Lands of Wanderlust, Book Three

Heart of the Maiden

The epic conclusion to the Lord of the Deep Hells trilogy.

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What’s Inside

Hell is spilling out into their world…and only a few heroes are there to stop it.

Sha’oul, Lord of the Arisen, marches on to overthrow Rochata-Ung with only a ragtag band of heroes in his way. The flagging resistance band of champions can’t help but wonder, will they be enough to stop the demonic warlord from opening the portals of hell in the Southern Sands region?

With the devil Telenth guiding Sha’oul’s hand, helping to summon demons from one of the planes of hell, the situation is looking dire for Reza and her friends, resulting in a war that could not only cost them their lives, but the very fate of the kingdom.

The final hour hastens near. Mortals beware and prepare this day, for the judgments of the gods is nigh upon us all.

1

The Sun Room

The darkness lingered deep in the pathways of the old temple much longer than they naturally should have after being exposed to torchlight.

Denloth pointed to the recesses of the great hall, ordering the few torch-bearing arisen that accompanied them to light up the great chamber for him and his master to view.

Sand trickled down from the cracks in the ceiling, sprinkling through the torchlight, creating dull sparkles along the skeletons’ paths to the edges of the long, dark chamber.

“Impressive,” Sha’oul whispered, watching the torchbearers continue past pillar after pillar, showing just how grandiose the temple’s stonework was.

“This is not some obscure cult’s temple. This was a temple devoted to the great Dannon, God of the sun.”

“Then what became of it? By the looks of it, this place has been abandoned for centuries,” Denloth said, also speaking in hushed tones out of respect for the temple grounds they tread.

“Dannon’s followers have receded, for the time,” Sha’oul thoughtfully said, stepping off towards a side passage as he mused. “They will be back to worship him in time. Religions have seasons too. Some are thriving today that will dwindle centuries from now, and vice versa. Mortals are quick to forget.”

“You seem to know much of this god,” Denloth hesitantly voiced, wondering how many secrets his master knew regarding the temple they walked through now.

“I know much of many gods,” Sha’oul retorted, humored by his companion’s probing. “But more of Dannon than most, admittedly. He is one of the few gods that Telenth-Lanor still communes with. Dannon is one of the few gods that remains neutral to all other gods.

“Torchbearers,” Sha’oul called, causing a clanking of bones as all six scurried to the spot they stood.

The archway along the section of wall they gazed upon was in ruins, most of the supporting stones crumbled beneath the weight of the collapsed ceiling high above.

“Do you feel anything within that chamber?” Sha’oul asked, his excitement for what lay beyond clear in his wicked grin, his yellow teeth showing orange in the torchlight.

Denloth reached out with his will, studying, tasting the aether beyond the cave-in. The presence of power within the old temple was undeniable, and sifting through it took a moment, but he did feel distinct threads of aether just beyond them, each emanating from a distinctly different source.

He breathed in and out slowly, coming back to his physical senses.

“There are…many auras just beyond. I sense Telenth, but I sense others as well.”

Sha’oul’s smile only widened, and he brought up a hand, a black ring immediately beginning to glow red as he tensed his fingers, moving them into a strange, ridged formation.

The sand that had filled most of the passageway began to sift up, sticking to the roof of the room, uncovering the path before them. Boulders began to roll off to the side, and the path was made clear as the sand solidified to the ceiling in a hardened glaze, showing them the partially collapsed room within.

They walked in, gazing upon the dozen or so black slate slabs that stood erect to either side of the room, quartz rods protruding from the floor on either side of the slate, and a beam of sunlight shining down from a fist-sized hole in the ceiling, extending up through an endless shaft, illuminating the room.

“What is this place?” Denloth questioned, following behind his master as they passed slate after slate until Sha’oul stood before one towards the middle of the room.

“It seems Telenth’s rift gate is undamaged,” Sha’oul said, sliding a hand along the textured slab, clenching his other hand so tight that his nails punctured his palms, blood welling up in his tight fist.

He shot forth his bloody hand, speckling the stone in red, tracing with his bloody finger a crescent moon and an eye beneath with a streak down the middle of it. This, Denloth knew to be the secret sign of the one they served. Few in Una knew it, and fewer still ever dared to invoke it.

“If this is a rift gate to Telenth, then to whom do the rest belong to? Surely not each to different gods. I have never heard of so many rift gates sharing the same region, let alone sharing the same room!” Denloth asked as his master finished his design, the significance of the chamber finally coming to him.

“Yes,” the tall man laughed, seeing that his companion began to realize the power present in the room they had discovered. “The worshipers of Dannon were as ambitious as they were zealous. These rooms were called, Sun Rooms. Known by those not of the faith as rift junctions. A place where one might just as easily visit Aerath, the goddess of air, or Tekneon the god of the ages, as they might visit Fortia or Unerasct. I’ve only seen one other, and all rift gates there had been sundered. Though a few here seem damaged, that most remain functioning is a wonder.”

“I have only seen two other rift gates,” Denloth mumbled, approaching an adjacent stone slab, gliding his fingertips along the bumpy slate surface.

Sha’oul turned to consider his counterpart a moment before asking, “Have you never activated one?”

Pulling his attention from the slate, he said, “I have not,” as he walked to the giant man’s side, standing before Telenth’s gate.

“Then today, you will have the honors of connecting our lord’s realm to this one.”

Though Sha’oul seemed sure of the offer, Denloth warned, “I have only studied the subject, and even that was just descriptions of the event with no mention to the detailed process of its function. I would need guidance.”

Sha’oul looked back to the slate and quartz structure and smiled.

“Then guidance you shall have.”

He lifted his massive, bloodstained hand, holding it outstretched towards the blood-inscribed slab, chanting in Felmortum, the harsh tones and syllables peaking with Sha’oul’s twisted fingers. Denloth looked on, studying the words, the inscription his master had made, the hand movements….

Denloth’s eyes widened as the slab began to move—or perhaps it was not so much as moving, but rather, an image was beginning to come into focus along its surface.

The quartz rods began to glow faintly, and the image along the slate quickly came into focus, the memory of his shared vision of the Plane of Ash he had beheld weeks ago coming back to him, seeing in more lucid clarity the grey waste, ash falling from an endless sky of gloom, a burning red orb in the distance faintly illuminating the hills and plains of soot.

There were creatures populating the desolate hellscape this time, and great and horrible did they appear to him, only seeing such abominations in tomes and fleeting images of like horrors amidst the Seam.

One such creature, close enough to them, turned and noticed them as they peeked through the dimensional rift into his endless life amidst the ash.

“Surely it sees us,” Denloth ventured a guess, seeing that Sha’oul discontinued his chanting, standing back beside his companion now to watch as the creature loped in their general direction, sniffing the air.

“Perhaps…perhaps not,” Sha’oul whispered, transfixed on the creature. “Though it is easy enough to view into the hells, from within, things are distorted at the start of a rift connection. It takes time for both dimensions to sync. I know, for I have been there—once.”

“Then surely he can sense us?” Denloth continued to probe, seeing clearly that the creature meandered closer and closer to them, looking as though it were a dog that had gotten wind of raw meat.

The large man tilted his head slightly, considering the question. “Perhaps. Sense may be the wrong word for what that one is feeling just now. Draw may be a better descriptor. Always the draw to leave the realm of a Deep Hell is gnawing, ever at your thoughts. And you are punished for those thoughts, but persistent they remain, on and on through the ages…,”

Denloth considered his master’s words as Sha’oul drifted off into thought, or through the old corridors of memory. And as he considered the words, the creature came to the rift’s edge—close enough for him to now make out every detail of the beast—or man—he knew not which it was.

It stood a massive ten feet from the ground, its slumped posture indicating that it could stand even taller if it wanted to. Its face was that of a man, but by no means that of a normal man; it was one of nightmares, even for Denloth who had seen his share of horrors.

Its mouth was slack agape, rows of disheveled teeth arbitrarily lining his wide jaw, his wide-bridged nose burnt, holes along his skin, sizzling in the acidic ashfall.

His eyes were haunting. Sunken and so soot-smeared that they would have been lost in their depths, except for the soulless, blindingly white eyeshine.

A jagged rack of antlers grew from its skull, and its middle was worn away—spine and ribs on clear display. Its claw hands were bloodied, though the blood seemed dried and old.

It looked at Denloth then, and its haunting stare didn’t waver now as it began to walk towards them, towards the edge of the portal, raising a clawed hand to the surface of the stone, and entered the Sun Room.

“Stand back,” Sha’oul said, Denloth immediately complying with the order. “Let’s give him some room to enter.”

The bloody hand lingered in the temple air, testing what it had happened upon for a moment before dipping its antlers and head through the gate, squeezing its torso and limbs through the relatively small portal.

It stood, stretching out into the cool, dim Sun Room, looking to Denloth, then to Sha’oul, awaiting an answer for its presence.

Sha’oul spoke to it in Felmortum, and though Denloth wasn’t well practiced with the language, he had been studying it long enough now to understand his master’s words.

“All to blood, and blood to ash. The Great Ashen One has need of you here in Una. I serve him here, and you serve me now. Disobey any command, and you will be sent back straightway, and the Ashen One will not be pleased.”

The creature tilted its head, looking around at its surroundings for a moment before returning to gaze upon Sha’oul, nodding its head in understanding.

“Good,” he crooned, ordering, “await us in the great hall.”

The beast looked in the direction the man pointed him, and began to lope to the sandblasted threshold, stooping under, exiting to join the skeletons that awaited at the archway.

“A wendigo. Not the most intelligent, or loyal creatures found in the Plane of Ash, but devilishly powerful, and somewhat cunning when it knows there’s blood involved,” Sha’oul spoke in a soft voice, only loud enough for Denloth to hear.

“Not the most loyal, you say?” Denloth asked, side-eyeing the lumbering beast out beyond the archway.

“No,” Sha’oul admitted, “but with simplicity of mind comes simple and powerful fears, and above all, they fear our god. It will obey the Ashen One’s chosen. Even if it does test me, I have dealt with countless wendigos through the ages. I will force it to submit before me if it comes to it.”

As Denloth stood, considering the creature that now leaned down to shine its beady eyes in upon them, Sha’oul clapped, breaking the eerie moment, standing before the rift gate once more, indicating for Denloth to step up to the slab.

The only sound in the room was from the slightly glowing quartz rods sticking out of the ground, both the rods next to the slab, and one of the neighboring rods beside another rift gate, humming a low, vibrating tone.

“It will be safe to activate the rift again so soon?” Denloth asked, watching the energy in the rods continue to buzz at a consistent frequency.

“Two minor demons will not stress a rift like this. All of those rods,” he answered, indicating the sixteen undamaged rods that still stood next to their respective rift gates, “will help dissipate any excess aether as the rift remains active.”

“And what if no rods were present to absorb aether?” Denloth quizzically asked.

“Then we would absorb it, or our souls would try, and would fail. The aether ejected from the tears between realms is a chaotic energy. None that I know of know how to utilize it, though, rift makers have found how to neutralize it, hence the augmented rift crystals that hum before us. It will take hours, if not days for it to complete the process of defusing the stored aether, so when one uses a rift gate, the need must be great,” Sha’oul answered.

“Alright,” Denloth said, stepping up to the rift, inspecting the symbols Sha’oul had drawn with his blood. “Where do I begin?”

Sha’oul began to slowly step behind the black slate, looking upon it, considering the mechanics of the device before answering, “You…summon the Seam—easily as I understand it—do you not?”

Denloth nodded, agreeing with his master’s assessment.

“Then you should have no issue calling forth a rift. Focus is the key. You had mentioned that in your early years you were a priest of Hassome—he is a master of focus. Surely your upbringing will aid you in this task.

“Simply think upon the one you summon, the land, the smell, all associations you have with that place. You do not need to have set foot in that realm, though this does help, but simply knowing some details of the place you call to helps the rift to puncture. After that initial connection is made, maintaining a rift is simple.”

“What of the blood and the symbology? Do I need to perform the same ritual?” Denloth quizzed.

“Not…necessarily. Once an offering has been made through a rift gate, the connection remains until the gate is destroyed; but this,” he said pointing to the blood drawings, “helps my focus, strengthens my call to the Planes of Ash. If you can activate a rift without the token, then it is not necessary. I simply enjoy offering supplication to our lord.”

Denloth considered his words, clearing his mind as he began to draw up all information he had researched on the Planes of Ash, having fresh insight on its landscape only moments ago to aid his concentration.

Sha’oul had barely made his way around to his understudy when the rift lit up, the gateway to the Planes of Ash engulfing the stone’s surface, the rods’ glow and hum doubling in an instant.

Though Denloth’s eyes were closed, deep in concentration, Sha’oul watched as the herds of wendigos, mogroths, egladava, and all other manner of fetid creatures roaming the ash fields all looked in unison at the rift’s window. There was something not right, he knew.

“Denloth,” he whispered, but his student was smiling now, feeling his way easily through the rift’s aethereal mechanics, his robes beginning to flutter as if a light breeze played about him, though there was no airflow within the temple deep where they stood.

Rods close by began to glow, and the two slates next to Telenth’s rift began to open, slowly at first, but once their faint images graced the slate surface, it lit, fully open; one showing what Sha’oul knew to be the Planes of Rot, the dominion of Jezelethizal, and another of the Hellflow, Zullenseer’s domain, both one of seven lords of the Deep Hells.

“Denloth,” Sha’oul called, beginning to worry as he saw the horrid hellspawn in all three realms now looking directly at them, all with a look of starving beasts viewing prey.

The rift behind them blinked awake, a realm a swirl in blue aether-like ribbons and banners came into view, a place which he suspected belonged to the god Hassome, Sha’oul noticing that Denloth was not only activating the Deep Hells rifts, but the High Thrones as well.

Three more activated in a blink, and all rods pitched into a scream-like noise, all now glowing a blazing white. A gaseous light ripped from Denloth’s closed eyes, the energy shaking the man slightly as he hovered in concentration.

“Denloth! End it now!” Sha’oul yelled over the howling rods, seeing that each of the portals were quickly overtaking the stones they were bound by.

All at once, the stones returned to their solid state, the rifts cutting off abruptly, though the rods were still rattling at their tips.

Denloth collapsed, and to avoid the horrendous cacophony within the room, and from absorbing any stray rift aether, Sha’oul quickly gathered up the robed man and fled to the Sun Room, its blinding light shining out into the great hall as though a sun had just been activated within its small confines.

The wendigo had fled all the way to the entrance of the great hall’s archway, and Sha’oul didn’t blame it as he gathered the thoughtless skeletons and retreated from the inner depths of the temple, hoping that Denloth had not done irreversible damage to not just their lord’s rift, but to their standing in Telenth’s eyes for intruding in domains where they did not belong.

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Author Paul Yoder

About the Author

I’ve been writing about as long as I’ve been reading. Good stories are rare. Visual scene setting is difficult. Living characters in fiction are scarce. The ingredients needed to put together a truly moving piece of fiction is not an easy recipe to pull off.

I’ve attempted a bit of sorcery here with these collected stories. I hope I got the spell just right to warp you into a distant realm. Enjoy a slice of fiction, on the house. Happy reading!

Paul Yoder

Lands of Wanderlust, book one

Shadow of the Arisen

A fallen city, victim to the onslaught of a ravenous army of the dead, has been festering, multiplying for a year unchecked. Now, the fallen city of Brigganden poses a threat to the neighboring lands.

Reza, a saren knight, and her elite scouts are dispatched to uncover the faceless army. Once inside the city walls, they begin to understand too late the danger they are in. As they Struggle to survive the rising tide of evil, fulfilling their mission becomes the least of their priorities. The dead know of their presence—and this evil hungers for more than just flesh and blood.

Lands of Wanderlust Series

Book One

Book Two

Book Three

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