Plots And Things
Azarna the Crow's Warden
Concept – Lost soul seeking purpose in Nirguna
Strengths – Knowledgeable about the past, ex-Scavenger Lord and Savant, capable of commanding and leading organizations, intermediary between living and dead.
Weaknesses – Lacks a sense of self, walks dangerous line of heresy, has difficulty interacting normally with others.
Favored Abilities – Occult, Lore, Melee, Socialize, Linguistics
The three figures gently set their burden down before falling to the ground in exhaustion. Looking back the way they had come, they could see the land spread out before them, farther perhaps than any of them had ever gone before. They were dressed in unadorned clothes, but well-kept and dirty only from their journey up the mountain side. Their appearance marked them as simple Children of the Earth, rugged and peaceful folk. The journey had taken them from when the sun barely peeked over the eastern treeline until the moment when it dipped below the shores to the west; the journey, no matter how fast one traveled, always took this long. Still, it was best not to dawdle, for the stories told of horrors that surfaced with the fall of the sun, that the only place of safety on this mountain was the summit with its ancient temple.
After resting for some minutes, they took up their burden and trudged up the steps of the temple. It was constructed of smooth obsidian, no lines could be seen, but a silvery metal traced archaic symbols up and down its surface. Up they went, buffeted by the constant wind and dust, until they reached the summit, with its tall and curving columns that came together to form the entryway into the interior. Before the arch, they saw him. Sitting in the lotus position, his eyes were closed to the world, a fine layer of dust had settled over his skin and clothes, his long silver was still as it cascaded down his robe, in his lap rested a skull laced with a web of a dark metal. Resting for a moment more, they prepared their offerings to the Raven’s Warden.
Jonas looked out the frost-glazed window at the city spread out before him. He often told people that there was no better view of Whitewall than the one from his study. His companions were in the square below, readying the horses for the trip to come. He smiled slightly as he glanced down at the ancient manuscript on his desk. Yanno had been reluctant to part with the map, but in the end had conceded. Jonas’ own group had the proper equipment and experience to actually plumb the depths of this new find. Yanno was a good man, and had a lot of promise, but his retinue was too new, too inexperienced, and didn’t have the proper funding for this kind of excavation. In exchange for the manuscript, Jonas had promised the man 10% of Jonas’ take as well as mention in any paper that might come of this; a more than far deal as far as Jonas was concerned.
Azarna had heard the first footsteps that fell on the mountain’s path, the sensation orbiting around his consciousness as he meditated. Their shuffling steps, their occasional muttered word of worry, the time the woman fell and slid to the cliff’s edge, all of these sensations and more accumulated at the periphery, joining other impressions of the world around him; the rise and fall of the sun, the withering and growth of the moon. Since he had last heard his Lord’s call, the moon had withered away to nothing, grown fat, and begun to wither away again. Before the people came, thoughts had come to him, questioning the meaning of his Lord’s absence, what his silence could possibly mean. He ignored them, and by ignoring them, they dissipated.
The trio achieved the summit. They arrayed candles before him and placed a lacquered box in the center. The oldest of the three, a man of thirty at most, began a recitation, a name, an age, a family, deeds and merits. It had been even longer since his Lord last called that villagers had come to him to beg intercession. The man’s words range true, the cause was in accordance with the laws, somewhere in him, a spark that should have guttered out long ago exulted at this chance.
The dust cascaded off of him as he stood before the three mortals. He walked slowly to them; his body limber even after its long hibernation. Standing before them, he knelt and gently took the box in hand. It would be fully night soon, the time would be right to cross over. With long strides, he started down the mountain trail. It wasn’t until he had crossed the line, some hours later, that he recognized the expressions on their faces. Joy.
The excavation had gone surprisingly well. The traps were ancient, but Jonas and his men were able to locate and disarm all but a few. He was fairly certain, after having discussed it at length with his savants that the complex dated from the early-middle years of the Shogunate, one of the richest periods in Creation’s history. Their wagons were already packed with objects that resonated with the savants’ essence, a haul to eclipse any other in recent memory. They had plumbed the depths of the complex with glee, until they arrived at its bottom, confronted by an object that ceased all work.
Jonas, with four of his most learned savants, spent days studying the object, a solid door twenty feet by ten, covered in elaborate prayers and exaltations in Old Realm. It was obviously a door to a tomb, but that by itself was not the problem. It was that the door, all of it, appeared to be crafted of a single piece of orichalcum, valuable beyond their ken. After days deliberating, they determined that while the above complex was Mid-Shogunate, it was constructed upon a tomb that dated from the earliest days of the Shogunate, when the Lawgivers were being cut down by the victorious Dragonbloods.
Thousands of years old, the Savants argued, the tomb belonged to scholars now, the inhabitant long since passed. But the possibility that the owner still existed, somewhere, nagged at Jonas. Yes, he had become rich from his excavations, but he always considered himself a scholar first and foremost. Not only a scholar, but a respectful one, ensuring that those places he excavated from knowledge belonged to no one, in Creation or the Underworld. Still, thousands of years had gone by and it would be miraculous for one to cling to existence for so long in the Underworld. He gave the order for the wall around the door to be torn down the next morning.
His men finished their preparations by the next afternoon, the door ringed with small essence charges that could melt through almost any material. As the door fell away, the eyes of all present widened as Jonas’ laugh filled the room.
Azarna walked through the ash plains, leaving the dark village behind him. The inhabitants knew what he was and had heard tell of who he was; recognition of this flickered within his mind. The story they told him held true an aphorism he had heard a few years ago, even ghosts have ghost stories. They came a few times a month. Powerful and insane, answering to none but their own unknowable masters. The nephwracks would take you, use you in some occult ritual, or simply reduce your corpus to soulsteel. He had heard it before and thought he had made the matter clear to them already, something akin to disappointment flickered through him.
The tunnel mouth was the barrier between the true Underworld and the Labyrinth. Walking the tunnels, he wondered what he would find. The supplicants told him their father had not answered their prayers in three weeks. If he had spent half as long with the nephwracks, then he did not expect to retrieve the ghost, at least not in any form his descendants would desire. A message must be sent though. A message to all, but especially to those who knew his pronouncements yet defied them. Hours passed before he came upon their settlement, walls tipped with soulsteel, a statement of wealth and a warning to those who came here, he had a statement of his own to share.
Jonas watched as the last of the goods were loaded onto the wagons, the last of the goods that would make it back with him on this trip at least. Happiness bubbled within him at the thought of the numerous trips he would make in the future to this place. His savants assured him that no ghost lingered still attached to the grave goods buried with it millennia ago. Even if there had been, he might have risked it for the wealth, as if wealth even approached what this find represented, this would bring him. As the last of the items were secured, a shout went up in the camp, riders coming.
He watched with curiosity as Yanno stepped his horse up to him. Smiling at the good fortune, more riders, more wagons, less risk of someone stealing his find, Janos waved at his friend. Happiness turned to confusion as Yanno drew out his flame piece, which quickly turned to pain and betrayal as the spout of flame engulfed his head. Jonas fell from his horse, his face ablaze, seeing dozens of his men fall from their horses.
The leader of the nephwracks had apologized profusely, explained the situation away as one of miscommunication. The creature’s words fell on deaf ears, a violation of law had taken place, but here, in the center of the nephwrack’s power, courtesy had to be observed. The ghost had long since been changed, a nephwrack itself now, and had renounced its former existence in totality. Its words rang in Azarna’s mind, a parallel to ones he once spoke. The punishment he meted out was in accordance with the laws and did not attack the leader’s power directly. While the leader accepted the punishment, those it targeted refused the justice of it, subordinates who were quickly dispatched to Oblivion.
Leaving the camp, Azarna walked steadily back to his home. The villagers would be told that their departed chief had not been as virtuous as they were and had renounced them, a half-truth. He would be struck from all books and tablets, his grave considered forfeit, an ignominious end and a lesson to all those who came after him.
Jonas floated in darkness for what seemed an eternity while the presence spoke with him. The presence offered much, and Jonas desired time to think. Thoughts came oddly here, wherever here was, muddled and foggy. Many emotions were unclear, half-felt, except for his desire for revenge, which burned hot and felt more real than any emotion ever had before. Revenge against his betrayer, the snake Yanno, vengeance for his comrades who fell to trickery. Moments passed before Jonas agreed to the terms the presence set forth and named it Lord.
His eyes opened to a night sky, points of light against the void above. He remembered feeling awe when looking up at the sky, but as he started up he experienced the memory of awe rather than the emotion. Looking around him, the dead were piled up, surrounded by a small mound of upturned soil. He could sense it, the salt that lay underneath the soil. Revulsion filled him, not only did Yanno betray his partners, but he almost ensured a wakening of the po and left it to be trapped, helpless in this place; the rage boiled up again.
Pushing his way out of the pile, he destroyed the ring of salt and set to work laying the dead to rest. A thought occurred to him as he did this, he was laying his friends to rest, not just the dead, but already it seemed distant, a memory or a distant thought, far from any emotional attachment. The work took him the better part of the night. When he began to set out, the sun rose, normally a welcome respite, but one that sent a wave of nausea over him. Returning to the safety of the underground compound, Jonas noticed that there was still much in the way of items to be had. Yanno had brought more wagons, but even those were not enough to haul away the riches of this place. Remembering the words of his savants, that no one remained who was attached to these items, he took up a sword of orichalcum and waited for the sun to depart the world again.
As twilight came, he set out. He flew across the ground, hunting his quarry.
Azarna sat in the lotus position high on the mountain. The moon was fat again and the dust thick on his hair. Motion caught his eye, a bird, a raven as it came closer. Settling on a wooden post not far from him, the raven ruffled its feathers and began to preen itself. Azarna rose, walked over to the raven, and put his ear near its beak. Some time passed as Azarna nodded once, twice, before whispering in the raven’s ear his reply.
A feeling that was a shadow of purpose came over him, nearly exhilarated him. His Lord called upon his services, and the Warden would answer.
The man was crumpled in a corner, face white with fear. Around him, the house blazed on fire, the screams of his wife and child could be heard still. He had heard of the murders, each of his men had been killed over the previous fortnight, their bodies found the next day, mutilated, drained of blood, or as shambling corpses that walked the streets. He feared that the tomb’s owner was upon them, a ghost of terrible might. He had hired dozens of guards, and half the thaumaturges in town, money was of no concern, to protect him. The creature standing before him, sword dripping with blood, had walked through the wards as if through paper.
The creature loomed closer, close enough so that the fire reflected from the window illuminated his face. Yanno’s eyes widened and he began to crawl forward, begging forgiveness from Janos. The sword came down in a flash, sending Yanno’s head flying upwards. Azarna delicately caught the head in one hand, letting the golden sword drop to the ground.
The district was ablaze behind him as he walked the snowy streets of Whitewall. Azarna held the head before him, studying it in the moonlight. The rage that had filled him for the past two weeks was gone now, turned to cold ash, a slight feeling of curiosity came over him that such emotion could leave so suddenly. But there was a new feeling now, a feeling that something important needed to be done tugging at his soul. Azarna walked through the gate, the watchmen oblivious to him, as he left the protective runes of the city, turning to the southeast, a raven flapped down and settled on his shoulder. Something powerful called and he would answer.