Hello there! Thank you for joining me for another chapter of Tellest’s newest feature, the “interactive” story, The Whispers—a story which you and readers like you are helping me tell. For ease of navigation, I’m going to have little mini tables of contents on these posts, so feel free to use them to jump around and discover how The Whispers works, how you can help steer the direction of the main character’s choices, and, of course, read the story. I hope you enjoy taking part in this interesting new Tellest adventure!
The Whispers is a story that takes place within the Tellest universe. It’s a story that is written by Michael DeAngelo, but it’s told with help from the readers. The Whispers follows Declan, a young man who was recently evicted from the temple where he grew up. When he was younger, he used to hear voices, and the clergy interpreted those voices in ways that they thought brought them closer to divinity. But with the whispers growing quiet, Declan was no longer needed at the temple, and he was instead shipped off to a nearby adventurers’ guild. The voices have recently returned in his time of need, and have offered him advice on what to do in order to survive.
If you haven’t already figured it out, you are one of those potential whispers! At the end of every chapter, Declan is given a choice. Every reader has the chance to vote and influence Declan’s decision, as long as you’re a member of the Tellest newsletter. Every time you vote, your voice holds more sway as well. Everyone who casts their vote in earlier chapters will now have a stronger voice, and Declan will hear them a little clearer. So for your voice to be heard best, you should get in on this story early. There is another way to gain additional voting power, but that will be described in the voting instructions at the end of this post.
First thing is first: you’ve got to read the story (starting with chapter one, if you prefer). Then if you’re not already a member of the newsletter, go ahead and sign up! Tellest has awesome freebies that we give out right away at sign-up, and more that come along every few weeks.
Without much further adieu, let’s continue our tale, and find out the most recent choice Declan made with the help of our Council of Whispers…
Declan stared at the sky, fighting back every urge to close his eyes. Tears welled up in them, blurring his vision, but he focused on the sound of the mule drawing the carriage—the beast of burden carried forth louder than Declan wanted, and yet that sound seemed to be the only thing keeping him rooted in reality.
Every now and again, a faded, whisper drew in, telling him one way or another what to do.
“Sleep. Sleep now,” one voice would say.
“You can’t,” another would counter. “You know the way better than anyone, and this road is most dangerous for a lone goblin—especially one carrying unconscious humans.”
Whether it was the noxious fumes that had nearly swept Declan into oblivion, or the whispers seeming to warble back and forth into his ears, a wave of nausea almost bowled the man over. Declan struggled to sit upright, pulling himself up against the railing of the carriage.
“There,” a whisper said. “Rise and be at the ready for your ally.”
For once, it seemed that Declan had outpaced the advice of the whispers, though others seemed to commend his actions as well. Stacked over top of each other, a trio of distant voices all encouraged him to stay awake.
The nausea certainly wasn’t making it easy to contend against their words anyway. He leaned over the railing and spat over the side of the cart. He didn’t produce any vomit, and the longer he stayed upright, the steadier he felt.
His quiet expectorations weren’t lost to the goblin in the driver’s seat though.
“How are you feeling?” Gorik asked.
For some time, Declan hugged the railing, stabilizing himself as best he could. He reflected on Gorik’s words, though, and contemplated all that had happened in the last few hours. He remembered the terrible feeling of the fumes entering his lungs. The fright of seeing his friends falling to the ground through the mist was etched into his mind. And he knew that without a miracle, there was no way he would have survived Jordy and Skanlon’s dire plans.
“Better than I would be if you hadn’t been with us,” Declan said. His back was against the front railing of the wagon bed, and he stared ahead, away from Gorik, the driver’s seat and the mule. He saw Ilayeth and Tornig before him, sprawled out on the bed of the cart, looking as though they would forever be caught in their sleep. Every few moments, though, Declan would see their chests rise as they took in a strained breath. Though their fates would have been dastardly at the two bandits’ hands, away from them, they seemed at peace. “You saved us all, Gorik.”
“We seem to be making a habit of saving one another after we’ve been at odds with each other,” the goblin said.
“That we do,” Declan mused. He looked about a while longer, until his gaze settled on his magic staff. He leaned forward, inviting another spasm in his belly, but fighting through it, nonetheless. The staff sat across his lap a few moments later, and he was upright once more, taking a deep breath of crisp air that seemed to settle him. “I’m trying to stay awake for you here,” Declan said. “Keep talking before I join the two of them in slumber.”
“Sleep if you must,” Gorik said. After a pause, he cleared his throat, though. “Although I must admit, I don’t know the way as well as I’d like to.”
“How long was I laying here in silence?” Declan wondered. “It could be that we’re drawing closer than we realize.”
He heard a chuckle from the front of the carriage then.
“If you thought you’d slept through most of the journey, you’re sorely mistaken,” Gorik said. “You’ve been lying there for just a few minutes, and that’s the second time you’ve asked me that question. But, if it’s any consolation, you’re slurring less than the first time you asked.”
“Oh,” Declan said, a bit more embarrassed than he expected. “I shouldn’t let you bring us there alone. You’re as tired as the rest of us, I’m sure. And you’ve got an injury still.”
“I’ll be fine,” Gorik assured. “I’ve been spending a little bit of my energy every half hour or so to speed the healing process.”
“You’ve got a rare gift,” Declan said, leaning on his staff as he felt the pull of fatigue once more. “The clerics as the temple had restorative power as well, but they were far beneath your talents. They wouldn’t heal battle wounds or injuries earned by some fight with a monster in the wilderness—they’d try, certainly, and sometimes succeed, though the patron would have a scar with them for the rest of their days. But often, it was things like digestive problems, or small burns or a spring fever.”
Gorik hummed for a moment as he considered Declan’s compliment. “There seems to be a noticeable difference between your clerics and a war priest.”
“And that’s what you are?” Declan wondered.
A shrug lifted Gorik’s shoulders. “I don’t know if that was what I intended. My tribe wasn’t known for it either. We had no wars to fight, and little faith to speak of. The gods have been as quiet as your whispers were, until lately.”
“So, what had you turn your back on the way of your tribe?”
Gorik chortled at that. “Believe it or not, it was just a book.”
“A book? The one you…?”
“We happened upon a human settlement that was smaller than your guild hall and the stables, I think. Just a few huts or cottages here and there. It was abandoned—don’t worry. But a lot of things were left behind.”
“Then they didn’t leave willingly, I’m sure,” Declan supposed.
“In any case, there was a small shrine in one of the cottages. A stout dresser served as a pedestal for a statue. I think it was one of your gods reimagined with wings and a goblet of water. I didn’t care much for it, but beneath the stand, there were a few other trinkets and baubles, and the book I carry with me now,” Gorik revealed. “I knew how to speak the common tongue well enough, but it took me a long while to learn how to read as humans do. My focus on this old tome wasn’t lost to others in my tribe, of course.”
“Did they think you were becoming a sympathizer?”
“Perhaps,” Gorik said. “I always thought that it was more likely they were at odds with me learning more than the rest of them. Knowledge was almost worse than faith to them, and I had gone too far to simply let it go. I could sense that they had grown tired with me.
“The first time I pulled magic from the aether,” he continued, “I had grown tired with the old ways of my people.” He was silent for a time, remembering what had set him off on his unlikely path, away from his people and down a road that intersected with Declan’s. “We were scavengers when we had to be, and hunters when we were desperate. But we weren’t skilled predators—not like some of the beasts of Novistrus—and sometimes made for easier prey.
“I kept my new power secret until I no longer could. On one of those hunts, we were attacked by a pack of dire wolves. Those were hungry times, and I’m certain the wolves were struggling for food the same way we were. We knew they were there. They knew we were there. For a while, we kept our distance. But one of my cousins, Dolog, thought he could take care of two problems at once. Sneaking through the shadows, he meant to drive his spear into the hindquarters of one of the large beasts. They sensed him near, though, and three of them fell upon him like he was a ready-cooked meal. He didn’t scream—just growled like one of them. And when I reacted with a flash of light, he used what energy he had left, and drove a spear into the belly of the closest wolf. The sound of its cry drove the others away as well, although that one limped as it went, left behind by its family.
“Dolog’s breathing was already ragged by then. I could see blood dripping from his lip. He was so startled by the attack that he’d practically chewed through his tongue, but I didn’t know it at the time. Still, his injuries were grievous. There was no way he was walking out of the forest—not without my help.”
Gorik sighed as he recalled those harrowing times. “I dove into my book, Dolog cursing at me through clenched, bloodstained teeth. And when I read aloud the passages of some ancient prayers, another light, white and pure, danced on his tattered body. In time, he grew strong again. He was stronger than me, I realized, as the magic seemed to pull my soul straight out of me. And as the vigor returned to him, his protests grew louder and louder.
“Traitor,” he said. “Blasphemer. As though he had prayed to goblin gods all his life and knew that I had made a pact with a human one. When I saw him grab hold of his spear once more, I wondered if he’d make short work of me. In my weary state, there was no hope to fight back against him. He just spit a gob of blood on the ground at my side and climbed to his feet. That was the last time I saw him. I knew that he would spread word of my magic to the rest of the tribe, and someone among them would be able to do what he could not.”
A pause in the story lingered for too long, and Declan looked over his shoulder. “I’m sorry, Gorik. You were only trying to help.”
“Some people are afraid of help,” the goblin said. “If it’s strange, or different, they’re maddened by the thought of it. Even if it could mean the difference between life and death.”
Declan nodded, seeing the meaning behind Gorik’s story, and how it connected the two of them.
“You’re not who I expected,” Declan admitted. “But I’m glad to have been surprised by that.”
“As am I.”
For a short while, the two sat in silence once more. Declan looked to the sky again, and realized that his vision had settled somewhat, the stars appearing clear and bright upon their velvet canopy. Somehow, his fatigue seemed such a distant thing.
He realized that it was fleeting for the lot of them. Tornig and Ilayeth stirred then as well, grumbling and groaning as they adjusted into more comfortable positions.
“Gorik?” Declan asked. “Why are your friends going to the temple?”
Another pause left Declan wondering just how much he could depend on the goblin. The hesitation was telling, but perhaps it was just the awkward stretch of time persisting since inhaling Skanlon and Jordy’s noxious fumes.
“I wish I knew, Declan,” Gorik said. “Ever since Tanissa began bending Jarayas’s ear, it seems like everyone in our group is acting differently. There are more secrets, for one. It used to be that we all had a seat at the table. Jarayas made certain that none of us felt like we were less than another.”
“You sound like you have a lot of respect for him.”
“Well,” Gorik considered, “he was the one who found me after the falling out with my tribe. When I was feeling empty and lost, and hated myself for my newfound powers, Jarayas made it feel like there was a place for me.” He shook his head. “That’s a tale for another time. I don’t know much. As I said, there are more secrets these days. Tanissa convinced Jarayas to place a door in our hideout. An actual door. They whisper behind it, away from me, Ignark, Melara and the rest of them.”
Before Declan could think to question his newest companion, Gorik turned about and tapped his knuckles against the back of the seat. “But you’ve been listening to what I’ve been telling you, I’m sure,” he said. “One thing I can’t get enough of is answers. Jarayas may not have come out and told me what he and the witch discussed, but I skulked in the shadows while everyone else slept. I don’t know much, but I’m sure I heard a name.”
Declan shifted and cast his gaze toward the driver of the stolen carriage. “They’re looking for someone at the temple?”
“It wouldn’t be unheard of,” Gorik said. “Tanissa is a human, like you. Perhaps she knew someone at the temple once upon a time.”
Though his curiosity was drawn in two directions—and he wanted to pull on the thread that led toward Tanissa being a human that conspired with trolls and gnolls and goblins—Declan’s thoughts raced toward his old home. “Who did she mention?” he asked. “Whose name did you hear?”
“It’s not a name I’ve heard often, but I suppose it’s more human than goblin,” Gorik supposed. “Abel?” he said, struggling somewhat with the pronunciation.
“Abel?” Declan repeated. “Abel?” He twisted back into position, bowing his head as he recalled his times at Fespar Temple. Was there ever an Abel he had known there? It surely wasn’t one of the clerics—perhaps it was a paladin, though even then Declan was sure he would have known them well enough. “It has to be someone who was there long before I was. If they’re looking for him, they won’t find him.”
“That could be bad for everyone,” Gorik said. “Especially if they don’t believe it.”
No one aboard the carriage could argue against that rationale, and it grew silent once more. While Ilayeth took deep breaths to steady herself, Tornig spent some time digging through the supplies that Jordy and Skanlon had in their cart.
“What are you looking for?” Declan asked before long.
“Just wondering if they had the antidote for that choking smoke of theirs,” the dwarf replied after sorting through things further.
Declan flashed a weak, one-sided grin. “I don’t think they were planning on dealing with it themselves. That’s why they had those masks.”
“Here we go!” Tornig exclaimed as he pulled a bottle from the collection of goods. It wasn’t a cure, but the dwarf was sure it’d work just as well. He held it aloft, and shook it about, lettings the contents swirl about inside. “This’ll sure’n wake us up.”
“Keep your ale, Tornig,” Ilayeth said. “I could just use a few more moments of quiet.”
Far ahead of them along the road, a shrill cry rang out, assuring that Ilayeth would not get her wish.
Declan twisted about and leaned against the driver’s seat as Gorik tugged on the reins, drawing the mule to a stop. Tornig arrived there a moment later, wiping his lips with his sleeve.
“Was that a woman’s cry?” he asked.
To Tornig’s side, Declan remained quiet, only nodding his confirmation. He leaned on his staff, and stepped ahead, taking a seat beside Gorik.
“We’re here,” he whispered.
“You’re sure of that?” Ilayeth asked as she too drew toward the front of the wagon.
“I recognize those trees,” Declan said, pointing to several groves on either side of the road. “The crossroads is right ahead, and the temple will be at its northwest corner.”
“So, what do we do?” Gorik asked. “What do your whispers tell you?”
Declan closed his eyes, trying to make sense of the still unsteady sounds of the whispers.
“…on ahead,” he struggled to hear. “There is only…”
He shook his head, but it seemed that other voices had their own advice as well, though they, too, had difficult to understand suggestions.
“Turn aside and… If you head into the…”
Declan let a quiet grumble slip from his lips then. He turned and snagged the bottle of ale from Tornig’s hand and brought it close. “Let’s see if your makeshift antidote can help me at all here,” he said.
With a quick swig of the bottle, Declan gulped down a mouthful of the bitter ale, and held it out for the thirsty dwarf.
Whether it was his need for advice, or if the alcohol truly did seem to help, the voices came through a little clearer then.
“Race forth! The temple is already under attack!”
“Now is not the time to be hasty. Remain in the shadows and find a cautious route to the temple.”
Declan breathed out, steadying himself further. He knew that before long, another chorus of voices would join with those ones, and one suggestion would drown out the other.
He simply wished that just once, they would agree on some sound advice ahead of time.
Voting has ended for this period.
Another new month means another new choice to make, which you can influence. You have until the 30th of this month to safely join the Tellest Newsletter in time to cast your vote. I’ll be sending out newsletter emails to my readers, and this time around, you’ll be asked to give Declan direction without the choices being laid out for you. Then, on April 1st, I’ll interpret the votes and see how the whispers influenced Declan. Remember, there are two ways for you to accumulate voting power in The Whispers: First, when you vote through the newsletter, you get an extra voting point for every chapter you’ve voted on. If you voted in each of the previous chapters, your vote this month would be worth a whopping seven points! Second—and this one is for the Tellest superfans—if you are a Tellest patron on Patreon, you get an additional voting point for every $1 you pledge per month. And that is in addition to any of the other rewards you would receive at the specified pledge level. So, if you pledged at the $3 level, you would get 3 votes on Patreon, in addition to your votes on the newsletter responses. That’s a lot of sway over Declan! But it’s another way for me to thank you for helping me keep the lights on.
That wraps up how to vote for this month. Remember, sign up for the Tellest newsletter if you’re not a member already, and prepare for the follow-up poll later this month in order to cast your vote. Then we’ll see next month what Declan does in his current situation!
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