Part 107: The Lands of the Dead
Chapter 78 - The Lands of the Dead
Date: Has no meaning here
I sensed a presence.
I am Charon.
I couldn't make the figure out, but I got the impression something large and most definitely inhuman. There may have been tentacles.
Can you return me to the mortal world? I am the Divine One.
Another one already? It seems like the last one was just here.
What are you talking about? Hasn't it been about a thousand years?
In mortal time, perhaps. Not here. Who are you?
I am Jeremiah Liro. I am the one spoken of in the prophecy.
Whose prophecy? Each Divine One has been preceded by a unique prophecy.
I am the one spoken of in the Prophecy of Ruben Ferol. I am the Divine One.
No. You are not.
Yes I am!
No. You are not. You are only a Marked One. Only after you are blessed by the Gods can you truly be called the Divine. Returning to the mortal world now would be pointless. In any event, it is impossible for you.
Then take me to see the gods now! Hurry!
Your mortal concept of time has no meaning here.
I don't care! Just take me to the Gods!
There was a sound like rocks grinding together. I realized that Charon was laughing at me.
Demanding one, aren't you? You do not know your place.
I realized that I was walking on thin ice, and I had no idea how deep the water was. I cooled my tone.
I'm sorry, but I need to go back! I need to save my sister!
In any case, I cannot aid you. You must find your own way. Through the Hall of Echoes.
The Hall of Echoes? ... What will I find there?
To see if you are worthy to meet the Gods, Marked One.
The conversation was at an end, the presence I sensed moved off or was otherwise no longer there.
What's in the Hall of Echoes?
I do not know for certain. It is different for everyone. But it will most likely be a difficult ordeal.
I'm not sure the way?
Choose a direction, and you will find it.
I did as the Divine Being said.
I continued through the featureless, textureless, nothingscape, until I sensed I was not alone. I grew afraid.
There's something here...
"Pathetic!" came a familiar voice from out of nowhere. "A grown man afraid of the dark? And you think you can become the Divine One?"
"It can't be!" I exclaimed. "You're dead, ...father."
I thought you needed brains to become a wizard. Of course I'm dead! So are you, in case you forgot!
The reddish glowing figure of my father Jacob shook his head sadly.
I knew from the beginning that all this magic business would lead to no good. I should have forbidden you from studying it. It made you weak.
"No it didn't! It made me strong," I said firmly.
"Really? Why don't we ask someone who's seen your strength," came the contemptuous reply. Another figure faded into view.
"Mother..." I said faintly.
They say that you're going to be the Divine One? Protector of the Seven Races? Don't make me laugh. You didn't even have the courage and will to protect your own mother.
The words from my mother, Elizabeth, had a nasty edge which cut me in old wounds which I thought had healed.
What makes you think that you can do better, with the circumstances a hundred fold worse, and the odds immeasurably stacked against you? You put in a dismal performance just before I died. In fact, it was your fault that I died at all.
That wasn't how things had gone down. "I did the best I could!" I snapped back, although a trace of doubt and uncertainly clouded my voice.
You don't believe that. You can't lie here. There's nowhere to hide.
It was the mercenaries job to protect us, not my job to protect them! They were unprepared!
Then came a third familiar voice. "You're just deflecting from what you know to be true: You're a coward, Jeremiah, a coward, through and through."
"Oh no..." I muttered.
It was Richard's voice, but his words didn't sounding like the Richard I knew in life.
You could have killed those orcs and you know it. If you weren't so weak your mother would still be alive!
His words were infuriating! I had an urge to strike him. But I resisted it. I knew it was unlikely to work, not in this place. ... And the damnable thing of it was that there was a grain of truth to what he was saying. And that was the real reason those words made me so angry.
There... there is truth to what you say. But I've changed.
NO YOU HAVEN'T! You haven't changed at all. What did you do when your summoned a demon beyond your control? You cowered and let your friends die!
24 Declianum 1216 - 18 O'clock
I took a deep, nervous breath, and then let it out. I spoke the words to the spell, and a bright flash of green light filled the room. The demon I had summoned appeared in the middle of the stone slab, glaring at me
I spoke the words to command it, but it just stood there, unresponsive. I spoke them again, more forcefully. Nothing happened, but the demon let out a low, ominous growl from deep in its throat.
"Obey! I command it!" I shouted.
Slowly, deliberately, the demon took one careful step after another, leaving the slab. It shouldn't have been able to do that. It grinned menacingly. Seeing those rows of razor-sharp teeth was not a happy sight.
I spoke the words again, telling it to stop, but it just kept on coming right for me.
Eloric and Tom attacked the demon with fireball and lightning, but it shrugged the strikes of destructive energy off as if they were mere raindrops. The demon roared with hatred and continued marching straight for me.
My mind had gone blank with fear in the face of the enraged demon. It raised a claw to strike...
"Move! Move!" Tom shouted, but I was frozen.
Tom rushed in and pushed me out of the way. I'm sure he meant to get himself to saftely as well, but he was a fraction of a second too late. The demon's claw slashed through the air in a blur. Tom went flying across the room, spinning helplessly. He bounced off the wall and crashed into the ground.
"No!" Eloric cried as another quick swipe from the demon sent him flying across the room, smashing a table into kindling. He lay very still. The demon turned to me. I closed my eyes and waited for the blow which would kill me as well.
Instead I heard a voice casting a spell, and I felt a nearby discharge of magic. I opened my eyes to see that the demon was paralyzed inside a magical cage, glowing blue.
I turned and saw the elf Shaluthion, the master of summoning. His normally stoic face was ashen as he saw the mess. "Mister Liro!" What happened here?
My mouth opened and closed repeatedly. I didn't know what I could say.
Shaluthion saw Tom lying near him and moved swiftly to check on him. I was still dumb from shock. I saw Shaluthion shake his head sadly. "His neck's broken. He's gone."
I staggered under the weight of the news. It wasn't supposed to happen like this. They shouldn't have even been here. They were trying to save me from myself, and... and...
What did you do when you killed that man in the bar fight? You used that as an excuse to hide as well.
You're... you're wrong...
Then came a fourth voice from the void.
"What did you do when there were orcs outside of Aleroth? You waited there, just WAITED for someone to come rescue you. When you knew something had happened to your sister! You should have been more committed then that!"
It was Eolus Thunderstorm, the council member for the dwarves.
My head started to swim. I defended what I had done.
I wanted to be prepared! It isn't cowardice to want to be prepared! Rushing off, weak, confused, that was more likely to get myself killed than anything! I wanted to be better prepared to face the orcs!
Oh really? Then was it preparation you were waiting for when you delayed searching for the Assassins' Guild? You put your sister's life in danger because you were too afraid, too weak to merely face an unpleasant possibility. You could have found her days or weeks earlier.
How could you abandon your sister like that?
"I... that's not what I... I was trying..." I started, but I couldn't defend myself. It would just have been feeble lies. It was true.
"You have no focus," Eolus said disgustedly. "A real wizard should be relentless in pursuit of his goals. You meander, you wander from petty errand to petty errand. Wasting time, always. You have the power - you should use it, not meekly do errands for a pathetic bully like Balin."
Maybe you can do a favour for me?
I wrinkled my brow in confusion. "But you don't seem to be on fire?"
Balin gave a confused stare back. "Huh?"
"The only favour I'd consider doing for a lowlife like you would be to piss on you if you were ablaze!" I snapped back with a smirk.
Balin's face turned beet red, and I could see that it took all his limited self-control to avoid socking me in the jaw. That was too bad; I was hoping for an excuse to use my fireball spell. Finally, he calmed himself enough to be able to speak.
Alright... then consider it a favour for your friend Maria?
I own her house. She is under my protection. If you don't want anything to happen to her, you'll do me a favour.
It was my turn to get angry, but there were too many soldiers around.
"There certainly are a lot of guards around here, aren't there?" he said mildly. "Besides... this is a nasty part of town. There are more unsavoury characters around then just me. If you kill me, who knows what will happen to her? It's a simple favour. It won't take up more than five minutes of your time."
"What is it you want me to do?" I growled darkly.
I did that so he wouldn't burn Maria's house down.
Do you know what would have worked better? Burning HIS house down, then threatening to do the same to him - or eve better - skipping right to the part where you burned him. Who would have crossed you then?
"That... that would have been the wrong thing to do. A proper wizard shouldn't use his power in that way, for intimidation and revenge. It's too dangerous," I recited.
Ha ha ha! You say that, but you don't really believe that, not in your heart. You did it all the time. What about the incident with the drunk. You used magic to cripple a man who bothered you. Where were your principles then?
I nodded to my waiting skeletons.
Break his right arm, so that he'll have a little reminder when he sobers up.
I know that was wrong,. I regret it now, just as I regretted it then.
No you don't. You enjoyed that. You enjoyed causing him injury. Deep down, you feel like he deserved it. And you believe that you can be trusted with divinely-granted power?
I have control.
No one ever has complete control. You didn't have control when you summoned a demon. You thought you had control, but instead you were paralyzed with fear! If your friends hadn't saved you, you wouldn't be here.
That's what friends do. They're there for you. They help you, even when you get in over your head.
And how did you repay their friendship? You got one of them killed and another badly injured. And then you ran away without even checking to see if the injured one was still alive. You call yourself a friend?
How can you hope to stand alone against the arrayed forces of Hell itself with such cowardice and disloyalty in your heart?
I do not fear the Black Ring. I have changed.
Is your memory so short and selective that you actually need me to list all your recent instances of cowardice? Very well, I shall. You fled from taking responsibility for the death of your friend to a dingy bar, where you killed another man.
But not even that shocked you into changing your ways. Instead you sank deeper allying yourself with petty thugs and criminals, shaming your family name. Your present life, your prized reputation in Ferol, has been built on the backs of your fallen friends and family.
You should have died many times over, yet you always find someone else to take your place.
No... I've made many mistakes, and what I regret the most is that year I spent with Simmons and his gang.
Regret it? I think that you don't. You didn't just wear the coat of the thuggish life for a while, you wallowed in the freedom of the lifestyle.
Enjoyed it? It was he most miserable time of my life! The slums and flophouses were filthy and disease-ridden, the food was terrible and there was constant danger.
So why did you stay?
At any time, you could have just walked away. Even if you lacked the spine to face up to your actions, you could have left the country and used your skills to start somewhere else. So why did you stay?
Because you enjoyed it. I raised you strictly, with many restrictions. And at your prized magic school came more restrictions, more rules. You chafed, longing for the freedom to do whatever you pleased. And when you got that freedom, you gabbed on and held tight with both hands.
You have a desire for chaos in you, Jeremiah. How can you possibly fight against the forces of chaos when a part of you wants to join them?
This is Hell. This is what Hell must be like. The Black Ring has Jenna, The Council of Seven is dead, and I'm stuck in the Lands of the Dead, being reminded of all my failures. I don't know how things could possibly get any worse.
Where were you when I needed you, Jeremiah?
A few hours sooner, and I would still be alive, and that ring on that chain around your neck would still be on my finger.
I didn't know that! But I was...
You were "enjoying" yourself.
Knowing full well that your SISTER was still in a cage, all alone with only her mad, bloodthirsty jailers for company. She'd been there for TWO MONTHS.
Those few hours of self-indulgence could have been the difference between life and death.
Congratulations, my son: you succeeded in making your sister a widow. I can see now why she never told you of her wedding. You're not a reliable sort.
I... I'm sorry. I can change.
It's too late for that. Sorry doesn't fix anything. How many days has your pointless meandering taken? Perhaps long enough that the council could have been gathered sooner, and you could have been sent here and returned before Janus even knew what had happened.
You just don't see the big picture, Jeremiah. You never have.
The Divine one must have more than farmer's errands on his mind. The Divine One doesn't have time to chase down cow thieves, or punish neighborhood bullies when he has more important things to do.
If you didn't care about saving the world, fine, but the least you could have done is spent your free time trying to find and save your sister!
Maybe they're right. I'm the wrong person for this. I've failed... I've failed everyone. I'm never leaving here... maybe that's for the best.
No, Jeremiah. You have done good things. Don't you remember all the people you helped? The lives you changed for the better?
I.... I can't remember those anymore...
Yes you can!
Try! For the sake of the world. For the sake of your sister. For the sake of yourself!
Faintly, beneath all the pile of my mistakes and flaws... I did remember the good I had done...
"Who the hell told you that you should spend extraordinary amounts of time inspecting your own bellybutton when there are important things to be done? Because it sure as hell wasn't me!" came a familiar voice... but from BEHIND me!
It was ALSO my father!
We may not have always agreed on everything, Jeremiah. But I'm proud of you.
"You've grown into a fine young man. I might not have been there to see that, but that wasn't your fault, came another familiar voice."
You've maintained your ideals of compassion and empathy, even when it would have been best to walk away. The instant you heard Jenna was in trouble, you dropped everything to rush to her aid. You're the best brother she ever could have had."
"Your courage has been tempered through terrifying ordeals that would have broken another," came the third voice.
I was in trouble, pursued by a vicious assassin who was more than a match for me, you stopped him, when I was afraid to even try. You, Jeremiah, are the one who taught me what courage is.
Then came a fourth, familiar gruff voice: "When you did choose to act, you pursued your goals relentlessly, single-mindedly pursuing solutions to dangerous challenges."
Your determination to prevent war saved the lives of many elves and dwarves, who would have died needlessly.
Your courage and willingness to risk your life stopped the orcs from wiping out Ferols defenders. You knowingly walked into danger to expose the murderer of the Duke, and to save Zandalor.
Your compassion saved the lives of many people from the machinations of Dr. Elrath.
Your decision to accept destiny and all the risks of the uncertain future of a Divine One may yet save the lives of everyone on the planet.
The yellow versions moved to stand before the red versions.
They glowed brightly, and merged, changing to a blue colour.
Finally, there was only the one version of each of them, glowing bright blue.
Who are you? You're not really my friends and family, are you?
We were born of your mind.
We were born of your inner conflict.
The memories of your mistakes.
And your successes.
Divine power, even the fractional amount the Divine One can wield, is not to be taken lightly.
It should not be used casually. Nor should it be held back based on fear and doubt.
One must know oneself, if disaster is to be avoided.
Now you do know yourself, and that gives your spirit strength.
You are ready to continue.
The images faded away.
I became aware of another presence. It was Charon.
You have found your judges?
And what was the verdict?
Guilty... AND Not Guilty.
Maybe I'm not the ideal candidate to be the Divine One. I have made mistakes in the past, and I will continue to make them in the future - if I have a future, that is. But I know that I can do this, whatever it takes.
Whatever it takes, mortal?
Whatever it takes.
Very well then. Go, go meet your Gods.
My consciousness faded away.
Next Time: Cathedral of the Gods
Behind the Scenes
I've created new Act headers and new screenshots to show where the act headers appear.
I'm not sure that I'll go back and add in those "Chapter X" graphics for all 76 previous freaking chapters. I still need to keep the bold headers anyway for the LP archiver script.
It's probably unclear, but Jeremiah's father represents choices and decisions, his mother represents compassion and caring for friends and family, Richard represents courage and cowardice, and Eolus represents commitment and focus to important tasks.
What's fake in this update?
- Everything. Except two things.