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2001-03-20: Tomes Tell Of Agonized Abbots
The search for the books Lady Lilibet was seeking ended in the latter part of the week. Armed with overheard hints given by what is believed to have been the spirit of the slain daemon hunter, Teleburiel, citizens were able to track down the secreted tomes and inscribe copies for themselves.
It is speculated that Lilibet will use the knowledge revealed in the writings of Prospero Faenis to attempt the release of her sister. Many citizens have been approached by the mysterious woman in red, asking for their help in this task. It has been suggested that Lilibet’s sister is Iryn, who was taken captive by a daemon known as Damocus a few weeks ago during an assault against him in the bowels of Hythloth.
For our reader’s convenience, the newly recovered tomes are reprinted here in their entirety.
Beyond the Door
by Prospero Faenis
-+* Translator's note: The following text has been translated to the best of my abilities. The task was difficult in that the original manuscript seems to have been a combination of many languages combined. In instances where interpretation was possible, I have used brackets to fill in what I believe may have been the author's intent. Please consider this when weighing the accuracy of this tome.
We stood in the temple, huddled together like small children trying to hide from a [thunderclap]. Grown men we were, reduced to weak-knees and chattering teeth. Bach's hands trembled so badly that the light from his torch made even the shadows quake, adding to the dismal atmosphere.
Our love for Brother Timlyn kept our feet firmly planted. Since he had been taken from us, we had no choice but to try to barter a deal to bring him home. Brother Iness warned against it and called us dolts. Iness was a coward, hiding his weakness behind a [thin veil of false contempt].
A raven flew in through an open window and perched on the altar. We figured it to be a sign of some sort, until it spoke. Then, we knew we had gone too far to turn back now. "You seek audience with my master?" it cooed, tilting its blue-black head to one side, watching us with its yellow eyes. "What makes you think that you are [worthy] of such a conference?"
I steeled my nerves and made myself speak up. "It is not that we consider ourselves [worthy]. Your lord has something which is dear to us and we wish to bargain for its return."
"A bargain?" the raven chuckled. "I sense trickery at play here. Surely, you do not believe one can bargain with my master. He has never been one to haggle. What's his is his. He keeps what he has and adds more. I have never known him to give anything but [misery and destruction]." It flapped its wings, sniggering to itself. "Are you certain you are setting your feet on the right path?"
I nodded. "We must. It is our obligation."
"And what will you offer in trade to my master if he should humor you and lend an ear to your proposal?"
"We have this chest of gold. It is all the wealth of our brotherhood." I pointed to the chest before the altar. "Reese has a fine sword with a jeweled hilt that he will pledge and I... I pledge myself."
The bird opened its beak, laughing loudly. "No fool like an old fool, is there? What would he want with you? Look at yourself!"
"What did he want with Timlyn? Whatever purpose Tim serves, I can fulfill. He is a young man and deserves to taste the sweetness of his youth. I am past those days."
"Well past them, I'd venture," the raven snorted. "You know not the weight of your offer, but far be it for me to stand between a man and his conviction. I am merely a [messenger]. Seek the gatekeeper. You will find him well north of a glorious temple. Get past him, face the master."
I stammered, "But there are many temples! Which one?"
The raven chortled. "I have done all I will for you. If you wish an audience with the master so badly, you will find the temple of which I speak." Another chuckle and the raven flapped its wings and was gone from us.
I had to stop in Jhelom to have my sandals repaired. All that walking had worn a hole in the sole of the right one and a strap had broken on the left. As we waited for the cobbler to complete the work, we befriended the local cartographer. It was his suggestion that we hire a tillerman and check the islands for temples.
Something he said struck a cord. "If I were evil, something sinister would be glorious to me. Only a few temples I can think of that would meet that description."
I rolled my tired eyes and sighed. Of course! Why had I not considered that sooner? It was all too clear. We purchased fresh supplies, retrieved my sandals and sought a tillerman who would take us to the island for next to nothing, for that was all we had to offer.
Vuillemot knew the area fairly well and had some idea of where we were headed, so we let him lead us. We found the temple, desecrated and disgusting, guarded by any manner of vile creatures. The walls kept us from their sight and I was grateful for the segregation. Remar suggested we cleanse it, as we were sworn to do, but I reasoned that we had more urgent business and the temple would have to wait. It was a good full day's hike to the north before we found what we sought, somewhat.
It was a very small fortress in dire need of repair. The sandstone bricks were brittle at best and there were visible weak spots in many places. Pallillo lit a torch and peered inside through an archway. "Spiders," he grumbled.
"Listen!" I urged, touching a finger to my lips. Everyone fell silent and stood perfectly still. The exchange of worrisome glances told me they'd heard it, too. The unmistakable sounds of rattling bones. I slid the silver warhammer from its sheath at my side and saw the others going for their weapons, also. "Undead," I murmured, "and from the sound of it, a lot of them."
They came at us from the archway, pushing Palillo back and thrusting the torch he'd held through his chest. I heard the hideous laugh of a lich intermingled with Pallillo's screaming. I was engaged with three bone knights myself and unable to do anything more for him than to whisper a prayer for his speedy death. If we hurried, we might be able to revive him before his spirit moved too far away to be rejoined to his body.
A portion of the wall where the archway was supported gave out and a section of the wall collapsed, burying Wolpur and two bone mages in the rubble. Remur worked quickly to free Wolpur, but I saw no movement from him as Remur dragged the body beside poor Pallillo's. From this larger opening we could see that we had only begun to fight. The regiment of evil outnumbered us greatly. This was our calling and we held fast to do our duty here. Even at my age, I was determined to risk my life for my beliefs.
The dawn found us in our makeshift camp, blood still drying on our ravaged robes and crimsoned weaponry. Pallillo and Wolpur were curled up in dirty sleeping bags, barely alive, but alive nonetheless thanks to Nesmith's abilities. We had defeated the undead battalion and were resting up before venturing into the fortress. I ate my two dried fish steaks and washed them down with the grainy water Russo had retrieved from who knows where, but it was certainly not from the clean brook back home.
Six of us went into the structure while the others waited at the camp with the infirmed. We found a ruined staircase leading up to a second floor which was all but gone. We would stop frequently to listen for more rattling bones or wicked laughter, but all we heard were skittering spiders and rats going about their daily tasks in the filtered light.
"I'd imagine that we won't find anything until nightfall," Moncrief suggested. "My opinion is to set guards out front, take turns at the post and everyone get whatever rest they can. When the sun fades, we will need all our strength to face... whatever we will face." Agreeing with this line of thought, we retreated back to camp and waited for the gloaming.
I had just dozed off, finally, when Idlet gave voice to an epiphany. One must know Idlet to fully appreciate the magnitude of this. (When he first came to us, the brothers kept telling him that we had taken no vow of silence and he would smile and nod in response, yet if we heard him say more than ten words in a week, we were shocked.) "Those creatures only come out in the dark?" he said, more a statement than a question, really.
Lamot snapped his fingers. "That's right!" He leapt to his feet. "Gather up all the torches and lanterns! We'll set them around in there and maybe that will keep them at bay!" The younger ones sprang up and set to it while the older men, including myself, filled the lanterns they brought to us. The afternoon was fading as I lay down again and tried to get what rest I could.
Idlet and Lamot had undoubtedly saved us. As the sun dropped behind the mountains, the bones began rattling inside the fortress. There were not near so many this night as there had been the night before. Creg had bested the last one when we heard a peculiar laugh at the top of the stairs and saw a shadowy figure float toward us, a strong smell of sulphur stinging our noses.
"Who do you seek?" it asked in a shrill, grating tone.
I stepped to the front of the group, stopping at the bottom stair. "We were sent here in search of the gatekeeper."
"What homage to you bring to lay before him?"
A panic raised the small hairs on the back of my neck and forearms. "Homage?" I asked, my voice faltering. "All that we have, we have set aside for the Master of the Pit. We have nothing else to offer."
Its laugh sounded like a screaming child. "Everyone has something and no one gets anything for nothing."
"What sort of homage does the gatekeeper require?" Lamot asked.
"A sacrifice with life's pulse beating through it," the thing answered.
Its dark head surveyed the torches and lanterns we'd placed about its lair. "Who turned on these lights? It is far too bright in here. Put them out."
Remur shook his head. "We're not falling for that," he grumbled.
I brought the exchange back to the matter at hand. "Do you mean that you want a heart?" I asked, shuddering at the thought.
"A heart, yes. A human heart. A good heart. They taste best." It raised its arms and laughed that spine-chilling laugh again.
"I offer mine," came a quiet voice from well behind us. All heads turned to find Pallillo in the ruined archway, leaning against the worn stones. We had been unable to completely stop his bleeding. He was pale and very weak. "I've not much time, brothers. Let me do this that I may go on in peace, knowing that my life held some greater purpose."
The creature on the stairs looked past us to Pallillo. "Come closer," it beckoned.
I raised my hand. "Stay there, brother. We will find another way."
Despite my urging, Pallillo limped forward, steadying himself with a staff. He stopped beside me, resting his head against my shoulder, telling me by the gesture that it would be alright, that he knew what he was doing.
The tittering shade inspected him. "This man is half dead! That's no good! T'will not be enough, I'll tell you that for nothing."
I felt my anger well inside me and my teeth clench. "He is offering his very life and you say this is not enough?!"
"It is only half a life!" the creature argued. "This man will be dead by morning. I know the death pallor when I see it, believe me." It tapped its chin, thoughtfully. "If you wish to impress the gatemaster, you must offer impressive things. Sparkling things. Valuable things."
"Pallillo is valuable," Remar spat.
"Valuable to you, mayhaps. But to the gatekeeper... ?" Its voice trailed off into a piercing snicker.
Moncrief whispered to Vuillemot and the two of them ran out into the blackness. They returned soon with a small pouch. Vuillmot thrust it toward me. "It is from the chest," he said quietly. "Let's hope it will suffice."
I opened the bag and extracted the gems within. I held them up for the creature to see. "A diamond bracelet, a heavy gold chain, a string of sapphires and a ruby ring. Is this enough?"
An angular hand slid toward me. "We'll see."
I jerked my hand back, gripping the treasure tightly. "I will show the gatekeeper. Call for him."
"I AM the gatekeeper, you sniveling simpleton!" it spat, reaching out for the treasure again. I passed it over to him, begrudgingly, wary of some form of duplicity. "This will do. This and the heart." It set its gaze on Pallillo.
"No. Not the heart," I protested. "What you have there is ransom enough. You'll not have Pallillo, as well."
It shook its head and waggled a stick of a finger at me, our goods glittering mockingly at us in the torchlight. "You bargained. You keep to it. I'll keep my end up. Don't trifle with me."
"I said - "
A shriek stopped me cold. Beside me, Pallillo had taken out his dagger and opened his own chest, plunged his hand into the gash and held out his heart to the beast as he crumpled to the ground. I fell to my knees, the tears in my eyes before my mind could even comprehend what had happened. The monster jerked the heart from Pallillo's limp hand and woofed it down, laughing.
"Mmmmm! Paladin? Tastes like paladin." It tilted its head. "Tastes like... chicken!" and it laughed again so loudly that my ears rang and several stones fell on our heads from the ruined ceiling above us.
Lamot grabbed the dagger from Pallillo's hand. As he cried, he tried to clean away the blood, but the dagger remained red from the tip of the blade to the bottom of the hilt. The light flickered over it, making it seem as though the dagger had a pulse. He raised it high, taking a jabbing step toward the gatekeeper who retaliated with a quick flash of icy blue from his fingertips. Lamot froze and the dagger turned white for a moment, then was red and glistening again.
"Unh unh unh," the gatekeeper taunted. "You are a young man, Lamot. You have much to lose by such an act and my price has been fulfilled by Prospero's generosity and Pallillo's sacrifice. I will open the door for ONE of you to pass. If more wish to journey, it will cost you."
I looked to Moncrief and spoke, my voice wracked with grief for our lost Pallillo, "Bring me the chest. We will have Timlyn back, I swear it. I'll not give up another brother to these sadists."
Nesmith worked feverishly trying to revive Pallillo, but it was in vain. Lamot stood fast by my side, his hand protectively on my shoulder, the other holding so tight to Pallillo's dagger that his knuckles were white.
My mind had drifted, but Remar's voice brought me back to this dismal place. "Yes, Remar?"
"I insist that you let me go through the portal. It is my fault that Timlyn is there. I want to be the one to bring him back."
I smiled sadly at the brave eyes before me. Remar and Lamot were the youngest in our brotherhood. Their faces had yet to reflect the highways and byways of our chosen life. I saw myself at that age, reflected in those hopeful eyes. He had so much promise... as did Lamot... as did Pallillo... and Timlyn. I shook my head, clasping his hands firmly with mine. "Nay, Remar. If anyone was at fault, it was me. Had I been a better brother to you, your faith would not have faltered."
Moncrief was there with the chest. He set it before me. "You are certain of this?"
I nodded. "I am. Bid me luck and good fortune, brothers, and pray that when we meet again Timlyn is among us."
As I embraced the brothers around me, Remar grabbed for the chest and bolted up the stairs. The gatekeeper swept his arms wide and a portal opened. "Admission for one," the gatekeeper screeched. Remar dove into the portal and it disappeared.
A strong gust of wind blew through the fortress. All of the lanterns and torches went dark. Immediately, we heard the bones begin to rattle around us. Then, the eerie laughter of the liches came, drowning out our screams.