The Cauldron of Shadow Essence
Soundlessly, the dwarven rogue took a deep breath and calmly climbed down from his ledge to the floor of the gorge. He’d already passed an outlying tower and rounded a small lake that was littered with watchful dark elves, and now he snaked his way among the towering cliff walls, forced time and again carefully, slowly to sneak past an alluring or fearsome (or both!) guardian who might stand a mere ten feet distant.
Rounding a final corner, he found the entrance to a graveyard to his right and a narrow, roofed tunnel to his left. Doubtless, many secrets awaited should he turn left, but even Dandaek’s adventurous blood was turning cold in the proximity of so muchdeath. Of course, the graveyard did little to help matters. Little light reached the place, for it lay atthe base of cliff walls thatrosefor hundreds of feet. The gloom seemed tangible, and considering the undead that ruled here, Dandaek feared it might truly be so. Dandaek trembled for a moment, but he steeled himself. Two more dark elven guards stood near the gated fence that enclosed the graveyard, so this was no place for weakness. The gate was closed, but fortunately these guards were not watchful. They stood resolute, but just as rigid as their bodies were their glazed eyes that bore relentlessly before them. For what intruder could possible penetrate so close to the castle without raising an alarm? Nimbly, Dandaek slipped to the end of the wrought iron fence where it was fixed into the rock wall of the gorge. He paused for an instant and then crept over the fence.
The area was dotted with countless gravestones packed into the relatively small space. The gloom of the landscape was darker from within its coils, but Dandaek could make out a handful of mausoleums at the area’s rear. Behind one of these mausoleums, Dandaek had learned, would Ssynthi be found. Yet as Dandaek slid through the murk, he realized that dark elves were within the graveyard as well. He cursed silently, but pressed on. He could make out about a half dozen of them, but thankfully they all stood with their backs to the mausoleums, and like the guards at the fence, they barely moved. He paused a moment to remind himself why he was here. He needed to gather his courage. He had crept through a gauntlet of dark elven necromancers on the periphery of the vampire lord Mayong Mistmoore’s castle so that he might question Ssynthi, a renegade shadowed man, about the nature and mission of the of the so-called deathspeakers who were evidently now among the shadowed men wherever they might be found around the whole of Norrath. And he, Dandaek, wanted to be the first to know why.
Staying close to the wall, the dwarf continued. The hair of his white beard and that on his nape prickled when he realized with a chill that all the tombstones repeated over and over the same two dedications to the dead. No matter. All the dark elves of the place were behind him now. Before him and stretching to the left stood a row of gleaming mausoleums. The brilliant white marble of the structures was disconcerting in the dreary shadows, making them seem all the more otherworldly. Dandaek slipped between the low outer wall of the one nearest the cliff. Padding his way to the back of the structure, Dandaek took little further note of the structure itself.
Instead, he sought to find an invisible being.
The dwarfhugged the shadows and proceeded down the row. One, two, three, four, and ahead, five of them he counted. Behind the fifth he saw a book floating in midair. This must be Ssynthi! He approached a few steps closer. Close enough to see that the book appeared to bear no title, and indeed no script was evident on the opened pages.
Dandaek looked around and listened. Nothing but the moaning of the graveyard and a vague rustle of movement from Ssynthi. The dwarf looked at the shadowed man, or at least at the floating book that he took for Ssynthi’s position. The creature had evidently turned to face him, but the book was still open, and Dandaek was not under attack.
Dandaek whispered, “I have so very much to ask you, Ssynthi.”
Ssynthi said nothing.
So Dandaek spoke again, still in a hushed tone, though he figured the rumblings of the restless dead would drown out his own words. Dandaek figured he may as well take it from the top. He asked, “A new breed of shadowed man walks Norrath. What can you tell me of the deathspeakers?” A moment of silence followed and Dandaek had the sensation that Ssynthi spoke to someone else before he replied. Yet reply he did, and in a soft and chilling tone. “Ah, so the deathspeakers have decided to reveal themselves again. They are beings who claim they are closer to the realms of the dead than any other known race, and they have been known to rally the shadowed men in times when they deem other races to be dabbling too much in the powers of death and rebirth – just as shadowed men as a whole despise those of us who follow Solusek Ro because they deem all magic to have sprung from themselves.”
Dandaek considered where to go from here. He recalled the other matter that concerned Vagner and Halwain and asked, “Could it concern the Burning Dead’s plan to resurrect Marnek?” Ssynthi did not hesitate this time. The shadowed man replied quickly, “Marnek, you say? I admit that rumors have come to me concerning an alliance between the Temple of Ro and the Burning Dead, and perhaps this is the goal of that union. I must therefore act, for who knows the shadowed men better than I? But I cannot leave this place right now. Will you help me in this task?” It seemed an odd choice to Dandaek. The shadowed men were dangerous and clearly ill-disposed toward the races of dwarves, elves, and man, but if acting against them aided the cause of a dead necromancer? Dandaek smiled. Still, at least he was getting somewhere, and rarely did it hurt to play along. Knowledge, after all, was a good thing. The dwarf nodded and said, “I will help you.”
At that, a long prattle of indecipherable babble bubbled from Ssynthi and a small black cauldron began to take shape fromthe darkness.