The story behind a cursed item from my DND campaign
After looming over the horizon for nearly two weeks, the towering trunks of the Southwoods finally became clear enough for Yorick to judge their height; they truly were massive.
He’d passed small groves in the highlands of Tierum, little seclusions from the wide expanse of the plains, but the Southwoods were different. Where the groves had been welcome shelter, the Southwoods loomed ominously like the walls of some great impenetrable fortress. The oaken spires far surpassed the height of any man-made keep, though, and for a moment Yorick faltered.
The Voice again. Emanating from somewhere within his mind, soothing his trepidation.
‘Your answer lies within’
And he knew it did. The Voice had lead him this far.
It had started not long after he’d begun his quest. Late, when the moon rose and filtered through the trees and his campfire’s embers had become cold. Among the gentle sighs and creaks of the branches, a whisper found him.
‘Yorick the Hunter’
Faint, and in his drowsiness indistinguishable from the other thought swirling in his sleepbound mind.
‘Yorick the Deathless, you someday hope’
A vision — a dream? Of Yorick, standing atop a cliff, bow in hand, as storms and sun swept by, and cities — no, whole kingdoms — rose and fell, and the wheels of seasons turned endlessly while he watched, ever enduring, from his perch.
He rode his horse to the edge of the Southwoods; the treetops flew so far overhead now that he nearly fell off of his saddle craning for a glimpse.
The horse became anxious — he found that he could not direct it into the woods for more than a few yards, before the creature was overwhelmed with panic and flew back towards the sunlight.
He continued on foot.
The sun had only just begun to set when he entered the forest, but it was mere minutes before the any light the sky still held was blotted out by the branches overhead. Darkness fell around him like a familiar cloak, and his movements fell into the familiar rhythm of a ranger on the hunt.
He woke to the warmth of a sunbeam on his cheek. With the dream’s weight still heavy in his head, he began to clean his campsite. It was a ranger habit, more than an actual precaution. Dirt swept over the coals, campfire rocks scattered across the forest floor, and any impressions or footprints carefully re-blended into the forest floor. As he stood to assess his work, a blemish in one of the trees — the tree he’d been sleeping in, he realized — stood out to him.
He scaled the tree, racking his memory for any recollection of the marks from the night before. As he swung to the branch above, it became clear that the mark was writing. Common, albeit written delicately, especially given the medium.
`Yorick the Deathless — Seek Tierum`
The shock was enough for him to lose his grip on the branches, sending him tumbling to the ground. His legs met the ground softly, and he stayed crouched for a time, pondering the message.
Another whisper. Destiny, guiding him to complete his journey; he was sure of it. He saddled his horse, and rode west.
The masks unnerved him.
They’d appeared after several hours of travel — a handful at first, bobbing among the branches. Then more appeared, peeking around from the trees ahead of him, and floating lazily behind. They’d been subtle at first, but grew less cautious as he continued, remaining in clear sight for longer and longer.
The masks were simple — two hollow, black holes, with varying still, painted faces. Some bore a smile, stretching across the mask from side to side. Others, simply a grim slash of a mouth, as if a brush had been swept carelessly past the mask.
They made him feel like quarry. They were waiting. Observing. But they never ventured too close, and the Voice calmed his nerves.
‘Spirits of Tierum. Children of the Forest.’
‘Vicious to the uninvited, but a friend to those whom destiny favors.’
Yorick lost track of the hours. There was no meaningful way to measure time in the forest. Steps? Trees? Both were endless.
Until, out of that sea of time and trees and travel, a break in the woods appeared. Firelight flickered through the trees, and shadows rose to dance upon the bark of the woods.
The masks chattered, a sound like rustling branches and clicking teeth. Yorick stepped into the clearing.
A stately building sat upon the forest floor, each corner marked by a stone bowl of fire. Vines crept high along its gilded walls, as if to keep the building from floating away into the forest canopy. At the entrance, a set of stone stairs lead to a bright golden door, above which sat the inscription, “Tierum Archives”.
Energized by the sudden break in monotony, Yorick jogged up the stone stairs, pausing just ahead of the threshold. His hand found his quiver, and he cautiously extended an arrow to touch the golden doors. When he was satisfied there were no traps or trickery, he scraped the arrowhead firmly against them. The arrowhead sank, ever so slightly, into the door, marking it as true gold. The doors alone would have been worth a kingdom, Yorick noted.
An impulse towards reverence took him by surprise, and he found himself pausing to acknowledge the atmosphere of import that surrounded the building.
‘You are close. Steps away.’
The Voice broke his meditative state, and he placed a hand on each door, pressing against the priceless portals. They gave way easily, revealing a massive library of scrolls and tomes. The smells of parchment and ink, unfamiliar to Yorick, struck his nose with a pungency that surprised him. The scents of knowledge, he thought.
Shelves lined the walls from floor to ceiling, and ornate ladders clung to the bookcases at various intervals. Tables, piled high with yet more papers and books, filled the room. At the center of the library lay a massive codex, unopened, on a dais carved with the faces of the Dual God Sier. The Voice beckoned him towards it, and Yorick strode towards the book.
With his first step into the Archive, the book’s cover sprang open — each step beyond elicited a shuffling of pages, until Yorick found himself peering down at the massive sheets of parchment bound within.
The open pages described a spell — a ritual spell, of which Yorick had never heard. The aim was clear — immortality. A bulwark against time and decay. The object of Yorick the Hunter’s quest, and now the sum of his years of wandering.
The ritual required only two components — first, a dear belonging, one that the caster cherished above all other possessions. Second, the blood of the caster, willingly given. All of the caster’s blood, more precisely. In return, the caster’s soul would be sequestered in the object, shielded from the ravages of time and the dangers of flesh.
The Voice crooned to him sweetly now. His head became foggy and warm, intoxicated by the thought that he, Yorick the Hunter, would ascend every other mortal on the Plateau, and be etched, static and unchanging, into the world.
His eyes never left the book, as he unslung his bow. He’d never given the bow a name, but it had served him since the day of his father’s burial, when it had passed to him by rights of inheritance. It had been the only constant in his life for more than a century, and it alone had fed him, defended him, and accompanied him through every trial.
He placed it on the floor, and removed another arrow from his quiver. It was cold against his skin, and he could feel the rhythm of his pulse beating against the steel.
Yorick grit his teeth for an instant, shut his eyes, and sliced from his wrist to his elbow, holding his arm above the bow. The incantation flew from his mouth in weak, uneven spurts, softening as he felt life drain from him. His head drooped weakly, and his eyes fell. Every drop of blood sank into the bow, like unfinished wood taking on a crimson stain.
‘Sleep now, Hunter, and awaken, Deathless’
Darkness crept at the edges of his vision, encroaching upon the world bit by bit until he was blanketed in black.
To be continued.