04 October 2007

A Dream of Blood

The DM's Guide tells us that "evil is evil". My view, however, is that seeing as how the forces of Good are capable of kicking a little ass every now and then, evil should not be just evil, but EVIL. Or better yet,


So every now and then the PCs stumble across a truly horrible manifestation of just how nasty the world can get. Whether it's unscrupulous wizards rewarding their hirelings with a bottle of poisoned wine, equally unscrupulous clerics handing out cursed rings that burn their bearers alive, Elves that seduce elderly dragons and then kill themselves rather than bear the consequences of their actions, green-skinned stinky fellows who torture halflings for jollies, or Machiavellian vampires who ambush the Party's NPC cleric while they're off sleeping elsewhere, Anuru is replete with examples of moderately awful bad guys.

Thing is, the PCs haven't event MET any of the REALLY bad guys yet. But during their second night in Ganesford, one of them had a dream about some of them, and was a little freaked out by it.

This is the dream that the PC in question had, presented for your amusement in all of its gory glory. A word of warning to the PC who experienced this little nightmare: you are forbidden to reveal your identity to your party mates (or at least, to those who haven't already guessed it). There's a reason that this is happening to you, and you don't know what it is at this stage. Let's not blow the surprise just yet.


* * * * *

A Dream of Blood

The Great Hall of the Stone was broad, so broad that its walls were invisible in the dark distance; and high, so high that its ceiling, if indeed it had one, was lost in unseen lightless shadows. All that was visible were the flagstones: close-fitting, seamless, formed of polished, black basalt from the mountain’s heart, they seemed to drink all light, reflecting only the unlight: the otherworldly gleam of the Hall’s sole occupant.

At the centre of the Hall lay a deep stone pit, thrice the height of a man: hemispherical, eerily regular, like a perfect crater formed by a heavy object fallen from great height. But unlike the flagstones, not smooth; the walls of the pit were heavily carved, inlaid with complex and arcane runes, close-set and dense. And not shining black, but dull, unreflective, stained with the foul detritus of uncounted centuries of use.

At the bottom of the pit lay a wonder: a small, silver-white stone, no larger than a woman’s fist, standing vertical, balanced upon a base of sparkling silver. Faint hints of light could be seen within the stone: shifting, opalescent patterns, like sparks of thought. From time to time a gleam escaped, erupting across the scored, discoloured walls of the pit, throwing the harsh, brutal runic carvings into sharp relief, and illuminating the crusted horror of ages.

The great hall stank of uncounted centuries of blood.

Footsteps; the sound of struggling. From the deep darkness of the Hall, three figures emerged. Two were robed and hooded, heavy black cloth falling to the floor, concealing all but their hands. Each wore a scarlet chasuble, richly worked with threads of silver and gold, forming runic patterns not unlike those adorning the walls of the pit. Among the many symbols worked into their vestments, one stood out: a grinning skull in profile, framed by a five-pointed star.

Between them they held the weakly struggling form of a woman bearing the gracefully pointed ears, ebon hair, and emerald eyes of the Third House. This latter was clad in nothing more than a filthy tunic of rough cloth, that might once have been white, but that was now stained with long use, and crusted with blood both new and old. Beneath the tunic, her hands were bound roughly behind her back. The hooded figures half-walked, half dragged her, clutching her by the upper arms. Fresh blood dripped from her fingertips, and her unshod feet left scarlet prints on the polished flags of the floor.

At the edge of the pit stood a single stone: gleaming black, obsidian, a heavy, upthrust splinter. Its upper edge was a blade, honed to glinting menace, undulled by uncounted centuries of service. Unlike those elsewhere in the Hall, the flagstones before this stone were misshapen; worn away by heavy, repeated use, forming a slight depression. Behind the obsidian block, the wall of the pit dropped away, curving down towards where the white stone lay, shimmering softly, at the bottom.

Before this stone the trio halted. The two robed figures stood still and silent; the Elfwoman between them shuddered and shook, nearly collapsing in weakness and terror. After a moment’s silence, the dexter figure released the woman, raised his arms in invocation, and began to speak, intoning harsh, profane phrases in a ringing basso voice. The words seemed to echo through the vastness of the Hall, reflected back by the distant walls, gaining in timbre and power. In the pit, the argent shimmering of the stone grew more urgent, more insistent, as though it recognized the words and awaited their culmination hungrily. Flecks of eager light probed the darkness.

Another moment, and the sinister figure followed suit. He too released the Elfwoman, who now stood bone-still; rigid, as if mesmerized by the ringing words. Her shuddering had ceased, as though even the piercing agony from her tortured flesh no longer tormented her, although the blood still seeped slowly from her lacerated feet, and dripped to the floor from her mangled fingertips. As the harsh words continued, trumpeting with ever-growing power throughout the chamber, her head came up, and her eyes sprang open, revealing nothing but blank orbs, ichor-white and unseeing.

The incantation ceased. The dark-robed chanters lowered their arms. Entranced, the woman shrugged her shoulders, and the filthy, vermin-infested, blood-drenched tunic fell to the floor. Alabaster skin marked with glaring whip-wheals and speckled with blood gleamed softly in the shimmering light emanating from the pit. She took three steps forward and knelt carefully before the obsidian splinter. Her knees rested in the depression in the flagstones, where uncounted others had knelt before her, partaking of a ritual that had endured for three ages of the world.
The robed figures raised their arms again, palms out, and the chanting resumed, softly at first, but growing swiftly louder, and increasingly heavy and insistent. The foul phrases thundered darkly throughout the chamber. The Elf-woman inclined her upper body carefully forward, until her small breasts flattened against its icy surface, and the smooth skin of her throat lay against the razor-edge of the splinter’s tip.

A final, guttural phrase, and the merciless hammer of the Dark Speech ceased. White skin firm against the ebon sliver, the woman closed her eyes, and spoke in the Fair Tongue. Her words sounded frail and weak against the black malice now brooding in the chamber. “Cado in laudis Regina orbis terrareum. Cado in laudis pater atrus Bardan Eversor. Abicio animus ab Dominorum Tenebrus. Captatio immolus me.” Then with a swift, deliberate motion, she drew her throat down the long length of the stone. The obsidian splinter cut deep, and the pulsating light was effaced by a sudden spray of scarlet. The woman’s body toppled to the flagstones, spasming harshly, but the choked gurgling lasted only an instant. Her legs trembled briefly, and then lay still.

It was over. The body lay pale, cold and unresponsive before the upthrust obsidian block. Blood gleamed slick and incarnadine against its mirrored surface.
The dexter priest balled up the discarded tunic, while the sinister drew a length of rough hemp rope from beneath his robe and, kneeling, tied one end of it around the woman’s ankles. His rope-work finished, the man squatted on his heels and pushed his hood back, revealing a pale, handsome face, and golden hair worn in a long braid. His cheeks were flushed with excitement, and feverish with the expenditure of profane energies. “That was easier than I expected,” he said in a conversational tone.

“A few days with the Framantâres will soften even the toughest ones,” the other replied. Now that the ceremony of sacrifice was complete, he too had doffed his hood, revealing an older face, lined, framed by close-cropped hair and a short, greying beard. He appeared distracted, glancing about him, at the floor, the sacrificial stone, the pit. He even looked up, as if attempting to discern something in the distant heights of the invisible ceiling.

“What is it, Strămosi?” asked the younger man. He too glanced around nervously, wondering what his superior was looking for.
“I don’t know,” the older replied with a shrug. He paused for a moment, as if considering whether to...“Does it seem brighter in here?”

The younger man shrugged. “This is only the third time I’ve partaken of the ritual, elder brother,” he replied. “I hardly know what to expect.”

“Well, I’ve celebrated the rite a thousand times and more, Tânar,” the older man grated, “and I’ve never before seen...”. His voice trailed off, and he stepped softly to the edge of the pit. The walls were still slick with the Elf-woman’s blood, and the white stone on its mithril base stood in an inches-deep pool of incarnadine ichor. “Is it the Stone?” he asked, half to himself.
The younger man joined him. “I don’t know. It certainly seems to be...”

He was cut off by a thunderclap of sound and a blinding burst of white light. The vast Hall rang as if struck by the hammer blow of a god, and both men felt the flagstones lurch under their feet. Light burst from the stone at the bottom of the pit: not its customary white, pearlescent sheen, but a harsh, ravening white light, shot through with flecks and lances of inky darkness. Both men felt a hot wind against their faces, although neither their robes nor their hair were stirred; it was as if a sirocco of arcane power ravened through the aether, washing over and penetrating them, blasting their minds, if not their flesh. The younger man stood stock-still, stunned, blinded and deafened by the unfathomable torrent of energy. The elder threw up his arms, palms out before his face, and tried to scream a spell of warding into the gale. But the incantation was shredded into nothingness by the otherworldly shriek of might emanating from the stone.

As suddenly as it had begun, the whirlwind of power ended. It was as though a door had been shut, or a candle blown out. But though the eldritch hurricane had subsided, the light did not entirely vanish. Blinking against the starred afterimages blurring their sight, both men peered fearfully down into the pit. The white stone stood on its base as before, but now it throbbed hotly, pulsating like a heart, with each beat throwing waves of black-shot silvery gleams across the walls of the pit, shedding its newfound illumination into the deep night of the Hall. The pool of blood had vanished; and on the walls of the pit, the multifarious etchings glowed harshly with a deep, eldritch light.

“Has that ever happened before?” the younger man whispered.

“Not in my lifetime,” his elder replied softly. “But the Scrolls speak of it.”
“What was it?”

‘Cea Trezire’,” the bearded priest replied simply. “The Awakening. The Stone has returned to life.”
“Was it the sacrifice?”

“I think not. Something...” his voice trailed off, and the elder man glanced fearfully around the chamber again. “Something in the wider world has brought the Stone to life again. The Prevazâtri must be told. We must consult the Scrolls.” He strode away, calling back over his should, “Bring that.”

The younger priest stooped and took the end of the rope. He tugged, dragging the Elfwoman’s pale, limp body across the flagstones, leaving a wide blood trail, and followed his chief. “Should not her Dread Majesty be told as well?” he said, panting with the effort of dragging the woman’s slender corpse across the stones.
“That will be for the Wise to decide. Probably not until we have a better idea of what’s happened.” He paused, then shook his head. “Belike she knows already, anyway.”

“We must ensure she knows, Strămosi,” the younger man insisted.

“You’ll hold your tongue,” the bearded priest snarled over one shoulder. “Unless you want to be the next to kneel before the Păleta Cernît.” Lengthening his stride, he stalked off into the shadows.

The younger man shuddered, then followed, dragging his burden unceremoniously behind him.

In a moment, both had been swallowed by the inky blackness. And after a few moments more, the last drops of the unknown Elf-woman’s blood had vanished too, sunk without trace into the smooth, gleaming surface of hungry stones.