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…
All at once, it was as though the waves that crashed upon the shores of his mind were silenced. He closed his eyes, imagining that the tide had drawn away from him, but he knew not whether they pooled together as a tremendous tidal force, or if they were gone for good. Were the whispers withdrawing from him like they had during his time at the temple?
For a long while it was silent. Declan looked to his allies, who waited for a sign of what they should do. But no indication came to him.
“What’re ye waiting for?” Tornig asked. “Get yer canaries ta sing, eh?”
“They were,” Declan said. “But now they’ve stopped. Perhaps the road ahead isn’t clear enough for even them to know the right direction.”
“But you heard them before,” Gorik whispered. “You said they were saying everything all at once. Do you remember their suggestions?”
“Perhaps this choice is one we must make on our own,” Ilayeth suggested.
As she spoke, distant voices seemed to carry on the wind, and Declan knew that he hadn’t been abandoned by those he had come to know for so long. While the number of voices had dwindled, he felt some comfort in having those most familiar to him sharing their wisdom.
“You need the wagon,” one of the whispers called out to him. “There’s not much time.”
“Doing anything at this hour will be fruitless,” the other disembodied voice reasoned. “Find a place to camp. Fresh eyes will see hidden dangers more easily.”
Declan wondered if the other whispers would fall in line between either of those voices, but it seemed they had all been swept away. Perhaps they knew that those two paths were the steadiest, and the rest of the council of whispers bowed to the wisdom of the two that spoke.
“Without the wagon, you’ll arrive at Fespar Temple too late.”
“With the wagon, you’ll not hold yourself accountable to your fatigue,” the second voice argued, its tone more commanding and certain. “Arriving safely is paramount to arriving quickly.”
An evening gust of wind blew past the lonely road then, and Declan likened it to the first whisper conceding to the rationale of the other. Neither voice continued their discourse, and as Declan’s focus faded from those he couldn’t see, his attention shifted again to the trio of companions he traveled with. He knew that they understood he had heard the whispers once more.
“Well?” Tornig asked.
“I heard them,” Declan confirmed. “It seems they hadn’t all left me after all.”
Gorik arched an eyebrow then. “It looked like you were able to concentrate a little better than you normally do—and perhaps for a little longer than you usually do as well.”
“This time it was different,” Declan said. “All the other voices were quiet, as though they were waiting for the rationale of the wisest ones. I heard two voices. Both have become dependable advisors over these troublesome times.”
“Then what good advice did they give?” Ilayeth wondered.
Declan held out his hands, almost as though he were a scale, weighing their words against one another. “They couldn’t agree. It was almost as though they quarreled amongst themselves. But in the end, one of them—the one that seemed most familiar to me—happened to have the strongest voice.
“And?” Tornig grumbled, folding his arms over his chest.
“We should make camp,” Declan said. “With luck, the bandits are doing the same, and we’ll arrive at Fespar Temple in the morning with enough time to help sure up its defenses.”
“We’ll have to give some bad news to the merchants,” Ilayeth said. “But at least now we won’t have to explain our peculiar ally,” she considered, tilting her head toward Gorik. “Let’s go and let them know that they should try and make their way off the road tonight. Their wagon is going to be a little unsteady for a while longer.”
“Mayhaps they’d want to join us while we camp,” Tornig said. “Who knows, maybe they even have some good ale they’d be about sharing.”
“Perhaps but be ready for them to not be in such a giving mood once we tell them we won’t be going with them this night.”
“They did seem awful set on getting a move on,” the dwarf agreed. “Though I wouldn’t want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere with a bum cart either.”
Declan clapped Gorik on the shoulder then. “Wait here or head off into the grass and help us find someplace safe to start a fire. Once we’re done with the merchants, we’ll see if we can’t find some way to get some shut eye.”
Gorik clenched his jaw, unsure that standing there while his companions walked off again was a good idea. Still, if Declan spoke, it was with the whispers as a conduit. The whispers were responsible for keeping him alive, and he was not about to second guess them.
Spinning about to catch up with his other allies, Declan ran down the gentle sloping path, and Skanlon, the heavier-set fellow, looked eager to have them back. He walked to the side of the cart, lingering by where the wheel must have fallen off the axle rod.
“There’s been a slight change of plans,” Ilayeth said. “We can’t be riding with you—not this late at night.”
“What?” Skanlon said. His tone dripped with a bit more than disappointment, and as he spoke, Declan realized that he didn’t see the other merchant, Jordy, anywhere in sight. “But you said you’d help us get back on the road in exchange for a ride. You can’t get a ride without our cart being repaired.”
“You’re welcome to camp with us,” Tornig said. “But a few of us are flagging already, and we have to be at our best in the morning.”
Skanlon shook his head. “We can’t be leaving the cart here overnight. It sticks out like a broken thumb. It’ll be easy loot for highwaymen, and if we’re anywhere nearby when they show up—”
“If they show up,” Ilayeth corrected.
“—there’s no way we could hold our own,” Skanlon finished. “Please. At least help me get the wheel onto the cart once more. I can’t do it myself. My back isn’t what it used to be. If you do this for us, we’ll make camp with you, if it suits you. In the morning, we’ll get right back to our accord.”
“We have a bargain,” Ilayeth said. “Let’s get you moving so we can get some rest.”
She and Tornig moved along, heading to the side of the carriage. Without any light to lead their way, they huddled close against the vehicle.
Declan started to follow them, but the distant sound of whispers kept him rooted there for a moment. It sounded as though all of them—every single voice he’d ever heard in the back of his mind—scurried around in his skull like a thousand tiny rats, scratching at the bones as though they were trying to break free. He couldn’t make sense of what they said, but just as quickly as they’d arrived, they’d vanished again. Declan shook his head and moved on.
“What is this?” Tornig asked. The question wasn’t posed with curiosity, but with shocked anger.
Declan held up his staff, and, as if it knew he and his friends needed light, the ringed headpiece began to glow. It did not take long for Declan to realize that it would be difficult to place the wheel back on the cart.
It was already there.
“Something’s wrong,” Ilayeth cautioned. When she looked up, she knew her warning came too late.
Skanlon, the merchant who seemed more the leader, had his cloak wrapped tightly around his face, covering his nose and his mouth. It still left his eyes visible, though, and she saw the emotions dancing in them, reflected by the light of Declan’s staff. She saw fear there, but also eagerness and greed.
A spark danced to life in her palm as she held it up toward him.
The merchant’s ally was quicker than she could have expected. Jordy rose up from within the bed of the carriage, a glass vial seeming to glow brighter with its violet contents than the flame Ilayeth called upon.
The combination of orange and purple illuminated Jordy’s face. The would-be do-gooders saw that his face no longer showed, instead covered by a mask with a long proboscis curving out of it.
Tornig only studied the strange mask for a moment before he leaped up and swiped at the man with his axe. Jordy’s movements were swift and wiry, and as he leaned out of the way, he cast the vial he held down to the ground beside the carriage.
The concoction announced its landing with a cacophonous rupture of glass, but all at once, the substance within erupted into a wide and thick plume of smoke.
“Ye think I won’t be able ta see ye in this fog?” Tornig asked. He swept one of his legs over the railing, before the expanding gas engulfed him. The dwarf coughed and waved his hands away to dissipate the purple smoke, but he could not push it away.
Behind him, he heard one of his companions as they sputtered to the ground. Declan still stood, but Tornig couldn’t see the flame in Ilayeth’s hand—nor the half-elf herself—any longer.
Declan held his breath and lunged forward, swinging out with the magical staff. Either Skanlon moved deceptively quick despite his portly physique, or the violet mist already took its toll on Declan, it seemed. The faux merchant dodged the wizard staff with ease, focused more on keeping the cloak tight around his face than meeting the duped guild members in combat.
Out of the corner of his eye, Declan watched as Tornig tumbled from the wagon, disappearing into the cloud of smoke. Though his own eyes watered, he could see that Skanlon and Jordy didn’t suffer any of the same effects.
Declan gagged as he fought off the volatile effects of the concoction. He knew that he could never hope to defeat the two in his debilitating state. While the smoke overwhelmed him, there was no hope to outmaneuver the two conmen.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, Declan knew that the whispers would be there, ready to advise him. As his knees buckled and he stumbled backward, he understood that they could never counsel him quickly enough.
By instinct or reflex, Declan thrust the hilt of his staff to the ground to lean on. Though he could feel his energy draining from his body, he looked to the circular headpiece, recalling its power. The light faded from the ring, but it was replaced with a mighty burst of wind that shot forth out of both sides of the ring.
All at once, the smoke swept low and far, and as it spread, it dissipated into the air. Declan fell to his knees, still clinging onto the staff as though his life depended on it. Through blurred vision, he saw that Tornig and Ilayeth had already succumbed to the powers of the bandit’s concoction. He knew that he wouldn’t be far behind.
Skanlon pulled the cloak from his face. With no further danger imposed by the scattered smoke, he did not need to keep his wicked gaze from those who would have lent an unneeded hand.
The false merchant took several steps forth and planted his boot in the center of Declan’s chest. The lad fell back, splayed onto the dirty road.
Before the staff could teeter, Skanlon grabbed hold of it. “This is a fancy little toy. Perhaps it can be even more than that in the hands of someone who really knew how to use it,” he said. He gently leaned it against the carriage, knowing that his partner would move it into the bed of the wagon. “In any case, you’ve shown me that it’s more than just a wizard’s torch, so I’ll have to thank you for that. And where there’s one bit of treasure, usually there’s more.”
“Skanlon, don’t you think…”
Demonstrating his place among their hierarchy, Skanlon held up his hand to quell any of Jordy’s distracting thoughts, even though his words were already trailing off. Skanlon tried to kick Tornig over, but the dwarf’s heft made it impossible. Growling, the bandit bent down and spun him over with his hands.
He tried to stifle a gasp, but in the silence of the night, it seemed to echo on for some time. “Jordy, look. They’re Adventurers of Eladia. We just attacked the best-known guild in the country.”
His cohort didn’t offer much in the way of support—or reproach—and Skanlon growled as he plucked Tornig’s axe off the ground. After he rose back up, he stood there, looming over the fallen trio. The crescent head of the axe caught a glimmer of starlight, and he took that as his own message from fate.
“I guess we can’t let them live,” Skanlon said. “They’ve seen us and our carriage, and they know what we’re about. Even if we let bygones be bygones, I don’t know that they would. Get down and help me do what needs to be done.”
Again though, Jordy said nothing, even as his companion grabbed hold of the axe in both hands.
“Well come on!” Skanlon yelled then. “I’m not going to do this all myself!” He turned to admonish the weaselly fellow, but he soon learned that Jordy couldn’t have responded if he wanted to. The man was draped over the back rail of the carriage, his arms dangling limp before him. “Jordy?” Skanlon asked.
No warning, no whisper, not even a snore escaped from his cohort. But Skanlon heard more than he needed to know that danger was still present around him. The quick footsteps made certain of that.
When he turned about and saw the green skin of a goblin in the twilight, a fearful cry ripped from his lips. Surprised by the unexpected assailant, he didn’t see that Gorik held a length of chain in his hand.
Skanlon held up the axe above his head and hurled it forth.
Gorik dipped out of the way, fierce determination etched on his face. “Not again,” he insisted as the axe thudded into the ground behind him.
With the distance closing between them, Gorik twisted to his side, and spun about, throwing the chain forth.
Of all the things Skanlon expected to see at the end of the chain, a leather-bound tome was not one of them. He didn’t have long to consider that before it struck him against the side of the face.
Amongst the darkness, it was like the stars had fallen from the heavens, for light danced about his vision. Though he was struck hard, he remained standing, determined to shake the sparks from his sight.
Gorik pulled back on his grimoire as he drew near, and as Skanlon planted his feet once more, the goblin wrapped the chain around his knuckles.
Skanlon’s vision returned to him just in time to see his foe’s fist racing toward him.
With a sickening thud, the chain dug into his skull. Skanlon was unconscious on the ground before he realized he’d been struck.
Just beside where he fell, Declan struggled to keep aware. He focused as best he could on Gorik, who hurried to the back of the carriage.
The goblin leapt up, grappling at a latch that kept the railing in place. After a few moments, it relented, and the gate swung down, tossing the other unconscious bandit to the dirt in a heap.
Gorik was back among his strange companions a few moments later, helping them to sit up, or rolling them to their back.
“Declan,” he said. “Declan, can you stand?”
He found that he barely had the strength to respond to Gorik, let alone to do what he was asked. Still, he rolled to his side, pushing against the ground with all his might. After what felt like an hour, he sat upon his knees, straining to take in a deep breath.
Gorik was there in front of him, lifting Ilayeth off the ground.
“I could have really used your help,” the goblin said. “But that smoke did a number on all three of you. If you can, get over to the carriage. After I get them in, I’ll help you up.”
Time seemed to race by Declan, as he watched Gorik bring Ilayeth to the carriage, and gently place her in the wagon bed. He returned for Tornig then as well, all before Declan could climb to his feet.
“Hurry up,” Gorik said. “I don’t know how much longer they’ll be oblivious.”
Declan grabbed hold of the wagon with one reaching hand, and his staff, leaning against the carriage with the other. Despite his protesting muscles, he clambered to an upright position, though the fear of tumbling right back down to the dirt had not left him.
His goblin ally withdrew from the wagon, and came back with Tornig’s axe, placing it beside the weary dwarf. No longer exercising any patience, he plucked the staff from Declan’s hand, and shifted him over to stand before the opened gate of the wagon.
“Wait, wait,” Declan protested, and even his words felt foreign to him. “I can’t get up there like this.”
“Just brace yourself,” Gorik said as he slid the staff into place along one of the side rails. He put a hand beneath Declan’s rump and against his shoulder then, bending at the knees for leverage. “One, two, three,” he spoke as he pushed Declan up into the carriage.
Slamming into the floorboards, Declan let fly a muffled grunt. His arms wobbled as he fought to rise again, but all he could muster was a shuffling of his body into a more comfortable position. He watched as Gorik raced to the front of the carriage and leapt up to the driver’s seat.
Declan heard the reins snap, and he felt the wheels move beneath the cart. He fought past the urge to vomit as he sensed the momentum and rolled to his back.
Looking at the stars, which seemed to spin in the sky, he knew just how lucky they were.
Not so far away, Gorik whispered something to him, but it was lost in Declan’s fading senses.
Instead, the otherworldly voices that called out to him took up precedence in his mind.
“Don’t fall asleep, Declan,” one voice warned him. “Gorik will need you.”
“Succumb to your weariness. You were flagging before. You’ll be useless at the temple if you cannot find some reprieve.”
Still under the effects of the purple smoke, Declan didn’t know if would have a choice.
Voting has ended for this period.
This month Declan has a new choice to make, which you can influence. We’re back to the tried and true “this choice” versus “that choice” style this month, and it’s a very simple choice this time around. You have until the 28th 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 March 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 five 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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