Gary Gygax

Come Endless Darkness


Preface

At only a few weeks of age, Gord suddenly became an orphan. He was quite unaware of the fact, of course, but it impacted his life in a bizarre and cruel fashion. His parents, knowing what threatened them, had left him in the company of an old friend, a kindly sorcerer. But instead of being watched and kept in safety for a brief time while his parents were eluding the murderous evil that pursued them, the infant became the target of the same deadly force that was visited upon his father and mother.

Fortunately, many magical protections surrounded the little Gord. He and the woman who was to be his nursemaid were thus hidden from the malign ones who hunted them — she magically transformed and disguised as the crazed and ugly crone known as Leena, and Gord as an ignorant urchin unaware of his birth and heritage. Together they dwelled in the crumbling filth and stark poverty of the slums of Greyhawk's Old City.

But then deprivation, sorrow, and cold — perhaps with some assistance from the evil magics seeking them both — slew the unfortunate and unsightly woman, Gord's only companion, before the lad was twelve. Alone thereafter, Gord managed to escape a series of harrowing challenges, learn the craft of beggary, and even receive some training as a thief.

That period was in some ways more enjoyable than what he had previously been through; for one thing, at least he didn't have to worry any longer about starving. In other ways, it was worse for him than his earlier life had been. In any event, this time came to an end when warfare erupted between criminal elements of Greyhawk. Taking this opportunity for revenge, Gord escaped from his indenture to the cruel and sadistic murderer Theobald, master of all beggars in the city. After having seen to Theobald's much-deserved demise, young Gord and his friend, San, another little beggar lad, ventured forth uncertain if they would be hunted down and slain by the Thieves Guild as other beggars had been. Both found refuge among the young students dwelling in the university area of the city. There too they found a tutor. In time both boys actually managed to become official students during the day, paying their own way from the proceeds of what they practiced in the night… thievery!

Older, more learned, and an apt swordsman, Gord eventually left the grim City of Hawks behind in order to sail the great lakes and waterways of Oerth with the Rhennee, the so-called gypsy bargefolk of his world. During his time with them and their land-loving cousins the Attloi, Gord learned still more about thieving, acrobatics and gymnastics, life, and love. Still not much wiser, however, the young adventurer began to rove here and there throughout the eastern lands. In the bandit city of Stoink he met a one-eyed troubador named Gellor, with whom he would later become fast friends. In fact, Gellor was responsible for getting Gord out of prison after he had immersed himself in an ill-fated love affair with a beautiful woman named Evaleigh. During this period of his life Gord also met a number of other brave stalwarts, among them Chert the iron-thewed hillman and Curley Greenleaf, a half-elven ranger and druid. The three of them had some desperate adventures indeed. A full-scale battle, life-and-death duels, and combats with demons were suddenly the stuff of daily routine for Gord.

After deciding he had taken in quite a sufficiency of that sort of thing for a time, Gord convinced the barbarian Chert to return to Greyhawk with him. The pair of them lived a fast and easy life on the easy pickings of the city. They did have many rich hauls by practicing their "night arrantry," but eventually Chert could stand the confines of urban life no longer. He departed, and Gord carried on alone — undaunted, it seemed. Then another unfortunate experience with another beautiful woman brought about a change in his life. Gord became wiser and more cynical. Yet he still sought three things: who he really was, what had become of his parents, and exactly what meaning his life had.

Both Gellor and Curley Greenleaf had given Gord some inkling of his purpose in the past, which is what got the young man thinking about such serious matters in the first place. Possibly unrealized by Gord, both had also influenced him for the better in other ways. Thus, when Gord discovered he had an enchanted ring that not only enabled him to change from man to panther and back as he willed, but also saved him from death and carried him safely to the domain of the Catlord, he reached a plateau of maturity. In early adulthood but already with a lifetime of dangers and experiences behind him. Gord the Rogue was ready to do something other than thieving his way to vast sums of loot and then spending it on drinking and carousing.

Rexfelis the Catlord and Basiliv, the mighty worker of spells known as the Demiurge, combined to convince Gord that he was instrumental in a quest that was taking place — a quest to recover a terrible relic from a bygone era. They explained to him that a millennium and more had passed since Tharizdun, the Darkest of Evil, King of Wickedness, Emperor of all the Netherplanes, was brought to ruin. The forces of Weal and Nature had combined to defeat the malign Tharizdun, but slay him they could not. Instead, they drugged him with a magical sleep from which there was virtually no awakening, chained him with enchanted powers, and then walled him in a prison that was in an otherworldly no-space. In this way Tharizdun was to be exiled until the end of time, a captured and slumbering incarnation of everything bad in the multiverse.

Unfortunately, even this imprisonment had a price for the jailers. His foes could not accomplish the binding without unavoidably leaving a means by which all could be undone. Just as a key can be used to both lock and unlock, the great artifact that made possible Tharizdun's incarceration could also be used to free him. The makers of it knew that even the strongest of magics could not destroy the key, so the relic was divided into thirds and each part carefully hidden far from the others. Each so-called Theorpart was a mighty artifact of powerful evil force in itself. If conjoined, the three portions were the key to the awakening and return of the dreaded king of evil.

Eventually, one of the forces of evil did locate one of the Theorparts. The vile society that worshiped evildom and called itself the Scarlet Brotherhood managed to find the Initial Key, known as the Awakener. When this occurred, Tharizdun stirred in his lightless cell in no-when and sent forth thoughts of sleeping evil. This effect empowered the possessors of the first of the keys to locate the whereabouts of the second one. In fact, Gord himself had taken part in the force that fought against the minions of evil to prevent their capture of this second portion of the ancient relic.

In the course of events, the demons who also sought the thing were triumphant. Iuz, a part-demon, part-human fiend, managed to gain the second portion and thus become a terrible force for evil. Yet, this outcome was not entirely to the detriment of those who opposed wickedness. Demonkind did not seek to reawaken Tharizdun, for if that occurred the mighty evil of that being would force them into submission. If Good sought to conceal the second portion of the terrible relic, at least the demoniacal possessors who gained it also sought to keep it from the minions of the hells, who would favor reawakening the slumbering lord of all darkness. A near stalemate had thus occurred — but now the Final Key held the balance of power, and It could not be allowed to fall to either the Brotherhood or the servants of Iuz. Rexfelis and the Demiurge enlisted Gord to seek out and try to take the last portion of the relic, thus preserving the balance that would keep Tharizdun entombed.

Such an undertaking seemed worthwhile to Gord. He despised the evil ones and understood the threat that Tharizdun posed to all not of their ilk. Agreeing to serve, the young thief set off into the hinterland in search of the last Theorpart. The trail of clues took him deep into the Ashen Desert, a veritable sea of dusty death in whose center lay a lost and burled city. Deep beneath the powdery ash of the desert, created by a terrible magical war fought at the time of the forging of the relic. Gord discovered the last portion of the thing, just as he had been told.

But finding it was one thing and keeping it quite another. At the moment of potential triumph, Gord was deserted by his dark-elf companion Leda and confronted by the evil-serving dwarf Obmi, the champion of Iuz. The dwarf left Gord for dead and fled the buried ruins with the Final Key, thinking that he would soon place it in the hands of his master. Leda, however, and Gord, too, followed on Obmi's heels. Even as Leda overcame her counterpart Eclavdra, a truly evil dark elf, so too did Gord battle Obmi in a fearsome combat to the death.

Finally the young adventurer overcame the wicked dwarf despite the black powers Obmi commanded. In part Gord's victory was due to his ability to assume the form of a panther. Then, a demon stood before him and offered Gord the very artifact he had sought, the prize for which he and Obmi had fought. Vuron, the alabaster-white lord of the Abyss, henchman of the demon king Graz'zt, spoke with Gord and explained much. Eventually Gord came to the only conclusion he could: Graz'zt must have the Theorpart, for only an evil power could maintain a hold on an object of such vileness. There was a terrible price to be paid for that decision, even though it seemed the correct thing to do. Vuron, for reasons of his own, would not take the key unless Leda also willingly accompanied him — so all three had to descend into the abyssal netherplanes. Leda understood this and agreed. Despairing. Gord also consented. For the third time in his life, he had loved and lost.

Feeling but half-alive, Gord traveled on with his new band of comrades. Soon they took ship and sailed into the southern seas of Oerik — the name of the great continent on which is found the City of Greyhawk. As traders in the wild jungles there, as island explorers, and as buccaneers too, the young thief and his friends went. They earned fabulous treasures and gained untold wealth, only to lose it just as readily in games of chance or mishaps in some exotic city of the many lands of the southwestern seas. Eventually the pain of Gord's loss became only a dull ache that upset his quiet moments and disturbed his sleep.

Gord had finally become a full-fledged man, and one with wisdom beyond his years. Still a daring thief and a willing roisterer, he was no longer altogether uncertain of himself or what he stood for. Despite that, he remained ignorant of his background. Who had his parents been? Why had he been abandoned in the slums? Those questions and others remained unanswered, and when he thought about them — which was often — they troubled him.

The saga now continues with Gord aboard a ship in the southern waters off Oerik. Much is in store, not only for Gord but for those who share this episode of his life with him….

Chapter 1

The leaden sky lowering above seemed to press flat the dull waters of the sea. The lean ship sat upon those waveless waters as does a little fowl in the center of a great pewter salver, alone, awaiting a certain fate. The air was as motionless as the water. Heat and oppressive silence were the vessel's only companions in the middle of that forsaken ocean desert. No creak of plank, no rattle of rigging, not a splash of wave or whisper of motion in canvas.

A dark-winged sea bird gently gliding high above the cog saw scattered bodies littering the ship's weathered decking, their forms as still as the sails and Gords. The bird croaked raucously, flapped its great wings, and soared away. Again the vessel was alone, bearing its cargo of dead upon the dead-gray, becalmed sea. All was quiet, until…

"It is gone."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. It is gone."

A group of corpses suddenly became animated. The five arose and peered carefully around them. One gave a low whistle, and the remaining litter of dead forms likewise stirred and began to move about.

"The trick worked, Cap'n, but how long can this game go on?" The man who rumbled the question was a stockily built old salt, sailing master of the ship, known to one and all simply as Barrel. He looked expectantly at the man he had addressed — his boon companion, the vessel's captain, and in fact leader of all aboard.

Gord was a seasoned traveler, experienced on land and sea, but he felt more at home swindling some dishonest noble or fighting a fell monster than trying to outwit whatever unseen powers worked against the ship now. Without revealing his own uncertainty, the young adventurer leveled his gray eyes calmly so as to look Barrel squarely in the face as he replied.

"Sea hags and sirens have failed to waylay us. We weathered the storm sent next. Now, we've managed to fool that ill-omened bird of evil into believing all of us have died from thirst. I'd say we have the enemy on the run, old friend!" Gord turned and looked at the old priest who had taken ship with them on Keoland's coast. "What say you, good cleric?"

Abbot Pauncefot was forthright and direct. "Oh, we have managed to fox them well enough," he barked, "but the workings of demons are not so quickly done. Even if they suppose us all dead, they'll not be through with us until bones of men and ship lie rotting on the floor of the deep!"

A buzzing of fearful exchanges sprang up among the crewmen at that. Barrel set his mouth tightly, almost as if In imitation of the thin-lipped priest. Gord frowned and thought furiously. Could he repair the damage the cleric's words had done? "Grist for our mill," Gord said with a jauntiness that he hoped would hearten the men. "They've tossed their best at us and failed. Whatever else might happen along can be something to batten on. What with our good abbot's powers, master Dohojar's magics, and the stout steel of our weapons, no fiend of the netherworld can harm us now."

"Never tempt demons!" This new admonition from the cleric countered whatever bolstering of flagging spirits Gord had just managed to accomplish. Abbot Pauncefot cared not a whit for anything but the truth… as he saw it. The benisons bestowed by mine own Great Lord are but petty powers when compared to those of the evil ones who seek to destroy this vessel and all aboard. It is no fault of Rao that I am too small to channel more than a trickle of the benefit he could bestow."

"You have seen to our drink and sustenance, good abbot," the homely Barrel said. "Your prayers and divinations have brought us all through 'til now…."

The elderly priest squared his thin shoulders and looked grimly at the men who had gathered close to hear the exchange. Forsaking the compliment Barrel had just paid him, Pauncefot saw instead an opportunity to address a higher issue. The abbot spread wide his arms and spoke loudly for all to hear. "Salvation of the sort I have provided is temporary. To be truly saved, you must give yourselves unto Him who is All." Before the priest could say more, growls and mutterings arose from the crowd.