douven’s religion, but the Order’s teachings were not about wispy religions and whimsical Gods. No this was a secret that was slowly unraveling before him, and not just one secret. There were secrets of science, revelations about cause and effect, intimations of the machinations of the stars and the movements of the planets, how solar systems were merely large projections of infinitesimal particles. Then came the greatest secret of all, the revelation of the strange antediluvian beings that dwelt in the impossibly cold voids beyond the stars and the powers those beings offered to those who were loyal and performed the rituals.
Strange rituals. There was the altering of the minds of maids; the small gesture over the girls foreheads performed by the head of the Order in Fallcrest, Lord Fabn. The girls seemed unharmed, but all claimed to have “switched heads,” with the other girls. If only he had tried to tarry with those girls he would have seen the true cost of their mental translocation and the slimy, seething green mutations under their hoop dresses, so different from the milky white beauty of their faces.
Then there was the drinking of wine with dice, the chanting to the Lord of Krakens who dwelt beneath the great ocean, the juggling of jewels, the killing of hounds. On some nights they would spin the wheel of fate that bore a potion of ill, a potion of health, a vial of poison and a silver goblet with laudanum.
It was in the midst of a drug addled haze that Galt realized the deflowering ritual that the Order’s High Wizard was about to perform on a young virgin girl was not only completely wrong, but also completely irrelevant to the powers the creatures of the Void were extending. When he stopped the ceremony by calling down a burst of coruscating, unearthly energies, his terrified brethren in the Order let the girl go. But they weren’t happy.
“Sothoth will be angered!” they chanted. “You have stolen the powers of the Old Ones and will be punished!”
“You are all idiots! You pretend to be men of science but immerse yourselves in superstition!” he thundered.
But just as the temper-fuelled words left his mouth, he froze. As he stood in the bright greenish light of the Order’s odd an-baric lights, he realized that he was alone, remembered that he was a small halfling, and considered that he didn’t really know what powers he could depend on. It was time to run and he did.
There was a confused melee, a tangle of bodies tripping over each other trying to grab him as he ran between legs, bit ankles and blasted souls with strange whining, thrumming rays of color.
Wriggling, pushing, he slipped away using the trick his mother had taught him for times such as these. Making himself unobtrusive, hiding his larger-than-life, entrepreneurial nature with thoughts of self deprecation and collectivity, he became almost invisible and so, hard to catch.
From the time he burst out of the Order hall and tasted the sweet incense-free night air of Fallcrest, he’d been on the run.
Order members from other towns at first gave him shelter and showed him new more advanced rituals.
In one city, Order members would duel with odd shaped instruments that looked like toys to Galt, but that the Order members claimed were “morbidity calculators.” No blows would be struck, and few movements, and then one man would stand still, bow his head and declare himself the loser. Invisible wounds would be treated by doctors who assured Galt that, had the men actually engaged the power plants of the calculators, these injuries would have been sustained. Galt saw a man willingly and calmly submit to an arm amputation without balm of drink or poppy one night. On the second night, paraffin spirits were poured on a nervous but grimly smiling man who praised the Great Kraken, right before he acquiesced to a match being held to his robes, consuming the man in flames.
“The calculator is truly the greatest weapon of all,” one of the Order members whispered to him that night. But Galt shook his head.
“No,” he said. “The mind is. It’s also the greatest weakness.”
The Order members in other cities seemed more learned and more insane than the rich, but backward Order members of Fallcrest. But in every city or town word of his rebellion in Fallcrest would spread and Galt would have to flee all over again. In the city where the calculator duels where held Galt didn’t wait for word to catch up with him, he slipped away into the night, shaking his head at the lunacy.
Eventually he stopped looking up members of the Order and started actively avoiding them. But there seemed to be members everywhere.
The dreams started while he was on the run. Feverish, terrifying glimpses of roiling, serpentine coils, tentacles, suckers. A vast black shape that phased in and out of the clouds wilting all it looked at, casting beams of shadow.
As Galt followed Jonas into the Abby they passed under a large banner bearing the sigil of Bahamut. Gazing at the stylized picture of a platinum dragon, wings spread wide, Galt’s eyes fluttered and he felt dizzy. The banner’s design brought up memories, memories of his escape from Innsmouth.
He’d been chased by a mob of lurching order members, glassy eyed folk who only murmured their chants and made stabbing gestures at him with long kindjals. Fleeing into one of the Order’s buildings that looked like a church he ran up flights of stairs to a dim room. A man sat in a high-backed chair in front of a yellow-curtained window. Amber light illuminated a book case containing row upon row upon row of metal canisters. The man was beckoning and whispering something.
Galt rushed to him hoping to ask this learned member of the Order for sanctuary, but as he came within arm’s length, he realized there was no man, but only the head of a mannequin bolted to the chair. An odd contraption with a spinning black disk and a horn sat on the seat spitting out strange hisses and whispers and awful secrets. Someone appeared beside him. He felt a pull above his forehead and had the sensation of someone sucking the air out of his ear.
Awful hissing. Gurgling like a drain. The sensation of being pumped into a small metal confinement. Rushing. Wing beats. Stretching. Impossible weight. Silence. Eternity.
Then he pushed. Pushed with his mind at the wings. Struck out at the sounds around him.
Rupture. Wind. Awareness. Drifting. Stars. Cold.
He had no body. A planet, black and sinister rose before him. He thought to call for Bahamut’s aid, but knew he had done ill as much as he had done good. He thought of Tiamat, but knew she would just applaud his futile strike at whatever winged beast had carried him there, urge him to stand up for himself and turn the situation to his advantage and profit, and then exact his revenge.
Gods are so self-absorbed, he thought.
A burst of fire. A ring of light rising over the planet. Galt felt pulled inexorably forward. He rushed faster and faster to the planet and then fell past it speeding to the star. Dragons, or what Galt thought were dragons leapt around him and yet he fell past the star out into the void. There was something black and terrible and heavy, something he could not avoid, something he could not fall past, something that would crush him.
But the tentacles stopped him. Translucent, impossibly gigantic, they seem to stretch between galaxies, between realities. They grasped his formless awareness and turned him to face the Eyes.
Galt screamed. Jonas was by his side, helping him up.
“I… I… I woke up in a ditch outside Goatsburgh and then I came here. I must see Douven,” Galt gasped.