by Grant Smuts
- a continuation of the journal of Nexfera, with annotations by the current Hierophant of the Order, Ronan Solidor.
— the origin of future heroes —
I have left my laboratory behind, triggering the runes from a safe distance for a massive explosion. I usually disdain such overt displays of power – a mage’s true strength is in subtlety, not in adhering to the clichéd perspective of the unwashed masses. However, considering my error in creating a nigh invulnerable and possibly immortal being – an unfortunate side-effect of constant killing and revival – it seemed that burying the damned thing alive was the next best thing to destroying it.
Perhaps I ought to send an anonymous note to the Order of its location.
Since they consider themselves the world’s hunting dogs, I’ll give them worthy prey.
(We searched every laboratory, rumoured and confirmed to belong to Nexfera. All we found were ruins, as though someone or something had purposely destroyed everything he ever did. We found no sign of this mutant sylph, though Caradan has some theory about the presence of a local legend that appeared in the last twenty years. Could it be that the Ragged Man is this mutant sylph? The Man Who Walks in Storms? – Ronan Solidor.)
Is it fate or chance that the journeys of the dream nomads draw them back to Gehara? I’ve seen them, the travelling folk, the people of a lost nation. What must it be like, to be displaced thus? They are mistrustful of outsiders, and they look upon all those who do not bear their lineage with disdain. Only a select few have ever been accepted into their roaming villages. Those who do usually stay with them for the rest of their lives… though in truth, I cannot begin to think of spending the rest of my days living in the squalor of goat-hide tents, under the constant assault of the elements. They travel in circles, as though in orbit of the memory of annihilation. I’ve watched them for the past several days, on the outskirts of their village. They are rumoured to be great trackers, but should any follow my tracks, they will find nothing. Nothing visible, that is. They have begun to pack up their tents. What I have heard is that they will move east, into the dust-bowls of the Cairns of Geria. That will be my chance.
(This is troubling. The Geharans have ever been a peaceful people, though it is well known that some curse haunts them since the days of their homeland’s destruction. Nexfera’s plan is foul. Though these notes prove that he was not as insane as many people have said. He is certainly mad, of that there is no doubt… but his madness is both cruel and calculating. -Ronan Solidor)
(The next few weeks are filled with strange equations and what looks like a thesis on necromancy and why it would not have suited his purposes. Caradan tells me that he sees no sense in them, but there was something in his eyes as he looked on them. That man has far too many secrets for his own good – Ronan Solidor)
The past few weeks have been remarkably uneventful. As I expected they moved eastward, humming some strange hymn that seemed to find its way on everyone’s lips. It stirred something in me as well. Something familiar. Something I recognized. As I looked up, it seemed to me that I saw something drifting among the clouds – a vast serpentine form that vanished into nothing. And I imagined that I saw another hooded figure walking just behind me, but when I turned to look at him, there was no one there.
I’ve been in the sun too long.
I’ve seen what I needed. A mother, carrying a newborn child, gently crooning the hymn to him as two other boys walk at her heel. There is something strange about her. Though I cannot quite say what it might be.
I’ve marked her, made sure that I always know where she is and where she resides. I have not seen any sign of the children’s father.
It doesn’t matter.
The moment they prepare for nightfall in Geria sand-flats, I will make my move.
(This seems to be where it begins. The reports have come from mages everywhere of seeing the same thing. I wonder if this ‘serpentine form’ might have been a vision of the Aion, Taal’Veshra? – Ronan Solidor.)
This took longer than I expected. But when they were nestled between two distant sand dunes, I took my chance. A dust storm kicked up by some simple wind magic caused the distraction I needed. I rushed in under the cover of the winds. I would gladly have stolen in, invisible and taken the child, but… she held him in her arms. He was crying.
Of course. I had no choice. I revealed myself. She saw the knife in my hands. She screamed.
I had no choice. I had no choice.
But it was so easy.
I left the knife in her throat, bundled the child up and fled into the desert.
(Of the atrocities committed in the name of his mad plan, this has to be the worst – murdering a mother, and taking a baby to commit unspeakable acts of magic. I wish now that we had been the ones to finish Nexfera. There are knights among us who have a distinct sense of poetry when it comes to justice. – Ronan Solidor.)
I have reached my laboratory at the edge of the wasteland, and I have begun my work. Ultimately the essence of the infant is far too fragile for my preliminary tests, so I have extracted skin and blood and have begun yet another forbidden practice – the gestation of a homunculus. As soon as it opens its eyes, I will begin the process of euthanasia and revival. The child will be kept safe, until I am ready for a true extraction. The homunculus… well, it may serve another purpose entirely.
(The more I read, the more monstrous this man becomes. The creation of homunculi has been forbidden since the days of the Wilding Wall. – Ronan Solidor.)
The tests have proceeded as I planned. The homunculus has no consciousness, nothing appreciable to latch onto as sentience. It is a husk of a human being, without essence. It doesn’t notice the euthanasia and revival. It’s as responsive as a fish. It only gapes and gasps. Blindly, blankly. Eyes wide. It seems to feel pain. It acknowledges it. It is not human, but human enough, I suppose. I look at the thing in the vat before me. I see only potential. It is nothing yet. Just an almost-there.
The child – the true child – gurgles nearby, heedless of what’s happening. Blessed ignorance. I wonder if I had accepted that if I might have had a happier life.
I see the scalpel in my hand. I don’t know how it got there.
The homunculus has stabilized. It is now roughly the size of an ordinary human child. In the course of the last nine days, it has died and revived six times. I have attempted to impress a memory upon it, but there’s nothing here. Not yet, anyway. Perhaps this was foolish. I will attempt to euthanise it again. Perhaps I will leave it dead, and work on the child instead.
Note: The only effect of the mutation thus far is that the homunculus has grown somewhat. Beyond that, it has left a small grey mark on his back. I don’t know what possessed me to name it. Perhaps the same thing that possessed me to speak of strange things to the infant when I rested from my work. Be that as it may, I believe I am growing attached to these small, miserable creatures. The homunculus’s name is Grayden. I have not named the infant. If only because I imagine that he already has a name.
(Grayden? This must be a coincidence. Yet… I cannot think what other explanation there might be. He is Geharan after all, but… if this is his origin… I must be careful with this knowledge. I have seen men go mad for less. -Ronan Solidor)
I chose to revive the homunculus. Its eyes are wide open now. And perhaps that’s a good thing, for it seems I wasn’t as careful as I thought. I was followed after carrying the child away. It turns out that one of the children of the woman I killed had followed me, somehow. It was carelessness on my part. The dust storm hid my footprints but I should have cast my shrouding spell again. It turns out that this boy tracked me to my hideout. Perhaps ill-advisedly, he came alone. But I have decided to show some mercy. He threatened at first, then begged and pleaded for his brother’s return. I heard the boy’s true name then. Something his father had decided, apparently.
I care not.
After an appropriate amount of cajoling, and expressing some imagined dread at the reprisal of Gehara’s trackers should they notice this boy missing as well. I gave him the homunculus. The thing was strangely quiet, though it seemed to make some appropriate noise. I told him that I had named the child Grayden. For some reason he seemed to like the sound of the name. Perhaps it was just relief.
He made no mention of his mother’s death. Perhaps he was merely happy to have his brother back. I saw in his eyes the loss that would take the heart of me. Perhaps when you lose so much, you’re just relieved at what you get to keep in your life. It matters not.
It will be unwise to remain here. I cannot count on them to be merciful. And the homunculus gave me what I needed.
I have packed up my laboratory, and placed seven seals on it. I’d rather not make a habit of destroying my hideouts, but it’s best if I depart for now. The child is with me, subsisting on the supply of goat’s milk I’ve kept for some time. It might be time to leave the continent for awhile, make my way across the Shining Sea.
I ask the child what it thinks of that plan. Despite myself, I’ve grown attached to it. To him.
I speak to him, often… liking the sound of it. Perhaps I’m losing my mind. But I cannot help but imagine that he will do great things. And once I impart my memories, I will ensure that.
The name his brother gave him seems to fit somehow. It seems appropriate.
Landred. It is a good name.