Location: Nektar’s Cauldron
Timeline: Sixth Age of Substance, 46th Year, Spring
The hours of the early evening on the following day saw me curled up with a book in the plush surrounding of The Cauldron’s Library. Although I was here because my work required it, I couldn’t help but relax — for the atmosphere of this room always provided me a cozy feeling — something my weary mind needed given recent frustrations.
And so, clothed in a luxurious new set of my trademark ebon robes, I gathered the satin material around myself as I sat with legs tucked underneath me in an over sized leather chair – itself stuffed with only the finest pazziera leaves from Arbola Forest (1). Occasionally derk servants came to see to my needs or tend to their work maintaining the library, but for the most part, I was alone.
Candles burned in controlled flames on sconces along the wall, providing light to a humongous room that was filled with wall-units and free-standing bookcases that easily held a million+ books and scrolls from nigh every tongue and locale on the planet – for I was an avid reader, thirsty for every scrap of knowledge anyone had ever taken the time to record.
So what was I reading on this occasion?
The newest addition to my library – The Diary of Arwin III (2) – brought back to me by the loyal – yet sadly now-dead – Viperz Aspus.
Licking a bony finger (3), I carefully turned another burnt page of the journal. Despite the damage Gol’s stupid men had done to the book, I’d already deciphered quite a bit about what happened at Akka. Now, before I read further I took a moment to match together that which I’d learned from my communal with Pesties yesterday (4) and that which I’d read from Arwin’s notes today.
My discussion with the day before Pesties had been a rather easy deathspeak session – for the spy had died less than a century past, and with the necessary bones to perform the rite, it didn’t take much effort to call Pesties’ spirit back from the netherworld.
The Viperz’ spirit was at first somewhat uncooperative (6), repeatedly begging me to to release his soul back to whence it came. I’d witnessed this tactic many times before in the Necronomicon, so I didn’t let it faze me and instead brushed away the snakeman’s pleas and commanded him to tell me all that he could about his last mission.
Forced to comply, Pesties explained that, about half a year after I’d sent him forth from The Cauldron, he had indeed made it to the far away Kingdom of Akka. As I listened to his tale, I shared in the spy’s early frustrations when he told me how he was unable to find a way to get inside the Drrukka stronghold without being seen, but my frustration turned to anger when he admitted that he was then “forced” to wait and watch for another two full seasons!
“How dare you waste my time with such negligent worries!” I screamed at the apparition at the time. “Had I been there, you’d have found a way – I promise you that!”
Thankfully, the spirit’s next portion of the story not only calmed me down but actually excited me – for that’s when Pesties told me about the time he witnessed a small company of Drrukka entering Akka through a secret entrance – an unguarded portal through which the spy himself finally infiltrated into the mountain stronghold!
Eager to learn more, I let the Viperz continue his tale – only to be disappointed again at the ineptitude of my spy – for the end of Pesties’ story was not about his success at releasing the plague I gave him (6), nor anything at all about discovering The Grim, but instead merely about how, once inside the dark passageways of the mountain, Pesties was unable to find his way. I listened in powerless disgust as the snakeman’s spirit talked about his fears and then his eventual acceptance of failure, all while getting hopelessly lost in some apparently unused side cavern in the vast Drrukka catacombs – a forlorn journey that led to Pesties’ eventual starvation and death. (7)
To say I was not pleased would be an understatement. In fact, Pesties effort was so utterly futile that I came up with a new way to instill torment – as I ended the communal, I used a bit of my <hellfire> and bespoke a powerful curse upon the Viperz, one that clove his being in half by reversing the original essence of his creation and thus separated the two halves of his existence, reverse-creating TWO Pesties – one a human, the other a snake. I then cast an additional spell that would cause the two Pesties to attempt to destroy each other for the rest of eternity – an impossible task as, since their mortal coils were already dead, the only thing left was their indestructible spirits. The end result: this was a mission that would cause the two halves of Pesties to be locked in a self-torturing limbo that would last forever after!
“Ah, a mission doomed to failure,” I laughed when the task was finished. “Well, at least we’ve finally found something you’ll be good at, Pesties.”
Thinking about it all now as I sat in the library chair, I knew I wouldn’t be in such good spirits if Pesties’ tale had been the full of the intelligence Aspus had given me. Thankfully, the latter had proven to be a more worthy spy than the former. Not only had Aspus succeeded in the mission I’d sent him on, but he’d also brought back concrete proof that told of Akka’s ultimate destruction by my plague (8).
On top of that, I was now thoroughly enjoying was good book and a fine glass of wine – two of my favorite things in life. What could be better, neh?
Hmmm. Perhaps I did not reward Aspus as well as I should have? I pondered. Could it be that I should have bestowed a greater honor to him? But no. For I did grant Aspus the greatest gift of all – I used him in one of my Life Lab experiments. No mortal could hope for a greater reward than that!
With my mind now at ease as far as my treatment of the snakeman was concerned (9), I returned to my book, and to the words of Arwin III that had intrigued me so much these past few hours.
Despite the damage to the journal’s pages caused by the Derrka slaves barrelpit fires, I was still able to cobble together scraps of information to build a story of what happened. I learned that Arwin was the son of Ortwin VII – the high-king of Akka at the time of Last Great War – a military campaign that my colleague Gwar had apparently initiated while I was last in Illusia. Although I was rather annoyed that Gwar had pursued such an action while I wasn’t present, I didn’t waste time on that now, and instead read with glee about how (thankfully!) Ortwin had made the decision to go that battle without The Grim – choosing to put the dagger in a secret war chest in Akka’s Royal Armory rather than risk potentially losing it to an enemy in battle.
“A wise decision, cursed Ortwin!” I mocked the memory of the long-dead Drrukka warlord. “Yet, I scoff at your efforts to keep my prize from me. For whether you lost it to my people during the war or not, surely you must know that I will acquire The Grim in the end – for that is MY destiny!”
I then laughed when I read a chapter called The Lamentation of Arwin – where that son wrote of the tragic death of his father Ortwin at the hands of a company of myz and Derkka warriors near the end of that so-called Last Great War.
“Death was too good a reward for a rat like you, Ortwin.” I spat at the book. “Would that I ever get my hands on your remains, you will suffer to eat a more appropriate dessert for keeping The Grim from me for so long.”
After that I quickly flipped through the pages about the Akka army returning home, about Arwin’s coronation and rise to power, and about that Drrukka’s proclamations to protect his people.
“Blah, blah, blah. Who cares?” I could feel my anxiety starting to return, fearing that maybe reading this journal was just going to be another waste of time.
Thankfully the next chapter mentioned Arwin’s joy in becoming the new Beholder of The Grim – yet even that didn’t calm my nerves. I couldn’t help but feel jealous about Arwin’s joy and feared that my psyche was about to go down a dark road.
“A pox on you, Arwin fool!” Yet in spite of my bitterness, I realized my unintended pun and laughter soon got the better of me. “Alas, Azazel old boy, but you are just too intelligent for your own good! For a pox indeed is what I have delivered to Arwin and his worthless brethren at Akka!”
Raising a glass I toasted my cleverness and then continued reading. With pleasure did I learn that it was Arwin himself who ultimately proved to be the linchpin in my plan to deliver Pesties’ plague. For soon after the Drrukka army returned to Akka, Arwin wrote in his journal how he ordered a complete search of every passageway of the mountain kingdom – to ensure there were no enemies hiding in their midst. I praised Arwin for his thoroughness and couldn’t help but be a bit impressed when I learned that the high-king’s search lasted for nigh two whole years.
“Why, you little moles have built quite a network in those mountains haven’t you?” I scoffed, refilling my goblet with Amorosi Red.
What I read next filled me with delight – for then it was that King Arwin told of a Drrukka soldier who came across the withered remains of an unidentified man (an outsider), now long dead, who’d apparently gotten lost in one of the abandoned side caverns near to the northwest corner of the kingdom. While the curious soldier was poking through the intruder’s remains, he found a small leather satchel – that bag was so decrepit that it crumpled apart when the Drrukka picked it up – with the unexpected result that its contents spilled out onto the stones at the soldier’s feet. One of the items that fell out was a tiny glass vial that shattered upon impact with the hard hallway, expelling an unknown liquid that coated the ground.
It was then that I read with pride how the soldier fearfully related that a bluish-green mist soon filled the air around him, and though he tried to back away from the scene, I knew it was too late — my lung-sac-seeking nebulae must surely have engulfed him! Only one further step was needed to spread the plague – the infected soldier had merely to interact with someone else – and I I knew that step had been taken since I was reading Arwin’s very words about the soldier’s dutiful report to his superiors.
“Ah, Pesties, you glorious fool – it seems you were successful after all!” I laughed, luxuriating in the comfort of my chair and turning the page. “Ah, but I am a genius, to have such a flexible plan. That hapless Drrukka came upon my Viperz, released my plague, exposed himself to my super bug, and then contaminated the rest of Akka when he carried himself and Pesties’ belongings back to the king’s court!”
Even better was the fortuitous luck that all of this had apparently occurred in the middle of one of the most ferocious winters of the last century — this meant that the Akka clans were forced to remain inside their mountain stronghold while the elements raged outside, with the result that my virus quickly spread throughout all of Akka – exterminating those cursed vermin before the winter was nigh halfway over!
“Azazel, my boy, you never cease to amaze me!” I toasted myself again, truly happy…for the first time in many centuries.
“Hold on, friend.” I lowered my glass in a moment of sobriety. “Perhaps I’m getting a little ahead of myself. For Arwin has not written of the complete death of his kingdom yet. Yes, Aspus said Akka is now a ghostly locale, but I’d like to read this Drrukka’s version to be certain.”
Once more I began turning the pages of Arwin’s epic…
Winter, second month, seventh day: We are doomed. I am now the Kon-Herr Drokka of a forsaken kingdom. Alas for Arwin the Third, son of mighty Ortwin the Seventh. There is naught I can do to save my people. The sickness has spread to all of us. My only sights are devastation and death. We cannot escape nor do we have the means to call for help for the winter storms have sealed us inside this mountain – soon this will be our tomb. Our medicines do not work. We have no answers. I, the Kon-Herr, can do nothing. What worth am I? Oh Rhokkii, my Rhokkii, why have you forsaken me? (10)
Winter, second month, eleventh day: We have lost most of our Drrokkia and children. The very reason we live. What can I do to stop this madness? (11)
Winter, second month, thirteenth day: We have stopped trying to bury our dead, there are just too many and we lack the Drokka power to complete the task. The stench and smell is now stifling – this curse alone will kill us all. (12)
Winter, second month, eighteenth day: I buried my son today. I pray I die next. (13)
Winter, second month, twentieth day: This plague is worse than any nightmare. Why I have not fallen prey to its clutches yet I can not fathom, for I was one of the first to come in contact with Donner – our warder who discovered the dead man with the snake fangs. How long I can hold out I do not know; does it even matter? Would that I could suffer this terrible death in exchange for our kingdom’s health. Yet, strength, Arwin, for you still have a duty to do. I will document the effects of this virus, so that future generations can identify it and hopefully better combat it should it haunt others again (14). Yea though, it is ghastly indeed! It is almost as if one who picks up this plague is being eaten alive from the inside out, for the victims seem to liquefy themselves to death! Oh, the horror to see these sights. I never knew a Drokka could lose so much blood. It starts harmlessly enough, for at first my doctors thought we only had a simple winter fluuk to deal with. Yet, the chills and pains and vomiting do not subside. Instead they seem to amplify! Oh, then comes the blood, the red essence – it is everywhere. Donner was the worst of all – first he bloated up like a mushy peach, then he developed sores and hives all over his body. Days later, his scabs began to burst and slush out pus and sludge. Vile, oh so terrible! But, worst of all was the blood! It came from everywhere on Donner, every orifice of his body oozed out his lifeforce, even his teeth and hair seemed to leak with it! Even now, I don’t know why Thork and the other healers were not able to stop the–[ARRRRRRW!! More howls of pain from my people! Rhokii can’t you make it end?] Ugh, where was I? Yes, Donner. For days on end, Donner bled himself out. His bloated body slowly shriveled as he lost his life fluids. He was literally turning to jelly (15). Even is eyeballs leaked away their viscosity and he was left with pools of white-red pus. His arms and legs did wither. And finally, finally (!) eight days after discovering the spy in our midst, Donner was the first to die. It has now been thirty-eight days since Donner passed and more than three-quarters of my people have suffered a similar fate. Why won’t this plague take me too? Alas, I am not worthy of Kawkawzuz.
Winter, third month, ninth day: Few of us remain. Any hope of a rescue from the Spring visitors of Rhokkii Pass is now gone for we cannot hold out that long. I estimate that the five of us still alive have but a week at most. I have but one mission left to complete. I pray that I did not wait too long to undertake the task, for it is important beyond compare. Yet, Arwin, how could you do this deed ‘fore now and abandon your people until you knew that all was lost? The answers do not matter. Nor do the questions. I must do what I must. As the Beholder of The Grim, I must protect it. Difficult decisions just like my father made. Yet, leaving our prize in the Royal Armoury is not enough anymore, for who will be left to ward it? No, we must make the sacrifice. We, the Doomed Five, must take The Grim to the safest locale we know – far under the mountain, into the darkest caverns of–! Alas, I hesitate to even write of this secret chamber for fear that this book will fall into the wrong hands. Yet, I have no choice, for I must leave some trail. I can only hope that our brothers from Rhokkii Pass will find this journal and retrieve Hacktor’s prize – then to take it again back where it belongs into The West. With Rhokki’s blessing, he will ward his blade in our most valuable treasure trove until searchers can recover it. As a final measure, We Doomed Five have agreed that we will cause an internal avalanche to seal the passageway we take. It will ensure our own deaths, but that will be a blessing for cursed such as we! These then are the last words of Arwin III, the final Kon-Herr Drokka of the Great Akka Mountains. To the Drokka hero who finds this diary, I pray that you follow me to The Deepest Depths of the Akka’s, to The Sacred Lair itself, there to find The Grim, and at last bring it back to glory!
Honestly I couldn’t have been more pleased after reading Arwin’s last words than if Lucifer himself had lain at my feet like a puppy dog for me to kick.
“Oh what a glorious day!” I felt like jumping out of my chair and dancing – so that’s what I did. Holding Arwin’s book near to my chest, I waltzed around the library to made-up music that only I could hear.
It was as if the Universe had just opened up and handed me the Answer to one of the Great Questions of my life. For at last, finally, did I know for certain where The Grim was to be found!
Smiling sweetly, I sashayed my way back to my chair and fell into it, totally at ease. “My precious is waiting for me. Sweet Victory will be mine when whence I retrieve The Grim from The Deepest Depths of Akka’s Sacred Lair.”
And then another new thought occurred to me, “Why, by Haaz, but mayhap all of this will knit perfectly with that other nagging task – could it be that I will obtain dreaded Dagaal as well?”
Images of the Bone Dagger – the blade meant to destroy me – caused my relaxed mood to evaporate. Jumping from my seat, I was ready to work again — full force.
“What does all this mean?” I queried myself, already knowing the answer. “I cannot delay in contacting Keldar any longer. I need his myz to do my bidding at once!”
- Wondering how I acquired such a luxury when pazziera leaves are only found in forests controlled by my bitter enemies? Let’s just say I have my ways.
- Arwin III was apparently the last high-king of the Drrukka of Akka.
- Despite a lack of saliva I had to make the effort worthwhile
- Recall that Aspus had returned with the bones of Pesties – thankfully it was an amount sufficient for me to use in The Necronomicon for a proper death communal.
- Which I found interesting given that his spirit should have recognized me as his god – an observation I filed away for future research.
- A plague that had indeed destroyed Akka, but apparently without Pesties ever knowing it.
- Meaning that as far as Pesties ever knew, he failed to complete his mission, for when he died, the precious vial of plague that I’d entrusted him to deliver was still unused in the spy’s packs. What a joke!
- It’s always nice to hear how one’s plan are a success, right?
- A task that was not all that difficult since I had no conscious to struggle with.
- Your ‘god’ Rhokki has long since abandoned you, fool. My plague is your just reward for matching your wits against me.
- Nothing. Die and be done with it – that’s the best you can hope for.
- I’m glad to see the extra step I took to add that <putrification> aroma to my plague actually worked – another successful experiment pays off!
- So what are you waiting for?
- Oh it will haunt future generations and no you can’t stop it.
- Even my <jellification> additive trigger worked perfectly! #Impressed