Long before Queen Ehlissa created her Marvelous
Nightingale, long before the Wizard-Priest Tzunk used the Codex to attempt the
conquest of the Brass City, long before Kyuss performed unholy experiments in
the mortuary city of Unaagh in the kingdom of Sulm, there was another legend
whispered among the Flan . . . Caerdiralor . . .
Nechemya had wondered about this door ever since his early days as a novice but he had never dared to attempt opening it. Now as the temple's arch-cleric and only one step removed from the office of High Priest, his power and authority had grown strong within the temple hierarchy, and he finally felt he had the courage - and the right, if he was to be honest with himself - to find out what lay on the other side. All those years ago he had discovered another door two levels above the one before which he now stood. It hadn't been opened in years either, that much had been obvious, but Nechemya had opened it anyway. It had opened onto a flight of circular stairs leading down into the bowels of the earth, for it was located on the third and supposedly deepest level of the temple's basement.
But now Nechemya knew there were at least two more levels below those known to his fellow clerics. The level immediately above this one was little more than a series of long-unused rooms. Each was sealed by a heavy wooden door reinforced with strong metal bands, but did not appear to be any type of prison cell in spite of the heavy security. A long corridor stretched between the doors, dividing the level into two equal halves, with still another set of stairs leading down to the level upon which he now stood.
When Nechemya first opened the door to the stairwell leading down here he had felt the presence of divine magic and could see a faint purplish light at the bottom. Upon descending the stairs he had found only three rooms, two small and one large, with the two small rooms located on opposite sides of the larger room. One of these smaller rooms was nothing more than the terminus for the stairway, and in the other was this door, seeming almost to challenge him to pull it open.
It was the large room that had first given Nechemya pause. It could easily accommodate a hundred people, but Nechemya knew that no one in the temple had been there in living memory. It was immediately obvious that it had once been a gathering place, since rotting benches and chairs were still arranged in a circle facing the center of the room. And in that center was a faintly glowing purplish light emanating from the floor. Nechemya could feel powerful magic oozing from every stone in the room. But the light had drawn him toward it, he had been younger then, and approached cautiously. He found a round, purple disk embedded in the floor that proved to be the source of the eerie light. In its center was a black spiral rune.
Nechemya had entered the room with great trepidation, knowing - or rather, feeling - that something horrendous might dwell within. But now he knew. After only a moment of staring in horror at the rune he tore his gaze away. And then he ran in terror.
* * * *
Zipheron paced his study. He had spent the last few weeks trying in vain to convince the Conclave of his conclusions. All his divinations pointed to the awakening of some great evil, something even worse than the Queen of Chaos, though that was hard to imagine.
Zipheron differed from most of his contemporaries in the Conclave in that he did not worship Tiamat. He and a handful of others faithfully served Boccob. But this state of affairs only mirrored that of the Empire as a whole. There were a scattering of minor faiths throughout the Empire, but the state officially worshiped Tiamat. The Queen of Chaos commanded the greatest following by far, including many of his sorcerous colleagues.
And so the Conclave had scoffed at his suppositions. When he had suggested that a great evil was ready to awaken and that the temple of Tiamat might somehow play a part, they laughed and reminded him that Tiamat herself was an evil entity. They went on to suggest that, given her status as a goddess, it would be hard to find a ‘greater' evil. In their blind devotion they seemed quite willing to forget that even the gods had rivals and that such rivals must of necessity be powerful indeed.
He and the few others who faithfully served Boccob continued to endlessly beseech their patron for guidance. No enlightenment had yet been forthcoming from the Uncaring One but they persisted, for it was clear the fate of the Empire lay in the balance and time was short.
* * * *
It had taken several weeks for Nechemya to steel himself for a return to the large room containing the horrible, horrible rune. Even then he could but look into it from the foot of the stairs, only occasionally allowing himself to peer beyond to the mysterious room at the far side. He found the mystery of the main room's purpose intriguing in spite of the evil of that glowing symbol. Once he had even considered asking the High Priest about it, but he would have been surprised if that old dotard had known about it.
So, lacking the courage to investigate the room directly and consumed by morbid curiosity, he had turned to the natural pursuit of the clerical vocation: research. He spent years poring over every volume in the temple's library and trying to find out anything he could about the mysterious, rune-bearing room. For the most part his studies had been unsuccessful, yielding only a few scraps of information that, while interesting, were not germane to his investigation. For a while he had followed some of the scraps, learning that Myrsyma might be far older than four centuries as it was thought, and that there was evidence the Flannae hadn't always dwelt in Caerdiralor. Then, after years of tireless searching, on a single piece of parchment carelessly left between the pages of an antiquated codex, he found the rune he had been searching for. With it was another rune, and even more startlingly, a name.
* * * *
Zipheron sat within a circle of mystic runes. He had placed himself in a deep trance in an effort to contact his patron, Boccob, since it seemed that without the god's help they would never find out exactly what was going on inside Tiamat's temple. His apprentice, Ziriniah, stood guard to see that he was not disturbed.
He "walked" through the Astral Plane, his destination the Concordant Opposition, home of Boccob. If he could gain entry to the Library of Lore there, a simple Commune spell would draw Boccob's attention to him and to the problem of the temple.
He felt a sudden tug upon his tether and looked around. Nothing there. Another tug and though the grayness remained he sensed he was in a different place. "Where am I," he thought.
"Nowhere," a sibilant voice answered him.
He spun around, or thought he did. "Who is there?"
"I am here."
Zipheron quieted himself. Apparently he was in no immediate danger, and calm was called for.
"That's better," said the voice.
Zipheron turned his head to and fro, not sure that he was actually moving his body. The absolute nothingness of the gray left him with no point of reference except his own shoulders. Well, at least his head moved, he thought sardonically.
"Yes, restless," said the voice. "Perhaps this will help."
Suddenly Zipheron was standing on the battlements of his own tower, a star-filled sky above and the capital city of Myrsyma spread below him in its light.
* * * *
Ziriniah jumped! One moment his master was there, seated upon the rug with the gray astral tether rising from his body, then he was gone!
* * * *
A moment later a vaporous, serpentine form floated before Zipheron. As best as the sorcerer could tell the creature had a dragon's head and dorsal spines, but no limbs or wings. It reeked of arcane energies.
"Mortals call me the Serpent."
The Serpent! Zipheron knew that name, but surely it was just a legend!
"So men think."
And apparently, it could read his thoughts.
"Yes. It saves time, don't you think?"
Zipheron grew more relaxed.
"That's better," said the Serpent. "Let us talk for awhile, you and I. I would tell you a tale, sorcerer - one worth hearing, I should think. I will tell you something of myself and something of even greater importance. I will tell you of the Dreaded One."
* * * *
On subsequent visits to the room following his earlier researches Nechemya became emboldened and finally ventured back inside. He was then able to search the room a bit more thoroughly, and that's when he noticed that there were stone carvings on the walls to either side of the door. At first, the symbols were completely unfamiliar to him, but he found their explanation when he had unearthed the antiquated parchment, for these symbols had been written upon it and thus the ancient parchment had shed light upon a terrible and ancient mystery. Crafted with surprising skill, the symbols depicted a two-tiered, inverted ziggurat known as an Obex. Following this discovery Nechemya decided that any real answers would only be found beyond the door within the second room. So he had begun to concentrate his studies on protective spells, in preparation for the day he would open it.
* * * *
Zipheron was rocked by the revelation. An ancient and evil entity was about to be reintroduced into the world of men.
"Some refer to that one as the Elder Elemental Eye," the Serpent continued, "though that is a bit of a misnomer. The Dark One has another name among men, one that it is best you discover for yourself."
"Is he one of the Ancient Brethren you spoke of?" Zipheron asked.
"No, he is not one of us, but is another order of being."
"I must know more," insisted Zipheron.
"And you will. But some things you must learn for yourself," the Serpent replied. "You may know me by my name, Mok'slyk. We will speak again."
"Wait!" the sorcerer cried, but the vaporous form was already gone. Zipheron turned to descend into his tower, but upon reaching the door he suddenly grabbed the doorpost and clutched his heart. Without warning he felt as though something terribly cold had pierced him through.
* * * *
The door was solid – beating on it had proven that – and it was magically sealed, though the enchantments were not too complicated. It appeared to be guarded more against accidental opening rather than deliberate efforts. There was a serpentine shape molded upon it, with a dragon's head and dorsal spines but no wings or limbs. The scene seemed to show this dragon-like figure guarding an entryway, as if preventing the entrance of something into this world. The figure thus guarded against was black and faceless, an amorphous form. Shuddering, Nechemya decided it was time.
He uttered the words to unseal the door and was greatly relieved when nothing happened, for he had been expecting the worst. Pulling it open, he was further relieved to look upon nothing but blackness. He placed his hand on the doorpost to steady himself, and instantly perceived purplish vapors whirling through the blackness. He could discern a stairway, once again leading downward. He did not hesitate this time but plunged ahead, determined to face whatever was to be found below.
Halfway down he appeared to step through the miasma surrounding him, and reaching the bottom he entered another room lit by another, stronger purple glow. Glancing about in wonder, he discovered he had entered a cathedral, its walls covered in carvings of black, spiraling runes and inverted Ziggurats. At the far end was an altar, and suspended above it, hanging upon nothing, was a whip.
"Come to me, my servant."
Nechemya was seized with fear. His eyes darted about the room looking for the source of the words.
"Come to me, Nechemya." The voice was cold and malign, and beside the altar a roiling, vaporous, pitch-black form materialized out of nothingness.
Nechemya took a hesitant step forward, suddenly feeling weak at the knees, and then another step and another. He stood just a moment before the amorphous form with no face, then dropped to his knees. "I am come, my master," he whispered.
"Master," repeated the disembodied voice. "Yes. You serve me . . . now." A loud sigh of satisfaction filled the room, followed by an evil, hollow laughter.
Nechemya began to tremble, wondering what he had done.
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