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Aug 23, 2012
Giles was still a young man when fate struck the ship he was sailing on. The inquisitive explorer was on his way back to the mainland from the ruins of an ancient island city, having recovered a single artifact for which he had been searching. Giles had no wealth left to speak of, and so purchased the cheapest passage he could find, sequestered deep beneath the deck of a merchant vessel. What he did not realize was that the Captain had planned a dangerous route home, steering through haunted waters in the hopes of saving time.
As dread luck would have it, the ship was attacked by a ghostly apparition during a full moon night. Giles awoke to the tormented screams of crew members whose souls were being taken from their bodies. He grabbed his artifact and ran to see what was going on, cautiously making his way above deck. All the crew members were gone … except for their clothes. Giles was the only living creature remaining, and that was about to change.
A phantom roar bellowed throughout the ship. The hellish ghoul was directly behind Giles. Not bothering to look, he ran to the edge of the ship, and without a moment’s thought, chose a watery grave over facing the spectre. Giles leapt overboard and plunged into the sea where many other men had already madly thrown themselves. A beautiful creature of the depths, Ilfana, had swum near the surface that night, to see the glorious silver full moon. But instead of spending the night in quiet contemplation, she heard the terrible sounds of a spiritual massacre, howling aboard a human ship. Ilfana swam as fast as she could to see what had transpired. By the time she arrived, the waters were filled with the bodies of drowned men, all dead except for one, a human who was barely alive, still clutching a small artifact. Against the tenets of her tribe, Ilfana saved the man, taking Giles to a nearby island where he could better recover. She could not take him back to her people. Giles regained consciousness on the island, not knowing how he had survived. Exploring a little, he discovered that food and water were abundant. Between the indigenous tropical food and the well-stocked ship (which had run a ground near shore), Giles possessed ample supplies. It was not until the aquatic elf maiden came back to visit him that his questions were answered.
The two would speak in elven as Giles had learned some of the language during his studies. Ilfana sang to him often over the next few weeks, and in return, Giles would play his mandolin for her that he recovered from the ship (in addition to a small life boat with mast and rigging). Despite having a method of departure off the island, Giles soon found that he cared little about returning home if he could spend his remaining days with Ilfana, and she felt the same way about him.
A month went by before Ilfana’s parents began to notice that she was consistently absent each night, and followed her on one occasion. Infana’s father confronted the couple and told Giles that if he did not leave immediately his people would kill him. Giles had no intention of leaving his newfound love and offered her father the artifact he had recovered in exchange for his permission to marry her (as it was customary in aquatic elven culture to offer the parents a gift for such a request). The father was satisfied that Giles truly loved Ilfana and agreed to the arrangement. Indeed, the clan of aquatic elves was almost glad to see Ilfana wed a human, for she had been a troublesome and stubborn child and was considered a liability because of her curiosity.
Giles lived with Ilfana for several years on the island before eventually leaving to explore the mainland again. Despite her curious nature, Infana cared very little for dry land and could not bring herself to live above the water unless it was near the sea. To compromise, the couple settled down in an isolated village called Griffon-by-the-Sea, a few leagues away from the bustling port of Stavenjor. To the surprise of both Ilfana and Giles, she was to bear a child. § Gamaliel was born into a happy home, although his father was often away, earning a living as an archaeologist and a scholar (which Ilfana could tell he had clearly missed during their island existence). Ilfana taught Gamaliel of their patron goddess, Peldine, Mistress of the Righteous Seas, and of ancient tales known only to the aquatic elven clan.
As Gamaliel grew older, he would occasionally travel with his father while Ilfana returned home to visit her family. She never asked about what happened during these father and son trips, perhaps wishing to remain oblivious of their dangerous activities. Ilfana had been drawn to Giles because of his daring, but could not stand to hear about their perilous adventures. Indeed, father and son were off trading for news of the world, haggling with black-market collectors, delving into crumbling ruins, and meeting with old (and oftentimes unscrupulous) acquaintances. Giles would only say to Ilfana that he did not want their boy to be ignorant of the secrets in this world, even if those secrets threatened their lives once in a while. When at home and not sharing in his father’s exploits, Gamaliel would willingly contribute to the local mischief of his peers. Although he matured slower than the other boys his age, Gamaliel earned their lasting respect by sharing stories of his aquatic-elven heritage and of the times spent with his father. Gamaliel was quick to impress the other boys with his powers of persuasion and knack for being able to do just about anything he tried. Gamaliel and his friends would grow up without any meaningful purpose, until one day, when wandering in the woods, they stumbled upon an abandoned cabin.
When the group of boys entered the cabin and saw a humanoid skeleton swinging from the rafters, most of them fled in fear that the cabin would be haunted. Gamaliel and two of the more mature boys, however, ventured inside. What they found were a couple of books on magical theory and a journal. The boys divided up the loot and promised to never speak of it, for although the other boys had seen the cabin and would tell, none of them were there long enough to see the books inside. The three boys drew straws and divvied up the loot, leaving Gamaliel with the journal.
Gamaliel poured through the book over the next couple of days. It turned out to be a map of an old dwarven mine in the eastern Darewood forest. Gamaliel also deduced from the journal that the writer has slowly gone mad while exploring the mine, and soon after, began to commit terrible acts on the townspeople. He then fled the eastern Darewood forest for the warm coast, but could not escape his conscience and hung himself.
Gamaliel began to grow curious about the books the other boys possessed, and secretly vowed to obtain them. He convinced one of the boys, Fink, that if he didn’t give up the book, he would turn him into a toad with a scroll he had found in the journal. The other boy, Marcus, was not so easily fooled. If Gamaliel wanted to read his book, he would have to bide his time for now.
That summer, a tom-boyish girl moved into the village and joined Gamaliel’s circle of instigators. In short order, an attraction formed between Gamaliel and the girl, Tarina, who could beat the boys at most of their games. She even outwitted Gamaliel on more than one occasion. The two became fast friends over the next few months and began sharing all their secrets with each other, including the cabin and journal. Gamaliel was jealous, however, because it seemed that Marcus was also trying to impress Tarina, and sometimes succeeded. Giles had been home for half a year when he decided to make a two-month trip that would involve his son. Gamaliel didn’t want to leave Tarina with Marcus, but was ultimately loyal to his father. He was certainly ready for another adventure. Unfortunately, the trip was less exciting than Gamaliel had anticipated, but he did pick up some Dwarven from his father (which would come in handy when deciphering the contents of his journal) and began to play the mandolin. Already Gamaliel was thinking about making a journey to that mine.
Gamaliel was surprised to find that when he returned, Tarina had “found” the book that Marcus had been hiding and gave it to Gamaliel as a welcome home gift. In Gamaliel’s absence, Marcus had tried to get closer to Tarina, who played along so that she could get closer to his book. Gamaliel told Tarina of his plan to explore the mine and she insisted on going along. Not only was this the desired result, but he had no money to make such a trip and Tarina came from one of the wealthiest families in the village. Tarina agreed to steal money from her parents so that they would have enough. Gamaliel wrote a letter for his parents, explaining that while they would be worried about him, they should also be proud. For her part, Tarina stole more than a little money … bringing along hundreds of gold pieces! When they got to the small village of Feystruck, near where the mine was located, Gamaliel discovered that Tarina had no great desire to go home again. This was when they both confessed their love for each other and agreed that whatever happened, they would never be apart for long.
Using the elven village of Feystruck as a base of supplies and tools, Gamaliel and Tarina began to explore the mine. The first discovery they made was that it wasn’t populated by monsters. One simply needed to get past the various traps that had been laid – which the journal writer had thoroughly documented. The mine, however, was horribly vast and covered with ancient writings. With such a large body of material to study, Gamaliel was awestruck, while Tarina had become more fascinated with the traps, some of which were clearly magical, an uncommon resource for dwarves. Over the next year, Gamaliel and Tarina fell deeper in love as they explored the mines. Every turn uncovered a new mystery and one that they readily faced together, never leaving each other for longer than a moment. Whether a passageway led to a dead end or a new chamber inscribed with runes, they were happy in their solitude. It seemed that no one even knew the mine existed, and although there was no treasure to be had, Gamaliel gained vast libraries of knowledge while Tarina developed many of her more resourceful skills. After one year, Gamaliel longed to see his parents again. Tarina, however, would not return home, but did want to track down some of her extended family abroad. They agreed to meet again in Feystruck after one season. The day of going home, the young lovers tearfully parted, but after one hour of being on the road, Gamaliel decided to explore the dwarven mine one last time. There was a rune carved into a set of impenetrable doors that he wanted to illustrate and show his father. When Gamaliel arrived at the massive stone doors, there was something about the rune that sparked a thought in his mind. All of a sudden the ancient script made sense to him. Following the directions laid out by the rune, Gamaliel deciphered the writing and suddenly caused the door to swing open. This was a place not previously mentioned in the journal. Gamaliel knew full well the dangers of the mine but comforted himself with the thought that most of the deadly traps were concentrated near the entranceway. He decided to proceed despite the voices in his head.
Gamaliel made his way down a long sloping hallway that came to a pool of dark opaque water, extending beyond his sight. He had not been there longer than a few moments when the sound of grinding stone echoed behind him. Gamaliel ran back to the entranceway but judged that his chances of being crushed between the closing doors was too great.
Returning to the eerie water, a great disturbance began to burble up from beneath the surface. A dark skinned elf emerged, from which eight massive tentacles lashed out in all directions, except for one … holding up the semi-conscious body of Tarina. The monstrous woman commanded Gamaliel to leave her domain immediately or never see Tarina alive again, and then receded underwater with her body in tow. Gamaliel instinctively dove in after the two, but discovered that the water was no deeper than his boots. They were gone.
Perhaps it was the ensuing stillness of the place, but Gamaliel heard the faintest droplet of liquid. He cast his look upwards and saw three giant spiders dangling from their ceiling webs, mandibles dripping with venom. Gamaliel dispatched the beasts with his morningstar, but not before leaving their poison in his body.
Returning to the entranceway, Gamaliel could not force the doors open and went back to the chamber in search of a secondary mechanism. The dark elven woman appeared up from under the shallow water again, no longer holding Tarina, but lashing out with sixteen tentacles where before there had only been eight. Looking upwards, every inch of the ceiling was now covered in spiders. The dark elven woman commanded her sea of arachnids to show Gamaliel what happened to intruders who did not heed her warning. Gamaliel stood his ground as they marched towards him and then retreated at the last possible second.
The passageway quickly filled up with spiders, from floor to ceiling, walking over each other indiscriminately. “How is this possible?” Gamaliel thought to himself, and then suddenly they were gone. Even the darken elven woman seemed to evaporate as her likeness disintegrated into the water, leaving only the carcases of three giant spiders.
Gamaliel explored the enormous chamber now, walking along the slowly curving wall in search of an exit, until traveling full circle back to the passageway he had come through. Weak and exhausted from the poison, Gamaliel sang the song of magical detection that he had learned from the books of arcane theory. In doing so, he discovered two identical sources of universal magic on the stone doors; one on either side. Following a hunch, Gamaliel repeated the directions he had originally followed on the other side, but in reverse. This caused the doors to finally open.
Gamaliel spent the next couple days fitfully sleeping near the mine opening as the spider poison wreaked havoc on his body. When he finally felt strong enough to travel, Gamaliel grabbed his remaining equipment and started walking to Feystruck, still wondering what had happened in the mine and if Tarina was safe.