If you are reading this, then I am dead.
May the betrayer rot. Undying? We'll see about that.
He approached me as I was returning home to Eastham from Rithwic.
Celcynd had been buying drinks for the whole house. It was a late
From the forest shadows he called my name. I, a master of silence
and stealth, knew when I was outclassed. I waited to see what he
had to say.
He stepped from under the dark copse of trees. Taller than me, covered
in a blue robe with a hood over his face. He approached me quickly
and quietly, and I readied two of my blades underneath my jerkin.
I would not go down easily.
He stopped a few feet away. An odor of sea and death wafted across
my nose. I had been to the sea once, after my first blade job some
thirty years back, to avoid further complications. With the heaving
and the smell, I had almost wished I had been caught and hanged.
My grip on the daggers tightened.
"Foolishness, piglet. I have lived for thousands of years. Your
steel is soft next to me." His voice was smooth, and yet it managed
to further stiffen my spine with every syllable. I belatedly realized
I was terrified.
"I have a proposition for you, Vinchlane. How I came to hear about
you is unimportant. But for my purpose, it appears all paths lead
to you. Amongst the outlanders that soil this land, I understand
that you have no small skills in the art of locks and keys. True?"
I nodded, cursing myself for my inability to speak. Many a strong
and brave man had fell beneath my blade, yet here I was petrified
by what I knew not. I had to content myself with my weak assent.
"Ahh, good, Vinchlane. I am sure we can come to an understanding,
then." He threw back his hood. I soiled myself, another thing I
had not experienced since that first killing 30 years ago.
He would not divulge his name, and I did not press. I did not need
to put a name on the unspeakable. During our time over the next
month he often would remind me of my mortality. But better far to
die quick and clean than to live on in a manner such as that. Every
step he took brought with that same stench of the wet blight. I
would rather die a thousand times than have to carry around that
with me for my immortal existence.
I would not have dealt with him at all, if it weren't for the money.
An extremely large sum of money, more than I had ever earned for
all my jobs on Ispar and Dereth combined. An almost unbelievable
sum of money. It was the amount, actually, that led me to write
this. I have been in the business of men buying my unsavory talents
for a long time. When I am offered too much money for a job, it
means one of two things, either the man plans on killing me after
the job is done, or the man is a fool. This walking horror was no
fool. And I did not think I could handle him trying to kill me the
same way I handled it back on Ispar. I had not lived this long by
What he wanted was not trivial, even for my talents. While I was
primarily hired on Ispar for killing, I only took true pride in
the manual arts of defeating the lock. No man on either of the worlds
I have lived on were my equal in lockpicking. But never had I worked
with what the Horror had created. "Mnemosynes" he called them. He
was always arrogant and condescending, but never more so than when
he talked about his precious Mnemosynes and how they would save
the Dericost. I had no knowledge of who the Dericost were before
I ran into the Horror, but my time with him was a rapid education.
The Dericost were amassing for war. The Shadows were preparing to
free Bael'Zharon, an occurence the Horror felt must be prevented
at all costs. But there were worries amongst the undead that this
upcoming war might come at a grievous price for the Dericost. Their
society had endured for thousands of years, and much of their culture
could be lost forever if they suffered too many losses. As the Horror
told me one day, "Were your fledgling lives to vanish, not even
worms would note your passing. But the Dericost were promised eternity.
And eternity we shall have."
I should have felt insulted, but I was too busy puzzling over the
Mnemosynes. They truly were ingenious devices. And, unlike most
of my jobs involving a lockpick, this time my task wasn't to crack
open the Mnemosynes, but rather to figure out how to make sure no
one else did. The Mnemosynes allowed the Dericost to record their
thoughts and memories.
While I was with him, the Horror occasionally had meetings with
other horrors, talking about how they would distribute the Mnemosynes
and the instructions on their use to the various Dericostians once
the devices had been finished. Apparently the plan was that even
should the Dericost suffer devastation during the looming war, whatever
remnant survived would have access to the Dericostian heritage and
lore. Access, that is, guarded by the Horror and his cronies. They
seemed to think that was very important.
Personally, I wouldn't have minded if the whole race disappeared
into the hell from which they came. But as I said, it was a great
deal of money.
The Horror had known the broad outlines of how he wanted to construct
the Mnemosynes' locking process for quite some time. He had created
three different types of the Mnemosynes, as the Dericost varied
widely in terms of their age and knowledge, and while some Dericost
were worth the largest Mnemosynes that he had made, others "would
contribute little more than your outlander race could," in his words.
Because the larger Mnemosynes would be the most valuable, he knew
he needed a way of making them especially difficult to unlock.
The magical nature of the Mnemosynes and variations he desired in
their locking mechanisms led him to look into the inert remnants
of golems. He had been theorizing about "attuning" the various Mnemosynes
to different types of golem hearts. These golem hearts would then
function as keys. Of course, what good keys that any "fledgling"
newly arrived in this world could obtain? This was the reason why
he had contacted me. My task was to transform the golem hearts through
a process that only he and I would know, changing the raw material
into specific keys which could then be used on the Mnemosynes.
He had already chosen the three types of hearts he wanted me to
sculpt. Wood and metal and rock. My first step was to create a tool
that would allow me to work with all three. Once I had finished
crafting my instrument, then the real work began.
Regardless of the fact that you are reading this, and I am therefore
dead, do not think I was a stupid man. Had we met on Ispar, I very
likely would have been the last thing that you didn't quite see.
I have infiltrated palaces and slept with princesses, I have stolen
diamonds and rubies, I have wiped more blood off of my blade than
is contained in your body. I was a master, and you should respect
that. The Horror never respected me, and although I may not be around
to enjoy it, I wonder if he enjoyed the fruits of his betrayal?
I had insisted that I be allowed to work in private. He was convinced
that I was sufficiently cowed by the implicit threat of his power
not to try and disappear before I had completed the work. And well
he should have been convinced, as I was utterly certain that should
I try to back out of the deal, he or one of his minions would destroy
me beyond the power of any lifestone to bring me back.
But now that work is done. Three keys sit before me. Wood, copper,
obsidian. Crafted to the not-quite best of my ability. My carving
tool sits here too, possibly the finest work I have ever done. And
the last piece, this book, written in front of the flickering firelight.
Perhaps the last light and heat I shall know.
I realize it is possible I am making too much of this. It is possible
that I will deliver the keys and the tool, along with the knowledge
necessary to carve other keys, and he will hand me the agreed upon
sum. It is possible, but not likely. No.
From here, I go to drop off the carving tool, this book, and a letter
with an old friend of mine. I will give him instructions to release
the tool and the book to the various destination towns throughout
Dereth, should I not return on a daily basis to say hello. I will
tell him to send the letter as well, and I will warn him not to
tarry during the delivery, lest he see whom he delivers to.
And from there, I will go to meet the Horror. I suspect he will
let me live long enough to deliver the keys and the information
on how to craft them. And so during that time I will explain the
new complication in our relationship, and how only my continued
survival insures that he, and he alone, will have the ability to
safeguard the combined knowledge of untold years of Dericostian
culture. Otherwise the length and breadth of us "piglets" will soon
know the secrets of how to pillage the lost memories of a twice-dead
And I have purposefully made the keys in such a way that one only
needs to be a talented lockpick artist to fashion the keys. Talented,
but not a master.
I have done all that I can to insure my survival.
And should I be wrong, should all my hedges and guesses and instincts
come to naught, as one day they must, then will my letter go out.
It goes to a man who is not quite a man anymore.
Hamud is not the only Isparian who has given over to the Shadows,
he is merely the most famous.
And I am sure that this contact of mine will be quite happy to pass
along to the Shadows the news that I have to give. The Horror and
his assistants have talked much of what their battle plans will
be during this upcoming war over the Shadow Lord. They have talked
much and in detail. Details which I am sure will be interesting
to the Shadow leaders.
I have no doubt of the puissance of the Horror and his fellow Undead,
but I admit to a morbid curiosity at how he deals with an ambush
And who knows? Maybe I will come back to read this note years hence
and laugh at my foolish paranoia. Perhaps. It would be nice to think