22
Jun

Mauril’s Journal, Entry 11

   Posted by: Mauril   in Campaign Logs, Fantasy, Pathfinder, RPG

The true power of the crystals lies not in what wonders they can perform but in what atrocities they can compel a person to do. They are a tempting power. They make one desire to do things which one never thought to desire before. When I first fled from the temple in Mercan over two years ago, I had sworn solemnly two things. I would let nothing stop me in my pursuit of the true knowledge of the book I carried and that I would never tolerate those of the kind who had destroyed my father. I owed his memory that much, I thought. I had never assumed that I would thrust myself into a situation where I would need to compromise one of those principles for the other. Had I, I am certain that I would never have believed that I would compromise the latter for the sake of the former.

I wish I could say that I did not see this coming, that the situation surprised me and that my decision was forced by the circumstance, but it is not so. In fact, it is quite the opposite. I sought out the aid of these unholy horrors, these mockeries of life. I sought them because I knew that no one left on this plane knew more about the crystals than they did. I am loathe to say that I decided in my heart to turn to the Thirteen, the undead lords of the city of Phet-Ray. They had constructed the most recent Veil crystal and were most assuredly in the process of rebuilding it.

Working alone in my laboratory, with Robaund at my side, I had determined that I would not be able to progress any further in my research without the aid of one more knowledgeable about the crystalization process than I had become. Robaund, whose memories had almost completely returned, informed me that it was the archlich Goron Ru that had crafted the ritual that was performed by the clerics. He also knew that Goron Ru, one of Manath’s chief lieutenants, was always seeking information on the Northern Kingdoms. Maybe he would consider trading information, the bronze elf suggested. I immediately rejected the notion, claiming that I would never work with such an abomination. But I could not fully shake the idea.

I had petitioned the Prince for as many death row prisoners as could be spared. Soon my cells were filled with murders, rapists and thieves. The Prince was a generous man; he had come to appreciate the services that I could offer him and he asked few prying questions. For many weeks after Robaund’s suggestion, I had husked scores of prisoners to form crystals. I could now store nearly a dozen souls in a single vessel without it becoming unstable. But, as I began to use them more and more, the crystals began to drain quicker and quicker. Where my first crystal of four souls had lasted a fortnight before giving out, a four soul crystal would give me but a few days peace. Visvatman was learning to overcome the defenses I was erecting, forcing me to continually redouble my efforts.

Eregant is a city of crime with harsh penalties for being caught, but I was needing prisoners faster than the Prince could produce them for me. I was nearly to the point of turning to street urchins when Robaund suggested again that I try to make contact with the liches of Phet-Ray. I steeled myself as I prepared to agree to that which I had sworn never to do. With a heavy sigh, I consented to let my bronze elf companion broker a meeting with the Thirteen.

From Eregant, I could teleport him and myself into Western Volunoptra but from there the elf would be on his own. I sent him with a letter expressing my intentions and desires and several scrolls with which contacted. I said no words as he began marching his way through the desert, but waited until I could no longer hear his footsteps before uttering a single curse and then returning to my lair beneath the palace. I awaited the message from him with both much anticipation and tremendous dread.

Days passes as I sat hunched in my personal library. I needed nothing in my laboratory, as making new crystals was all but futile and my tengu guards would ensure that none of my remaining prisoners would escape. They may be useless to me, but they were still under my charge. Also, the company of Crebain and Daidra often makes the torture of Visvatman more bearable. With Crebain, I could once again read the dusty, crinkly tomes that I had gathered since my time here. I could once again see the beautiful illuminations of temple books or the fevered hand-written scrawlings of adventuring diaries. I could see the beauty o the written word and drink in the power and nuance of each character. With Daidra, I could feel something other than the cycle of pain and deadness that had become my world. If only as pale shadows, I could feel how she felt as she watched a sunset or sang a melody. My tongue could taste nothing but ash though, when I was with her, I could almost remember the sweetness of berries and the tartness of citrus. But more than those, with her I could forget the atrocities of my life, the lives I had taken or destroyed, the blood that I had helped shed on those “adventures”, the terrible things I had experienced. I could just be; with her, there was only her and me.

How Visvatman loved those fleeting moments of joy. I am convinced that he would allow me to have them only so that my soul would not be entirely crushed, which would spoil his fun. He would quiet himself during these times of sweet reverie only to mock me the moment I was alone again. Anger burned within me and I wished that Robaund would inform me quickly of the terrible bargain that I must strike.

As I languished in my apartment waiting on news from Murmanityed, a curious coincidence befell me. At my doorstep stood the great heroes of the Northern Kingdoms, my former adventuring companions. They informed me that they needed my aid in getting to the city of Phet-Ray, that they had business there regarding the Emperor Philipi. They believed that the dragon Sorcheena had stolen him away to there in trade for the secret of becoming a dracolich. They had received this information from an oracle that they had claimed that I had lead them to only weeks before. I knew nothing of this oracle but I found it better to not ask as it gave me a perfect reason to move into Manath’s territory.

Choosing to not confuse the issue, I offered my services. It had been a tenday since I had sent Robaund out. As he had not yet contacted me, I was sure that he was dead which meant that I would need to make my own contact with the Thirteen.

Before we departed from Eregant, an Aruthien ranger arrived bearing two griffons and a message. The griffons were for Alder and Miach and the message was for all of us. Aruthien was launching an attack into Manath territory in an attempt to slow the progress northward into Spaartha and Ehrenland. There would be three simultaneous attacks by Aruthien legions on the city-states of Morag, Phylactis and Phet-Ray. We surmised that the troops would make landfall within a week, so we needed to hurry so that we could make it into Phet-Ray before the siege began. Rath was set to take charge of the assault on Morag, we were told.

I had just been handed my bargaining chip. I had wracked my brain trying to work out what I had to offer the liches in exchange for information on the crystals and, until this moment, could find nothing that I was sure would be found valuable.

We arrived just outside the city of Phet-Ray after Holly and I had cast our spells. We waited behind a sandy mesa while some tried to sneak into the city. I thought their plan was foolish but held my tongue as I had other business with which to attend. I waited until all my companions had left before contacting Robaund. He apologized for having not contacted me and explained that he had been imprisoned as a spy and was set for execution. He gave me the name of his captor, who I then contacted in an effort to reach someone with whom I could bargain. Favor, it seems, was still on my side as the name I had been given was that of one of the Thirteen, a lich known as Lethossi.

We arranged a meeting on the plateua. I sat alone on the warm stone as the lich approached with his retinue of skeletal warriors. I knew that I could not take them all – not even half of them, I suspected – and so asked for Lethossi’s terms. He told met that he had read the letter Robaund carried and that he was intrigued as to what I could offer him. He explained how he was in position to soon strike against Goron Ru and take over the Thirteen. He felt no qualm revealing this to me as I am sure that he planned to kill me as soon as I had given him what he wanted. He then asked why I desired information on the Veil crystals and what I had planned to do with them.

Having nothing to hide from him – and being sure that attempting any falsehood would mean the end of my miserable life – I explained my situation with my torturer and how the Veil could silence him. I explained how I had developed my own method for creating crystals but that it was imperfect and that I had become desperate. If the skull that rested beneath the cowl could have smiled, I’m sure that Lethossi could have at my story. He asked me what I planned to offer in exchange for the process to make refined crystals. With utter disbelieving defeat, I informed him that Aruthien’s legions were bearing down on Manath and that they were no longer simply trying to defend the northern borders. When encouraged to continue, I began to slowly divulge the composition, leadership and timing of the assaults on Phylactis and Phet-Ray. I named for him the legions being sent, their makeup and, as much as I knew, their usual tactics. I spilled forth all that I knew regarding those assaults as the ewe her entrails to the diviner.

When I had finished, a hollow sound began to emanate from Lethossi’s skeletal frame. It took many long and nervous moments before I realized that the sound was what this abomination used in place of laughter. “You despise me, my very nature revolting to you, and yet you would sell out your fellow men for knowledge deemed ‘evil’ in their eyes? You would send them to a fate you believe worse than death to save your own sack of flesh? I will give you the information you seek, and even keep our encounter secret from your friends. I make no secret of enjoying the pain and suffering of others and I am certain that the information you desire will only increase your suffering and not reduce it. Be so warned and come.” With those chilling words his clawed hand touched my shoulder and we were in his study.

The lich made good on his promise and taught me the secrets of the ritual, correcting me where my version had erred. His hollow mockery of laughter echoed in the cavernous chamber as he explained in intricate detail the process by which their current method was derived. He explained how the procedure was tweaked based on the race of the slave and how to calibrate the runes and circles to accommodate the widest variety of subjects without sacrificing the quality of the crystal. He seemed to revel in his knowledge but more so he seemed to anticipate what was to be the ultimate key to a flawless crystal. He explained that it was the purity of the souls that made for the best crystals, that it was children who made the best subjects.

I had been prepared to sacrifice my enemies or those who had thrown their own lives away by committing capital crimes. They had forfeited their lives and I simply wished not to waste them. But children? How could I justify to Daidra that I was performing my experiments on children? I had been able to rationalize for her the sacrifice of criminals, but she would never understand how I could sacrifice the orphans she spent her days tending and treating. I was sure Lethossi could see my every thought painted across my face because his crude imitation of laughter vomited forth from him with more force than ever before. His laughter mocked me as it also damned me.

I sat in silence for what seemed like hours. I simply could not resolve myself to what this abomination had proposed. Children? It was unthinkable. I had made two promises on that winter’s day in 194 and I had already broken one of them, which now lead me to break the second. I had, in my weakness, turned to these undead but I would not let the same weakness keep me from turning back from them.

I could feel the wet of my tears being wicked away by the arid desert air. In the sickening blast of noise Lethossi used as laughter, he beckoned to his minions. It was time, he said, to put things into motion that would gain him the high tower. His parting words with me were hauntingly simple: “Your path is already forged.” My chest fell at ‘forged’. He had used an arcane word, ‘chirugo’, used only before to describe the chains that bind Gahl-tath-Urok to his whirlpool. Chains, it is said, that not even Uhel could unbind.

As he left, I knew that my companions would be in trouble, so I fled back to the mesa and waited for them. And waited. And waited. For three days I waited. It wasn’t until the crash of the first boulder against the city walls that I was alerted that something was amiss. With no companions, not even Crebain, to relate the scene to me, I could do naught but listen to the whistle of the bombardment and the sizzle of magical energy.

And their screams.

I had heard beings die before. Many, in fact. I have killed men with my magic and I have been witness to great battles, but none of that had prepared me for this slaughter. Pain and fear filled the fields around those high walls. My years of blindness had heightened my hearing and sense of smell and both were being assaulted as the might of Aruthien crashed like waves upon the rocks. Blood filled my nose and my ears. There was not even solace for those doomed men in death. I could smell the acrid tang of undead rising as the day wore on. As the clatter of bones began to outnumber the cries of men, I knew that Aruthien swords were being raised by clawed hands to strike against their former brethren.

Sunset had not even fallen before the battle had become a complete rout. Aruthien trumpets sounded, far too few trumpets, as the clang of metal began to subside. The vultures were already cawing with glee as they tore into the flesh of those who had the fortune to remain dead. I waited until morning, hoping against hope that this had simply been a first wave and that Aruthien was prepared for their true assault. But none came. Just the bickering of carrion birds over the flesh of the remaining fallen. Those whose blood was on my head.

I had killed them. All of them.

I had to leave. I needed to find solace. Redemption. Atonement for my sins. I had intended to return to Eregant, to find forgiveness with Crebain and Daidra, but it seemed that fate had other plans for me. To this day, I am unsure how I was so redirected, but rather than arrive in my apartment near the Prince’s palace, I found myself in the crumbled ruins of Mercan.

Smoke rose from the city as, even still, buildings burned and crumbled to the ground. It had been months, nearly a year, since the oni had overrun the city and driven those who had legs westward to Perdaith. Some had remained to die in defense of their homes. Others remained to die because all else had already been lost to them. Knowing that my own stealth would be insufficient to escape the notice of the Kami patrols that toured the city, I cloaked myself in magic. I began to explore, searching for a safe haven for the night. I fully intended to leave in the morning when I had refreshed my spells. Again, fate had other ideas.

After nearly an hour of exploration, in which I confirmed that the ruins I was in were Mercan, I began to ascertain my location in the city. My errant teleportation had dropped me into the remnants of the temple district, my home for too many years. Though it was in utter ruin, it was an odd comfort to be home again.

Nostalgia and ash filled my nostrils as I made my way through the temples. Many people believe Perdaith to have been the headquarters of the Mishyan temples in Barloz. To an extent, it was. The largest temple to the goddess resided there as did her largest open library. But one would be mistaken to believe that size has any correlation to power for a Mishyan. A whisper could fell an entire kingdom. It was here in Mercan that Barlozian Mishyans called their heart. It was here that the Vault was located. And it was to the Vault that I was headed.

The Vault is a secret repository of knowledge, only accessible by a select few priests of Mishya. I had been given limited access to the Vault on three occasions during my tenure as temple archivist, and only to file away documents that the priesthood deemed too dangerous for public knowledge. Never was I allowed to extract any of this information. I still remember the way to the door and I had believed that it would surely be emptied, but that it would provide a secure place to rest the night. Oni and other Kami forces still patrolled the city and I had no desire for an unnecessary fight.

When I arrived at the secret doorway, I was surprised to find it shut and locked. I uttered the passcodes that I had remembered and, sensing no one around, entered the chamber. It did not smell nearly as musty as I expected for something that had been abandoned for nearly a year. Before I could realize that it had not been abandoned as I had predicted, an oppressive tingle coursed through my body. Failed magic. There was a priest still here guarding something and he had chosen to guard it against me. Another moment passed before I pinpointed the target and bound him with my spells. As I approached the unnaturally still form of my attacker, a familiar scent filled my nose. Tannin. Just as I had still worked the forge when I was not in the temple, Irvan Ulgrim had continued his trade tanning leathers. I was certain that this man before me was Ulgrim, the man who drove me out of the temple with whips. He had called for my head and now he was here, alone and completely at my mercy.

He struggled without success against my bonds, while I pondered what to do with him. How I had hated this man for so many years. It was he who had sparked the events that had lead me down this dark road. How I wanted to end his life, but I knew that he would be useful to me. If he was still here, a chief priest of Mishya, then clearly something worth guarding was still here. Something secreted away by the good disciples of the Wise Lady. Something that surely I would need.

It took less effort than I expected to bend his mind to my will. Either he was much weaker than I remembered, or I had become much stronger. Either way, Ulgrim was soon obeying my orders. I had him begin collecting parchments and scrolls, every document in the Vault pertaining to crystal magic, the oni and the Book of Dark Knowledge. I merely had to suggest that losing them to the Kami would be worse than losing them to a fellow Mishyan. He gathered them for me, bringing texts I had barely even heard rumors of and several that had been confirmed to not exist. I stored them away in my haversack. When he gathered all that I had compelled him to bring me and more, I once again held him with magic. I was nearly exhausted of power and knew that I would not be able to prevail in another battle and Ulgrim would not flee. I am certain that I could have magically compelled him to leave but I needed his silence more than for him to simply leave. At this point he knew too much.

My swordhand is not very steady and I had not used it since struck blind. I had to take my time, but the blade that I had crafted did the job. He only released a small gurgle before he died. It took nearly another minute before the effects of my spell wore off and his lifeless form collapsed onto the stone floor. I checked his vital signs before taking a single tour of the chamber. I was once again completely alone.

As I settled in a corner for an uncomfortable sleep, I began to wonder. I had wished so long for Ulgrim’s death. I was sure that it would be a satisfying experience but I had felt nothing. I guess I had gained one thing from the continual torture I experienced; I was no longer a slave to petty vengeance. I still knew not what I would do with the dreadful revelation from Lethossi but I believed that these documents I had collected would give me a way of escape. In the morning, I prepared my spells and returned to Eregant where Crebain and I set upon deciphering the scrolls and tomes I had collected.

We have yet to glean anything terribly useful from these texts but we have only just begun and several of them are in languages that neither Crebain nor I have properly learned yet. It seems that we have much work to do before anything new can begin.

-M.E.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011 at 8:33 pm and is filed under Campaign Logs, Fantasy, Pathfinder, RPG. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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