Rise of the Dark Mother

My Heart is of the Mountain

"...but WE decide which is right, and which is an illusion."

Krav’s geas began with instruction from the priests of Thel-Gul to seek out a monastery in a mountain. There, he would become a student of the monastic life until he learned whatever it was that he was to know. The priests themselves did not know why that particular geas was called for by their god, or whatever divine force bestowed it upon him. However, they laid it upon him, and the ritual was sanctified. Krav set off after the completion of his assignment in Tantalia for the mountain hold of this strange order of monks. When he arrived, he was greeted by silent dwarves in brown robes who guided him to one of the heads of the order. Krav reluctantly and with bitterness allowed the monks to relieve him of his armor and weaponry; these were locked in a chest and left with the head of the order. Krav was given a similar brown tunic, though made for him, and he did not know how it was that the order had known he was coming, but he took the robe, put it on, and was led to a chamber filled with other dwarves, and a smattering of non-dwarven races, most with freshly shaven heads.

He was instructed to sit and gather emptiness to his mind. There he sat, for who knows how long, and let his mind wander. His body screamed at him for sitting too long, for having to relieve himself, for needing food, for wanting so many things…and he found that a long time as a travelling warrior had created a mechanism to drown out those voices. He felt his mind begin to drift, and was brought slamming back to reality by a thump on the back with a switch. Whipping angrily to the side, he was gently remonstrated that his meditations were too self-centered, hence his arched back and head toward his middle. He was instructed to return to his meditation, and he worked to keep his back up straight. He found his mind wandering to war, his deeds of prowess and his moments of glory, as well as his failures. From the ghosts of long ago he recalled having to kneel, and humble himself before Bahamut, to save his comrades. Although most of the sting of shame had left that memory, he couldn’t help but wonder what purpose Bahamut might have had in those events. For that matter, what purpose did any god— His train of thought was derailed by a switch to the midsection. The same gentle voice told him that he wondered about the world outside himself too much, so that his chest was out, and his head back, as if he were looking up at the heavens. This pattern continued for a while, occasionally being switched on the back or the chest if he leaned too much one way or the other.

After a time, he was gently prodded by one of the master monks and led to a place where he could eat. The meal was simple, bread, rice, and vegetables, along with water. It would certainly meet basic needs, but was not much more than that. Krav began to wonder miserably what on earth he’d gotten himself into, but knew that he had done it in order to save his friends. He was lost in thought about his friends—no one there talked very much—when he was jarred back to reality and told to follow another dwarf. This dwarf took him to a room that was enclosed, and had two shallow depressions filled with sand. Krav was handed a farming implement and told to follow what the master did. The master traced graceful patterns in the sand, swirling and doubling back on themselves, snaking along like a peaceful river, and Krav did his level best to emulate, but his muscles were unused to such deliberate delicacy. As he made his own patterns in the sand, he ventured to ask the master questions about the monastery and its beliefs. Most of his questions were met with cryptic return questions, and he began to give up on the idea of getting anywhere.

He did eventually ask how long they would be doing this, and the monk lit up as he saw a “teachable moment”. He gently explained to Krav that his question was irrelevant, for time was illusory. At this statement, Krav stopped—he could not understand what on earth the dwarf could mean by that—and asked him how time could be illusory, since the sun rose and set on a daily basis. As was his wont, the master answered with another question: here, in the heart of the mountain, did the sun still rise and set daily? How did anyone know that the sun and moon themselves were not illusions? Krav was certain, at this point, that someone had gone mad, and he wasn’t sure it wasn’t him. He didn’t so much sleep on the floor at bedtime as lie awake, staring up into the darkness. He was going to have to figure out what exactly it was he was supposed to do here, and get it done so that he could get back into the world where things made sense.

Time did indeed become like an illusion; it didn’t take long for Krav to completely lose track of how long he had been there, or even how long he was doing whatever tasks they set him to do. What he did notice about himself is that he was rapidly losing muscle tone and his reflexes were deteriorating; he did what he could in his daily exercises to forestall that loss, whether it was raking sand, eating, or carrying water. At one point, he realized that he had no idea how long he had been there, and although his memories were vivid, he did not know whether this episode was a footnote or the new chapter that his life had turned, and you could tell him that he had been there a year or a week, he might have believed either (although he was leaning toward a year).

Krav began to settle into the routine of his new existence, although he still yearned after the life he had left behind. He did feel more accomplished as a meditator, but mused to himself that his monk masters would see only attachment in that. He had just recovered from what for lack of a better word one might call a bout of homesickness when a commotion burst out in the monastery. There were interlopers headed into the monastery, including at least one female! A wave of excitement washed over Krav, and he felt the familiar pull of adrenaline, jerking his muscles into action. As fate would have it, the “interlopers” were some very familiar faces, who looked equally surprised and relieved to see their warlord alive and well. The joy did not last long; they told Krav that there was an army of goblins, organized and surprisingly well trained, heading toward this mountain. As this was being explained, the head of the order quietly made his way to Krav. Once the group explained to him what was headed for the monastery, he did not visibly react, but turned to Krav and said, “Forgive us, for this is a great burden I am about to lay upon you. We do not intend to fight, for it is not our way. We are not attached to our lives here. However, the youngest and newest in our order, they have not had the time to decide whether to commit fully to our way of life. So I ask you: take the acolytes and lead them from this place, so that they may choose freely the way of life that they will follow.”

When asked where they would go or what they would do, they answered that there was a meditation garden on the highest level of the mountain, and that they would go there, and meditate until their ends came. Krav’s armor and weaponry were returned to him, and he was girded in his armor, but his mind was firm: he would not abandon the monks to their fate.

Krav turned to Balthazar and said to him, “Brother, please do as the head of the order has asked. For my own part, I cannot leave them here to die.”
Lori piped up, “Are you crazy? This army is huge! Scores of goblins, goblin mages, and who knows what else! You are throwing your life away!”
Krav smiled, and said to her, “No—I am taking my life to use it for a noble cause. I don’t regret it.”
Rabadash shook his head. “Krav, if I thought it would do any good, I would encourage us all to stay. The survival of these monks is not written in the stars, and you cannot change that. None of us can. However, you can help them live on by helping their ideals to survive, and you will do that best by LIVING, and caring for the acolytes, maybe even helping them to re-found the order.”
“This is all very nice, but does anyone remember that goblins are on their way here?” Lori asked, clearly agitated and trying very hard to stay ahead of the coming onslaught.

It was then that Krav realized, in a slow, aching kind of way, that Lori and Rabadash were right, and even his very best could not save the monks. The fates of the monks were completely out of his control, and they would most likely die gruesome deaths at the hands of the goblins—and they were not upset by this, or afraid of it. The situation was not under his control. He simply had to accept that the situation was not under his control. He took a breath, and sighed. Suddenly, a great weight was lifted from his shoulders. His geas was fulfilled! He bowed to the head of the order, and motioned to the acolytes, who had been gathered in the front hall, to get between the clusters of adventurers, and to prepare for the run of their lives.

Their exit may have come too late; the first swarms of green could be seen coming up the hillside to the mountain. A bolt whizzed by—clearly, the first swarms of green had seen them. So, they ran. The dwarves were not made for this kind of activity, and their small size hindered them somewhat. It was inevitable, then, that some goblins would catch up—fortunately, Lori’s swift bow and a few eldritch curses kept them enough at bay to allow the party to escape, with the only casualty an acolyte who collapsed from exhaustion.

With a knowing grin that said, ‘Irony? Doesn’t that mean “full of iron”?’, the group marched a band of dwarves into the nearest town they could find—Meridian.

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