Ela scrap – D&D again

(This blog started with a palms up D&D solo play scenario with some writing sprinkled on top, that shifted dramatically over time. I didn’t migrate that stuff over here because it’s WAY too long. Maybe some day I’ll edit that and post again but probably not. Here’s another D&D story idea. Why D&D and not just generic fantasy? I don’t know.)

Teferi’s Protégé – Bram Sels

In Polis people called me Rose Esther Fletcher.  This is not my name.  My name is Ela Archana Iyer Chandra, of the east Lake Bant Chandras.  Or maybe Rose is real and I never was Ela.  My mind is no longer clear to me.   I fear that it no longer makes a difference who I am. 

As an only child of prominent parents, I was given the best schooling, the best opportunities, the best life that money could buy.  My parents tolerated my interest in archery so long as kept up with my studies, I think secretly my father would boast at the social club whenever I would beat any of his friend’s sons in a competition.  But he would never say anything to me about it of course.  Archery is not an appropriate activity for a young lady.  My mother was keen to remind me of this fact.  Often. 

My parents tolerance was tested further when I decided to focus my studies on  the magic of Illusions.  My parents considered Illusionists to be commoner mages, hucksters bilking slack-jawed yokels out of a few coins or entertainers.  Hard to say which they consider worse.  Certainly not the path of a proper young lady. 

My mother was keen to remind me of this fact.  Often.  I had been obsessed with illusions ever since reading Perception and Reality: Basic Principals of Illusionism by Keller Hasan Ingale. It was my first step into a larger world.  I was able to convince my parents to let me study illusion magic with lofty arguments about “lifting the veil” and “uncovering truth” and even grandiose notions such as “teaching through deception”.  That was purely for their benefit.  I wanted the tricks. 

To make another person feel something, to smell something, to hear something that wasn’t there?  At my command?  Delightful. 

Then there was the question, was what they experienced there or not?  As much as the tricks I delighted in the metaphysics.  If you walk on an Illusionary floor and don’t fall how can you say it’s not real?  If an illusionary light illuminates what makes it an illusion?  In time I learned many spells.  How to instill fear.  How to allay it.  How to take on the appearance of someone or something else.  How to walk unseen. 

Not all these things I learned by study.  Some tricks I learned would never be on any legitimate school curriculum, how to ignite the blood, how to heal, how to make an arrow burst into flame, the kind of tricks you learn from wanderer and vagabonds.  Bounders and cads my father would have called them.  My mother would have fainted dead away to know I had even spoken to these “degenerates”, as I sure she would have named them if she knew. 

In time I branched out to other areas of study as is expected of someone with my gifts, but Illusion magic remained my first love and my specialty.  In time I settled into my life and my position teaching the Fundamentals of Magical Theory at the Rosencrantz Academy in Upper Innsilwich.  And that should have been the story of Ela.  Maybe it was. 

A few years into my teaching I started to notice my students were restless and were not concentrating on their studies, not the restiveness common to students at times, but something else .  I came to believe they were not distracted, they were being distracted.  From time to time you encounter some skilled and precocious student who is raising a commotion with some cantrip they shouldn’t yet know so I subtly called upon my magic to see the unseen. 

There was a presence in the classroom.  Undefined, hard to make out, but an entity of some kind.  This too happens from time to time, a stray conjuration escaped from another class or the like, but usually they’re short lived or quickly captured by the school wardens. 

It didn’t seem to be dangerous but I dismissed classed early and called upon more powerful spells to study the phenomena more closely.  In an instant it was gone, like it could tell it was being observed.  I didn’t mention this to the chancellor as I should have.  At the time I thought this was my decision, that I didn’t think it would come back and it if did I wanted a chance to study it.  Now I don’t know. 

The creature, for I had decided it was a creature, proved to be very shy and highly elusive.  Only the most subtle of magic could reveal anything without alerting it and invariable scaring it off and those spells were able to reveal little about its nature.  Much of my time was spent working on new spells and items to help me learn more about it, and my preoccupation grew with each small morsel of information I discovered.  Most of my teaching was done by rote while my mind was occupied with this problem.  It was like trying to grab hold of mist. 

Once in a moment of frustration I asked the wardens to check my classroom, if they found the beast they would surely capture it, but at that second I just wanted it to be revealed.  They found nothing.  It was very good at staying hidden.  At the time I thought I could detect it because of my skills.  Now I don’t know.  Maybe I saw what it wanted me to see. 

In time I was able to determine that it was an astral creature of some kind, that it most likely existed in our plane only partially at the best of times, which is what helped it to remain so anonymous.  With this information I was able to formulate a plan.  It took months of preparation and spellcrafting but I was able to develop a method and the tools I believed would enable me to imprison and study the being.  The ease at which at which it was able to transverse the barrier between the astral sea and physical world had broad practical applications and its ability to seemingly exist in two planes at once was endlessly enthralling. 

As I neared completion of the preparation necessary to enact this plan odd things began happening.  Colleagues would reference conversations that never happened, or forget conversations that had happened.  People became forgetful and irritable.  Places and the things in them would sometimes look different.  These are the kind of things that should have had the school in an uproar but no one seemed to notice.  The chancellor went missing for days.  When I asked about him some people who should know better said they had never heard of him.  Others claimed they had just seen him.  Some said there never was a chancellor at our school.  Then one day he was back and as if he had never been gone and no one said anything about it. 

I realize now this was a warning.  A warning I should have heeded.   I proceeded with my work.  The night before I planned to capture the creature I took to the archery range for the first time in months.  It felt good to clear my mind for a moment, to focus on something physical, to forget about the complicated formulae and glyphs I had worked on so hard for so long.  The next morning I would capture the astral entity and its secrets would be revealed to me.  I congratulated myself on a job well done.  My father always said to never celebrate until after the victory, no matter how sure it seemed.  He was right about that.

At the archery range I saw the airship overhead.  There was no reason for an airship to be there, they never pass over the school.  Why would they?  I peered at it curiously and I thought it a rather shabby affair.  It looked ill-made and ill-used.  I wondered if it was on its way to be junked and so in such bad shape it had faulty controls and that was why it wandered out of its proper airspace.  Slowly it dawned on me, this was a dragonborn airship!  Corsairs here in Upper Innsilwich?  That’s like finding a snake in a bowl of Shimmerglown Soup, it made no sense.  Of all people I should have known better than to believe something so incongruous, the key to illusion is plausibility, but in that moment I never believed anything more real in my life. 

I stood in shocked terror as brutal looking dragonborn thugs launched themselves over the gunwales of the ship and glided to the ground on their ragged wings.  I was alone and I was very frightened.  I thought they would kill me without a second thought.  And so, I Ela Archana Iyer Chandra Professor of Magical Theory did something I had never done before and would never do again, something that had never even entered my mind before.  I called upon my magic and I fired my arrows at living creatures with the intent of killing them. 

What I saw.  What I felt.  What I smelled.  What I remember.  Is that the dragon men attacked me, and I defended myself.  With bow and with spell.  I killed them before they could kill me.  The last one overtook me and carried me to the ground.  In desperation I grabbed my last arrow and slowly, so slowly, managed to slide it into the throat of my attacker.  I cried in horror as I heard the blood gurgling and watched the light dim in its eyes. 

And then everything was different.  There was no airship.  There were no dragonborn.  I lay astride the chancellor with my arrow jammed through his throat, my hand on the shaft.  I looked around and I saw my friends, my co-workers, my students, strewn dead about me, dead from my arrows, from my spells. 

Numbly I looked up and for the briefest of seconds I saw It.  I don’t think I even saw it fully or truly, just more than I had ever seen before.  It was still an indistinct form but there was an awfulness, a hideousness that was more real than anything I had experienced before.  It did not smile, it had nothing with which to smile, but I could tell that it was satisfied.  It was gone in a heartbeat, but I could hear, barely even a whisper, ringing in its wake the question I had asked of myself and my students and my friends thousands of times “what does it mean for something to be real?”

I remember the dragonborn.  I remember them attacking me.  I remember my fear and my panic and my desperate fight to survive.  I remember this more precisely than I remember anything else in my life.  Does that make it real?  What’s real is the wardens taking me into custody.  What’s real is everyone thinking that I am a monster, a killer, a murder, and them bring right. What’s real is my family’s disgrace.  What’s real is orphans made orphans by me.  Widows made widows by me.  What’s real is the arcane parasite they put on me that will prevent me from ever knowing the joy of magic again.  What’s real is me breaking my bow over my knee in a childish and fruitless gesture after they let me out. 

I was exonerated.  Magic revealed that I didn’t know what I was doing.  I said nothing about the entity.  At the time I thought I did it to protect others.  Since I now know my mind is not my own who’s to say the creature didn’t render me mute to protect itself.  Many people demanded my death but I was set free.  It hardly mattered.  I was already dead in any way that mattered.  Disowned by my family, exiled from my home, a pariah, I wandered the land and was shocked to find that I still wanted to live.  The urge to continue on I found undeniable, I want every miserable, horrible second of life. 

I discovered what others already knew.  You don’t need magic to spin illusions, you don’t need spells to perform, to  manipulate. With a certain bearing, a certain manner of dress, of speech, you can elicit all manner of response from your audience.  Head titled forward and slightly down, chin jutted out and eyes opened wide whilst smiling would get me an extra few coppers or something to eat. Chin up, eyelids heavy, a smirk and a sidelong gaze while leaning ever so slightly forward? Anything I wanted from any man old enough to grow whiskers. Shoulders back, direct eye contact and a smile on the lips without a smile in the eyes?  Take fifteen percent off the price of anything in any shop. I studied these illusions, practiced them, forged them. 

Why?  I needed money for my studies of course.  I made my way to Prism City, far away from the people I had hurt, from the lives I had ruined.  I changed my name.  I did whatever I needed to scrape by.  So I could learn.  And learn I did.  I came to know the creature was called by many names, the one I prefer is  Rayathuiel the Dark Mind.  I learned that it was old, older than the world.  That it fed off manipulation and despair.  That it lived only to violate the sanctity of sentient minds.  It was not considered to be terribly powerful as these things go, but its powers of illusion and influence over the mind were considerable.  I learned everything there was to know about it, that it could only visit certain places at certain times, that it waxed and waned as magic flowed through the universe.  It might go unseen for eons.  And to what end did I learn this?  I don’t know.  Did I even do it or do I only think that I did? 

Once I had learned everything I could about the Black Mind my only goal was accomplished.  What was I to do next?  I only wanted to get away from Prism City, to go far away from everything I knew, away from everything familiar to me.  I signed on with an airship, I didn’t even care where it was going, nowhere was the impression I got from the ragged looking crew that owned it.  I just wanted away from everything. 

The airship.  It looks exactly like the one I saw at the archery range that day.  Did it always look like that or has it changed now so that it looked like that?  Which one is real?  Both?  Neither?  When I stepped aboard did I truly hear soft spiteful laughter in my mind? 

Sometimes I fear that the Black Mind will search me out.  Sometimes I fear that it doesn’t.  I don’t know which would be worse.  My thoughts are no longer my thoughts. 

Leave a Reply