The Curse of Kishina

The soul of his beloved rest peacefully in his palm, trapped within its crystalline prison.

Too long had he carried the burden. Too far had he traveled in search of a way to release her. The hopes of bringing her back to his side had long since faded.

As he stood in front of Xxrandus's Gift, the Soul Obelisk of Vuhl, his only remaining hope was to free her; his only desire to find a way for her soul to attain its long-awaited rest.

He didn't know if she could hear him, or if she knew of his tribulations; whether she'd gone mad after being trapped for decades, or lacked all capacity for thought. He'd often looked to her crystal as a reminder of his motivations; his humanity. Deep down inside, he was sure he could feel her presence; guiding him; loving him.

He'd only once found a way to free himself of the ruby necklace and had abandoned that endeavor to continue pursuing Kishina's release. The ruby gave him power, and power was necessary to save his love. Trapped by one crystal while carrying his trapped lover in another; he was a tortured man with few associates, and even fewer friends.

He spared a moment to think back on his life; to reflect on what had brought them to that moment.

* * *

According to his father, life in Delohr, a small village on the coast of the Hystari, had been simple but fair. Lord Thalish ignored the town, which suited its residents fine. He didn't offer his protection, even though they lived within the province he governed. However, that also meant he did not tax them. For the poor farmers and businessmen of the region, his absence was a blessing for which they were all thankful.

Thorim had made a name for himself as an up-and-coming scribe, and his future seemed promising. Dylara's father conducted most of his business with the assistance of Thorim's quill, so it was of no surprise to anyone when the youths fell in love and made plans to wed.

A year passed as their love blossomed. On the eve of their wedding, everything seemed to be going as planned.

Dylara sat at dinner with her father that night, discussing the morning's affair. Thorim would return from Vellenheim and head straight to the church for their wedding. She made her father repeat the list of things he needed to bring, so Thorim could prepare for their ceremony.

Suddenly, the night brightened just outside the front window, interrupting their conversation.

"More gifts?" suggested Dylara. Visitors had come and gone the entire day, leaving presents for the soon-to-be newlyweds. The light beyond the window struck her as torchlight, though she couldn't imagine who would visit at such an hour.

As she opened the front door, reality shattered her assumptions. The light playing across their dining room, causing shadows to dance upon their evening meal, didn't come from well-wishers. The buildings across the street were burning and screams echoed from the distance.

Several  men rushed past the door, wielding pitchforks, wood-axes and kitchen knives.

An orc came into view across the street, chasing her friend Sirana. She cried out, blood spurting from her chest, as the vile creature's sword cut her down from behind.

Dylara slammed and barred the door, trembling with fear.

Her father ran up the stairs and retrieved an old necklace, hidden away since her mother had died. He gave it to her and explained that only a member of her bloodline could use the powers within.

"I hoped it would never come to this, but it has... I fear you won't survive the night without it," he explained sadly.

The necklace bore a single ruby, pulsing with a faint black energy. He bid her slip it over her head, though his trembling hands suggested she should hesitate.

"What will this do?" she asked.

"It doesn't matter. It will save you," he said, choking back tears to sound confident.

With fear in her heart, she donned the necklace as he requested.

* * *

His father, Thorim, returned the next morning as scheduled, however, the town was not how he'd left it. With her house in ruins, most of the town burned down, and corpses littering the streets, he panicked. He searched for hours but never found the woman he loved.

Eventually he encountered a few survivors, all of which were men. They formed up and entered the forest, searching for the town's missing women. Over the next few months, they continued to find remnants of orcish bandit camps and occasionally caught sight of the orcs themselves.

However, as none of the men had any experience with combat, they found themselves constantly at the mercy of whichever mercenaries they could scrounge up enough coin to hire.

Finally, after months of struggle, Thorim managed to free Dylara from her captors. By the time he got her home, it became clear she'd suffered another fate while in captivity.

The orcs had beaten and raped each of the women they'd taken from Delohr. Only Dylara had survived, aided by the powers within her ruby necklace. Withdrawn, emotionally fragile, and with child, she was no longer the same woman he'd once known.

Refusing to let her suffer additional indignity, and still in love with whom he knew her to be, he married her and found a home outside a nearby village.

* * *

They lived a relatively peaceful life in the few years that followed. Thorim re-established his business, providing scribing efforts for local clerics and public officials. Dylara focused on raising Maerik, their halfling son.

He had no complaints regarding those early years. Kept isolated from the public, for fear of their outcry at his mixed human and orcish blood, he never knew other children. His mother had been kind and attentive, and Thorim made time where he could.

It wasn't until Maerik turned four that things soured. By then, Dylara had grown distant from Thorim. If his parents argued or fought, he knew nothing of it. They either kept their animosity to themselves, or had become adept at hiding their outbursts from him. Either way, the disappearance of his mother came as a shock.

Nothing obvious led to her departure. To his four-year-old mind, she was simply there one day and gone the next. After a few days she returned and life proceeded as normal for a time, neither parent acknowledging what had happened.

It wasn't until many years later that he learned what she'd done. Dylara had used the powers in her amulet to hunt down and slaughter the rest of the orcish tribe. She'd apparently used those years of peace to master her gifts. If only he'd known sooner, perhaps he could have prevented what was to come. Then again, what could a four-year-old have done?

* * *

Not long after her return, the arguments started. Or rather, the arguments entered the open. It wasn’t long before Thorim drove Dylara away. In a dramatic final argument, he threatened to kill her if she ever returned. His father had yelled something about ‘corrupting Maerik’, but he’d been too young and upset to hear it all clearly, or decipher his intent.

They continued to live in that house for years, as he grew older and ultimately rebellious. All he could remember of his mother at that time was Thorim chasing her away. He resented his father for doing it and had been intent on never letting him forget.

It was clear, so many years later, that he was at least partially to blame for Thorim’s next decision. Though, at the time, it had only made him hate his father more.

* * *

His father, clearly at his wits' end, sold their small house and committed them both to the Church of Dyxatohr, the god of life. He hadn't been old enough to flee from his father's decision, though he always wished he'd followed his heart and done so.

The next few years at the church amounted to slavery. Cleaning behind lazy priests, washing the privy by hand, mucking stalls, tending gardens; any activity the priests considered beneath them became his responsibility. He still didn't know if that had been due to his birth, the tales of his mother, or by request of his father.

It wasn't until he met her that things changed.

* * *

Kishina arrived in much the same manner as he; dragged along by her mother to join the church, against protests to the contrary. He remembered exactly what they'd been doing when their eyes first met.

She stood under the trees, trying desperately to reach the fruit thereupon, while an elderly cleric insisted she use the ladder he offered.

He froze in his tracks, carrying buckets of human waste from the privy; her beauty striking him straight through the heart. As their eyes met, and his buckets' contents sloshed onto his feet, they both knew instantly that neither would stay for much longer. They both decided right then and there that they'd escape some day in each other's arms.

Their courtship happened in secret; a stolen kiss here, or a hidden embrace there. Before long, they were sneaking out at night to be with each other under the stars.

She hadn't cared about his bloodline, or his mother. He was a kindred spirit and a kind soul; exactly what she needed in that moment in time.

He didn't care that her mother had been a brothel maid, or that she knew nothing of her father. She was the most beautiful person he'd ever met, both inside and out.

Before long, he ached when not in her presence; constantly yearning to be with her. That pain slowly replaced the absence of his mother, and the hate he felt for his father. She became the only thing that mattered.

* * *

As the next year passed, and the lovers became inseparable and Thorim began to travel. A strange priest had joined the order; a man named Father Aggrend. The two of them traveled constantly, only returning to the church to resupply and return to the road.

The turn of events suited him just fine for a time. After all, his father no longer mattered to him. The only thing that mattered was biding his time until he could leave with Kishina and marry her.

However, just as suddenly as Thorim's months-long travels began, they ended. The man that returned no longer seemed like his father. He'd grown distant. He slept during the day and only left their room at night.

That was when Maerik felt the sinking feeling in his gut; he didn't trust the turn of events.

* * *

When he and Kishina turned sixteen, they started making plans to elope. However, his father's strange activities weighed on him. He couldn't shake the thought something terrible was about to happen.

So, he started following his father at night. Each night he grew closer to Thorim's destination, but his need for cautiousness prevented him from completing the journey.

Every time he lost track of his father, he went back to meet with Kishina. They'd try to spend time together, reveling in each other's presence, but his fears over his father ultimately took over. Every night he failed to discover his father's destination or purpose, he grew less and less able to focus on Kishina and her desires.

Finally, he'd summoned the courage to ask Kishina to marry him, with the promise that they'd leave in the morning. He swore to her that he only needed one more night to discover his father's motivations, and that it would all be over. He'd end it, whether or not he succeeded.

* * *

He followed his father that night, as he'd done many nights before. Whether driven by a newly acquired sense of urgency at his pending departure, or by the will of the gods, he finally succeeded in following Thorim for the length of his journey.

Deep in the depths of the tombs beneath the church, Thorim entered a hidden chamber.

He snuck to the opening in the wall, listening intently.

What happened next would haunt him for his entire life.

* * *

"One last time, how do we take it off of you? Your mother found a way!" demanded Thorim.

"I don't know! You've searched for months... you've tortured me for months... my answer hasn't changed! Just... end this now," sobbed a familiar woman.

He leaned forward to see who spoke, and fear took hold. Thinking back so many years later, he regretted not moving quicker. He'd told himself for decades that it wasn't his fault. He'd tortured himself over that night, running it over and over in his mind. Even standing in front of the Soul Obelisk decades later, he knew through every fiber of his being that nothing could have been done in that dark, distant moment... and yet he suffered for his inability to act.

Thorim stepped forward angrily and slit his mother's throat. Chained naked to the wall, ripped nearly to shreds by the whips and chains they'd used to beat her, she gasped her last breath staring directly into the eyes of her son.

He raced into the room, screaming his mother's name.

Thorim spun on his heel, just as he arrived. They collided and fought, anger filling both of them. For decades he'd imagined fighting his father, but never for the reasons that fueled him that night.

* * *

He didn't know, at the time, that Kishina had followed him. Her gentle, delicate frame traversed the hallways of the tombs much more quietly than his own. Had he known, he would have whisked her away right then and there; terrified for her life, and unaware of his mother's fate.

When she heard his outcry, and the noise from their brawl, she barged in to save him.

He could still hear her voice calling out, so many decades later. It was the last thing she ever said; the last thing she ever did.

"Don't hurt him!"

Looking back, the panic in her voice overwhelmed him with sadness. He'd much preferred to have died that night than for those to be her last words.

* * *

As he turned to face his lover, his father shoved past him, knocking him into his mother. When he crashed to the floor at her bloody feet, her ruby necklace fell into his lap.

Father Aggrend stepped into the room at the same time, grabbed Kishina and covered her mouth.

"Not so loud, young one... you'll wake the dead," said the old man in a whisper.

Thorim sighed in frustration and turned back to his son, just in time to see him put on the ruby necklace. Still trembling with a mixture of fear and hate, Maerik got to his feet.

"You killed my mother!" he growled. He'd been so angry that the words hurt his throat. Every time he remembered the scene, he could feel hints of that pain.

"She needed to die, so that I could have her amulet. And now, you need to die too!" said Father Aggrend.

His father turned to the old man in disbelief. Thinking back, he liked to imagine that his father considered the old man's words for a moment before acting. Part of him wanted to think that his father still had an ounce of humanity at that time.

Unfortunately, that simply wasn't reality. Thorim turned just as quickly as he'd hesitated, and with a nod of agreement, he charged his son.

That's when he felt the power of the amulet. A voice passed through his mind, welcoming his soul to eternal damnation; growling as if from deep within a cavern; echoing as if born of all time.

A surge of power rolled out of him, filling the room and exploding as it collided with each surface therein.

Thorim crashed to the floor, his own knife blown out of his hand and into his throat.

Kishina landed atop Father Aggrend, both thrown backward by the blast.

Father Aggrend released his grip on her, rolled her aside and stood.

Maerik stepped forward, focused on the priest. Nothing else mattered to him at that time; the man had to die. How he wished he'd focused on Kishina instead.

* * *

Father Aggrend started chanting a spell.

Looking back, after all he'd learned, he recognized what that spell had been. The priest had planned the spell for many, many years. Most of Thorim's journeys with the priest had been to find reagents to create a phylactery; a target for that very spell.

The man knew he was near the end of his lifespan and had sucked Thorim into a plot to extend it.

As he chanted his spell, the white crystal he held glowed to life. Kishina reached her feet just in time to see the crystal grow brighter. Fearing for her lover, she rushed the priest in hopes of disrupting the spell.

He'd reached out to his lover, but his efforts had come too late.

The priest's spell took his own life, draining his soul and with the intentions of placing it within the phylactery. He had imbued the crystal in such a way that his soul could command it, animate his corpse, and perpetuate himself through un-life for eternity. Had his spell succeeded, he would have become a Lich.

With all that he'd learned in his life, Maerik knew, looking back, that the man's casting had been flawed. Instead of casting a spell to drain his soul into the phylactery, he cast a spell to drain the nearest soul into the crystal.

Kishina's body fell to the ground as the crystal sprang permanently to life. It still glowed and swirled in his hand as he stood before the obelisk; forever moving on the inside as her soul fought to break free.

He'd stepped forward that night and committed his final mistake. He knelt down, picked up his father's knife, walked up to the stunned priest and killed the man without a second thought. As tears streamed down his face, he then knelt and picked Kishina up.

He buried her that night, not realizing until decades later than if he'd only kept the priest alive, the priest could have freed her. Instead, he'd spent nearly fifty years trying to find another way to achieve her freedom.

* * *

Many years later, his journey to free her had brought him to the city of Hoalfast on Pelrigoss. He'd heard a rumor of a special place, a place of legend, that could finally end his quest.

Lord Mordechai, a Leyweaver of infamous renown, had told him of it. All he asked in return for the information, and the guidance to reach it, had been a single item. It hadn't taken much effort for Maerik to acquire the item. The cursed amulet upon his neck gave him powers and created a close bond to the forces of darkness. He could touch things and go places that good men could not.

Mordechai located the item, but could not enter to retrieve it. In trade for completing the task, he would be taken to Vuhl and shown to the Soul Obelisk within.

'A ruby as large as your fist, trapped within the catacombs beneath Necropolis.'

The task had been so easy, he'd feared Mordechai would go back on his word. It had been a pleasant and welcome surprise when Mordechai upheld their bargain. Few in his life had been so trustworthy.

He thought for a moment at the irony of it all. He'd been forty-one when he found a way to break the curse imparted by the amulet. Something had told him not to go through with it. As fate would have it, keeping his forced bond with Vaxtra had led him to Mordechai, and allowed him to retrieve the magical ruby he desired.

At least he had made one good decision in his life... or had fate forced his hand?

* * *

The journey to Mount Skain had been long and arduous. Mordechai had set an unwavering pace and refused to let them rest. Maerik's mind approved of that decision, though his body had barely survived the journey.

Their walk through Vuhl had seemed longer. The only respite had been their conversation.

"This labyrinth was built by the Inok, a tribe of minotaur. You know of the war of the gods, yes?" asked Mordechai.

"It only recently ended, did it not?"

"At great cost, yes. G'nok, the great titan and god of the hunt, created the Inok thousands of years ago. After our arrival on Ayrelon, the Inok, like the Toor, learned what freedom was, and yearned to have it for themselves. Few of the Agthari remained, so it was easy for their creations to break free.

"When the Inok rebelled, Xxrandus, the god of death, sent them a gift. He buried it deep within Vuhl where G'nok could not see. The gift was said to allow them to free their slain from G'nok's grasp, as he trapped and siphoned their souls to empower himself," explained Mordechai.

"That is the Soul Obelisk?"


"Does it work?"

"Nobody knows. The war started soon after, and we trapped G'nok and his conspirators away," said Mordechai.


"I had plenty of help, but I had a hand in it. Sealing them away stopped the war before it could get started, and likely saved most of the mortals of Ayrelon."

"Just like that? You just sealed away a god?"

"Two, actually. And at great cost, as I said."

"If you can do all that, why are you here? Why do you need this ruby that you cannot touch?"

"I can't touch the ruby because it drains the life-force of those who draw power from the weave. Your powers come from Vaxtra, who lives upon Melthax... not Ayrelon. Only one other type of caster could have touched the ruby and lived. But since I know of no willing Celestials," said Mordechai.

"You had to choose me."

"Tell me, what other witch or warlock have you encountered that would willingly assist me in sealing this place?"

"Is that what the ruby is for?"

"I can't have random mortals waking hateful gods, can I?" asked Mordechai.

"I suppose not," answered Maerik.

Another day passed before they reached the chamber that Mordechai planned to seal. After a small ritual, he placed the ruby into an iron setting. The iron fused to the ruby as he performed the simple task, locking it into position for all time.

"That's it?" asked Maerik.

"That's it. Now we see to your task. I'll take you to the obelisk and you can perform your ritual while I finish my own duties. Once I'm done, we leave and I finish the spell of sealing as we exit."

* * *

He always found it difficult to think clearly after thinking back on his life and remembering Kishina's beauty. As his mind returned to the present, he found himself unsure of how long he'd been standing there.

'It's time I set you free, my love.'

He knelt in front of the obelisk, its sixteen foot high surface covered floor to tip in runes. Upon his touch, the runes sprang to life, glowing purple upon its pitch-black surface.

With crystal in hand, he stood back up and focused his mind.

He chanted a prayer to Xxrandus, pleading for Kishina's release.

He chanted the names of the runes that danced upon the obelisk's surface.

He pushed with his mind, sending every ounce of power Vaxtra's amulet of power granted him coursing into his right hand and into her crystal prison.

Then he touched Kishina's crystal to the obelisk.

Maerik fell backwards, shrieking in pain as if his cries required no breath. The sound of a thousand souls, screaming out in unison, spewed forth from him as he stared up at the ceiling.

His soul drained by the very obelisk he'd hoped would free Kishina, he stood back up and shambled through the halls.

* * *

A horrid scream broke Mordechai's concentration. He quickly finished his task and returned down the hall to see what had happened.

Maerik's wretched corpse slowly shambled toward him; devoid of life and doomed for all eternity. The amulet upon his neck, the key to the power he received from Vaxtra, glowed to life as he raised his left hand.

Mordechai latched on to his control of the primal forces of Time. He sent out a wave of energy, freezing Maerik in place in an instant. With a sigh of regret, he walked up to the man.

"I'm sorry, Maerik. I should have stayed to guide you. I am sorry that I cannot free you from this prison, but I've fought enough gods for one century. Besides, soon we will all forget. You will stand as eternal, unwitting guardian to the chambers that lie beyond. You will prevent hapless mortals from unleashing the evils beyond and bringing our destruction full circle.

"Know that I am sorry... but that you serve a purpose," said Mordechai.

As Mordechai departed, he sealed the ruby's chamber, locking Maerik away for all time.

When his spell later faded, Maerik released a bolt of energy into the empty hallway, and then shambled on, seeking his non-existent prey.

* * *

Ayriel stood next to the corpse that lie on the bed, a new sadness overtaking her. First the loss, and then her refusal; it was nearly too much to bear. What good were her powers if she couldn't save the ones she loved?

'I can save you,' Ayriel had said.

Ayriel walked over to the desk and retrieved the small iron coffer. Its shape, that of a coffin, seemed fitting considering its contents. Izabel had brought it to her from Pelrigoss, knowing it was special but not understanding why.

The companions' journey to Pelrigoss seemed so long ago, though she knew it had only been a few months. So much had happened that she'd learned nothing of the box's contents, save that a soul lie within.

Walking back to the corpse, she considered the woman's final words.

'Someone more important is waiting.'

Ayriel opened the coffer and peered within. People across the land knew her as the Oracle of Vaelin; famed for speaking with the dead and receiving prophecies. She'd just talked to the corpse and its spirit didn't want to return. Instead, she'd suggested this crystal, with a hint and a glance.

'What makes you so special?'

Ayriel reached toward the crystal with her mind. She couldn't speak to the spirit within, no matter how hard she pushed. What she did find disturbed her. She felt love; endless, bottomless love. The sensation overwhelmed her. It was a woman's spirit; trapped for a very long time.

'You're right... I'll bring her back. You've lived a wonderful life... and she has not. I loved you, as you loved me. While I do not wish you to go, I will not force you to stay. I do not know the soul within this crystal, but it is clear her story has reached you in the afterlife. I will abide by your wishes. I will bring her back.'

As the most famed Enchantress in the land prepared her mind to unravel the spells that bound the poor soul to its prison, she walked over to the corpse of her lover and dumped the coffer's contents into her hand. She focused all her power on releasing the soul within; trapped for nearly thirteen-hundred years.

A soul, once beloved, lie peacefully in her palm, waiting for release from its crystalline prison.