The Gong Show
The Incident in the Library
The following is a private correspondence from Sollein to her mentor and closest friend in the Pavillion of the Host.
Dear Brother Feldlaw,
You must forgive me for not saying this in person, but it would be best if I avoid the Pavilion until things calm down a bit. However, you have my sincerest thanks for your kind words in my defense at the hearing yesterday. I’m sure if it were not for your testimony, I might lie rotting in a dungeon right now instead of just pursuing a new career.
I have never had a great many allies, but you have been a true friend since the day I arrived at The Pavillion. That my friendship has cost you so much, pains me more than I can say. Yet, I must ask one more favor from you. However, before I ask, I must tell you the whole story of what happened. Someone should know, and I’m afraid I have nothing else to offer you in return for your help.
It began some weeks ago in Tradefair – as I made my way off the lift and through the crowd, I felt a tap on my shoulder and when I turned, a filthy unkempt man stood before me smiling wildly. He pressed something into my hand and said with the accent of a Marcher, “Have you spoken your lines today?”
I stood stunned for a moment, as you might well imagine. I had to fight the urge to stab him on the spot, but before I could make any kind of response he darted back through the crowd. I started after him, but he climbed onto the railing and turned to face me. He stared right at me and smiled madly again as he fell backward.
Peering over the edge, I saw his remains making a mess of the cobble stones hundreds of feet below. While there was a bit of commotion on the ground level, not many people took much notice where I was. Still, I didn’t want to have anyone asking me questions I did not have answers for, so I quietly hurried from the scene. Remembering he had given me something, I opened my hand and revealed a small slip of paper on which was written “Verses for the Pallid Mask”.
It seemed to be the title of a book, but it was not anything I had heard of before. A desire for answers overran my better judgment and I hurried back to the temple, but I could not find anything resembling that title in the card catalog when I returned. However, I didn’t want to ask around and arouse suspicion, in case it turned out to be some infamous tome of occult lore. The others stare at me askance and whisper behind my back enough as it is. I did keep an eye out for it as I went about my normal business and spent much of my free time scouring the shelves after hours.
After a few days, I finally found it late one night sitting on the shelf in the northern wing of the library hidden amongst the other books of poetry. Verses for The Pallid Mask turned out to be a rather slim and nondescript volume. I reached to pull it down from the shelf, and as I touched it, that was the first time that I saw the creature. It was just a dark shape out of the corner of my eye that seemed impossibly tall, but when I turned to look at it, there was nothing there. I didn’t think much of it at the time, it could have easily been a trick of the lights or a tired mind, but with hindsight I know that was the first time I saw that creature.
I took the book from the shelf and settled in at one of the tables. The book itself was filled with the most seemingly banal poetry, and contained no information as to its authorship or when it was made. I read through much of it that night and aside from the uniformly terrible quality of the writing, nothing really stood out about the book. I began to consider that I was wasting my time, but the apparent reappearance of that cult fomented what I can only describe as a maniacal curiosity.
I put it back on the shelf and retired for the evening, but I came back to it the next day and finished reading it. I had no new insights on completing it, but I thought maybe there could be some kind of hidden meaning in the poems. In my spare time for the next couple of weeks or so, I carefully read each poem, analyzing metaphors, cross referencing it with other works for allusion and so on. I failed to come up with anything terribly useful, but there was something about it which drove me on. I told myself that if that cult had not been completely destroyed and was still active, I would need to know and that this was my only lead.
Eventually, I began working on my second idea, which was that the book was some kind of code and by picking through patterns in words and letters, that a second hidden text would emerge. I was at that for another week, spending more and more of my time in the library scribbling notes late into the night. In fact, this became quite an obsession during that time and my regular work began to suffer. My also sleep became fitful and my dreams disturbed – I was again haunted by memories of my childhood with the cult as I had not been for some time.
However, the worst part was that creature constantly hiding at the edge of my vision. As I worked longer and longer at that little book, later and later into the night I saw it more frequently. Yet it coyly refused direct observation. At first I would only see it when I was alone late at night, but as time wore on, it came more frequently and would show up even at dinner with the other priests, but no one else ever saw anything. Eventually, I became skilled at studying it indirectly, trying to make out what detail I could without actually looking at it. Unfortunately, this yielded little about it other than that it was black, vaguely humanoid, but inhumanly tall and thin and had a brilliantly white face.
Eventually, I had a new thought regarding my investigations into the book. Perhaps the book was encoded, but it was encoded from another language into Galifarian common. I began working on ways to cipher the common characters into Daelkyr since that is the only other language which I have yet learned. I wasn’t sure if that would just be another dead end, but given how I learned of this book, it seemed as reasonable as anything to try. As you might have guessed, the incident occurred the night that I finally cracked its code.
Though I was foolish enough to do it in the first place, I will not compound my error by telling you the key, but suffice it to say that when I did crack it, I did not realize it until it was too late. I thought I had hit a dead end again and as I was reading back through my notes looking at the strings of nonsense Deep Speech words I had produced in my various attempts, and found myself idly sounding them out…
The broken lines from my childhood came unbidden to my lips once more before I realized what I had done. They reverberated impossibly loud in my mind as I fought to stop them. As I clutched at my head and collapsed out the chair, the room began to darken as I saw the cold flame torches wink out one by one. In the growing darkness, I could see some of the other priests rushing into the library as the world disappeared.
Soon I could see nothing, with only the sound of an unfamiliar voice which I knew to be my own filling the darkness. An eternity seemed to pass in the span of a few seconds, as a sign seemed to fix itself in the void. It was a sign I knew well, as it was one of the signs I have borne for most of my life, and the second one that I was to complete for the ritual. However, the sign I saw was not as it appeared carved into my right calf, this one was completed. The sign grew in intensity until it dominated my senses and even my own voice faded into the liminal reaches of awareness before everything disappeared back into darkness.
As my faculties returned, I realized I could still see the library in the faint light that came in through the windows. What I saw then was a scene of chaos. A roaring gale tore through the room scattering books and papers about and causing the other priests to brace themselves as they hurried to either help or stop me. Brother Ormran was the first to near me, however before he could reach me, several great tentacles shot down from some unknown source our of the darkness and hurled him back across the room, which then proceeded to thrash senselessly, smashing shelves and upending tables.
Nearer at hand, I found that I now held my dagger, which upon seeing it drip with blood, I promptly dropped. I knew then what had happened in that moment when I was consumed by mindless delirium, and I became aware of a burning pain in my leg. I could see the other priests shouting at each other and at me, but I could not make out any of what was said over the sound of destruction and wind.
As another priest was struck to the floor by a flailing tentacle I cast my gaze about the room trying in vain to think of some way to stop this madness, and that is when I saw the creature again. This time it was not hiding in the corner of my vision, disappearing as I looked directly at it. It stood there motionless, staring directly at me from across the library. I still could not make out much detail in the darkness, but it must have stood roughly twice my height and it was draped completely in tattered black cloth. However, what I could clearly see was the featureless white mask it wore. I stood utterly transfixed for a moment as I gazed into the empty blackness of where eyes should have been in that mask.
Possessed with terror, I grabbed my dagger again, ran out of the library and back to my cell. I threw open the door and slammed it shut behind me an quickly locked it. However, when I turned back into the room, there filling my view – tattered black cloth. My gaze followed it up towards the ceiling, and looming above me was that featureless mask. I sobbed silently and shut my eyes as I slid to the floor with my back against the door.
Trapped in my room with a faceless monster that had been haunting my vision for weeks, and having inadvertently completed another piece of the dark ritual to which my life was once shackled, I despaired greater than at any time in my life. I clutched at the Celestial Crown which hung around my neck and did the only thing that someone in that position could do – I prayed. I prayed to The Sovereigns with the first simple prayer I learned as a girl soon after I was rescued from the cult. Had I the presence of mind to pray for anything in particular at that moment, it would have only been for a swift journey to Dolurrh. However, as I prayed I felt a warmth from the pendant and then in my leg. Even through tightly shut eyes, I saw a flash of light.
The burning in my leg had stopped, and tears were no longer streaming down my face. When I opened my eyes, the creature was gone and I was alone in my room. I checked my leg, and wiping away the blood, my heart sank once again as I saw that although the wound itself had healed, the second sign was now complete. The same inky black stain which traced the first completed symbol, now appeared marking the completion of the second.
And now you are the only person who knows what happened that night. It is by the graces of Olladra alone that no one died or was seriously injured, although I feel terrible about what did happen to Brothers Ormran and Kalton. It was good to hear they are recovering well from their injuries. Also, I am confused as to how the others did not see the tentacles or the creature, since the tentacles at least, were clearly there. However, it did make it easier to plead ignorance at the hearing.
As for me, I have seen no sign of that creature or anything else unusual in the days since the incident. I have been doing some experimentation, and it seems that the miraculous healing I exhibited that night was not a fluke; I now posses some limited ability to magically heal wounds. It seems there really is some power of prophecy in that Jorasco mark I somehow ended up with. Additionally, I have exhibited some other abilities which should prove useful in the defense of the faithful.
Speaking of which, I’m not sure where exactly this new trajectory is leading me, but I have purchased a suit of mail and some adventuring supplies with what little money I had saved up. You see, I realize now that even if I hadn’t been ejected from the Pavilion’s temple of Aureon, I can no longer content myself to spending my life hiding in a library. Not only does the cult not seem to be completely destroyed, there are many things in this world, below it and beyond it which would destroy civilization and everything that we stand for as vassals of The Sovereign Host. I once sought to only to spend my spare evenings reading about these threats as if they were some rare and distant curiosity; I should have known better than anyone that this is not the case. I know now that my task is to go into the dark places of the world and to fight these threats.
As for that favor I mentioned at the beginning, please try to discover where that book came from and what happened to it. I did get a chance to go back into the library the day after the incident, but I could find no trace of it or my notes. However, it was something of a mess in there and I might have just missed it, but I doubt it will prove that simple. It is important that I know what I can about how it came to be in the library and its ultimate origin. I ask though, that you not tell anyone or put yourself in any kind of danger over this. If you find my notes, destroy them immediately. If you find the book, don’t touch it, just let me know where it is and I will retrieve it.
As is the world, so are the gods. As are the gods, so is the world.
P.S. -– Please destroy this letter after you have read it. For both of our sakes.