The Mural on the Wall
Thelek Flesh and Bone
The Temple of the Sleeper: Thelek Flesh and Bone
Atop an altar of an absent god, Thelek examines his hands in the dull, flickering light. Solid. Flesh. Pleased, Thelek descends in a dramatic flourish, jumping down and landing near the ruins of the High Priestess. Happy as a boy playing in the rain, he takes a few steps, relishing the sway of gravity. Adjusting, he extends to his full height and strides over to a large brazier beneath the depiction of Seth. Without a thought, Thelek passes a hand through the fire. Quickly at first…then again in a more sustained manner, letting his right hand linger in the flames for several heartbeats. His lips twist in pain, yet his grin only spreads further.
Satisfied, Thelek bends over the desiccated corpse of Sess’Kresa and rips off a section of her dress. He winds the strip around his blistered hand, refashioning the decadent fabric into nothing more than a common bandage. Finished, he topples the enormous brazier with a simple push of his shoulder, a feat two men would be hard pressed to match. The stonework basin collapses onto Kresa’s remains, smashing and setting the dried shell aflame.
Marching over to the edge of the raised dias, Thelek’s yellow eye scans the chamber, taking in the extent of his handiwork. Moments ago the minions of Seth choked the temple to overflowing. No longer. Blood, an altogether different hue from that contained by the bone levies, coats the floor. Screams of dying yuan-ti pollute the air as they rip and pull each other apart. Some utter blasphemies in the silky, rolling language of their race while dismembering their peers. Others curse, and still others, undeterred by the maddening visions, ecstatically bless the name of Thelek the Rebirther, the forgotten Sess, who has brought them such wondrous sights.
No longer preserved by the attentions of foul magicks, the undead lay crumpled and still in endless piles of bone and steel. Age had ravaged their brittle husks, reducing their marrow to the consistency of dry leaves. Bows, swords, and blackened cuirasses crush the pale matter through weight alone. Soon little trace but a sea of fine ash remains. An army of hundreds… destroyed in seconds.
Dust, shaken loose from shifting rock, drifts down from on high, scattering or blocking firelight as it builds en masse. The walls groan with the effort of sustaining their boundaries as hundreds of feet of stone press hard against their bulwarks. Like the race that spawned it, the Temple of the Sleeper will fold and be quickly buried by an earth long tired of their depraved deeds.
Thelek looks at your battered group. “A race purged,” he calls. His voice is again simple, lacking the baritone that shook the vaulted ceiling before; yet it coils in the mind, repeating itself in your own words and thoughts. Are you speaking or is he? A few more sacrifices and it won’t make a difference. His will could turn even most the stalwart to adorers.
Thelek continues, “This is where worships leads. Gods ask. Human’s deliver. Genocide’s the beginning. Condemn me as you must, but know that I… I seep my hands in it. Willingly. I would drag my soul through a thousands hells to see it stopped… consider it… for the race they choose won’t be quite so deserving."
Regdar looks across the chamber that once held a formidable army that in an instant has been reduced to ash “You truly believe that the gods seek the genocide of our races?”
Bloody and aching, Zioran wipes a hand carelessly across his face, smearing the blood streaming from his mouth across his chin. He grins through the pain, his teeth and gums a bright crimson, as fresh rivulets of blood flow from his mouth and drip onto his chest and the floor. “By the Gods, Thelek, that is one sexy meatsuit you’ve got there. How’s the depth-perception? Don’t worry – it’ll get better after a while. I can’t promise we won’t kill you before then, but I thought I’d let you know…”
“This is becoming something like a very unhealthy routine,” Aiden says, referring to yet another brush with death as he lowers to a knee, quickly trying to dress some wounds as the chamber rumbles. It was disturbing to see Thelek in the flesh with his eerie voice. “I’d thank you, but it seems on par with congratulating a glorified thug that puts down a rabid dog, but don’t worry, you won’t have to suffer any ‘I’ll carve fear into your hide!’ remarks today. It’s been a long push to get here, as I’m sure you’re aware.” He was trying to be casual about this, but ultimately, he saved their lives; there can be no doubt about that, but at what price he wondered. How much of what he said was posturing and how much was real. It seemed as though Aiden had just witnessed the death of an entire race like it was common place ritual.
“I know how much you enjoy my chats, so I’ll be brief. Am I correct in assuming you will not be joining us on the road if we get out of here? And that being the assumed case, where are you off too? Chult is warm this time of year, the land of enchantment, or so I hear.”
“You truly believe that the gods seek the genocide of our races?”
“Some would see it done. Gruumsh would slaughter elves to the last; both to avenge his savaged eye and to finish what he started eons ago. Shar desires to revert the world to an empty dark. Her followers imperil all. Bane, the last of the Dead Three, seeks to enslave Faerun. He crushes any who oppose under an iron fist. And Cyric? After escaping the Supreme Throne, he will butcher the Primodials, laughing as they unleash the Tarrasque in retaliation. By design or consequence… mortals will always be pawns or stakes in their games. And no loss is ever small when playing on their scale..”
“…I can’t promise we won’t kill you…”
“I’m not the child you slew months ago and have little time to entertain hostilities. Attempt to harm this form and the next time Mysteria’s essence stitches you whole you’ll awaken friendless.”
Thelek glances up at the ceiling as a small rock falls and collides with the statue of Sseth. He takes a step backward to avoid a plume of falling dust. The walls groan further and the air reeks of burning snake flesh.
“Am I correct in assuming you will not be joining us on the road if we get out of here? And that being the assumed case, where are you off too?
“Our travels together are put on hold. At this point my presence would endanger you with forces you would be pained to oppose. My power cannot be easily hidden, and I leave to draw their numbers away. Regardless, I have preperations to make; yet when their agents contact you, extend my greetings… if they possess the patience for pleasantries. As for a specific location, I can only tell you we will meet again soon in the underdark.”
Grinning, Zioran says “Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to come after you swinging my sword like a maniac. But I will be coming after you. Maybe before you enact your plan, maybe after. The fact is, you’re the strongest being I’ve ever encountered. And someday, we’re gonna throw down.” With that, he painfully twists an arm back into its socket, a grimace of pain flashing across his face briefly. He began coiling the knotted, spiked cord connecting his belt to his weapon, still breathing somewhat raggedly. Despite the speed with which the spellplague knitted his flesh together, it was still excruciatingly painful. He sheathed his massive blade, fitting it into its place on his back, glanced once at Thelek and began hobbling for the exit, growing stronger with each pace.
Aiden had just listened to Thelek’s response and was thinking about what he meant. Distracted, Aiden hurried over to the nameless adventurers. There was no way to save them all, but maybe at least one could be spared. “It’s not too late yet” he thought and pulled the woman in plate armor aside, then he folded the hands of the remaining four corpses across their chests and said a quick funeral prayer ending with, “and go in peace and bear us no ill-will.”
Looking up, he saw the somewhat more friendly immortal limping, then walking, towards him. “Hey, Zioran, give me a hand will ya? I need to bring her out of here with us but I can’t carry her as I am right now.”
Glancing over Zioran to his clone called Thelek made him think of one last thing he wanted to ask. “Oh, and another question before we part. You say that your presence, at this point, would endanger us. Yet with all the Yuan-ti gone, it must be something else. Tell me, who or what is this force that would hunt you and oppose us? You sound as if something hunting you wouldn’t be our ally. Something like the Yuan-ti, opposing both you and us, is a rare position and the list of those that qualify for that position must be extremely short.” After the question and the prayer, he stood up with the arm of the dead Paladin over his shoulder. Barely managing to yank himself and her to his full height, he waited to hand her over to Zioran.
Thelek returns the shadar-kai’s grin, an exact copy of Zioran’s mannerisms. The duplication extends beyond the physical. Timere Kierbold’s journal explained Thelek’s penchant for taking on the abilities of the formerly inhabited. A bit more sinister… a little less restrained with emotions and threats… You wouldn’t be shocked if the entity adopted some of their personality as well.
“Tell me, who or what is this force that would hunt you and oppose us? You sound as if something hunting you wouldn’t be our ally.”
“Archons. Celestial hosts. The servitors of the good pantheon will condemn you as a threat. Your proximity to so many transfers of power, the sacrifices of the twelve, has imbibed you with vestiges of power. It will confuse their senses. In time, their desperation will force them to error on the side of caution. Then they will come for you. I hope they prove more open minded than you were, priest, lest your hands be stained with righteous blood.”
“Well well, ‘condemn us as a threat’? I might have guessed you would say as much. Nonetheless, I will be sure to pray for your safe travels," Aiden lets out a little chuckle that turns into a cough of pain, “wouldn’t want you getting locked in some underground cave-in and left for future generations to deal with. And you,” gesturing at Zioran, “give me a hand already, this place is coming apart and it’s time to be going. Redgar? Emmivenn? Shall we or what? Our next meeting with him will be more confrontation, to be sure, but as for now…” Aiden finished as he gestured back towards the way they came in.
“Yeah, yeah, I heard you, don’t get your panties in a bunch. She’s not getting any dead-er, so just settle down,” Zioran said as his stride continued to strengthen. By this point, the shadar-kai had crossed the room and was nearby Aiden. He took the slain paladin’s arm and slung her body over his shoulders, straining with the effort. “Alright, I’ve got your corpse. Can we go now?” he asked, even though he was already heading down through the hallway, and out the way they had come.
Coughing from the tainted air, Addish chants and waves his hand in a short, chopping motion. The dust encircling him flys backward as if fanned by invisible hands. After gaining control of his breathing, the emanciated gnome glances upward. “That’s a lot of hurt coming down,” he mentions. “Mosq!” he calls. Hearing its name, the skinny lizard runs incredibly fast, dodging debris with ease, as it makes it way over to Addish and up the gnome’s arm. Settled in place, Mosquito wraps the tip of his tail around the illusionist’s neck, anchoring itself.
“Don’t know if you’re the merciful bad guy or the wayward hero, but you saved my hide the same,” Addish yells at Thelek, “But if yah going down in the darks be wary of gibberlings. Somethings got the whole legion of ’em rattled and headed topside.” Having repaid a fraction of the debt, the gnome waves a crisp goodbye at the entity before speeding down the hallway after Zioran and Aiden.