Bardass! Quest 06 – The Old Gods

At long last, the newest chapter of the RPG-inspired fantasy adventure!

Quest 06 – The Old Gods

The young bard lay motionless beneath the canopy of leaves of the forest.  He would recall that the effects of his song did not last long, and the flying dragon Arco soon reverted back to his lizard form.  The two fell in mid-flight into the depths of forests bordering Rhea.

Arco crawled up to his slumbering master and licked his eyes.  The lizard’s tongue, slathered in its poisonous saliva, procured the desired result of waking Brier, but not without consequences.

Brier: AAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!  MY EYES!!!!

Pain, like hundreds of needles poking at him through his eyelids, would not allow him to focus on anything  other than an immediate remedy.  He urged his mind to work as fast as it could.

It made no difference whether his eyes were open or shut, but the amount of tears he produced impaired his vision so much that he might as well keep his eyes closed.  Even so, he knew he couldn’t help himself without sight and forced them open to see if there were any medicinal herbs he recognized well enough to relieve the pain.  Despite this, no such herb could be found.

Brier: Oh crap, what do I do?  That jerkwad Kruseid’s probably got his army looking to hunt me down, I can’t use that song again for another six months, and my eyes ARE ON FUCKING FIRE!
Arco: Squeak?
???: You, boy!  Shut the hell up and get in here!
Brier: Who the hell?

Brier squinted his eyes open enough to barely discern the figure of an aged man in filthy rags standing before him.

???: I said hush!  Follow me if you want to see again!
Brier: You can heal me?
???: Yes, but I might have to take your ability to speak if you don’t stop yammering!

Brier and Arco followed the old man to a rock shelf covered in vines and leaves.  The man lifted a netting of leaves away, uncovering the entrance to a large cave, and motioned Brier to enter.

Although the entrance was dark, further in were many faint lights leading to a brightly lit interior chamber furnished with the usual accommodations befitting a small inn room.

???: You lie down on that bed while I prepare something.
Brier: You… You’re a medicine man?
???: I’m a lot of things.  Once I called myself a scholar.  Now, I’m merely a survivor.

The old man boiled water in a small pot and threw a combination of raw leaves and powders into it.

Brier: You making soup?
???: I’m making the stuff that I pour into your eyes to wash the poison away.
Brier: But you don’t even know what poison I’ve got… but more importantly, WHAT?!
???: I saw that lizard lick you in the eyes.  A topical affliction like that is easily remedied with this concoction.  If It went into a wound, then you might be in more trouble.  Looks like it’s ready.
Brier: Ready?  It’s still boiling.
???: It only works while it’s boiling.  If the ingredients settle, it’s no good.
Brier: You’ve got to be kidding me!
???: I’m too old to kid.  Now shut up and take your medicine like a man.
Brier: No… no… NOOOOOO!!

The old man splashed a ladle of his brew into Brier’s eyes.

Brier: AHHHHHH- wait.  It doesn’t hurt…
???: I told ya!
Brier: But… it doesn’t burn… Not just the poison, but the hot water, too!  It doesn’t burn!  What magic is this, old man?
???: My name is Bairnes, and don’t you forget it.
Bairnes: As for the boiling brew, it’s scalding hot.  In fact, you look like you’ve got a pink mask around your eyes right about now, but you don’t feel it because the venom paralyzed you.
Brier: Well, that’s a relief.  Once I have my strength back, I promise to kill you somehow, Bairnes.
Bairnes: Ha!  I told you, I’m a survivor.  You have as much chance of killing me as you do growing a third testicle.
Brier: Was that analogy really necessary?
Bairnes: Feel free to take a rest.  I’ll feed you a day’s worth, but then you get out of here and find your own way out.
Brier: Heh.  You’re pretty nice for an old survivor.  What do you get out of treating me for free?
Bairnes: I’ve been living out here for a good long while now, hunting for my own food and making due with what I can forage.  Your booze is more than enough compensation.
Brier: What do you mean, my booze?  MY BOOZE!

Brier could now clearly see the 12 large jugs of Special Moonshine he “won” in the bar brawl a few days ago now sitting in the corner.

Bairnes: I haven’t had ale in close to 15 years now.  My dedication to the Old Gods is finally paying off.
Brier: Old Gods?

Brier peered around and for the first time noticed the altars carved into the cave walls.  Some housed small sculptures of men and women, and some were adorned with paintings and ancient, broken artifacts.

Brier: Hey, you collect all of these things yourself?
Bairnes: Not all of them.  Most of them were already in the cave when I discovered it.

Brier approached one such altar and looked at the figure of a petite woman wearing a long, flowery dress.

Brier: This is… Puci.
Bairnes: I’m surprised you know that name.  So you are familiar with the Old Gods yourself?
Brier: No, not all of them.  I read an ancient text back home… before the library was burned.  The text itself was incomplete, but I remember parts of it.  Puci was the Goddess of the Festival.  This man here… the God of Warfare, Djala.  The ancient peoples prayed to them and the other five Gods, believing they would grant them boons.
Bairnes: Five?  Your education certainly is incomplete.  No, there were a total of sixteen Gods.
Brier: Sixteen?  That many?
Bairnes: Yes.  Though I myself don’t know all of their names.  But I know their story.  What do you know of the Gods and their fate?
Brier: Not much.  I know that there were festivals held each year in celebration of the Gods, and that one day, they all supposedly “died,” and granted their divine power to us humans.  It is said that humans as we are now don’t resemble the ancient ones at all, that we inherited the features of the Gods and look more like them.
Bairnes: Yes, that’s certainly what scholars of the time thought.  But it’s wrong.
Brier: There’s no way you could possibly know that.
Bairnes: No, but I have faith that my sources are stronger than yours.  You see, around 500 years ago there was a man not unlike the late Dark Lord Balken who went about conquering lands.  He proclaimed himself a God and demanded the burning of all religious texts.  His influence can be seen today, as almost no one has even heard of these Old Gods.  But whether they believe it or not, the Old Gods did exist, and they exist to this day.

Today, we refer to “spirits” as the source of all magic, but that’s the half-truth.  The spirits do exist, but they are in fact the fragments of the Old Gods.

First, let me name for you the fourteen out of the sixteen Old Gods that I know.  There are the elemental Gods which became the spirits that Mages now call upon to perform their magicks.  Winneas, the Lightning God, was an unpredictable trickster.  Rana, the Wind Goddess, was also known as a Goddess of Travel and Fate.  She is depicted as motherly to all who called upon her name.  Teilos, the God of Fire, was also the God of Weaponry.  He invented the tools of war we all use today.  Ducad, the Goddess of Water, and Bercil, the God of Earth, were together also celebrated as the Gods of Fertility.

Aside from the elemental Gods were the Gods of virtue.  Fannyld, the Goddess of Creativity, Djala, the God of Warfare, Fenei, the God of Courage, Cerna, the Goddess of Carnality, Alce, the Goddess of Knowledge, Jacaux, the God of Diplomacy and Wisdom, and Puci, the Goddess of the Festival,.

Finally, there was Eurisika, the two-faced Goddess.  Eurisika consisted of two personalities, and her face would change depending on who was manifest at the time.  Eurice was Goddess of Life-Force.  Under her rule, lives would end, and new ones would begin.  Lucika was the Goddess of Transmigration.  Under her rule, the body and soul were reborn in a new form.  So, after death, whether you faced the end of existence or a new reincarnation depended entirely on the whim of the two-faced Goddess.

The existence of both Eurice and Lucika was necessary.  Reincarnation allowed civilizations to grow and flourish, while soul death and creation paved the way for new possibilities, new ways of thinking.  As for the Gods themselves, how much civilization improved as a result of their own actions mattered little to them.  The ancient civilizations were merely a diversion for them, who were immortal and wished to be amused during the many eons they spent with us.  If humanity remained stagnant, they would tire of us, and they would perhaps leave us or destroy us and start over again.  We don’t know for sure what would have happened, but the system benefited both us and the Gods.

Every month there was a festival dedicated to a specific God.  And that God would actually attend the festival and celebrate alongside them.  But most important was the Goddess Puci, who would be invoked at the start of every festival.  Puci was called upon to invite the specific God to their festival.  And so, much of the art celebrating the festivals was of Puci with her arm linked around another God’s, leading them towards a crowd.

This isn’t to say that the only interaction with the Gods was during festivals.  Certainly, Djala and Teilos would at times participate in the battles between kingdoms, and one story puts them at odds with each other, destroying the entirety of both armies during a fight between the two Gods that lasted 40 days straight.

There are many records I would like to share, but for now let us delve into the final days.  Lucika, the Goddess of Transmigration, gained total control over Eurisika.  Without the influence of Eurice, the people entered an endless state of war.  The Gods were divided about this turn of events.  Some enjoyed the change, while others thought it cruel.  But it continued for years.

Finally, the unexpected happened.  It was Teilos who stood up against Lucika and challenged her.

Teilos: This has gone on long enough, Lucika!  Go back to sleep and awaken Eurice!
Lucika: Who are you to order me, Teilos?  Just because these tiny things refer to us both as “Gods,” do not fool yourself into thinking we are as equals.  I have but one equal, and none shall end her repose.
Teilos: It shall end!  Because you will be put to sleep by my hand!
Lucika: Neither your hand nor your blades nor your vaunted flames shall so much as move me.
Teilos: Then slumber where you stand!

It is said that darkness became day when Teilos attacked, as if the sun itself had descended upon them.  But Lucika stood unfazed.  Any mortal would have felt fear at that sight, but Teilos attacked again and again, scorching the earth more with each new attack.

The flames attracted the attention of Puci, Goddess of the Festival, who swiftly called for the other Gods to aid Teilos.  All of the Gods arrived at the battlefield, but none joined.  They saw Teilos’s attacks increase in intensity, yet Lucika would stand still and endure them as if they were nothing more than whispers in the wind.

A collective gasp was let out the moment Lucika lifted her hand.  The one who leapt between the two warring Gods was Puci.  And in that moment, both Teilos and Puci were no longer Gods.

Djala rallied the remaining Gods, and this time they didn’t hesitate.  Although Puci was the weakest of them, she was also the most beloved.  In a single concentrated attack, the final 12 sacrificed themselves and converged upon Lucika.

The Gods were no more.  They had all been shattered into innumerable fragments and scattered throughout the world.  As for Eurisika, none know her true fate.  The ancient peoples did end their eternal war, so it is clear Lucika’s cycle had ended, but whether Eurice took over or if the two-faced Goddess also shattered and became spirits, who can say?

But the spirits we call upon today are those same Gods, and the rituals we use, the chants, the sacrifices, and yes, the songs invoked by Bards such as yourself, all of them have their origin in the ancient festivals.  It is those actions that remind the spirits that are ever present around us of what they used to be, and for a moment they show their appreciation by granting us their blessings.

Bairnes: I’m sure you wish to know what my sources are.  Much of it came from records I discovered hidden away in this very cave, but even before this discovery I had encountered a hidden village where these truths, for I believe them to be truths, were passed down through oral tradition.  You see, books can be burned and monuments crushed, but legends and song, the ones that truly matter, are forever.
Brier: But… it’s still incomplete, isn’t it?
Bairnes: Yes… That is unfortunate.  Anyone can see the gaps present in that story, but that is why I am here.  I am not a hermit for my own health, you see.  I am practicing Asceticism.
Brier: Asceticism?  What’s that?
Bairnes: It is not for the weak.  By living the path of a chosen God, one hopes to become closer to that God.  And, by sacrificing oneself in that path, one may become that God.
Brier: B… become a God?  Is that possible?
Bairnes: I think it’s possible.  Some say that Balken’s power was godlike in itself.  Yet, he was defeated, though it took seven extraordinary heroes to do so.  Power such as that cannot be merely human.  I believe he was an incomplete Ascetic.
Brier: (I doubt that…)
Bairnes: Either way, no one has become a God completely.  I don’t aim to be the first, either.  I simply wish to gain the knowledge of Alce and learn the truth.
Brier: And Alce locked himself up in a cave?
Bairnes: Alce studied surrounded by nature, away from all civilization, except on the day of his Festival, at the behest of Puci.  That was the one day he allowed himself to partake of the worldly pleasures of mortals.  I suppose in this case, you shall serve as my Puci.
Brier: Uh, thanks, but that just sounds wrong.  And good luck with that Ascetic crap.
Bairnes: “Crap?” I wouldn’t say that, my cursed friend.
Brier: … what?
Bairnes: I am nowhere near a God, but I have been granted a simple boon.  I can clearly see the truth around me, and I see clearly the hex marks covering your entire body.  You have great power, young lad.  Power locked away beyond your reach inside of you.  Your very appearance disgusts the spirits, and thus you cannot command them.  Teilos refuses to allow you to use his weapons.  Your form is stagnant, unchanging.  You have the curse of Lucika.
Brier: Curse of Lucika… Can you undo it?
Bairnes: I’m afraid not.  And no simple magic can undo it either.  But fear not; it can be undone.
Brier: How?
Bairnes: I can’t tell you how.  Just that it can be done.  You’ll have to figure that out on your own, and you will.  But what I can do for you is give you a book of songs.  I transcribed it myself, and it should aid you if you have the patience to learn them.
Brier: You would do that for me?
Bairnes: No, not for your sake.  As I said, I can see the truth.  And the truth is, you are an incorrigible asshole.
Brier: Thanks.
Bairnes: But I know in some way, you will aid others more worthy.  Learn these ancient festival songs and put them to good use.
Brier: Maybe I will.  But tell me… why do my bard songs still work?  If what you say is true, the spirits shouldn’t help me because of the Curse of Lucika.
Bairnes: Well now, that’s simple.  It’s because it isn’t you who is calling the spirits.  It’s your songs.  Suppose you wander around the dark in the forest with no one to keep you company.  Then you hear a song.  You don’t know where it’s coming from, and you certainly can’t see who is singing, but you recognize the tune and sing along.  It’s like that.  It doesn’t matter who sings the song, as long as the spirits can hear it.  And the spirit that responds to those songs is Puci.  Recall that her role is in gathering the other Gods, now spirits.  So in essence, it is actually Puci who is calling those spirits.  So remember that.  You have the Goddess of the Festival to thank for your continued relevance.
Brier: The Goddess Puci… I suppose you have some songs dedicated to her in this thing?
Bairnes: Of course I do.  Learn them well.
Brier: I will.

If the Ultimate Inspiration exists, he thought, it must be closely linked to Puci.  With this new knowledge, and a full meal, Brier left Bairnes and the hidden cave, setting out to find a way out of the Rhean forest and towards the Sakarlands, where he hopes to learn more songs to aid him on his quest for a cure.

Received Book of Festivals!
(10) Special Moonshine removed from inventory!

In the next Bardass!  Kent and Svennia must work together to evade the Astorian army pursuing them.  But what good are a former Knight and a former Maid against the greatest army in the land?  They must leave Astoria behind and flee, but where to, and how?  Find out in Bardass! Quest 07 – Out of Astoria!

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