The Dark Device of the Great Chasm by Kummer Wolfe | World Anvil Manuscripts | World Anvil

Chapter 25

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Amates 29, 1277. Still in the Obsidian Armory, only this time learning more than I bargained for. 

     “What’s that?” 
     I jerked in surprise, almost knocking the books off the table. Mikasi stood off to my right and had leaned over to see what I was doing. I know this wasn’t true, but it felt like he had appeared out of thin air.
     There wasn’t a water clock nearby, but I felt stiff from sitting in mostly one position. I had been deep into reading the Xinder Codex, oblivious to the world. After a slow, deep breath, I put down my pencil, then gave Mikasi a sideways glance.
     Mikasi ignored me while he made his way to the other side of the table, then dropped into a chair. There were two books with him. I couldn’t quite see the covers, other than they had something to do with stonejacks and cloudgliders.
     “A very bad book,” I replied while I rubbed my eyes.
     When I looked up, Mikasi had reached over to tilt up one side of the Codex so he could see the cover. The instant he read it, Mikasi jerked his hand away as if the book had bitten him. Slowly, he wiped his fingers across the front of his blue shirt and grimaced. For a second, he stared at his fingers to make sure they were all there. After that, he scowled at me.
     “Why do you have a book on necromancy?” Mikasi asked with a tone that hovered between disgust and alarm.
     “Baron Marius.”
     Mikasi’s scowl softened.
     “Oh.” He traced the edge of the cloudglider book with a finger. “Well. That makes sense. Do you think he’s a necromancer? Maybe some sort of undead… person?”
     I looked down at the open Codex in front of me.
     Did I?
     The spidery handwriting on the tan, weathered page twitched like it might crawl off and across the table like a rattled ink-spider. I pursed my lips, then looked over at Mikasi while trying to ignore the chicken in the jar that stared at me. Before I replied, I quickly reached over and turned the jar clockwise to the embalmed thing had something else to pay attention to.
     “Yes, I do. I just don’t know which he is. Either he’s undead, a necromancer, or just something else. After dealing with him, what’s wrong with him has to be necromantic.”
     “What are his symptoms?”
     Sen Ruathan’s low, calm tone cut through the conversation like a hot knife.
     Mikasi and I blinked at each other in surprise. Ruathan had been so quiet up until that moment, I’d forgotten he was nearby. It was almost as if he had turned invisible, at least until he spoke up. I suffered a small involuntary shudder, then glanced between Sen Ruathan and Mikasi.
     “Mikasi? This is Sentinel Ruathan Bravolo of the Slate Watch. Sen Ruathan? This is Mikasi Zenia of Banye.”
     Ruathan nodded in greeting.
     “Pure ore and good craft.”
     “Good winds,” Mikasi replied, though he stumbled a bit over his words.
     I didn’t blame him. The Slate Watch with their ice cool, dark humored manner often made most people uneasy, including myself.
     The Talabrean dark elf was still standing in a parade rest off to one side, hands behind his back. Only now, he watched us with a sideways glance and a raised eyebrow. There was a hint of a frown around his ghost-white eyebrows.
     “So. What are this baron’s symptoms?” Sen Ruathan asked again.
     That’s when inspiration jumped up and slapped me in the back of the head. I had been so focused on ‘books’ and ‘study’, I overlooked the obvious.
     Why didn’t I ask the Slate Watch in the first place?
     The Slate Watch studied this sort of thing all the time. They’ve had years, generations, of experience dealing with undead, rogue necromancers, and magically twisted creations threatening people. If anyone had an idea about what I saw and experienced, they would.
     So why haven’t I asked?
     Because I was more tired and rattled than I wanted to admit out loud. I was so convinced I could solve this puzzle about the baron by myself, it made me miss the obvious. I still wanted, or really needed, to solve this. But it wasn’t smart to tackle it alone. That’s what a crew, friends, and allies are for.
     I frowned while I rummaged through my memories. It should be easy to just explain what happened. But everything? Maybe not that much. I wasn’t sure how the Slate Watch would react to the idea of an Automatic Crystal of the Eclipse and what it could do.
     Then again, what if they already had heard rumors about it? After all, they had a three-eyed tentacle chicken in a jar on a table. It was possible.
     So where could I start? The beginning?
     I clenched my fists while I wrestled with those thoughts in my head. Finally, I settled on the one moment where I felt things went all wrong with the baron.
     It was when I saw that burning light in his eyes that made me so uncomfortable. The one that appeared when he offered to be my ‘partner’ and why. Everything in the tent had gone downhill from there.
     So that’s where I launched into my story. I left nothing out, even the uncomfortable parts where I passed out screaming once the wild magic blast slammed into me. By the time I was done, Sen Ruathan’s expression had become as dark as a thundercloud. He had also turned to face us, arms folded over his chest.
     Apparently, I had his undivided attention.
     I heard Mikasi’s chair creak while he fidgeted on the other side of the table. That wasn’t a surprise. He had heard the story more than once already, and every retelling made him uncomfortable all over again.
     “Sorry, Mikasi,” I said over my shoulder.
     “It… it’s all right,” he replied uneasily.
     Sen Ruathan was stone silent, face pensive, for an uncomfortable, long few seconds. By the time he said something, I had started to fidget in my chair like Mikasi.
     “You’re fortunate to be alive.” He said with a firm voice. “Are your golden eyes the result of the wild magic?”
     I let out a long sigh. This wasn’t the time to go into the whole ‘magic poisoned and nearly died’ thing.
     “Yes, it was.”
     Ruathan replied to that with another of his small nods.
     “You would find some ideas in that book of necromancy. At least three solid passages, if I recall. But I’m not sure they’ll help you. Everything you’ve said suggests this baron is a product of the Dire Arts of necromancy. At this point? If he’s what I suspect, he’s beyond the bounds of that book.”
     “What do you mean?” Mikasi asked, wide-eyed, drawn in by the conversation.
     Sen Ruathan shrugged.
     “One of the Dark Curses; most likely the oldest. The Futhewia Curse. It lets a victim stay forever young, at a price. Their spirit, heart, or ‘true self’ is extracted and placed into something else. Most of the time it’s a small gem or locket. The dark magic of the curse creates a painting of the victim. This painting suffers the wounds and pains in life.”
     Ruathan shook his head.
     “Each time the victim takes a wound, the dark magic re-paints the portrait with the wound. This lets the painting suffer it, not the victim, except…”
     Mikasi swallowed.
     “Except what?” he whispered.
     “The magic repaints the portrait to spare the victim the actual wound, but the victim still experiences the pain.” The sentinel squinted. “Imagine being stabbed in the heart over and over for decades. Then, imaging having to live with all those little memories of lethal pain chipping away at your thoughts, stealing a small piece of your mind one tiny bite at a time.”
     He shrugged.
     “A victim is driven to protect that portrait at all cost. At times, they have to feed the curse. This could be a specific task they have to perform, such as murder or causing torment in some way.”
     “Like forcing a transformation spell on someone,” I suggested in a low tone.
     “The very same,” Sen Ruathan replied. “But in return, they stay flawlessly young for centuries. They’re rare, and often mistaken for vampires. Make no mistake, they aren’t. They are far worse. Especially because they look like any other normal person until you get too close to knowing them.”
     Mikasi and I exchanged a haunted glance.
     “What is he?” I asked quietly.
     “A lich.” Ruathan sighed. “They’re driven, obsessed, and deadly. Especially if they’re an Ancient Soul. Once a lich becomes obsessed with something, they’ll stalk it across the face of Awldor to get it. Kill anyone, destroy anything in their way for it. In this case, I’m sorry to say, it sounds like he’s obsessed with you, Windtracer. Which means he’ll come for you again.”
     Mikasi scooted his chair farther down the table, away from me. I shot him a sour look.
     “He’s not after me,” I said, remembering the conversation with the baron. “I’m just a means to an end. Baron Marius is fascinated by what I’ve discovered, what I’ve written about it.”
     I shook my head.
     “He wants to restore the Ancient Order.” I shot a dark glance at Sen Ruathan. “He said ‘bring peace to Awldor’ and create a ‘New Age’. He’s obsessed with that.
     Sen Ruathan raised an eyebrow at me.
     “What about the people who don’t agree with his vision?”
     I pursed my lips.
     “He’ll bury them. Given what he did to me? He might could do it.”
     I grabbed my journal to show Sen Ruathan the sketch I made of Long Deep and jab the page with a finger.
     “If the relic he’s after is actually in Long Deep, and the baron walks away with it? Then I know he can bury anyone that gets in the way of his ‘vision’. I went through that firsthand.”
     No one spoke for a few uncomfortable seconds.
     “You have a very big problem,” Sen Ruathan said quietly. “You also need more help than just a few books. Come with me, there’s no time to waste.”

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