There are things in every person’s life that they don’t talk about. This isn’t necessarily because they are ashamed of their actions or because they simply lack the words to properly express their thoughts on the subject, though both of these can be excellent motivations for continued quiescence. Sometimes – this time – it’s for a far simpler reason: We have no one left whom we can speak with. So we have determined to chronicle our thoughts down here. Do not misunderstand; this is neither an attempt at absolution, nor a cry for understanding. What, then, is this? To be honest, we don’t even understand the full reason we put pen to paper in this regard.
Do we simply attempt to organize our thoughts before the end is upon us?
Do we seek to unburden ourselves in the only manner left us?
Or do we simply seek to drive that impending end from our thoughts in whatever manner possible, such as dwelling on the recent past?
Phaw! Such pointless meanderings are best left to those with a preponderance of time and a minority of intellect. So then we are left with nothing but to begin, and where else but at the beginning?
We were bor.., no at this point it was simply I, I was born to a trader woman who had a penchant for “mysterious men”. The one thing that nearly all men of mysterious origins have in common is that they have mysterious endings and this was no different. Shortly after my mother’s dalliance she found herself alone and tending business while fat with child. My father never deigned to darken this particular town’s borders again. I bear him no ill will in this regard, he was obviously unfit for the responsibilities of being a father and I believe I am better for his acceptance of this. I had seen nearly 5 years pass, however, before my mother reconciled herself to this fact and found a man of far less mysterious leanings and continued in her pursuit to build a family. Three years, one brother and twin sisters later and her desire was fulfilled and my family was complete with six members.
We have mentioned that my mother was a trader. She dealt in anything that would gain her a copper and she had a keen eye for it most times. Her failures to turn a profit on her commodities were few enough that we can count them on one hand; one such failure however shaped our life in far greater ways than we would know at the time. Mother had acquired a set of books dealing with a variety of topics; medicine, history of nations long turned to dust, bits of religious lore, and cooking, of all things. Mother was able to resell most of the books but the one on cooking sat and collected no small amount of dust. Any goodwife worth her cook fire simply ignored what they felt was a rather dubious collection of untested recipes that disagreed with what they had learned while still on their own mother’s apron strings.
My own dignity knew no such affronts. At that age my days were typically spent watching my siblings however Arton was more interested in following me around the house while Marjorie and Rosemary distracted themselves by alternating between the activities all babes specialize in: bawling for food and sleeping. I started to read the book out of sheer boredom but soon found a love for the idea of mixing various ingredients, which on their own were dull and unimaginative, into something fit for consumption. When I finally decided to test my culinary skill it was, of course, a spectacular failure and resulted in a rather firm application of a switch to my tender bottom for wasting food. Even at that age I was nothing if not headstrong and within a respectable amount of time amount of daily switching dwindled to zero and I took on a new responsibility; the family’s meal preparation was left in my hands.
Inevitability, repetition led to boredom, which led to experimentation, which led to still more switching but I managed to improve my skill.
Too soon the improvement slowed from a lack of challenge and I grew bored with the entire exercise. Thankfully Desna smiled upon me and during a trip to the apothecary’s house to deliver a few items he took note of the passion in my voice while talking of my endeavors. He explained how mixing ingredients for a meal and mixing herbs for a poultice are strongly intertwined and my interest was rekindled.
Damnation. No, this is dull, even to us there is no point in retelling our – my, tale from this far back. Why would whether I enjoyed cooking as a child matter one whit? It doesn’t. We admit that it might shine a light on my youth, but truly it serves no real point.
Let us skip to something from the more recent past: Ziggurat. They came to our – my town shortly after my thirteenth year. We thought they were a breath of fresh air in an otherwise dank and musty grotto. Ahh, the bliss that comes from ignorance!
They were supposed to help revitalize our township, bring in new work and more people to grow our small town into a metropolis to make the most urbane citizen quiver with jealous rage. So of course I sought them out immediately looking to ply whatever skills I could within their walls. At that point I was helping at the Tylwyth, my father’s tavern [The official name of his tavern was cylch y Tylwyth Teg which I learned much later was an old elven phrase for a mushroom ring, or faerie circle. Not important in the least, but still worth mentioning. I suppose. Or perhaps not.]. I, however, yearned for something else and while my father appreciated my help he didn’t truly need it. Persistence and, to be honest, a lack of people willing to step up quickly enough I was able to gain an apprenticeship of sorts with Ziggurat.
This is where my tale begins to expand a bit and become our tale, though we are getting ahead of ourselves. Arton had long since grown tired of following me around and asking questions about whatever book I had my face in and had instead begun running around town seeking to entertain himself. His days were filled with chasing dogs, playing soldier with the other boys his age, throwing rocks at trees, rivers, dogs, friends, birds, whatever happened to be in front of him when he clutched a stone in his fist, really. He would still take an interest in what I was doing, but never for long as he was more focused on the physical than the cerebral. The twins took more heavily after their father than Arton did and at nearly 5 years old, they would alternate between silent stares that made you wonder how old they were behind those clear eyes and sudden outbursts of joyous laughter and dancing. Father said that it was not uncommon behavior among elven, or in this case half-elven, children and that it would find balance as they grew older. I do not wish to propagate any stereotypes, but despite our shared human mother, they did have a very elven manner about them; all manner of animal would quiet around the twins and even the most rambunctious dogs never attempted to jump up upon them. They would content themselves simply with lying down and receiving attention from the girls. I tried often to understand it over the years but it defied explanation.
All in all, the children no longer needed any real supervision and I was free to pursue my work at Ziggurat. Of course there were complaints against them from various factions and peoples, but I was too enamored with what I could learn. Besides, if these people were truly wronged by Ziggurat why would they spread slander and not seek judgment? My initial work for them was simple enough, running around the facilities grabbing things that various employees needed; I believe my official position was ‘fetchling’. It took some time but I was able to find ways to show my intellect and curiosity to those whose opinion of such things mattered and within a year’s time I found myself promoted to junior alchemist.
Ziggurat was a very competitive place to apprentice and work and while I made many friends – nay, friendly acquaintances, we constantly sought to outdo each other. Some of these contests I won, others I lost all of them however taught me something new. By my second year as junior alchemist I won more than I lost and in my third year I made my masterwork piece by preventing the death of a group of juniors who sought to sabotage my work. We wish we could say that it was out of heroism, or at least altruism that we saved them. Instead it was simply out of a spirit of competition.
Anders was another junior alchemist who disliked the shadow I cast over his work. I was working on a small infusion, something to reduce the effects of over consumption of alcohol. I had already learned however to never leave my work unattended for fear of mischievous tampering from my peers. Previous tampering had taught me that if I left behind a clean space they would simply mangle my instruments or worse, my ingredients so I had begun to leave behind a false sample rather than the true. Anders took the opportunity I had availed him to make his move. Had he simply diluted the false sample, or even polluted it with something benign there would have been nothing to talk of that day but he was feeling particularly vindictive and, without checking what I had already mixed, began stirring in one of the more volatile reagents.
To my shame, none of this was a surprise to me. There had been talk of his growing discontent with my progress and that something of this nature may soon occur. I believe this would qualify as a definition of giving someone enough rope to hang themself. I had expected this to occur and was ready to use him as the block and tackle that I would use to raise myself higher. I watched hidden and dumbstruck as he not only took the bait, but did so in such a catastrophic manner.
The reagent mixed poorly and caused a localized exothermic reaction – an explosion to erupt. The laboratory caught fire and Anders was the center of it all. His cronies in a panic and unable to reason what they should do to minimize the effects simply stood and screamed as Anders rolled on the ground. It might have been effective except for two things: 1. Anders had just created a volatile alchemist’s fire, and 2. The floor had not been aflame with aforementioned alchemist fire.
This was not a full lab so a fire-eater had not been installed, the fire would continue until it ran out of fuel, which might be the chemicals Anders had used or it might simply be Anders himself. I didn’t truly know, but I also couldn’t let him die. Saving him would make me look even better, I could lord it over him, and it was, ultimately, what was right.
Water was not an option so I was force to seek another avenue of attack. I had just purchased a vial of impact foam and it only took perhaps ten seconds work to mix in a few other items to make the foam itself a bit more unstable. A well-aimed throw, perhaps too well aimed in retrospect, and it struck Anders in the head and shattered spreading it’s rapidly expanding contents all around him. The foam was much thicker than it should be but it cut the fires access to the air and quickly enough the fire abated. Of course if the fire couldn’t breathe…
The end of the tale is that Anders might have been deprived of air briefly but it was for the better as unconscious he wouldn’t feel the pain from his badly burned hands. There were minor burns to his face and arms of course but his hands were hellish. Ziggurat felt that I had acted appropriately as the situation demanded and counted my crude air-eater a masterwork, provided I make its improvement my new focus, and raised me to full alchemist. Anders was mostly healed, though the scars on his hands remain, and reprimanded for his behavior.
Two results ultimately arose from this event, the first being that as always, I had learned a lesson: Two cruelties do not make a kindness. The second result was that where I had once had friendly competition from Anders, I now had undying enmity. I didn’t truly comprehend his rancor then and as we were removed from one another’s presence it would take some time for me to plumb its depths.
I began my work on my newly created decoction with grand ideas for its uses. Of course it had proven its effectiveness in putting out fires in the absence of water, and perhaps it could be used as a countermeasure against hostile elementals. In the course of a few monthes I was able to stabilize the mixture but could never quite get it to dissolve quickly enough to prevent suffocation. My superiors told me simply to put it on the back burner and focus on something else for a time, and trusting their judgment I did so.
Over the next few years I worked for Ziggurat on various projects. Some meant to improve the physical capabilities of livestock, others to destroy large swathes of subversive flora, methods of rapid destruction of rock wall in order to aid mining attempts. The projects were widely varied and while I ultimately had the choice of what I worked on there were greater rewards for working on projects that they put before me. During this time Arton grew and began to spend more time wandering outside town exploring the outlying areas. The twins grew by leaps and bounds each time I saw them and had become quite the conundrum. They never really balanced out as father had said and would alternate between demure silence simply listening to the conversation around them and then erupting in a gale of laughter and activity, chasing each other around or trying to pull Arton or myself to the ground with a joy that only the truly young seem to possess.
It was during this time that I began to question what exactly Ziggurat was doing. It started as mostly dissatisfaction born of boredom. I wanted something new, something exciting. I longed for something that seemed to exist outside of the walls of Ziggurat. Arton had grown perceptive in his long walks and it was he who picked up on my shift in attitude. He was the first to speak to me against Ziggurat, it was very gentle and veiled at first, so much so that I didn’t even realize it for what it was. He questioned their motives, why they sought all these potions, devices. What did they use them for? Of course to better the world. Why then, have they not used them here? I dismissed him because Ziggurat had a larger plan.
Arton would bring news from traders mother dealt with about reports of strange weapons being used in faraway lands, it was casual and insidious. Natural conversation, nothing more, the boy was brilliant in his strategy. I realize this now as at the time I was so enamored of Ziggurat that had he been anything less than insidious and brilliant I would have ignored every word.
The point where I began to pay attention was when he brought more than just rumor of these “strange weapons” being used. To preface this, I never spoke of my projects with anyone outside of Ziggurat. They insisted on secrecy to prevent other organizations from gaining our knowledge. Arton spoke of potions used to render normal soldiers into hulking brutes, entire farming communities being rendered barren by wizards and their potions, and finally vials of frothing dampness that would suck the air from mens lungs. These were all projects I had worked on, and created in the case of the air-eater! One, even two might be coincidence, but three was too much to chalk up to Desna having a laugh. I sent Arton home and told him to not mention such nonsense to anyone else, and began poring over my own records.
I may not have spoken with anyone about what I did here, but I keep a journal of it. I needed to be able to quickly revisit the work I had done and look for error or places to improve. I made an unfortunately long list of all the projects I had worked on and full of righteous indignation I made my way to the head master. I explained that I had heard rumors that projects I had worked on, that I had created were being used as weapons. He made the appropriate noises, dismissed rumor, and explained that of course some things are weaponized by other groups once Ziggurat had released them to the public. Broadly speaking, he placated most of my indignation. I accepted his answers but told him that I could not continue with them if my tools were used as weapons. He laughed at and called me a naïve child and I left.
That was the end of it. At least, it should have been. It would be the end of me. I met Arton on the walk home. He was coming back to visit. I explained that I had left Ziggurat and would be coming home to stay for a time when we crashed violently into each other.
The sound of our collision roared in my ears and I felt my face – my whole body, instantly grow hot. Why was it suddenly so hot out? Was I angry? Why would I be angry? I wasn’t able to stand up, at best my head lolled back towards the road but I couldn’t make sense of what lay before me. There was something burning in the middle of the road. It was twitching slightly. What could it be? My sense returned too slowly and with it, horror. Where was Arton?!
I craned my neck as best I could and felt my entire body relax when I spied his hand lying in the grass. Whatever had exploded had thrown him past me, into a ditch. I could just see a bit of his arm and elbow. I still couldn’t stand so I crawled, stumbled and rolled towards him and grabbed his hand. I heard shouting behind me, people coming to investigate the sound most like. We weren’t too far from Ziggurat yet. I shook his arm and tried to croak out his name but my tongue was too thick. I couldn’t articulate his name so I just tugged on his arm instead, thinking to either pull him to me, or as he was larger than me, pull myself towards him. You can understand my confusion when I ended up simply getting struck in the face with his hand.
My senses returned fully then. I hadn’t found Arton. I had simply found his arm. The voices I had heard a few seconds before suddenly replayed, louder in my head.
“You just got the half-breed. His brother?”
“Perhaps. I believe Albrect was knocked to the side. Go see.”
I felt a foot dig under my ribs, and roll me over with something less than a kick but more than a lift.
Nothingness. That’s the only way I can describe this part. Absence. Void.
The next thing I remember was watching Anders – not sure how I know it was Anders, but it was – running back towards Ziggurat, holding a stump of an arm. I remember thinking it’s too bad the fire cauterized the wound. If he was losing blood he’d die before he got back. Whoever had rolled me over won’t be identified. The acid had burned his face rather grotesquely. At least he has stopped flopping and screaming. I stumble back to the center of the road; the smoldering pile of remains of Arton’s body. It’s destroyed, the fire consumed too much. There is nothing left to fix. A priest though, a good priest might be able to raise him. It won’t matter much though. I’m bleed to heavily from my side. I won’t make it back to town. Maybe Ziggurat, but that gets a croak that I suppose will have to pass for a laugh.
There might be a way to solve both Arton’s and my problem though. His arm is mostly whole, a priest could use that to raise him. I’d have to keep the flesh from putrefying, that mean blood flow. Yes. He’ll live this way. I’ll live this way. Just stitch the two pieces together, use the right infusions and we’ll be okay.
We will make it back to town. There’s not a priest good enough for what we need there or in any town nearby. That’s okay though. We need to take care of a few things first. We can rest, and then we’ll come back to Ziggurat. Anders is there. He’s been there the whole time. They sent him to kill us.
Really? Maybe he just thought it would be a good time to strike, now that we aren’t protected by Ziggurat anymore. No. If he did this on his own Ziggurat would punish him. That he did this means they either are turning a blind eye or they sent him.
We place a vial in Arton’s hand, our hand and just hold it. We get used to how it feels there, how it feels to have three arms now. It’s odd, but we can adjust. We’ll have to burn the entire place down of course. If they are using our tools for weapons and assassinations, then they need to be stopped.
We don’t see the point to dwell here. Suffice to say that we made it to town. We explained to our family what had happened. They cried, but we don’t really know why. We’re alive. They had a burial for what remained of Arton’s body but it seems a lot of fuss for something we are just going to resurrect. That’s what our third arm is on us for. We think grief clouded their understanding.
We did return to Ziggurat. We understand that not everyone who works there knows what Ziggurat is doing, but if we didn’t act right away then those who DO understand will hide or use the innocents to as shields.
So we said a prayer to Desna to smile upon those who are innocent, and a prayer to Pharasma to judge any who fell as their deeds merit, and even to Sarenrae. This might not have been justice delivered with the sharp edge that she prefers, but it was justice all the same.
We know some escaped, we don’t know who though. Truth be spoken, killing them wasn’t our intention. If any of the guilty die then all the merrier, but destroying that bastion of Ziggurat was the goal, as was freeing our town from their influence.
So we find ourselves back at the beginning. We chose to chronicle this because there is none with which we can speak. We must avoid our family or we make them a target. We must avoid our town for the same reason (And if you are wondering; no, our home town and our family is no longer in the same place. They wisely left after our actions.). If we speak to anyone we meet they might simply tell Ziggurat where we are. That would be… incredibly bad for us.
Desna indeed was smiling down on us the entire time. In our travels we have learned that the Ziggurat enclave in our town was a small one. Very small when one compares it to some of the other bastions we have seen. Had we tried to burn down any of the other locations we would likely be dead. Also, as Ziggurat tends to neither forgive, nor forget we are now a bit of a pariah.
We’ve learned much though. We have learned how to use a blade, how to change our bombs and infusions. We’ve learned many new tricks, but perhaps the most important thing we’ve learned is that we might not be alone in our fight. We’ve heard that there may be a group that is opposing Ziggurat as well. It may be rumor, it may be exaggeration, or it may be a trap. We will have to be cautious but we must know.
May Desna, Sarenrae and Pharasma watch over us.