Updated: May 22, 2021
There appears not a single day that can go by without an endless sense of shameful embarrassment or a wave of regret and disgrace that, throughout my weary marrow, purveys unto my spirit the notion of my utter uselessness. A mind that had been honed on texts and studies but blunted against the ever-overwhelming rival forces of drink, doubt, and idleness has turned friend to enemy, and a once minutely serviceable aid to hinderance.
I recall Leith feeling useless earlier. Against the shoosuva, he felt that he had done nothing to aid in the defeat of that fiend, yet I saw it not that way. He was there; contributing to the fight, to the ardour of the group. Regardless of whether he hit or not, his supportive presence was still felt by all, even the abyssal fiend itself, and added another foe it must compete with, overwhelming our quarry with confusion. Leith’s presence was the difference between Brixton being hit and Brixton being killed. I am glad I was able to persuade the young elf to see it as such. Should I not then be able to convince myself of my own beneficial services to my cohort?
I had once sought to master the one element of life I could control: my mind. And our most recent errand has been like watching one’s hand-built home burn in a maelstrom of fire and smoke, an inferno of immeasurable chaos, bringing down even the most stalwart of institutions, and leave it all a pile of rubble that cinders and embers pulse in amongst the dancing blackened-ash that escapes past you in the wind – forever stealing from your grasp all you have worked so ardently to achieve. Even the memory of what it once was can bring no joy nor warmth to the quivering heart-strings; only the sting of a still open wound trying to scab against the festering infection of remorse and blame; for while the body fights, the soul has all but given up the fight, letting nature and time do as it should have done years ago: decomposing the dead. For the living surely cannot feel so empty.
Around the campfire we sat, having reached our subterranean and nautical objective, preparing ourselves for bed. It was decided that, using a very basic wooden track across the chasm and with a sled like vessel, we could transport the treasure across the gap. It was still undetermined what we should do with that accursed book, but leaving it for the nonce would not be a bad idea. I, updating my spells, was advanced upon by Adrik. Conversing in his native tongue he asked me – hoping not to pry – what being a father was like.
I was relatively surprised by this question and unsure of how to answer it. Being a father and fatherhood are two completely different things. And, while I am indeed the former, I felt I have never truly experienced the latter. This I don’t think I conveyed well – elocution, as you know, is not my strong suit – and I described to Adrik the behaviour of Pyotr; not wishing to expose too much of that boy’s troubled mind. If my good dwarf friend inquires again, I might need to convey a clearer clarification to him. Adrik, I think, took my unfond memories of that time as a sign of fear of my incompetence in parenthood – and while I am indeed incompetent in that regard, it was not entirely my intention – and he said unto me “Don’t sell yourself short.” I had said something similar to Leith earlier that day – that aforementioned conversation about the shoosuva battle – and it didn’t so much mean anything to me then, but reflecting back on it now, it does resonate within me – though, I fear, that with current circumstances as they stand, his sentiment towards me might not remain that consistency.
Once our giant expert excused himself, I turned myself over, and delved into another tiresome bout of sleep. While, I suppose, having gotten myself a rest, I did not feel rested – nor did my compatriots look as if they had faired any better. All of us looking fraught, on edge, and tense – our experiences of the day before still echoing throughout our tumultuous inner-thoughts. Leith, especially, looked mentally frayed. Albeit I was only able to gather this impression after my explosive start to the morning.
I awoke on my back, the sound of an arcane blast landing against a solid mound, as coins scattered and flung over my face. To my immediate north I saw Leith, ducked behind a bulwark for cover. Enveloping myself with an abjurational ward, I crawled to him, asking what was happening. He was as unaware as I. We were joined swiftly by Gudael as she touched my shoulder and a glittering spray of divine intervention washed over my form, another arcane ward.
Blades clashed against stone in the darkness, small bursts of flame seared against armour and flesh. I, with my revised spells, transmuted my eyes to perceive within a limited range of darkness. There, against a rock, stood another one of these Leppers of Nort, facing a bloodied and weary Brixton; held in some magical, immovable grasp was Adrik, slashed by another spectral scimitar; and emerging from a fissure two more of these mages. I looked to Leith, jumped the cover and charged towards the battlefield; my wand ready to parry any oncoming attacks. Adrik broke himself from whatever spell he was under and shrugged off another whilst Brixton did the same before gutting his opponent.
I felt the shimmer of Sehanine’s protection ebb from my body and turned to see an alarmed Leith gazing down worriedly at who I could only assume was Gudael having another one of her turns. I scattered globe of sand upon our adversaries; one dropped, leaving me and Adrik face to face with the last one. Gudael – swiftly recovered and poised for action, her resolve never wavering – fired off a crossbow bolt at them, which clattered against the rock flanking our enemy. A surging force of energy erupted from Leith’s palm, causing our final obstacle to collapse as blood flooded from their nostrils.
With the battle over, Adrik, Gudael, and I went about preparing the gold for moving whilst Brixton and Leith ensured no more surprises were left in the crack the Nort Leppers had emerged from. After Leith made some quip about everything being in “ship shape” and Adrik cracked his back like a fist full of marbles thrown at a granite wall, we were off to the chasm.
It took only a brief amount of time before we reached it and, with great communication, we were able to get across a good deal of gold, before hearing the subtle chatter of voices and the gentle clamour of armour. I turned to Adrik, preparing him for a turn of my own, before dropping into Tupp. As he fluttered up to the entrance of the passage, I saw – or more accurately, in Tupp’s bat form, heard – five guards, silently sitting. Thinking they had heard something, one raised their hand, and signaled for the others to follow; thus, starting their descent into these Ostorian ruins.
Continuing our work, we were finally met by the oncoming guards. They informed us that they had been sent down here to aid us in our recovery of the treasure. Knowing that they were city guards, and therefore on ‘our side’, lent to our group a sense of calm, as if anything, it merely meant that we had more hands and an increased need to keep our intentions to ourselves. Without further delay, this ten-strong tomb-raiding party returned to the expansive ship.
Back at the vizier’s funerary vessel there seemed less gold. I know that we had taken some portion, but it wasn’t even a fraction of wealth compared to the sheer immensity that had been left behind. Yet, despite this, we quarrelled over the book once more. Would burning it work? Could Gudael’s divine arcana dispel whatever evil had been bound into this book? Could it be submerged into one of the puddles surrounding the ship? Or could we simply let it descend into the fathomless, treacherous chasm that leads whoever knows where? It was thought at least attempting to immolate it would be a decent start, so I sent a bolt of fire at it. It’s hellishly-bound cover just absorbed it, like how water welcomes a ball of lead to its cold embrace.
And as I traced a spark that was slung back at me with my eyes, my gaze once again laid on that face. That sickening, twisted face. Yet, I found myself drawn to something. Not the book, but some magnetic force – like that which pulls the point of a compass’ needle – to something. But I had pieced, in my own strange way, that abysmal thing beached upon our northern shore to this book. Something in that book, something written in there, had the answers. Likely, still has it. So much could be done with the knowledge from that book.
I walked. No. Not walked. I wandered. I let my spirit – a fish caught upon the hook of some cosmic line – be drawn to what I had felt earlier. I knew now what I needed. A key. The key. I didn’t so much look as I just let myself be guided by this force until I spied it, buried under gold and riches likely more valuable in material than itself and yet in purpose and intent far more base and worthless than the drops of dust and grim that layer the puddles within this chamber. It was no larger than a foot long – too tall to manage delicately or hide on my person – and studded along its stem were six gems; three of green and three of red. I circled back.
I am not proud of how far my…I am hesitant to call it an obsession. But is this hesitance reluctance to improperly label a yet unknown sentiment or is it that I am too ashamed to admit it had me in its corrupting hold? Regardless, I wanted to be alone with it. I exaggerated my exhaustion of the day’s events and offered my services in protecting the rest of the treasure from whatever was shrinking it.
Then I felt something. Some peep. Some intrusion into my cognition. I levelled my glare at Leith and his face betrayed himself. I rose, faster than I otherwise would have dared, and stood opposing him. I gripped my wand tightly. My companion, my friend, had just gazed into my most personal and deepest thoughts. He had gazed at that shred of childhood, that earliest memory of life that has haunted me, and did so as if I was his enemy. As if I were a threat. And in that moment, though I am mortified to admit it, I wanted to hurt him.
Adrik, my good fellow, suggested I get some fresh air. Between Leith’s mental invasion, the book’s smothering and choking presence, and Adrik’s soothing suggestion, I agreed. All bar Brixton – who stayed behind to converse with the five guards who assisted us – moved to the exit.
It wasn’t too long before we heard fighting coming from back down the passageway. Something was wrong. I looked to Leith and broke for the ship. I cannot honestly say whether I was going back to save Brixton or save the book – whether the latter meant sacrificing the former – but as I moved, Leith cast a spell on me. Over my anger and fear and anxiety I had an instant of calm where I gazed upon him with a friendly disposition, but as it tried to cement itself within my mind, it dissipated.
My fist closed, white knuckled. In that moment I think Leith knew that his spell had maybe not have been the best course of action. I had been the subject of two spells from Leith – and if I know the restrictions of Warlocks, he was likely spent of spells, yet I did not let this direct my judgement. From my hands I let my wand fall, rattling against the stone – a hollow drum roll anticipating the imminent tussle. I lunged at the elf, and despite his taller stature, I clutched my claws around his collar and pinned him to the wall.
Adrik roared in his mighty timbre, swelling to the size of an ogre and plucked us from our perches upon the stony ground. And then, in a flash, a collection of links in his mail glimmered in the shape of a rune and I dozed into a dulled and oblivious trance. During this haze Adrik rather unceremoniously restrained and muffled me on the back of his wagon. Not too long after, Brixton, Gudael, and Leith, along with three unnerved guards emerged from the ruins. Apparently two of the guards had fallen under a much harsher possession by the book and challenged Brixton to the guardianship of the tome. A fight amongst Brixton and the two was short – the other three stayed out of the skirmish – and Gudael and Leith arrived in time to help escort the shaken guards away. They had left the book alone.
The excavated gold was once again dispensed in the hidden tunnel and we adjourned to Adrik’s room where we discussed the likelihood of our payment – Adrik allowed me the dignity to be able to join in on the conversation. I asked if I could be released from my bonds and Adrik, seeing that I seemed to be myself once more, allowed me my freedom. I thanked Leith – naturally he seemed a little skittish of me, though I have a few choice words I should like to have with him on the matter of that previous day – and Brixton brought up what we would do with our share of the gold – if we even got any.
As you know, I have my debts – to call them ours would besmirch your integrity and give blame unto you for my own deeds and actions, as well as Pyotrs. Gudael mentioned that she would like to see her brother, who by some grand surprise, turns out to be in the Black Guard. Yes, our devoted and most wholesome cleric’s sibling – and father! – appear to be in that dreaded battalion. Adrik, by no surprise, wants to go down, into the bowels of the world and find this Abnogg Gur. He sees his likelihood of surviving pretty slim and – if I am able to clear my accounts – then I should like to go with him; assuming that he takes me. Leith seemed keen to stay together, even distressed at the notion of our division. We grabbed our drinks – Brixton ever the polite fellow pouring me a glass – and Adrik asked for a toast from me.
“May we have many more reasons to drink together!” And may we, Maria, have many more reasons to talk to one another. I know you will not judge me harshly for my actions, Maria. You were never one to cast stones in a stain-glassed chapel, yet I feel some condemnation is needed.
After that turn of mine I have started to question my utility and place amongst the group. I seem a black sheep amongst black sheep; an ugly duckling amongst ugly ducklings; an outcast amongst outcasts. I hope I may once again find my footing, for last time I lost it I became a wizard and ran away from home. Only the Gods know what I would do now.
All my best and more,
Baron Edryn Styewell Krillinovich Montkoff