Kadrim's Entry 1
1379 – Year of the Red Rage
Marpenoth 2, 6th Day
It is said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. If the old proverb holds any truth it should be reason for concern. For most, my eyes are disconcerting to the soul, and whether a soul resides within me is currently up for debate (and a wager or two down at the Bleeding Wolf Tavern).
A faint bioluminescence emits from solid, silvery white eyes set deep into sunken sockets. If not for the shadows cast onto those drastic hollows by my brow, it would be difficult to draw boundaries between them and the pale ashen skin that clings to my skull in the semblance of a waxen mask. Of course, if one bothered to inspect closely they would discover the pupiless orbs did contain distant points of light, as if a fire burned from some unseen brazier. This however is not a problem that presents itself often. Even the vast majority of my subordinate ranking guards will not meet my gaze unless absolutely necessary and then it is with nervousness and flitting eyes.
I stand up from the battered old oak table that I’ve been sitting at for the better part of a bell’s length and walk across the dimly lit quarters to a small wooden chest at the foot of my bed. Raising a small mirror to my face I take one last look at my curiously unfamiliar features before wrapping it securely in rabbit hide and retiring it back into the chest alongside some of my scant belongings. There was a time when I would stare into that mirror at great lengths in an attempt to jog my mind for any fragment of a memory that would allude to a past before the awakening. As I stand crouched beside the chest a cool draft is noticeable from underneath the heavy door that leads out to the hallway. The month’s of the year are falling away as quickly as the leaves on the trees, and the High Harvest Tide has already come and gone in celebration of this year’s abundant crops. Now the winds are a harbinger of the coming winter as they muster the courage to bite with more ferocity once the setting sun turns it’s focus to lands beyond the Shimmering Coast. I for one happen to enjoy the colder weather. It has a comfort that reminds me of… and this is where the difficulty begins. I’m not quite sure what it reminds me of. A dream perhaps? Maybe a place I grew up as a child? Maybe nothing at all.
I linger a while longer crouched down by the edge of the bed allowing the cold air to brush over my skin before making the decision to rise back up. As I do I take a glimpse at the odd collection of personal items in the chest. A few books on ancient text, the mirror, a few articles of clothing that just never felt right, an assortment of raven’s feathers. For a chest of personal belongings the contents sure feel impersonal. The chest shuts with a dull thud and the iron latch swings down into place. I never bother locking it. Maybe someone else could get more use out of the elaborate Captain of the Guard uniform folded up at the bottom of the chest. I had convinced Count Josiah Irons to allow me a more unassuming outfit enabling me to blend in to my surroundings with greater ease. My case was that it was too difficult to assess the actual behavior of the soldiers when they could see me parading in from a mile away. The truth is, I prefer to escape notice whenever possible to avoid the need to interact with others. Unlike most men, the Count always returned my gaze with a steely eyed intensity and that time was no exception. It was as if he was searching for something hidden deep in the recesses of my mind. His countenance gave no indication of what his true emotions were as he is a powerful man capable of powerful feats. He had stared at me long with an air of both curiosity and knowing but to my advantage, if I do harbor hidden secrets, they are secret to even myself. I am unsure as to whether or not he believed in my rationalisation, but he awarded me his consent none-the-less.
I look around my relatively barren room as I amble back towards the old oak table. The candles have little life left in them and the small flames sway back and forth with a weariness befitting the lateness. It is well into the heart of night I imagine.
I survey the table. Parchment paper, arena battle reports, weaponry orders, a half eaten plate of cold mutton. A large map of Umberlin and the surrounding territories peeks out from underneath the pile of paperwork. I rest my hands on the edges of the table and hunch my medium frame over the map.
I am roughly 6’2” and though muscular, nothing extraordinary when stacked up against other races such as the Dragonborn or Goliath’s that inhabit the area. Ragnarok, who is the arena champion and charged with the training of the gladiators, is an immense example of one such Dragonborn. All the same, I feel awkward and oversized at times and need to remind myself that I’m larger than I realize to avoid bumping into low hanging obstacles.
Reaching out, I slide the papers away that clutter the tabletop revealing the map underneath. The parchment paper is well worn by age and touts an assortment of ring shaped stains most likely from mead filled goblets. It is obvious a previous owner preferred to study the lands with a heady perspective. Aside from the heavy use, it is a very well made map. The time and care the cartographer took to record the surrounding land and features is apparent in the detail.
I trace my finger along the road that runs East from Umberlin to Tir-Nog Station, the guard outpost a hard day’s ride away, that separates the outlying agricultural farmland surrounding Umberlin and the wilder lands beyond eventually giving way to the Black Marsh. Tir-Nog provides relative safety and order for the peat farmer and peat harvesting plant communities scattered throughout the wooded bog lands surrounding the black marsh. The production of the valuable resource for composting purposes was a boon to the agricultural farmers of Umberlin and as such their safety and safe passage was provided for by the city guard.
I continue drawing my finger along the map east and south from Tir-Nog Station, slowly. Following first a well worn road and then trailing off to a foot path marking an eventual freshwater source, and then… a pathless journey deep into the black marshes itself. I drag my finger ever slower towards an unmarked spot on the map I can picture as vividly as if I was standing there.
The strike tone from the Temple bell tower rings out audibly marking the passage of night and hastens me back to the present. The initial percussiveness of the bell strike fades away leaving only a discordant hum reverberating through me and to my core. An intense dizziness presses outward from my head to my stomach and then consuming my body. I recall another time when I experienced a feeling like this. I swallow hard and stabilize myself against the sturdy oak table. Opening my eyes I take focus on my arms as I use them to prop myself up from reeling forward. My gaze runs their full length to where my flesh abandons the appendages and makes room for scales. At first blending with the texture and color of my skin and gradually becoming thicker and darker at the extremities. At points, even resembling feathers. At the end of each digit is a claw the color of onyx and resembling that of a wild animal’s. Another of my oddities that I have no answers for or any memory of how they came to be. I glance back to the unmarked point on the map.
Back to the point of the awakening.
Again, the temple bell strikes out in a clear note and then gives way to a humming which triggers nausea and spatial disorientation in me. Once more I attempt to steady myself, though with less success than before, and my head comes near to touching the cool flat surface of the table. The candles, all but deceased and with their final breaths, flicker and cast shadows in strange patterns against the ink lines meticulously drawn onto the map. I imagine myself running through heavy forest and vegetation as the light of the sun forces its way through the canopy of trees producing a similar flickering pattern.
I raise my head slightly, take a deep breath and try to shake the daze.
The “awakening” as I had come to refer to it was my only point of reference to describe my earliest consciousness. Not that my memories were in any way linear from that day forth, only that it provided an anchor point for my actuality. In fact most of my consciousness is a foggy timeline that blurs from one day into the next. My eyes wander again to the unassuming point on the map.
Darkness. Utter darkness.
I gasp for breath and feel bitter cold air rush into my lungs filling the cavities seemingly to the point of bursting.
Head and heart pounding.
I choke and sputter on subsequent breaths and feel as though my throat is on fire. I try swallowing to assuage the extreme discomfort but cannot draw enough saliva to effectively perform the task and succeed only in aggravating my swollen air passage further through a succession of dry heaves. The violent act amplifies the pounding in my head until I can no longer differentiate a beginning or an end to the pulsing. Only the sensation of constant pressure as if trapped in some great bell tower during the sounding of midnight remains.
With some effort I’m able to gain a small amount of composure when the realization of a greater predicament sets in. Now I sit absolutely still in the darkness that engulfs me and do my best to battle the onset of panic and assess my situation. I do my best to allow my other senses to take over given the lack of light. Spreading my fingers out across the floor to gain a better sense of my position it appears that I’m sitting on cool dry soil. The only audible sound is the bell like hum which has diminished enough now to allow my still heavy pulse to break the monotonous ringing with it’s rhythmic pattern. Relaxing a little I force a slowed breathing pattern to relieve the strained beating of my heart. The exercise does little for my accelerated pulse but does give me a chance to calm my nerves. I now sense a soft breeze moving at and around me on its journey to some unseen dark realm and i notice that the air seems colder in the direction it travels. I must be in a tunnel… and most tunnels, in some fashion, lead to the Underdark. I do my best to remember how I came to be here but the attempt only agitates my already throbbing head. Shapes… flowing colors… electric wind, light and dark, unintelligible whispers is all my mind lights upon before drifting away like the breeze in the tunnel. Sitting here won’t solve anything. I must begin moving and decide to move in the direction of the breeze. I stretch my arms out and move to what I believe is the direction of the wall. Through either sheer luck or some innate ability, I find a wall with relative ease. Then, an opposing wall. Standing has relieved some of the pressure in my head and I no longer feel as if my heart will jump from my chest. I feel oddly comfortable now in the dark tunnel and am actually surprised to realize that I have a good sense of my bearings. I move towards what seems to be up and out. The gradual incline is in no way a straight line and I pass what appears to be several side passages or doorways. I give brief inspection of the alternate tunnels before moving forward trusting in my instincts to lead me in the right direction.
Light. At first just a pinpoint in the distance that plays tricks on my eyes like a mirage. I pick up my pace now… then, a definite outline of passage to the outside world. I can smell the freshness of the air as it pours into the tunnel in small gusts and pick up my pace again.
Emerging from the tunnel’s entrance, though the sky is overcast and a layer of heavy fog clings to the marshy ground, I am instantly blinded by the contrasting intensity of the daylight from the blackness of the Underdark. I lower myself to one knee and close my eyes while shrouding my face with my left arm to shield the penetrating rays of light. After allowing for time to adjust, I slowly open my eyes again as my vision begins to focus on my surroundings. I am kneeling next to the old oak table in my captain’s quarters. The candles have been completely extinguished and the only light illuminating the room pours in through the moonlit window.
As suddenly as the vision had occurred it was gone again leaving me fully exhausted and shaken. Finally, with great determination I pull myself to my feet and struggle the 10 or so feet to my bed collapsing onto the cool mattress. Mind racing, I need to focus on something… anything other than the puzzling event that just took place. I force myself to think about the tasks for the upcoming day. It would be long and dawn would be arriving all too soon. The Count has plans of unleashing the Dragon Dormistos on some poor souls in tomorrow’s final arena event. This will most likely send the crowd into a frenzy and I will need to take extra precautions by increasing the guard presence to maintain proper control. I let my mind wander to the upcoming mundane duties before finally making the decision to retire for the night.
With one last labored push, I roll over onto my back and exhale deeply as my body settles in to the soft bedding. Clouds drift by far off in the distance as I stare up and out through the singular high-set room window. They take the shape of strange otherworldly creatures as they pass across the moonlit night sky and I imagine myself drifting away with them to some other surreal half forgotten dream… like another existence.
Eyes closed. Darkness. Utterly familiar darkness.