The Gongfarmer: An Immortal Darkness Short Story by Ted Peterson

Foreword by Ted Peterson.

I haven’t had this much fun in the video game industry in many years, and I’ve been designing and writing video games for many, many years. My quick bio is that I joined Bethesda Softworks right out of college as a writer, creating dialogue and other in-game text for their Terminator video games. Not long after I joined, the team began creating a sword-and-sorcery role-playing game we called Arena. As it evolved and the world began to take shape, we enlarged the title to “The Elder Scrolls, Chapter 1: Arena,” and that “Chapter 1” part was added with crossed fingers. The series has five chapters now, with “Skyrim” being the latest. I was fortunate enough to be given a blank slate in which to begin the creation of a universe and its gods and heroes, and I didn’t realize how rare an opportunity that was. Over the years that followed, I worked on many games for big and small developers and publishers, and with rare exceptions, those games were based on another property, a movie, a TV show, a comic, or even another game. I had a great time working on them, meeting hugely talented people like Chris Shrigley who I worked with at Disney, but I didn’t know how much I missed building the lore of a world until I was offered this opportunity to work on Immortal Darkness.

The big picture matters in world-building, of course. The cosmic forces and their nature needs to be outlined, and the sweep of millennia of history. But until the world is shown through the eyes of one of its lowly inhabitants, it doesn’t feel real. Tolkien’s Middle Earth needed to be shown from the point of view of Bilbo Baggins, just as Rowling’s world was framed by her hero, the boy Harry Potter. In future stories set in our world, legendary heroes and villains will certainly be featured, but I pitched to Chris and Damon the idea of the experience of a common man in the world we’ve created, and they liked that approach. I hope you do too.

Shining City

By Ted Peterson

My kin been gongfarmers for as long back as anyone can remember. In case you don’t know what that is, well, we gongfarmers go out and farm shit, what we call gong. Different farmers, different gong. Like, there’s the Cardern family, they got the honor of farming the effluent of the royal family of Immradell, which is about as high as you can go in this career. I mean, we’re talking royal elf crap. That’s like gold. Me and my kin, the Bornaji clan, we aren’t that high, but we aren’t at the lowest either. That’d be someone like the ones who farm the gong of the prisons and dungeons. My grandma used to say you could smell fear and death in the cesspits, so you can only imagine. No, we Boranaji we gongfarm out in the real fields where animals been. You get used to the smell. And you can dry it out and use it as fuel, something you can’t do with people or even elf gong. What that means is that unlike most gongfarmers, we Bornaji has two of what they call streams of revenue: we get paid to clean the mess out of field, and later we go to market and sell the chips. Since a monger is a merchant, sometimes we Bornaji call ourselves not just gong farmers but gong mongers, but that’s just cause it’s fun to say.

You probably want to hear about when Immradell fell, and I saw Shade, face to face.

I was a gong monger that day, selling my chips at the holy order of Icana. They pay good but the mystics there always take their time finding chips just right to give light, warmth, but not to compete with the incense in the air. I’m helping an acolyte a name of Loguys, an old guy who never got higher in the order on account of his mind always wandering, ever since he was a boy. I heard he missed his rite of birthright, so he was a Shunned, which is why spirits talked to him and drove him mad. I don’t know if there was any truth to that, but I didn’t pay any mind to Loguys. I was used to him muttering while he shifted through my chips, looking for what the temple needed.

It hadn’t been quite normal in Immradell for weeks maybe months before. Don’t know if you ever seen it, but the city-state is – and I suppose I got to say “was” – it was, well, something else. So much silver and crystal you wasn’t sure if you was walking through a mirror or through a cloudy sea. And that’s just in the public areas open for the likes of me. The palace and other mystic places, I can’t even imagine what they must have been like. Now I’ll never know.

I think it was Loguys, maybe two months before, who told me, “Day is darker.” Three little words, but they haunted me when I realized he was right. It wasn’t the season for longer nights, but damned if the sun rise weren’t later and later and the sun set earlier and earlier. Even noon time seemed gray. It happened so gradual that no one seemed to notice except that crazy old Loguys and now me.

The other thing queer about that day were how cold it were. It were mid-spring, but the bulbs lay sleeping under the chilled earth in the meadows that used to be a glory of color. In fact, I were just discussing with some of the other Bornaji what we was going to do about our annual bath. Usually, that was when our clan took our pilgrimage to the sea to cleanse ourselves of a year’s worth of gongfarming. But not then. No one wanted to go and get theirself wet in that cold air, so we decided as a group to put it off for the summer.

So all this were on my mind when I was helping old Loguys sort through the chips in the temple. He was mumbling as usual, and when I stopped to listen, I could tell he was whispering them three words over and over again: “Day is darker, day is darker, day is darker.”

Then Loguys just slams his jaws shut and stares at me. None of the cold of that cold day never chilled me so much as the look in Loguys eyes of pure terror. He whispers, “Now come blood.”

Before I has a chance to say anything, someone screams nearby. And before that scream can die down, it’s joined by three more, then a dozen more, then a hundred. It sounded like all of Immradell is screaming in fear. I’m screaming too out of pure confusion, and I run to the temple door and try to pull it open. The door was frozen in spot, but I’m a working man and I yank hard, so it cracks open. On the other side of the door is one of the Mystics of the order. Frozen solid he was, whiter than white. When he fell to the ground and broke open, there weren’t a drop of blood in him. He had been drained dry.

Now Loguys might a been crazy, but he weren’t that crazy. He pushes past me, running out in the alley which was now knee deep in snow, heading towards the city gates to get away. I took one step to follow him, but then I see them. And believe me, I ain’t see Vampyr before, but you get educated real quick when they show up in your view. Three of them going after Loguys, and when I looked around, they was everywhere. Chasing the Immradell folk through the streets, climbing the walls of the guilds and temples and palace like damned spiders. Blood splattered here and there got frozen mid stream, so it looked like horrible red flowers. I slipped in some and went down hard.

I looked up and saw the elves in Immradell that was fighting back. Fighting with all their heart and power, I’d say. On one side, you’d see a ball of flame, big as a cart, roar over the temple wall, melting the Vampyr like they was ice themselves. Then there was other mystic guardians sending waves of lightning like you never saw from their fingers, making the snow fall crackle in the air, and knocking the blood suckers left and right.

As inconceivable as the power I seen coming from the elves, the Vampyr was showing that this invasion was serious. They had power to meet the elves’, and more. I seen this unholy green light in the west, busting through walls like they was nothing, and no one had to tell me it were the deathknight Xaal and his army. It’s just something you know.

Loguys somehow had gotten back down the alley, because I remember that’s when he came running past, with the Vampyr scurrying after him. All of the sudden, I see something terrible and beautiful drop in from above, sword flashing, bright white hair in a whirl. The Vampyr shattered like glass.

“Shade,” gasped Loguys.

Shade I heard of. Every kid has, of course, but I never thought I’d be face to face. So I’m just staring at Shade, and they stare back at Loguys and then me.

“Hide,” said Shade, and ran into the winter storm. Loguys ran. No questions.

Remember I was still down in the frozen snow and blood. Down there, I got a view under the temple’s stable door. It were steaming from the heat with the pigs and horses and cows in there, and that were what drew me in – a little warmth. I hid myself best as I could in the hot, wet hay, but it weren’t too long before one of the Vampyr found me. He were a big, ugly fellow with bright yellow eyes, long scraggly black hair and a matching black fur cloak. I knew I weren’t a match for him in a fight, but he just said four words to me and walked away.

I didn’t know what to do at first, but I knew I couldn’t stay there. I stumbled, fell, and crawled my way through Immradel as the blizzard blew all around me, nearly blinding me with the wind and snow. Every Vampyr I met left me alone, but I saw many, so many folk that wasn’t so lucky. It were a war, them against us, and they wasn’t leaving anyone be, no matter the race, sex, or age. All except me. I saw Uuld’s great city Immradel die, begging for mercy.

It took me nearly a week to make my way through the snow only a few miles outside the city walls to my clan homestead. The shacks was stripped bare, like every place I found before, so I kept on going east, following their trail in the snow. I didn’t sleep, I kept walking, hoping to catch up until finally I did. My brethren heard what happened in the city and were mourning me for dead, as they fled east to the human lands. They asked me how I lived, what that first Vampyr in the stables had said to me. I told them I thanked the Gods I was born to be a gongfarmer.

He said, “This one smells rotten.”

© 2017 Giant Space Monster. All Rights Reserved.

Read more about Uuld and the Lore surrounding Shade and the Immortal Darkness universe.

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