The Godhead. Holiday. Visions. Destruction.
Across the multiverse, there are beings of extraordinary wisdom gifted with the power of omniscience, capable of witnessing places, people, and events throughout all time and space.
They are the Chosen, selected by their universe to bear the crown of the godhead - the curse of true sight - so they might intervene in the affairs of mortals to right terrible wrongs and act as a counterweight to the malicious, strangling tendrils of Chaos.
The form of the Chosen varies between universes; nowhere in all of infinite creation are two exactly alike. And although they may not fully understand their cosmic import, the Chosen are invariably the last bastion of hope against ruinous, random destruction.
Cresting from behind the forest treetops, the sun’s morning light cascaded over Merewin Hollybough’s farm.
Merewin, a halfling of stout pedigree who’d lived his whole life in Dunning Parish, made a modest living as a sheep farmer, trading meat, milk, and wool.
An early riser, Merewin made it his custom to dutifully tend to his flock and distribute tasty roughage to worn wooden troughs found within a well-maintained, grassy sheep yard.
And nestled comfortably within a pen found inside the yard’s modest barn was a gloriously large ram with heavy curled horns and a coarse gray fleece.
The ram’s name was Dundermutton, and, as one of the Chosen, his mind’s eye bore witness to the incalculable permutations of possibility that threatened the very fabric of his universe.
But not today.
Intrinsically aware of what the weather would be like every day forever, Dundermutton selected this day, the most optimal day of every year, for his annual retreat.
Heavy as his cosmic crown was, Dundermutton was dead set on a cleansing regimen of flocking, eating, and relaxation. Today, he would close his mind’s eye for a well-deserved holiday.
Struck by a shaft of the morning’s blazing light piercing the barn’s roof, the ram lazily rolled about the warm hay of his pen. Sleeping in, Dundermutton sighed in genuine relief, allowing the tension of his otherworldly obligations to wash away.
Suddenly, his gut was arrested, and Dundermutton’s mind was flooded with a cacophony of startling images. He saw a river stained with blood, waves of death, a suffering community whose homes were engulfed in a maelstrom of fire, and the smoldering remains of burned villages.
Wincing, he attempted to ignore them - suppress them - and blank his mind for, on this day, the great Dundermutton had vowed to rest. The universe, he insisted, would simply need to contend on its own.
But regardless of his intentions for the day, the alarming stream of information kept coming, consuming Dundermutton with a feeling of dread and utmost urgency.
Laying there, unable to stave the flow, Dundermutton saw a young, red-haired, freckle-faced halfling named Gammond Brandyford. He wore a white cotton shirt with rolled-up sleeves under a green waistcoat. Around his neck was an animated, sentient gold and copper necklace fashioned into the shape of a Dwarf’s head, and its name was Vongur Copperhand. Together, they violated the tattered remains of a human skeleton hidden fast inside the trunk of an old dead tree.
“Harder!” growled Vongur from Gammond’s chest, barking at Gammond as a cruel taskmaster and demanding he put his scrawny back into it.
“I’m pulling as hard as I can!” Gammond groaned. Gripping the skeleton’s tunic and placing a well-positioned foot against the tree, Gammond grunted and lurched backward to yank the body out, only to bring the corpse falling on top of him. The vacant-eyed skull rested inches from Gammond’s nose, and the skeleton’s bones and possessions collapsed and scattered, pinning the small halfling under its weight.
“Ugh!” Gammond sneered, breathing in the dust and decay of the long-dead soldier. In death, its bony hands gripped a rusted iron shortsword.
“Oh, I best not hear you complainin’!” Vongur jeered. “Great Hevroth! What ponderous happenstance to stumble across hidden treasure! It’s fate, nay, destiny!”
Rolling the corpse off of him, Gammond snorted, “Vongur, exactly how many times have you told me not to raid the tombs of the dead? I count six.”
Vongur’s face moved when it talked, and it snarled, saying, “This tree ain’t no tomb! This ain’t sacrilege! We’re takin’ what this fool hadn’t the good sense to bury!”
“Vongur, he died - died - in the tree!” Gammond exclaimed, sitting up to rest his arms on his knees. Gesturing to the cramped hollow and glancing back to the river, Gammond postulated, “He was armed. Look at those nasty broken arrow shafts. He was wounded, likely chased by goblins along the shore, and out of options. Hiding was his best chance at survival. Burying anything certainly wasn’t top-of-mind.”
The scored hairs in his copper beard bristling, Vongur blustered, “An’ what’s the first thing a Dwarf does before shamefully bleedin’ out?”
Bracing for yet another lesson in Dwarven culture, Gammond rested his forehead into his hands and moaned, “He buries his loot.”
“Aye, he buries his loot!” Vongur breathed. Squinting, the dwarf continued, “It be the code of all dwarves everywheres! Buryin’ one’s loot presumes an act of holy safekeepin’, an’ intension of shieldin’ one’s earthly treasures from the grubby likes of robbers. Thus, it’s the stuff that ain’t buried that’re meant to be handouts.”
Angrily bleating to dismiss the onslaught of images invading his mind, Dundermutton rose and trotted out of the barn to enjoy an earlier-than-expected breakfast. He chewed on a delicious slaw of grass-legume silage and pleasingly ground his snout into the trough. The scraping sensation on his muzzle was very rewarding. Raising his head, he basked in the perfect sunlight, took in the delightful smells of fresh grass, nodded respectfully at his fellow sheep in his flock as they passed, and gaily walked the perimeter of the yard to ease his mind, only to go wobbly and cross-eyed as he underwent another intrusive cosmic vision.
“Gadzooks!” Vongur breathed as Gammond held the green chalice up to the sunlight. Taken from the skeleton’s leather satchel, Gammond found it protectively wrapped in a blanket of soft sheepskin. It was made of transparent Waldglas and had a wide base, a tall stem, and a cavernous bowl. Made for a Gaelwyn man, Gammond gripped it with both hands and inspected it with a critical eye.
“Meh,” Gammond shrugged.
He let it fall to the dirt with a thud.
“Gah!” Vongur screamed. “Fool of a Brandyford!”
“What?” Gammond said as he rifled through the skeleton’s remaining possessions. He turned an empty coin purse over in his hand. “I can’t use it. It’s enormous. Nor can I carry it. And neither can you, given your lack of hands. And it’s probably fragile. I don’t want that in my pack.”
Vongur sighed, paused, rolled his eyes up at Gammond, and growled, “Just what kinda mold-infested rye was your mother eatin’ when she carried you?”
Gammond’s tongue poked out as he fished his arm into the tree hollow for more treasure. “Uh, there’s mold in rye?”
“Listen,” Vongur grumbled. “Any time you find a cup or a glass or a bottle in a cache of loot, y’drink from it! It’s common Dwarf etiquette. It’s an honor, a salute, a farewell to the departed!”
“Pthth,” Gammond snickered, sitting upright, picking up the goblet and eying it suspiciously. “You think it’s magicked!”
“An’ why else would he carry it?” Vongur smiled and winked knowingly.
“Ha! Good thinking!” Gammond shouted. He reeled around to take the green chalice to the river. A deluge of white-crested cold water rumbled by - glacier melt from the nearby mountains. Dipping the mouth of the goblet into the pure water, Gammond brought it up to his eyes to swirl, and as he watched, the crystal-clear liquid became viscous and bright red.
Gammond sniffed at the chalice’s bowl.
“It’s wine!” Gammond exclaimed.
Vongur was ecstatic. A magicked chalice that made wine from water, he thought. What a glorious find! Then he blurted, “By Griveld’s Nose! Well, what’ya waitin’ for? Drink it!”
Gammond narrowed his eyes before taking it to his lips. “But what if it’s poison?”
“Poison?!” Vongur the Dwarf snarled, bearing his teeth. “You idiot smallfoot. You think this poor doomed sot took all precaution to drag around a delicate glass goblet that turns water into poison?”
Considering Vongur’s rationalization, Gammond nodded in agreement and said, “Hmm. Yes. I suppose that’d be stupid.”
Vongur, awed by Gammond’s mindlessness, grumbled, “Aye, lad. Dumber than goblin spit.”
Bringing the rim to his mouth, Gammond was about to drink from the glass before he stopped.
“What is it?” Vongur asked. “It smells funny? Is it acid? Hey, where y’goin’?”
Trapsing back up the small hill to where the skeletal remains lay ransacked over the earth, Gammond paused to consider his words, held the weighty glass chalice up to the bright sun with both hands, and said, “To Skinny. I am sorry you’re dead.”
“Moradin’s Beard! You call that a toast?!” growled the shocked old dwarf. “Y’ might as well damn his eternal soul to brimstone and coal!”
“Well, you do it then!” Gammond snarked and raised the goblet higher into the sky.
“Ahem,” Vongur said, clearing his throat while his facial expression took on a somber, grave mood. Pursing his lips, the dwarf even assumed a deeper intonation as if he were exhaling from his stomach - if he had any guts to speak of - and bellowed, “Great Warrior: we found thee under root an’ tree, sheltered from the pursuit of thine enemy; a trusted blade clutched in thy grasp, your body wasted to grit, bone, and ash-”
“Great Green,” Gammond mumbled, shifting his feet and forcing himself to keep the heavy goblet lifted and raised. The empty eye sockets of the skull stared blankly up at Gammond. “If you wouldn’t mind?”
“Quiet, you irreverent bean-pole!” Vongur growled. Clearing his throat, the dwarf continued. “Where was I? Grit, bone, ash, oh yes - ahem - er, may thy passing be remembered, celebrated by ye’s father’s fathers, a wayward soul welcomed into the Halls of the Great Forge! There! Now, drink!”
“Hmm, don’t mind if I do,” Gammond said, tasting from the cup. The red wine was delicious and offered a velvety mouth texture, underscored with a sharp note of chestnut, and had a smooth, lingering finish that lasted on his palate. Gammond swallowed, and, peering into the cup, exclaimed, “Wow, that’s really good!”
He took another pull to chug it all down. A trail of red wine spilled over his cheeks and stained his shirt. “Woo-hoo!”
Racing down the hill, Gammond barreled to the riverside and dunked the goblet into the water to again transform its contents into wine.
“Gimmie that!” Vongur boomed, and, setting the chalice down on a large rock, Gammond removed Vongur’s iron chain from around his neck and dunked the amulet fully into the glass.
Submerged, Gammond could see Vongur’s wide-open eyes and joyous expression as he inhaled the wine; the volume diminished from the chalice and left sagging church windows against the glass. Removing the amulet from the bowl by its chain, Gammond yanked Vongur out, and he gasped for air.
“Aye, oh, that’s very good!” the dwarf roared, Vongur’s gold and copper face coated in the drippy, blood-red liquid. “Elven wine, if I didn’t know better! Those bastards an’ their pointy little ears an’ tasty grapes.”
Flushed and red-cheeked, Gammond lifted what remained in the glass to his lips and drank more, sloshing and gulping it all down until the chalice was emptied.
“Get us more!” Vongur roared, and Gammond swooped to the river to plunge the glass into the water.
Reeling from the barrage of celestial, otherworldly concern, Dundermutton staggered precariously across the yard. Admittedly, his resting day was ruined.
“Are you all right, big fella?” Merewin asked, walking nearby with a heavy pail of water. “Is all this heat gettin’ to ya? Maybe we ought take ya’ back into the barn?”
Dundermutton stumbled, thrust himself forward, and rammed his head into a fence post in a vain attempt to push out the desperate cries of the universe. Today was his day - his day! - he thought, and there was no way he’d forfeit his holiday for some drunken halfling’s benefit. Dundermutton’s mind was consumed, drowning in a whirlpool of swirling images; his eyes were full of stars, and the universe screamed in his ears.
“Baahahaaa!” he bleated weirdly, his tongue flopped out of his mouth and he went cross-eyed to stumble around the yard.
“C’mon, boy,” farmer Merewin said, stepping through a gate. Setting his pail down, he grasped Dundermutton by his horns and wrested him to his hooves. “Let’s get ya out of this heat.”
Aided by the farmer’s kind attention, the ram shakingly rose and stumbled leg-over-leg to the barn’s cooling shelter. Suddenly, Dundermutton’s jaw dropped, and his sight narrowed to a pinpoint, for his mind’s eye was forcibly sent to witness Gammond’s intoxicated revelry.
“Pththth!” Gammond gasped, rolling on his side and laughing like a drunk hyena. “No, no, I-I can’t stop, I-ha-hahaha!” Hugging his tummy, he tossed and turned along the river's shore, smearing Vongur’s face repetitively in the dirt.
Still moist from the wine, Vongur was covered in river silt and also giggled uncontrollably. They were drunk as skunks in a trunk dunked in a vat of monk’s gunk.
Cupping Vongur in his hands, the halfling snorted, and cried, “Great Green! Look! You’re covered in kitty litter!”
“A mighty turd extricated from the bowels of a dwarven cat!” Vongur puffed proudly.
Emersed in lunacy and incapable of controlling himself, Gammond flailed wildly, his manner seized by the vulgar influence of the wine. Unwittingly, Gammond’s arm struck the chalice and sent it rolling into the river. The bowl of the cup, snared by the raging current, lifted the goblet, so it bobbed downstream on the water's surface.
“A dwarven cat?!” Gammond chortled, imagining a straining feline’s head in a dwarven helm sporting a grand, haggard beard. The thought so tickled him that Gammond rolled on the shore in hysterics, oblivious to the goblet’s disappearance.
“Easy now, easy,” Merewin encouraged, easing Dundermutton into his pen in the barn. Refilling his water in the trough, Merewin slapped the ram on his side, and added, “You just get some rest.”
The irony of the farmer’s suggestion was not lost on Dundermutton as he shambled to lay down in his hay. He rested there, wide-eyed, and shivered - not from a chill but from the horrors he was cursed to bear witness. Gifted the true sight, days and months rolled as seconds through Dundermutton’s brain.
The amount of wine expelled by the magicked chalice matched the water and made the river’s water flow red.
Downstream, hundreds of thousands of fish were killed, and aquatic species of all kinds were devastated. Within years, mammalian creatures who depended on the river for nourishment subsequently perished.
Wine soaked into the soil and poisoned the plants and trees. Emboldened by a decaying ecosystem, insect populations swarmed neighboring villages and towns, bringing disease, famine, and death with them across the countryside.
As river livelihoods were shot and as the very water table became saturated with alcohol, waves of poverty, looting, and despair ravaged the colonies of Man. After making hapless pleas to their silent gods, Man took up arms and warred, raping, killing and maiming one another, burning homes, and setting fire to their dwindling crops and forests.
Coined by Man as the Red River of Death, generations would flee the region to safer climbs, and for a thousand years, all suffered under the unyielding yoke of the green chalice.
Dumbstruck, stunned, and nearly hyperventilating, the great ram summoned his helpers, the winged fae of the wilds.
Knowing of his prophetic nature, fairies treated him as a minor deity and attended to Dundermutton’s every wish and desire.
Informing them of his visions, Dundermutton instructed the fae to conduct a search for a skeleton of Man trapped within a tree stump, found somewhere along the river’s edge.
An army of winged fairies was conscripted, and, after months of tireless searching, the fairies found the skeletal remains. From within the tree, the fae retrieved the green chalice and, at Dundermutton’s wise counsel, kept it in their secret fairy hoard for eternal safekeeping.
Exactly a year following Dundermutton’s fateful visions, Gammond Brandyford, a halfling of the Aevalorn Parishes, stumbled along the river’s edge carrying a heavy travel pack.
“Look there!” announced Vongur, his golden eyes glistening in the sunlight. “By Beronar’s Beard. It’s a skeleton of Man, tucked into a tree!”
“Ew,” Gammond said, looking about and stretching. His back ached, and his legs were weary. The river flowed with waters born of glacial runoff - it was fast-moving - cold, clean, and pure. “Cobblers. Well, as good a time as any to rest. Let’s go see what it’s carrying.”