Hashnuk leans back in his chair dropping his quill pen he says, “That is it, there is no other possibility. My friends, your earthly vessels were taken down the well.” From the hall the muffled protests of Biggs the Ratman can be heard before the sound of a slamming doors silences them. Moments later Enkirash enters the room. “I have locked him up. Instruct your clockwork minions to feed him and empty his chamber pots. I may have more questions for him.” Hashnuk waves his hand in acknowledgement absently. “Well my friends…” Enkirash and Hashnuk say simultaneously. They shoot each other annoyed looks. “What do we do now?”
The blue light floats forward, “Obviously you must go down into the well and fetch our bodies!” says Bolta Rider.
There is a yawn and a red light floats next to Bolta, “Sorry, I was napping, I think. What in the Grapes of Gringleschmidt is going on?”
“Brother Cancun,” Enkirash begins in exasperation, “We are looking for you lost bodies, that this lunatic has not only stolen-“
“My friend, I saved them!” Hashnuk retorts.
“-but has also allowed to be stolen from him!” Enkirash finishes with an angry look at Hashnuk.
A greyish-white light approaches the group, “What of the young men and their lizard-goat? Where did they go? Were they not assisting us?”
Enkirash’s face reddens as he loses what is left of his temper. “Those two are as useful as a one sided die! It took them less than five minutes from us saving them to them becoming lost again!”
Hashnuk places his hand on Enkirash’s shoulder. With a smile he says, “My friend! Be calm, do not speak so of our friends! They may soon prove their usefulness!”
Hashnuk, Enkirash, Bolta, Tarius, Brother Cancun and the other disembodied souls make their way to the well. Being morning, there are several townsfolk fetching water and standing around gossiping next to it.
“My friend,” laughed Hashnuk, “Do you think these good people will let you take a bath in their drinking water?”
Hashnuk strolls up to the well, arms outstretched. Warmly he calls “My friends! My friends! That a wonderful day today!” As he gets closer he lowers his head and says in a low voice, “What do you think about all this strangeness going on?”
Three townsfolk quickly set out to gossip with Hashnuk.
“Well they way I see it, it’s the races were ruined by those jealous horse mongers from Black Bird. They are always trying to steal our position as the best races in all of realm. Horse racing better than goat racing? Pttt!” The old man spits on the ground.
“It’s a cult! How else could there be ten men and even our chief cleric Malicor missing this morning?” “I’ve seen men coming and going all hours last couple of days at the church. Today, it’s locked and Malicor cannot be found.” Says one of the Dancing Donkey’s maids.
“I’ve seen ratfolk sneaking around, I bet it’s them. Untrustworthy thieves they are!” Says the town bum as he sits against the side of the well.
“I’m no gardener, but don’t those strange weeds that have been popping up scare ya? Theys aint natural! I bet it is all part of a curse.” says a young blacksmith’s apprentice.
Hashnuk nods as he listens, then he adds “I hear there is something nasty down the well.”
At that point they all turn and carefully look over the edge, straining to see the bottom.
At that moment a tremendous roar tears through the air, “GRUALHCCHHHHHHH!” The startled group turn towards the church just in time to see the doors flung open and clear off their hinges and trough the air. Standing there is a horrifying figure. Nine feet tall, it’s face distorted, thick ram horns curling from his head, body covered in fur, arms completely bare with human hands. It’s legs bending sideways at the knees in a most unnatural way as it stands upon foot thick hooves.
It shields it’s eyes from the sun and roars again. It moves slowly towards the well. The town folk flee in terror. Hashnuk retreats a safe distance to observe with Enkirash and the “lights”.
The creature smashes the well’s covering and wooden structure and it attempts to climb down into it.
Enkirash quickly searches his traveling bag and produces a gold flute. Pressing it to his lips he begins to play a slow, soothing melody.
“My friend! That is a lovely song! But now the beast approaches us!” Hashnuk says shakily.
The creature had indeed turned, a large stone from the well wall in each hand and a snarl on its hideous face. Raising the stones above its head it rushes towards the men.
Enkirash stops playing, holds out his hand and shouts “Nebel der Dunkelheit!” A grey mist forms around them, growing darker by the moment until the men can barely see.
“Enkirash! Enkirash! My friend, where are you!” Hashnuk calls.
“Here, I will lead you to safety,” Enkirash responds. Hashnuk follows in the direction of the firm grip around his wrist. “Too fast my friend, MY FRIEND….” Hashnuk’s voice trails off. Then there is a splash.
Hashnuk had tripped over something and now finds himself swimming at the bottom of the well. The grip on his arm still firm, he looks to see nothing. An invisible helper!
“Enkirash!” Hashnuk yells at the top of his lungs. Above him he can see flashes of light and hear growls of the creature. But he can hear Enkirash call, “Quickly! Go through the hidden door and secure it before the beast follows you!”
The twisted creature leans over the top of the well and throws a large stone at Hashnuk. Hashnuk dives under the water to avoid being hit. Emerging from the water he spots a dim glow from a slit in the wall and quickly swims to find a door that is slightly ajar. He successfully opens it and climbs through. He peeks through watching for his pursuer, ready to bar the door should it become necessary. One of the lights floats down to him.
“Quickly my friend,” Hashnuk tells Brother Cancun, “find a way to get that disrespectful wizard down here, we need him!” Brother Cancun’s light quickly flies away.
Hashnuk begins to feel uncomfortable as he stands watch, there is a very strong odor. “What in the name of the one true Churro is that stench?” He checks his clothes, his breath, the room behind him. The stench is everywhere!
At the well above, the creature draws back, visibly distracted. The mist quickly dissipates and Enkirash can be seen retching. The stench is here too, it seems to fill every inch of air. Enkirash cannot concentrate on his casting. Brother Cancun relay’s Hashnuk’s message. Enkirash beings to crawl towards the well when he hears a familiar call.
“GRLLLURGHHHH!” It can be none other than Chumples! Turning towards the church, standing where once the doors hung is Chumples the lizard-goat. But he does not look well, and it seems this stench is emanating from him! The goat-lizard’s body is bloated to double its normal size, fur and skin stretched to their limits. Chumples looks upon the creature and charges.
The creature throws a stone and strikes Chumples! Chumples, in mid-air and flying at the twisted goat-man, takes the hit square in the stomach, and explodes!
A deafening roar fills the air, shockwaves shatter windows, collapse the church and well, and send Enkirash flying off through the air.
When the dust clears….
With a jolt Enkirash awakens. He tries to move and finds he is pinned beneath a felled tree. He cannot move his right arm, nor can he feel it. The white light Belvin the Bold floats before him.
“I could only do so much as I am now, but be sure that you are no longer dying.”
Enkirash takes in his surroundings. Surmising he had been tossed at least three hundred yards, he can see the rubble of the church and well before him. Several surrounding buildings appear intact yet damaged by flying stone from the explosion. A large gathering of men is clearing stone frantically from the church. Horses have been brought in and fitted harnesses connected to nets in an attempt to clear the heavier stones. The men are frantic and calling out to each other.
“I hear a voice over here!” One of them calls.
A group of men join him and assist in pulling a body from the rubble.
On the other side of the well, Enkirash can see the beast. A group of robed men, probably holy men, direct some laborers to lift it onto a waiting cart. Soon the cart is heading South, the robed men driving the horses.
Enkirash winces, just noticing the pain he is in. Looking back to the church, he now sees two figures have been pulled from the collapsed building, and without a doubt it is Beanie and Sweets.
The pain is unrelenting, Enkirash’s head spins. “What… is…” He says, a faint image, as if made of cloud fills his vision. “Chumples?” Enkirash says. The apparition seems to be smiling, then suddenly Enkirash passes out.
Some hours earlier, Beanie and Sweets were beginning to regain their sight. Chumples lay on the ground moaning from his ordeal, Sweets explained that the milking process is exhausting when an experienced milker does it. Chumples must be in bad shape considering Beanie was completely untrained and blind.
They began to search for an exit when they could discern shapes and colors. With reaching hands they encountered the bodies of several men, dead. All but one. This man was very large and hair covered. His breathing deep and loud. Beanie tried to awaken him and awaken he did. The man threw Beanie back, tossing him head over heels. Looking up from his prone position, Beanie could see that it was no man. Twice the size of a man with the head of a goat the creature stood now, issued a “GLRUFFPH!” in Beanie’s direction, and turned to climb the wall behind him.
Sweets had instinctively grabbed and was holding Chumples to protect him. Sweets noticed Chumples was very swollen and shaky, but at the sound of the creature’s shout, Chumples was determined to follow with speed. Chumples lead Beanie and Sweets through a labyrinth of climbing passages. They heard the splintering of wood, the screams of people and the roars of the creature before they finally came to the exit. With light almost blinding them as it shone though the opening where a pair of large doors stood. They recognized they were in the entrance of the church and before they could step out into the light, did witness the horrific explosion that did cause the church to collapse around them. There was no doubt about it. As the walls of the church crashed down to bury the pair, Sweets could not move for he had witnessed the death of his beloved Chumples.
The town folk of Vermilion are a fine and neighborly people. Without hesitation they rush to help when the town is in need. The Dancing Donkey Inn opened it’s doors to the many injured of the town. Once the rooms were filled, the tavern itself was utilized. Tables and benches where once filled with grog and plates of meat were now covered with the hurt or dying. Beanie and Sweets were laid upon the bar counter itself. As they were being tended to, Ilma Dune, the inkeep was approaching them. Behind her five heavily armored royal guards. “Stop!” one of them called. “This one here.” The guard poked Beanie in the shoulder. “You boy, were you at the goat races?”
“Ummm, yeeesss…” Beanie replied hesitantly. He looked over at Sweets. Sweets appeared to be in shock. His eyes wide as could be, his mouth even wider, and his hands clasped to each side of his face.
“I am Captain Decker of the royal guard, you are coming with us. Can you move?”
“I don’t know, ouch!” Beanie winced as he noticed a long piece of metal sticking out of his leg.
He instinctively reached down and grabbed it. When he did so, he wished that the pain would stop. He felt a warm sensation fill his body from head to toe, like he was dunked in a giant vat of Hot Jones. Leaping from the table he felt like a new man! And in his hand he held the piece of metal, looking at it he saw that is was delicately decorated with text in some unknown language.
The captain nodded to his men and two of them took position on either side of Beanie, picked him up by the arms, and began to carry him away.
“Wait, wait! My friend Sweets there! I can’t leave him.” Beanie shouted.
Beanie watched as the rest of the guards picked Sweets straight up. They carried him, flat as a board as if he was lying on an invisible stretcher.
“What have I done? What do you want with me” Beanie cried, but the guards just ignored him as they marched him out of the inn.
Brother Cancun’s disembodied consciousness took a powerful blow of Astral plane energy when the goat-lizard exploded on contact with the creature. His mind tumbles in a void of darkness when he hears a soft whisper calling him. As he concentrates on the voice the world takes form around him. He finds himself standing amongst many vibrantly colored clouds. Before him stands his old master, long since dead. With him are several other monks standing behind, each with a hand on the shoulder of another so that all are connected.
“Brother Cancun, look.” The master points downward. In the distance Chumples jumps from cloud to cloud. However, in his path is a cloud different from all the rest. It is as black as night.
“Go,” rings through Brother Cancun’s head as the world spins into a kaleidoscope of colors and shapes.
Cancun takes a deep breath. A real breath. He opens his eyes, he lifts his hands. Real and real. He is alive! Looking around he discovers that this is not his realm and that this is not his body.
Chumples darts ahead in a world of sharp edges and angles. The sky is pink, the ground purple and black. Rising up are crystals of shimmering colors. Looking behind him, Cancun sees the dark cloud sitting there. Pulsing and churning the cloud sits there just above the surface of this strange ground.
Turning once more towards Chumples he sees a creature made of crystal begin to chase Chumples.
Back in Vermilion:
Beanie is deposited before a lavish carriage, painted in purple and gold, draped in gold fringed red curtains. The curtains part slightly, then fly open and out jumps Princess Jenny smiling broadly. Seeing her startled guards she collects herself. Subduing her smile and slowing her pace, she stops before Beanie, chin raised she says, “This is Beugh, the man who saved and healed me at the racetrack. Beugh, I wish to thank you for your help with a banquet at the royal castle. However, considering the situation in town, I must ask a favor of you first.”
“Um, my name is…” Beanie begins, but stops after receiving a stern look from Captain Decker and a more stern squeeze of his arms by the guards. Beanie returns to silence.
Jennie continues, “We are in need of your healing, the chief priest of Vermilion is missing. Many of his fellow clergy and healers have been found dead amongst the church debris. Please, will you help heal these good people and relieve them of their suffering?”
Back on the unknown “crystal” plane:
Brother Cancun begins the chase. Coming to the end of his cloud he must jump to another. He is faced with two choices, a red cloud upon which is a monk holding out a plethora of glowing weapons. On the other cloud is an transparent image of Brother Cancun as he last remembered his physical self, when he had a body, complete in his fighting gear.
Tarius, Bolta, and the other wandering souls congregate next to the remains of the well. Belvin’s light rises up out of the well to meet them. “There is no sign of Hashnuk, I do not know what has become of him.”
“I am certain he will show up soon.” Tarius says. “Let us make haste, I have seen Beanie, Sweets, and Enkirash carried to the Dancing Donkey.”
The group arrives to see Beanie standing over Sweets, Sweets shirt in his hands, he shakes him violently. “I asked you a question!” Shouts Beanie. Frustrated Beanie drops Sweets and wipes the sweat from his brow. He turns to Princes Jenny, nervously turning the metal rod in his hand.
“I wish you would be of some help once in a while Sweets,” he mumbles.
A slap of the back catches Beanie off guard.
“Of course we will help your majesty! My name is James Beltonbar, assistant to the Great Beanie Appleton, healer of healers! If you will excuse us, we must get to work right away! But if we may, your majesty, have you some token of your commission so that we may proceed with the authority of the crown?”
Princess Jenny nods, “Captain Decker, give Beanie your sash.”
Startled Captain Decker questions, “Your majesty?”
Princess Jenny gives him a stern look.
The captain removes his sash and places it over Beanie with a bow.
“No person will dare question your authority with this sash. When you have completed your work please come to the palace.” Princess Jenny climbs into her carriage and departs towards the castle flanked by her guards.
Decker gives a final disapproving look and turns to join her.
“That was unexpected,” Bolta says. “What just happened?”
“I do not know,” says Tarius. “But more importantly, who is that greyish light, because it is not Brother Cancun.”
The friends group up leaving the grey light by itself. The light expands and begins to take on a wispy shape of…
The wisps slowly comes into focus and begins to speak, “My friends! What is happening? I feel very weak!” The ghost of Hashnuk raises his ghostly hands before his eyes. “Am I dead?” He exclaims.
Bolta can sense Hashnuk’s presence strongly. “Yes, Hashnuk. You have passed into the spirit world. Quickly, we must find Enkirash! He can trap Hashnuk’s soul so we can-.”
There is an earball piercing sound of screeching and electricity. Hashnuk’s ghost splits right down the middle and is pushed aside by a spinning vortex of distorted colors. Stepping out is another spirit, the ghostly form of an Asian man. His dark hair and goatee, fiery eyes, and domineering stance would strike fear in the hearts of many. His cape still flows in his spectral form. It is Kasaman Zurc, leader of the rogue armies of King’s Crossing and the Asian islands of Yonip.
“Hashnuk!” Kasaman screams. “I have you at last! You will give me the location of the Key, or I shall destroy your soul now and forever!”
Belvin and Ivan’s souls fly off in search of Enkirash. Hashnuk’s miasma reforms into two identical shapes. “My friend Kasaman..” One begins as the other starts, “The key! Of course…”
The two Hashnuks square off and begin to argue.
“Enough!” Kasaman shouts and slaps them both with a hand shrouded in black smoke.
The Hashnuks disapate and begin to reform.
Tarius begins to coalesce into a similar apportion as the others. Seeing that he has form he jumps at Kasaman. The two spectral forms wrestle with each other. Tarius takes some hits from the black hand, but quickly reforms around the damage. Tarius notices tendrils leading away from Kasaman into the swirling vortex and he catches a glance at his “father”, Tarius the Mage casting magic keeping the “door” open.
Running down the street towards the action is Beanie, a blue flask in his hands. Belvin and Ivan floating besides him, Ivan calls out “Enkirash sent us with this flask to catch Hashnuk!”
However, as Beanie reaches them, his foot catches on a stone that was once part of the well’s wall. Falling, Beanie tucks into a forward roll and is able to tumble forward and leap to his feet. He triumphantly holds out the flask before him with a smile on his face. But the momentum of his acrobatics causes the flask to fly out of his hand through the air. Everyone watches in disbelief as the flask passes through the magic tendrils of Tarius the Mage’s portal and crashes against another stone shattering into several pieces. Lightning crawls along the ground where the flask fell. Kasaman, the Hashnuks, and the portal vanish instantly. Tarius feels a strong pull on his being but steadies himself, he loses his form but returns to his state as a floating light.
“Sorry.” Beanie says, shrinking back from his companions.
There is a scream. Turning to look, the party see the cause for alarm. Bodies of the dead clergy pulled from the debris of the collapsed church were being laid out and covered under a pavilion next to the church.
The bodies were now getting up, and they were heading quickly towards the group.
A chorus rings out “My friends! You have saved me!” A group of fifteen men look at one another and begin to ask questions. A most distressing sequence of exchanges ensues that sends chills through everyone.
“I am Hashnuk, of course!” “I am your friend Hashnuk!” “I am Hashnuk!”
“No, I am Hashnuk!” “My friend, please, I am Hashnuk.”