Well, while we’re waiting for the powers that be to come to a final decision on what we’re going to do, I might as well tell a tale. This should fill you all in on how I spent my time during the weeks following the Goblin attack until I was able to rejoin the group. Oh, how I wish we were sitting in a comfortable Inn next to a warm fire with flagons of ale to wet our throats for this telling, but onwards…
The day after the attack I was helping some of my da’s crew with cleaning up any messes on the docks and ships. My da’ rushed up to the group of us like he needed something to get done, which he did. He told us that we had an urgent job and the ship needed to be readied for cast off immediately. Naturally, everyone dropped what they were doing and scurried toward The Broken Mast to begin work. My da’ caught me by the arm to stop me. He told me that we were to deliver a package to Korsova, and that I needed to run and pick that package up from the Mage Academy or whatever it’s called. Sounded like an easy enough job, so off I went.
When I got there and explained my business, they took me to see some important looking chap, and he handed me what looked to be a wrapped box, and said that my da’ knows who it’s to be delivered to in Korsova. He also warned me that the contents are very dangerous and that under no circumstances should it be opened. Not one to argue with the mage-type, I nodded in understanding, took the package, and left.
Hurrying back to the docks, I noticed that the package was lighter than it appeared. I also found myself looking around constantly because it felt like someone was watching me, and I swear that I heard someone whispering my name the entire time. I shook it off as best I could; mage’s tend to spook me at times, so I tried to convince myself that’s all it was.
By the time I got back, the ship was ready to go. I gave the package to my da’ and he handed it to Neville, the cabin boy, to put in the cargo hold. After I handed it to my da’ I felt more at ease and was no longer able to hear the whispering. See? All in my head, just like I thought.
After a head count to ensure we were all there, my da’ gave the orders to shove off. Within minutes we were waving goodbye to Sandpoint (not really, but you get the point). Once we cleared the reefs, we quickly brought The Broken Mast to full speed; racing along the coast towards our destination. Without any unforeseen delays, Korsova is about a six to seven day journey, about 620 or so miles. Thankfully, the Mast is the fastest ship this side of Varisia. She can catch up to, or outrun (as sometimes is the case) any other ship on the seas.
Sun in our faces, and wind to our backs, this looked to be the start of a fine journey. Or so we thought.
The first two days and nights went by without anything interesting happening. Just water, wind and sailing. I spent most of my time (when I wasn’t busy with my other duties) watching the coast race by us. Sometimes, I was able to see some amazing creatures on the shorelines; things that you would normally only hear about in bard’s tales, or see in an artist’s renditions of them in paintings or charcoal drawings. Besides, my da’ runs a tight ship and doesn’t allow drinking while we are sailing, so there isn’t much else to do other than gamble and throw daggers at walls.
On the third day my da’ and I were eating supper in his quarters when someone knocked on the door. He bade them to enter, and in walked Ruslan, the ship’s mage. He apologized for interrupting our dinner and addressed my da’, stating that for the last day or so Neville had been acting… a bit off. When questioned further about exactly what he meant, Ruslan simply said that he needed to see for himself. We hurriedly finished our food and followed Ruslan below-deck, and into the crew quarters. As we were passing those of the crew who were down here resting between shifts there was a mix of worry and fear among each of them. At the end of the room, we came upon Neville. Or at least, we came upon something that vaguely resembled Neville.
The boy sat in the corner facing us, but staring passed us. His eyes were hollow and dark, pupils so wide that there was almost no white visible in either one. He gleamed as if he were sweating, even though it was fairly cool down here, and his limbs from what I could tell at the time seemed longer and more spindly, almost as if they were stretched out. We could tell his breathing was labored, and he was wringing his hands constantly, muttering something none of us could hear under his breath. All my life, I had never seen anything quite like that, even among the creatures that I have seen on the coasts through my travels.
My da’ looked to Ruslan questioningly, and Ruslan just shrugged and stated that he had never seen anything the like of it before, but if he were a betting man, he would guess some sort of necromancy was at work. My da’ turned to Neville and knelt down in front of him, trying to get his attention, but he just kept staring passed him and muttering. That’s when I noticed something. Neville seemed to be sitting on something that, from where I stood, looked like a book. I pointed that out to my da’ and he reached for it.
The next events happened very quickly, and I will do my best to recount them as accurately as possible, even trying to avoid my usual self-embellishment hehe.
As soon as my da’s hand came near the book, Neville let out an unearthly hiss and lunged for him with almost super-human speed. Before my da’ could even scream or grunt, he was caught in a death lock by the boy. There was an immediate explosion of movement behind us as the remainder of crew below deck rushed forth to try and help. I did the best I could by grabbing a bucket that was close at hand and swung it at Neville’s head. It connected with a resounding “CRACK!” but didn’t seem to even phase the bo.. actually, at this point, he’s now a “creature” and not a “boy”… didn’t seem to even phase the creature. Ruslan began chanting, then he pointed at him and a number of purple bolts flew forth from his finger smashing into the creature’s face. He howled in pain then released my father, who was still thankfully breathing. Growling, he lunged for Ruslan.
I swung at him again as he flew by me, again connecting solidly with his head (yes, still using the bucket), and this time I at least knocked him off course a little which gave the rest of the crew enough time to get to him. Six men piled on top of him, pummeling him as best they could. The creature flailed as best as it could, but quickly succumbed to the blows raining upon it. During this time I grabbed some rope, and as they crawled from on top of him, I went to work tying him up to prevent any further damage; as he was still alive, but unconscious.
Ruslan knelt at my da’s side, inspecting him. Luckily, there seemed to be no damage done, he was more shaken than hurt. He got up and looked at Neville with a mixture of disgust and sympathy, then ordered some of the men to haul him to the brig until this could all be sorted out.
As Neville was carried away, I turned my attention to the book that the creature had been sitting upon. As I got closer to it, the same whispering I had heard a few days ago began again, only this time stronger. The cover and bindings of the book made it look like it was sewn together and had bled at one point. Its corners looked to have teeth (of which origin I am unsure of) mounted there. There was writing on the cover, but it was in a language that I have never seen before. Trying to simply ignore the whispering, I picked the book up.
I tell you what. I am by no means a holy man. I’ve made a number of questionable decisions throughout my life, but even I felt the pure… malice, hatred, anger and strongest of all, sorrow that emanated from this book. I also distinctly remember the beginnings of an epic internal battle of wills inside my head from the instant I touched that thing. The whispering turned to screaming, and the words that I could not understand suddenly became violently clear: “DO NOT RESIST US!!! YOU WILL BE THE VESSEL TO FACILITATE OUR RETURN!!! DO NOT RESIST US!!” Over and over that repeated, drilling itself into my skull as a deeper resonating whisper dug into my psyche, trying to take over. Visions of old, bloody battles danced across my mind, coupled with images of old, sinister looking individuals whose races varied from goblin to gnome to human, elf and giant alike; all of which were screaming and whispering together in a disturbingly haunting cacophony of despair.
I must have started to look pretty rough to my da’ and Ruslan, because the next thing I knew, the book was being torn from my hand and I fell to the floor in a nauseated daze. Thankfully the bucket I had used to crack Neville in the skull was nearby, because I lost all of the food I had just consumed a mere minutes ago. I felt worse than after I do of a fairly heavy night of drinking, and told my da’ as much. He and another crew member helped me to my feet, as Ruslan muttered to himself and waved his hands around in the air while looking at that horrible book. As I was being led away to my quarters, the last thing I remember was hearing Ruslan’s exclamation of surprise and horror as his spell finished casting. Before I even got to the end of the room, I blacked out.
I didn’t wake up until a day and a half later. And with a pounding headache at that. I found myself in my da’s quarters with him close by. He looked as if he’d been fretting over me. No one else was in the room at the time, and I croaked out that I needed water, which he brought me immediately. Once I regained a small amount of strength back, I sat up as best I could, and asked my da’ what happened. Recounting to him the last I recalled first, he filled me in on the last day and a half’s events.
He told me that after they locked Neville up in the brig and brought me to his quarters, Ruslan ordered some of them men to find an empty trunk. Once they did that, they picked the book up by knocking it onto a stretcher with a ten foot pole (seriously), and then dumped the book in the trunk. Ruslan said that for the betterment of the crew, no one should handle that thing directly ever again. Other than that, Ruslan doesn’t know exactly what it is. Just that it emanates a very strong necromantic aura, and that he is pretty sure that it may be sentient. Never a good combination. My da’ now understands why the academy was so vague about the cargo. Nevertheless, he agreed to do a job, and we would see it through. We would be to Korvosa the next day, so since this was discovered everyone has been on their guard and watching everyone else for any strange activity. Oh, I suppose I should mention that by this time, Neville was still unconscious, but that his appearance was returning to normal, which was a good sign. Ruslan thought that was due to the longer exposure he had to the book than I did.
At last we arrived at Korsova, and my da’ had a team of men, himself and Ruslan load the trunk on a cart, and rode to the academy here to drop off the cargo. A few hours later, they returned, all looking relieved. My da’ wouldn’t tell me exactly what had happened there, but grinned as he waived an extra bag of gold in front of us all. The trunk was gone, we were paid… all was good.
We set sail the next day after we resupplied ourselves and took a welcome rest from sailing. There was definitely an air of relief and merriment among the crew now that the book was gone, and there was no more whispering or worrying. Even Neville looked better. We were on our way home, and this was all behind us. Or so we thought.
It was only one day into our return journey that one of the crewmen noticed the scratch-scritching coming from the cargo hold. If it wasn’t for the events that happened on the way to Korsova, my da’ would probably only have sent one person down to check if we had a stowaway or if it was a dog or something. Thankfully though, he was a touch on the cautious side, just in case. Me, Ruslan, my da’ and three other crew went to the cargo hold to check it out (strength in numbers, am I right?).
As we descended the steps, torches in hand, we could hear the noise intermittently. Scratch-scritch. Scritch-scratch. So closer we crept to the source of the noise. We didn’t pick up any additional cargo in Korsova, so the hold was fairly empty, but we had our personal supplies here, which left more than enough hiding places. Closer we got to the noise, and we could tell it was moving around as well. So we followed it (yeah, the hold is fairly big). Soon, we caught what looked like a large, almost skeletal tail in the light, which quickly darted away. A little bit nervous, we rushed forward, and as we turned around the crates, we stopped dead in our tracks.
There, in the dim, flickering light of our torches, were three of the UGLIEST, LARGEST rats I have ever seen in my life. Each one was at least as big as an average sized dog, but definitely with larger teeth. They all looked like they had been dead for a month, as their fur had fallen off in patches randomly around their torsos and faces. In some places bone could be seen. Green liquid, like pus of some kind dripped from their fangs, and they stared at us with large, beady red-glowing eyes. As one, they let out a loud screeching sound and rushed the six of us.
Thankfully, none of us were unprepared for a fight this time. A full-fledged battle ensued. I danced with my blades, taking one them out, but not without suffering a bite myself. When its teeth clamped on my forearm, I felt as much as heard, something attempt to invade my mind, but I was lucky enough to shrug it off and continue fighting.
Ruslan cast forth more of his purple bolts, trying to keep behind the rest of us and out of direct harm. How I envied him for that at the moment. My da’ was nothing to shake a stick at as well, his scimitar, Blackened Scar, rang through the air and cleaved the head off the one that just took a few bolts to the face. The remaining three crewmen contended with the last one.
I saw the last rat bite one of the crew, and as soon as its teeth sunk into his leg, he screamed an unearthly sound, and then turned on us all. That caught us a little of guard, and my da’ took a blade to his knee before we knew what was what. I was about to go in for a kill on the crewmember (he did just cut my da’ after all), when Ruslan thought and acted a bit faster than me. A few short unintelligible words, a toss of a pinch of sand, and a wave of hands later, and the crew member crumpled to the ground, out cold. By this time, the last two crew members dispatched the remaining rat.
The short, but mostly successful battle was over, and we took the time to lick our wounds. I waved off attempts at seeing to my arm at the moment, as my da’ and the unconscious crewmember were more seriously hurt. Ruslan went to inspect the rats, or whatever they actually were, and I helped bandage my da’ up. I saw Ruslan shaking his head as he stood up and then came over to my da’. I could tell by his face that something was seriously off here. And so could my da’. He waived the rest of us off to give them a minute to talk.
The other two crewmembers carried the unconscious one off and to the brig, while I just went to the stairs and tied up my arm myself. After a few minutes, my da’ and Ruslan joined me. My da’ was heavily leaning on Ruslan for support. Ruslan told me that he needs to examine the bodies further and that he thought he knew what happened here. In the meantime, I was to help my da’ to his quarters, so I did.
Two hours later, Ruslan knocked on the door to my da’s quarters. After he was given permission to enter, he sat down at the small table with us as my da’ poured him a drink from his personal flask (I knew things were serious, as my da’ is strict about that “no drinking on board” policy, and he wouldn’t violate it himself lightly). At that, Ruslan began to recount his findings, starting with what he learned from one of the scholars at Korvosa’s Mage Academy.
It turned out that book was necromantic all right. “The Book of Haunts” it’s called. About a thousand years ago, a group of dark mage’s and sorcerers got together and thought it would be fun to perform a ritual that would combine all their powers into one item, making an attempt at everlasting life and limitless power. They went through all the usual dark magic-type stuff. You know, things like doing it during a lunar eclipse, on the unholiest of days in the middle of the night and sacrificing a virgin and all that. They were also supposed to, one by one, cut out their own hearts, and feed them to the item. After the last one’s heart burned, they were all supposed to rise again in lichdom. Unfortunately, the last one chickened out, and since the ritual specifically called for a certain number of hearts, it went awry. Instead of giving them all eternal life and immeasurable power, it locked all their evil little souls in the pages of the book. The coward ran, and other than that, no one is sure what happened to him. The book itself wasn’t found again for about 500 or so years, and every time it comes in contact with someone, it invades their mind and consumes their body, turning the holder into a servant of the evil souls within so that they may complete the ritual and return as they were meant to. That explains what happened to Neville and me at any rate. I asked what it had to do with the rats then.
Ruslan laughed a wicked laugh saying that it behaves differently on beings with lower intelligence. If an animal comes in contact with the book, they begin changing, but don’t need to continue to be in the presence of the book during the change, as it infects them like a disease. The animal also changes and becomes more violent and can spread the disease as well, to intelligent beings, but with the same effect, and a little bit quicker acting. A very nasty book that. There’s nothing quite like evil that can spread like a contagion. That’s why it was so important for the book to be taken out of the city, and into proper care, far away. One of the Sandpoint Academy’s scryers saw danger in Sandpoint, and knew that in the wrong hands, the book could be put to devastating use.
My da’ and I took a moment to mull all that information over, and we all agreed that we were glad to be rid of the infernal thing. My da’ ordered the bodies of the rats to be thrown overboard, and for a full search of the ship to be done just to make sure there weren’t any other surprises left behind. After a few hours of searching, nothing else was found.
That was the last that happened in respect to the book, and we all got to enjoy a smooth ride the rest of the way home. Then that’s when I met back up with you all, and began trouncing through the forest killing goblins. Believe me, I’m much happier here. At least the goblins can’t turn me into a raving killing machine!