Jamis woke as the sun rose. It had stormed last night, and the morning sun was breaking through the overcast clouds, making them shine like silver. He let out a yawn as he sat up in his straw bed, rubbing his eyes. He took in the surroundings of his small room, wondering if he’d ever see them again. Small trinkets and treasures from years of exploring the Underworld littered his dirty shelves. Old Elixer bottles, worthless stones, ghoul teeth, broken weapons and all sorts of things others would dismiss as trash. A small knot of anxiety tightened in his stomach, today was the day.
After stowing some essentials in his pack and strapping his longknife to his hip, Jamis made his way down the thin stairs of his loft. His mum was still asleep in her chair by the fireplace with an open book in her lap. He relit the coals on the fire and made them both some tea and eggs for breakfast. By the time he set the small table for them she was starting to wake. She eyed his pack questioningly.
“Off somewhere today, love?” she asked.
Jamis tried to think of a good lie.
“Just gonna go about town and see if anyone needs help cleaning up after the storm,” he said.
His mum smiled. “Such a good boy, you’ll be running Gorton in no time at all!”
Jamis smiled back and blushed, he felt slightly bad for lying to her.
“Do you need anything at all before I go?” he asked.
“No, no I’ll be quite alright here with my books. You just be careful Jamis, you’re my whole world,” she began to get up to hug him, and had a small coughing fit.
“Take it easy mum, you can’t labor your breathing in your condition,” he bent down to hug her tenderly from her chair. “You be careful too,” he said, “Love you mum.”
Leaving their small wooden cottage, Jamis made his way through the town of Gorton. There was indeed some damage from the windy storm last night, along with the usual done by the nightly monster attacks. The townsfolk were diligently about on repairs, as was an almost daily custom now. Gilli, the tavern owners daughter, was on the roof patching a hole with pitch and straw. Old farmer Clem and his youngest son Wesli were rebuilding a fallen fence around their dwindling flock of sheep. He tried to avoid eye contact with them as he passed, lest they call him over to help them or, even worse, ask where he was going. Word traveled fast in a small town like Gorton. He made his way toward the edge of town, trying not to look suspicious.
Jamis let out a breath when he made it out of town, and checked to make sure he wasn’t being followed. He followed the muddy path that led to the old mines. There were clawed footprints coming from the mines, and even fresher one’s going back that were likely only hours old. Jamis shivered thinking of what left those tracks. The rocky hills became more untamed as he made his way further. The knot in his stomach throbbed anxiously as he finally approached his destination.
Crouching under the chained gate, and moving past the ‘DO NOT ENTER’ signs on the path, Jamis made his way into the abandoned mine. Old wooden carts littered the area, left to rot for years. There were still several pickaxes left about, but many had been taken to be reforged into weapons or farm tools. Jamis found the torch he had hidden in a rocky cleft, and lit it with his flint and steel. He strode toward the ominously wide mouth of the cave entrance, trying desperately to hold his resolve. Wiping the sweat from his brow, Jamis walked cautiously into the Underworld.
He held his torch with a shaky hand. Though he had seen nearly nineteen Summers, he couldn’t help but be afraid. It was considered madness to explore the caves of the Underworld alone, some considered it mad to explore them at all without the protection of an Ulthari Mage. However, the Mages rarely took the time to send anyone to the humble village of Gorton. Without a steady supply of underglass to ship into Ulthar, the village was considered unworthy of their protection, leaving its people to fend for themselves when the Underworld creatures ventured up to the surface.
It would only be a matter of time before everyone was forced to evacuate and find meager jobs in the slums of Outer Ulthar. Jamis feared greatly for his sickly mum, who had caught spore-lung in the forests near the river Skai last year. She could barely leave the house without coughing up a foul pink cloud, much less make the trip to Ulthar. Jamis was determined not to let his hometown crumble, though his fellow adventurers had all recently retired to find what they called “real work” in the city. He couldn’t truly blame them. Adventuring in the Underworld had been less than lucrative as of late, it had been months since he had found even the smallest artifact to trade, and nearly a decade since a new vein of underglass was discovered. However, Jamis would not be daunted, he knew these caves, and that they always provided bounty for those who didn’t give up.
The dank caves seemed to go on forever. Though he knew his way, Jamis still marked his passing by scratching a cross on the wall of each new turn. He passed by familiar areas; old shafts and quarries from a time when Gorton was a bustling town. With bittersweet nostalgia he recalled the days of his childhood when the mines were bright with bioluminescent fungi, and filled with the harmonious clanking of pickaxes. Everyone eagerly at work under the watchful protection of the Mages and their eerie Grimalkin bodyguards. With the Underglass long picked clean and taken to Ulthar, the well-developed mineshaft had been left to rot in its own grave. Jamis sadly went further, hoping perhaps to find a place overlooked or hidden.
The way down the shaft became steep at times, the steps had become worn and chipped with age, some bearing only inches of purchase. The air seemed to grow much colder as he descended, feeding his oppressive sense of fear and isolation. Jamis listened for movement before every twist and turn along his path in hope of avoiding conflict. This was an act of desperation; one human stood little chance against the beasts of the Underworld. Fortunately many of them slept during daylight hours, at least the ones who bothered to sleep did. Jamis swallowed and tried to think of something else.
As he continued downward, a particularly brittle stone step cracked beneath his foot, sending him hurtling downward. He felt one of his ribs break on a jagged stone as he tumbled. He managed to cradle his head in his arms to avoid head injury. Having lost his torch in the fall, he couldn’t tell where he was in the darkness. The steps seemed to abruptly end into a drop-off. After what felt like an eternity of falling and scraping, he landed on something strangely soft.
Finding his bearings, Jamis began feeling around in hope of finding his extinguished torch. The surface was oddly warm, and covered in what felt like coarse, thick grass. He felt around until he found his torch and lit it once more with the flint from his pack. Jamis felt the blood run from his face as he found himself standing not on grass, but thick, black fur. The surrounding stone walls of the large cave hollow told him the surface he stood on was rising and falling in an even rhythm. Whatever he was standing on was breathing, and it was enormous.
With only the dim light of his torch, Jamis couldn’t tell exactly how large the creature was, but it seemed to be sleeping in spite of his landing. He let out a silent prayer to the Prophet for his fortune as he tried to carefully make his way off the beast. Jamis winced as he took large handfuls of fur to make his way down the creatures side. He let out a breath when he felt himself land on solid ground once more. Still being careful not to make too much noise, Jamis tiptoed his way toward an exit from the rocky hollow.
Jamis was almost out of the beasts lair when an almost human-like shriek froze him in his tracks. He turned to find himself locked in the icy blue gaze of a ghoul. Miners and adventurers alike knew and feared the ghouls. They were one of the beasts that never slept in the Underworld, never stopped eating. Worse, ghouls only ate one thing; human flesh. They looked almost like people, but their elongated snouts, sharp claws and teeth and terrible glowing eyes made them easy to tell apart. Some said they were once human, cursed by the terrible magic of the Underworld, or by their profane tastes, depending on who you asked.
The ghoul shreiked again, and two more emerged from the darkness to join it. Jamis numbly pulled out his Longknife, knowing he would probably lose this battle. Just then he heard a deep rumble, the stone beneath him trembling like an earthquake. In the darkness behind the ghouls, Jamis could barely make out the enormous shape of the furry beast waking from its slumber. His torchlight faintly reflected in three pairs of beady eyes surrounding a great vertical maw on its furry head. It opened like a zipper to roar at the disturbance, revealing thousands of glistening teeth the size of swords.
Jamis had heard tales of the giant gugs from older miners at the tavern, but never thought he would see one, or rather, he hoped he wouldn’t. He decided to revoke his prayer of fortune. Its massive paw swiped at two of the ghouls, leaving only smears of gelatinous blood and gore in its wake. The one remaining ghoul shrieked at Jamis and leapt upon him, desperate for a meal. Jamis screamed as he tried to keep its snapping jaws from the tender flesh of his neck.
In his panicked state, Jamis was vaguely aware of a thunderous sound of movement above him. Still holding his own against the ghoul, he instinctively rolled them both to the side as far as he could. A fraction of a second later a massive furry paw smashed the stone earth where they once struggled. The impact made his teeth chatter in his skull. Even the ghoul seemed momentarily dazed. Trying desperately to recover before his adversary, Jamis felt the ground beneath him loosen and crack. With horror he realized the floor was caving in.
The next few moments were a horrible blur of dust and darkness. The ghoul, having no sense of self preservation outside of feral hunger, continued to claw at Jamis as they fell. For a time they twisted and pulled among falling stones until there was a sickening thud that took the air from Jamis’ lungs. He laid there for a time, defending his face and torso from falling stones that battered his arms and legs. Once more praising his odd mixture of luck; Jamis found that the rancid body of the attacking ghoul had broken most of the fall. Of the gug, there was no sign. He sat up slowly as spots danced in his peripheral vision, and used a finger to blow a mixture of blood and dirt from each nostril.
After some time, Jamis found the strength to stand, though it pained him dearly. His torch was gone, yet he could make out a faint blueish glow in the distance of the inky darkness. With no other light source, he decided to limp his way toward it. Broken, battered and fighting a concussion, every step he took labored him. Jamis fought off the creeping realization that even if he found anything of value he would never make it out of the Underworld alive. There was no turning back now, and giving up meant certain death.
The way forward was clear of rocks and obstacles, and the closer Jamis trudged toward the light the greater it seemed to grow. Jamis’ heart pounded in anticipation, that silvery blue glow was the familiar shine of underglass, and a lot of it at that. His path grew wider as he went, and small glowing mushrooms littered his path. The cave was transitioning into a bright fungal forest, typical of underglass-rich caverns. Along the walls large underglass crystals jutted majestically in crisscrossing patterns, fungi of various sizes and colors beaming brightly among them. Small creatures floated listlessly about the colorful caves, their features obscured by their own mysterious glow. The rare mineral gave life to all manner of magical creatures, both wonderful and terrible. Jamis heard various rustlings and chirping among the increasingly thick fungi. Though he had no strength left to fight, he remained on guard.
Jamis found some mushrooms he was familiar with. He picked a bloodbane cap and began chewing it into a fine paste, being careful not to swallow any. Wincing from the sting, he slowly rubbed the paste into the bigger cuts and gashes on his body to stop the bleeding. He spat the rest into a small vial in his pack for later injuries. A long pull from his canteen brought back some of his strength, and he was relieved to find his longknife was still on his hip. The eerie beauty of the fungal grove was almost hypnotic, yet Jamis couldn’t be put at ease. Somehow he could feel eyes on him. Something was watching. Something with more patience and intelligence than a ghoul.
A clearing opened itself before him, a smooth marble circle cut jarringly among the now massive forest of fungi and crystals. The perimeter was lined with thirteen perfectly cut pillars of underglass that shone more magnificently than the rougher crystals. In the center was a grand semicircle of shelves almost like a shrine. It was lined with ancient books and priceless artifacts. Small ornate boxes, pottery painted with scenes of ancient battles, jars filled with mysterious fluids and organic matter all caught Jamis’ eye as he appraised the display. In the center of the shrine were two objects of even greater curiosity. There was a small podium upon which rested a large ancient book whose cover seemed to shine like silver, several feet behind it stood a large ornate coffin that was as black as midnight. The coffin terrified Jamis, it was covered in peculiar carvings of a creature he’d never seen before. These creatures had pointy ears and large intelligent yellow eyes that seemed to follow him. The silver book, on the other hand, seemed to draw him closer.
As he approached the shining book, he noticed small engravings on the silver cover. Different symbols shone in a bright metallic hue depending on which angle you looked at it from. He felt the book calling to him as if it were alive. Jamis knew almost nothing of magic, but he knew it when he saw it. This book alone would bring in enough to hire a Yellow Healer for his mum. Mages always paid handsomely for magical artifacts. If he could make it out with just the book he could get others in town to come for the rest. The sheer quantity of underglass in the grove would turn Gorton into a metropolis within a week. Jamis was almost overwhelmed with hope and excitement.
Jamis cautiously lifted the book from the podium, and immediately felt something spark within him. It was much heavier than he anticipated. The grimoire seemed to search him for something, a thing Jamis didn’t have. He guessed that thing was magic. The book would have to wait for that, Jamis thought, he was just the deliverer for now. Simply for the sake of curiosity, he opened the cover to see what was written inside. He felt a vague thrumming from the ominous coffin beyond the podium and wondered if he’d made a mistake. The delicate pages of the grimoire were filled with strange alien letters and symbols that glowed like those on the surface.
Jamis then felt a completely different presence moving around him, like a large fish brushing past underwater. It had more intent than the book, it almost felt hungry. The thing slowly coiled around him. It seemed to whisper to him, but with his own mental voice, his own thoughts. Jamis felt momentary panic, but the thing somehow immediately suppressed it.
~You cannot read it can you?~
~You wish to sell the Silver Grimoire do you not?~
~Let me show you how that will transpire.~
Images began to coalesce in his mind’s eye. He saw himself in Ulthar, haggling a sale price for the book with Beric, his usual artifact trader. Once traded for a handsome sack of gold, he began making his way toward the apothecary. As he passed a dark alleyway he felt himself being dragged in by magic. To his horror, he was met with the grim black-lipped frowns of two Blue Mages; the law enforcers of Ulthar. Before he could object to his arrest one grabbed him from behind while the other began beating him senseless. They knocked him out cold.
The images again showed him shackled naked to the wall in the Ulthari dungeon. A Red Mage and a Yellow Mage stood in there with him. The Red was tall and dark, and had an evil look in his eyes. The Yellow was short, hunched and pale, and had a small table of awful looking tools nearby. Several feet away a fat man in luxurious robes stood with the silver grimoire cradled in his arms. He began asking questions about the book, where it was found, how to use it, who else had seen it. Any time there was one Jamis couldn’t answer, The Red would burn holes through him with an enchanted fingertip. No matter how much he pleaded his ignorance on certain knowledge of the book, they would always torture him until satisfied. The Yellow would heal him with magic if he neared too close to death.
They finally asked him what village he had come from, and to his horror Jamis realized he’d have to try and withhold information. He couldn’t imagine what they would do to Gorton. However, the fat man was insistent. It was now the Yellow mages turn at torture, and he pushed his awful tools toward Jamis. His screams echoed wildly as the man used scalpels to peel delicate threads of flesh from sensitive areas. He used small clamps to remove his teeth and every nail from his fingers and toes. Jamis cried for his mum like a babe. He was humiliated to find that he was involuntarily p*****g on the dungeon floor. When Jamis still wouldn’t tell where he had come from, the Yellow pulled some syringes from within his coat. Each injection was worse than the last, some gave him nausea and dizziness that made him vomit til he dry-heaved, one made his tongue swell until he was sure it would burst in his skull.
The last injection simply made Jamis’ whole body throb with excruciating pain. It burned within him like a white heat, making his eyes bulge and his mouth foam as he thrashed like a chained animal. Jamis thought the horrible pain would never end. It felt like an eternity. He realized now that if the Yellow Mage wished, they could in fact make this an eternity. A lifetime of pain and healing in a dark dungeon underground. Forever kept just beyond the sweet void of death. He was injected once more, and blissful numbness took his body. Jamis sagged in his chains, they had finally broken him. He finally spoke the word they yearned for, and with a snap of the fat man’s fingers, he sank into a white light.
The images abruptly stopped, Jamis blinked in confusion as he once more found himself in the Underworld before the Silver Grimoire. He realized he was sweating in fat, cold beads, and ran his tongue over his teeth to make sure they were still there. Had he died in the vision? Could he die in the visions? Had the invisible creature pulled him out just before his death? It had all felt so real. His head was spinning. The unseen presence was still coiled around him making it so he couldn’t move. Beyond the podium, Jamis saw that the black coffin had opened itself during his vision. To his horror, two sharp yellow eyes peered out at him from the ominous darkness within.
~Though that is where your story ends…~ The disembodied voice continued.
~…it is not where it ends for Gorton~
“Please, don’t do this…” Jamis begged.
The voice began to chuckle, a sickly distorted thing that seemed to mock him in his own mental voice. The thing tightened its grip on him as the visions began again.
They came at him faster this time, liberated from his perspective. He saw his mum, dead in her favorite chair by the cold fireplace. Long, thin mushrooms sprouted from the flesh of her chest and from her mouth and nose. Dried blood had turned them to the color of rust. Without medicine or Jamis to tend to her, the spore-lung had taken her slowly.
The images took him beyond his cottage, and he saw out in the small commons of Gorton. Mages were all about the small town, but not for protection. They burned homes and beat the townsfolk as they questioned them. All questions were related to the book, but nobody had answers. The young men and women were dragged screaming into locked carts to be taken back to Ulthar. Gilli cried hysterically for her father as a grinning Red Mage pulled her away, occasionally pawing at her greedily. Some would be made into Mages after thorough and brutal reeducation, others would be taken simply for pleasure. When the inquisition was done, the Mages packed their caravan and drove off, leaving a thoroughly ruined Gorton in their wake.
With their homes burned and their families broken, the remaining children, the sick, and the elderly were forced to pack and finally make the long trek to Ulthar on foot. The journey would take several days. On the first night, the beasts of the Underworld came for the young. Without healthy adults to defend them, the people of Gorton were easy picking. Old farmer Clem wailed in agony, tears streaking his worn, dirty face as a clawed hand tore poor Wesli from his arms. Infants cried in high pitched screams as they were feasted upon in the darkness. On the second night, they came for the rest, some, including Clem, resigned to their fate and quietly walked out into the night to let the beasts have them. The hollow expression on their faces made Jamis shiver. These were the people he had grown up with. Nobody made it to the city. It was as if Gorton had never been.
The images stopped again, and Jamis was shaking terribly, hot tears rolled down his face.
“Make it stop!” he pleaded.
~I am only showing you the truth of the people you serve~
~I can free you of them~
~You simply must help me in turn~
~You see we both serve the same master~
~The Mages have imprisoned my people’s leaders~
~The ones you call the Underlords~
Jamis finally knew what he was dealing with, though he had a hunch from the beginning. Demons were considered the worst of all Underworld monsters. To even speak of them was said to lay a curse on your home, and therefore, little was known of them. What little Jamis did know from whispered words was that they were invisible, and that they took over human bodies. He figured that was what this one planned to do with him. Desperate and panicking, he scanned the area for anything that could help, even though he couldn’t move.
Again he saw the yellow eyed apparition from the coffin. It was now standing several feet away from him, eyeing him quizzically. It had the vague shadowy form of a man, like a silhouette. Occasional beams of light from the underglass pillars revealed an exposed skeleton within the billowing man-shaped shadow. Inside its empty ribcage, a delicately carved underglass crystal glowed. It carried an ancient longsword with a chipped blade on it’s back. Jamis swallowed in fear. If the thing on him was a demon, what the hell was this creature? His situation seemed to grow more hopeless by the second.
Once more, the demon spoke to him.
~We share a common enemy~
~We have a common goal~
~The Ulthari Mages must die~
~They invade our home as they will yours~
~They steal from us as they steal from you~
~The Underworld was once all as beautiful as it is here~
~Together, you, myself and the Silver Grimoire can end their reign~
~Let me show you~
The images once more swam in Jamis’ mind. This time they showed him walking through the gates of Ulthar with the Silver Grimoire in hand. He could sense the demon within him. Their intermingling created an insatiable thirst for retribution. Many Blue Mages tried to stop Jamis as he made his way to the four Sanctums in the center of Ulthar. Each time, Jamis simply flipped through the runed pages of the Grimoire and read a passage using the demons ancient knowledge, and the guards would dissipate into thin air. What happened to them, or where they went, was unclear.
~This spell is called Banishing~ The demon tittered.
Virtually unapposed, Jamis and the demon freed the Underlords from the prison of their Underglass statues one by one, liberating and unifying their fractured souls with the ancient powers of the Silver Grimoire. With more and more Mages being rendered powerless, the task only became easier as they went among the towers of the four Sanctums.
Kresh’laman the Infernal Serpent slithered through the heavens on enormous membranous wings that seemed to make the night even darker. His fanged maw billowed cursed black flames throughout the city. While they were powerful enough to reduce stone buildings to ash, people that caught fire somehow managed to live long enough to suffer.
Obar’lemech the Deceiver proudly perched his great half lion, half eagle body on the Prismatic Sanctum and surveyed the chaos with a smile on his human face. He turned friends and family on one another with his treacherous mental magic. Allies on the front lines of hopeless battles became bitter foes, others clawed at imaginary things beneath their skin until they bled out.
Belan’lirast the Accuser trampled through the city on his mighty hooves. His boar-like body had a human torso where the head would begin, upon which were three heads; one of a frog, one of a snake, and one of a goat in the center. His arms wove powerful gravitational magic that caused great earthquakes and opened fissures that consumed entire buildings.
Astar’lochath the Eternal Hive lazily drifted on unseen currents with its shapeless gelatinous form, occasionally grabbing men by the hundreds with its countless tentacles to consume for analysis. For those remaining it projected dimensional blasphemies beyond human comprehension, leaving them broken and unsound of mind.
The chaos was all-consuming. There was no struggle to speak of, only violence and death. Jamis smiled as the Ulthari Mages ran and screamed and died. He had taught them how it felt to be powerless. How it felt to lose hope. How it felt to lose everything. This was justice. This was good.
“~YES! YEEEES! SWEET RETRIBUTION! AHAHAHAHAHAHAAA!~”
Jamis screamed triumphantly. He would do it. He would be the end of Ulthar. Nothing had ever felt so pure and just. Mages blood would fill the empty streets, their screams of agony echoing the ruins for aeons. The dead city would forever stand as a tribute to his revenge. Jamis’ blood felt like fire, he was one with the demon, the powerful entity that was the key to his ultimate potential. Images of the now soon-to-be reality swam in his head like a dream. Violence, r**e, destruction all for his people, the humans, the demons, everyone that had been victimized by the corruption of Ulthar. Jamis drooled at the horrible imagery of hateful acts against his oppressors, his member had grown hard. Jamis lost control of himself.
The images came to an abrupt halt, and Jamis was back in the Underworld. The skeletal apparition was staring into him with its sharp yellow eyes. The creatures chipped longsword was thrust into Jamis’ chest, it glowed with an unnatural dark energy. Jamis tried to speak, but nothing came forth but a frothy croak. He fell, happy he would get to die as himself.
To his surprise, Jamis was still among the living. He woke with his back on the cold marble floor of the shrine, and the skeleton creature was kneeling beside him protectively. It was applying the leftover bloodbane paste from his pack to the wound in his chest. The Silver Grimiore was still in his left hand. The creature opened it’s lipless mouth to speak. Its voice somehow reminded Jamis of wind through dry leaves.
“You are awake…” it said.
“I was worried the demon had taken too much of you to save… This is good.”
“W-what happened?” Jamis replied
“The Silver Grimoire has bound itself to you, though you cannot use it. A demon waited here for a human to find it so it could use both man and book for its own purposes, fortunately, I have been waiting longer.” The creature eyed the heavy book in Jamis’ arm. “That book is perhaps the most powerful artifact in existence. It has the power to shape this world, or destroy it, as I’m quite sure you now know.” Its yellow eyes regarded him sadly. “I do not know what things the demon showed you.”
Jamis felt bile rising in his throat. He was ashamed of how he had felt near the end of the images. Looking back on them with his mind cleared, they revolted him.
“What happened to the demon?” Jamis asked.
The skeleton lifted his ancient blade, and let the dark energy flow through it.
“My own magic; my sword lets me channel a distant relative of the banishing magic of the Silver Grimoire, however, it only works on demons, it is why I was made. You may call me Grimal.”
Both the name and the purpose somewhat reminded Jamis of the Grimalkin from Ulthar, but he left it unsaid.
“I don’t want this Grimoire, if I can’t use it, why did it even bind itself to me? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’d want it even less if I could… I saw what it can do…” Jamis shivered.
Grimal put a bony hand on Jamis’ shoulder. “You are the deliverer, the one the book chose to carry it to its true owner. Only an outworlder who has passed through the Gates may use the full potential of the Silver Grimiore; the Dree Myr, or as your people came to call them… the Prophet.”